Monday, December 31, 2012

A Preview of Coming Attractions

Last night and this morning I had just a little bit of a breakthrough on my next writing project. The Muses smiled on me, so to speak, and now I feel it’s Safe At Last to announce the next novel, due in April or May (although these things are always subject to change and the limits of nature), called See Them Dance.

From the beginning it was an experiment to see if I could actually write a novel on schedule, if not from a fully-formed outline then at least from a broad plan where I actually knew the Beginning, Middle and End of the story going in (this has never happened before). It was also a throw-down challenge to write something in a specific genre, although here my perversity raised its ugly head, as it has on so many other occasions in the past. 

Years ago, on a lark, my friend Bruce Canwell (now doing wonderful things as the Associate Editor of the Library of American Comics) and I challenged each other to write a short story in the plain old-fashioned Sword and Sorcery genre. You know, Conan the Barbarian, Elric, that sort of thing. “Thud and Blunder,” as BC calls it. 

Of course I couldn’t just go and write a Sword and Sorcery story that was recognizably Of The Genre. Instead, I set mine at the start of the American Civil War and made my hero a Scottish immigrant seeking work as a farrier for the Northern Armies who has a little squabble with Mister Death Himself in the form of a Negro slave. 

See, I told you I’m perverse. That story is collected in Méliès' Notebook and Other Stories, now on sale all over the place, if you’re curious. Meanwhile, with my current project I had decided to write a “science fiction” novel. My friends Steve Miller and Sharon Lee need not worry (not that they would; I just wanted to drop their names and link to their site, because Steve has been so nice and passed links from here along to his fans). Instead of Science Fiction, what I’ve got on my hands is something right out of the Lunatic Fringe. Call it Rayguns and Sideshows, if you need a label.

All I can tell you is that it features a character that I’ve worked with before (although in different guises and under different names), and that it combines two of my favorite things: Space Fantasy and The Circus. That said, it goes in a completely different direction from Barry Longyear’s great Circus World novels of the ‘eighties. 

I’ll leave you with this: What is the connection between Phineas Taylor Barnum and a string of murders that occurred in the American South during the early 1950s? You’ll find the answer in See Them Dance, a fantasy adventure starring Cranch the Clown, coming April or May 2013! Maybe June. I hope no later than that.

While I'm at it, I'd like to point your attention to the latest addition to the sidebar and the catalog page: our January publication will be a new First Issue of our oldest comics feature, Quirk. This is not just a Remastered, Re-Designed and cleaned up reprint of Sludge's origin story, "A-Muck Time." It will feature an all-new framing story that brings Our Heroes up to date in the present day and sets the tone for future stories, plus galleries, articles and more as I think of it! Look for it near the end of the month.

So -- I've been keeping busy.

Tamam Shud! -- as Stan Lee used to say.

-- Freder

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Thoroughly Retro Intellect

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect” -- Oscar Wilde

One of the better examples of my perversity is that the only reason I finally knuckled under and got myself an iPhone was because I liked the anachronistic image of a person who dresses the way I try to dress in public -- extremely old-fashioned, as close to the manner of the 1930s and earlier as my budget will allow -- carrying a device that is so technologically advanced, and which performs so many other functions than just making and receiving phone calls.

To carry that perversity to its extreme, I immediately set about tricking out my iPhone and iPad with gadgets that marked me, I’m afraid, as being Hopelessly Steampunk: apps that perform Marvelous Functions, but which look, sound and act as if they came out of the early part of the last century,

For instance: I’m typing this now on miTypewriter. No, not my typewriter, but miTypewriter, a delightful little app that turns my iPad into a very nearly fully-functional Underwood vintage typewriter. The keys go clackety-clack in that satisfying way as I work, and when I reach the end of the line a little *ding* reminds me that I have to manually hit the return arm. If I make a mistake, I have to hit the backspace button repeatedly until I’ve gone over it. The paper climbs through the typewriter as I work, and I can see that the keys need cleaning; that’s all right. One page at a time is all I get... when I reach the end of the page I have to take it out and start with a clean one. Spell check? That's for wimps. Everything is fully animated; except for the fact that the iPad is light as a feather, and the pressing of the keys requires no effort at all, the illusion that I’m working on an actual vintage typewriter is pretty darned convincing, and y’now, it satisfies something in my neural pathways to have this kind of writing experience restored to me.

