Wednesday, January 16, 2013

From the VW Archives: Boris and Bela

Here's something from the archives I thought might interest you.

While going through a portfolio of some old artwork recently, Donna found this drawing that I did back in 1990. It was done at the dawn of VIDEO WATCHDOG time, at the tail end of the same time I drew several pieces for our very first issue, for the simple reason that we weren't able to illustrate everything. This piece was going to accompany my review of Greg Mank's book on Karloff and Lugosi, and depicts them in their respective roles as Hjalmar Poelzig in THE BLACK CAT (1934) and Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), because I intended to note in my review the coincidence of their success during the 1930s with the foreignness of their respective personas. I remembered this piece as almost photo-realistic in its perfection, but now, more than twenty years later, it looks a good deal less accomplished and I'm glad it didn't see the light of print.

That said, I'm happy to share it with WATCHDOG readers here, now, as a page you didn't see.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

New Books: The Two Wallaces

Today I received from Amazon my copy of this deluxe coffee table book documenting the amazing career of comics artist Wallace "Wally" Wood. Just a page-through summons so much emotion. I've always been a Ditko guy, but Wood really grabbed me this past year as I rediscovered his astonishingly lifelike, detailed work for early MAD and some of his later adult work like CANNON and THE PIPSQUEAK PAPERS (which I find touchingly funny, tenderly erotic and, I suspect, painfully autobiographical).The text is bilingual (English/Spanish) and the art reproductions are ideal. One big surprise that leaped out at me: on the basis of some daily strips reproduced from "Sky Raiders," Jack Kirby inked by Wood can be indistinguishable from Jim Steranko.

Also new, but available only as a super-pricey import, is this hefty hardbound photo album documenting the 32 Edgar Wallace krimi-films produced by Rialto Film of West Germany during the 1960s and '70s. Co-written by leading Wallace-krimi scholar Joachim Kramp (who tragically died in 2011, before this last dream project was fully realized) and Gerd Naumann, this thing must weigh as much as the Bava book, and in addition to a standard edition being made available to Amazon and similar outlets, it has been produced in four limited editions of 500 each sold exclusively by the publisher, Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf -- personally signed by the buyer's choice of actors Karin Dor, Karin Baal or Uschi Glas, or composer Peter Thomas. I was lucky enough to snag #413 of the Karin Dor set. The fact that this book is essentially a collection of all the photos taken on the sets of these films (including never-before-seen color shots from THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG and THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE) makes the purchase doubly attractive to English-speaking fans; the English text is introductory and minimal, though one-page interviews with Dor, Baal and actor Joachim Fuchsberger are also included. My favorite images in the book show actor Klaus Kinski's happy demeanor on various sets (contrary to his mentions of the films in his autobiography), various gag shots (including one of the Monk with the Whip being instructed in how to snap his lethal weapon by someone in elaborate cowboy dress), and visionary director Alfred Vohrer at work with his assistant Eva Ebner. I have a few quibbles with the end product: in my opinion, whoever was responsible for the layout didn't always pick the best shots to reproduce at full-page size; also, the book's weight and proportions make it a bit unwieldy. A taller book would have been more balanced and easier to peruse. Also, I'm uncertain of how well the book's binding is going to hold up over time, and I was a little annoyed that my copy arrived with its back cover slightly crinkled. Nevertheless, as an artifact, it's damn near irresistible.

According to the S&S website, the book is not being sold outside Europe, but the publisher (who does speak English) agreed to send mine for an additional postage charge of about $65. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Netflix has added BATMAN, the 1966 movie now redundantly called BATMAN: THE MOVIE. I couldn't resist playing the main titles sequence again, which, for me, is like a PULP FICTION adrenaline shot to the heart.

I can remember seeing it for the first time at Cincinnati's Twin Drive-In Theater, and looking forward to seeing the animated titles from the television show unfold in full color on the giant outdoor screen with Neal Hefti's theme kicking in... but something else happened. Instead, Richard Kuhn -- a titles designer on staff at 20th Century Fox (IN LIKE FLINT, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, etc) -- created the sort of sequence that could only have come from someone who had never seen the series, but was given a brief amount of time to utilize the film's various performers in costume. He created a more monochromatic, yet boldly tinted, high contrast universe for these characters, intercutting them with imagery out of a 1940s French potboiler, coated in washes of deep blue, cautionary yellow, garish green and sexy lavender. Since the Twin had two screens, I was worried for a moment that we'd been given the wrong directions to the right screen, but then Adam West sauntered onscreen in a blue spotlight worthy of Carol Doda and my young heart soared back up to the right place. And when the "Rogues Gallery of Supervillains" made their appearances, this more adult context actually made them look satanic and lethal.

