Friday, October 28, 2005

Some New and Forthcoming Bylines

DVD Savant Glenn Erickson calls me "writing-addicted," a difficult charge to refute given my recent plethora of activities. To keep you all abreast of what I've been writing in an extracurricular vein, here is a rundown of what's presently, or about to be, on newsstands or elsewhere.

On newsstands now are the current issues of Sight and Sound (which contains my "No Zone" column review of the DICK CAVETT SHOW - ROCK ICONS box set) and, of course, Video Watchdog #122, to which I contributed a thing or two.

Due to arrive on newsstands soon is the latest issue of a magazine I thought I'd never write for again, CFQ (Cinefantastique). I was recently approached by CFQ's outgoing editor, Dave Williams, who invited me to participate in their 35th anniversary issue -- his last as editor -- by writing a 500-750 word memoir of my past history with the magazine and its founding publisher/editor, Frederick S. Clarke. I agreed to do this, but warned Dave that it would be impossible to summarize those twelve years in so few words. Dave kindly offered me a slight extension, but as I set to work on the piece -- drawing from 10 years of preserved correspondence with Fred, including his "post mortem" reports on every issue produced during that period -- I found myself writing, with Fred's posthumous help, a veritable pocket history of the magazine's development during its first decade. On the day of my deadline, I turned in two separate drafts of my article -- one was only twice as long as Dave wanted, and the other was close to 10,000 words in length. Both were titled "Citizen Clarke," but each contained exclusive material. As I understand it, the shorter of the two versions is the one featured in CFQ's new 35th Anniversary issue (which I haven't yet seen), but the longer version may turn up on CFQ's website. I haven't received confirmation of this yet from Dave, but whether it does or doesn't, I may well offer the "400 lb. gorilla" version as a free bonus feature on the Video Watchdog website in the near future. I will keep you posted.

Literally as soon as I had turned this article in, I received an e-mail from Douglas Milton, the editor of the Anthony Burgess Foundation newsletter The End of the World News, informing me that his next issue had been caught short by an article that failed to materialize and asking if I could dash off something -- 500 to 750 words, perhaps? -- to help fill the breach. (Why was Mr. Milton making such a bizarre request of the editor of Video Watchdog? Well, back in 1981, just before home video stole away all the time I formerly spent reading, I published an essay about Burgess's novels in Purdue University's literary magazine Modern Fiction Studies, which was subsequently included in a hardcover collection of "best Burgess essays" compiled by the estimable Harold Bloom. This remains my sole foray into literary criticism/analysis, but it was enough to establish me as a Burgess scholar.) Anyway, I agreed to lend a hand and, once again, ended up turning in something much longer than was requested. Online publishing being flexible about such things, I'm told my second Burgess article will appear online here sometime next week. It's an account of my brief correspondence with the author of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and many other important novels of comic irony (I particularly recommend ENDERBY, MF and EARTHLY POWERS), and touches on some of my own early attempts at novel-writing. Burgess's letters to me are quoted in full and will appear in print there for the first time.

In bookstores, you can find my chapter on FANTOMAS (the classic 1911 novel by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain) in HORROR: ANOTHER 100 BEST BOOKS, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. I was very pleased and flattered to be asked to contribute to this long-awaited follow-up to Steve and Kim's HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS (1988), but the greatest pleasure was discovering that it also includes an essay about my own novel THROAT SPROCKETS (1994), written by the award-winning novelist Tananarive Due. It's delirious to see one's own work discussed in the company of Conan Doyle's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Leroux's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and Camus' THE STRANGER, and it's my hope that the attention paid to THROAT SPROCKETS will inspire some publisher or other to bring it back into print. Speaking of the talented Tananarive Due, she is scheduled to appear on CNN on Sunday morning, between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., to promote her latest novel JOPLIN'S GHOST, so set your timers and TiVos. It's very rare these days for a novelist to receive air time, unless they die or kill somebody, so support literary television by tuning in.

In video stores is Subversive Cinema's DVD of Jack Cardiff's THE FREAKMAKER (aka THE MUTATIONS), for which I wrote the liner notes. I saw the film theatrically back in 1974 and can attest it has never looked better than it does on this disc.

Imminently due is Digitmovies' second release in their "Mario Bava Soundtrack Anthology" series, and this one is the disc all Italian horror music fans have been waiting for: Carlo Rustichelli's music for THE WHIP AND THE BODY aka WHAT [La frusta e il corpo, 1963] and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE [Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964]! Neither of these scores has been previously issued, though incredibly rare 45 rpm singles were released for each title at the original time of release. Best news of all, the BLOOD AND BLACK LACE tracks will be heard on this disc for the first time in full stereo! Several of my favorite tracks on this disc also qualify as soundtrack cues from Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL! [Operazione paura, 1966], a film that was entirely scored with library music. I wrote the liner notes for this release and also contributed a never-before-published interview with Maestro Rustichelli, which was conducted on my behalf and translated by my friend, Daniela Catelli (Italy's leading authority on the films of William Friedkin). We will be selling this CD through the Video Watchdog website, and I'll make an announcement here once it's in stock.

