Friday, November 16, 2018

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: THE STAGE PLAY!

Last Sunday I saw the Maverick Theater's mind-blowing stage adaptation of Ed Wood's iconic "masterpiece" PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1958). The Orange County Register called this production "a very sharp and hilarious homage" to Wood's original.  Indeed, perhaps what's most impressive about this play is that it pulls off the delicate tightrope act of satirically critiquing the repressive and backwards culture of 1950s America that gave rise to "the worst movie of all time" while resisting the natural temptation to stray too far from Wood's uniquely fractured (and/or unintentionally surreal) dialogue.  Fans of mid-century American madness, psychotronic cinema, Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, zombies, and UFOs need to go out of their way to see this production.  There are only two performances left this season, both on Saturday the 17th, one at 6:00 PM and the other at 8:00 PM.  I suggest bending the rules of time and space to make sure your body is planted in a front row seat at the Maverick Theater this Saturday night in order to experience Brian Newell's clever reinterpretation of what might very well be--in hindsight--one of the most memorable films of 1950s America.    



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Stan Lee, R.I.P. (1922-2018)

In honor of Stan Lee's passing, I suggest reading this February 1990 COMICS JOURNAL interview with writer/artist Jack Kirby about what it was like working with Lee at Marvel Comics.  Here's an illuminating excerpt:

GARY GROTH; When did you meet Stan Lee for the first time?

JACK KIRBY: I met Stan Lee when I first went to work for Marvel. He was a little boy. When Joe and I were doing Captain America. He was about 13 years old. He’s about five years younger than me.

GROTH: Did you keep in touch with him at all?

KIRBY: No, I thought Stan Lee was a bother.

GROTH: [Laughter.]

KIRBY: I did!

GROTH: What do you mean by “bother”?

KIRBY: You know he was the kind of kid that liked to fool around — open and close doors on you. Yeah. In fact, once I told Joe to throw him out of the room.

GROTH; Because he was a pest?

KIRBY: Yes, he was a pest. Stan Lee was a pest. He liked to irk people and it was one thing I couldn’t take.

GROTH: Hasn’t changed a bit, huh?

KIRBY: He hasn’t changed a bit. I couldn’t do anything about Stan Lee because he was the publisher’s cousin. He ran back and forth around New York doing things that he was told to do. He would slam doors and come up to you and look over your shoulder and annoy you in a lot of ways. Joe would probably elaborate on it.

GROTH: When you went to Marvel in ’58 and ’59, Stan was obviously there.

KIRBY: Yes, and he was the same way.

GROTH: And you two collaborated on all the monster stories?

KIRBY: Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did.

GROTH: On all the monster stories it says “Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” What did he do to warrant his name being on them?

KIRBY: Nothing! OK?

GROTH: Did he dialogue them?

KIRBY: No, I dialogued them. If Stan Lee ever got a thing dialogued, he would get it from someone working in the office. I would write out the whole story on the back of every page. I would write the dialogue on the back or a description of what was going on. Then Stan Lee would hand them to some guy and he would write in the dialogue. In this way Stan Lee made more pay than he did as an editor. This is the way Stan Lee became the writer. Besides collecting the editor’s pay, he collected writer’s pay. I’m not saying Stan Lee had a bad business head on. I think he took advantage of whoever was working for him.

GROTH: But he was essentially serving in a capacity as an editorial liaison between you and the publisher?

KIRBY: Yes, he wasn’t exactly an editor, or anything like that. Even as a young boy, he’d be hopping around — I think he had a flute, and he was playing on his flute.

GROTH: The Pied Piper.

KIRBY: Yeah. He’d come up and annoy me, and I told Joe to throw him out.

GROTH: Stan wrote, “Jack and I were having a ball turning out monster stories.’’ Were you having a ball. Jack?

KIRBY: Stan Lee was having the ball.

GROTH: You turned out monster stories for two or three years I think. Then the first comic that rejuvenated superheroes that you did was The Fantastic four. Can you explain how that came about?

