Saturday, December 21, 2013

Johnny Depp, Vampire Killer

Fondly remembered: the original TV cast of Dark Shadows.

After a solid week of computer hell (and it ain’t over yet), just getting a simple little blog post written and out will seem like a Major Accomplishment. 

Days and days of living in Recovery Mode left me in a mood to enjoy something new. And so, in the evening, with a second restored system mostly in place, I settled back to watch Burton and Depp’s interpretation of Dark Shadows

Thank goodness it was only four bucks. 

I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be “my” Dark Shadows. I’m old enough to have learned not to expect the impossible, went in with an open mind, receptive to a modern treatment —  and found a movie that should have been a lot better than it is.

Burton and Depp were probably the wrong choice for this material even if they had both been at the top of their game. Sadly, Burton is far from at his best here, and as for Johnny Depp… what has happened to the damn fool man? Someone, somewhere, pointed out that YOUNG Johnny Depp would hate the Johnny Depp he has evolved into… and they were right on target.

Ever since Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp has been content delivering the same smirking, wild-eyed performance in role after role, movie after movie. His Barnabus Collins is indistinguishable from his Tonto or his Captain Jack. Buried under tons of make-up, he swaggers through every new role with the same astonished deadpan… and it’s gotten old, folks. Really, really old.

To my mind Depp represents one of the more astonishing career decompositions of recent years. Once one of our most promising actors, he sold his soul to the Disney Devil and then tried to justify it to himself by swaggering contemptuously through the part: only to find himself stuck, chained in a coffin so to speak, incapable of anything approaching real acting. I’m sure his bank account is a marvel to behold — but y’now what? My mother was a big fan of his… and I’m glad she’s not around to see this shit.

Depp is a major drain on Dark Shadows from the moment he rises from the grave. Part of it is natural: his baby face works against the role. The Halloween fright make-up doesn’t help. As Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid sold the role with his old-world, pockmarked face, his straight-ahead performance, and even with his sometimes visible anxiety over his inability to remember his lines. Frid was Barnabus Collins, whether he liked it or not (and he didn’t)… Depp never stops reminding us that he’s Depp.

The picture gets off to a fine start. Of course it looks good as you would expect from Burton, and in its opening scenes it establishes a steady balance in tone, a strong dramatic atmosphere with just a little wink here and there. Structurally it presents a very adequate compression of some of the TV series plot lines that unfolded over months and months, with the addition of a Beginning, Middle and End. Collinwood looks just as it should; Collinsport, Maine actually looks like Maine, and the Collins family as they are introduced are wonderfully right in spirit, especially Michelle Pfieffer in the Joan Bennett part. Only Roger Collins is badly misinterpreted, and at first we hardly notice: the screenwriters obviously found him a useless character but were unable to write him out until late in the film. 

But then Barnabus Depp makes his entrance looking and acting like a Drag Queen and it all goes to hell in a fish basket. When it comes to Dark Shadows, a little comedy goes a looooong way, and after the first twenty minutes they start piling it own with a backhoe. Unfortunately none of it is funny. Not. One. Joke. 

You’d think that Hollywood could have learned this lesson by now. The comedy undermines the drama while the drama undermines the comedy. By the time Barnabus and Angelique are throwing themselves all over the walls and ceiling to the tune of Barry White’s “My First, My Last, My Everything,” it’s all over. Time to drive a stake through its shriveled heart.

In the end, Burton and Depp’s Dark Shadows is nailed down by two seemingly minor things: first, how do you make a movie out of Dark Shadows without once using the haunting original theme music? Not once. Not even a bar or two. Hello, it was the best part of the show! Second, the cameo featuring then-surviving members of the original TV series cast is flat-out offensive, even disrespectful. It’s not that Jonathan Frid was on Death’s Door and had to be carried through the shot. The point is, why bother to have them in at all when you’re unwilling to let them do more than just flit through a shot? Blink and you miss it.

You want to know how to do a cameo? Watch the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary show, “The Day of the Doctor.” Suddenly, just at the very end, unexpected and unannounced, Tom Baker appears. Nearing eighty and unable to stand without a cane, Baker approaches Matt Smith as one to another, as an equal, and it is given to Baker to speak the dialogue that brings the entire plot together in a neat and tearjerking moment.

That’s how you do a cameo.

The bottom line here is that, for all their professed admiration of the original show, Burton and Depp have no respect for the material. They think that they’re cleverer than Dan Curtis. Whatever else he was, including a cheapskate and an egomaniac, no one is cleverer than Dan Curtis.

— Freder

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Circus Will Raise Its Tent!

Thanks to everyone who contributed, our Tarot of the Zirkus Magi will fly! A fantastic addition to our line of publications, made possible by YOU. 

Decks could be available as early as the end of this week. If you missed out on the Kickstarter project, you can still order copies of the deck here.  Only 300 copies will be produced, and this version of the deck will never be reprinted. 

Work has also begun on the full deck, coming sometime in 2014.

