Thursday, July 31, 2008

... Is Quite Lovely This Time of Year ....


Centralia is a borough in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005 and 9 in 2007, as a result of a 46-year-old mine fire burning beneath the borough. Centralia is now the least-populous municipality in Pennsylvania, with four fewer residents than the borough of S.N.P.J.

In May 1962, Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years, when the landfill was in a different location. The firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire, and let it burn for a time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not extinguished.

In her 2007 book about Centralia, Joan Quigley asserts that the fire began on May 27 when one of the two commercial haulers serving the borough "hurled hot ashes onto the dump." Quigley cites "interviews with volunteer firemen, the former fire chief, borough officials, and several eyewitnesses, as well as contemporaneous borough council minutes" as her sources for this explanation of the fire.

The fire remained burning in the lower depths of the garbage and eventually spread through a hole in the rock pit into the abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continued to burn throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Adverse health effects were reported by several people due to the carbon monoxide produced.

In 1979, locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas-station owner inserted a stick into one of his underground tanks to check the fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot, so he lowered a thermometer down on a string and was shocked to discover that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 °F (77.8 °C). State-wide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in 1981 when 12-year-old Todd Domboski fell into a sinkhole four feet wide by 150 feet (46 m) deep that suddenly opened beneath his feet. He was saved after his older cousin pulled him from the mouth of the hole before he could plunge to his probable death. The incident brought national attention to Centralia as an investigatory group – including a state representative, a state senator, and a mine safety director – was coincidentally on a walking tour of Domboski's neighborhood at the time of his incident.

In 1984, Congress allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts. Most of the residents accepted buyout offers and moved to the nearby communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. A few families opted to stay despite warnings from state officials.

In 1992, Pennsylvania claimed eminent domain on all properties in the borough, condemning all the buildings within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to have the decision reversed failed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Googie, Also Known as Populuxe or Doo-wop -

From Wiki:

Googie, also known as populuxe or doo-wop, is a subdivision of futurist architecture, influenced by car culture and the Space Age and Atomic Age, originating from Southern California in the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s. The types of buildings that were most frequently designed in a Googie style were motels, coffee houses and bowling alleys.

Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie was also characterized by space-age designs that depict motion, such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as "soft" parallelograms and the ubiquitous artist's-palette motif. These stylistic conventions reflected American society's emphasis on futuristic designs and fascination with Space Age themes. The style is related to and sometimes synonymous with the Raygun Gothic style as coined by writer William Gibson. As with the art deco style of the 1930s, Googie became undervalued as time passed, and many buildings built in this style have been destroyed.

[the pics are from the great site Googiefever]

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Worst Of The Worst Of The Worst?


Inchon is a 1982 film directed by Terence Young about the Battle of Incheon during the Korean War.

The movie was panned by reviewers as overpriced and poorly-acted. Filmed over five years, Inchon lost an estimated 44.1 million USD. One of the major financial backers of Inchon was the Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, the church's founder, was a "Special Advisor" to the film. After hearing that the movie was backed by the Unification Church, the United States Department of Defense, which had supplied 1,500 troops as extras, withdrew support for the movie.

The story of how Sun Myung Moon became involved in movie-making is almost certainly apocryphal: One day, Sun Myung Moon began crying and could not stop. To raise his spirits he took a trip to the movie theatre and the crying stopped. He saw this as a sign from God and resolved to make his own motion picture.

The reverend united with a Japanese businessman, Matsusaburo Sakaguchi, who wanted to put his money into a film. He proposed a multi-million dollar epic on the life of Jesus Christ; Jesus of Nazareth had recently been well-received. But Sun Myung Moon had other ideas. He remembered the UN forces landing at Inchon, and how the mastermind behind the landings, General Douglas MacArthur, must have been inspired by God.

From the start it was clear Inchon would not be a cheap enterprise. The cost was to be split more or less down the middle, with Matsusaburo Sakaguchi putting up half the money, and Sun Myung Moon covering the rest from his personal fortune. But neither could have foreseen the disasters that would eventually make it - for the time - one of the most expensive motion pictures ever made.

To shoot the movie they chose British director Terence Young, a veteran of three James Bond films and the successful adaptation of Wait Until Dark. The lead role of General Douglas MacArthur was given to Laurence Olivier, at the time experiencing something of a renaissance as a movie star. Olivier was to be paid one million dollars for his work, but would eventually earn more as the film went over schedule. Ben Gazzara would receive $450,000 for a secondary role, and Toshiro Mifune, Richard Roundtree and David Janssen completed the primary cast.

Disasters that beset the production included:

  • A typhoon that destroyed a recreation of the lighthouse at Inchon, requiring it to be rebuilt at huge cost.
  • The beach landings at Inchon had to be redone after an assistant director accidentally sent the ships in the wrong direction, which ended up costing $2 million.
  • The scene where General Douglas MacArthur greets the crowds in his limousine had to be shot three times. The first time, there were not enough people in the crowd. The second time, the shots did not match the first version. Finally, the producers hired a studio in Dublin especially for the scene at a total cost of $3 million.

