Friday, June 26, 2015

One Less Avenger to Make Life Worthwhile...

The world lost two great men yesterday: because Patrick Macnee was John Steed and John Steed was Patrick Macnee.

The “espionage craze” of the sixties gave us Spies high and Spies low. It gave us James Bond of course, but it also gave us the Mission: Impossible team, John Drake, Matt Helm, our man Flint, Kelly Robinson & Alexander Scott, Solo & Kuriaken, Maxwell Smart, Boris Badinov, and a host of others. It was deep and far-reaching in our culture in a way that it has never been since. Those of us born in that era grew up with spies in our blood. 

For some of us, the greatest among all of these were The Avengers. If the name evokes images of star-spangled costumes and green-skinned behemoths, you are thinking of the wrong Avengers. That group took their name from a small team of British spies made up of both professional and amateur operatives: most often it was a team of two, sometimes as many as three or (rarely) four, but from the mid-1960s through the early 80’s the pivotal member of that little team was John Steed.

Steed has been characterized “the perfect British gentleman,” but for me that description falls far wide of the mark. It’s true that Steed had the polish of an English gentlemen, but English gentlemen do not go around hitting people over the head with bowler hats lined in steel. English gentlemen are often stuffy and conservative; Steed was neither of those things. Rather, John Steed was a man of the world, who knew how to enjoy life and how to get right down into it and play without ever mussing up his suit. 

It was this playfulness of spirit that marked Macnee and Steed. Other actors have portrayed Steed over the years, but have always ended up embarrassing themselves in a role that was never meant for them. Ralph Fiennes infamously played Steed in a disastrous “major motion picture” (opposite an equally miscast Uma Thurman and Sean Connery, whose portrayal of the villain pretty much consisted of trotting out his own worst personality defects for the world to see) that captured the quirks of the beloved TV series but missed its heart. Fiennes emphasized the “English Gentleman” bit and came off a right twat: never smiling, never enjoying himself.

The John Steed I knew (and the man who created him) was generous with his smile. He had a great, warm smile and he shared it even with his enemies. Like Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, his smile was disarming, and it might proceed a generous serving of champagne or a blow across the face. Life’s a game, after all, and what’s the point in playing it if you can’t enjoy yourself — whether you’re fighting an Evil Genius or sharing some well-earned downtime with your stunning partner in Avenging? 

The Avengers was a shining moment in television history, especially for the two seasons that featured Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel; and Patrick Macnee was its heart.

As an actor, Macnee did not have a broad range and was the first person to admit this. He was more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it, and in fact had given up acting entirely when the role of John Steed in The Avengers came along. Perhaps he knew instinctively that it suited him. Perhaps he thought of it as a lark. Certainly when the equally playful Diana Rigg joined the cast, the show became something akin to the games of espionage that we played in the long summers when school was out. This was where John Steed and Patrick Macnee became one — and the two became the most wonderful role model that any young man could have. 

For in the face of Great Evil, John Steed paused and raised a glass. He took the time to let his partner know how very much he enjoyed their company. Then and only then, armed with grace and Good Feeling, would he plunge into the fray.

— Freder.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Enter Mister Borgman

This past month has made a believer out of me: if the Moon can control the tides, who knows what effects the other planets can have on this, that and the other thing — and I am all too happy to blame this rotten past month, and all of the ways in which it has failed me and I have failed myself on the combined retrograde of both Mercury and Pluto. 

It’s been a vampire month. It’s been bed enough that I’d have been better off to just crawl under a rock and pull it in after me; as it is, the best time I’ve spent during these weeks has been in front of the telly.

To call the Dutch film Borgman a “vampire movie” would be to set up unreasonable expectations in prospective viewers. There are no fangs, no bloodsucking, no capes, none of the Hollywood tropes that people expect when they hear the word. Indeed, going into Borgman without knowing anything, it would be reasonable to believe, at first, that you were watching a plain psychological thriller about an oddly charismatic type worming his way into a well-to-do Dutch family; but that wouldn’t explain some of the oddnesses that run throughout the movie… and most of the negative reviews (in the minority) that I’ve seen about the picture seemed to have been written by people who failed to make the connection, who saw these oddities as just being weird for the sake of being weird.

