Sunday, September 28, 2008

Return of The Monster

Lovers of horror and fantasy films look back with yearning toward certain film experiences which they might only have been able to imagine were it not for the digital age and dvds. Were it not for director cuts and extra features we probably would never have seen Linda Blair's "spider walk" from the Exorcist or the scene "Spider Pit" scene from the original King Kong (I'll post both below). And to be honest both are probably scenes which we could have done without, and which the directors were wise to excise from the final cut.

But what about other lost gems that we've craved since childhood. At least that I've craved since childhood? I would love to see Edison's 1909 film version of Frankenstein. According to web sources, the much sought after copy of this curiousity was only made available after 1970, when a private collector came forward to allow someone to restore the version. The first public showing of this restored version of the fifteen minute film finally occured on October 30, 1993. Of course the complete version is now available on the net. For those interested, here it is on Youtube. Be aware, that we're talking about a 1910 film:


Another classic that I have craved is "London After Midnight". The lost Lon Chaney piece. Now, unfortunately, no copy of this film has ever been located. However, there were tons of stills made during production and Turner Classic Movies commissioned a restoration of the film based on a shooting script. So what we have are original images from the film along with the script and although it's not a motion picture per se, it certainly gives you a feel of how the motion picture would have looked to an audience back in the twenties. Again, if you would like to see the entire production from TMC, you can find it on You Tube.

disclaimer: I claim no right to any of the video here; all is from searches found on youtube. I urge anyone seeking these films to purchase the dvd's, all of which are available. And to be honest, for the true collector, owning the most pristine copy is really what it is all about.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writer Rip Off?

I listened to a woman who stated, and I am quoting loosely: "Writers get ripped off all the time. I've had my stuff stolen. I know that staff writers of magazines where I've submitted have taken my ideas. I wrote a novel and was told by an editor that the publishing company that rejected me ripped me off."

My response was a rolling of the eyes. Maybe I'm naive, but I just don't believe magazines and publishers rip people off like this. How would they stay in business? The publishing world is a small world (or at least it feels that way to me) and people who do wrong in the community tend to have their names dragged through the mud. Of course, with most publishing in the hands of five megacorporations, maybe this has changed. I don't think so.

Screenwriters have complained and several filed suit against studios who have ripped the writers off stating: "You can't copyright an idea". Recent court decisions have gone with the writers and studios are becoming shy about cheating people. After all, why steal work as a studio or publisher when there are so many people out there willing to come forward with quality product. The influence of writers' unions also put influence on the studios to reward work done.

Getting published is hard. Bang. That's it. But I don't believe one of the elements making it hard is that there are unscrupulous editors and publishers out there denying writers their just reward.

Again, maybe I'm being naive. Maybe there will now follow an army of comments by writers with horror stories. We'll see. My gut though tells me my initial impression is correct.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Paying To Forget

When I was in my twenties I actually researched having a hypnotherapist put me under so that I would forget "Star Wars". My plan? To be able to go back to the theater to re-experience the film anew. The hypnotherapist merely shook his head and suggested I get a life.

However, the last post about The Great Gatsby has made me think about that idea again; looking at certain experiences, re-examining them removed by time and space. Oh, I could never do that with "Star Wars". I've seen it too many times and could probably write the script shot for shot. Still, there are books and films which I might have missed, or may have seen only once or twice in that time, which deserve revisiting.

Here are my top five revisits, in no special order. I promise to take this trip in the next few months and report back, whether it proves to be a disappointment or otherwise.

1) The Doc Savage series. Maybe not the whole series, but gimme a few. This is pulp in its purest form. Doc Savage and his band of adventurers fighting foreign saboteurs and other threats to democracy and apple pie.
2) Dracula. The actual novel that it seems so many people know about and never read; and along that vein (forgive a pun) perhaps Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Frankenstein. These are the titles I read as a kid, back in the time of covered wagons we didn't have horror in young adult literature, no Goosebumps, Harry Potter, or Stein.
3) Crime and Punishment. The Brothers Karamazov. The Idiot. You know, in early college I read through these texts and because I was young and stupid, probably missed the beauty and complexity of the writing that made these novels great.
4) Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Now, I never actually read this book, but because everyone around me in the seventies did, I always felt a little left out. So, yeah, this is on the list.
5) The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. It's been a long long time. And while I'm at it, maybe a few of the Heinlein novels. You know, maybe a journey to the golden and silver ages of science fiction.