The film was eventually shown at Cannes in a 140 minute version that was virtually booed off the screen. The film was then re-edited to 105 minutes, losing all of Janssen's scenes. A massive publicity campaign was launched, to no avail. Aside from the atrocious reviews, audiences were afraid that the film was being used as part of a drive by the Unification Church to recruit new members. The New York Times said that Inchon "looks like the most expensive B-movie ever made."

Inchon (originally called Oh, Inchon) would end up costing $40.8 million (Some estimates have put the figure between $65 million and $104 million, which would make it one of the biggest flops of all time). The film took just $5.2 million at the box office, and as it was not officially released on video or DVD (nor are there any plans to do so in the foreseeable future) it has a very small chance of recouping its massive budget.

Because the film did not have the backing of a major studio (e.g. United Artists' flop Heaven's Gate), Inchon is not often listed as an all-time box-office bomb.

Interviewed during production, Olivier responded:-

"People ask me why I'm playing in this picture. The answer is simple. Money, dear boy. I'm like a vintage wine. You have to drink me quickly before I turn sour. I'm almost used up now and I can feel the end coming. That's why I'm taking money now. I've got nothing to leave my family but the money I can make from films. Nothing is beneath me if it pays well. I've earned the right to damn well grab whatever I can in the time I've got left"

Inchon on the IMDB

  • The recreation of the Inchon lighthouse was destroyed by a typhoon during filming and had to be rebuilt.
  • The climactic scene of the fleet coming into harbor had to be reshot, at the expense of several million dollars, when an assistant director misinterpreted his instructions and ordered the ships to head out of camera range.
  • Most of the cast and crew were apparently paid in cash, which furthered suspicions that the controversial Unification Church had footed most of the movie's $44 million price tag.
  • The United States Department of Defense supplied 1,500 American troops (stationed in Korea) as extras. When they found out the Unification Church was one of the financial backers for the movie, they withdrew support and asked that credit be removed.
  • Final shots of Macarthur in the limo were redone three times. The first time, the footage was rejected because there weren't enough people in the crowd. The scene was re-shot in Korea at an expense of $1 million, but this time the shots of the crowds and the limo didn't match. The third time, the crew rented a studio in Dublin and put the limo against a rear projection of the crowds. Total cost for this three-minute segment: over $3 million.
  • The movie had an estimated loss of $44,100,000.
  • This was to lead to a series of 10 to 15 feature films based on The Bible with a total projected cost of $1,000,000,000. The first film has yet to be made.
  • When location filming ran past the original production schedule, Olivier insisted on being paid his "bonus salary" in weekly cash payments, delivered to him as briefcases full of money, flown to the location by helicopter
  • The original cut of this film screened at Cannes ran over 3 hours long.
  • This film's production budget was estimated to be about $45 million. Its domestic box office gross in the U.S. and Canada was $5.2 million.
  • Was never released on home video or DVD.
  • Rex Reed wrote in his GQ magazine column that he and David Janssen played war reporters. He also wrote that all of their scenes were eventually cut from the film.
  • The is the last theatrical film project for David Janssen.
  • The final shot of Macarthur admiring a statue bust of Julius Caesar, was a re-shot filmed on a day in October 1979 on a sound stage in Rome, Italy. This was over two months after filming ended at the request of Rev. Moon to further spread his Christian message to the viewers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Are You Laughing At?


Comprachicos (also comprapequeños) is a compound Spanish neologism meaning "child-buyers," which was created by Victor Hugo in his novel The Man Who Laughs. However, the French writer, Pascal Bruckner, gave only as much credence to the term and practice by saying, "if we take Victor Hugo's word for it."

It refers to various groups in folklore who were said to change the physical appearance of human beings by manipulating growing children, in a similar way to the horticultural method of bonsai – or through deliberate mutilation. Allusion to this myth is common in reference to any group or body who seek to alter the minds of children through calculated manipulation. It was one of many unsavory practices alleged to have been practiced by the Gypsies, who were readily demonized due to their perennial outsider status. It was also strongly associated with freak shows, whose popularity was never harmed by an air of savage mystery.

The most common methods said to be used in this practice included stunting children's growth by physical restraint, muzzling their faces to deform them (compare the sufferings of the protagonist of Alexandre Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask), slitting their eyes, dislocating their joints, and malforming their bones.

The fantastical and absurd aspects of this myth are illustrated in the descriptions of how comprachicos purportedly created artificial dwarfs "by annointing babies' spines with the grease of bats, moles and dormice" and using drugs such as "dwarf elder, knotgrass, and daisy juice". The superstitution was known to Shakespeare, as Beatrice K. Otto pointed out, quoting A Midsummer's Night Dream:

Get you gone, dwarf;
You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made;

As was common for an outsider-based myth enjoying commodity in the 19th century, the practice also came to be associated with the Chinese by Westerners. The methodology was described through fantastical claims, risible to a modern audience but quite credible at the time, as ranging from the transfusion of animal hide and other exotic surgery to simple deprivation of light, space, and vital nutrition.