But once you have accepted the fact that Borgman is all about a strain of vampirism that we have not seen on the screen before, it all makes perfect, horrible sense. As the movie opens, the titular character — a wildly hairy yet fascinating hermit-type played by Jan Bijvoet (the resemblance to Charles Manson is no doubt intentional) — is being hunted by a priest with dogs and stakes. His lair is concealed in the forest, underground, with escape tunnels dug under the roots of trees. None of this is explained; nor is anything explained that follows, including the silent dogs that let themselves into people’s houses at night, or the mysterious scars on the backs of Borgman and his “family” of murderers. That Borgman possesses some overt supernatural ability is expressly stated: sitting nude astride a sleeping woman, he affects her dreams with the power of his thought. He moves silently, swiftly, and unseen when he wishes it. And yet when the time comes for murder, Borgman’s crew use altogether conventional methods. 

Its most horrifying moments occur in the plain light of day, under dreamily sunny skies. Few words are spoken. By the time we realize that Borgman is not psychological suspense, but in fact a full-on Horror Movie, it’s too late: we are in the vampire’s spell right along with the doomed family. Gradually, we realize that he is not interested in the adults, but only working through them to get at the children of the house. Fresh blood is what his family seeks. The final scenes play out in almost complete silence, and are as quietly chilling as anything you will have ever seen onscreen.

As such I think it’s the best modern horror movie in many a moon; destined, if it can find its audience, to become a classic of the genre. It has both the sense of cunning playfulness and the visual restraint that all really good horror movies must have (its single most graphic moment occurs in a dream); and it presents a very old monster in a strikingly fresh and modern way; Borgman himself has the weight of a Great Cult Figure in the making.

Borgman is unrated in this country, but would probably be a soft R or a strong PG-13. It has some mild sexuality, more than one usage of the word “fuck,” some intense and unnerving scenes, and one very brief flash of bloody violence.

— Freder.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Brave New World

If you come around here often enough, you’ll know that I’ve already made a couple of posts about Peter Jackson’s trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit. Here’s one more, one last post, in which New Developments emerge from the corners of Fandom to change everything. Even if you don’t like Tolkien or movies based on his books, read on — something interesting is happening here.

I think of Jackson as a talented, driven, hard-working man who has no sense of self-control and never knows when to stop. For The Lord of The Rings, New Line was very hands-on with its investment and insisted on Jackson working with a team of producers who somehow kept his excesses under tight control. Since the success of those movies, he has been given carte blanche on every picture he’s made; and in all that time he has failed to produce a single movie that wasn’t bloated beyond the capacity of any sensible audience to endure.

Mister King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the world, isn’t even introduced in Jackson’s movie about him until about nine hours into the runtime. He then spends about fifteen hours fighting dinosaurs, five hours trashing depression-era Manhattan, and I know he spent around three hours staring lovingly into Naomi Watts’s eyes before finally dropping from the Empire State Building. As I recall, it takes a half-hour for him to hit the ground. And that’s in the theatrical release! God only knows how many hours those bugs chomp on Andy Sirkis’s head in the extended version.

Well… I’d better cut to the chase myself.

Turns out there are other people out there who agree with me that three long movies are more than a little bit excessive to adapt Tolkien’s 300 page novel to the screen — and some of them are doing something about it.

For someone of my generation (mostly grown up before the VCR came along and began radically altering our culture), it’s nothing short of a revelation to learn that the technology we have today, available to everyone, is now so powerful that anyone with the Will and the time on their hands can make their own re-cut of Jackson’s movies — and post it online in full high-definition video and sound.

That’s right — there are a few fans out there who have re-cut Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy into a single three-hour movie. And they haven’t just shortened it: they have re-arranged some scenes, restructured others, and basically shaped their own unique movie out of the piles of footage that Jackson so thoughtfully provided them.

I’ve downloaded one of these versions, watched most of it — and am amazed at what one fan can accomplish. All the bloat is gone, all the sub-plots are gone, all the fart and belch jokes are gone; at last we have a movie that  can stand side-by-side with the Rings Trilogy, occupying its proper proportions to those films… and here’s what’s even more jaw-dropping: it looks and sounds just as good as the theatrical release! 

