Friday, February 10, 2006

Eurodrama: Films Without Pity

MPI Home Video's new subsidiary label, Dark Sky Films, has been making their presence known of late with a number of interesting, offbeat releases on DVD. Among them are the early gore classic THE FLESH EATERS (1963) with Martin Kosleck, the anime-like TERROR BENEATH THE SEA [Katei daisenso, 1966] with Sonny Chiba, the Edgar Wallace krimi THE COLLEGE GIRL MURDERS [Der Mönch mit der Peitsche, 1967], and the R-rated drive-in favorite WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS (1971). Another of their releases, a bit harder to find than the others, is a curious item titled WET ASPHALT, starring Horst Buchholz, Maria Perschy (both pictured above), and Gert Fröbe.

Dark Sky has labelled the release as "Lost Noir" -- but there's got to be a better name for it than that. For one thing, WET ASPHALT is a German picture.

Originally released as Nasser Asphalt in 1958, WET ASPHALT was distributed here in the United States by Walter Manley Enterprises, best-known for importing an especially kooky brand of science fiction film -- PRINCE OF SPACE and INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN , to name a couple. Its release as a Dark Sky title hints at the phrase "contractual obligation" and it might well have been a contractual obligation for Manley too, as it's hard to imagine it ever selling many American tickets on its own. That is not to say that it's not good or not interesting; on the contrary, I was drawn to this release right away, without quite knowing why.

As one quickly surmises from the DVD's sketchbooky cover art, WET ASPHALT is not really a noir film at all -- it isn't a crime picture, per se, nor is it particularly stylized; it doesn't feature hardboiled male characters nor femmes fatale. So why did it continue to beckon to me, long after I had set it aside for later viewing? True, it has some cast and crew members with minor cult appeal, but I believe what most intrigued me is that it reminded me of other unclassifiable works from the same era and area. This led me to the consideration that there may well be a worthwhile kind of European film, largely forgotten now, that has been overlooked precisely because they are not allied to genre. Of course, these films could be said to fall under the basic generic heading of drama or love story, but I would argue that they are a certain kind of drama and love story in need of their own distinctive term. After all, because movie thrillers already existed, that didn't prevent the giallo from being pinned and labelled as something distinct, right?

What do I know about these strange, disenfranchised movies? They are European -- primarily German, French, Swiss, Czech or Yugoslavian; they are movies that, though well-made, didn't have the artistic gunpowder or pretension to make an international mark as art films; they are also mainstream pictures that, in every way other than story, seem to scream genre. They are not really atmospheric but they have mood in spades; they are neorealistic in terms of their look and their frankness about controversial subjects, yet they are decidedly more artificial, more movie-like, than, say, Italian neorealist pictures. Furthermore, they seem to be commonly steeped in post-war feelings of guilt, self-reproach, and sin by association. They make me think of the Gene Pitney song "Town Without Pity" -- written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington for the movie of the same name, which was set in the West Germany of 1961. I'm determined to find a generic handle for these movies, because if they become known as belonging to a specific genre, they stand a better chance of surviving, being re-released, and being discussed. There may also be a few buried masterpieces among their kind.

When I was a kid, I occasionally saw trailers for films like WET ASPHALT at the drive-in, or at a neighborhood indoor theater that hosted kiddie matinees on weekends and catered to the "art film" market on weeknights. They always mystified me because there was an air of otherness about them that I knew ought to interest me, but they didn't promise the monsters and mayhem that would have encouraged me to seek them out. There was also a palpable sense that these movies were for adults. Consequently, my main memory of them is that I saw the trailers, but the movies themselves never materialized. Sometimes these trailers turn up on Something Weird Video compilations; they feature actors like Curt (or Curd) Jurgens, Maximillian Schell, or the star of this particular film, Horst Buchholz. Some years before he made WET ASPHALT, Buchholz starred in another German picture called Die Halbstarken (1956), which was released in America under the title TEENAGE WOLFPACK. I wish I could remember the name of the Something Weird compilation that featured its trailer -- watching this compilation was like dreaming while wide-awake, because the names of the actors were familiar but the films were so obscure they all seemed imaginary! The trailer for TEENAGE WOLFPACK stood out because it humorously "introduced" Buchholz as "Henry Bookholt" -- a new sensation of the screen. TEENAGE WOLFPACK (whose title may well have helped inspire the "True Confessional" title for I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF in 1957) looked like it would belong to the same obscure, disenfranchised pack of Eurodramas as WET ASPHALT.

