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Friday, August 29, 2008

Universal Studios Hollywood

We went to Universal Studios out here in Cali. It was a pretty fun way to spend the day. The studio tour is a classic, though from what I understand it was a bit more on the actual studio stuff back in the day. It was kind of sad to see the hole in the ground from where the studio fire was, but apparently they're rebuilding. (Of course, that says nothing for the mystery of what stored film or audio materials were lost, but I doubt that info is ever going to be readily available.)

The Simpsons' ride is really fun. It's a "flight simulator" type ride with the best looking CG Simpsons I've ever seen. Of course, there's a million in jokes for long time viewers of the show. I have to wonder how much of that was lost on the Japanese businessmen that were riding with us the last time through.

The Jurassic Park ride was fun too. It was really a typical boat ride with a huge drop, but it was done well. Some of the dinos are starting to show their age a bit, but other than that, it was pretty cool.

Saw the 3D Terminator 2 and Shrek shows and since I dig 3D stuff, these were cool. T2 3D has dated better than I would have thought, though it is kind of a 20 minute condensation of all the things ridiculous about those movies. (This might possibly have the highest density of Schwarzenegger quips of anything the man has ever done.)

We saw all the shows except Waterworld. The effects stage one was my fave. I think the effects show has the distinction of being the only thing at Universal that doesn't throw water in your face. They should put a sign up as you walk in reading "Welcome to Universal Studios, you will get wet." I'm not sure what that's all about, but it's interesting.

It was also interesting, but not surprising, at how little the classic Universal monsters appear in the park. There's the haunted house thing with the Frankenstein lab and there were Frankenstein and a rather good Dracula walking around. But for the most part, the movie monsters that were a huge part of the studio's legacy are kind of demoted to second tier.

The thing that got me the most about the day was that we could come in the middle of the week in non-peak season and still be surrounded by assholes. The park was nowhere near capacity. There was no need for people to crowd and push and be inconsiderate, but it didn't seem to stop anyone. Granted, I have a low tolerance for crowds, but even Kristen was ready to get away from people by the end of our stay.

And, I should mention that we went through the City Walk shopping district on the way out where I found this crazy bootleg Godzilla in one of the shops.

Bootleg Godzilla from universal studios

I'm guessing this is supposed to be meltdown G from Destroyah. Hard to tell as it's pretty off model. There was a smaller one (a little smaller than 6", this one is a little smaller than 12") that even had a tag with Godzilla and a shot from one of the movies on it! Pretty ironic that on the grounds of a studio well known for aggressively protecting it's own intellectual property, you could find some blatant rip-off of another studio's. (Doubly ironic when you consider Universal co-produced King Kong vs. Godzilla.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just a technical note.

If the posts look weird, it's because I'm attempting to blog on the phone via Flickr. We're out in L.A. and I feel it's my duty to bring you up to the minute details of what's going on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mexican Lobby Cards

Many many many more here. Guy is a dealer, I guess. Pics are kind of blurry and low-rez, which is a shame. But prepare to waste an afternoon on this one.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I think I need to slow my roll.

I've been up on this big purge still with regards to my media collection. I just hit a wall with all this stuff and needed to clear some of it out. Do I really need a jillion CDs, 500-some-odd DVDs, 400+ Atari 2600 Carts, etc., etc., etc. Maybe this doesn't happen to everyone, but it happened to me. I mean, I have the Highlander on Laserdisc! I'm asking you, in this day and age, who needs that???

Up to know, I've purged a lot of stuff without incident. I'm talking probably close to 1000 cds, perhaps as much (if not more) 12" vinyl, countless videogames, old magazines, books and on and on and on. I think the last batch got me though.

I realized I had a save pile that got mixed in with the stuff to go. Ok, first time that has happened. The embarrassing part about it is, I'm 99% sure one of the CDs in that pile would have been by the band of the person who I sold the CDs to, who happens to be a friend. Whoops. (Antionio, if you see this, yeah, the Thin Fevers CD wasn't supposed to be in that stuff.)

I've also hit the first twinge of wanting to hear something I got rid of. Considering the amount of stuff I've ditched and that I started this project a while ago, I'd say that isn't doing too bad. Besides, if I'm still jonesing to hear some Ramones a week from now, well, I know where my old CDs ended up.