Victor Hugo's novel The Man Who Laughs is a horror story of a young aristocrat kidnapped and disfigured by his captors to display a permanent grin. In the novel, Hugo gives his own account of the work of the Comprachicos:

"In China, since time immemorial, they have achieved refinement in a special art and industry: the molding of a living man. One takes a child two or three years old, one puts him into a porcelain vase, more or less grotesque in shape, without cover or bottom, so that the head and feet protrude. In the daytime, one keeps this vase standing upright; at night, one lays it down, so that the child can sleep. Thus the child expands without growing, slowly filling the contours of the vase with his compressed flesh and twisted bones. This bottled development continues for several years. At a certain point, it becomes irreparable. When one judges that this has occurred and that the monster is made, one breaks the vase, the child comes out, and one has a man in the shape of a pot."
The Man Who Laughs on wiki, and on the IMDB

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: Kamikaze Girls

Kamikaze Girls, known in Japan as Shimotsuma Monogatari (下妻物語 lit. Shimotsuma Story) is a light novel written by Novala Takemoto that has been adapted into a manga and film.

The movie begins with a flashforward of Momoko getting hit by a car while driving a moped, then shifts to the past to introduce her background and early life.

Momoko, who was born near Kobe, wishes that she had been born in Rococo-era France. Her father, a former small-time gangster, was involved in selling fake brand name clothing. After making a fake "double-brand" he finds himself in trouble with Universal Studios, Versace, and the mob, and so he and Momoko move to his mother's house in the rural town of Shimotsuma.

Momoko must go to Tokyo to shop for her clothes, but constantly finds herself short of money for the expensive trip and the pricey clothes she wants to buy. She decides to sell some of her father's fake Versace products, and meets Ichigo, who answers an advertisement she has placed about selling the clothes. Ichigo is a racy, boyish yanki-type who belongs to an all-girl bōsōzoku (motorcycle gang). Gradually, the unlikely pair become friends.

Soon Ichigo needs Momoko's help. Akimi, the leader of Ichigo's gang, is leaving, and as a tribute Ichigo plans to have her coat embroidered. She has heard that there is a legendary embroiderer in Tokyo named Emma (sometimes translated as M.R.) and she persuades Momoko to go there with her.

Although they never find the embroiderer, they do stop at Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, the shop where Momoko buys her frilly Lolita dresses. An assistant notices the beautiful embroidery Momoko has stitched on one of her garments and calls the designer himself to come to look at it. Later in the film, the designer asks Momoko to embroider a sample garment which accidentally came back plain.

Back in Shimotsuma, after an argument, Momoko offers to stich the embroidery on Ichigo's coat, which she does with great skill.

The final scenes of the film concern a fight between Ichigo and the members of several all-girl motorbike gangs. It is revealed that the crash at the start of the movie occurred when Momoko was rushing to help Ichigo. Momoko does not die, but instead challenges the entire motorbike gang and wins, rescuing Ichigo.

Kamikaze Girls on the IMDB

Monday, July 21, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: John Drake


John Drake was the debonair and duty-bound secret agent played by Patrick McGoohan in the British television series Danger Man (19601962, 19641966) (also known as Secret Agent). Unlike James Bond, he never carried a gun, rarely used far-fetched gadgets, never got the girl, and rarely killed anyone on screen.

Drake's background was never explored in detail in the series, and also appeared to undergo an amount of retconning involving his nationality. In the first Danger Man series (1960–61), Drake speaks with a slightly exaggerated American accent and is described as being an Irish American. In this series he is an operative working for a branch of NATO. In the second series (1964–66), Drake now speaks with a less pronounced accent that is more British with Irish undertones which is McGoohan's natural accent. In this later version, he works for a fictional British secret service branch called M9; no further reference is made to him being American. He is now said to be British, except in one episode in which he identifies himself as being Irish. In both versions of the series, Drake is depicted as something of a lone wolf and a maverick. In one early episode he initially refuses a mission that requires him to assassinate a man; he reluctantly takes the mission and is visibly upset when his target is accidentally shot during a struggle. Other episodes (particularly during the later series) have him clashing with his superiors, or at least strongly disagreeing with their methods. In the history of the series, Drake is shown only once intentionally shooting anyone to death, and then only in self-defence. (He is shown shooting people on another occasion, but only during a dream sequence; the aforementioned early episode shooting is depicted as being unintended). Drake was not opposed to using lethal force when absolutely necessary, however, and on rare occasions did kill villains using other methods (throwing off a train, causing the collision of two airplanes, etc.).