Thanks not just for your support, but your many kind words and enthusiasm for this project!

-- Freder

The Circus Has Arrived!

Cranch is here!

The novel is now available singly or in a limited edition set with the Tarot deck (almost sold out before publication -- less than twelve hours left to pre-order at Kickstarter!)

Now available direct from Duck Soup Productions, coming soon at Amazon, B&N and at your local Independent Bookseller. Check back for links as they become available.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Press Proofs Are Here!

This morning a complete, fully assembled press proof of the deck arrived from the printers! After I peeled myself off of the ceiling I spent the early afternoon snapping photos, weeding out the "winner" photos from the "losers" . . . and now I'm ready to share some of them with you!

Face front, True Believers!
Face front, True Believers!

 The printers are now just waiting for my written approval of the proof. That will go in tomorrow's mail, they will receive it on Friday. I've been told that it will take just three business days after they receive it for them to finish the job!

This means that the 300-copy run of the deck could be done and in my hands by the end of next week!

The Kickstarter Campaign ends on Friday! The deck has been fully funded, but there are still plenty of decks available. To get yours at the pre-publication price, consider pre-ordering through Kickatsrter. 

 More details as I get them! In the meantime, enjoy the photos. Sorry about the yellowy lightbulb cast in some of them... I wish you could see the proof and hold it in your hands. I think you'd agree that it's very danged neat. Again my thanks goes out to you for all of your wonderful support and encouragement! This could never have happened without you. I'm so grateful for all of you!

Finally, I took a few shots that show the finished deck side-by-side with some other familiar (and favorite) decks, so you could get a better sense of the size and heft:

... with the Centennial Edition of Waite / Smith.
... with the Centennial Edition of Waite / Smith.
... with the Swiss IJJ.
... with the Swiss IJJ.
... with the Cosmic Tarot.
... with the Cosmic Tarot.
... with the Sacred Rose.
... with the Sacred Rose.
... and the Victorian Romantic.
... and the Victorian Romantic.
... I have a confession. I love all the decks that have come out of Prague's Baba Studio, especially their Victorian Romantic (above). From the beginning it has been my secret desire to make something that could hold its own against their wonderful decks... and maybe even give them a run for their money. What do you think? Am I on the right track?


-- Freder

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Final Days!

The Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the printing of The Tarot of The Zirkus Magi has entered its final week online. Thanks to you, the project has been successfully funded and the deck will be published. There are still plenty of copies remaining, but only a few days to get them at the pre-publication price! Visit the project here:

Friday, November 29, 2013

Everyone Else is Doing It, So Why Can't We?

We used to think that Christmas was getting too commercialized more than thirty years ago. If time-travel was possible, and if you took our 1983 selves on a journey to Now -- well, we would have thought that the commercialism of today made 1983 look like a Bing Crosby movie by comparison. 

That said... we have traveled through time the long way, and the result -- just in time for the heinous **BLA-A-AAACK FRI-II-IDAY!!!!** -- is the latest addition to our online Emporium, our brand-spanking-new Etsy shop.

We have spent more than our share of money on Etsy -- dammit -- and now is the time to hopefully get something back! Original Comic Art... Vintage Literary 'Zines -- Signed Books and Comics -- eBooks and eComics for instant download... Digital Art Prints... and, soon, our Tarot of the Zircus Magi --

-- all have their home on the new Etsy Shop. Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread? Hah! Are you kidding? It's just another push in our ongoing attempt to scrape out a living doing what we love to do.   That said, we hope you'll take a minute out of your life to look at what we have on offer:

Thank you for reading!

World of [Lost] Illusions

Sylvain Chomet’s gleaming and painful The Illusionist is a gift to the world of animated films; it is a gift to fans of the great comedian Jaques Tati; and at the same time it is almost crushingly depressing and sad.

Chomet last gave us The Triplets of Belleville, a deep tribute to everything having to do with the Jazz Age built upon, of all things, an intrigue surrounding the Tour de France. It was nominated, and well deserved, the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2003, only to lose out to that year’s entry of generic crap from the Disney/Pixar Generic Crap Grindhouse. Seven years later The Illusionist suffered the same fate, which proves, as if we needed proof, that Oscars are Bought and Paid For.

Although one of The Illusionist’s deepest selling points is that it was made from an unproduced script by Tati — the man who, in the 1950s, returned cinema comedy to the realm of silent film with his delightful Mr. Hulot movies M. Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle and Playtime — something tells me that the “script” in question was little more than an outline, created as it was on the fly in a love letter to his daughter. Chomet has fleshed it out quite considerably, and the result is probably a unique thing in film history: an eccentric and visually remarkable expansion of the animation genre (as you would expect if you’ve seen Triplets), and an altogether new and fresh Tati Hulot movie that manages in no small way to resurrect Tati himself and return him to the screen with all his mannerisms and comic timing intact. 