KIRBY: I had to do something different. The monster stories have their limitations — you can just do so many of them. And then it becomes a monster book month after month, so there had to be a switch because the times weren’t exactly conducive to good sales. So I felt the idea was to come up with new stuff all the time — in other words there had to be a blitz. And I came up with this blitz. I came up with The Fantastic Four, I came up with Thor (I knew the Thor legends very well), and the Hulk, the X-Men, and The Avengers. I revived what I could and came up with what I could. I tried to blitz the stands with new stuff. The new stuff seemed to gain momentum.

GROTH: Let me ask you something that I think is an important point: Stan wrote the way you guys worked — and I think he’s referring to the monster stories specifically here — he wrote, “I had only to give Jack an outline of the story and he would draw the entire strip breaking down the outline into exactly the right number of panels. Then it remained for me to take Jack’s artwork and add the captions and dialogue which would hopefully add a dimension of reality to sharply delineated characterization.” So he’s saying that he gave you a plot, and you would draw it, and he would add the captions and dialogue.

ROZ KIRBY: I remember Jack would call him up and say it’s going to be this kind of story or that kind of story and just send him the story. And he’d write in everything on the side.

KIRBY: Remember this: Stan Lee was an editor. He worked from nine to five doing business for Martin Goodman. In other words he didn’t do any writing in the office. He did Martin Goodman’s business. That was his function. There were people coming up to the office to talk all the time. They weren’t always artists, they were business people. Stan Lee was the first man they would see and Stan Lee would see if he could get them in to see Martin Goodman. That was Stan Lee’s function.

GROTH: Where were you living at the time, in ’61-’62?

KIRBY: We had a house on Long Island.

GROTH: Did you deliver your work to Marvel?

KIRBY: Yes, I did. Once or twice a month. I worked at home.

GROTH: What were your working hours like?

KIRBY: I worked whenever I liked to.

ROZ KIRBY: Mostly in the evening. He helped me during the day with the children.

KIRBY: It was a wonderful routine because I could do whatever I liked to do during the day. I didn’t have to work in an office. I could work at home. I could work at my leisure. I worked 'til four in the morning. I worked with the TV and radio on — it was a great setup. I was a night person and still am.

GROTH: Can you tell me give me your version of how The Fantastic Four came about? Did Stan go to you...?

KIRBY: No, Stan didn’t know what a mutation was. I was studying that kind of stuff all the time. I would spot it in the newspapers and science magazines. I still buy magazines that are fanciful. I don’t read as much science fiction as I did at that time. 1 was a student of science fiction and I began to make up my own story patterns, my own type of people. Stan Lee doesn’t think the way I do. Stan Lee doesn’t think of people when he thinks of [characters]. I think of [characters] as real people. If I drew a war story it would be two guys caught in the war. The Fantastic Four to me are people who were in a jam — suddenly you find yourself invisible, suddenly you find yourself flexible.

ROZ KIRBY: Gary wants to know how you created The Fantastic Four.

GROTH: Did you approach Marvel or —

KIRBY: It came about very simply. I came in [to the Marvel offices] and they were moving out the furniture, they were taking desks out — and I needed the work! I had a family and a house and all of a sudden Marvel is coming apart. Stan Lee is sitting on a chair crying. He didn’t know what to do, he’s sitting in a chair crying —he was just still out of his adolescence. I told him to stop crying. I says. “Go in to Martin and tell him to stop moving the furniture out, and I’ll see that the books make money.” And I came up with a raft of new books and all these books began to make money. Somehow they had faith in me. I knew 1 could do it, but I had to come up with fresh characters that nobody had seen before. I came up with The Fantastic Four. I came up with Thor. Whatever it took to sell a book I came up with. Stan Lee has never been editorial minded. It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things — or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day. Stan Lee is essentially an office worker, OK? I’m essentially something else: I’m a storyteller. My job is to sell my stories. When I saw this happening at Marvel I stopped the whole damned bunch. I stopped them from moving the furniture! Stan Lee was sitting on some kind of a stool, and he was crying.

Click HERE to read the entire interview.

