Thursday, March 3, 2016

Bedlam - Boris Karloff, Val Lewton 1946

The 1946 movie Bedlam stars Boris Karloff as Master George Sims, the apothecary General, and Anna Lee as Nell Bowen. It was one of three movies that Karloff worked with producer Val Lewton on, and I'll talk about the other two in the near future.

I loved this movie. Karloff is magnificent, and the production values are top-notch. 

The screenplay was written by Carlos Keith (a pseudonym for Val Lewton) and Mark Robson, though as it says on one of the opening cards, the movie was inspired by William Hogarth's The Rake's Progress, plate 8, pictured here:

This is Plate 8 of Hogarth's work "The Rake's Progress"
The scene above takes place in St. Mary's Bethlehem Asylum, also known as Bethlem Royal Hospital, also known as Bedlam, and this is where the movie is centered.

Here's William Hogarth:

Hogarth's painting "Selfie with Dog" (I'm guessing on the title)
Okay, actually, it's called "Painter and his Pug" done in 1745.
The movie is beautifully shot in black and white, and Karloff is at his it.

His voice, his pattern of speech is terrific. He plays the cruel director of the above referenced insane asylum, and unjustly imprisons Anna Lee's Nell Bowen in it. She shows kindness to the patients, and they eventually turn on Karloff.

At one point, Nell Bowen describes Karloff's Sims in this way; "He's a stench in the nostrils, a sewer of ugliness, and a gutter brimming with slop." It reminds me of how Karloff's later portrayal of The Grinch is described.

One of my favorite lines of the movies is when Karloff says to Lee: “So nice to find you here among the upper classes, Mistress Bowen, but that’s exactly where I expected you to be.  It’s a law of physics the lighter elements, like scum, rise to the top.”

Some of the language is cringe-worthy, but historically accurate, such as when the patients are repeatedly called 'loonies.' Also, as in real-life, people were allowed to pay to visit the asylum (for a fee) to see the patients in a cruel form of entertainment.

A bit of fun trivia, according to IMDB: "The dress that Anna Lee is wearing as she mounts her horse is the one Vivien Leigh made from the curtains in Gone with the Wind."

Jason Robards, Sr. (the father of the Jason Robards you are more likely familiar with) also appears in the movie as one of the patients.

Highly recommended movie.

You can buy the DVD of Bedlam (includes Isle of the Dead) here, or you can also rent it via streaming through iTunes.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Doll

I found this doll at an antique store. It followed me home.

Something was a little off about it. I'm not quite sure what.

I don't know if it's a boy or girl. The funereal garb it wears doesn't give it away - boys used to wear dresses when they were babies, too.

It's hands are dried and cracked and dirty, as if it has been digging in the dirt. I found pine splinters under its fingernails, as if it clawed its way through wood. Don't you think its hand looks needy, as if wanting someone to hold onto?

Yet, it looks so peaceful, as if it has slept for hundreds of years.

It has had so much time to dream, but I think its nightmares have damaged it permanently.

After it came into my home, its eyes opened while I wasn't looking. 

They say eyes are the window to the soul, but when I look at its eyes, I see nothing but dull, flat colors above its pinched nostril and blood-kissed lips.

* * * * * 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars - The Force Awakens

I saw Star Wars when it first came out in 1977 at the Cinema Theater in Rochester, Minnesota. At least I think that was the theater's name. It was located in the corner of a strip mall near Silver Lake. I remember waiting in a long line standing under the awnings of the strip mall with my mom and dad. I was eight years old.

Me, about that age.

We barely got in for the showing we waited for. We had to sit near the front on the very left side of the theater against the wall. Not the best seats, but I forgot all about that as soon as the movie started.

I wish everyone could have that same experience as I  - and thousands of other kids - did at that time. We hadn't seen anything like it, really; that combination of cool special effects and swashbuckling. I'm certainly not the first to say that it was a touchstone moment in my life. I completely remember where I sat, the angle of the screen, the line waiting to get in. No other movie going experience has etched itself so indelibly on my brain.