We'll see. What about you? Time is the best hypnotherapist; it robs us of so much. Are you going back to re-experience anything? Or are you strictly future bound?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Her Voice Is Full Of Money

I have just finished "The Great Gatsby". What a marvelous work.

This is my first reading of this. Okay, all of you stop gaping in wonder. That's how classics work from time to time...some books just get by you. I've been meaning to read this for the last..oh...thirty years. I have finally done so.

. . . One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees--he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.

I swear when I read that prose I wanted to applaud. But the beauty of the writing, the lyrical use of description (the incomparable milk of wonder)paints astonishing images and at the same time sets up metaphors that weave in and out of the theme.

The characters here are complex.

The tragic Gatsby, in love with a woman who can never really love him back; a woman so shallow that she can be described by a few words: "Her voice is full of money." God. In that sentence, placed where it is in the book, we have unquestionably established Daisy. With those words the author has driven a needle through her, pinning her into place. A specimen. And Gatsby, pursuing her, is persuing a dream which can never find fruition. This shell, though noble and poetic, running from one past, pursuing another, has nothing to offer the future. Gatsby has seen his finest hour and it is behind him.

This novel, a tragedy of unfulfilled love, empty dreams, shallow relationships,
pathetic decadence and punished materialism deserves the accolades it has
received over the last several decades.

This is one of the greatest American novels ever written. I am embarrassed to only be reading it for the first time at age fifty three. If you haven't read Gatsby, then grab a copy, sit down, and read.
But read interactively. Don't just follow the words and expect to be entertained.
Read and question. Explore. Stop between paragraphs occasionally, and think about what
you have read. I don't mean plotting, I mean structure, language, description.

Here's to Jay Gatz. And to Daisy, where ever you landed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Coming Conclave

This October 3-5th I will be a participant at Conclave 33, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Romulus, Michigan. For those interested, the panels I'll be participating in are "Fanfiction", "H.P. Lovecraft, Influences in Popular Culture", and "Politics in Science Fiction and Fantasy". For those who know my sometimes colorful character, I promise to behave. Especially in the presence of Michelle West, with whom I will share the panel for "Politics in Science Fiction and Fantasy". A contributor for The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, she has written numerous novels, including "The Sundered" Tetraology" and "The Sacred Hunt" duology. I'm looking forward to meeting her and hearing what she has to offer in discussion of genre.

Besides myself, William Jones, publisher of Elder Sign Press will be present. Also associate editor Chuck Zaglanis will be presenting as well. And Ferrell "Rick" Moore will be doing numerous presentations. Rick, known around here as vwriter, is a martial arts specialist, certified paranormal investigator and a student of alchemy. In addition to his presentation on H.P. Lovecraft, I think, and I'm sure he can correct me, he'll be doing a presentation on secret societies in literature and the real world, as well as a few panels on horror writing and perhaps some workshopping with burgeoning writers.

I think it's going to be a good time. And despite the skepticism that William Jones and Chuck Zaglanis may have regarding my ability to behave myself, I promise I'll be the model of decorum.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tasting The Urine

"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Sherlock Holmes inspired me when I was a kid. I loved the idea of being able to look around and in one glance dissect the world commandingly; I thrilled at the intellectual acrobatics and the keen discipline the master displayed.

According to Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, observation is one of the thirteen thinking tools of the world's most creative people. Their book, "Sparks of Genius" is being used in a class I am taking. So, you'll forgive me if I incorporate some of my learning into the blog.

The thing that the Root-Bernsteins emphasize is that while observation is key to being able to apply creativity in real-world applications, it is something that can be learned. Observation isn't just a gift that some have and some don't. Art critic Herbert Read once stated that "observing is almost entirely a an acquired skill."