And now I must stop blogging and buckle down to write the liner notes for Digitmovies' third "Mario Bava Soundtrack Anthology" release, which will collect Stelvio Cipriani's music for TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE aka BAY OF BLOOD [Ecologia del delitto, 1971], BARON BLOOD (1972) and RABID DOGS [Cani arrabbiati, 1975]!

Yet Another Halloween Programming Update

After all that build-up, it seems that The Men's Channel did not present a preview of The Horror Channel after all. I dutifully tuned in at midnight and found myself gaping at an infomercial for a Time/Life rock oldies CD offer, hosted by Roger Daltrey. Unless The Horror Channel plans to become another of cable television's innumerable ready recepticles for this sort of late night "Paid Programming," something went wrong. A disastrous debut, to say the least.

The Game Show Network "Horror Stars Marathon," as I understand it, will be in play all weekend -- from tonight through Sunday -- but only in the one-hour vintage programming slot between 3:00 - 4:00 a.m. eastern time. The commercials actually suggest it's running all weekend long, but my Dish Network program menu shows "Paid Programming" kicking back in at 4:00 a.m. and the usual run of game shows (including those without celebrity guests like JEOPARDY! and LOVE CONNECTION) scheduled throughout the day. Newly augmented commercials show clips of Anthony Perkins on PASSWORD and Janet Leigh on WHAT'S MY LINE?. I'm still hoping against hope that GSN's programmers pull that Zacherley show off the shelf. I remember that Joey Bishop was the guest panelist on that program, so if they start running a show with him on the dais, get those VCRs/DVD-Rs recording.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Separation of Church and Halloween

Seen on the roadside sign of a local church:


Just as I believe it's important to keep Church and State separated, I can't help feeling that any church indulging in "Holyween" activities is simply not to be trusted.

Oops / Eureka / Hurrah / Uh-Oh

OOPS: In what is bound to be only the first of many time-slips experienced by this blog, I inaccurately stated yesterday that the Horror Channel preview was going to happen on The Men's Channel at 12:00 a.m. midnight last night.

Correction: It happens at midnight tonight.

If it makes you feel any better, I also tuned in (late) last night and saw a lanky model waving a flag around as a bunch of race cars darted up and down a track. When I decided that George Romero wasn't likely to turn up behind the wheel of one of those vehicles, I turned off the TV and went back to reading Andrew Biskind's The Real Life of Anthony Burgess.

EUREKA: Last night, while peddling furiously on my exer-cycle and listening to Television's Marquee Moon, the idea for a novel, coming from the opposite direction, peddled straight into my head. (I mention the album only to plug one of the greatest under-the-general-radar albums ever recorded, not because it offers any particular clues to the subject matter.) It's not another horror novel, certainly not another vampire novel, but rather the sort of literary idea that could really only work as a book. Ideas for books that aren't halfway houses to ideas for films or some other visual media are as rare as angel's hair, and one is privileged (maybe cursed) to receive them. The idea is for me to write a new short chapter for this book each day, blog fashion, and see how the material stacks up. My goal is a short comic novel -- kind of a return to the Kafkaesque territory of my still-unpublished second novel The Only Criminal -- that's meant to be read in short sips, much as it was written. I may tire of this idea within a week, or who knows, it could turn out to be something good.

HURRAH: Last night, Donna finally succeeded in completing the three-month task of compiling the index to Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark!

This is such a relief to us both, you can't imagine. Every evening, for the past three months, she's been calling my office from the room next door and asking me things like "Is it Ercole e la regina di Lidia or Ercole e la reina di Lidia?"... "Is it Roy Colt e Winchester Jack or Roy Colt & Winchester Jack?"... "Is it 5 Bambole per la luna d'agosto or 5 bambole per la luna d'Agosto, or Cinque bambole per la luna d'Agosto... and in English, is it 5 Dolls for an August Moon or Five Dolls for an August Moon... and was it 1969 or 1970?" And then there are the questions about Italian spellings -- "Is it Dino De Laurentiis or Dino de Laurentiis?" etc.