I remember waiting for the sequels - for a kid my age, three years between movies was forever. It didn't seem fair that it should take so long to make a damn movie! Anyway, I enjoyed the sequels, but it wasn't quite the same magic as seeing the first. I don't remember where I sat (though I DO remember waiting in line for Return of the Jedi at the Chateau in Rochester with my older brother Scott - the lines winding around the block.)

Star Wars and the first two sequels occurred at a time before multiplexes arrived - at least in Rochester. Each theater had only one screen. But it was a BIG screen, with lots of seats on a barely sloping surface. If you were a kid or short in stature and a tall person sat in front of you, you had to settle for watching the movie with the silhouette of that person's head taking up part of the frame.

Anyway, this last Saturday I took my daughter to Star Wars; the Force Awakens. Quite a difference in the logistics of watching the movie then it was back in 1977. I had ordered the tickets the night before online. I got to choose our seats. We went to the theater, not having to wait in line at all, and when we got in (with a large bag of popcorn and two bottled waters that cost $17) we found our very comfortable reclining seats. The seating is tiered in this theater - even better that your typical stadium seating - you can't even see the rows in front or behind you, because there are dividers between the rows.

While we waited for the movie, we played games on our smart phones or checked Facebook. Another guy and his kid came in and sat next to us. This guy was five when he saw the first Star Wars in the theater. We gave each other a nod - each to a fellow compadre who had shared that same touchstone all those years ago. (And no, I'm not making up the nodding part just for effect. That actually occurred.)

Well, no - not quite like this...
And once again, when the lights dimmed and that famous Star Wars crawl came on the screen, all of our surroundings disappeared. The reclining seats, unobstructed view, expensive refreshments were forgotten. I was transported once again to that feeling I had experienced in childhood. Not quite the same, but still pretty damn good.

I loved the movie. Paige enjoyed it to.

Afterward, I realized my car keys were missing. After some frantic searching, I found them in the minivan. The doors were unlocked. The minivan was still running. After three hours of idling, there was still half a tank of gas left.

No, no - not quite like that, either...
Normally, I'd chastise myself for doing something so forgetful. So idiotic.

But not that day.

That day, the force was strong in me.

At least that's how I framed it to my wife.

* * * * * 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

1937 Vintage Road Trip Scrapbook, Part 17 - Yosemite

Yosemite National Park

After finally kissing the California coast via Los Angeles, the Johnsons visit the Petersen family in Selma, California on Sunday, July 4th, 1937 for dinner. I wonder if they celebrated the 4th together, perhaps watching a fireworks display. Maybe they had fun with their own sparklers, firecrackers and bottle rockets. Anyway, the next day saw the Johnsons entering Yosemite National Park via the south entrance. The fee to enter the park was $2 at the time.

One of the highlights of the scrapbook is the Yosemite booklet pictured below. It's still in great shape and clocks in with 37 pages, plus a foldout map in the back. When I opened it up, a tiny newspaper clipping fell out about a landslide on Half Dome.

From the article: "At 4:30am last Wednesday, Florence awoke with a start. She heard a tremendous roar like that of thunder. She - and hundreds of tourists - wondered if California was suffering another earthquake. It wasn't. Half Dome, a landmark familiar to all visitors to the beauty (sic) area, had merely decided to shed part of its flat face. Ton upon ton of rock slid from the peak into the valley below."

I wonder if the Johnsons heard any of the ruckus.

The next couple pages of the scrapbook are filled with lovely, colorful postcards.

Underneath the postcards above, Joan writes: 4,000 years old - 227 ft high, 90 ft in circumference at the base. And then: These Giant Sequoias are the oldest living things in the world, they grow to a height exceeding 300 ft with a circumference at the base of nearly 100 ft and the bark is sometimes 40 inches thick.

