Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bava Book Milestone

As I've reported on the Bava Book Update Blog, last night Donna completed her work on the main section of the book -- everything but the front and back matter, which we start laying-out today. Minus those prefaces, appendices, and the index, the page count already stands at 1,012 pages. This is an important milestone, which we celebrated last night with a bottle of Bolla Valpolicella -- and now it's back to work. All that remains to be done are the layouts of the front and back sections, which we hope to finish by early next week, and my proofreading of the final layout and Donna's implementing of my final corrections, which should take an additional week.

Also, tune into the Bava blog tomorrow for an important surprise.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The War with Stuff

We're now reaching a point with the Bava book that Donna and I have long awaited. Donna plans to finish her work on the bulk of the interior by this weekend, and we're going to spend Saturday and Sunday finally laying out the front and back matter. Next week, I have a few deadlines and am also scheduled to be proofreading the last 700 or so pages of the Bava book one last time, so for the immediate future, I'm barred from doing what my heart yearns for me to be doing: finishing my novel-in-progress, on which I made substantial progress last week. While my unborn book weeps inside me from the latest in a series of shows of neglect, I've had to decide how I'm going to spend this waiting period, knowing that, whatever I do, I may be pulled away for Bava consultation at any time. The answer was unavoidable, especially with a wife who always has such suggestions at the ready: My office has been a hell-hole for too long. I really should use this time to get my environment in order.

I know in my heart-of-hearts that I respond well to orderliness; a neat and attractive environment is more welcoming and uplifting. However, my mind is usually juggling a number of things at once: the book, my novel, our current issue, the next couple of issues, my extracurricular deadlines, this blog, etc. I have a habit of writing notes to myself, as well as epigrams, DVD info for reviews, on little index cards are leaving them all over the house. (I just noticed the other night that the "Winsor Concerto" from THE WHIP AND THE BODY is briefly heard in Paul Naschy's THE MUMMY'S REVENGE, a film evidently scored with CAM library tracks, so I made a note of that.) I leave these cards wherever I happen to write them, with the idea of taking them with me on my next trip upstairs, where I intend to log them into my computer, where they can add to whatever I'm working on. Somehow, this seldom happens and each card ends up joining many others in a stack that I tuck just north of my keyboard until the fabled day when they'll get processed. Some might say this is procrastination, but it's more like "I need a secretary." But, as Donna says, if we had a secretary, I couldn't work in my bathrobe.

Organizing my office has been my ongoing project for the last three days, and it still looks like a cross between a train wreck and a yard sale. In a stack of papers and magazines, I actually found a homemade birthday card which Donna had printed for me on a dot-matrix printer, welcoming me to "the elite group of people who are now 35," an incriminating illustration of how lax I've been about filing things away. (I'm a bit older now.) An important preliminary task was cataloguing all my uncatalogued CD-R and DVD-R binders, which is a task I can only stand to perform five hours at a time, so it took a couple of days. With those binders finally off my floor, and placed on shelves (recently cleared of laserdiscs) in our living room, the next major task was weeding out my office bookshelves, which cover two walls from floor to ceiling. Though toiling in an air-conditioned room and dressed for comfort, I worked up quite a sweat deciding which of the books could be boxed up and which could be dispensed with. At this stage of my life, I figure that if I'm putting books into boxes, I might as well lower them into the ground as well. There are always going to be so many books in front of me that I'll almost certainly never have need to seek my old file-aways out. The process of removing books from these shelves, adding books finally taken off the floor, and reorganizing everything alphabetically took a good five to six hours. At the end of the work, I had two shortish stacks of books to be taken to the attic and three stacks of discarded books that rose as high as my thigh.

My bookshelves looked infinitely tidier to me, so I called Donna in to admire my progress. I showed her where to stand to get the best vantage point (as if my cluttered floor offered her many options). She looked at the shelves and said, "You know, the sad thing about this is that, already, you have no room to grow -- so, if one more book comes into this room, it's going on to the floor and the whole nightmare starts over again."