I’m a fan both of animated films and of Tati  and I could not believe what I was looking at. When, late in the movie, the animated Tati ducks into a cinema and is confronted by (and interacts with) his live action self, a viewer could be forgiven for believing that they had just seen an act of genuine magic.

However … even down to its title, The Illusionist is all about the sad fact that Magic does not exist, can not exist — that there are no magicians, only clever people doing their best to provide us with hope that dreams can come true, usually at cost to themselves. The film’s plot is but a whisper against your cheek and to break it down into a sentence or two here would shatter the spell that the movie casts — I won’t do it. Just be warned going in that as accomplished and exceptional as this film is (and ohmygosh it is almost overwhelming; if you are the right person for this kind of movie, it will take your breath away and make your heart contract) … that’s how sad it is. Broken dreams, broken lives, Magickal Spells that have run their course and evaporated, leaving us fully in the grip of life’s difficulties… don’t watch it (as I made the mistake of doing) on Thanksgiving.

— Freder

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Now Available!

Our first-ever book for children
is out now and hot off the presses! It's available from this website, also now available from a certain Evil Empire and soon wherever books are sold. Watch this post for links to the product pages as they appear. For now, you can learn all about the book and browse a gallery of the artist's other works at our special Under the Rooster Weathervane mini-site.

More news soon!

-- Freder

Friday, November 22, 2013

Look Ahead into the Past

A long-ago effort from my misspent youth is back online after -- egad -- maybe a decade or more. MILLENNIUM was the literary eZine that I edited for several years back in the mid-'90s. In many ways, it's the predecessor for this blog / site / thing. You can download every issue of the electronic version for free from the site, and very soon the few remaining copies of the original paper version will be available there for sale. If nothing else, you'll learn that the blather that gets posted here has a precedent... I've been blathering for years.

-- Freder

New Vintage Collectible Eddie Fox Bread Cards -- Get Yours!

Don't remember Eddie Fox? That's probably because you don't have these Vintage 1933 Eddie Fox Bread Cards. Never fear -- now you can print and cut out your very own! The full-size, high-res printable image is now online on the new "Memorabilia" page at Eddie Fox's own site!

-- Freder

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"See Them Dance" now in Production!

Click to Enlarge

See Them Dance: From the Positively Spectacular Adventures of Cranch the Clown is now in the production / typesetting stage and is nearing completion... well on track for for its mid-December publishing date in close release with the majors version of our Tarot of the Zirkus Magi. Pictured above is a two page spread from the book's interior. Full information about the two projects is just a click away: right over there in the sidebar. 

If you're interested in the deck, it's funding right now at Kickstarter. 

-- Freder

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Story Behind "Under the Rooster Weathervane"

Way back in the very late 1970s or very early ‘80s (the manuscript is not dated), my mother Barbara J. Thornsjo created a children’s book in collaboration with my sister C_____. At that time, my mother was somehow maintaining an impossible schedule, basically running the family farm while also being active in the antiques business and Making Art at a prolific rate. She sold her arrangements and Folk Art paintings at shows ranging from Maine to New York; at various times her arrangements were sold at B. Altman’s main store in New York City, while her elaborate hand-made Jack-in-the-Boxes (of papier-mâché and cloth and wood) were exhibited at toy shows and at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine (which has in its collection possibly the largest holdings in the world of work from the Wyeth family from N.C. to Jaimie). 

She did not really know what to do with the Children’s book. For years she nagged me to flog it around, as if I was an agent — ha! An agent has connections and knows what they are doing, which I emphatically did not… all of my efforts were focussed on getting my own writing into print, and it took literally years and years of work and persistence for that to happen.

On occasion she accused me of not flogging her book because I was afraid that it would sell, at a time when my own work definitely was not. 

But the fact is that the book was unpublishable in its original form. The text as written by my sister was, not to put too fine a point on it, bad — and had obviously been written by a fourteen year-old girl who had no way with words and no sense of how to tell a story. Another problem was that the illustrations had been created second in order to match the text, not the other way around… and so when the text just sat there, so did a few of the illustrations.

Beyond that, my mother’s drawing style was simple and folk-arty… not the sort of thing that was in vogue then or a long time after among children’s book publishers.

The book went on the shelf and became a family heirloom. 

When my mother died unexpectedly in May 2010, just days after her birthday, I made it a point to hang on to all surviving examples of her work. The book came to me as part of that… and when I looked at it, for the first time in years, I saw the potential that a little bit of re-working could bring out.

In 2013, changes in life, in me, in technology, and the way books are produced all came together to make the book’s publication possible — with extensive revision.

The first thing that I did was to throw out my sister’s worthless text (I had already thrown her worthless self out of my life entirely). 

The second thing that I did was to change the title. The original, Three Tales from C___ H___ Farm, dropped like a lead pipe. I decided on Under the Rooster Weathervane, which not only sounded better but also pointed me in a direction for the book. 

