When Ian Fleming passed away in August of 1964 after suffering a heart attack, his reported final words — said to the crew of the ambulance that was rushing him to the hospital — were “I am sorry to trouble you chaps. I don’t know how you get along so fast with the traffic on the roads these days.” His untimely passing left in doubt the future of his most enduring creation: James Bond. While the movies had taken on a life of their own, the novels were very much of Ian Fleming, and without him, it didn’t seem like there was any way they would continue. His final book in the series, The Man with the Golden Gun, was published posthumously and against Fleming’s desire. He had just finished the first draft before his death, and he felt the entire thing was rather a mess and wanted to redo it. His publisher, perhaps feeling that any Bond was bankable Bond, insisted that the book was perfectly fine.
In February of 1966, audiences got their first look at the finished product that started with the dark, violent Matt Helm novels of Donald Hamilton and ended up in the hands of ill-tempered producer Irving Allen and boozy Rat Packer Dean Martin. Leading up to the release of the first film in the series, The Silencers, there had been a barrage of publicity, most of it focused on the bevy of semi-clad beauties populating the film (Dean Martin himself was busy with other film projects and the launch of his very popular new TV variety show). There was little in the pre-release marketing to inspire hope in fans of Donald Hamilton’s books that this Matt Helm would bear any resemblance at all to the character of the same name in the novels. As the lights went down and the curtains parted (yes, we used to have those in movie theaters), it was time for Irving Allen and Dean Martin to deliver their idea of America’s response to James Bond.
Director-producer Irving Allen has been charitably referred to as a bit gruff, or rough around the edges. Less charitably, a bully. Even less charitably, a complete asshole. Working his way from junior editor up through the ranks, he eventually carved out a pretty successful if low-key career as the producer or director of a number of shorts, including the Academy Award winning Climbing the Matterhorn. Wanting more from his career though, he partnered with another struggling producer, Brit Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, to form Warwick Films. Based out of England so they could take advantage of lucrative tax breaks, Warwick made a number of successful “boy’s own adventure” style films that allowed Allen to indulge his taste for costumed mini-epics and Broccoli a chance to make a name for himself with the help of his mercurial but close friend and partner.
“I was taking a martini across the room…”
If that line, the first sentence in the first Matt Helm novel by Donald Hamilton, had been the only sentence in the book, then there would have been very little stylistic conflict between the Matt Helm of the books and the incarnation of the character that eventually fond its way onto movie screens. Of course, a single sentence doesn’t exactly make for a great novel, and we soon learn that Matt Helm is taking the martini across the room to his wife during a dull suburban cocktail party. From there, things get a lot darker and more violent.
When the only country in the world that has had atomic bombs dropped on it puts a mushroom cloud in one of its movies, it tends to have more resonance than when, say, the Italians do it. When the Italians set off an atomic bomb, it almost always heralds the arrival of post-apocalyptic, dune buggy-driving leather-and-shoulderpad aficionados. When Japan does it, however, it is something altogether heavier. It can also usher in not the solemn thoughtfulness one might expect, but at least in the movies I watch, instead signifies something supremely weird is about to happen, as if the sheer destructive capability is so difficult to wrap one’s head around — even when it’s been used on you — that there is no way to deal with it other than through the application of sheer strangeness.
Another frolic afield! This time I’m over on Alcohol Professor again, writing about the history of Brooklyn Brewery and the New York Distilling Company, two Brooklyn-local efforts sharing a common founder. Will whiskey be sampled after the tours? Sadly, not yet. But beer and gin? They’ve got that covered.
In 199..ummm, like 1993 maybe? 1994? No idea. But way back then, when I was high on Ongaku Otaku and Hijokaidan and CCCC, I decided to record my own experimental noise album. I had no real musical equipment, talent, or skill, but what I did have was a clunky 386 computer with some sort of DOS-based sound recording software, a bunch of old electronics, and a lot of VHS tapes. Using a lot of pretty advanced, high-tech recording and mixing techniques — like holding a mic up to a TV or playing two sound sources at the same time and holding a mic up to them (Realistic brand, if memory serves) — I managed to get a pretty big tangle of sonic mania dumped onto what was a pretty big hard drive back in those days, like easily three megs.
Another Frolic Afield! I’m back on Alcohol Professor, discussing the cocktails at the recently opened East Village bar Boulton and Watt.
Owing to its proximity, my interest in poking about in history, and the ease of getting to it by mass transit means, Washington DC has become my most common short holiday from New York. As I am not one who finds visiting well-trodden tourist destinations to be distasteful or unfulfilling, I have logged more than my fair share of time at the city’s sundry monuments and museums. I have gazed upon The Bill of Rights, the Korean War memorial, that painting of George Washington we put on our money, and the Wright Brothers flyer. But while I consider destinations like The Smithsonian to be among this country’s great national treasures, I am also a fan of slightly less respectable educational endeavors and spectacles.
A bit of a unique Frolic Afield this round, as I post an update about something I wrote for a different site and mention that I will now also be writing regularly for that same site. Many of you already know The Cultural Gutter (if you don’t, you should). I have written for them as a guest once before, and Gutter editor Carol is also a contributor to Teleport City. I am humbled and overjoyed (and nervous) that I have become their new Science Fiction editor. I am taking up the mantle in the wake of the departure of the last Sci-fi editor, James Schellenberg, and he has set a mighty high bar in terms of thoughtfulness, quality, and a diversity of topics. I intend to turn my corner into a freaky space cocktail lounge.
My first official article is up now: At Play On the Planet of Men, about science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold, her novel Ethan of Athos, and the way science fiction deals (poorly, often) with female, LGBT, and minority characters, creators, and fans. Give it a read, and I’ll see you over at the Gutter.