Under the postcard above, Joan writes: Each night during the summer season, for the pleasure of their guests and all the visitors to Yosemite, the management of Camp Curry have established a gorgeous spectacular custom. A huge bonfire if built on Glacier Point 3,200 ft directly above the camp. At the conclusion of the nightly campfire entertainment, the burning embers are pushed from the point above. This cataract of fire and sparks makes a sheer drop of over 2000 ft before striking any obstacles,a sight to be long remembered.

There's also an article about the Augustana Male Quartet - I'm guessing that may have been part of the entertainment? And below that, an article from the San Francisco Examiner, dated Wednesday, July 7, 1937, about a 16 year old Berkeley boy rescued from a narrow ledge of Glacier Point Cliff. From the article: "The valley itself was a huge ampitheater (sic) from which hundreds of park visitors watched the rangers crawl goat-like down the sheer cliff to where young Edward Fleischer clung to his narrow foothold." Turns out the kid was rescued unharmed.

It's very likely the Johnson family was there to witness this event. It must have been quite a nail biting spectacle to see.

More Yosemite postcards above, of Cathedral Spires, Yosemite Falls and other waterfalls. Joan writes above about Yosemite Falls: 2600 ft high - the stream is about 35 ft wide at the top of the falls and the roar of its waters are heard all over the valley.

And then we come to the Johnson family portrait which I posted a close-up of in an earlier entry. It was taken July 6, 1937 and cost a buck.

It sounds like the Johnsons had quite a memorable adventure in Yosemite. Plus, it's so cool to have an actual picture of them!

Next up: San Francisco!
* * * * * 

1937 Vintage Road Trip Scrapbook, Part 16 - Catalina Island, Plus More Los Angeles

Catalina Island, Plus

Catalina Island lies of the coast of the Los Angeles area. Joan Johnson and her family ventured over there - whether by boat, plane or dolphin is hard to say - early July, 1937. The brochure pictured below lists fares inside. The full round-trip fare from Los Angeles to Catalina on a glass bottom boat, for example, was a mere $4.45. Round trip by plane was $10. Things to do on Catalina Island in 1937? Fishing, bus tours, speed boats, hunting, horseback riding, golfing, movie-going, hanging-out-on-the-beaching...probably much as it is today.

For some reason, the Johnsons stopped at places with buffalo herds, and Catalina Island was no exception, boasting it's own herd that was introduced in 1924 for the filming of The Vanishing American. The bison were left behind and ancestors of the originals still live there today, presumably boasting prominent tans and Bermuda shorts.

The page below contains a beautiful postcard from Catalina Island of a flying fish, next to which our illustrious scribe pens: Flying Fish. Catalina Island - One of the strange sights to the tourist is the Flying Fish, which at certain periods of the year are numerous about the Island. During the summer months, nightly a trip is made with a boat equipped with powerful searchlights which when played upon the water attract these fish by the hundreds.

The next to items are of Beverly Hills - the middle item actually folds out and contains postcards of celebrity homes, such as Joan Crawford, Will Rogers, Mary Pickford, Clark Gable and Gary Cooper.
The bottom postcard is that of Beverly Gardens in Beverly Hills.

Below are a couple clippings of Long Beach, as well as a newsletter and postcard from Clifton's Brookdale restaurant.

Joan writes: A section of the main dining room at 'Brookdale, one of the world's largest and most unique. Waterfalls and cascades flow into a brook running through the room. The Chapel, Limeade Springs, Wishing Tree, Sherbet Mine and Rock Kandy Mountain are but a few features. Here guests pay what they wish and dine free unless delighted.

Interestingly enough, this establishment still exists at 648 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, and is now known as Clifton's Cafeteria.

The next page contains postcards of Olvera Street - the "First Street" of Los Angeles, the Planetarium of Griffith Park, and a newspaper cutout of prolific actor Guy Kibbee. Olvera Street and the Griffith Park Observatory still exist. Guy Kibbee, unfortunately, does not.