At first, trying to write the text separately in Scrivener, detached from the pictures, the work that I turned out was not much (if any) better than the original text! Only when I started to work with the text and pictures at the same time did it begin to come together. The text needed to be brought into the service of the illustrations, not the other way around. Structural changes needed to be made, and the only way I could wrap my brain around these was to physically push the illustrations around in page layout software. 

The original stories were re-arranged in order to create a more unified whole. The order of the illustrations as they appeared in the original stories was also somewhat changed. Even then, there were individual pictures that were too static, too pedantic in storytelling terms, because they had been created to match text that hadn’t accomplished anything in the first place. In those cases, the only thing that worked for me was to combine two pictures into one so that they actually told a story.

All together, including time spent just back-braining this book while I worked on other projects, it took me ten months to re-write and re-assemble the book into its current form. The result is a book that, I hope, has a little rhythm and a better shape — but also one that does justice to the elegant simplicity of the illustrations. I hope it’s a version that my mother would be pleased with, but more than that — more than thirty years after its original creation, I hope that the book is no longer just a family heirloom, but one that any parent and child can read and enjoy.

— Freder

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Remember, Remember the Books of December

December is going to be a busy month for most everyone... us included!

In addition to our first Fantasy genre novel See Them Dance and (hopefully) the 22-card Majors Limited Edition of our Tarot of the Zircus Magi (and if that sort of thing interests you, please check out our Kickstarter project for the deck and consider pre-ordering your copy today), December will also mark the debut of our first-ever Children's Book, Under the Rooster Weathervane. The mini-site for the book is now live, and will be updated in the coming weeks as the publication date draws near. 

If you'll excuse me now, I need to go and whip the staff. It's okay, they like that sort of thing.

-- Freder

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"It's Time... for Time."

In America, most communities set their clocks back an hour last night. You would think this would please me, as it supposedly gives me an extra hour of sleep in the morning. It did in the old days and I suppose it would still if I had to be anywhere to hand over the reins of my life to some Evil Bastard of an employer. But for now, at least for this year, I am making my own hours and the clock has become something that forces me to see to it that my quats are fed regular and proper.

Standardized time in my country came about of course as a result of the once-vital and growing railway system; it was just too maddening to schedule arrivals and departures when every little town lived by its own time. 

I rather like that idea of localized time now, wildly impractical as it is. Our four time zones can be confusing enough; imagine if there were hundreds, maybe thousands! Everyone living by his own time — how wonderful it would be to say to some Suited Corporate Bastard, “Sorry, guv’ner, but it may be nine o’clock by your watch, but by my personal clock it is actually seven-thirty… making me not late by an hour but actually early by a half an hour.”

— and smile sweetly while the miserable twat stews in his juices.

(In case you are a recent arrival here, there are two kinds of people that I hate unreservedly: Suited Corporate Bastards and the kind of Policeman who believes that he is Licensed to Bully. But that’s a subject for another column). 

Here in my doddering “middle years” (though one sometimes hopes they are closer to the end ones -- and I don't mean that in the same way that the bible thumpers do), I have learned that the only time that really means anything at all to me is Daylight Savings Time. This relatively recent add-on actually shifts the organization of days much closer to the way they should be all year round. There are people who call for the elimination of Daylight Savings Time. I’m just the opposite: if we stick with one set of hours year ‘round, the system that we should lose is Standard Time. 

Extending Daylight Savings Time by a couple of weeks at both ends is about the only good thing that George Bush ever did for this country,

It’s all kind of amusing really, and shows humanity’s arrogance in the bright Daylight Savings Time light. Having the unbridled egotism to believe that we can manipulate Time when we are so patently at its mercy, or lack of mercy… what a jest on us! If anything at all separates us from the animals, it’s this kind of pomposity and self-importance — hmmm, maybe this post is about Suited Corporate Bastards and Cops after all! 

— Freder

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"More Room, More Room!"

I forget where that quote is from. Nonetheless, it's appropriate here. Duck Soup Productions has been updating and expanding like mad.

ITEM! The Persephone's Torch mini-site (linked below and in the sidebar) now has an online excerpt from the novel and a reviews page, and is pretty much done. 

ITEM! The single-page articles about all our other books are all gone, and have been replaced by individual mini-sites all their own. These are in various stages of completion -- they have all the information that used to be contained on their pages here (albeit with better design and clarity), but they will all be getting added features in the days ahead.

The site for  Méliès' Notebook and Other Stories needs the most work. For now it has a brief description and ordering information, but we plan to add an extensive gallery of the illustrations and excerpts from the stories soon.

At Quirk's mini-site, you can watch the book trailer and Meet the Characters. There's lots more to come, including fun free downloads, an index of all the Quirk stories in every format in which they have appeared, and an article on the day Quirk went to school.

At our Tinsel*Town mini-site, you'll get to know Eddie Fox in the original four-page introductory strip, now on its own page. And again there is much more to come: we have plenty of "bonus features" to add onto this site, it's just a matter of getting around to it.