That's the last thing I wanted to hear, partly because I knew at once she had a point. As they now are, the books are pretty tightly packed and there are a few books resting on top of other books. A section of one shelf is filled with smaller paperbacks that should be somewhere else, and another section of another shelf is stacked with books incoming for review. These need to be shipped out to reviewers. One entire shelf is occupied by music-related books, which Donna thinks should be moved somewhere else (preferably boxed away), but these are what I reach for most commonly, when I need a break from movie-related writing. Actually, when I'm editing VW full-time, I read so much movie-related writing that I sometimes wonder why I keep any of these books at all. After a full day of reading/editing film reviews and features, I'm going to kick back and relax with more film reviews and analysis? I have days when I'd like to box all these movie books away and bring my novel collection down from the attic, where they've been gathering dust for more than a decade. Dipping into other writers' fiction might be just the tonic I need; I shouldn't have to worry about reading them from cover to cover, if I haven't the time for it. After all this time, I've sincerely forgotten which novels I own, as they've mostly flowed together down the rivers of forgetfulness with the ones I've sold or merely borrowed from the library.

"How many of these are you really going to refer to?" Donna asks, nodding at the formidable barriers of bound print I have amassed between myself and Death. Probably not many. I now use www.dictionary.com for my dictionary and thesaurus needs, but having an actual three-dimensional Webster's gives one the power to browse and actually add words to one's vocabulary. "How often do you do that?" Well, I once had a life of relative leisure in which I could do things like that, and though I don't do it much (okay, at all) nowadays, I am not prepared to admit that those days are gone and will not be returning. Yes, I admit that the need I feel to hold on to some of these books is rooted in the self-delusion that, someday, time might decide to move backwards.

Some of the books on my walls are important reference tools; some are classic references past their prime (emphasis on "classic," so they stay within reach); some were written by friends and are warmly inscribed; some I wrote myself or contributed to; some I am unlikely to read but are just cool to have and admire; and others I've read and loved, so I feel the need to keep them visible in my daily life, both as memento and source of invigorating inspiration. If I sincerely had to make a hard and realistic decision based on how often I might actually open and use these books, surely many more could be taken down... but they'd have to go somewhere else in our Incredible Shrinking House, and there simply isn't anywhere else for them to go. Certainly not downstairs, and upstairs (the attic) is crowded enough. And, as an author of books, I have to insist on the right to display what I've done in my own house, though there is little need for me to read them again after publication.

Books are hard things to throw away and, trouble is, they are even harder to sell. You can't get even half of what they're worth in second-hand stores; the last time I tried, I ended up leaving two entire boxes of turned-down books at the store rather than lug them back home to my attic. (I think the book dealer was banking on me doing this, and I felt so cheated by this ordeal, I've never returned to that once-favorite book store.) Until I can decide what to do with them, it looks like they'll continue to take up residence on my office floor, but perhaps I can clear a corner where they can gather dust until new homes can be found for them.

Increasingly, my life can be described as a war with stuff: the old stuff, the incoming stuff, the stuff that needs to be processed, the stuff that needs to be shipped out to contributors, the stuff I love, the stuff I've outgrown, the cool but otherwise unfunctional stuff, the sentimental stuff, the stuff that's cute, the heirloom stuff, the broken stuff that needs to get fixed or replaced -- all of it demanding a place in my life and regular dustings and refusing to be thrown away. With each new thing I acquire, I have the feeling of adding soldiers and rations and ammunition to the enemy, but my refusal to stop is as steadfast as my refusal to surrender.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

CYCLOPS Addenda from Joe Dante

"Actually THE CYCLOPS, filmed in 1955, was, like X THE UNKNOWN and RUN OF THE ARROW and several others, originally to be released by the then-struggling RKO. Many stills exist from these with RKO trademarks. But by 1957 RKO was on the ropes and many of the pics went to other distributors. Obviously some had already made RKO release negatives, if not prints. So the credits of the Monsters HD CYCLOPS are original. Whether that cut of the already quite short picture is too, is anybody's guess."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Cut Scenes from THE CYCLOPS

Today, I have some additional notes to offer on the subject of Bert I. Gordon's THE CYCLOPS. Those of you who are under the age of 40 may not realize this, but when many B-horror pictures originally distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation were first shown on television, they were newly padded with opening narrative scrolls to fill 90-minute timeslots. Among the titles featuring such scrolls were ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN, THE DISEMBODIED, DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL, BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (which was further padded with additional footage), and -- unless I'm mistaken (and I might be) -- THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE.