Likewise, I recently spent 99¢ on an app called Vinyl, and it is the best 99¢ I have spent in a long time. My friend BC dismissed it as being something that “makes your iPad look like an old record player,” but if that was all that it did, the app would be silly and pointless. No, my fiends. Vinyl completely recreates the experience of playing music on a physical record player, from leafing through your album collection and putting the platter on the turntable to picking up the tone arm and setting it down on the spinning record (which rotates at 33 1/3 for LPs and 45 RPM for singles, just like the real thing)! Do not expect to hear any of this Thoroughly Modern, squeaky clean, digitally sterilized sound, either: what you get from Vinyl is what vinyl delivered: a slightly muffled sound augmented by the wonderful scritching and scratching and pops and pips of a physical needle dragging along a physical vinyl record. Crackle crackle crackle! If you grew up listening to music this way, you know what I mean, and you know what you have been missing. The tone arm actually moves across the virtual record as the record spins round and round. And Vinyl even divides the albums into two sides, so that if you want to listen to the whole album, you have to stop the player at the end of side one, flip the record over and put the needle down at the beginning again.

This is the way music was meant to be listened to! None of this twenty-first century automatic playlist crap. Oh, the luddite in me is sweeking with glee over this one.

For the more esoteric-minded among you, after much scrounging and searching of the app store I discovered a neat device called Phaeton. There are a number of really good star-tracking and planetarium apps out there and I use several of them across all my devices. But I was on the lookout for something that did it the old-fashioned way, and Phaeton is just the ticket: in one great-looking app it combines three devices: an orrery (the witch in The Dark Crystal had a big one of these in her house), a tellurion, and an astrolabe. All are full-functioning if you know how to use them (I confess that I don’t, although it’s fun to track the weekly movements of the planets in the orrery). For all you budding Alchemists out there, this is your key to the cosmos, if you will, all neatly stowed in your iPad -- and honestly, it just looks great sitting open on the desktop in your study. At its base, under the main viewer window, all set in virtual brass, three clock-faces keep track of Solar, Civil and Sidereal time. With Phaeton, any Lady or Gentleman will always know exactly where they stand in the Universe.

That technology can be used to take us back -- that it can be used to make a super-slick, super-powerful device behave like a device that has character, while still retaining its super-slick qualities... this is what makes geeks geek out the geekiest, I think. 

On my iPad i also have: 
  • a fully-functioning recreation of the Nazi Enigma machine that was used to encode secret messages during WWII
  • three vintage-style desktop clocks, including a wonderful re-creation of a working nixie-tube clock, and a Gansburg clock: which shows not just the hours and minutes, but the month and day,  the moon phases, sunrise, sunset and the solar holidays: the times when the walls of reality are said to be at their thinnest. Not bad for a purely mechanical device.
  • a “RetroActive” machine, which looks a bit like a vintage radio, but which actually allows me to record Important Things that people may have said to me -- AFTER they actually said them! Was it H.G. Wells who said that advanced science was indistinguishable from magic?
  • a working Wurlitzer diner jukebox and a seventies-style cassette recorder
  • a program that allows me to write and send vintage-style postcards
  • a Ghost Detector with a distinctly Retro flair
  • a complete vintage arcade with pre-electronic mechanical games
  • recreations of several vintage and retro-style board games
  • a Kinder Klavier toy piano, a hammer dulcimer, ukelele and programmable music box
  • several antique photographic devices
  • a vintage Kaleidoscope, and...
  • several ancient, esoteric tarot decks.
And that’s just my iPad. I won’t even begin to describe the arcane devices on my phone

Now, honestly, all I need is an app that will turn my iPad into a TARDIS. I’m ready.

-- Freder.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Eyes of a Child

I’ve been using a creative visualization app to start my day; and every day it alerts me with what it calls “Inspirational Quotes” -- but somehow every time I see those words, all I can think of is a sketch that Stan Freberg wrote for his album The Unites States of America, Part One, in which Tom Jefferson tries to get Ben Franklin to sign the Declaration of Independence, only to have Franklin continually put him off with one of his new “Wise Sayings.”

Ohhhhh, yeah, you go to a few ‘harmless’ parties, sign a few ‘harmless’ petitions and forget all about it! -- Next thing you know you get hauled up before a committee!”

“What are you so surly about?”

“Surly to bed and surly to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy an---”

“Yeah, yeah, all right all right, will you knock off the one-line jokes?”

That’s Stan Freberg rewriting American History for you. Jefferson, taken aback by the barrage of non sequitors, simply asks: “Wise sayings?” Franklin responds, “Yeah, I call ‘em ‘Wiiiiiiiiise Sayings.’”

So, my “Wiiiiiiiise Saying” for today was this:

“Being healthy is feeling the same way as little children feel. Little children are bursting with energy every day. Their bodies feel light and flexible; moving is effortless. They're light on their feet. Their minds are clear; they're happy, and free of worry and stress. They sleep deeply and peacefully every night, and they wake up feeling completely refreshed, as if with a brand-new body. They feel passionate and excited about every new day. Look at little children and you will see what being healthy really means. It is the way you used to feel, and the way you should still feel.”

I’m certain that the person writing the statement doesn’t mean that we should all start acting like babies, and toss our responsibilities to the wind; on the other hand that last sentence packs a punch that is worth noting.