The first hour of Jackson’s An Unexpected Journey is compressed neatly into 25 minutes, with no sense that we as viewers are missing anything. Beyond that point, Underhill Editor has mainly lopped out all of Jackson’s CGI Action excesses: the barrel ride down the river, which lasts an eternity in Jackson’s version and features orcs and elves flying around shooting arrows all over the screen, now lasts a few seconds and plays out just as it does in the books: the dwarves simply float down the river to safety. It is an absolute joy to watch. 

A few transitions are slightly awkward, and in the final reels the editor is forced to get quite ruthless (he solves the problem of The Battle of Five Armies simply by having Bilbo unconscious for most of it) — but what’s amazing is that the thing isn’t choppier than it is: the editor has even worked on the music cues so that the soundtrack flows smoothly. 

It is brisk, and sometimes, it must be admitted, too brisk. If Jackson had followed his original plan and given us just two Hobbit movies it might not even have been necessary. I know that there will be times when I actually do want some extra flourishes, times when I actually will re-visit Jackson’s films in their entirety… but I now regard them as “The Extended Version;” while for me the Definitive Cut, the one that I will watch every other year in conjunction with the Rings trilogy, is the one created by the Masked Man (or woman) known as “Underhill Editor.”

Now as you might have guessed, all of this Highly Illegal. I just can’t even imagine how many copyright laws this violates. So I’m not going to give you any links, you’ll have to find it on your own. “Underhill Editor” is a kind of creative Robin Hood doing all of us fans a great service; it’s my hope that the Copyright Police of Nottingham never manage to pin him or her down.

In order to get my greedy hands on a copy, I had to learn about something that was completely new to me: Bit-Torrenting. 

The sound you hear is that of Doors Opening. And all I have to say is, “Oh, my.”

That, and perhaps the same thing that the recut Hobbit makes me say: “Ain’t technology wundafil?” 

Yeah, I’ll probably be commenting on more movies in the near future.

— Freder

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Zircus in Action!

This is just one of several YouTube videos created by Rach Jardine, TarotNinja, showing my Zirkus Mägi tarot deck in action. Take it away, Rach! -- and when you're done, why not head over to my commercial site, Tarot by Duck Soup?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ticking... Ticking...

It occurred to me this morning, with some sadness, that my Grandparents on both sides of the family have been dead and out of my life for longer than they were ever in it. On my Dad’s side, both of his parents have been gone for damn near forty years. First his mother to dementia, then, while I was still in high school, his father — who was mowed down in the street by a young dunderhead driving with a girl in his lap.

My mother’s parents died in the mid-eighties: first her dad, who went quite suddenly one morning while he was getting dressed, and then her mother, who lived on several more years in decreasing health and increasing grief and bitterness.

It pains me to think that the mid-eighties are now thirty years gone. They’ve been gone more than half of my life.

It’s true that my grandparents live on in my memory, and that they were of such great importance to my youth that their impact is still felt by me today, all out of proportion to the amount of time I actually had with them. I miss them very much. That I am relatively safe and secure today (although that could always change in a flash: life has a bad habit of doing that to you) is entirely due to the efforts of my Grandpa Claude. I wish that I possessed an ounce of his sense.

Now my mother has been gone for five years, and to a great extent those five years have whooshed by in a blur worthy of Quicksilver or The Flash. I hope and trust and am pretty well sure that I will not live long enough to be able to say the same thing about her that I can now say about my grandparents.

I can pretty much guarantee that most people of my generation do not think of ourselves as being old: although we see increasing signs of it on the horizon, and young people seem to go out of their way to make us feel ancient. But we are not living in the world of our present anymore. As my friend BC pointed out to me recently, we are living in those decades and years that we used to look ahead on with awe, wondering what it would all be like and if we would have our flying cars by then. We are living in the future. 

Which makes me think, “Damn, enough of this chain of thought. Shake a leg. You have work to do.”

— Frede.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"GO" Already. Just GO!

In a fit of boredom the other night, I signed up for HBO-GO, the new service from the company created to support people with AppleTVs or Amazon Fires or suchlike similar devices. Not more than an hour later, my seven-day free trial came to a premature end when I logged into iTunes and cancelled the thing.

It wasn’t (really, it wasn’t) that I’d been promised access to the complete HBO library, whereas what was really on offer was maybe less than half of what I presume their library to contain (no Tales from the Crypt, for instance). No, what really prompted me to git outta town while the gittin’ was good was simply this: everything that HBO has ever made makes me feel Icky.

