Thursday, March 30, 2006

Completing THE COMPLETE MR. ARKADIN

A recommended StudioDaily.com article about the creation of Criterion's forthcoming box set, by Iain Blair:

http://www.studiodaily.com/filmandvideo/currentissue/6014.html

And you thought Criterion just "put stuff out on disc"!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Michelangelo of the Macabre


FAMOUS MONSTER MOVIE ART OF BASIL GOGOS
Compiled and edited by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock

Vanguard Productions (390 Campus Drive, Somerset NJ 08873, vanguardpub@att.net), 160 pages (softcover, hardcover), 176 pages (deluxe hardcover), $24.95 (sc), $34.95 (hc) or $59.95 (dx hc) plus $6.95 shipping

THIS BEAUTIFULLY DESIGNED art book by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock is the first to pay tribute to Basil Gogos, the Michelangelo of the Macabre. The basic edition, available in soft and hardcover, collects more than 150 color illustrations from Gogos' 40+ year career in book and magazine illustration (many reproduced from the original art) and more than 50 in B&W, while a deluxe edition limited to 600 slipcased copies, signed by the artist, adds an additional 16 page portfolio in color. Some may quibble that the portfolio contains a repeated image from the main pages, but it is substantially enlarged, further enhancing one's appreciation of what went into it. According to publisher J. David Spurlock, the deluxe edition was an instant sell-out with retailers and is now available only from Vanguard,while supply lasts. Those able to afford (and find) the limited edition are advised to shoot for the moon.

Despite the specificity of its title, FAMOUS MONSTER MOVIE ART OF BASIL GOGOS devotes about 40 of its pages to Gogos' paperback, Western, and men's magazine art, some of which is quite good, but none of which strikes the profound chords of his monster portraiture. Paging through the monster cover portraits collected here, one is continually struck by their amazing powers of reference.

The HOUSE OF USHER painting that started it all on the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #9 is a classic case in point: in its coarse caulky outlines, bleachy tonalities, and uncanny flecks of irrational color, it seems to define in visual terms the relationship between Roderick Usher's (Vincent Price's) disintegrating mind and family hearth. One of Gogos' greatest works, his rendering of Fredric March's Mr. Hyde for the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #62, facets the distorted, bedraggled features of Dr. Jekyll's alter ego with so many daubs of fantasmagorical color (lavenders, lime greens, sunny yellows) that we can imagine how Rouben Mamoulian's B&W film might have looked under the painterly direction of Mario Bava.

There is something about the way Gogos paints the cold blue light striking the combed hair of Christopher Lee's Count Dracula (MONSTERSCENE #3) that summons the entire flavor of the experience that is HORROR OF DRACULA. Gogos' uncommonly impressionistic, almost sketchy painting of Ingrid Pitt for the cover of MONSTERSCENE #8 captures the vivacity of its subject in an unexpected cocktail of colors. It's so alive that one's impression of the painting is one of startling brightness, though the work itself is more than half-based in dark hues. When tackling a subject as seemingly soulless as the prehistoric GORGO (FAMOUS MONSTERS #11 and 50), Gogos somehow imbues the image with a sense of gigantism and primordial power that one would imagine beyond the province of a page dimension usually reserved for characters of human proportion. Even something as rudimentary as a charcoal sketch of Henry Hull in WERE-WOLF OF LONDON miraculously captures the whole truth of the actor's body language and threatens to leap snarling off the page.

There are also many, many instances in which Gogos' oils and acrylics provide his subjects with atmospheric settings far in excess of any they ever received onscreen. Jonathan Frid makes his greatest bid for immortality as Barnabas Collins not on the videotape of DARK SHADOWS or in its theatrical spin-off, but in the oils of Gogos on the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #59. One aches to see the Technicolor Wolf Man movie starring Lon Chaney sampled on p. 156. Looking at King Kong on p. 153, his face looming with godly majesty and ungodly delight, we experience the same awe and revulsion and terror we imagine Ann Darrow must have felt when lashed to those sacrificial posts on Skull Island. For dyed-in-the-wool monster fans, almost every page of this book offers that kind of rich, emotional experience.

Despite a blandish accompanying text that doesn't fully succeed in revealing the man behind the art or the reasons for his singular affinity for these subjects, FAMOUS MONSTER MOVIE ART OF BASIL GOGOS keeps its promise of collecting and paying tribute to Gogos' work superbly. It covers his diversity as an artist both reasonably and fairly, while accentuating the monster paintings where he found his most lasting success. The art reproductions alone are worth the cost of the book in any edition. A fair amount of digital restoration was likely involved in refreshing these works for print, and it is to the designers' credit that such work is absolutely invisible.