And of course, our growing Tarot Deck has had some design tweaks implemented on its mini-site, too:

All these places and people can also be reached from our newly cleaned and renovated sidebar. That's it for now -- but CRANCH is coming by year's end. Who is Cranch? You'll find out when his own mini-site debuts soon!

Fair sailing, fellow inmates!

-- Freder

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Merry Halloween!

From "Mickey's Gala Premiere," perhaps my favorite Mickey Mouse cartoon ever. Even the Monsters like a good cartoon! Click image to enlarge, and Happy Samhain to all!

-- Freder

A Quick Note

I've taken down the page devoted to Persephone's Torch and created a new mini-site all about it. Cleaner design, better information, and more Stuffs coming soon. You can find it right here:

... or click on the image in the sidebar. Watch for more changes as we introduce mini-sites devoted to all our characters and books. It will be so much nicer than the pages they currently have.

-- Freder

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

De-Romancing The Vampire

For Halloween, it’s time to set things straight about a venerable old monster.

Ever since Bram Stoker and all through the twentieth century, books and especially movies have been re-inventing the vampire as a Romantic Figure. This has never sat well with me. Perhaps they see the vampire’s lust for blood as a metaphor for sexual lust; but I am a literalist and trust me… when a vampire comes at you with its eyes glowing red, the last thing it wants is to get in your pants.

Would women swoon over vampires if they stopped and thought a minute about what they were swooning over? Hello, ladies, a vampire is a corpse. It’s stone dead. It’s kicked the bucket, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ Choir Invisible. At the very least, this makes for a cold and clammy embrace.

If you like having stinking corpses in bed with you, maybe you should see a doctor… preferably one named Van Helsing. According to both Hollywood and hundreds of books, there are about a million doctors in the Van Helsing family tree.

The vampire moves by the force of a will that refuses to die. This makes the vampire not a creature of lust, but one of self-determination. They are not soulful, Romantic types: rather, they are the Suited Corporate Bastard type who regards every living being as pawns, slaves, fodder or food.

Think about it. If Dracula came around today, he would be the owner and sole beneficiary of a huge multinational corporation, and his employees would be … dinner. That’s such a good idea that I’m laying a copyright on it right now!

The vampire’s heart does not pump. Even if a vampire still had any blood in its veins, which is doubtful at best, its heart is as inert as a hunk of iron and does not, can not pump blood through the vampire’s body. This is kind of the definition of being dead. Being un-dead just means that one gets around rather better than a run-of-the-mill corpse, not that it has a working heart.

This has ramifications. First, all those gory scenes in movies of vampires being staked through their hearts resulting in torrents of blood from their chest and blood gushing from their mouths… it’s all baloney. There’s no blood to gush, and no working heart to make it gush. Furthermore, there’s no reason for a vampire to scream in agony as it’s being staked. Hello! They don’t feel pain! They don’t feel anything. Including emotions. Their neural sensors have long since ceased to function. Hollywood wants it both ways. The Hollywood vampire feels no pain at any other time… it just conveniently feels pain when the filmmakers feel a need for a Big Dramatic Moment. 

Second — and this is a little more delicate — since the action requires blood and a working heart to pump it, by definition a vampire can not get it up.

So — even if dead things were still interested in sex (which is a pretty danged scary thought if you ask me), they simply would not be able to do anything about it. Which may explain a vampire’s generally bad temperament, come to think of it. Nonetheless, you have to wonder what all those silly women in the books and movies (who must have been raised on a steady diet of bodice-ripper romance novels) are getting their knickers in a twist over. A vampire may be the ultimate Bad Boy, but the relationship is still going nowhere fast.

I dunno, maybe vampires don’t have to drink blood from the victim’s neck.  Eww, I’m not going there.

By established folklore, a stake is driven through a vampire’s heart not to still an organ that shouldn’t be beating, but in order to nail the vampire down into its grave. It’s the vampire hunter’s way of saying “Now, stay there!”

This is also why vampire hunters who Know Their Stuff take the extra precaution of cutting off the head and stuffing it with garlic. Just makes it that much harder for the old boy to get around. 

So, if you see a vampire this Halloween, do not be seduced. After all, they really are only interested in One Thing.

— Freder

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Day of The Fox: TINSEL*TOWN #2 is finally here!

Updated 10.18 with Links!

It's been a long month of spinning my wheels, getting nothing at all done, and battling with CreateSpace over crazy stupid non-issues... but at long last the coin has dropped, the gears have clicked into motion, and Volume Two of my graphic novel about The Golden Age of Hollywood is at last published in paperback: Tinsel*Town, Vol. 2: Love and Death continues the story of Eddie Fox -- the greatest saxophone player of his age, star of screen and radio, whose ultimate disappearance (and presumed murder) caused such a stir at the height of his career. What really happened to Eddie Fox? The world will only know as the story of Tinsel*Town unfolds.