I knew that I wasn’t going to like Game of Thrones, the series that everybody and her second cousin is raving about. I am just not a fan of the genre, that sort of mediaeval royal intrigue where the whole show involves everyone just plotting against everyone else, everyone just waiting for their opportunity to slide a knife between the next person’s shoulder blades. This is just simply Too Much Like Real Life to interest me. I got enough of it working at the Waterville Morning Sentinel and at Colby College and other places: since the real world is so very much like that, why would I want to spend my free time watching TV shows about it? My impression of Game of Thrones, never having seen a frame of the show or read a word of the books, was that it was just More of The Same, only with tits and gore.

I didn’t expect it to be shoddily made as well. And yet, right there in the first five minutes of episode one, there were obvious tire tracks in the snow when the riders went out to… do whatever they were going to do. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, this is just crap workmanship. Then, after a bit, it seemed like something scary or gory was going to happen, so I hit the fast-forward button: and yes, right there in the first five minutes, off goes someone’s head and plop! into the snow. 

Ick. This is just Not for Me. I backed out and tried Deadwood instead.

Well. The thing about Deadwood is that you can IMMEDIATELY tell it’s an HBO show because everyone says “fuck” and “cocksucker” every other word. Other than the shock value, this adds absolutely zero to the story; and “shock value” seems to be the main thing that interests HBO. In the first five minutes of episode one, we get an extremely unpleasant and hands-on hanging; in the first ten minutes someone has been graphically shot through the head, and Brad Dourif, acting even crazier than usual, gets to run a steel rod into the wound, straight through the head and out the other side — the side facing us. 

And yes, Ian McShane is as knock-down brilliant as you would expect playing Al Swearengen, the barkeep and de facto owner of the town. But — this is the lead character. The lead character is supposed to have at least some likable or redeeming quality: Swearengen has none. I just don’t want to invest even a tiny part of my life in a show about people as reprehensible as this.

At this point I did not feel up to sampling The Sopranos or Six Feet Under. I was already feeling covered in Ick. I did skate through the selection of soft-core porn that HBO also offers, and even this was bad: how freakin’ long can you watch a massage?

I said, out loud, “That’s it.”

And went on to spend a lovely two hours with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in Maytime from 1937. Much, much more my speed. Y’all can keep your Icky HBO modern world. I will confine myself to entertainment that doesn’t punch me on the nose or try to shock me every five minutes. My new motto: “Life is too short to include HBO.” But, hey — at least the “B.O.” constitutes Truth in Advertising. 

— Frede.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An ISBN for the Zirkus

It's official -- the First Edition of my Tarot of the Zirkus Magi is now available on Amazon: In order to make that happen, I had to assign an ISBN to the deck. That number is 978-0-9884140-5-1 -- so now, theoretically at least, it can be ordered by and from brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere.

-- But the fact is that you can get it cheaper and with less fuss and with more options direct from my site. It's available right here in the sidebar, or you can go to and see all the other decks I have on offer. From Fortune Telling Playing Cards to Lenormand to oracle decks to tarot, there's an awful lot to see, with more on the way! Why buy a crappy mass-produced deck from the likes of U.S. Games Systems when you can get something unique direct from the artist? 'Nuff said!

-- Frede

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Light and Dark and Off the Beaten Track

It goes without saying that Hollywood no longer knows how to make movies. What may be news is that it doesn’t even know how to distribute or market the good movies being made in other countries.

Miss Minoes is a charming children’s move from the Netherlands about a cat that’s transformed into a young woman. If you’re concerned about the how or why of that, this is not your movie. However, if you just accept the premise, and if you enjoy such things in a children’s picture as: good performances (especially from the mesmerizing Carice van Houton in the title role); a child lead who is not offensively precocious; a gentle, humorous adventure in which  justice prevails and an unlikely romance blooms; and if you prefer a children’s movie that doesn’t hit you over the head with some insipid “message” about friendship or self-empowerment, then Miss Minoes should be right up your alley, cat.