Of course, Gogos is still living his story and his growing legacy may well inspire other books in time. Future volumes on the subject may cut deeper, but they will need to go to superhuman lengths to be more beautiful or more loving than this one.
________

Note: A longer and more detailed draft of this review will appear in VIDEO WATCHDOG #125.

Monday, March 27, 2006

DARK SHADOWS Creator Dan Curtis Dead at 78


Unfortunately, another passing to report. Correspondent Darren Gross has written to inform me that writer-producer-director Dan Curtis -- the formidable producer best known for the groundbreaking Gothic soap opera DARK SHADOWS and its spin-off feature films, and also the ratings-shattering made-for-TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER -- died this morning at 6:15 a.m. PST of brain cancer, diagnosed only four months ago. His wife of 54 years, Norma, succumbed to heart failure only two weeks earlier.

Curtis also produced the memorable adaptation of THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE starring Jack Palance, a later adaptation of DRACULA (also starring Palance) that greatly influenced Francis Coppola's later film version, and the well-remembered feature BURNT OFFERING starring Bette Davis and Oliver Reed.

A man whose name was once as synonymous with American trends in horror as that of Stephen King, Curtis' death occurs only a few months after the November cancellation of an attempted NIGHT STALKER series revival on ABC (which lasted only two months) and one month after the death of original series star Darren McGavin. For some years, DARK SHADOWS scholar Darren Gross has been working with Dan Curtis Productions to recover and restore uncut elements of the two DS features, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. We hope that work will continue.

Eloy de la Iglesia Dead at 66


Correspondent Samuel Bréan has written to notify me of the death of Spanish writer-director Eloy de la Iglesia (GLASS CEILING, CANNIBAL MAN, NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM, CLOCKWORK TERROR) last Thursday, at the age of 66. (The IMDb lists an apparently erroneous birth year of 1944.) Here is a link to some Spanish language reports.

About Friday's Blog

I've had a couple of e-mails about last Friday's blog, in which I expressed regret over my lack of involvement, and apparent lack of mention, in Criterion's upcoming box set THE COMPLETE MR. ARKADIN. One of these was sent to alert me to a message board that was citing my Welles blog to variously characterize me as an embittered or worn-down or self-aggrandizing egomaniac... and it wasn't even the usual message board.

It's amazing the degree to which one can put the noses of strangers out of joint just by writing candidly about something personal that doesn't even concern them. For people who admitted they hadn't read VW in years, or only thumbed through it at Borders on occasion, these milling souls felt fully authorized to broadcast some rather fresh opinions about me. One of them, with only five or six postings on the entire site to his credit, had devoted more than half of them to taking me down a few pegs. (I just paused in my typing to see if anything else worth reporting had happened in the thread, and it appears the administrator has locked it because things were starting to turn nasty!)

Let's drink to being a so-called public figure.

To correct an unfortunately common misunderstanding, I'm not "bitter." I've been somewhat depressed of late, but not about this. As I clearly stated, I was disappointed that my articles were not acknowledged in the Criterion's pocket-sized history of MR. ARKADIN annotation. No more, no less. I think they deserved a mention. That thought was on my mind when it was time for me to write a blog, so the blog turned out to be about that. As I hope my friends at Criterion know, I'm very enthusiastic about the set and looking forward to watching it and reviewing it. (Of course, I won't be mentioning my lack of mention in my review; that would be impertinent, but I don't believe it was an unreasonable passing subject for a personal soapbox like this.) As I also mentioned, it's possible someone mentioned my articles in a commentary track or somewhere else on the disc. If not... oh, well. At least I know, and you know -- right?

Also, I may feel worn-out at times, but as Glenn Erickson and my wife will tell you, I am the polar opposite of "worn-down." In the last 30 days, I've probably written 30 reviews, columns, blogs and essays, as well as parts of a couple of articles still in-progress, not counting God knows how many e-mails and message board postings. I knocked off yesterday's Sterling Hayden blog, a biggie, before breakfast. Before coffee. Of course, I have no right to be proud of any of this, even though self-satisfaction is all that most of it pays.

One of the e-mails I received this weekend offered the following counsel: "I have not read your initial essay that ran in VIDEO WATCHDOG, but from how you describe it in your blog, it sounds like the type of piece that runs often in the mag, an essay that's more of a shopping list of differences than a text exploring the films themes and ideas. It seems sort of weird that you would want your article to be included or mentioned in the box set. What's the point? Watching the films, any viewer can see what's missing or been added compared to the others. Hardly sounds like an 'important' text... You seem to do this a lot, especially in the blog - blow your own horn, congratulating yourself. It's a little unnerving at times. Let us, your fans, do that. Sorry if this sounds like a mean note, it's just that I read the blog religiously, and that last entry just sounded so weirdly indignant, it left a bad taste in my mouth."