Drake is most often shown working alone, having received his orders from unidentified officials (or sometimes stumbling upon a case by himself). During the 1960–62 series, he is shown occasionally answering to a British superior named Hardy and in one episode Drake's Washington, DC office is shown and it's learned that he has a secretary. The first season of the 1964–66 series sees Drake receiving orders from Hobbs, a somewhat cold M9 official who is always seen fiddling with a knife. During the final full season, Drake is on his own, except for one episode in which he takes orders from an M-like character played by Bernard Lee who played M in the James Bond films. In one episode of the third series, viewers are introduced to a group of M9 technicians who support Drake's missions, including a Q-like gadget man and a wardrobe supervisor.

Drake is almost never shown becoming romantically involved with his leading ladies. This was a requirement put in place by McGoohan who didn't want Drake to become a clone of James Bond in that respect. McGoohan allowed a couple of exceptions (particularly in two episodes guest starring Susan Hampshire, both of which imply Drake and the two different characters played by Hampshire continue a relationship "off camera") and there is a considerable amount of sexual tension present in other episodes. In "The Black Book", an episode in which Drake becomes attracted to a young woman involved in a spy ring, it's learned that Drake cannot allow himself to become involved with anyone due to his line of work; this is graphically illustrated in the American version of the opening credits which depict a female form being separated from Drake by a set of bars.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Witch of World War Two

Helen Duncan (November 25, 1897December 6, 1956) was a Scottish medium best known as the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.

During World War II, Duncan held a seance in Portsmouth at which she indicated knowledge that HMS Barham had been sunk. Because this fact had been kept from the public, the British Admiralty chose to attempt to discredit her. Police arrested her after another seance. She was initially arrested under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, a minor offence tried by magistrates. However, the authorities regarded the case as more serious, and eventually discovered section 4 of the Witchcraft Act 1735, covering fraudulent "spiritual" activity, which was triable before a jury. Charged alongside her for conspiracy to contravene this Act were Ernest and Elizabeth Homer, who operated the Psychic centre in Portsmouth, and Frances Brown, who was Duncan's agent who went with her to set up séances. There were seven counts in total, two of conspiracy to contravene the Witchcraft Act, two of obtaining money by false pretences, and three of public mischief (a common law offence).

The prosecution may be explained by the mood of near-paranoia surrounding the impending D-Day. The authorities were fearing that she could use her clairvoyant powers to reveal details of the D-Day landing plans. There were also concerns that she was exploiting the recently-bereaved.

Duncan's trial for witchcraft was a minor cause célèbre in wartime London. A number of prominent people, among them Alfred Dodd, an historian and senior freemason, testified that they were convinced that she was authentic. Duncan was however, barred by the Judge from demonstrating her alleged powers as part of her defence against being fraudulent. The jury brought in a guilty verdict on count one, and the judge then discharged the jury from giving verdicts on the other counts, as he held that they were alternative offences for which Duncan might have been convicted had the jury acquitted her on the first count. Duncan was jailed for nine months. After the verdict, Winston Churchill wrote a memo to Home Secretary Herbert Morrison, complaining about the misuse of court resources on the "obsolete tomfoolery" of the charge.

Duncan is often referred to as the last person to be convicted of being a witch, but this view is incorrect in two important aspects. Firstly, the Witchcraft Act 1735 under which she was convicted dealt not with witchcraft but with people who falsely claimed to be able to procure spirits. Secondly, there was a subsequent conviction under the act, of Jane Rebecca Yorke of Forest Gate in East Ham later in 1944; Yorke was bound over to keep the peace.

On her release in 1945, Duncan promised to stop conducting seances; however, she was arrested after another one in 1956. She died a short time later. Duncan's trial almost certainly contributed to the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, which was contained in the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 promoted by Walter Monslow, Labour Member of Parliament for Barrow-in-Furness. The campaign to repeal the Act had largely been led by Thomas Brooks, another Labour MP, who was a spiritualist. However, her original conviction still stood, and a campaign to have her posthumously pardoned continues.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Abdul The Bulbul-Ameer

"Now a monument stands frozen solid and clear beneath the light of the pale polar star, so remember the name and undying fame of Abdul and Ivan Skavar"

Info on the cartoon is here

And here are the original lyrics by William Percy French, 1877:
1. The sons of the prophet
Were hardy and bold,
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far,
In the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

This son of the desert,
In battle aroused,
Could spit twenty men on his spear.
A terrible creature,
Both sober and soused
|: Was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer. :|

2. If you wanted a man
To encourage the van,
Or to harass the foe from the rear,
Or to storm a redoubt,
You had only to shout
For Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

There are heroes aplenty
And men known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar;
But the bravest of these
Was a man by the name
|: Of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar. :|

3. He could imitate Irving,
Play euchre and pool
And perform on the Spanish Guitar.
In fact, quite the cream
Of the Muscovite team
Was Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

The ladies all loved him,
His rivals were few;
He could drink them all under the bar.
As gallant or tank,
There was no one to rank
|: With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar. :|

4. One day this bold Russian
Had shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer
Downtown he did go,
Where he trod on the toe
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer

"Young man" quoth Bulbul,
"Has life grown so dull,
That you're anxious to end your career?
Vile infidel! Know,
You have trod on the toe
|: Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer." :|

5. "So take your last look
At the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar;
By this I imply
You are going to die,
Mr. Ivan Skavinsky Skivar."