The movie was made fourteen years ago, and released in America for about five minutes under the misguided and not very enticing title Undercover Kitty. Hollywood seems to have done everything in its power to bury the thing. Hollywood does this, frequently, to movies that it does not understand (does anyone remember Bamboozled?) or that threaten to outperform its own product. I found it on iTunes. Glory be to this science-fictional, content-on-demand world that we now live in, in which almost nothing stays dead and buried forever so long as the rights issues can be sorted out.

Emotions that have stayed buried for too long are the subject of the Australian horror movie, The Babadook. If you are one of those Icky people who actually enjoys the kind of blood-soaked, gore-laden exercises in cruelty that Hollywood is currently passing off as “horror movies,” (horrible movies would be the better description) then again this is not your movie. 

Unrated in this country, it deserves a PG-13 but would probably be given an R by our nonsensical MPAA system that can’t even come up with a list of standards that makes sense to itself. There is minimal blood, no gore, and the only person who dies in the whole picture did so some years before the story begins. So-called “jump scares” are nonexistent in the picture, which favors dread and suspense over shock value. That said, the emotions run very high indeed, and lead actress Essie Davis deserves a medal of honor for a performance that goes for broke and leaves nothing at the gate.

The monster of the movie’s title is seen only in shadow: but it is as dynamic as any movie monster and carries more impact than most. Without, hopefully, spoiling too much of the plot, this is a real-life monster that we must all meet, and deal with, sooner or later. The people who don’t appreciate this movie’s denouement are either too thick to “get” what the filmmaker is saying — or else they have never yet experienced the thing that the monster represents; which is to say that they have lived a blessed, merciful life so far, and cannot be faulted for their good fortune. For the rest of us, The Babadook offers a powerful release of negative emotion, feelings that we never asked for, but which inevitably take up residence in our emotional closets, ready to pounce when we are least able to face them.

— Frede

Friday, May 15, 2015

On Saturday Afternoons in 1963

image from The Zirkus Lenormand
It’s taken me almost as long to recover from having guests as it took me to have them. It may end up taking longer. “Getting” your groove back and “got” it are not the same, and I’m still in the category of “getting.”

I have no fresh, eye-opening insights about the trial of guests coming to stay. It’s hard, and that’s all. When the guests are family, it’s even more of a trial. When one is your parent and the other thinks she is your parent — that’s the worst of all. 

My father and I, as you already know if you go back a while with this blog, have not been on good terms for most of my life; so to have that relationship Mostly Functioning, even after an event like this, is a triumph and a miracle. Sure, it would have been easier to spend the same amount of time with him if we could have spread it out over a couple of months — but that’s not an option for us anymore. Gone are the days when we could meet for lunch and go our separate ways. We have entered the era where any visit amounts to a Home Invasion.

Of course parents never stop being your parents, even when you are in your fifties and thought you had attained, at long last, a hard-won Independence. It’s worse when you have a basically submissive personality, as I do whenever I am not sitting at the word-processor keyboard.

For a solid week I walked around feeling four feet tall, feeling like I had no authority in my own house. Dad alone I could have handled: but his wife is an out-of-control, runaway steam engine, and the two of them together completely overwhelmed me. 

On her own terms and turf, she is who she is and that is fine. I accept her as my father’s wife, as someone who is important to him; but there is a line that cannot be crossed, and I will not accept her as my “step-anything.” I had one mother. She was enough. This woman’s position as my Dad’s wife buys my respect for her in that position… and that is all.

So to have this steam-engine, this whirlwind, swoop into my life and begin "fixing" everything from my upstairs toilet to my home mortgage was a mind-numbing-event, an imposition of staggering proportions. 

“That’s just the way she is,” Dad says, in the process putting up with behavior that he would not have tolerated for an instant from my mother. “You just have to take her as she is.”

She is a woman who has clearly never asked herself the question, “How would I feel if a guest came to my house and behaved as I am behaving?” This is a woman who has never heard of the Golden Rule and would brush it aside if anyone confronted her with it. 

On their first night, as we passed the bathroom, I showed them the towel rack. I said, quite clearly: “This is the hand towel. That hanging over the shower is my towel that I dried off with this afternoon. These hanging here are clean towels for you.

They weren’t listening to me. I could tell. And the next morning, sure enough, the two towels they had used to shower with were the hand towel and mine. The two nice clean towels I had set out for them were ignored. It’s just perfectly symbolic of the whole week: they didn’t think they had to listen to me about anything.