Hey, pass the Listerine. Twenty-two double-columned pages which annotated, in full detail for the first time, the minute differences between three distinct versions of a classic Orson Welles film, and it "hardly sounds like an 'important' text." Ladies and gentlemen... my fan.

In the hope of clearing up any and all remaining misunderstandings, the purpose of Friday's MR. ARKADIN blog was three-fold. I wanted to 1) help generate anticipatory interest in the Criterion set, which I count as a very exciting release; 2) to do what I could to re-stake my 14 year-old claim in ARKADIN matters (which, sorry, I consider an important personal achievement), and 3) to let people know that these Welles issues of VW were still available, because the release of the Criterion set makes them relevant and timely once again. Since Friday, we've sold more than a dozen sets of the magazines, so some people got the idea. Without the blog, they'd still be sitting in inventory... so it was a good idea.

Oh yes, about the "self-aggrandizing." The participants on this shall-be-nameless message board somehow overlooked the fact that everybody blows their own horn, from the guy who finds a quarter on the sidewalk to every television channel on the dial. True, some people hire publicists to make it appear that other people are talking them up, but I can't afford that phony luxury. I do, however, have the advantage of publishing a magazine -- and our Kennel page exists to further compensate our contributors (of whom I am one) with a little personal publicity about their outside activities. Even though VW doesn't cover fiction, per se, we donated full page ad space to my novel THE BOOK OF RENFIELD -- Lord knows Simon and Schuster didn't have an advertising budget for it. The ad featured some enthusiastic critical blurbs, which is obligatory. I also used VW to announce when the novel and my Roger Corman bio script were optioned. It's called sharing good news. I think friendly readers accept such things in that spirit.

Perhaps when one publishes a monthly magazine, one's byline and constantly updated list of activities begins to look like "me, me, me" to the surly, the teeth-grinding, and the unoccupied. But there's a big difference between saying "This is what I've done" and "Look how great I am." I don't think I qualify for greatness, but I do think I write my butt off. My work is the better part of me and, through discipline and diligence, it stacks up. I take a natural, parental pride in what I produce. I'd like my work ethic, the quality of my work, and the good notices paid to my efforts to pay off in better opportunities, and this desire occasionally leads me to the indignity of self-promotion. An indignity, by the way, not exactly alien to Pablo Picasso, Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Mailer, William Castle, Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali, John and Yoko, David Bowie, or Forrest J Ackerman -- to name only a few of the thousands of shameless self-promoters beloved by history, and possibly by you. Not that I'm saying I'm in their same league, only that I'm entitled to the same rights as they. And I think I avail myself of those rights with relative restraint. What, me Morrissey?

Anyway, enough about me. "I couldn't agree more," some of you good people are likely murmuring. For those of you who don't care for the occasional toot of my horn, I recommend that you employ common sense and avoid those of my outlets which are "first person" by nature and design, like my blog and my VW editorial.

Like it or not, I'm the only "first person" I have.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fleischer's Last Interview


You may have read elsewhere online about the death of veteran director Richard Fleischer over the weekend, at age 89. The son of animation kingpin Max Fleischer, he was an adept genre specialist and consequently a woefully underrated filmmaker. He was responsible for such films as THE NARROW MARGIN, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, THE VIKINGS, COMPULSION, BARABBAS, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, SEE NO EVIL, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, SOYLENT GREEN, CONAN THE DESTROYER and RED SONJA. Even this far-from-complete list constitutes an impressive body of work.

Also on Fleischer's resumé was AMITYVILLE 3-D -- his only horror picture -- the making of which is the subject of an excellent production article by filmmaker Paul Talbot in the current issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG, VW #124. Paul's article was built around an interview with Richard Fleischer that was possibly the last he ever granted.

Every magazine aspires to be timely, and this sort of timeliness is always double-edged, but VW is proud to be representing the work and thoughts of this filmmaker on newsstands as a subject of active interest at the time of his passing.

Thank you, Mr. Fleischer, for speaking with us -- and for your films, which will continue to thrill and entertain audiences for as long as there are movies.

Fear and Loathing on the High Seas

Had he not died twenty years ago, Sterling Hayden would have been 90 years old today. He was and remains a meaningful figure to me, so I'd like to mark the anniversary.