Quoth Ivan, "My friend,
Your remarks, in the end,
Will avail you but little, I fear,
For you ne'er will survive
To repeat them alive,
|: Mr. Abdulla Bulbul Ameer!" :|

6. Then this bold mameluke
Drew his trusty chibouque
With a cry of "Allah Akbar!"
And with murderous intent,
He ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

Then they parried and thrust
And they side-stepped and cussed
Till their blood would have filled a great pot.
The philologist blokes,
Who seldom crack jokes,
|: Say hash was first made on that spot. :|

7. They fought all that night,
'neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar;
And great multitudes came,
So great was the fame
Of Abdul and Ivan Skivar.

As Abdul's long knife
Was extracting the life -
In fact, he was shouting "Huzzah!"
He felt himself struck
By that wily Kalmuck,
|: Count Ivan Skavinsky Skivar. :|

8. The sultan drove by
In his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer;
But he only drew nigh
To hear the last sigh
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

Czar Petrovich, too,
In his spectacles blue
Rode up in his new crested car.
He arrived just in time
To exchange a last line
|: With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar. :|

9. A loud-sounding splash
From the Danube was heard
Resounding o'er meadows afar;
It came from the sack
Fitting close to the back
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

There's a tomb rises up
Where the blue Danube flows;
Engraved there in characters clear;
"Ah stranger, when passing,
Please pray for the soul
|: Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer." :|

10. A Muscovite maiden
Her lone vigil keeps,
Neath the light of the pale polar star;
And the name that she murmurs
As oft as she weeps
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

The sons of the prophet
Were hardy and bold,
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far,
In the ranks of the Shah,
|: Was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer. :|

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: A Thousand Clowns


A Thousand Clowns is a 1965 film which tells the story of a young boy who lives with his eccentric uncle Murray, who is forced to conform to society in order to keep custody of the boy.

The movie was adapted by Herb Gardner from his 1962 play, and directed by Fred Coe. Gardner based the Murray Burns character on his friend, Jean Shepherd, who is said to have not appreciated the gesture.

Unemployed television writer, Murray Burns, lives in a cluttered New York City one-bedroom apartment with his twelve-year old nephew, Nick. Murray has been unemployed for five months after walking out on his previous job, writing jokes for a pathetic comedian who hosts a children's television show. Nick was abandoned by Murray's sister seven years earlier, and now attends a school for gifted children.

When Nick writes a school assignment on the benefits of the unemployment system, some of what he writes about his home surroundings causes his school to send social workers to investigate his home environment. Confronted by investigators for the Child Welfare Bureau, Murray is given the option of finding a job or losing custody of his nephew. Along the way, Murray charms and seduces Sandra (played by Barbara Harris), the young psychologist assigned to Nick's case.

Although Murray tries to avoid returning to work, he finds himself in a dilemma: if he wishes to keep his nephew, he must swallow his dignity and acknowledge his greater responsibilities. When he chooses to go back to work for a man he detests, he ultimately loses the respect of the nephew he so highly prizes. However Nick also stands up for himself, telling the comedian how terrible he is. At the end Sandra and Nick begin to clean the apartment, and a more normal home life, with a stronger child, may be developing.

A Thousand Clowns on the IMDB

Nick: I can imitate the voice of Alexander Hamilton. I do Alexander Hamilton, and Murray does a terrific Thomas Jefferson. We got the voices just right.
[Murray and Nick speak to each other in normal tones throughout]
Murray Burns: [to Nick] Hi, Alex, how're you doing?
Nick: Fine. Say, Tom, you should have been in Congress today.
Leo: This is ridiculous! You can't do an imitation of Alexander Hamilton, nobody knows what he sounds like!
Nick: That's the funny part.
Murray Burns: You missed the funny part, Leo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When The Future Was Grand: Frank R. Paul


Frank Rudolph Paul (April 18, 1884 - June 29, 1963) was an illustrator of US pulp magazines in the science fiction field. He was born in Vienna, Austria and died in Teaneck, New Jersey.

A discovery of Hugo Gernsback (himself an immigrant from Luxembourg), Frank R. Paul was influential in defining what both cover art and interior illustrations in the nascent science fiction pulps of the 1920s looked like.

Paul's work is characterized by dramatic compositions (often involving enormous machines, robots or spaceships), bright or even garish colors, and a limited ability to depict human faces, especially the female ones. His early architectural training is also evident in his work.

Among his credits, Paul painted 38 covers for Amazing Stories from April 1926 to June 1929 and 7 for the Amazing Stories Annual and Quarterly; with several dozen additional issues featuring his art on the back cover (May 1939 to July 1946), and several issues from April 1961 to September 1968 featuring new or reproduced art. After Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories in 1929, Paul followed him to the magazines Air Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and Wonder Stories and the associated quarterlies, which published 103 of his color covers from June 1929 to April 1936. Paul also painted covers for Planet Stories, Superworld Comics, Science Fiction magazine, and the first issue (October-November, 1939) of Marvel Comics. This last item featured the debuts of Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, and good copies sell at auction for twenty to thirty thousand dollars. All totaled, his magazine covers exceed 220.