Not all Allied Artists titles were so altered; neither FRANKENSTEIN 1970, THE HYPNOTIC EYE, nor CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER were so retailored for TV. But for anyone who saw these films between their theatrical playdates and, roughly, 1984 -- when these TV syndication prints abruptly disappeared as local stations sought to compete with cable television, this is the only way they could be seen... and those of us who loved these films expected they would remain changed in this way forever.

However, since the arrival of the home video age, film companies have been going back to original camera negatives and 35mm positive elements to obtain the best-looking masters possible for DVD and cable television release -- and this has left those "narrative scroll" versions forgotten on old 16mm reels. Naturally, I'm a purist and I prefer to have these films as they looked in theaters... but I'm also a nostalgist and miss these absurdly ponderous scrolls, which were incidentally the work of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER director Herbert L. Strock. They are hard-wired into my memory of these pictures, because they were part of them the first time (in some cases, the first several times) I saw them.

To illustrate this little history lesson, here is the opening scroll originally seen in TV prints of THE CYCLOPS, probably never to be seen again except on the old Beta and VHS tapes of those of us who recorded them off the air, twenty-some years ago. You can click on any of the images in this posting to enlarge them:







Pretty cool, eh? There was no narrator's voice, just some very hoary library music playing underneath the ssssssllllllllooooooowwwwwwwwlllllllllyyyyyy scrolling text -- all of which helped to set the mood on those Saturday and Late Night spook shows of yesteryear.

All of this is prologue to some unfortunate and more timely news about Monsters HD's print of THE CYCLOPS, about which I posted with enthusiasm the other day. It was a long time since I'd seen the picture, however, and it took the alerting of Dennis Rood and Steve Pickard to make me aware that the climactic moment in the picture -- the blinding of the Cyclops -- is actually cut in its high-definition version.

As this scene appears on Monsters HD, James Craig fashions a flaming javelin out of a stick and some vegetation, climbs up a hillside to gain height, and hurls it at the Cyclops -- CUT to a shot of the giant's superimposed hand trembling with pain over a shot of Craig on the hillside. The Cyclops falls prone on the ground and Craig makes his escape. The Cyclops then rises with the javelin still in his covered eye, protruding between his fingers... CUT to the spinning propellers of our heroes' getaway plane, followed by a process shot of the giant staggering toward it.

Here is the sequence as it appears uncut (which is not only the way it appeared in theatrical prints, but in the Allied TV prints, as well):


The flaming javelin approaches the eye of actor Duncan (Dean) Parkin...

OW! THAT'S GOTTA HURT! Then he covers the wound with his hand, and collapses.

After Craig escapes, the Cyclops revives from his swoon and sets about extracting the javelin. This shot is in the Monsters HD print, but it cuts away just short of this...

The Cyclops extracting the bloody (and evidently deeply penetrating!) weapon and...

... exposing a grisly view of the bleeding, punctured orb! (Ironically, it was the censored version of this scene that Monsters HD used in their on-air promotions for the picture, promising viewers that they would "See All the Good Parts.")

Another curious point of variation about the Monsters HD print is that it lacks the opening "Allied Artists Pictures Corporation Presents" card which opened the theatrical prints, and replaces the plain "The End" card of that print and the "Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation" end card of the TV prints with a new closing card that reads "The End - Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures." As far as I (and the IMDb) know, THE CYCLOPS was never released by RKO Radio Pictures, at least not in this country. Perhaps this is the clue that will help to identify the source and cause of this missing footage.

Here's hoping that David Sehring and Team Monsters HD can do something to recover this missing footage (which was in the previous Thriller Video VHS release) and remaster THE CYCLOPS for future broadcast, as they've already done with FROM BEYOND, THE FLESH EATERS, and other important films.