Volume 2 is available right now from this website (just click here)... or if you prefer, it's now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, all other online retailers and even from your own local independent bookseller (you may have to ask them nicely to stock it for you). As always, that's the option I encourage you to follow: the days of the big-box corporate-owned bookstores may be coming to an end, but your friendly neighborhood bookseller still needs your support -- and so do I!

(While you're at it, the same options all apply to Volume 1 of the series: Ashcan Blues!)

For the curious but unconvinced, the original four-page introduction strip for Tinsel*Town is included on its own page here on this site. Just click in the sidebar over there --->

And while you're at it: This is just one of a growing line of quality books available from Duck Soup Productions (that's me!) Links to all the others (Persephone's Torch, Melies' Notebook and Quirk) can also be found on the sidebar.

Coming up later this fall and into the winter months: See Them Dance: A Fantasy Adventure from the Positively Spectacular Life of Cranch The Clown; our first children's book Under the Rooster Weathervane: Stories from a Real Maine Farm, and of course our sensational Tarot of the Zirkus Magi!

With your help and support, that will just be the beginning, I promise you!

Many thanks for visiting this site. As always, I can be reached at duckmeister(at)duck soup(dot)me!

-- Freder

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Carving the Bard

I have survived Theater of Blood. The movie and I have a checkered history going back forty years to its original release. 

This was one of the films I first learned about in the pages of the now long-defunct genre “newspaper” The Monster Times. From the start it intrigued me… but it was an “R” picture, which meant something in those days, and I have always been pretty squeamish about onscreen bloodshed, violence and torture. Most likely this is connected at least in a minor way with Asperger’s: movies have always been vivid and much more real than Real Life to me, and depictions of the mildest violence would send me running from the room.

There were episodes of Star Trek (of course I’m talking about The Original Series, which is the only Trek that means anything to me) that I could not watch: Too Scary. I dreaded the sound of a woman screaming. To some extent, I still do. If I could sense that a woman was about to scream I would tear out of the room and bury my head in the living room sofa. To this day, I cannot watch the shower scene in Psycho. The original trailer for Psycho opens with a woman turning to face the camera and screaming like a banshee. A TV station ran this trailer one afternoon (I think it was during The Wild, Wild West) and it pretty much traumatized me for life!

Jungle pictures, Tarzan movies, scared me the most. People were always getting killed in horrible, awful ways. Even on the Tarzan TV show with Ron Ely, Tarzan was always scary. One episode I’ve never forgotten opened with an invisible monster sneaking into the tent of a sleeping native. The native man woke, looked up directly into the camera and started screaming his head off. 

I ran out of the room.

Over the years my tolerance gradually deepened, and eventually I could look at all the scary episodes of Star Trek that I had run out on as a kid. And I developed that little-kid love of monsters, as distinct from horror. The Universal monster movies have always been pretty mild, so they gave me a safe outlet to explore my curiosity of All Things Scary.

When Theater of Blood eventually aired on TV, I finally got a chance to explore its dark depths. And I loved what I saw. Like the arguably better Abominable Doctor Phibes, also starring Vincent Price in his prime, its real story is about The Old World rearing its head to take revenge on the Modernity that has consigned it to mothballs. Unlike Phibes, Theater of Blood has several different “readings.” It can also be seen as the Creative Mind getting its due at last from Indifferent, Un-creative minds — the critics. At the same time it functions as theater critic on its own terms, exploring the darkly violent, gory, sensationalistic stuff concealed under all the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays (When asked why he had made his film version of Macbeth so very gory, the yet-to-be-exiled director Roman Polanski replied along the lines of “I didn’t make it gory. Shakespeare did.” — That said, I don’t think the extremely distasteful bear-baiting scene was in Shakespeare’s original).

With a great cast including the always-delightful Diana Rigg, the version of Theater of Blood that I watched that evening quickly became a kind of favorite. But —

— it was “edited for television” and I knew it. Very sloppily edited for television, I might add, with awkward jump-cuts that made it self-evident where the bloody parts had been hacked out. I was of two minds about this. On the one hand, I knew that I would not be able to watch the unedited theatrical version, and this allowed me to get a kind of grip on the movie that I otherwise would not have had the chance to experience. On the other hand, it always pains me to see Bozos come in and chop a movie to death.

Many, many years passed and I always harboured a secret desire to see Theater of Blood again, wondering what it would be like uncut. At the same time, I was terrified of it… and this was not helped by critics like Leonard Maltin who wrote that the movie was “marred by a series of incredibly gory murders.”

I talked to a fellow who had seen it, and he confirmed “Oh, yes, it is incredibly gory.” Reviews at online sites drove this point home repeatedly. So I stayed away all these years — all the while harboring an undying curiosity about the thing.

Well. This Halloween Season I let my curiosity get the better of me, and when the now-unavailable DVD came up online in a used copy at an affordable price, I bit the bullet and ordered her up.