Remembering feeling that way, and knowing that I didn’t feel that way anymore; this was a key note in my bitterness for a long time, and is probably the hardest thing for me to let go of, even now that I have started to get some of the spring back into my step. You look back on all the people who stole your life, who bullied you and bled you, and you can’t, at least I can’t, help but feel some resentment: right now, a chief target for my misbegotten bitterness is my last boss, a woman with the Spiritual Life of a tapeworm who liked nothing better than to drain all the Joy out of everything and everyone around her and to spend every minute of her day trying to reduce everyone to her level. You see? It’s all true, but I shouldn’t still be harboring bitterness over it. It doesn’t do me any good, and she’ll never change until someone drops a house on her. It’s something that I need to put behind me.

Lucky are the people who never have their Sense of Wonder broken, leached, stolen or bought by the Forces of Evil at play in our daily lives. Luckier still are the ones who are nearly beaten down, nearly exhausted, but who somehow, with help, manage to get it back. 

It’s a daily struggle, and I guess the Zen message is Not to Struggle, but to withdraw and Breathe Deep, to let the struggle pass you by and burn itself out, to place yourself above it. 

And now I have some fiction to write. Type at you later.

-- Freder.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Going on two years ago right here in these pages I announced my newly-minted web address,, and promised a site to go with it. I had Big Ideas, probably too big. Too complicated at any rate. If you could see the blueprint that I drew up for that site, your mind would croggle. It was more like a blueprint for five sites. That’s, I think, something that I get from my father, and something that I’ve had to learn: the notion that a level of complexity equates with quality, when the thing I really ought to do is simplify, simplify, simplify. 

It’s taken me all the better part of those two years to realize that this is my website... not just a blog (although it will remain that), but a fully-functioning, connected series of pages capable of doing pretty much anything and everything I want it to do, including e-commerce. It wasn’t until earlier this week that the light bulb finally went on over my head, and shouted down at me: “Hey, stupid! You’ve been referring people to ‘the blog’ as your official site for how long now? And you’ve owned this domain name for how long now? Get up off your keister and make the connection awreddy!”

So -- Presto! Welcome to Duck Soup Productions. Welcome to It’s Duck Soup, after all...

I’ll still be making personal posts and they’ll still be as honest as I can make them; issues like grief and alcoholism don’t just go away. I’ll still want to vent every now and again (for instance: the main way I coped with the Holiday Season just past was in immersing myself in making this transition). I’ll still be shooting my typing fingers off about the subjects near and dear to me, especially movies and telly. So, nothing much is going to change, except that my line of eBooks and Stuffages, my “Novelties and Notions” to quote Cuthbert J. Twillie, will continue to grow. I’ve already made the addition of e-commerce through PayPal: check out the little yellow “Add to Cart” buttons on the catalog page. One thing: The catalog page is where the little yellow “Add to Cart” buttons will stay, you won’t be bothered with them here.

To celebrate the changeover, you might notice that I’ve given the place a complete overhaul! The old design was just something that I cobbled together quickly (and not very effectively) out of things I had on hand; the background image, for example, was a picture from the Old House. So that had to go. The clumsy layout was consolidated into a much cleaner plan. If I had to put it into words, I’d say that the old design was a design in search of itself, where this is a design that knows what it is about. What do you think? You can tell me personally, because there’s a brand-new email link in the sidebar that will post your comments straight to me. That’s just one detail in the New Features of Coolness available to me now. 

As always, thanks to everyone who stops by here and gives me a reason to keep on typing. It is a big deal for me to able to sit down here every morning and see that people have actually stopped by. I hope it’s worth their while. I’m doing my best to make it so.

-- Freder

Monday, December 24, 2012

Torchwood: End of Days

I have to hand it to Russell T. Davies: in Torchwood: Children of Earth he created a scenario that was as uniquely horrific as anything ever attempted on television. Only the most curmudgeonly, the most heartless of viewers could possibly watch the final episode without being shaken by scenes of uniformed men, men that we are conditioned to think of as our protectors, literally dragging screaming children out of their homes to be handed over as a mood-altering substance for an alien race. “Disturbing” doesn’t begin to do it justice. And yet like all the best horror thrillers, Children of Earth leaves the most nightmarish elements of its plot up to our imagination.

By rights, Children of Earth should have closed the book on Torchwood, and given Davies’s deliberately deconstructive approach to the series since its inception this would would have been the appropriate way to go out -- and a spectacular end to the Torchwood saga. Regrettably, to our point of view if not to the BBC’s, in 2011 Davies reunited the team’s last surviving members for a British-American co-production airing on STARZ called Miracle Day. I haven’t seen it, and have no plans to do so. Having just completed the original series, I feel strongly that Children of Earth is where it ended. For me, that’s the way it is going to stay.