Hayden is best remembered as the star of such films as JOHNNY GUITAR, TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN, THE KILLING, DR. STRANGELOVE (pictured above), THE GODFATHER and 1900. When he was a young and rising star at Paramount, their publicity mills called him "The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies" and "The Beautiful Blond Viking God" -- but when Sterling Hayden first arose in my consciousness, he was a different kind of beautiful. He was a formidable looking man in his 60s with an aura of the Old Testament, or maybe Captain Ahab; he stood 6' 5" and his craggy, wasted features were wreathed by a long, straggling mariner's beard that hung down over his chest like greyed seaweed. When he spoke, he seemed to be summoning his voice from the bottom of the sea, and in the years of his final illness (he died of lung cancer in 1986), he seemed to be dragging his life's breath up from just as deep.

Hayden got to me. I had seen him in the movies, of course, but he didn't really get under my skin until I first saw him for who he really was, in the first of a series of late night television interviews with Tom Snyder on NBC's TOMORROW, circa 1977. I was a habitual viewer of the show and would watch even if the guests didn't interest me; the unexpected often happened. During the first of Hayden's three TOMORROW show interviews, I seem to remember him not wanting to talk about old Hollywood, calling it "no way to live." This sort of mutiny didn't usually go over so well with Snyder, but in this case, the guest's preference to discuss real life matters led them to discover a wealth of interests in common. It was like watching two best friends meeting for the first time. The show particularly caught fire as they explored their mutual fascination with trains; Snyder spoke of his obsession with collecting Lionel model trains, then Hayden trumped him with the story of an actual railcar that he owned. A second guest had been announced, a promise hovering over the first half of the interview like an unwelcome intruder, but was happily bumped. When it was all over, I felt invigorated. It was 90 minutes of some of the best conversation I'd seen on television.

Some time after the broadcast, I happened to find a copy of Hayden's autobiography WANDERER at a downtown used bookstore. I eagerly snapped it up, looking forward to spending many hours in the company of this interesting character. Reading the book, I discovered that our early lives were somewhat alike, but that his disposition was far more rugged than mine. Hayden ran away from an unhappy home to sea at the age of 17 and rose in ranks as he sailed around the world, time and time again, finally becoming the skipper of his own ship. When he signed to Paramount as an actor in 1941, mostly to finance his aquatic life, he was promoted as a handsome, bare-chested, barefoot, nature boy -- a sort of prototypical Robert Mitchum. When he acted opposite THE 39 STEPS' Madeleine Carroll, the posters cried, "The two most gorgeous humans you've ever beheld - caressed by soft tropic winds - tossed by the tides of love!" Hayden and Carroll married after that film, but they were soon separated by his stint with the US Marines during World War II; they divorced in 1946.

As it did with many men, Hayden's wartime experience changed his life in unforeseen ways. As a wartime gun-runner, he formed many friendships with the people of Yugoslavia and became sympathetic to the form of Communism they embraced. He attended some meetings after returning home, which flagged him for the special attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Hayden was was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee for investigation and, to his everlasting shame, he cooperated -- naming names. Here his life, as he knew it, begins to disintegrate.

After giving his testimony, Hayden found it impossible to forgive himself, just as many of his colleagues in the film business found it impossible to forgive him. He sought escape from his inner demons at sea, throwing himself into sailing to the extent of becoming the skipper of his own tugboat, and occasionally amassing crews with whom he could sail out into the most challenging tests of the open sea. In order to maintain this increasingly essential lifestyle, he had to continue to work in films, which contradictorily inflated and ballyhooed a self-importance in which he no longer believed. He let his beard grow whenever he wasn't working in Hollywood, and he wrote of detesting the work because it obliged him to strip his beard away and come face-to-face once again with the mirror reflection -- the "rat" -- he held in such dread contempt.

After 1958, Hayden's film work became much more infrequent. The roles that wooed him back to the screen intermittently thereafter seem to share a common theme of corrupt power. It's there in DR. STRANGELOVE's Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, in THE GODFATHER's Captain McCluskey (the last of his bare-faced roles, he started growing his beard back immediately once he wrapped), and even in silly one-day jobs like his walk-ons in Robert Fuest's THE FINAL PROGRAMME (as peacetime arms dealer Major Wrongway Lindbergh) and William Reichert's WINTER KILLS.

Hayden remarried several times (even the same woman a few times) and fathered families, but escape from himself -- escape into women, into the sea, into writing -- seems to have remained a priority. Then, in the 1960s, he discovered marijuana and began escaping into himself. He described it as a means of survival, of maintaining his inner peace, when landlocked. His co-workers have said that he would load his meerschauum pipe with it anywhere and everywhere, smoking it freely without regard to its illegality, and apparently had no problems with the law about it. He spoke about pot as if it were the great illumination of his life, and he was writing a book about the role it had come to play in his life at the time his final illness was diagnosed. Unfortunately, that second volume of autobiography never surfaced.