More incredible Frank R. Paul artwork can be found here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

We're jazzed to announce that Meine Kleine Fabrik just agreed to be a regular contributor to the always-fantastic Dark Roasted Blend. Here's a taste of the one that just went up:
I thought I was on drugs.

Not that I knew what being on drugs was like, you understand. I was, after all, a pretty clean-cut, mostly-normal, teenager spending a fairly-uneventful summer bumming around Europe: London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Athens, and so on in no particular order.

Then I turned a corner in Barcelona -- and was sure someone at the hostel the night before had slipped me something.

What other explanation was there? A building was melting for God's sake!

The rest of the street was Spanish normal: warm brick facings, black toothed iron railings, arched windows, bursts of flowers on balconies, but right in the middle of average, of ordinary, of common, of commonplace was a building that sagged, that drooped, that arched, that ... well, that looked like it had been designed with vines and leaves in an orchard instead of with a T-square in a boxy office, planted from a seed and cultivated instead of having been mathematically assembled brick by stone cold brick.

I'd heard of Antoni Gaudí, of course, but for some strange reason I either hadn't made the connection between the eccentric architect and his hometown, or, more than likely, hadn't a clue how brain-throbbingly amazing his work was. But, drugs or no drugs, standing slack-jawed in front of the flowing glory of Casa Batlló on 43 Passeig de Gràcia, I decided I'd spend the next few days seeing as much Gaudí genius as I could.

Musical Interlude: Maurice Ravel's Bolero (by Bruno Bozzetto)


Allegro non troppo is a Bruno Bozzetto animated film released in 1977. The film is a parody of Disney's Fantasia, though possibly more of a challenge to Fantasia than parody status would imply. In music, an instruction of "allegro ma non troppo" means to play "fast, but not overly so". In the context of this film, and without the "ma", it means Not So Fast!, an interjection meaning "slow down" or "think before you act" and refers to the film's pessimistic view of Western progress (as opposed to the optimism of Disney's original).

The film features six classical pieces:

Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy
Slavonic Dance No. 7 Op. 46 by Antonín Dvořák
Boléro by Maurice Ravel
Valse Triste by Jean Sibelius
Concerto in C major for 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, Strings and Continuo by Antonio Vivaldi
The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky

The classical pieces are set to color animation, ranging from comedy to deep tragedy. At the beginning, in between the animation, and at the end is black and white live action film, displaying the animator (not the actual), orchestra, conductor, and filmmaker, with many humorous scenes about the (again, not actual) production of the film. Some of these sections mix animation and live action: for example, after the final number, the (animated) serpent (in colour) escapes into the orchestra pit, scaring the (live, black and white) musicians. In another, Mr. Rossi, Bruno Bozzetto's most famous creation is burned to death when his animation cel catches on fire.

The film has two versions, the main difference being in the inclusion or exclusion of the sepia live action sequences in between the classical pieces. The second version of the film omits these sections, replacing them with animated plasticine letters spelling out the title of the next piece of music.

And here's Allegro non troppo on the IMDB
[opening lines]
The Presenter: P:Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see an unforgettable show, a film destined to become immortal, as immortal as the music which will follow, and which will be interpreted through animation. Beginning with his childhood fantasies, the greatest ambition that burns and swells in the soul of every creative animator is to illustrate music, to give visual form and color to its notes. With this film, we have finally succeeded in achieving this union of animation and classical music, a union we are sure is destined to live on throughout the history of film. A new and original film that has even astonished us, the men responsible, the men who, quite modestly speaking, can be called its creators. A film in which - in which -
[consults a cue card]
The Presenter: A film in which you will see the music and listen to the drawings. You might call it a film of magic, a fantasia.
The Presenter: [Phone rings - Presenter answers; the caller is not heard]
The Presenter: Hello. Yes. Who's speaking? Who is this? What do you mean, who am I? Who is it you wish to speak to? Eh? California?
The Presenter: [To camera] It's Hollywood.
The Presenter: [To phone] Hello! Yes! What? You've already -
The Presenter: [To phone] Hello! Yes! What? You've already -
The Presenter: Look, if this is some joke, I'm in no mood --
The Presenter: No, but- No, but- there must be some misunderstanding.
The Presenter: You're very ill-mannered...
The Presenter: That's right, ill-mannered and a liar!
The Presenter: Yes, I said you're a liar! A liar from California
[Hangs up and speaks to camera]
The Presenter: It's nothing. They're mad. Mad as hatters. They insist that our film - this is all so ridiculous - was already made by a certain fellow years ago. A certain someone by the name of Prisney or Grisney. Some American.
[Picks up phone again]
The Presenter: In any case, before you go around opening your big mouth, see the film first!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why, Yes, People Took Drugs in the 60s - Why Do You Ask?