The Johnsons did a lot in Los Angeles and its environs. It must've been quite a sight for a family from St. Paul, Minnesota, circa 1937, especially when Los Angeles was such a star-studded haven. I wonder if Joan saw any movie stars while there, or if she sat at a soda fountain, hoping some casting agent would notice her and put her in a picture...

Next up, the Johnsons head to Yosemite National Park!

* * * * * 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Multi-Author Book Signing - What you Need and How to Stand Out

Ever been to the North Central bus terminal in Mexico City? I'm not sure if it's still like this, but when I was there in 1993, once you got off of your bus and wandered outside, you were immediately bombarded by dozens of men offering you a ride into the city in their taxis. Now whenever I'm at a multiple-author book signing, I feel like we (the authors) are the taxi men haling potential readers to come check out our cabs.

Little-known fact; Van Halen's concert rider expressly forbid brown taxi-cabs within the city limits.

Here are some of the basics of setting up shop at a signing.

Aside from your books, you'll need a table. Otherwise, it gets to be a long day juggling all of those books on your lap. Most author events provide tables and chairs, but if not (and you should find this out beforehand) bring a simple, easy to carry folding table. A table cloth is a good idea, too, since some of the provided tables have seen better days. (A dental mirror comes in handy to surreptitiously check the underside of the table if you're hankering for some well-chewed gum.)

Many authors bring a dish of candy as a way of enticing potential readers. Hershey's Kisses are popular. So are fun-size candy bars or Lifesavers. Does this result in more sales? Probably not, especially since it seems everyone does this now. But it doesn't hurt.

The old basket-o-cash, however, is still popular with the crowds.

Speaking of cash, you'll need to make change, so bring some tens, fives and ones (if needed). I include sales tax in my prices and back it out later when paying taxes. That way I don't have to deal with coinage. Make sure you keep good records of your sales so you don't get in trouble with THE MAN.

Pictured: THE MAN

A fairly new development is the credit card reader app, which allows you to take credit cards via your computer, tablet or smart phone. I use a Square Reader; it charges a small percentage of the sale, but it's worth it, since some people no longer carry cash.

Bring business cards if you have them, and bookmarks, too. Signed glossy photos of you straddling a horse naked are optional.

As far as displaying your books, you can do the simple book-stack method, where you just...stack your books. I recommend some sort of plastic display thingies to prop a few books up to catch the eye. Some people have a large color copy of their book cover displayed so that it can be seen from a distance. You can add some reviews or endorsements to this to provide a little more enticement.

The 'shove-your-book-in-a-jar' method has become more and more popular over the years, too.
Don't forget to bring a pen! Bring a couple in case the one you're using runs out of ink. Or you can always just 'borrow' one from the author sitting next to you when he or she isn't looking.

Over the years, I've seen a lot of different author table displays, some great, some not-so-great. Here's the thing, though...the way you display your books isn't the most important part of enticing a reader to buy your book.

The most important things you can do are:

Make eye contact.
Say hello.
Ask them how they're doing.
Ask them what they like to read.
If your book might fit the bill, tell them about it.
Maybe they'll buy, maybe they won't. Don't worry about it. Just keep trying.

And if all else fails, jump up on your table and yell, "TAXI!"

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Just Call me Chuck and the Twins and a Great Year Despite Myself; 1987/88.

When I graduated high school in 1987, I figured I was pretty much through with band. I'd been in Concert Band, Jazz Band, Pep Band and Marching Band, and my senior year was capped off by our Marching Band's trip to Hawaii to march in the King Kamehameha Parade a couple days after graduation.

Don't get me wrong - band was a lot of fun. But it was also a lot of hard work. In the video above, we're wearing full wool uniforms (meant for chilly Minnesota autumn nights) on a five-mile parade route through Hawaii on a 95-degree day (behind horses, even!) Being in marching band had been a great lesson in discipline and its potential payoffs, but I was so ready to be done with it and move on to other things.