She re-arranged my refrigerator, so that I couldn’t find my milk or my eggs. When I put it all back the way that I wanted it, she re-arranged the fucking thing again.

She roared through my gardens and imposed her cyclonic will upon them, not stopping at ripping up trees that I had planted with my own two hands. I am trying to cultivate a gothic look: this was not part of her agenda, and not to be respected.

She “fixed” my upstairs toilet (although I am pleased to say that this was a failure: it’s as bad now as it ever was) and re-caulked my bathroom tub. 

The food that I bought to feed us all for a week is now sitting in the freezer, because she made it impossible for me to plan a single meal: she doesn’t like the way I cook things, which is as they should be cooked. I use real butter, not margarine (which even microbes don’t recognize as food), and sea-salt — a substance forbidden in her house. I cook things in the oven and on the grill and in pots and pans. She cooks absolutely everything in the fucking microwave — even meat. My hero Gordon Ramsay would take her apart in nothing flat, and I desperately needed Gordo to swing by the house and yell at her.

She left coffee mugs and spoons and shit sitting out in my cooking space, and then used the area meant to handle the run-off from drying dishes as her cooking space. My cats walk there. It’s not a sanitary cooking space. But you can’t tell this woman anything. Try to tell this woman anything and she will yammer you to death in her high-pitched pigeon English.

She even tried to re-arrange my basic finances, by proposing to buy my mortgage from the bank — and then giving me just 24 hours to make the decision. 

I’m a person who can’t decide what to have for dinner in that amount of time. In the end, out of sheer frustration at not being given enough time to think about it, I turned her down: and only now, more than a week later, do I appreciate the wisdom of that decision. 

I could not work, on anything, the whole time that they were here. I could not even meditate to clear my head or emotions. Technically, I had the time  to do the latter: but only at the end of the day, when I was too shagged out and emotionally exhausted to do anything more than check my email and then drag myself to bed. 

Tougher than any of this was having to watch the two of them together. Nothing is simple with them: even the smallest decisions they make have to be negotiated. I saw a different man from the one I grew up with. I saw him being careful and considerate and affectionate. He never treated my mother with even the tiniest fraction of respect that accords this woman. Seeing this side of him now, and knowing that he broke my mother’s heart, that he turned her into what she became… I had to turn away to hide my tears. 

They literally drove me to drink. As soon as they left on Saturday morning, I went to the stupor-market and bought myself a big bottle of vodka. It turned out not to be as bad a lapse as it could have been, because at some point I was able to say to myself: “Don’t let them do this to you. Don’t let them have this effect on you. You have work to do. Get on with it.” And so — a little the worse for wear, I did.

It wasn’t all bad. Dad and I were able to “make some memories.” I enjoyed much of the time that I was able to spend with him. We did some things together, we talked a lot, we had some fun. It’s a reminder, I guess, that nothing good comes cheap.

— Frede

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Announcing the tip of an Iceberg:

For many years before and after World War II, both in her native Estonia and in America, Mme. Loviise MÄGI plied her trade as part-time aerialist and full-time fortune teller with the little family-owned ZIRKUS MÄGI *. Upon her death in October  1968 at the age of 72, among her effects was found a strange hand-made divination deck, purportedly created at least one hundred and fifty years earlier by her great grandmother, the cartomancer KATRIN LAINE KALLASTE. Indeed, Mme. Loviise’s only child, Mirjam Vargas, remembered the deck well, and confirmed that her mother used it only for personal and family readings. 

From the early 1800s until her death at a relatively young age late in 1832, at approximately the same time when a certain Mlle. LENORMAND was making such a name for herself in and around Paris, Mme. Kallaste plied her trade among the Balkan nobility and visiting Russian heads of state, gaining a notable reputation as a seer of outstanding ability, using a system of her own creation. Upon her sudden death under mysterious circumstances, however, both her name and the system that she created — widely believed by all who had been exposed to it to be more effective by far than that created and used by Mlle. Lenormand — sank into obscurity. It is believed that she had made a specific enemy of a certain German Nobleman, who enlisted the cooperation of the Lutheran Church to destroy Mme. Kallaste’s reputation and suppress all memory of her system. 