Torchwood burned brightly for something that started as nothing more than an anagram of Doctor Who. When Davies and Julie Gardner were boldly resurrecting the venerable old BBC classic but wanted to keep the project strictly hush-hush, they called it “Torchwood” for secrecy’s sake. Shortly into the second season of the revived show (and whatever my reservations are about the details of Davies’s tenure on Who, it was a successful revival that made it possible for Stephen Moffat to be blowing our socks off today), the Doctor royally pissed off Queen Victoria (played by the always-delightful Pauline Collins), who responded by creating a super-secret branch of the government devoted to thwarting him in all his incarnations: said branch to be called Torchwood. 

This was not yet asking for a spin-off.

For that to happen, they needed something else. Turn back the clock to season one of the revived Who, and a character created by the aforementioned S. Moffat: a rogue from the future stowing away in World War II-era London under the false name of Captain Jack Harkness. As played by the impossibly, abominably, unfair-to-the-rest-of-the-male-species handsome John Barrowman (how handsome is Barrowman? Barrowman is so handsome that during the course of Torchwood he turns at least one straight guy gay, and you don’t even bat an eye. I have a friend who, really and truly, only wants to know one thing about Torchwood: do we ever get to see Barrowman naked? Well, yes, R______: in Children of Earth we do finally see Barrowman bare-ass naked -- but he’s had steady work for a few years as a result of the Harkness role, so he’s put on a few pounds from when he first took the part. I’m just sayin’), Harkness was popular enough in his first appearance that Davies brought him back, made him a regular, played up the sex angle, and, oh yeah, made him immortal. It was a little accident with Rose Tyler and the Daleks what caused that. Captain Jack Harkness can die, all right, and he does so with alarming frequency all through Torchwood... it’s just that he keeps bouncing back. 

The Torchwood agency as established still was not ready to be the focal point of a series: it needed to be deconstructed. And so in series three of Doctor Who, the Cybermen obliterated the agency as we knew it, leaving active only one little branch in Wales, a branch with notably different goals and aims from the parent, and headed by, you guessed it, Captain Jack Harkness.

After all, anything is plausible when you have an immortal character: all they had to do was trap Captain Jack in the past and give him a reason to become Torchwood’s longest-serving agent.

The first season of Torchwood, the series, debuted late in 2006 with the recruitment of an easily “identifiable” normal person -- a Welsh police woman named Gwen Cooper -- as the newest member of an agency reforged and retooled by Harkness to deal with all sorts of alien and supernatural phenomenon. And what a first season it was! Similar in theme to The X-Files, it simply blew The X-Files out of the water on just about every scale that these things are measured on. The characters were more realistic, more interesting and certainly more charismatic; the stories were more human, and the mythos benefitted from its loose connection to Doctor Who while steadily building a flavor of its own. 

If Davies’s Doctor Who was good, Torchwood, which gave him more creative freedom, was fantastic. For a while. 

It should have lasted for years. It should have lasted for a decade. Instead, the seeds of doom were sown in the final episode of the first season, which went so far over the top in terms of its plot and action that it actually left “over the top” behind in the dust. It tossed all credibility aside and went into the world of comic-book sensibilities, with a giant flaming devil stomping around in New South Wales, and Captain Jack facing it down single-handed because, well, he’s the only one who can without dying. It was a lamentable and misguided turn for a series that had taken nothing but surefooted steps up to that point. And from there, it went downhill fast.

In season two, Torchwood fell into the X-Files trap and allowed its plots to become increasingly self-referential and inward-turning, when any sensible producer knows that a second season is when you should be expanding your territory. “The Hub,” which was just something to hang things on in the first season, became the focus of season two. “Weevils,” which were a cute little one-off menace for season one, started popping up every-goddamn-where. There were character stories, yes: but it’s a bad sign when you’ve already got one immortal character, and your biggest character story of the season consists of killing off another one and then bringing him back as an animated corpse (which didn’t work anyway; Burn Gorman as Owen could be seen breathing every time he had to emote, even in a scene that specifically called for him not to be able to give the breath of life!).

Davies had literally been deconstructing Torchwood since before the series premiered, and so it perhaps should not have come as a surprise when, in a really heartbreaking final episode, he literally wiped out half of the regular cast in one fell swoop. I think if I’d had him in the same room with me I would have slapped him, or at least shaken him. I’d have shouted at him, as I damn near shouted in my library: “Dude, what were you thinking? Yes, Owen and Tosh had a losing Romantic Sup-plot going on, but that was your fault, not theirs! Now you have a show -- oh, except that you don’t because you just killed off half the cast!

With only three agents surviving, Torchwood could hardly be said to be any kind of an organization any more, and as if in acknowledgment of this, Davies actually blows up their headquarters in the first episode of Children of Earth. By episode four he’s killed off Ianto Jones, the only remaining Supporting Character in the agency; so it’s just Jack and Gwen now.