Rocket Robin Hood, known in French as Robin Fusée, is a Canadian animated television series produced by Krantz Films, Inc. from 1966 to 1969. It takes the characters and conflicts associated with the classic legend of Robin Hood and sets it in a futuristic, outer space setting.

Rocket Robin Hood leads his "Merry Men", including Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Maid Marian and other characters from the classic story of Robin Hood. They live in the year 3000 on New Sherwood Forest Asteroid, and are determined to foil the despotic plans of Prince John, the Sheriff of N.O.T.T. (National Outer-space Terrestrial Territories), and other villains such as Dr. Medulla, Manta, Nocturne, and the Warlord of Saturn. Rocket Robin Hood and his people fly in spaceships and use weapons such as “electro-quarterstaffs.”

Rocket Robin Hood
was animated and voiced by Trillium Productions, an animation studio which was part of the Guest Group—a creative group of companies owned by producer Al Guest. One of the key animators was Jean Mathieson, one of the first female animators, who later formed Rainbow Animation in Canada and Magic Shadows Inc in the U.S. with Al Guest, where they continued to produce animated TV programming.

Background designer Richard H. Thomas joined the group late in the second season and brought a dark, almost psychedelic feel to the production under director Ralph Bakshi, who would later become a well known animation producer and would be responsible for, among other things, the animated versions of Fritz the Cat and The Lord of the Rings. Third-season episodes were animated at Ralph’s Spot in New York City, although voices continued to be recorded in Toronto.

Bernard Cowan was the narrator of the show and Paul Kligman, who played J. Jonah Jameson in the animated version of Spider-Man, was the voice of Friar Tuck. Ed McNamara, who appeared in the movies Silver Streak (1976) and Bayo (1985), was the voice of Rocket Robin Hood. Len Carlson subbed in place of Ed McNamara for Rocket Robin Hood in some of the third season episodes. Carl Banas provided the voice of Little John. Chris Wiggins was the voice of Will Scarlet.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Catacombs of Paris


The Catacombs of Paris are a famous underground ossuary in Paris, France. Organized in a renovated section of the city's vast network of subterranean tunnels and caverns towards the end of the 18th century, it became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and was open to the public on a regular basis from 1867.

This cemetery covers a portion of Paris' former mines near the Left Bank's Place Denfert-Rochereau, in a location that was just outside the city gates before Paris expanded in 1860. Although this cemetery covers only a small section of underground tunnels officially called "les carrières de Paris" ("the quarries of Paris"), Parisians today popularly refer to the entire network as "the catacombs".

Most of Paris' larger churches once had their own cemeteries, but city growth and generations of dead began to overwhelm them. From the late seventeenth century, Paris' largest Les Innocents cemetery (near the Les Halles district in the middle of the city) was saturated to a point where its neighbors were suffering from disease, due to contamination caused by improper burials, open mass graves, and earth charged with decomposing organic matter.

After almost a century of ineffective decrees condemning the cemetery, it was finally decided to create three new large-scale suburban cemeteries and to condemn all existing within the city limits; the remains of all condemned cemeteries would be moved discreetly to a renovated section of Paris' abandoned quarries. The use of the depleted quarries for the storage of bones, based on the idea of Police Lieutenant General Alexandre Lenoir, was established in 1786 by his successor, M. Thiroux de Crosne, under the direction of Charles Axel Guillaumot, Inspector General of Quarries.

Remains from the cemetery of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs were among the first to be moved. Bodies of the dead from the riots in the Place de Grève, the Hotel de Brienne, and Rue Meslee were put in the catacombs on August 28 and August 29, 1788.

The catacomb walls are covered in graffiti dating from the eighteenth century onwards. Victor Hugo used his knowledge about the tunnel system in Les Misérables. In 1871 communards killed a group of monarchists in one chamber. During World War II, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the tunnel system. Also during this period, German soldiers established an underground bunker in the catacombs below Lycée Montaigne, a high school in the 6th arrondissement. (This bunker is not on the tourist route and can only be seen during an "unauthorized visit".)

The underground tunnels and chambers have long posed safety problems for construction in Paris. Quarries sometimes cave in, occasionally resulting in a hole in the ground above and causing damage to buildings. To prevent this, the IGC, Inspection générale des Carrières (General Inspection of the Quarries) was established in 1777 by the government in order to monitor the current quarries and prohibit the digging of new quarries. The IGC did, however, dig observation tunnels in order to provide themselves with better access to the quarries so that they might better monitor, repair, and map the consolidated quarries.

The monitoring and consolidation work has continued to this day. Because of the number of quarries, subway tunnels, train tunnels and sewer tunnels that have been dug underneath Paris, as well as the softness of the stone involved, extra caution is taken when new construction is attempted or new tunnels are dug. However, this did not prevent problems during the digging of Paris Métro Line 14.