In related news, I'm quite a fan of Delicious Library. I was a user of Readerware back in my PC days, but my RW catalog was far out of date and Kristen was going to upgrade her Delicious anyway. Plus she bought a version bundled with a Bluetooth UPC scanner that I'd need additional software to run with RW.

A lot of people don't get the point of Delicious and software like it, but for someone with a large media collection, it's a massive help. Not only am I doing an inventory for insurance (the flood kind of renewed that idea for me) but also just to check what the heck I actually own. Once upon a time, I was actually really good at reeling that kind of stuff off the top of my head. Now, not so much.

A couple of complaints about Delicious: one being that it only takes info from Amazon. Readerware has a laundry list of sites it pulls info from so if Amazon has incomplete or missing info, you can find it else ware. It's also a little too easy to get ahead of yourself scanning and then discovering one of the 57 things you just scanned wasn't at Amazon.

My biggest complaint though is that there's no direct way to create a blank entry. You have to go to the search box and then choose blank entry rather than just hitting apple-n or whatever. This is going to be a real problem as I'm contemplating cataloging my vinyl and I'm pretty much going to have to enter it all by hand. I'm considering doing the records in Readerware (which, I think, will pull info from an LP site now anyway) and then exporting it to Delicious.

And speaking of Readerware, the biggest differences between these two programs (as best I can tell) is that Delicious is much prettier, only pulls information from Amazon and will publish a site of your collection to .mac, err... Mobile Me. Also, Delicious will handle videogames, toys and "gadgets" whereas Readerware only does music, movies and books. The videogames thing is a huge plus for Delicious in my eyes and was probably going to convince me to switch even if Kristen hadn't already been using Delicious.

Still, I don't have a huge amount of complaints about it. Oh, if you want to nose around in my collection, here it is. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Last of the Old School Record Dealers

I was thinking last night about this Paul Mawhinney story (see yesterday's post for the latest) and why it's hit such a nerve with me, especially given that many of my comments might sound very cold and calloused. While I don't know Mawhinney personally, I am 99% sure I know the type of person he is, and it's seeing the demise of his type that makes this story so interesting to me.

I've been collecting records since I was a kid. I could say I've been at it seriously 20+ years. Back in the late 80s, I attended my first record show. At the time, that was the primary way you bought records, other than mail order. There was no eBay, no GEMM. You had local record stores (if you lived in a hip enough town,) dealer's lists/ads in the back of Goldmine and shows.

Information was a bit harder to come by back then. There were price guides, all of which deserved to be treated with a bit of skepticism as the writers were always dealers. Other than that, you had to rely on talking to dealers and fellow collectors. You had to trust prices you'd see at shows and conversations you'd have there. You also had to learn to separate the BS from the truth, because 90% of the dealers would have you believe they had nothing but the rarest gems that they were doing you a favor to take your money for.

At the last show I attended (which was a while ago,) I remember hearing a lot of dealers crabbing about eBay. For years, these guys had been the rule makers in this game. If they told you a record was rare and worth $100, it was up to you to prove them wrong. Without the Internet, that wasn't always easy. Not only that but you didn't find a great deal of variation in price. Everyone checked everyone else's list out and there wasn't a huge deal of undercutting. Same with the shows (not to mention all the real deals happened before the doors ever opened to the public.)

When eBay came along, not only was it easy to find a dozen copies of a supposedly rare record, you could look through the completed auctions to see that the average price was a fraction of what that guy at the show wanted. You also had a kind of shopping anarchy. While reserve auctions are always an option, for the most part, people would list things and they'd see for what people were willing to pay rather than what some bearded guy with a pot belly (and they always were bearded guys with pot bellys) says it's worth.

I'm not saying that these guys were shady, but they certainly had the advantage in the days before the Internet. The rise of eBay gave people like myself a peek behind the curtain and painted a much more accurate picture of what things were really worth than the old system where the people with a vested interest in the value going up dictated the prices.