Cut forward to the end of summer. My high school girlfriend, whom I was madly in love with, decided it would be best to (say it with me!) see other people - you know the drill. Long story short, I was devastated.

I hadn't really been on the ball as far as planning for college, and anyway, thought it would be a good idea to save some money by living at home and getting some core credits out of the way for cheap, so I ended up going to our local community college, RCC (Rochester Community College). A guy I knew recommended I sign up for band there, but like I said, I was tired of that whole gig.

He kept telling me I should join, and that I'd like the instructor, but I think it was my mom who eventually talked me into it. So I joined.

I'm glad I did. The music program at RCC was wonderful. The concert and jazz bands were led by Charles Blattner, and I knew things were a little different when on one of the first days, I started to ask him a question in his office. "Mr. Blattner," I started.

He held up his hand to stop me. "Just call me Chuck."

Chuck brought the joy back into music for me, the fun of playing in concert and jazz band. It was in the way he taught the class, in the way he was always around between classes to listen to you or give advice if you asked for it. It was in the community of fellow musicians he fostered. When you were in band, you weren't just in band - you suddenly had a whole new family. Band (and choir) students hung out by the band/choir room between classes to chat, do homework or goof around.

But I was still depressed. She was the love of my life! I'd been so sure...

Luckily, it was also the year the Minnesota Twins won the World Series. The first time that had ever happened, and it helped distract me from that deep gut ache of feeling sorry for myself.

Back to band. I played drums. In the percussion section, one of the dangers was the amount of drummers who chewed tobacco. They'd each have their spit cup sitting on the percussion cabinet, and for those of us who had cups of water or pop, you had to be careful not to absentmindedly pick up the wrong container. But the drummers - they were a fun bunch.

There was also Vicky's cabin:

It was located about 10 miles out of Rochester near the small town of Oronoco at the bottom of a hill next to a small river. To get down to it, you either had to navigate a long set of winding stairs, or take this electric tram down:

One of the times the tram got stuck. Vicky's standing on the tracks trying to unstick it.
Anyway, the cabin was sparsely furnished, but it had a kitchen, a bathroom, places to sit...pretty much all we needed. Band members went there after concerts, or school dances at the Pla-Mor Ballroom (old time venue - once hosted classics like Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.) and drink beer and have fun. Most of us ended up spending the night there, sleeping on the floor (or on a couch if you were lucky). The cabin also came equipped with a foghorn Vicky blew when hunters crept quietly by.

In February or March, the band had its annual trip to Florida - Bradenton, Orlando, plus a day at Daytona Beach. We'd play some gigs, but mostly it was just a lot of fun. Seeing sights during the day (Disney World, Cypress Gardens, the now-defunct Kapok Tree Restaurant, beaches, etc,) and at night we'd go from room to room, drinking and munching on things and having a good time.

About a month or two or three later, there was also a festival of community college bands and choirs up in near Brainerd; usually at Cragun's or Breezy Point. We'd stay the weekend, again, playing music during the day and participating in drunken revelry at night.

Me, Dean Z. and Doreen B. enjoying the aforementioned revelry at Cragun's

Anyway, it was a fun time. Fellow former RCC bandmate Wendy S. summed it up nicely on Facebook recently, when I posted a picture of the cabin tram. She responded with: "We didn't know it then, but it was the time of our lives. Pretty care free days! When I think of all the stuff young people can get into trouble with these days, I know for sure we were blessed to have each other to hang out with!"

Very true. And it came at a time in my life when I needed it most.

Much thanks to all of my former RCC bandmates: Jenny, Dan, Wendy, Vicky, Pat, Dean, Jim, Chris, Kristina, Lori, Mike, Eric, Doreen, Nick, Warren, Jean, Scott, Jerry, Betsy, and many others.

And especially thanks to Chuck Blattner for making band more than just a credit to be earned. Thanks for reminding me about the joy and camaraderie that playing music can bring.