Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Burroughs Thanksgiving

So I'm alone for Thanksgiving. That's fine, I have my TV. I want to watch a big, fancy, spectacular fantasy adventure movie-movie! And I want it good old-fashioned way-out-there nonsense like I used to read about, and I don't want anyone to insult my intelligence by trying to make it look realistic. 
Ah, just the thing! John Carter!
This truly fun picture lost money at the box office because it was old-fashioned and stupid (that's bad?), and also because some idiot decided "John Carter of Mars" wasn't as good a title as just "John Carter," so nobody knew what it was about, and didn't come to see it.
I liked it, I liked all the retro silliness of it, and the 1920s style alien technology, which helped remind me, the viewer, that it was the 1920s and I was reading this from a pulp magazine. And it was fun that Deja Thoris was a scientific prodigy instead of a mere damsel in distress. But the pulp magazine melodrama was preserved without apology.
I notice a lot of people are discovering this film lately, the way people eventually discovered other box-office sleepers like Blade Runner.
Anyway, John Carter sits on my Old Time Scientifiction Fun shelf, along with The Fifth Element, which I love because it's gaudy and wacky and irresponsible like those old Jack Vance books.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A long pointless rant on "Realistic-ness"

I'm sick of Dark and Gritty.

The proliferation of superhero comics movies (an economic necessity for the theater business) has brought a tedious sameness to the action on the big screen.

"Dark and Gritty = Realistic" has become an aesthetic law that cannot be broken.

This juvenile approach to seeming mature, has completely taken over mass media, probably because comic books have taken over mass media, and comic books are where the Dark and Gritty movement started.

Okay, before I go any further, let's backtrack and admit that Dark and Gritty had two, completely independent, origins, though both were basically technical advances.

One was in the comic books of the 1970s, beginning with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight. 
These stories, previously juvenile adventures with lots of action and not much depth and rendered in bright poster colors, underwent a change that was more than just looks. While the look of comic books changed from primitive four-color to full process color, allowing a far wider (and darker) range of values, the stories also changed from juvenile cowboys-and-bad-guys punch-em-ups to pseudo-adult fiction which owed more to the downbeat, cynical pulp detective fiction of the 1940s than to the comics of the past.

The other origin point was in the development of computer graphics.
Early computer graphics were technically crude, and could only render smooth surfaces that could be mathematically described. So shiny robots and glossy machinery were the first computer graphics people saw. Only much later were sophistications like wireframe sculpture and texture mapping developed, enabling organic shapes to have organic surfaces as well. It was not long before "Dirty = Realistic" was the Word of the Day for those striving to achieve a look of realism in computer graphics. Artists were encouraged to "dirty it up" when they created backgrounds for computer games, in order to make them more believable and look less like plastic toys.
The increasingly punk, film noir, underground look of second-generation computer graphics sat well with young men who fancied "tough" pulp detective fiction, Westerns, cops-and-robbers and war stories, which all take place in a "man's world" of beat up cars, abandoned buildings, and battlefield destruction. This sort of "Grunge-World," glamorizing wear and decay, was a perfect setting for the fantasies of young boys trying hard not to be kids anymore. Grunge World was the polar opposite of Playskool World.

Since there was a lot of crossover between fans of comic books (geeky young men) and computer graphics hobbyists (geeky young men), there was going to be some synergy, and sure enough, the two fields drew together to create a new aesthetic. Thanks to Miller, Moore, et al, the superhero comic books were adapted into the new aesthetic with mixed results. Some superhero stories, like Batman, seemed well suited to the Noir treatment. But others … juvenile stories, with simplistic good-guy-vs-bad-guy ideals, didn't fare too well with the new visual cynicism. But does constant darkness, glorification of exaggerated violence and mayhem, grotesque characters, and the expulsion of more bullets than there is lead in the entire solar system, really deserve to be called "realistic?"

Centuries of aesthetics went out the window, and "Ugly Is Beautiful" emerged triumphant.
Even spaceships, those slick shiny relics of the Art Deco era, became ugly, tarnished, and haphazardly built (Star Wars and Alien).

It's a manchild's version of realism, and is actually a subset of an older movement, the "hyper-realism" of fantasy art, in which late Renaissance painting techniques were revived and a fetishistic obsession with fine detail, texture and completely sharp focus were employed in an attempt to force an artificial believability onto fabulous creatures and impossible places and events. The goal of hyper-realism was to evoke the unnatural clarity of visions and the heightened state of being in a higher plane from ordinary reality, and was inspired by Medieval religious icons and the paintings of Hindu and Chinese gods and heroes.

The dirt-and-grime chic of so much of today's mass art is actually based in the same principle as hyper-realism: that sharpness of detail is everything (an old idea the Impressionist and Expressionist movements of the early 20th century refuted).

I like to call this aesthetic "Realistic-ness," to distinguish it from realism, which is a sincere attempt to evoke reality.

Grunge-World and Fantasy-World are divided along sex lines. Boys like dirt and scratches and random detail like rust, and darkness and deep shadows. Superhero movies. Girls like lots of color variety and eye-catching patterns and general fanciness. "Frozen" and "Ever After High." Both are "realistic-ness" in that they each, in a different way, exaggerate details and focus to make an imaginary dreamworld be more convincing than life. It's a form of visual overacting.

Okay. That's all well and good, but shouldn't people move on? 'Dark and Gritty' has become trite and corny, just like any other art movement eventually does. I, for one, don't quite buy the idea that Batman is "more realistic" than "Elfquest" or for that matter, "Sofia the First." That idea belongs back with the Superman vs. Mighty Mouse argument, in the playground.