If you're still with me, you're probably wondering what this has to do with our friend and "cultural preservationist" Paul Mawhinney? Well, Mr. Mawhinney strikes me as one of the last of this dying breed of old school dealers who seems to think we're still living in pre-eBay times, the times when guys like him dictated how much this stuff is worth. I also think, in spite of attempts to paint him as some sort of protector of culture, the man cares about money first and foremost.

Now, why would I think that about this guy I've never met? Well, part of it is a hunch but, watch that video I posted yesterday. It starts with Mawhinney manhandling a record from the late 1891 (I'd really expect a collector to handle records, especially one so old, better than what we see here) and asking this camera "how can something that old not be worth a lot?" Notice how he refers to his collection as "merchandise?"

"This has gotta be worth a lot of money, right?"
Well, maybe it was before you got your oily fingerprints all over it.

And money is never far from the surface when he's discussing these records. Never once do we see anything about which record do you enjoy listening to, which one gives you the most joy, but he is quick to show us the one worth the most money. That how I remember a lot of those dealers too. The dollars always came before what was in the groove.

As for money, I'm constantly amazed that in all the commentary surrounding his story, rarely does anyone ask where his figure comes from. His "archive" has been for sale since 1993(!) according to this Pittsburgh Business Times article. Considering this collection has been pawed through many times by people who would know, I feel pretty confident in saying if the value was accurate, it would be gone by now.

I'd also like to point your attention some first hand accounts from people who have been to Record-Rama, Mawhinney's store. This thread on a collector's board and this random blog post are kind of interesting. (Back in February, I had read more posts like those, but I didn't have the foresight to bookmark them.) These stories are anecdotal and should be taken with a grain of salt, but they sound a lot more like a hard nosed dealer than an archivist collector .

A lot of people remark that some museum or library should purchase the collection. Putting aside the issue of what public institution has the kind of money Mawhinney is asking, what is a museum going to do with a couple million records? Even as a donation, this would be a huge burden on an institution just to store it and I'll bet he'd have a hard time finding someone to take it (assuming he's still insisting on keeping the whole thing together.) I don't think many libraries have records anymore and considering were talking about an all but obsolete medium, making this stuff available to the public would involve a lot of money and time.

In other words, this stuff as one huge collection is nearly worthless to anyone other than Paul Mawhinney. But that's something Mr. Mawhinney seems reluctant to see, even though he's coming up against this face to face. I think even the most stubborn dealers I used to know from the shows would have just opened the doors and had a fire sale by now. I have to wonder how much Mawhinney could have made if he'd done just that, especially had he done it closer to when he first tried to cash out, before the market really went south.

While I don't doubt that Mawhinney enjoys music, I have a hunch that he enjoys the physical record as much, if not more. There are still people like him out there, there are fewer and fewer each year and his predicament illustrates pretty clearly why. The value of most records is still tanking and who in their right mind wants to invest that much physical space to something that is just sitting around devaluing?

It's not that "nobody gives a damn," Paul. The world just doesn't see these records as being monetarily valuable as you do. If you wish your archive to be available to the world after you're gone, you have that power, but you're going to have to forget about the money. Besides, you've had potential buyers looking at this for for fifteen years, you told the Library of Congress to take a hike and eBay didn't come through. Don't you think maybe it's time to move on?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Tear for Paul Mawhinney

The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

I previously covered this saga here and here, but this video is making the rounds, so I feel the need to comment again. I guess the thing is, if you look into the whole story, get past the gee-wow factor of the number of records and the money claimed as value, things just don't add up.

First off, the issue of where this alleged value for this collection comes from is again glossed over. Can you take the word of someone who has authored price guides (a fact left out of the video) in a hobby where price guide authors have been known to bump up the book values of their own specialties? And surely I'm not the only one who is a little suspicious about someone selling something so expensive so reluctant to share details of what's exactly in it. Supposedly it's documented. Why not post it at the website?

Well, one thing is shown as again he trots out this Rolling Stones LP as the crown jewel of the collection. While it's a nice piece, if you're into the Stones, it isn't exactly a holy grail. Back in February, when he brought this out on publicity for the eBay auctions of this collection, a copy of the same album was up for $4k buy it now and no takers. Sure, you aren't just going to stumble across a copy at your local vinyl emporium, but I'd really expect a collection that large to have something much rarer as the centerpiece. Certainly something that wouldn't be up on eBay for less than you claimed it was worth and still no one wanting it.

