One of my early film memories, and still one of my favorite films, is The African Queen starring Bogart and Kate Hepburn. It was an early model for what I assumed my life would be, fueled as I was at the time by golden age adventure films and Illustrated Classics versions of Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. Naturally, I would become a grizzled adventurer and lead the kind of life where I spent a lot of time drinking whiskey at the end of a jungle bar in a joint of French Colonial design and where I was known simply as “The American.” While my life hasn’t been without its adventures, both grizzled and clean-shaven, they’ve rarely attained quite the rarefied airs of dragging a boat through a leech-infested swamp, though I did once find myself caught in the middle of a massive frog migration in Paynes Prairie, Florida. In the summer of 2015, however, I came a little bit closer to my childhood (and later) dreams of living an African Queen adventure, thanks to the fact that the actual African Queen ended up, through a circuitous series of events, docked in Key Largo (a fittingly Bogart location) where it is available for tours of the canals and coastline.
I hate the Spanish horror movie The Blood-Spattered Bride, but I still managed to involve myself in nearly two hours of talking about it on an episode of The Trashy Trio Podcast. OK, maybe 40 minutes was about The Blood-Spattered Bride. The rest is about Jack Parsons and Disney’s Haunted Mansion and Sasha Mitchell and my inability to run a mile. And then eventually we get around to this sordid, grubby little adaptation of Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” only featuring a misogynistic rapist wife abuser as the hero. Be prepared — it’s a rare occasion on which I’m working blue. Like Redd Foxx blue. Trigger warning for me not being very good as a podcaster.
Over on The Cultural Gutter, I’m celebrating Eiji Tsuburaya, Ishiro Honda, and aliens who want to steal our women! Beneath the Mysterian Dome is a look at The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space, two of the biggest special effects blow-outs the the Honda-Tsuburaya team created. Prepare yourself for tiny space battle son an epic scale an the wholesale decimation of Earth’s most famous landmarks.
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’…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.