Glad I am that I did not watch this when I was younger. Even now, there were sequences that I had to watch with the sound turned off. Still and all, having sat through and not just survived but having actually enjoyed it for all the same reasons that I enjoyed the cut version years ago, I have to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Because Theater of Blood, although it emphatically deserves its R rating even today, is not nearly as gory as I was led to believe that it would be… and in fact is quite mild by today’s standards. More to the point: Theater of Blood is so skillfully shot and edited by the filmmakers that, through implication and camera angles and suchlike, it makes its audience believe that it’s far gorier than it actually is. These days, you see just as bad (or worse) on a network TV crime drama. These days, some of the things that are only implied in Theater of Blood are now shown in full and awful CGI detail. 

Especially the Maltin comment now irks me. Because Maltin reviews many movies in his annual Movie and Video Guide, and some of them — like Re-Animator and Peter Jackson’s almost pornographic Braindead — are far more violent, far more explicit, far more sadistic with far less justification, and use buckets and buckets more blood than Theater does … yet never once does Maltin advise or admonish his readers that they are “incredibly gory.” 

If Theater of Blood was remade today, I shudder to think what it would be like. Even at the time, it could have been worse. Theater of Blood has a point or two to make, and it gives you just enough to make that point. As an example, in the Shylock sequence a heartless critic has his own heart cut out — the pound of flesh (“exactly!”) that the Merchant of Venice demands. But you don’t see it happen: you see Price approaching the man with a knife, you see some very suggestive motion as the action itself is completely obscured by theatrical staging… and then you see the consequences of that action, as Price carries the organ in his hands to the weighing scale. Yes, that part is gory. But it could have been so much worse.

Today, in the hands of a less talented director, every detail of that scene would be explicitly shown. You would see the knife cutting flesh, you would see the actor’s hand reaching into the cavity to rip out the still-beating heart. Blood would be everywhere, by the gallon. Modern filmmakers do not have the creativity to stage it any other way. This is what I was afraid of. This is what I thought “incredibly gory” meant. And this is what Theater of Blood does not do.

So — yes, the movie is bloody… as bloody as a movie with a title like Theater of Blood needs to be… and no more.

Enough of all that. The movie is a sly wink wrapped around a Great Idea that manages, in a way that seldom works, to combine genuine wit, black humour  and morbid scares in the cleverest of ways. You’ve just got to love the concept of a Bad Actor (itself a pretty good play on words) going out of his way to murder all of his biggest critics, and doing it using the plays of Shakespeare for inspiration (wait ‘till you get to Titus Andronicus). To use an appropriately outdated and chauvinistic expression, it’s “a thinking man’s horror movie.” Edward Lionheart is the role that Price was born to play, and he goes to town with it. As though to compensate for his deliberate over-emoting (I think Price as the hairdresser is the funniest bit), Rigg deadpans her way through the picture. 

The critics are a roster of great British character actors demonstrating what Good Sports they are. On an interesting side-note, Price met his future wife Coral Browne on this picture — she plays one of his victims!

I wouldn’t show it to a child, who wouldn’t get the joke anyway, nor even to a particularly sensetive teenager. I’m glad that I waited until now, well into my middle years, to fully attend the Theater of Blood. Having done so, I’m glad to report not only that I got through the experience unharmed, but found it a good bit of old-fashioned morbid fun.

— Freder

Saturday, October 5, 2013

More Shivers, More Shakes, More Rattles...

Last year I posted the details of my Halloween Music playlist for 2012 (“Shake, Shiver, Rattle, Roll Dem Bones”). Always in favor of Establishing Traditions, I created a new playlist of Halloween Music for this year.

The thing is, radio stations are pretty woeful this time of year. So unimaginative. If you’re lucky they might play “The Monster Mash” a time or two — and usually when they do, they play the wrong version, a knock-off by some no-name band, not the original by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt Kickers.

I’ve nothing at-all against “The Monster Mash,” but there’s so much good music for Halloween out there that you wonder how radio programmers can be so bloody lame.

Herewith as a public service is my list of Halloweenish cuts for this year. It all fits on one disk. Take it away, Yanush…

#1) I always try for an arresting opening. Someone took one of the few extant recordings of Alastair Crowley reciting an invocation of some sort and put some atmospheric, eerie music behind it. Crowley was once “The Wickedest Man in The World;” now, I fear, his wickedness has been far outstripped by other Human Monsters. The cut is called simply “666” and it’s almost as if the wicked old bastard (who made a wonderful tarot deck once upon a time) is greeting us and consecrating what follows. Welcome into the lair…

#2) “Consider This: The True Meaning of Love (Instrumental Version),” by Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows. Sopor is the brainchild of Anna-Varney Cantodea, a German performance artist who certainly qualifies as one of “my people.” He — I mean she — I mean it — would certainly be right at home hanging from The Addams Family Tree. That’s her in the picture above… NOT a statue of her. Very talented musically, but O My Goodnitz you don’t get much darker. “Consider This” is a striking Gothic anthem that whirrs and lumbers like an arcane machine. A swell opening for a Nightmare Party.