Set to one of the most exciting pieces of music that Nelson Riddle ever performed, with the leitmotifs for the various crooks inserted with terrific timing and flair, the titles are so vibrant, so different, so extraordinarily promising that little 10 year old me was -- incredibly, one would imagine, for a Batfan of my age and intensity -- actually disappointed by the movie that followed, though I sure found Lee Meriwether's Catwoman interesting. And that may point to why: my tastes were maturing, and Richard Kuhn's credit sequence with its manic European flair, may have helped nudge my nascent aesthetics over the edge into puberty, with a little subsequent help from Ms. Meriwether's purring. It took me years to appreciate the comparatively style-less movie as the endlessly quotable, hilarious gem that it is.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Anniversary 38

Married 38 years today. How did this happen?

Like most of the things that have turned out to be good ideas in my life, including VIDEO WATCHDOG, it wasn't entirely my idea.

When we were 19 and 18 respectively, Donna and I had both left our respective homes and found an apartment near the University, only to discover that our landlord -- Lou Franklin was his name -- was not inclined to rent his mousey efficiencies to unmarried couples. Of course it was none of his business; either one of us could have taken the apartment as an individual and left him none the wiser, but we were both so young... I suppose we were accustomed to our elders telling us what to do, and doing just that.

My mother gave us the $25 for our marriage license. Donna was relaxed and confident and loving on our wedding day, while I was... "apprehensive" is a good word. There's a picture of me walking out of the office of the Justice of the Peace with my arms upheld, like a man under arrest -- I meant it as a joke, and it did get laughs, but you know... it occurred to me, and so there probably was some furtive truth in that expression. I still am apprehensive in some ways because, funnily enough, I don't really believe in marriage, unless people want to start a family. Instead, I believe in friendship, and if I have one of the best marriages it's been my privilege to observe, it's because I married my best friend -- someone I first got to know through letter-writing, which let us become deeply attached without the usual distractions of physical concerns like whether or not we were the other's "type." I always thought I would end up with someone with dark hair. Go figure.

We are both aware of aging into a kind of advertisement for marriage and true love, and giving some of our younger acquaintances hope that it's possible to meet and stay with someone for a lifetime. We find this sweet and funny, and perhaps a bit naive. Because no marriage is a cakewalk. Let me amend that: no conscious marriage is a cakewalk. Ours was probably as close to one as you can imagine until we began working together in 1990. Working together means we often have to put our professional life as co-workers before our interests as husband and wife; it sometimes means disappointing each other, contradicting each other, yelling at each other, being impatient with each others' (all too predictable, after 38 years) human failings and frailties. Sometimes we make the dread mistake of talking business in the bedroom.

People often remark that we were made for each other, yet there are vast areas of life in which we don't connect. It must admit it bothers me that we don't share many of those interests where I am most myself and most fulfilled... but how wonderful it is that she loves me anyway, and this is also the gift I give to her. And you know what I've noticed from other relationships? Shared passions don't last. They are potent, ardent and all-consuming, and either burn out or press on to something still more incendiary, like jealousy or hate. If you're asking me, if you want a relationship that will last, don't base your commitment to one another on mutual passions; base them instead on your character, your sense of humor, your shared frames of reference, the ways you look at everyday life -- because it's on those levels where you have the greatest chance of remaining the same person for the rest of your life. That's the constant you who is capable of making and keeping a promise of constancy.

What's it like to be together this long? At some point, you begin to recognize that you're held together as much by time as by love. We remember the same things (though she corrects the way I remember them); we've experienced the same triumphs and losses, the same pleasures and grievings; we've been the picture takers at each other's great moments, and we've fought side by side the yearly, monthly, daily, hourly war that is life all this time. And yet somehow, before any of this happened, there was something binding in our fine print, a promise even greater than the one we initially made to each other. To wit: Who could have guessed that, throughout my now-40 year career as a writer, Donna -- of all people -- would become my most valued and important professional associate? How could I have known that this funny little Munchkin from Western Hills, who drew fetchingly eye-lashed smiley faces at the end of her letters, would become the one person in the whole universe capable of designing MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK? Who would do everything to keep the business of VIDEO WATCHDOG running that I could not personally do? How could I have known that she would someday be able to market my work with greater success than either Dell or Simon and Schuster could? And how could she, The Monkees' #1 fan, have known that this shy, bookish boy from Norwood would someday work for Michael Nesmith and show her the path to her first hug from Davy Jones? It's a mystery, in which the only real certainty is the friendly face that looks back at me in the midst of it.

Of course, being with someone you love is no guarantee against loneliness; it's no guarantee that your heart will never break again. But it does (or should) mean that you don't have to go through life's tests and beatings all alone, because there is always a hand waiting to accept yours in the dark, and it's there for you whether it's awake or asleep. This is a way of life I can recommend.

Living with her these past 38 years has been an adventure in gratitude, and I just felt like saying that.

How did this happen? Just lucky, I guess.