Cultural Gutter: Keep Searching

April at The Cultural Gutter is the month we take a break from our usual beat (mine is science fiction) and write about something else. So I wrote about The Search for Weng Weng and how passion for film (or any creative art) can lead to real-life fun and adventure.

“In the early spring of 2002, a trip out west to meet some friends resulted in a weekend that involved everything from drinking in Juarez to being hired to do design work for a network of Texas dominatrixes to hanging out with ukulele-playing cowpunk ladies from Tokyo and, finally, ended with a bizarre and hazily remembered quest to find the locations used in Manos: The Hands of Fate with the only guideposts being that they were ‘somewhere around El Paso’…”

Eyes Without a Face

With a few exceptions scattered throughout the past hundred years or so of feature filmmaking, the French never really embraced the horror film. Instead, drawing from a literary tradition capped by the writing of Gaston Leroux and Victor Hugo, the French response to what we in the United States (and Britain, and Italy, and Japan, and…well, most of the world) define as horror was cinema fantastique. Certainly it had elements of horror, sometimes more overt than others, but more traditionally recognizable characteristics of horror were mixed into a dreamy mist that also included romance, science fiction, mystery, and melodrama all spun with a disregard for logical narrative structure and progression in favor of a dreamlike (or nightmare) quality. It did not matter if one scene connected to the next, or if there was a rational explanation for a particular image or action. That was not the point. The language of cinema is vast, figured directors working within this nebulous genre of cinema fantastique, and the idea that film has to conform to a particular structure or style or storytelling — or that it need tell any story at all — is tragically limiting. Of the many films that make up the body of cinema fantastique, few have developed an enduring reputation, good and bad, quite like Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage, aka Eyes without a Face.

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Cultural Gutter: A Visit to Tativille

I have a new one up on The Cultural Gutter! Yesterday’s Tomorrow: A Visit to Tativille is a look at one of my all-time favorite films, 1958’s futurist farce Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati. Tati’s third film, and the second to feature the iconic character of M. Hulot, Mon Oncle is a film built largely on the shoulders of the persistent delusion that technology, automation, and progress makes our lives better, more efficient, and more logical and that anything marketed in the name of technological progress is desirable.

Cultural Gutter: Vaudeville on Mars

Over on the Cultural Gutter, I’m writing about the musical science fiction spectacle Just Imagine. Vaudeville on Mars is a look at the similarities between the lavish 1930 Fox Studios production and the 1928 Soviet film Aelita, Queen of Mars; as well as a celebration of the outrageous costume and set design. All of which is really just a way of making myself feel better as I try to come to grips with the fact that human society at one time thought a movie this extravagant should be headlined by vaudeville funny man El Brendel.

Get Your Funky Bollywood

Known amongst the literati and intelligentsia as “the world’s foremost authority on Haseena Atom Bomb,” Todd Stadtman has somehow found time between his site Die Danger Die Die Kill, Teleport City, his many appearances on the Podcast on Fire Network’s Taiwan Noir show, co-hosting the Pop Offensive internet radio show, and rescuing puppies from burning buildings to write a book. And not just write a book, but write a book being published by FAB Press, the gold standard publisher of books about global cult cinema. Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema is set to be released by FAB Press in March, 2015, but you can preorder a copy now.

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At the Matinee of Madness

If you happen to follow Teleport City on Facebook, you might have seen passing mention of a book we’ve been writing. No, not Bond Vivant — that is still happening and will be ready in 2015, but it is moving slow thanks to the amount of research being done (mostly at bars). I’m talking about At the Matinee of Madness. What? You haven’t heard? Then let me tell you the tale…after more abortive attempts and rejection letters than I can count, Teleport City is publishing a book.

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Alcohol Professor: The Bar that Birthed America

Over on The Alcohol Professor, I’m writing about that time George Washington bro-hugged his generals and bid them farewell with tankards of ale and bowls of turtle soup. The Bar that Birthed America celebrates the storied history of New York City’s Fraunces Tavern. From the Sons of Liberty to George Washington’s party, from nearly becoming a parking lot to getting blown up by terrorists, it’s a stunning slice of American history and a lovely place to have a drink.

The Great Beauty

Arts and entertainment journalist Jep Gambardella has a problem. Standing in the middle of the swanky pageantry of Roman nightlife at the age of 65, he feels more than a bit foolish and, as a result, lost. When first we meet him, it is amid the thumping techno and drunken revelry of a lavish rooftop party that seems initially that it should be the purview of 20-somethings cutting loose in Ibiza. But through it all strides Jep, resplendent in his stylish suit but feeling increasingly out-of-place amid such bacchanal, even though he is still welcome and desirable as a guest. It is not the nightlife that regards Jep as too old to partake in its frivolous revelry; it is Jep himself. Nor is it a condescending dismissal of the life; although frivolous, Jep is genuinely affection and thankful for the good times and is hesitant to let go of them. There is value, after all, in something that gives us pleasure, no matter how shallow it might be. It is simply that Jep now feels his time among these revels has passed. And although quick with an inviting smile, a companionly arm around the shoulder, or a heart-felt raising of the glass, he’s beginning to wonder what the hell he’s doing at his age still strutting around to booming electronica at four in the morning.

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Space 1999: Aliens Are Jerks

Space: 1999 taught me two valuable lessons. The first is that space is depressing and best represented by the color taupe. The second is that, with few exceptions, aliens are jerks. At least in the first season, Space: 1999 captures malaise, chronic low-grade depression and inertia perfectly. Moon Base Alpha itself is unsteerable. It is filled with people who have survived mostly by evaluating their situation and accepting it. Charleton Heston would not last long on Alpha—he would blow up the moon when he attempted seize control of his destiny and the moon by attaching engines to it. As the moon exploded, Commander John Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell would silently turn to one another in a final affectless, unspoken admission of their love.

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Battles without Honor and Humanity II: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of an adequate way to describe exactly what it is that Sonny Chiba does and wears in this second film in Kinji Fukasaku’s highly enjoyable, highly influential Battles without Honor and Humanity series of films that delve into the world of organized crime and the role it played in rebuilding post-war Japan. The closest I can come up with to summarize the acting display by Chiba is to say that you should try to imagine William Shatner and Jimmy Walker being merged into one creature, which the director then instructs to “stop being so subtle.”

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