Because I finished writing this book nearly two years ago, not all of these answers have been poised on the tip of my tongue. So Donna's sudden questions were often my cue to drop whatever I might be doing and look up the answers, before she could move on to the next conundrum -- usually just one paragraph further on. This book has been proofread by several different film historians, but in a book this size and this comprehensive, there are all sorts of invisible inconsistencies that only come to light when compiling an index. It's been hell, but the book has been made stronger by the effort. Neither of us want to go through anything like this ever again, so don't ask me which director I'm going to write about next.

Some of the printers who are courting us for this job are sending us some samples of their work, along with dummy blank books that will show us exactly the size and weight and dimensions of the Bava book. One of the companies still within our price range is an Italian printer that is responsible for all the great Taschen books, including the recent Stanley Kubrick Archives monster -- it would be great to work with them, not least of all because they are in Italy and could make it easier for us to get copies of the book to Bava's family members and some of my research associates. But of course, there are more considerations involved than just that.

UH-OH: It's getting to be "that time" again. Next week we must take another break from this process to assemble Video Watchdog #123, which should only take two weeks if all goes according to plan. (That means it's my cue, this week, to start brain-birthing as many reviews for the next issue as I possibly can.) Then it's back to work on Bava book, with Donna designing the layouts for the front matter and final appendices. We expect to get through with all this before the holidays, barring any computer crashes or unforeseen photo file problems. We don't expect the job will reach the printer we ultimately choose until sometime in January, and then it will take them however long it takes to produce the books and deliver them to our door. So our best guess for the book's arrival is Spring 2006... but it could be earlier.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Halloween Programming Notes

Tonight at 12:00 a.m. midnight, The Men's Channel will be presenting a preview broadcast of The Horror Channel, the much-ballyhooed everyman's alternative to Monsters HD. Things start tonight with what is described as "a tribute to film director George A. Romero," but I could find no details about whether this means movies we've already seen or new interview material we have not. Until The Horror Channel is properly launched, these previews will continue on The Men's Channel on Saturday nights at midnight beginning on November 5th. Visit this link for more information about where to find The Men's Channel on your existing cable lineup.

This weekend, The Game Show Network will celebrate Halloween with a special late night retrospective of horror and thriller star celebrities' appearances on vintage game shows, notably appearances by Vincent Price and Alfred Hitchcock on WHAT'S MY LINE? (My fingers are crossed that they might also show John Zacherle's WML appearance, which caught me unawares when it played some years ago in the dead of night.) I can't find any details about the special programming on GSN's website (thanks a lot) but the promo I saw last night suggested it would be running all weekend long in their "Late Night Black & White" slot, which should begin on Friday morning at 3:00 a.m. eastern. I will amend this posting later should I find out more.

And lastly, don't forget that Friday also marks the debut of Showtime's new horror anthology series MASTERS OF HORROR, at 10:00 p.m. eastern. The first episode, "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road," adapted from a short story by Joe Lansdale, was scripted and directed by Don Coscarelli (PHANTASM). It will be repeating all weekend long in the same time slot. You can find more information about the series and program here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Of Price and Peel

Is it possible that a full year has already passed since the death of BBC disc jockey John Peel? Or that twelve years have now passed since the death of Vincent Price? True on both counts, as hard as that may be to believe.

Being American, I didn't grow up listening to John Peel of course, but I've been able to collect a number of his broadcasts from different eras and have the greatest respect for what he achieved. Music needs an outlet where it can be judged on its integrity or quality, free of commercial considerations, and Peel gave it this, just as he brought young bands of promise to wider exposure. Nowadays, more than ever, young people need short cuts to what is good and dependable barometers like Peel are harder than ever to come by. Knowing the difference Peel had made in countless careers by virtue of a good and incorruptible ear, I felt terribly moved when I saw, on a broadband video, his coffin being raised and carried out of his memorial service as The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" (his favorite song, and one of mine) was played. And now I can't hear Feargal Sharkey's raspy voice without getting a big lump in my throat. (BTW, if you love rock or pop music and don't own a copy of The Very Best of The Undertones, it's money bloody well spent.) The great concern that is raised by the passing of a giant like Peel is "Who will carry the torch for him now?" -- or does the privilege and position that he carved out for himself vanish along with him? I don't know what the BBC has been doing to fill his void, if anything, but I hope someone there can come to fill his void eventually... it's not a mantle to be earned overnight.