That said, the five astonishing episodes of Children of Earth somehow propel Torchwood back to its former glory; and perhaps the real reason for this lies in its seeming self-awareness that the series is as mortal as anything else and has reached the end of its young life, cut short like the lives of the children that factor as the centerpiece of its plot. With a dark, funereal atmosphere pervading throughout, and loss as its overwhelming theme, it is only appropriate that Harkness and Gwen Cooper say their goodbyes at the end, go their separate ways, and that Captain Jack should return to the stars from where he came. 

Both characters are great, strong, deep, mythic, interesting, and have marvelous potential futures ahead of them, each going their separate ways, each going in new directions and possibly to greater heights. But Torchwood? That’s all done now; that’s ended: just smoldering ash and dying embers. Best left to memory. 

-- Freder.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Fox with the Golden Sax


(and by “we” I mean of course the editorial we, a device that writers sometimes use to avoid typing “I” all the time...)

are pleased to announce that our latest e-Book is published and available now! Tinsel*Town #1 is the first “graphic novel” in our new line of publications (I have to use quotes, because to me they're still Comics). 

We put a lot of work into this one; a significant chunk of it has been redrawn, recolored, and every page has been “remastered” at double the resolution of the original web serial versions. We’re happy with how the book itself turned out... and we’re taking a new step with its marketing this time, as well.

There are three editions of this eBook, each with its differences. Although a Kindle version is available at Amazon, we have to admit that we haven’t yet found a really satisfactory way to translate comics into the Kindle format, and this edition is the least preferred one. At the other end of the spectrum is the Apple iBooks version available now at iTunes. This edition is an absolute gas! It looks and acts great, and is enhanced with a few little multimedia add-ons. This is the preferred edition of the book, and the one you should consider getting if you have the right hardware.

For everyone else, the PDF edition is the best bet -- and that version is only going to be available right here! We’ve signed on with PayPal and Square Register, so we’re almost ready to take orders, we just have to figure out the details and set it up on the catalog page. This will a bit fussy... instead of an immediate download, the order will come to us, and we will deliver it to your email inbox within 24 hours. Downloads absolutely would have been the best way to go, but every shopping cart system out there that allows for this costs more per month than our little books would likely ever bring in, so there’s just no sense in going that route. We hope that you’ll bear with us. As it is, if everything works the way we think it is supposed to work, you’ll soon be able to order any of our books at a discount direct from us on the internet, over the phone or by snail mail, and receive them auto-magically by email (make sure your email server allows large files!) UPDATE 12/26: Our PayPal Shopping Cart is in place, and you can now order the PDF edition of Tinsel*Town -- along with all of our other titles -- direct from us! Check the CATALOG page for details!

Coming next month, another “First” as our longest-running comics character Quirk makes his debut in the new format. Watch the sidebar for details! And, as always, thank you all for visiting this blog, reading what I/we lay down here, and making it all possible. Especially with this post, it bears repeating that one year ago today I was a different person in a Bad Place, headed who knows where. This blog and the people who come here to visit are a big part of reason why all that has changed.

-- Freder

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit -- An Unexpected Enema

Well-- The Hobbit is out and I was excited to see it, until I heard that Peter "I'm Making It As Long As I Can" Jackson had taken their already inflated game plan and pumped it up even further.

The concept all along was that this was going to be TWO movies to adapt The Hobbit, which I thought was already a bit much. Any director worth anything could tell that story in one three-hour movie or two 90 minute ones, but two three-hour movies was stretching it dangerously into the territory of Jackson's god-awfully bloated, self-worshipping monolithic piece of crap King Kong

But now I learn that four months ago while they were assembling installment #1, Jackson decided to blow it up even further, and make it into THREE movies. 

This is just crass money-grubbing milking of the property until it is bone dry. 

This is GREED, pure and simple.

This is just like Christopher Tolkien for all intents and purposes publishing volume after volume of his father's fucking LAUNDRY LISTS fer chissake and expecting fans to lap them up.

There is NOT enough story material in that little book to sustain three movies, PERIOD. This is just pure bullshit. Nearly NINE hours to tell the story of The Hobbit? Rankin-Bass did it in 70 minutes. 

It makes me SHUDDER to think how freakin' long the inevitable "Special Extended Edition" DVD is going to be -- but I don't want anything to do with it. 

Honestly, I'm not even going to the movie theater to see this, and I really did not expect to be saying that. I was as excited as anyone for this. But when you're sticking things like fist-fighting mountains into Tolkien for no better reason than to take up screen time, you have crossed the line from storytelling to making theme-park rides.

No, I'll wait for the DVDs, and I'll wait until they are cheap. I just am not going to be taken advantage of by this bubble-headed New Zealand jerkwad and the sticky-fingered, cleft-tongued corporate catamites that he works for. It confirms what I've long suspected: the man needs to be kept on a leash.

-- Freder.