In hindsight, I suppose these films must have appealed to two basic groups of Americans in the 1950s and early 1960s: 1) immigrants to whom the European settings and actors were familiar, and 2) curiosity seekers who detected in these trailers a whiff of the unknown, the forbidden, the un-American. In other words, somebody might get naked.

Anyone hoping for a glimpse of forbidden fruit in WET ASPHALT will be disappointed, as it is actually a study of a young journalist and the conflicts that arise from his moral code. Buchholz plays Greg Bachmann, a young reporter who was sent to prison for six years for impersonating a French officer to infiltrate Spandau Prison and gain exclusive interviews with the most notorious of surviving Nazi war criminals. Upon his release, he is approached by Cesar Boyd (Martin Held), Germany's one-man news industry, who respects what Greg tried to do and needs an assistant; he offers him top dollar for his services. Narration carries us four years further down the road of their association. Boyd has maintained his stellar reputation and Greg is delighted to be working with him. Distracted by the arrival of Boyd's pretty niece Bettina (Perschy), the two journalists forget their obligation to file a strong weekend story with the leading Paris newspaper by 8:00 on Friday night and need to come up with something fast. Desperate, with the help of his chauffeur Joe (Gert Fröbe in the earliest of his screen appearances I've seen), Boyd concocts a far-fetched story about a group of Nazi soldiers and their prisoners being found alive in a Polish bunker, where they have spent the last six years -- and presents it to Greg as factual. Greg calls it the greatest news item he's ever heard, and to Boyd's astonishment, the world agrees. The story captures the world's imagination and the demand for further details pushes him to invent further updates.

The location chosen for the bunker happens to coincide with a spot in Poland where secret rocket tests are being conducted by the Russian army, and the story excites unwelcome interest in the region, resulting in grave impact on other peoples' lives. The demand for additional news becomes so great, and so lucrative, that other unscrupulous professionals begin to heap their own facets of invention on Boyd's original lie, exciting the hopes of families who lost loved ones in the war that husbands and brothers and sons may be among the fictional survivors. One woman's excitement so overwhelms her that she suffers a fatal heart attack, and mobs eventually converge on Boyd's home, demanding the identities of the survivors be revealed. In time, Bachmann realizes that the story is a lie and he must make the difficult choice of either covering up the deception, or telling the truth and losing his career in the process. In either case, he suffers a rude awakening in regard to the journalist who had become his hero and role model. There is a romantic subplot, but it is fairly prudent apart from some allusions to Boyd's non-avuncular interest in his young niece.

Horst Buchholz and Maria Perschy both passed away fairly recently -- Bucholz in 2003 (pneumonia) and Perschy in 2004 (cancer). Neither of them lived to reach the age of 70, which makes it a bittersweet and sentimental pleasure to find them here looking so young and full of promise. Even Gert Fröbe looks fresher than usual; this was a couple of years before Fritz Lang cast him as Inspector Kraus in THE 1000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE [Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse, 1960], thus setting his career on track toward the immortal role of Auric Goldfinger. The film is stolen, however, by Martin Wald as Cesar Boyd, a robust actor who wasn't destined to enjoy the same level of international recognition as his co-stars. The director of photography, Helmut Ashley, later became a director specializing in krimis -- notably the excellent Moerderspiel ("Murder Game," 1961) and the Edgar Wallace film Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee ("The Puzzle of the Red Orchid," 1962, starring Christopher Lee).

WET ASPHALT (the title refers to the aftermath of a street where the Police have turned firehoses on unlawful public assemblies) was directed by Frank Wisbar, an East Prussia-born director, best remembered for the classic dark fantasy Fährmann Maria (1936), who fled Nazi Germany and made a series of B-pictures at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) -- including a notable remake of the aforementioned picture called STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP and THE DEVIL BAT'S DAUGHTER (both 1946). He returned to West Germany in the mid-1950s and added another eight titles to his filmography (most of which score high ratings on the IMDb) before his death in 1967. I would never have recognized WET ASPHALT as Wisbar's work in a million years. It's a good and interesting movie, with some commendable things to say about personal and professional responsibility, but not the buried Eurodrama masterpiece I alluded to earlier. ("Eurodrama" -- could it be that simple?)