As a young writer, I was very taken with WANDERER, which had tremendous literary value for a Hollywood autobiography. It helped me to see that the greatest adventure upon which anyone can embark is the dark and by no means secure journey into themselves. It inspired me to write a poem I no longer have, called "Daddy Jim (Back in the Shadows)," Daddy Jim being Sterling's name for his stepfather. It's been so long since I've read the book, I no longer remember the precise nature of their relationship, but it resonated with me at the time. Magically, my reading of WANDERER and my writing of this poem happened to coincide with Tom Snyder announcing at the end of a TOMORROW broadcast that Sterling Hayden was going to be his only guest on the next night's program. Hayden was coming in to promote his new novel, VOYAGE. Another book!

I tuned in and watched, of course. Both men spoke at length about how viewers far and wide had complimented them on what a special program the first interview had been. (I believe, to this day, Snyder recalls Sterling Hayden as his favorite TOMORROW show guest.) The second interview was interesting, above-average conversation about life and films and literature, but not quite as captivating as the first. At the end of the show, there was a promo for the hotel that provided lodgings for TOMORROW's guests, and I resolved to take that information and try to get in touch with Sterling Hayden.

The next morning, I called the hotel switchboard in New York and, to my surprise, was put straight through. I think I woke the Haydens. Sterling's wife Catherine answered, and I could hear her whisper discouragingly to her sleepy husband that it was a TOMORROW show viewer calling. Then I heard the familiar voice roused in the background, booming cheerily, "No no no! I'll talk, let me talk to him, give it here -- HELLO!"

As I was introducing myself, Sterling interruped by exclaiming "'Tim Lucas' -- now there's a good, strong name!" A fateful exclamation. My father had died before I was born, and I grew up having no ties to my father's side of the family, so I never felt any particular attachment to my own name. At that time of my life, I was toying with the idea of changing my name, if only on my manuscript cover pages. But when Sterling Hayden -- my idea of a good, strong name -- responded so favorably to mine, I took the endorsement to heart and decided to stay Tim Lucas.

Our conversation lasted for no longer than five minutes, but, in that short time, I told Sterling how the first Snyder interview had inspired me to read WANDERER and how deeply it had impressed me. I told him about the poem I'd written in response to the book and that I would like to share it with him. He gave me an address in (I think) Hartford, Connecticut, where I sent the poem along with a chapbook I had written and self-published about Amelia Earhart -- which I thought might interest him, being about another kind of voyager. "You can write me there," he said in his King Neptune's voice, "and I will respond to you!" He thanked me warmly for reading him, and for tracking him down.

I never heard back from Sterling Hayden, but that wasn't the point. We made contact -- a contact I still look back upon happily and with privilege. I proceeded to buy and read VOYAGE in hardcover , which remains one of the most criminally, critically overlooked novels of the late 20th century. A proud accomplishment. He never wrote another.

When Sterling Hayden appeared on TOMORROW some years later, for the third and last time, he was clearly ill, a more diminished Biblical figure. He was dressed like a hippie, in a form-fitting T-shirt (possibly tie-dyed) and a headband, and he made horrendous deep-breathing noises as he fought to dredge oxygen from his lungs between drags of his chain-smoked cigarettes. He talked about the marijuana manifesto he was trying to write, and about the difficulty of writing. I thought about trying to approach him again through the mail, but time had passed since our previous contact, and I didn't.

And so, with these thoughts in mind -- Happy Birthday, Sterling Hayden. I would love to have the time to sit down and read your WANDERER and VOYAGE through once again; they're both big books, as befits their bigger-than-life author. It was such a strange way in which your life touched mine. Today, when I see you in DR. STRANGELOVE, your pupils dilating with terror at the prospect of your character's manifest destiny (and, legend has it, your inability to get through your lines), I marvel at the thought that this Mt. Rushmore figure of the cinema was the man to whom I spoke on the telephone, and who, with unexpected warmth and familiarity, gave me back my name.

PS: Another anniversary. Donna tells me that it was 23 years ago today that we turned our backs on apartment living and moved into "the old Minser place," which we proceeded to turn into the Video Doghouse. This old house, which was built 99 years ago, has been the base of all our good fortunes and we love it, though we're both perpetually distracted and don't care for it nearly as well as we should. I like the idea that Sterling Hayden's birthday is also House Day. We've lived here longer than we've lived anywhere else, together or apart, and be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.