And below Alan Moore (writer of such important graphic novels as V FOR VENDETTA, WATCHMEN, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, and PROVIDENCE) discusses Stan Lee's working relationship with Jack Kirby during a rare public appearance at the Northants International Comic Expo in September of 2012:


If you're curious to understand the true dynamic between Lee and his most visionary "collaborator," Jack Kirby, I suggest watching Tim Burton's BIG EYES (far and away one of Burton's finest films), keeping in mind that in this scenario impresario/conman Walter Keane equals Lee and prolific artist Margaret Keane equals Kirby.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND


I first heard of Orson Welles' unfinished epic THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND in 1990 when I happened to stumble across Leslie Megahey's documentary WITH ORSON WELLES:  STORIES FROM A LIFE IN FILM late one night on television.  I was eighteen at the time.  The legend of a cursed film project with the enigmatic title THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, ostensibly frozen in limbo forever, fascinated me.  Later, I made passing reference to the film in my 2010 short story entitled "Ticks," which was published in issue #9 of Rudy Rucker's webzine FLURB.  (You can read that story HERE.) 

Last week, I finally saw THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND at Laemmle NOHO 7 in North Hollywood.  I plan to write about this movie at great length at some point in the near future, but for now all I'll say is that it's a wonderfully challenging film, complex and multilayered, the type of harrowing in-depth character study Hollywood seems incapable of making these days.  Who in America is creating these types of films in the 21st century?  I immediately think of Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN and THE WRESTLER and David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE and MULHOLLAND DRIVE... but beyond that my mind goes blank.  

Some critics are saying that we can't really consider THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND to be a "Welles film" because he only edited "a few" scenes himself.  I strongly disagree with this.  Ten years ago at the Orson Welles Film Festival, held at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, I saw Oja Kodar (star and co-writer of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND) and cinematographer Gary Graver present to the audience the scenes Welles had edited himself before his death in 1985--and this amounted to at least a half hour worth of footage.  That's a quarter of the finished film, at least.  I'd say that's more than just "a few" scenes.  Besides, cineastes consider EYES WIDE SHUT to be Stanley Kubrick's last film despite the fact that Kubrick didn't have a hand in the final edit of that movie at all.  (Some conspiracy theorists claim that the Church of Scientology had control of the final edit of EYES WIDE SHUT... but that's a whole separate story, best left for another time.)  

As my friend and colleague Rafael Zepeda told me the other day, "THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is an American 8 1/2."  I agree with that.  But THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is also far more than just a take-off on Federico Fellini's peculiar obsessions.  Ultimately, this can be considered Welles' most personal film.  I've seen this movie 2 1/2 times now (once in the theater and one and half times on Netflix) and will no doubt watch it again.  If you can see THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND in a theater, please do so.  I think experiencing this particular film in a theater is almost a must--it heightens the meta-aspect of the film immeasurably.

The two documentaries that bookend the film--A FINAL CUT FOR ORSON:  40 YEARS IN THE MAKING and THEY'LL LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD--are fascinating as well.  The first can be seen by clicking HERE.  The second is available exclusively on Netflix.
  
The official trailer can be seen below.... 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

CTHULHU IN CALABASAS!

As you've probably already seen on the news, the biggest wild fire in California history is now raging its way across the smoke-plagued landscape a few miles north of Long Beach (where I currently dwell).  Frequent Cryptoscatology correspondent Chris Doyle sent me a photograph he took of the burgeoning fire along with the observation that when the smoke starts to look like Cthulhu, Bad Times are imminent.  H.P. Lovecraft would no doubt agree.

I've included Mr. Doyle's photo below.  And yes, as you can clearly see, the smoke cloud does indeed look like the squamous, eldritch face of Cthulhu himself (or herself)! 


My colleague Rafael Zepeda (author of such excellent books as HORSE MEDICINE, TAO DRIVER, and DESPERADOS) tells me the image bears a far closer resemblance to the Aztec god Mixcoatl, or perhaps even Itztalcoliuhquil-Ixquimilli.  "Hard to beat those bloody Aztecs," as Zepeda says.  Who am I to disagree?