Dark Sky's disc is correctly rendered in standard ratio and looks pretty good except for some early shots that evince some noise and shimmer as the camera casts a look down a cobblestone road. I wish the disc offered a German language option with English subtitles, to help one get closer to the performances; nevertheless, the quality of the dubbing is excellent. The voices and dialogue doesn't always fit the lip movements, but the voice actors give valid performances and the English track feels unusually wedded to the film.

If you're looking for something offbeat, an unusual evening's entertainment that gestures to a whole other world of filmmaking you're not likely to know much about, consider taking a midnight stroll down WET ASPHALT.

Here's hoping that Dark Sky unearths some more "Lost Noir"! There must be more where this came from.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Master of Monster Music

I dislike the idea of making two death-related postings in a single week, much less four. But alas, it is necessary to reflect on the news from Japan of Maestro Akira Ifukube's passing at the age of 91, from natural causes.

With his grim, churning yet magisterial score for Ishiro Honda's Gojira [US: GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!] in 1954, Akira Ifukube opened the door to a highly individual orchestral sound that would define the so-called kaiju eiga ("monster movies") of Toho Studios for more than half a century. Ifukube would not score all of the Godzilla films produced during that time, but his spirit was always present and guiding in the works of his replacement composers, who knew all too well whose shoes they were being asked to fill. A Godzilla film would somehow be less than a Godzilla film if his appearances were not accompanied, at least once, by those musical passages familiar to all the series' followers -- the hulking main theme, the strident march accompanying scenes of mobilized military forces, and most of all, the music (proud, ascendant, yet rich in gravitas) that told us that Godzilla was, although bloodied, unbowed.

It is true that Maestro Ifukube was sometimes criticized for leaning too heavily on these standards he had set, but it is also important to note that he continued to add scores of conspicuous significance to his backlog throughout the entire length of his career. Though KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was largely rescored with library music for its US release, the original version Kingukongu tai Gojira (1962) features one of his most ravishing scores, one that was faithful to the urban/jungle orchestral fusions of Max Steiner's seminal KING KONG score, while further fusing it with the lyricism of melodies evocative of the Pacific islands. This score was paid the ultimate compliment of being included in original Japanese release prints in full stereo. One of the greatest glories of Ifukube's catalogue, the heartbreakingly plaintive "Song for Mothra" sung by Imi and Yûmi Ito ("The Peanuts") in GODZILLA VS. THE THING [Mosura tai Gojira, 1963], was showcased in a passage of unexpected poignancy in the midst of what its young audience assumed would be little more than a knock-down, drag-out monsterfest. It was Ifukube's role as composer to keep the series' juvenile aspects rooted in emotion, wisdom and soul -- he infused scenes of war with the awareness of loss.

Knowing his value to the series all too well, Toho acknowledged the 30th anniversary of the original film by producing a memorable home video exclusive in 1984: GODZILLA FANTASIA, a "greatest hits" compilation of series highlights accompanied by all-new stereo orchestrations conducted by Ifukube. In Japan, even in the laserdisc era, it was not uncommon for Ifukube's kaiju eiga to be released on disc with isolated music-and-effects channels. When Ifukube returned to the Godzilla series after a nearly 20 year absence in the 1990s, he added two more masterpieces to his canon with Gojira tai Mosura [GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA - THE BATTLE FOR EARTH, 1992] and his penultimate series score, Gojira tai Mekagojira [GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II, 1993]. In addition to scoring these films, Ifukube was responsible for creating/recording the roars of the various Toho giants.

Of course, Ifukube was not just about Godzilla. In addition to being an accomplished classical composer and conductor, he used his vast knowledge of medieval and ethnic Japanese music and instrumentation to score the DAIMAJIN and ZATOICHI film series for Daiei Studios, and incorporated all manner of bizarre and modernistic instrumentation (saws, theramin, electric guitar, Hammond organ) when scoring some of Toho's most impressive science fiction films, such as Chikyu Boeigun [THE MYSTERIANS, 1957], Uchu daisenso [BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959), and Kaitei gunkan [ATRAGON, 1965].