ADDENDA: Now I'm reading interview comments from Peter Jackson claiming that there's material in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings that indicates Tolkien was planning to publish "an extended version of The Hobbit."

Can you see the idiocies in that statement before I point them out?

First -- so Peter Jackson is now claiming that he can see into Tolkien's mind, heart and soul and say that he really intended to do something that he never showed any sign of wanting to do in his lifetime? ... this is pretty stupid even for Peter Jackson.

Second, he's crediting Tolkien for possessing his own 21st century movie blockbuster mentality, which is that more of everything is necessarily and by definition better.

Had Tolkien wanted to expand The Hobbit, he certainly had the opportunity in his lifetime and could have done it.

Tolkien had lots of opportunities to capitalize on what he had accomplished, but he never took advantage of them. He fundamentally did not possess the Greed Gene. Greed was something that was done TO him. Greed was something that he wrote about in his books. It wasn't in his own nature.

That fell down to his son and the various publishers and hangers-on over the years.

The Silmarillion is, I think, a perfect example. It did not get published in Tolkien's lifetime because it was unfinished -- and it would have stayed unfinished as long as he lived, because The Silmarillion was his hobby, something he was doing to please himself and no one else.

The Silmarillion in its published form is a shining example of a Completely Unreadable book, and a book that was never intended to be read, because it was never intended for publication.

Greed took care of that. Christopher Tolkien took care of that. I'm disdainful of CT for a number of reasons, not the least of which because he was vocally disdainful of the original Lord of the Rings movies ten years ago -- meanwhile, trucks and vans full of money were being deposited on his doorstep as a result of those movies.

But now, in his turn, Peter Jackson is having a good wank on us all.


I just can't resist. I'd like to be the first one to call for a "Special CONDENSED Edition" DVD for those of us who would like to be able to get through the whole story in one three-hour sitting! Time-Warner, are you listening???

-- Freder.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Exeunt the Draggin'

After watching it for the first time the other night, I suppose that I can understand why Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon made such a splash ‘way back in 1973, but in the words of Yo’ da Muppet, “Aged well it has not.”

Yes, the location photography is still gorgeous and the martial arts action is still exciting (although even that has been eclipsed by later films, more on that later), but a movie has to be judged on all of its qualities and in every other respect, Enter the Dragon falls embarrassingly on its face. Five minutes into it I was cringing at the dialogue, the hideous low-rent overdubbing, the non-acting, the strictly pedestrian direction. Twenty minutes later I was still cringing, and wondering what was wrong with the people who have proclaimed this painful gobble-gobbler a classic for so many years. I mean, come on, guys. This is a classic? Never mind that, when does it even become watchable?

The “plot” is simply Dr. No with all the suspense, danger and threat taken out of it -- and, if possible, the characters reduced to even more mind-bogglingly shallow figures. The villain presents no global threat but is just a Shaolin priest who joined the Dark Side of The Force and became a drug distributor -- and really, the movie treats his abandonment of Shaolin principles as a much greater crime than manufacturing and selling drugs. The supporting characters played by John Saxon and Jim Kelly are each given their lame excuses for a backstory, but when character development is this ham-handed, a movie is better off without it. One after the other they arrive in Hong Kong, and one after the other they bring the movie to a screeching halt with their moronic, cloudy flashbacks.

In yet another flashback, it’s revealed that Bruce Lee’s Little Sis disemboweled herself with a shard of glass rather than allow herself to be raped by the villain’s Lead Henchman. This is done for no other reason than assure us that Lee is no altruistic hero: he’s going in because It’s Personal. It also “justifies” his fight with the henchman later on, which ends with Lee stomping him to death... Lee accomplishes this with an abundance of emotive over-acting.

Bruce Lee does have screen presence, but that’s not enough to hold a movie together all on its own -- and honestly, it was his presence that made me not like him very much. To me he came off as arrogant and full of himself, even crowing like a rooster as he beat people up. Lee is so cocky and self-absorbed that Sean Connery’s Bond looks humble beside him. This is not a guy I would want to have lunch with. Something tells me that he would spend the whole time bragging about all the people he’s beaten up.

And that’s another thing. In the opening match, the buff, lean, tightly muscled Mr. Lee fights against a lumbering fat man twice his size with no muscle on his body, clearly out of shape, clearly not a threat at all. Lee comes off as a bully. It goes downhill from there. With the exception of one hulking brute that Lee never gets to fight, all the opponents that he takes on are shown as being smaller and weaker than he is. They come at him in numbers, true, but in the close confines of the secret lair in which most of the action takes place, their numbers actually work against them. What should be an impressive display of defensive martial arts mayhem becomes a rote exercise of Lee shooting fish in a barrel. 