There's also the at the least misleading, though more likely completely dishonest statement that 83% of his collection prior to 1963 isn't available at any price. The only way I can see that to be accurate would be if he owns every copy of 83% of the records produced in that time frame and they were never reissued. Not bloody likely.

And while he's going on and on about how the world just doesn't care, he fails to mention the Library of Congress bid he turned down in 2003, which was more than $3million but less than the $25million he was still expecting to get at the time. He also fails to mention the stipulations that the collection had to remain intact and only duplicates could be sold which accompanied each attempt at a sale.

And while he's painting this as his life's work, he fails to mention that he was in the business of buying cut-outs and remainders by the trailer load. He does tip his hand when he refers to the collection as "merchandise." Of course, I also noticed in researching Mawhinney that one common comment among people who visited his shop was that if he'd actually sold people records instead of insisting the dozens of copies of a title they had on the shelf were too precious to part with and offering a $50 CD-R instead, he probably wouldn't be sitting on millions of records he can't move now.

And the more I've looked at this story, the more it seems to me that this really is dead stock that he hoarded or couldn't sell than any kind of really valuable collection. Again, I feel sorry for the guy as his health is failing and this looks like it was his retirement plan. However, I'm finding the coverage of this to be very dishonest and it's probably only encouraging Mawhinney's unrealistic expectations for his collection.

What's more, this whole "well, they won't have Paul Mawhinney to kick around anymore" tone the video gives off really bugs me. I had trouble buying the "preserving culture" talk before, but after seeing this video I find it out right laughable. Instead of talking about donating all this precious cultural heritage, he's sounds like he'd rather destroy it than give it away for anything less than $3mil.

We're not talking about some lost Shakespeare works here or the legendary Buddy Bolden recording or something of that stature. We're talking about a record dealer who hoarded a ton of cut-outs. No one forced you into it and it's not like you were doing this for any reasons other than your own and your own commercial interests.

So, as always, best of luck to you and your family, Paul. But I really think you need to get real about this. How many more years are you going to keep schlepping this around, fishing for sympathy among people who don't have the resources to buy your "life's work" even if they wanted?

All This and World War II, Part II

Did I mention I finally saw All This and World War II, a film I'd been obsessing about a little over two years ago? Let me refresh your memory on this one with a (currently live) YouTube version of the trailer:

I remember reading about this one during my Beatlemaniac days and always being intrigued. The soundtrack album is never difficult to find as it was a perennial cut-out bin favorite and isn't exactly worth much more today. The movie however, seemed to have fallen off the face of the Earth. From what I understand, it was yanked a week after it's debut and more or less buried until a copy showed up on the bootleg DVD market a few years ago.

I have a genuine affection for bad taste and bad ideas in cinema and the idea of marrying Beatles covers with World War II footage seemed like a classic. But, the more I read about this film (and since the appearance of the DVD, much has come out about it like this excellent article right here) and the more I put it into context, it just seemed like an excuse to release the soundtrack album, a deluxe box set, I might add.

Watching the film does little to change that opinion. The whole concept is so shaky and so half heartedly executed, you just can't help but feel the producers of this film felt a Beatles revival in the air and wanted to cash in before it passed. (Keep in mind, this film predated the Beatlemania musical and the infamous Sgt. Pepper's movie with the Bee Gees.)

Once the thoughts of "Wow, they really did make this movie" and "I can't believe I'm actually watching this" wear off, you will find yourself repeating the last statement not as a reference to the film's rarity, but to the gawking at a car crash quality of the film. Beyond the novelty of a jawdroppingly bizarre concept poorly executed, the film itself is pretty dull. It's a bit like watching the History Channel while listening to some Beatles covers. Try it yourself and see how long you last.

I'm glad I resisted the impulse to actually pay for a copy of this. All This and World War II is like so many other obscure relics of junk cinema: so much more interesting on paper than on the screen. Still, it's nice to have my curiosity satiated and, if nothing else, I can check another film off my to seek and see list.