So what's the key? I'm not going to write an essay here about how to improve observational skills, I just wanted to note the importance of observation in creativity. Especially as a writer. However, one can just as easily make an argument for the importance of observation in any discipline. In any profession. By watching, focusing, using patience, one will spot patterns perhaps previously unnoticed and perhaps through those patterns make connections that they might have missed otherwise.

And of course, we must be cautious to limiting observation to the visual. Observation should include the aural, the olfatory, the tactile. Consider the keen aural skills of the musician, of an engineer listening to a car engine, of an attentive parent listening to a child at play or at rest.

The Root-Bersteins quoted W.E.B. Beveridge and I would like to share the story here:

"A Manchester physician, while teaching a ward class of students took a sample of diabetic urine and dipped a finger in it to taste it. He asked his students to repeat this action. Reluctantly they did, agreeing with their mentor that the urine was indeed sweet. 'I did this to teach you the importance of observing detail,' he said. 'Had you watched me carefully you would have noticed I dipped only my first finer into the urine...but licked the second."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Buttercup Faces The Night

Make up and lipstick. The perfect mask.

Combined in the right manner it can enhance, allure, or terrify. The ritual of taking on the mask is as old as organized religion. Nail polish can be traced back to 3000 B.C. According to one source women used to use burnt matches to darken eyes, berries to stain lips, and young boy's urine to fade freckles. Some would drink ox blood to improve complexion.

In history, in some religions and cults, taking on makeup was considered a way to assume the mask and possibly the mantle of godhood, or at very least, divine approval. Consider the Native Americans wearing war paint into battle. Perhaps its the idea of the religious connotation of certain makeup practices as opposed to its secular and libidinous use that has drawn such ire from religious fundamentalists over the years.

Given the idea that makeup is more than just something applied in haste at the beginning of the day, doors open for intriguing consideration.

I am fascinated by all role stretching in a society. Ethnic and racial roles. Gender roles. Class roles. Political roles. As a writer, it's rich subtext. Threading something as small as the use of makeup into a short story can tilt things in a strange and disturbing way.

Think about the sudden appearance of an ominous message on a mirror written in lipstick. What about the violation of someone rendered helpless and while in that position, has their face ridiculously made up, smeared with lipstick and powder as a mask of humiliation. Consider the image of the cosmetologist at the funeral parlor, working the corpse so that its appearance is "natural" and pleasing to the living.

In the end all masks fall away and what remains is the inevitable unveiling. Hmmmm. Given a choice between on one hand dressing up in yellow pinifore while wearing glitter lipstick and bright pancake powder, and on the other hand, facing the darkness that hides outside the window and crouches in our dreams, I'll take the glitter and glam.

Just call me Buttercup.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Back to...

Summer's over. Tomorrow I return to my other life, the one where my blood pressure rises and I come home at night spitting out monosyllables while rubbing crackers with a dirty index finger. Yes, tomorrow, it's school. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll take a minute here and practice one of my favorite head games:

Student: "This is a stupid assignment."
Me: "Yes, I suppose you might look at it that way."
Student: "I'm not going to do it."
Me: "Okay."
Student: "Fine."
----long pause----
Student: "What happens if I don't do it?"
Me: "That's up to you."
Student:"You're the one who grades me."
Me: "I didn't say I wouldn't grade you, I just can't tell you what will happen to you if you don't do it."
Student: "What?"
Me: "Beg your pardon?"
Student:"So, if I don't do it, you'll fail me."
Me: "Absolutely."
Student: "But it's a stupid assignment!!!!"
Me: "Okay."
Student: "So why should I have to do it????"
Me: "You don't."
Student: "But you'll fail me."
Me: "Only if you don't do it."
Student: "You suck. Why can't you be fair?"
Me: "I don't know what you want from me. If you don't want to do it, then don't. It's up to you. I have no control over any of this."
Student: "But you're the one giving me this assignment."
Me: "Define give."
Student: "What?"
Me: "Well, if you say so."
Student: "Wait. What????!!"
Me: "How's everyone doing class, any questions???"

I can already see I'll be taking my blood pressure medication before the end of the month.