Akira Ifukube retired two years ago, on the eve of his 90th year, so his admirers are at least saved the grief of a career interrupted or cut short. We have all the music he planned to give us, and we can rest confident that it will survive us all. Which means that all we recognize of ourselves in Ifukube's music -- our sometimes primitive emotions, our will to survive and triumph, and not least of all, our responsiveness to beauty and tenderness -- will live on, too.

Photo: Godzilla presents Akira Ifukube with a tribute on the occasion of his retirement in 2004. (c) Toho Studios

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

EEK! It's Deke

My friend, the late Louis M. "Deke" Heyward (pictured above with Buster Keaton on the set of 1964's PAJAMA PARTY), passed away in March 2002... yet four years later, his website Ask Deke remains active -- and is apparently still accepting e-mail!

At the time of Deke's passing, we were in the midst of a lengthy correspondence about, of all things, DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS and AIP's early attempts to film a version of H. P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" that would have starred Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee and been directed by Mario Bava. While awaiting Deke's reply to another set of questions, I happened to get online and go to the Classic Horror Film Boards, which was then a fairly obscure AOL folder, only to find Deke's name posted at the top of the "Gone But Not Forgotten" section. I felt it very personally.

Deke was a sweetheart and gave me tremendous quotes for the Bava book, and also loaned me his own leatherbound copy of the GIRL BOMBS screenplay (which I returned after xeroxing). The script was an amazing document of chaotic international co-production with several pages scribbled hurriedly in longhand. His revelations about the GIRL BOMBS filming is "must" reading, and you'll all finally get a crack at it sometime this summer.

It's interesting: all the time I was communicating with Deke, I had no idea that he was also running a website. So it was rather, shall we say, oltre tomba, to stumble across his old site and find it still active and soliciting questions from the curious. Particularly as I've had frequent experience of reading about the deaths of celebrities I already thought were dead. My memory of Deke's sudden death, and the sudden end it brought to our happy correspondence, was so specific in my memory that I would have to check myself into a funny farm if I used that e-mail address and actually got an answer back. Fortunately, the IMDb supports my recollection of events.

Deke, despite being always as sad-faced as Droopy Dog in pictures, was the very soul of humor and surely would have had a chuckle over this.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Another Man Done Gone

In yesterday's mail, I received the 75th issue of WRAPPED IN PLASTIC, the magazine devoted to TWIN PEAKS and related cult television. Though I am very fond of this magazine and have read some marvelous articles in it, I must admit to occasionally shaking my head over new issues as they continued to filter in... in the best possible way, of course. It has been a wonderment to me that Craig Miller and John Thorne of Win-Mill Productions and their contributors could continue, for so long, to find so much worth exploring, discussing, and debating about the two-season David Lynch series. The show has had more than a decade to cool off, but Miller and Thorne have never allowed their torch to go out. In their latest, deluxe, 64-page issue, the fan phenomenon of WRAPPED IN PLASTIC (WIP) finally hits a wall of sorts, with its editors announcing that WIP #75 is their "last regular issue," marking "the end of a rewarding and memorable chapter in our lives."

This makes me feel great regret, especially coming so soon after the discontinuation of another obsessive fan favorite, FILM SCORE MONTHLY, as a print publication. (It continues as an online, subscription-basis cyberzine.)

I can't help wondering: Is this the end of Rico? As a fellow publisher and editor, I know all too well that the reasons not to publish a print magazine far outweigh the reasons to do so. Magazine distribution has changed greatly in the last decade; it used to be a dozen different companies who didn't pay their bills, and now it's basically one huge monolithic company that sends back returns so pristine it's obvious they've never spent an hour on a magazine stand. Then there are the big bookstore chains, who encourage their customers to sit in big comfy chairs and sip lattes all day while they read your product for free. Publishers are also expected to pay for "shrinkage," the brainchild of some brilliant lawyer who couldn't see why his bookstore clients should be financially responsible for copies of magazines stolen from their premises. (Why, then, do these stores have so many security cameras? Are they real?) And there is also the here-take-it phenomenon of the Internet working against the concept of readers paying for the privilege of access to well-written articles, essays, reviews and editorials. Add to all this what hard work it is, and it's really no wonder that some publishers get tired and hang up their hats.

