Wednesday, December 28, 2016

RIP Richard Adams: "My friend has stopped running."

There isn't a week that goes by that I don't think about the late Richard Adams's magnificent novel "Watership Down." Reading it as a kid, I liked it, but as an adult, its deceptively simple premise clicked completely with me. The novel's huge, lasting popularity is completely justifiable-- it's timeless. It gains new generations of fans every decade because it is about subjects that abide and matter. Above all, it's about survival, courage in the face of endless horrors, and about making sense of your place in the universe-- all through a group of rabbits desperately seeking a new warren. I've never been more gripped by a story or rooted harder for a group of characters than Hazel and his band. Along with "Charlotte's Web," it's one of the greatest works of anthropomorphic fiction of the 20th century, and, within its fantastic concept, it has far more of value to say than many (allegedly) realistic novels. Adams's other works, like the lovely "The Girl in the Swing," are strong, but to produce one book as truly great as "Watership Down" in a lifetime is as much as any novelist can hope for.

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

"We must burn the books, Montag . . . ALL the books!"

Once again, my home state has been in the news for something embarrassing: from London to L.A., newspapers have been reporting that the Accomack County School System has been considering banning Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" from its curriculum because of complaints from a lone student.

This is the most unthinkable and pernicious kind of censorship: trying to cover up the wrongs and ugliness of the past (in this case, the book's villains use a very ugly racial epithet) to calm down one kid's complaints, meanwhile keeping the rest of the students from enriching their lives by reading a lasting work of deep moral, ethical, and social value. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is exactly the kind of novel that kids should be reading--it isn't simply a story about race, but about making difficult moral choices when society itself is wrong and pitted against you. The potential ban of a book of such extraordinary value and power, one writer suggested, makes him want to buy hundreds of copies of the book and hand them out to Accomack County school kids.

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" presents America during the time of slavery, which shouldn't be presented in a kind or pleasant light. Like "To Kill a Mockingbird," it deals with a youngster who discovers that he has been brainwashed by a racist society, and who rebels against it, in the process realizing that his friend, the escaped slave Jim, has been dehumanized and brutalized by the utterly wrong adults around him. This is NOT an easy or simple book, and it involves some very ugly words and the ability to contextualize them; to deny that those words were once widely used is to lie about history. When you start banning books because one person is offended, where does it stop? Which book is next? Who is the arbiter of what kids can and cannot read? This is the slipperiest of slopes.

The late, great Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" keeps coming up as this controversy is bandied around in the press. Bradbury's Fire Chief, the head book-burner of a completely repressive future, describes why all books must be burned: sooner or later, SOMEONE will be offended by them, and people shouldn't be offended-- when they're offended, they THINK, they get discontented, they question things, they're forced out of their safety zone. In Francois Truffaut's film version, the Chief tells the protagonist, Montag "We must burn the books, Montag . . . ALL the books" as he smiles and holds up a copy of "Mein Kampf."

If you are as horrified by the potential banning of two very valuable and important books, please sign this petition and spread the word about it to other concerned parties:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Rocky Horror Television Show?

So, "The Rocky Horror Show" was the initial stage show, right? And the film version, being a "picture show," was "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Then why isn't the TV series titled "The Rocky Horror Television Show"???

Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Dawn of the Dead" (1979) in 3D: Review

Last night, I took in the North American premiere of the 3D version at BeyondFest in LA. Being a longtime "Dawn" aficionado, I kept thinking it would either be a fiasco or fantastic. It turns out it's a major treat--I have NEVER seen "Dawn" look or SOUND clearer. I was picking up bits of background dialogue that I had never caught before, even after seeing the film untold dozens of times. The clarity of the picture--no doubt essential to the 3D process-- was incredible. The 3D experience of "Dawn" is fascinating and it's hard to explain quite how. The "money" gore shots aren't necessarily the most effective ones in 3D: intimate, character-driven scenes like the one with the one-legged Priest work extremely well in the process. The same goes for any shot involving characters in big, open areas, or behind glass, for some reason. The 3D "Dawn" is well worth seeing (and hearing!). Before the movie started, Rubinstein said that he hadn't made any editorial changes to the movie, which is almost true: during the end credits, they used freeze-frames of the shots of the zombies shambling through the mall. That's a minor quibble, and other than that, it's true to the original film. The good news is, what could have been a gimmicky desecration of a great American film proved to be the opposite.

As added bonuses, Producer Richard Rubinstein intro-ed the film and Ken Foree, John Harrison, and Zilla Clinton were sitting two rows down from me. BeyondFest threw t-shirts into the audience reading "When there's no more room in Hell, BeyondFest will walk the earth." It was an indescribable kick seeing John Harrison watching himself as the screwdriver zombie.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

RIP Edward Albee

There are few things more annoying than an author, actor, or other artist getting off on the sound of their own cleverness and describing in endless, hellish detail how their "creative process" works. Artists of any kind can easily become too smart for their own good (and the good of their audiences). So I will say "Rest in Peace" to Edward Albee with this wonderful Albee quote:

"Few sensible authors are happy discussing the creative process. It is, after all, black magic."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

RIP James Whiton, Dr. Phibes' co-creator

I'm saddened to report the death of writer James Whiton, the co-creator of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes." I was one of the only people to ever track Whiton down to interview him about the film, and he proved to be alternately incredibly helpful and incredibly unhelpful. He was almost as odd and reclusive, in his way, as Dr. Phibes himself, but he was responsible for helping bring one of my all-time favorite fictional characters to life, and provided me with vital information that I will always be deeply indebted to him for. As I put the finishing touches on my "Dr. Phibes Companion" book, his passing feels all the more poignant to me because he contributed so much to it. RIP.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Where are you, Benny Hill, when we need you most???

I wish that Benny Hill was alive for many, many reasons, but, right now, mainly because I want to see a Trump-Hillary debate with Benny playing both Trump and Hillary.