Now in 2015, with the support of the Mägi estate and its executor Annunciata Katrin Vargas, Duck Soup Productions is proud to re-introduce this “scorned oracle” to the world, which we will be doing in two editions. The first is a straightforward reproduction of the hand-made deck from the family collection, in the original Estonian, with notes jotted into the margins of the cards by Mme. Katrin Laine Kallaste herself. The second is a completely modern version, in English, created with charming vintage photographs and Mme. Kallaste’s notes translated into English-language keywords.

 Click the images to enlarge.

Both versions will be available in the final quarter of the year. Stay tuned for more details as this large project nears completion.

Any history of Mme. Kallaste reads like an adventure novel. We hope to announce more projects surrounding her life and works in the coming months. 

— Doug Thornsjo, Creative Director, Duck Soup Productions.

*An incomplete history of the family and their Circus can be found in the nonfiction volume See Them Dance, published by Duck Soup Productions last year. The Divination deck created by Mme. Loviise herself in the early 1930s is also available from Duck Soup Productions in both a facsimile edition and a more compact "Roadshow Edition," under the name Tarot of the Zirkus Mägi. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Now Available

A Slightly Twisted "New Vintage" Tarot

78 cards, 2.75 x 4.75, printed on premium 310gsm casino quality cardstock (linen finish),
origin of material from France. Shrink-wrapped.
Wholesale rates available. Contact


Photos of the Finished Deck -- Click to Enlarge

Choose Your Deck's Color!
Mister Punch's Tarot comes with a standard card back available in three colors! Choose Red, Green, or Blue, no extra charge! 

click to enlarge

Customize Your Punch:
Add $12 and I will Personalize your Deck with a Custom Card Back, Your Name, Monogram, Text -- anything you like!

Choose from the custom back designs below (more designs coming soon!), or send your own image. Then add your name, monogram, a quotation or your own graphic (back E is especially suitable for that) -- anything to make your deck completely unique. If you can imagine it, I can make it happen!

... Don't Forget to Accessorize!

The Tragically Comic or Comically Tragic Tarot of Mister Punch
and all original material copyright © 2015 by Duck Soup Productions, all rights reserved. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Along the Lines of Moon Pitchers

For the first time in the five years since I moved into in the All-New Duckhaus, I can say that I am Fully Unpacked… at least, as unpacked as I am ever going to be.

This startling development came about because I am expecting a visit soon from my father and his wife. They will be staying nine days (which ought to be a real challenge for all concerned)… this meant that I had to get the guest room ready to receive customers. Before I could even think about vacuuming, I needed to get the boxes up off the floor. And as that’s the room where I keep the lion’s share of DVDs, I needed to get the closet space organized, too.

It took me probably three, three and a half hours spread out across two days to re-organize the whole lot and shelve five years’ worth of accumulated DVDs. During this time I was reminded of something that I knew, but don’t often think about: When you sort movies by the year of their issue, you create a timeline of your own life.

It’s not so noticeable when you’re working with movies that were made well before you were born. Unless you were passing through some significant event the first time you saw, say, Casablanca, or unless there’s some special memory attached, like seeing The Wizard of Oz in a movie theater on a big screen after a lifetime of watching it on television, the pictures made before you were walking on the planet constitute history, and are largely safe from associations.

But now that I am well into my middle years the films that were made in the last three decades of the twentieth century and beyond all carry memory with them. Yesterday, as I was sorting material that was made in the last fifteen years, I was able to look at the shelf and say, this is where Mom’s leg was amputated — this is where she died. Everything beyond that point represents a new life. The hard last years of her life occupy maybe a foot and a half along the shelf, along a timeline that extends back and back and is filled with other connections: this is where I started working at the newspaper, this is where I was dating such-and-such a woman, this is the last movie that all my friends and I went to and watched together. 

We’re the sum of our experiences after all; and a life spent in the cinema is a life that can easily be retraced along a row of dusty old DVDs. I suppose the same thing is true with comics, which also tend to be sorted by their issue date rather than by such things as title or author or LOC. But I more or less stopped reading comics in the mid-eighties, by which time Marvel had been thoroughly ruined by a succession of moronic editors-in-chief… movies are the consistent path leading me straight through and beyond my comic-book-reading years, in both directions: here’s where I started drinking (the Gerry Anderson TV series UFO is, I found out, so much more entertaining when you are slightly soused). Here’s where Mom and Dad broke up. Here’s where I met my best, longest-lasting friends, one of whom left us here; here’s where I graduated from High School, and visited my cousins and grandparents in Minnesota for the last time. 