I was very pleased to discover that WIP has decided to go out with a bang: WIP #75 is one of the best issues they've ever done. In addition to interviews with David Lynch, co-creator Mark Frost, chief writer Bob Engels, Lynch collaborator Mary Sweeney, and log lady Catherine Coulson, there is a complete WIP index and an assortment of fresh articles, including one consisting of further thoughts on aspects of TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME that Miller and Thorne never managed to accomodate in earlier efforts. The principal topics of these thoughts are: Garmonbozia, the song standards referenced by Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) during his appearance in the movie, and that enticing topic nobody wants to talk about, Judy. Great stuff.

On the Win-Mill website, the question of WIP's future is handled less definitely than in the magazine itself. Online, Craig and John are calling #75 a "hiatus edition" -- so the door is being left open for a possible return, but as the old song goes, "who knows where or when?" Like TWIN PEAKS itself, we hope that WRAPPED IN PLASTIC will return in some form, someday -- perhaps when the deleted scenes from FIRE WALK WITH ME finally turn up on DVD. In the meantime... Vale, Craig and John, and heartfelt thanks for a job well done.

Given that print magazines seem to be dropping like flies, it's all the more admirable to see a new one preparing for take-off. Jessie Lilley, the former publisher of SCARLET STREET and WORLDLY REMAINS, is now taking wing as the editor-in-chief of a new magazine, MONDO CULT. As the title suggests, the focus is on the world of cult entertainment. The first issue contains departments addressed to new movies on disc, new music (including an especially solid collection of soundtrack reviews), new books, and more. The roster of contributors includes some familiar names, like Ray Bradbury and Forrest J Ackerman, but also excellent work from publisher Brad Linaweaver, Terry Pace (who offers Fay Wray's final interview) , Jerry L. Jewett, Michael Draine, Paul Gaita, and others. #1 has a KING KONG focus that's not exactly unique at this point in time, but I suspect future issues will be more inclined to go their own way. More power to them; I'm interested to see what MONDO CULT becomes. The indicia page says it will be published twice yearly, so let's see what we can do to encourage Jessie and Brad to publish more frequently. Do your part by picking up a copy at your favorite newsstand today.


Monday, February 06, 2006

The Passing of a Eurocult Master

Walerian Borowczyk, the renowned Polish animator and director of live-action erotic films steeped in the bizarre, has died of heart failure at the age of 82.

Borowczyk made his directorial debut in 1946 with the animated short Mois d'août ("Months of August") and continued to work as a high profile animator through the 1960s, receiving a BAFTA nomination for his 1958 short Dom. It was in 1968 that Boro made his first live action film, Goto, l'île d'amour, starring Pierre Brasseur of Eyes Without a Face fame. As he continued to direct live action, his work naturally gravitated toward erotic fantasy. In more general circles, he is undoubtedly most famous for THE STORY OF SIN (a Palme d'Or nominee at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival) or BLANCHE, which won the Grand Prix at the 1972 Berlin International Film Festival. But among devotées of the fantastique, of which Boro himself was certainly one, his best-known works are IMMORAL TALES (1974, featuring Paloma Picasso as Countess Elizabeth Bathory), THE BEAST (1975, an explicitly adult rumination on "Beauty and the Beast" featuring Sirpa Lane), LULU (1980, a loose remake of Pabst's PANDORA'S BOX, with a cameo by Udo Kier as Jack the Ripper), and BLOODLUST aka DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE (1981).

The latter film is particularly memorable, with Udo Kier's Dr. Jekyll periodically excusing himself from his dinner guests (including Patrick Magee) to thrash about in a chemically-treated bath, emerging as the vicious rapist Mr Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg), whose knife-like phallus is digitally opaqued in the only uncut version of the film I've seen (from Japan). Shocking, sexy, and also devastatingly funny as Jekyll's increasingly transgressive behavior brings about the collapse of his dining room's microcosm of polite Victorian society.