The finale, in which he squares of against Dr. N-- I mean “Han” himself (going Solo against Han, so to speak), is no different. Oooo -- can Bruce defend himself against a one-armed old man? I dunno... better put them in a hall of mirrors just to make it a little interesting, even if that does bring the action to a screeching halt... which is okay, because it gives Bruce a chance to stop and reflect back on what his Master taught him about Mirrors at the beginning of the story. This is about the only thinking Lee does in the whole film.

In recent months I’ve watched a bunch of martial arts pictures and written about them on this blog. Not all of them were great. But even the worst of them looks like Casablanca next to this sleepwalker. They were written and directed by people who know their craft, not by a pack of amateurs seemingly making it up as they went along. They starred people who could do all the things Lee does -- and act as well. If they sometimes were too ambitious for their own good, or ventured too far out into the Lunatic Fringe... those are flaws I would settle for rather than an incompetent script by an obvious tyro and a hack-job director who trips over himself every time he tries to frame a shot.

I’ll take Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chow Yung-Fat and even Sammo Hung over Bruce Lee any day, except I have to give Lee the credit for one thing: he was the one who gave all of those people their opportunities. 

If by opening the door for a whole genre of movies, good bad and indifferent, a movie becomes a classic whether it is itself good, bad or indifferent, then Enter the Dragon is a indeed classic, because it certainly did open the door in the West for hundreds and hundreds of moves that followed. 

But on its own terms? As a movie that has to sink or swim on its own merits? Enter the Dragon has very little merit, and deserves to be remembered today only as the Swan Song of an action star who worked assiduously and with honor to get where he was, but who in the end deserved better.

-- Freder.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Comedy of Errors

Last week, in a desperate funk over events Beyond My Control, I decided it was time to pull out the Big Guns, draw from the bank of the dwindling list of "firsts" still available to me, and partake of Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy in Our Relations.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn't this: a double-dose of Stan and Ollie in a comedy of mistaken identities and mismatched expectations. The simple premise is established with a couple of lines of dialogue and a fun trick photo in the first five minutes of the movie: Stan and Babe have twin brothers from whom they were separated -- not at birth, but shortly after high school. One set of twins, the ones we know, live contended and upstanding middle-class lives with their spouses in a shared home. The other set -- the disreputable ones -- shipped off to sea at a young age and were hanged for their incompetence by an angry ship captain.

So Stan and Ollie don’t expect to see their incorrigible twin brothers Bert and Alfie ever again. Of course this means that Bert and Alfie immediately ship in to Stan and Ollie’s home town and begin making themselves known in one of the port’s -- ehm -- more unsavory establishments. 

The whole of the comedy in Our Relations involves Stan and Ollie getting blamed for everything Bert and Alfie do, while Bert and Alfie find themselves having an awful lot of explaining to do to a pair of women they’ve never met before. I don’t know whether or not Shakespeare invented this plot, but it dates back at least that far, and folks have working variations of it ever since; rarely, I think, to the level of satisfaction that Laurel and Hardy achieved in this picture. 

It was the first Laurel and Hardy picture to be made by Stan’s own production company, and as such it seems to be making a statement on his behalf to Hal Roach and MGM and anyone else who may have been sticking their fingers into the Laurel & Hardy movies: “I know what makes this team work better than any of you jamooks, and here’s the proof.” 

It looks slick, it plays slick, it features a number of the team’s familiar foils (Jimmy Finlayson as a fellow sailor whose avarice complicates everything, Daphne Pollard, perhaps the most compact bundle of hostility ever to marry the boys onscreen, and Arthur Houseman perfecting his Drunk act) plus a few new ones; it successfully piles frustration upon frustration and makes for a pretty breezy six reels. The final sequence, with gangsters popping up out of nowhere to fit Stan and Ollie with cement shoes -- is like nothing you’ve ever seen before in a Laurel and Hardy movie: really quite morbid, suspenseful, but also wonderfully funny. In the end, what we have is one joke that Stan Laurel has single-handedly milked for every last drop that’s worth.

It worked. Well, at least for me, there’s nothing like a visit from Laurel & Hardy to cure a funk. But I’m mindful of the fact that I’m drawing near to the end of the road.

Back in, I guess, the late ‘80s, early ‘90s when VHS had finally caught on and the studios had realized that they could turn a buck by releasing their movie backlist to the home video market, the very first movies on my Bucket List were the Universal horror movies of the 1930’s and ‘40s: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, yes, but also Island of Lost Souls, Murders in the Zoo and that whole pantheon of terror from the age when Horror was Not Too Horrible, when shadows and suggestion and the imagination played a part in the telling of scary stories, when explicit violence and gore were things that Just Didn’t Happen.

In the years I was growing up, and all the way into my thirties, those movies were scarcer than flowers in winter. No one in my area showed them. I’d never seen most of them. So when each one came out on video, I scoffed them up and devoured them greedily.

Then one day, I realized: there was nothing left. I’d seen them all. I’d climbed that mountain, forded that steam, followed that rainbow. 