Vincent Price's death touched me even more directly because we had been in communication in the months just prior to it. Because I had written an essay called "The Importance of Being Vincent" for the 11th issue of Video Watchdog, which Vincent had liked, I was invited to participate in a 1993 segment of A&E's BIOGRAPHY that was being dedicated to his life and career -- as was my friend and colleague David Del Valle, in whose apartment we taped our on-camera interviews. Vincent, who had sent a very sweet handwritten acknowledgement of our special issue dedicated to his career, got to see the program before it was aired and sent me another personal thank you note on a card adorned with a water color of a manatee. As it happens, he passed away just a few days before the program aired -- making those of us who were involved all the more grateful he had seen it early. The program received some criticism for focusing solely on Price's horror career, notably from Price's biographer (and my chum) Lucy Chase Williams, but the show had been designed with a Halloween week broadcast date in mind. At any rate, it was eventually withdrawn from broadcast (because some clips had not been properly licensed, as I understand it) and replaced with a more all-encompassing career overview featuring Lucy and others. I like both shows and don't think one is particularly better than the other, but I do think the one David and I did together is more fun... plus it gave us boasting rights to say that we had co-starred in something with Diana Rigg, Roddy McDowall, Joanna Gleason (who told some wonderful stories), John Waters, Joan Rivers, and of course, Vincent. I'm sorry there's no way for people to see it anymore.

It's never a pleasure to eulogize people, but there is satisfaction in encapsulating the life of someone you admire, respect or love in a way that you feel captures their arc and essence. I've asked myself why this is so, and I think it has something to do with appreciating when we are privileged to see someone else's life whole, as it were. After all, books and movies have spoiled us into thinking that we're entitled to proper endings, whether they are happy or tragic or merely sad or non-committal. In fact, we have no birthright to proper endings. We may well exit this world without knowing how our own stories end -- or those of our significant others, should we predecease them. And therein lies the satisfaction and reassurance of a well-turned eulogy: it's evidence that a life well-lived can have the power and impact and design of art. And where there is Art, there is usually an Artist.

Both of these gentlemen led such lives, and ours were made all the richer by their endeavor.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Discovering Karl May

Isn't it a strange thing when a new enthusiasm overtakes you?

I'm experiencing one right now after having viewed the three films that make up Tobis/UFA Home Entertainment's "limited edition" German import KARL MAY DVD COLLECTION I: Harald Reinl's DER SCHATZ IM SILBERSEE (aka THE TREASURE OF SILVER LAKE, 1962), Harald Phillip's WINNETOU UND DAS HALBBLUT APANATSCHI (aka HALF-BREED, 1966) and Alfred Vohrer's WINNETOU UND SEIN FREUND OLD FIREHAND (aka WINNETOU: THUNDER AT THE BORDER, 1966).

These films came about when 11 year-old Mattias Wendlandt -- an ardent reader of the 70-odd Western novels written by the popular German writer Karl May (pronounced "My"), who lived from 1842 to 1912) -- suggested to his father, Rialto Film producer Horst Wendlandt, that a series of May films might prove just as popular as his Edgar Wallace krimis. Indeed, they were an immediate hit with the release of DER SCHATZ IM SILBERSEE, starring Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand and Pierre Brice (MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN) as his Apache friend, Winnetou. The series continued through 1968 and, if you include the three movies based on Karl May's "Orient Travels," exceed a dozen films. The notion of a French actor playing an Apache may seem strange, but Brice gives a superb and non-stereotypical portrayal that he later revived on German television in the 1980s and again as recently as 1998.

The first KARL MAY DVD COLLECTION (there are presently three available, with more due later this year) is a scattershot assortment; it begins at the beginning, but then checker-jumps through the years to offer a representative sampling of the series as a whole. I had seen some of the Karl May films previously on Encore's Western Channel, where they are always pan&scanned and, needless to say, dubbed in English. (If you have the Western Channel, I recommend that you record RAMPAGE AT APACHE WELLS [DER ÖLPRINZ, 1965] the next time it gallops through, because the presentation of this title in KARL MAY DVD COLLECTION II doesn't include an English dub track.)

I was initially interested in these movies because they often feature talent carried over from the Edgar Wallace movies (Eddi Arent plays an eccentric butterfly collector in DER SCHATZ IM SILBERSEE) , and because it was the success of these films that enabled Sergio Leone's Italian Westerns to get made. You can certainly see evidence of the Leone Westerns coming back home to roost in the last of the COLLECTION I films, but the first two are remarkably pure -- they are like classic American Westerns, but like the Leone films, they seem an idealized, rarified dream of life in the Old West. Barker and Brice are fabulous and have faces that wouldn't look out of place carved into the side of Mount Rushmore. Old Shatterhand is like Superman without the super powers, and the Indian (Native American) tribes are depicted only with respect and reverence. I was particularly impressed with Götz George, the romantic lead of the first two films, who is not only a likeable actor but an expert horseman and formidable stunt man. His love interest in DER SCHATZ IM SILBERSEE is played by future Bond girl (and Mrs. Harald Reinl) Karin Dor. Here they are, pictured together, in one of their third act difficulties:

Note the importance in all of these screen grabs of the full breadth of the original widescreen photography. These films are packed with action but their abiding appreciation for the miracle of nature and the majesty of Western landscapes (actually shot in a Yugoslavian national park) is the true hallmark of the series, made all the more captivating by Martin Böttcher's dreamy orchestral music. (They may be unlike the grittier Leone films but clearly influenced them.) It is the beauty and simplicity of these films that make them such a happy refuge, and they have been given extraordinary new life with digitally enhanced, Technicolor-rich hues.