Meanwhile, there is a place on the screen where bright colors and expressionism still triumph, right alongside darkness and shadows. In anime!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Ed Wood" Re-revisited -- Martin Landau (1928-2017)

Of course, in memory of Martin Landau, I had to watch "Ed Wood" again.

It would be hard to think of any other film ever made that so perfectly says everything important that needs to be said about the creative spirit.

Every time I view this film, I'm moved even more than before by its universality, by the canonization of Ed Wood as Everyman Artist, and of course by the heartbreaking spectacle of a great star, Bela Lugosi, reduced to a frail hulk, a truly tragic figure destroyed by Hollywood and his own vanity ... but not in the rose-colored glasses of Ed Wood.

I chose this film to remember Landau by, because it is not only his best single performance, but his most complete performance, a landmark in cinema history.

It's ironically fitting that what is arguably Tim Burton's best film, a film about a dreamer of children's-comic-book dreams with lots of heart but no talent, was a loser itself. It nearly didn't get made in the first place because of Burton's insistence to film it in black and white. Though it was lauded by critics all over the world, it was ignored by audiences everywhere. It grossed less than $2 million when it opened. Not only did people leave the theaters in hordes when it was first released, but it also failed to be saved by DVD due to delays in licensing. The movie was as big a loser as its lovable, stupid hero. And to add insult to injury, Martin Landau's acceptance speech was cut short by the Academy Awards broadcast, cheating him out of his moment of recognition for giving one of the greatest screen performances of all time.

Only now is "Ed Wood" beginning to find its place as perhaps one of the most important films about the cinema ever made. It surpasses everything Truffaut ever did in its unblinking but loving examination of the creative spirit, and the mystery behind the power of the tawdry creations Ed and his loyal band of misfits produced. If these films are so bad -- and they are -- why do we still watch them and, yes, love them?

Because it is the soul of the artist laid bare. Ed Wood is all of us, everyone who has struggled to bring their dreams to life, not knowing whether they are worthwhile or not.

Friday, June 16, 2017

James Vance (1953-2017)

I guess it's okay now to report sadly that Kings in Disguise and later Omaha the Cat Dancer writer Jim Vance passed away June 5, after a long and difficult battle with cancer.
Jim and familyJim and Kate Worley were married about 10 years when she passed away in 2004. At that time she and I, with agent Denis Kitchen, were negotiating on a new publication of Omaha the Cat Dancer with 150 new pages to complete the story. Jim took up the writing duties using Kate's copious notes, and we worked hard together, while he also worked on the Kings sequel, On the Ropes. Both were finished in 2013 and Omaha's final volume debuted at the 2013 San Diego Comicon.
Jim's wife Jodi Berg has looked after Jim during this time and and her daughter Kaitlyn and Jim and Kate's children Jake and Sarah are now in her care and doing remarkably considering they all have fought to overcome disabiities.
There is a GoFundMe project being started for Jo and "her" children to save their house. Please go there and read more about the amazing story, and consider a donation.


Please follow the link and read the story.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Happy Birthday, Kate Worley

Kate would have been 59 last Thursday. She was a tall and hard-to-miss fixture in Minneapolis fandom, and in the music circle, and in Shockwave Radio.

Here is a photo from showing some soon-to-be famous faces: (from left) Kate Worley, Emma Bull, Jerry Boyajian, Steven Brust.

Happy birthday, Kate.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Omaha waits while Nellie Tools Up

Omaha fans are waiting for Omaha material old and new to appear here, but that's going to have to wait.
What I'm waiting for, is for Jim Vance and Jo to give me the keys to the site so that either it can be updated or I can move some material to my site and add links. Due to health reasons, there hasn't been any update on the "Omaha" official site since 2008. So visitors there may not even know that the story was finished, and the full set of Omaha is available from NBM Publications.
When Jim and Jo get better, they'll get back to me, and we'll talk about what to do with the Omaha web presence. As I said before, I do intend to have sketches, pages, and unavailable material up for viewing and eventually, for sale. But there's still a lot of work to do before any of that is possible.
Meantime, the "Cat Dancing with Omaha" yahoo group is still active (although there havent been any posts for a while). Sign up if you're not a member.
In the meantime, the entire Omaha the Cat Dancer Picture Disk is on my site available for listening.

Meanwhile, Nellie and the Drummers, idle for 12 years, are hard at work on their new album, "Backstage Musical."
Between 2004 when I completed two numbers for the new album, and now, I've had to upgrade my computer and all my software. Additionally, the more ambitious project I'm beginning requires better instruments and better equipment, so I invested a little money I didn't previously have, into big band and orchestra instruments and an upgrade for my Digital Audio Workstation. Nellie's voice works just fine the way it is.
Watch the Nellie section of my website for developments, and new tracks as they are finished.

Friday, January 08, 2016

A New Period Begins

Yes, it's pretty much a new period in my life.

With Omaha the Cat Dancer finally finished, I'm retired. Now it's time to start cleaning up the mess online.

This blog has never been kept up, and it's likely that it will be closed down after I make some progress on my new site, at

The Omaha the Cat Dancer Yahoo group has been closed, Mark is finally used up, and I can't do anything with it myself, because of confusion with my Yahoo account. Oh well, it has served its purpose.

Likewise I lost control of this blog when Blogspot switched to Google and i couldn't get logged in here either.

Then all my online files, such as blog images and Nellie and the Drummers music and my Furry Sex Panel video, all got erased when Consolidated Communications (who bought Enventis, who bought Hickorytech my ISP) decided to discontinue offering personal web space two weeks ago.

So I am starting my own website for the first time in 15 years. There I hope to be able to offer my artwork for sale, records and memorabilia, the Nellie and the Drummers music, and just generally be present. But mostly just for fun.

I will be contacting Jim Vance and see if he would like some help in bringing back up to date.