For the longest time, Laurel and Hardy lived in a similar Bubble of Invisibility. It wasn’t until this year, 2012, that the bulk of their major work became available on DVD. A significant chunk of it I’d never had the opportunity to watch. Our Relations fell into that category, and it was worth the wait. 

But I’m reaching the end of the list. Soon there will be no new Laurel & Hardy left for me. I still want to see it all: but it will be a sad day when I attain that goal.

-- Freder.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Méliès' Notebook and Other Stories is now online at iTunes!

We're happy to announce that our new eBook, Méliès' Notebook and Other Stories, the companion volume to Persephone's Torch, is finally available at iTunes! Follow the link above to view all the details, a description of the book, screenshots, and to download a sample. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Brighter Day, sans AA

There isn’t a day -- not a single day -- that this blog doesn’t get at least a couple of hits from people using the search words “I hate AA” or something similar. Some of the more poignant search terms used include, “i want to get sober but i hate aa.” Yes, Blogger tracks these things.

It’s all having to do with my June 30, 2012 post, “Dear AA: How Do I Hate You, Let Me Count the Ways.” If you look at the sidebar listing “Popular Posts,” you’ll see that one has climbed to #4 overall, and it’s on the rise. 

Now, I’ll repeat that I don’t want the blog to become All About Alcoholism, mine or anyone else’s. But clearly this is a subject worth discussion, because AA has become the “catch-all” solution for people who are looking for Easy Solutions. It’s become the place where Sober People think all alcoholics should go... even including Sober People who would not be caught dead submitting to such a thing themselves if they knew what AA was really all about. 

The judges and the doctors and the social workers: for them, AA makes life so much easier, because they can say: “I’ll fob them off on AA, and then wash my hands of them, and my conscience will be clean, because I sent them to a Respectable Established Organization that has had good results.”

The problem is, No one really wants to look under the hood of that organization. 

I’m not suggesting that AA groups are going to pull a Jim Jones tomorrow and ask their members to commit Mass Suicide, although I have no doubt that, in some AA groups at any rate, if it was asked of them, at least some of the members would follow. The Cult of AA is that strong.

No -- what I’m suggesting is that AA is not as successful as those of you who have never had cause to go to a meeting think it is, and that many of the people that it is successful for become Stepford Wives.

Here’s an Interesting Fact: a lot of people at AA are Just Liars. They go to meetings, then they go home and get drunk. They use their attendance at AA as proof to other people that they are getting straight and sober, while they are secretly maintaining their old addictions. In the earlier column, I told the story of one alcoholic whose early sponsors are all dead -- of alcoholism. Hmmm. D’you want to be sponsored by someone with a fatal habit?

Here’s another Interesting Fact: AA does work for a lot of other people. Have you met some of them? They’re creepy and weird, like anyone who has taken Unhealthy Doses of any Religion. If you are happy becoming a Stepford Wife, then by all means, go to it...

To the people who accidentally land on my blog looking for alternatives to AA that work, all I can tell you is this: I’ve done really, really well in the last four to five months, and it took specific things to make that happen. First: the Doctors finally found the right combination and dosage of anti-depressants for me. This is a big deal. Until I got my depression under control, I was self-medicating with alcohol, and as everyone knows, drinking only makes it worse, causing you to drink more, etc. etc., to quote Yul Brynner.

Second, some good people at the hospital (Cheryl, are you out there?) got me through the physical and emotional symptoms of the actual withdrawal, which I could not have done on my own, Not No Way, Not Nohow. I tried. When you wake up desperate and shaking uncontrollably, gagging and sweating, in a state of panic, there’s only one thing you can do when you’re on your own that works, and that’s to throw down the Magic Elixir. 

Third, I got fired. I prefer to think of it as, “I divested myself of a job that I desperately hated and an Insane, Purely Evil Boss who was bullying me every day.” I did not know how much I hated that job or the damage it was doing to me emotionally until I was out of it. My finances are suffering terribly as a result of this (it would really help if y’all would take a gander at my books over there on the sidebar! They’re cheap, and I’m not the only one who thinks they’re good...), but I’m so much happier now, night and day, the difference is almost beyond belief. The incident that cost me my driver’s license also got me fired, and so I see it as an event that brought me some tough times, but also a very great and real blessing.

Fourth, I got back to doing the kind of work that I want to be doing: making books that I hope, with any luck, will entertain and divert some people from the troubles that they face in their lives. If it works, I could not ask for more than that. 

Because of those things, I pretty much don’t even think about drinking anymore, except as something that would cause me to lose everything I’ve worked for these last four months, and in the years before I started drinking. Fingers crossed, all this will hold together.

And so the best prescription I can give anyone is: get help for the things that are beyond your power to deal with on your own, then find out what’s eating you, remember what it is that you really want to be doing with your life, and get rid of whatever it is that’s holding you back

You do all that, you won’t need AA.

-- Freder.
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