Photos by M.Christian

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"There Will Come Soft Rains"

Found on YouTube: "This is a 1984 Kazakhstan cartoon inspired by Rad Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Zotz! is a 1947 novel by Walter Karig and a 1962 movie, about a man obtaining magical powers from a god of an ancient civilization.
Amongst science fiction fandom, the word refers to a useless, unwanted gift.

Ancient Eastern languages professor Jonathan Jones finds a cursed amulet. Jones obtains powers to cause pain or slow movement, and even kill. He immediately suffers the consequences of his discovery: Jones realizes that when he points at another living creature, it causes a great pain. This prevents any intimate encounters with a woman. It is a metaphor of the age of nuclear weapons (the novel was written 2 years after atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

The fastest thing on Reels-Striking Distance.

Behold the ballet of the big body late model domestic sedan...

Kill your television-The Twonky

"The Twonky is a 1953 comedy-science fiction film, written and directed by Arch Oboler and stars Hans Conried. The script was based on the short story "The Twonky", written by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (writing as Lewis Padgett).

Philosophy professor Kerry West (Conried) is surprised and upset when his new television set begins talking to him. The TV is actually a "Twonky", a device accidentally sent from the future. The Twonky's purpose is to make its users' life easier, and it sets about "helping" the professor by censoring his books, reading people's minds, and controlling his life. West struggles to find a way to stop the Twonky"

A Look Inside the Future: Graham Bleathman

Graham Bleathman is one of the country's foremost illustrators of Gerry Anderson's television series including Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and, of course, Thunderbirds. He is particularly well known for his 'cross section' illustrations of the spacecraft, vehicles and buildings from those shows and his illustrations have appeared in a number of books, magazines and comics since the early 1990s ...
Illustrations of the real world and the fictional settings of Britain's TV soaps kept Graham occupied in the mid 1990s, with work appearing in Radio Times, Inside Soap and its sister magazines, Peoples' Friend and Cult TV magazine. Colour covers featuring Star Trek and other shows also appeared for the British Science Fiction Review magazine and the Nexus SF Convention souvenir books.

2000 saw the resurgence of Thunderbirds once again and whilst in the meantime, Graham has produced a book of Thunderbirds FAB cross sections and a book of assorted Gerry Anderson related cross sections, he is back drawing for another Thunderbirds comic. It almost goes without saying what sort of work he's doing for Redan's isn't comic strips and it isn't covers either!

2001 saw the publication of the follow up cross sections book 'Supermarionation cross sections' and the Japanese edition of 'Thunderbirds FAB cross sections'.

In 2002 Graham continued with the Redan cross sections while undertaking a variety of private commissions. In September the book 'Thunderbirds classic comic strips' was published along with the Marks and Spencers reprint of Thunderbirds FAB cross sections. At the end of the year Graham produced a cross section of the Mr Psycho robot from the BBC TV series 'Robot Wars' for Titan Magazines.

Graham has recently diversified into areas such as X-Men, Spiderman, Dan Dare and RAF historic aircraft. 2005 sees the 40th anniversary collectors edition of his Thunderbirds FAB Cross Sections book being published.

Apart from drawing cross sections, Graham lives in Bristol with his wife, Katie and their two cats. His personal interests cover collecting and listening to the music of Rick Wakeman and progressive rock in general, collecting Godzilla merchandise, original comic art and Gerry Anderson merchandise.

An interview with Graham can be found on the Supermarionation web page.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Books You Haven't Read But Should: Weird Heroes


Weird Heroes, "New American Pulp", was a series of novels and anthologies produced by Byron Preiss in the 1970s that dealt with new heroic characters inspired by the classic pulp magazine characters. And like the pulps, the series was also heavy on art, having many well-known artists illustrate the stories.

The series was 'packaged' by Byron Preiss Visual Productions and was published by Pyramid/Jove/HBJ. Four of the books are anthologies, four are novels. During the same time, Preiss was also produced the Fiction Illustrated series with the same publisher.

Unfortunately, most of the characters where never seen after the demise of WH. Preiss did write one novel about his character Guts, and planned a second. This was published by Ace Books, maybe as part of a 'revival' of the concept as single novels. Tor Books reprinted Philip José Farmer's Greatheart Silver stories in a single volume with new art and Reaves's character Kamus appeared in 2 books by other publishers. A lot of these characters had potential and it is unfortunate they did not continue. Most of the authors hoped to write more about these characters. Ron Goulart's "Quest of the Gypsy" was meant to be a series of novels, the first lasting 3-4 novels, but we have only seen two.

Recently, the first volume was reprinted by iBooks, but no word if further books will be reprinted as iBooks has gone bankrupt following Preiss's death.

  • Weird Heroes #7: Quest of the Gypsy: Eye of the Vulture (Ron Goulart)
  • Weird Heroes #8
    • Seward: The Deep Fix Michael Moorcock
    • Kamus: The Big Spell J. Michael Reaves
    • Orion 2: Flood Tide (Ben Bova)
    • Kamus 2: The Maltese Vulcan (Reaves)
    • Robeson: The Grant-Robeson Papers "Savage Shadow" (Maxwell Grant [Farmer])