#3) My cut number three is not a song at all, but a very brief and efficient “Introduction to Horror” by Arch Obler, from his record album Drop Dead. Obler was the diseased mastermind behind the great Old-Time Radio show Lights Out, a genius of manipulating sound and voice to produce a specific effect. In this piece, Obler quickly demonstrates that the old tried and true ways are often the best…

#4) “Halloween Spooks,” a really lively jazz cut by the vocalise trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. This was a great find. It’s available on several albums, including a comprehensive collection of their bright and crisp works. This is their only remotely Halloweenish song, a charming wink and nod to The October Country.

#5) Speaking of The Addams Family, did you know that Ted Cassidy, who was all over ‘60s TV (he lent his voice to many a Hanna-Barbera cartoon) and notably played Lurch, the Addams Family butler on the original series, actually issued a record right around that time? “The Lurch” is a hysterical parody of dance songs from that period, with Cassidy providing “vocal interjections” in character as Lurch. Cassidy died young, and was buried in the backyard of his California home. His family subsequently moved away… so some unsuspecting homeowner out there actually has Lurch buried in their back yard!

#6) I “discovered” The Birthday Massacre last year and was immediately taken with their eerie brand of hard rock and sensitive vocals. Got to have one of their cuts in any Halloween playlist… this year, I selected “Shallow Grave,” from their album Pins and Needles. “She wears her dress like a body bag every day…”

#7) Jazz great Artie Shaw is next in line with his wonderful seasonal cut of “Nightmare,” a terrific piece that lumbers along like a steam-powered Ghost Train.

#8) When, in the early '30s, Universal Pictures was just beginning their cycle of Monster Movies and the art of movie scoring was unsophisticated to say the least, they used a version of “Swan Lake” as a kind of a generic mysterioso theme for at least a couple of their pictures… especially including The Mummy. Any version will do; mine is by the London Symphony Orchestra. 

#9) Walter Disney’s (as distinct from the evil corporate entity that now bears his name) animated version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” scared the crap out of me as a little kid. A musical highlight of the short is “The Headless Horseman,” sung in the picture by Bing Crosby. It was re-recorded for Disneyland Records in the sixties, performed by Thurl Ravenscroft, he of the basso profundo who sang for us “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch,” and also voiced Tony the Tiger! I have owned this single ever since I was about five years old! It's a terrific, atmospheric tribute to the season.

The LA duo billing itself as “Creature Feature,” put out a terrifically fun monster-themed rock album called “The Greatest Show Unearthed” a while back. Their song “A Gorey Demise,” inspired by Edward Gorey’s wonderfully sinister book The Gashleycrumb Tinies holds down the middle of the selection at song number ten. 

#11) A group that I know nothing about and have not researched called Reliquary is up next with a cut from the gothic music collection Dark Moments called “Dreams Torn Away.” 

#12) No Halloween selection would be complete without an offering from Gothic Diva Jill Tracy. This year, I chose “The Fine Art of Poisoning,” from her honky-tonk horror album Diabolical Streak.

#13) Next up, the horror soundscape group Midnight Syndicate welcomes us to the Carnival Arcane with the first cut from that album, “Mesonoxian Visitors.”

#14) Brit Pagan Rockers Inkubus Sukkubus are up next with their fine blood-pumper, “Pagan Born.” To a certain extent nearly all of the music that this produced pretty much sounds alike, so I could have selected almost any one for this spot. They do what they do very well, but they don't do anything else...

#15) I needed a dash of Classical right about this time, so the London Philharmonic kindly stepped in with their performance of the Spooky Standard, “Carmina Burana: O Fortuna.” 

#16) A three-member eccentric Australian band, Brillig next puts a smile on our faces and a dark light up in our soul with “Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.”

#17) Jazz legend Cab Calloway could be super-creepy when he wanted, and recorded a number of spooktacular songs. This year he joins us with “The Ghost of Smoky Joe.”

#18) Everyone’s pal Boris Karloff joins us next with one of his Tales of the Frightened… this time featuring a story about a man who tries to run from death — with predictable results.

#19) Ever since Garrison Keillor introduced me to the concept that a melancholy rag made excellent, unconventional Halloween Music, I have included rags in all my seasonal listening. This year I selected Scott Joplin’s “Solace,” made famous as one of the tunes Marvin Hamlisch adapted for use in The Sting. My version is performed by William Albright.

#20) Didja know that the Joker of Jazz, Spike Jones, put out an entire Halloween-Monster-themed album? It’s called Spike Jones in H-Fi, and for my penultimate cut I chose the opening track from that album… a genuine groaner in music, Spike’s version (with Paul Frees, the voice of Boris Badinov on vocals) of “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

#21) … and I close out this year’s affair with a skin-crawly number from another German Goth group, actually a duo and actually now defunct (which seems appropriate enough) called In My Rosary. "Day Fly" will pulse you out the door… but be sure to stay for your own burial at the end of the song!

That’s my 2013 Halloween Playlist. What’s on yours?

— Freder
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