The shelves are fraught with beginnings and endings. The movies don’t just belong to the people who created them: they are woven into our lives.

— Frede.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Tarot of Mister Punch

Click to enlarge.

My next Tarot project, The Tragically Comic or Comically Tragic Tarot of Mister Punch, is really very nearly completed. In fact I'm just waiting for the printed proof to arrive. My target on-sale date for this May 2nd. It's been a lot of great fun to make, and I hope it will be fun and informative to use. You can see this and all my tarot projects, including lots of boring written bits on how the decks came to be, at my tarot website, And this isn't the end, by any means! Stay tuned, Mystic Ones!

-- Frede.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The First Ten Minutes

I’ve now seen, at long last, the first ten minutes of Peter Jackson’s first movie culled from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and some of his surrounding writings; especially the Appendices attached to The Lord of The Rings.

Why only ten minutes of the first film? Because I’m saving the rest of the movie trilogy for the first week of May, when my Dad and his wife come to visit from Out West. It’s one of the few movie-type-thangs that the three of us share an interest in, and it was the chance for us all to watch it for the first time, together, that justified in my mind the expense of getting in the digital HD versions of all three movies.

Having gotten the damn things in, I just couldn’t resist peeking. It’s only human — and Hobbit — nature. 

My first impressions are as complicated as you might expect, if you know me. The movie has the feel of a terrific theme-park ride, and is a rich and vivid imagining of Tolkien’s universe as a whole; but as an adaptation of Tolkien’s little novel, his children’s tale about an awakening, Jackson’s Hobbit does real violence to the source material.

Tolkien’s novel starts out in a hole in the ground, and that’s a big part of the whole point. Mr. Bilbo Baggins is a provincial type, living with blinders on. All he knows of the world is what is in front of him: his village and his hole in the ground. Then, one fateful day, Something Happens. Something happens that makes Mr. Baggins suddenly realize that… there may be more to the world than he previously imagined. 

Therein lies the whole point, the entire purpose of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. He is telling you, the reader, to take off your blinders and climb out of your hole and look, just look at all the wonders out there that exist in the world. 

The rest of the story is just that: a little story that opens up nicely to reveal the only other part of Tolkien’s overall intent, which is to make the point that actions have consequences, and consequences reverberate outward.

We start in a hole in the ground, we open up as people and we see that if we are not careful, even in our isolation, our actions can have unintended consequences — consequences that future generations will have to bear. This is almost the opposite of what every insipid modern Tolkien-inspired fantasy tries to tell us, and something that bears more consideration.

Well, Peter Jackson chucks all that right out the window. He opens his telling of the story in the outer world, and spends the first ten minutes or so revealing the entire recent history of the dwarven race, providing us with backstory details that we are not supposed to have until, if you are following Tolkien, much later on in the narrative. 

And it is gorgeous. Jaw-dropping. This is what Peter Jackson does better than anyone and if you don’t think to yourself “WOW — WOW-ee-WOWW” in the first ten minutes of the picture than something must be wrong with your sense of wonder. It is, it must be admitted, a glorious visualization of Middle-Earth history, and a smashingly dramatic opening to a movie trilogy. Really, it is. I mean — you have to give Jackson that. Entertaining? Absolutely, one hundred percent.

Is it Tolkien’s The Hobbit? Ehm, no… and not even close. There is a huge philosophical divide between this movie Hobbit and the book, and one doubts that Tolkien would be happy with it. My tattered old paperback copy of The Hobbit bears the tagline “A Prelude to The Lord of The Rings” — even though it wasn’t written as such, but as a stand-alone story. Jackson’s movie is clearly designed not to be a prelude to anything. Instead, it is a follow-up, and an expansion upon, the movie trilogy.

I suppose that there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But those of us who just wanted a clean adaptation of Tolkien’s novel that we could watch before a screening of the movie trilogy are still going to have to settle on the animated Rankin-Bass version. 

— Frede.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Post Haste

My first email campaign is flying out even as I type this. Those of you not on my mailing list can ogle the thing here:

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