By the way, Mr. Doyle also reports that some of the more conspiracy-minded residents of Topanga Canyon insist that the fires were caused by energy weapons as part of a land grab for the high speed rail system... and/or that the fires began at the little-known but nefarious Rocketdyne/Area 4/Santa Susana nuclear test facility and that "the AEC and/or NASA made sure all communications were cut off in the Canyon for some malign purpose."  For more information regarding the Santa Susana nuclear test facility, click HERE (VIDEO STARTS PLAYING AT 0:50 SECONDS).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut!


In honor of what would have been Kurt Vonnegut's 96th birthday, I suggest listening to this reading of what might be Vonnegut's most accomplished short story, "Harrison Bergeron" (originally published in the October 1961 issue of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION).  "Harrison Bergeron" can be found in Vonnegut's 1968 collection WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE.  Needless to say, this story is more relevant than ever before....


Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Strange Case of the Flatwoods Monster

One of the most infamous close-encounter cases in the field of UFOlogy is that of the "Flatwoods Monster," also known as the "Braxton County Monster" or the "Phantom of Flatwoods."  The Flatwoods Monster was popularized by Gray Barker in his 1956 nonfiction book THEY KNEW TOO MUCH ABOUT FLYING SAUCERS, which also introduced to the world the concept of the "Men in Black."  Late one evening on September 12, 1952, in the town of Flatwoods in Braxton County, West Virginia, seven people saw a bright object land on the property of a local farmer, soon after which the group witnessed a ten-foot-tall humanoid with a blood-red face and clawed hands gliding towards them across the farmer's field.  Some claimed that the creature was "a robot, controlled mechanically," as suggested by Barker in Chapter Two of his book.  An artist's interpretation of the "Flatwoods Monster" can be seen below.... 


The strange case of the "Flatwoods Monster" was only the beginning of West Virginia's intersection with the paranormal, as evidenced by John A. Keel's thorough investigation into the rash of UFO/Men in Black/Phantom Clown/Mothman sightings that plagued the state in the late 1960s.  Keel wrote extensively about this investigation in his 1975 nonfiction book THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, the High Weirdness quotient of which surpasses even Gray Barker's descent into the rabbit hole of UFOlogy over twenty years earlier.  To learn more about West Virginia's reluctant love affair with the "Flatwoods Monster" (and the peculiar field of UFOlogy in general), I recommend acquiring a copy of Seth Breedlove's polished and thorough documentary entitled THE FLATWOODS MONSTER:  A LEGACY OF FEAR (Small Town Monster, 2018).  As noted by Brian Tull in his Horrorbuzz.com review of this documentary, the film's special effects possess "a hand-painted quality that gives [THE FLATWOODS MONSTER] a unique feel and texture" while its clever use of 1950s-style miniatures "imbue the film with an eerie surrealism as the set pieces of this story are presented as a series of lovingly crafted dioramas."  One can only wonder what Mark Pellington's ill-fated 2003 adaptation of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES could have looked like if that film had taken a similar approach to its phantasmagorical subject matter.


You can hear paranormal researcher Dr. Ivan Sanderson--author of such books as ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN:  LEGEND COME TO LIFE (1961), UNINVITED VISITORS (1967), "THINGS" (1967), MORE "THINGS" (1969), and INVISIBLE RESIDENTS (1971)--discussing the "Flatwoods Monster" in this 1953 radio interview: 


A previous documentary about the "Flatwoods Monster" sightings, Frank Feschino's THE BRAXTON COUNTY MONSTER (2006), can be seen on YouTube:



Sunday, November 4, 2018

Bimbo's Initiation

In case you ever wondered what it's like to be initiated into Freemasonry, the legendary filmmakers Max and Dave Fleischer happened to capture on film a typical Masonic initiation ceremony back in the halcyon days of 1931.  Entitled "Bimbo's Initiation," the short film (and the bizarre ritual it documents) can be seen below in its entirety, courtesy of our brothers at YouTube....