A frequent but delightful fixture of Borowczyk's work was actress Marina Pierro, who had previously worked with Sergio Bergonzelli and Luchino Visconti before devoting herself almost exclusively to "Boro's" vision from 1977 onwards. (She also appeared in Jean Rollin's THE LIVING DEAD GIRL.) Though she did not appear at all in some of Boro's major works, such was her impact that is it impossible to consider his work without considering her frequent and affectionate recurrence within it.

I found some of Boro's work a bit dry for my liking, but there is no denying that his was one of the most distinctive personalities to emerge from the world of Eurocult in its "Silver Age" (say, 1967-84). One of my favorite descriptions of the special flavor of his work can be found in Phil Hardy's AURUM/OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR. In an entry about the Jekyll picture (as Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes), the author writes: "Borowczyk's imagery, here fed by his fetishistic fascination with all things antiquarian, is often stunning and the film becomes a sort of still life in which familiar yet alien objects -- an ancient dictaphone, a treadle sewing-machine, a book of remembrance -- seem imbued with a secret significance all their own, and in which a glimpse of a whalebone corset or ruffled petticoat carries a heady whiff of eroticism." [Kim Newman has written to inform me that these words are the work of former MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN critic Tom Milne.]

If you find yourself in a mood to celebrate Borowczyk's life and work, it's hard to find domestically... but several examples are available on import DVD from our friends at Xploited Cinema, Diabolik DVD, and Sazuma Trading. We recommend their service.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Verne, Verne, Verne

Now here's something interesting: an advertisement from an old Charlton comic, REPTISAURUS #3, published in January 1962. (The first two issues of REPTISAURUS were called REPTILICUS and "Based on the American International Pictures Film," but I'm guessing all that changed when the folks at Charlton saw a preview of the film and decided it might be wise to withdraw from that affiliation. In the first REPTISAURUS issue, the creature is unmistakably still Reptilicus and hurriedly recolored red, but the creature's look changed completely for its next comic book appearance.) But do you know what's so interesting about this ad? It promotes a movie that was never produced.

As someone who was a kid in those days, I can remember that Jules Verne was pretty hot stuff. It had all started (or re-started) with Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), which was somewhat before my time, but Verne Fever was still in progress in the early years of my time, even the early years of my time as a moviegoer. AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956), FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1958), JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON (1962)... and let us not forget Karel Zeman's wonderful live action/animation combo Vynález zkázy (1958), which turned up here in America in 1961 as THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE.

In May of 1961, AIP had hopped aboard this public domain money wagon with MASTER OF THE WORLD, starring Vincent Price. It had done well for them, and they were deternined to maintain a foothold in the Jules Verne saddle. Evidently after taking out this ad, it was brought to the attention of the folks at AIP and Charlton that Jules Verne's OFF ON A COMET had already been made -- as the recently released VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1961), distributed by Columbia. Suddenly, there were no more Jules Verne titles forthcoming from AIP.

Seeing this ad, I can't help wondering if anyone entered the contest and how they were notified that there was no longer any movie, no longer any contest. Was the winner invited instead to attend the filming of the Woolner Brothers' FLIGHT OF THE LOST BALLOON (1962), which AIP distributed, written and directed by that well-known Verne wannabe, Nathan Juran? (This was the movie that infamously passed out "motion sickness pills" with every ticket sold. How AIP cleared the dispensation of drugs from movie theater boxoffices with the Food and Drug Administration, I'll never know.)

Consequently, the Charlton Comic of OFF ON A COMET promised in the ad also never happened, but some of us kids had this nifty Classics Illustrated adaptation.

PS: It seems that Blogger has been suffering from some kind of network problem the last couple of days... maybe it was only one day, but it felt like a couple. Anyway, I couldn't access my blog and couldn't post anything new during that period. Most of you couldn't either, because yesterday we had the lowest attendance since we started -- less than half our daily average. I discovered that the system was on the blink after trying to post a blog I'd spent two hours writing; it vaporized in the process. Losing that much work isn't exactly gladdening, even if it usually is improved by its reconstruction from memory. So, from now on, I'll be writing/saving this blog in Word before I post it here. Never fear about the lost article; I patiently reconstructed it in Word. This allowed me to see a manuscript page count and I realized that the blog I was writing was too long, too detailed, and too much hard work. It wasn't a blog after all, but an article... so it'll be turning up in a future issue of VW instead.