What this set proved to me is that the Karl May Westerns are not just hampered but ruined when they are shown in any other way but in German and in their original aspect ratio. The German language tracks restore their soul, their sincerity. I was never completely won over by the Western Channel showings (where I noticed William "Blacula" Marshall dubbing one of the Indians in THE TREASURE OF SILVER LAKE), but to see these films in German, with English subtitles, and in 5.1 sound is intoxicating.

Now I'm hooked, and I want to see them all. I was even moved to check out some Karl May websites, where I learned that this author (whose sales in Germany were second only to the Bible) has only recently begun to be adequately translated into English. One publishing house specializing in new Karl May translations can be found here. There are also some downloadable texts of a few early, abridged May translations on the Internet, which you can find here.

Of the three titles in Volume 1, only the last -- WINNETOU UND SEIN FREUND OLD FIREHAND (featuring Rod Cameron as the raccoon-hatted Old Firehand) -- fails to offer an English track, but the story is easy enough to follow in the hands of Alfred Vohrer, the greatest of all the Edgar Wallace directors and one of the most visually impressive German directors of the 1960s. Even without dialogue I could follow, this movie proved to me that Vohrer wasn't just a krimi director; he had something to offer other genres as well.

The first three KARL MAY DVD COLLECTIONs are available domestically as a Region 2 import from Xploited Cinema, priced at $49.95 each.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Blog for Barboura

Thirty years ago today -- October 23, 1975 -- Barboura Morris died at the age of 43. She had celebrated her birthday the day before... I imagine poorly, because the IMDb specifies her cause of death as a "stroke and complications from cancer."

All that I really know about Barboura Morris is that she was a comely supporting presence in many Roger Corman films through the 1950s and 1960s, and that she was married to Monte Hellman for awhile. Her best acting showcases were probably in SORORITY GIRL (1957) and A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959, pictured above). In the former, she plays the sane foil to Susan Cabot's psychotic college girl, and in the latter she plays Carla, the mellow beatnik girl who congratulates Walter Paisley's (Dick Miller's) sculpting "success" with a kiss and unexpectely wins his twisted heart. She also has a memorable, non-glamorous supporting role in THE TRIP (1967) as the lady in hair-curlers who has a surprisingly poignant encounter with Peter Fonda's tripping protagonist in a laundromat.

Corman first met Barboura as a fellow student in Jeff Corey's acting class, and I get the sense from the sheer unimportance of some of her roles that Corman would give her little parts, when she wasn't otherwise working, as a personal favor, to lift her spirits and keep her in front of the camera. You can see her in a pelt, poking around the rocky hillsides in TEENAGE CAVEMAN (1958); pulling her tricycle-peddling toddler out of the way of Peter Fonda's motorcycle in the pre-credits sequence of THE WILD ANGELS (1966); and as one of the frightened people of Arkham in the Corman-produced H.P. Lovecraft adaptation THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970). The IMDb lists only 15 screen credits for her, and a lot of them are precisely this sort of thankless, often unbilled stuff. I'm aware of at least one other role that isn't reported there: she appears in the closing minutes of DE SADE (1969) where she appears, again uncredited, as a nun, obviously one of the scenes Corman shot for credited director Cy Endfield.

For some reason -- lack of ambition, a lousy agent -- Barboura doesn't seem to have worked in a movie Corman wasn't involved with until 1970's HELEN KELLER AND HER TEACHER, an obscure picture in which she played the role of Annie Sullivan, made famous by Anne Bancroft in 1962's THE MIRACLE WORKER. I don't know anything about this production except that it didn't lead to bigger and better things. I would love to see it, if only to see Barboura tackling another of her all-too-few lead roles.

Likewise, I would have loved to read an interview with her, to get her point-of-view on those crazy fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants years of AIP filmmaking, but I don't think any journalists ever spoke to her. It's our loss.

A toast, on this overcast and chilly Cincinnati Sunday, to "the girl with the lovely smile"... Walter Paisley's muse... the long-gone but not forgotten Barboura Morris.