Friday, February 23, 2007

Ian Wallace: High and Mighty Traps

This blog gets to touch on the subject of Bob Dylan again today, but under unexpectedly tragic circumstances.

Ian Wallace -- who drummed on Dylan's albums STREET LEGAL, INFIDELS and LIVE AT BUDOKAN, and occasionally with The Traveling Wilburys, but who is best remembered as the drummer for the 1971-73 incarnation of King Crimson (ISLANDS, EARTHBOUND, LADIES OF THE ROAD) and their tribute bands The 21st Century Schizoid Band and Crimson Jazz Trio -- passed away yesterday at age 59, after a five-month bout with esophogeal cancer.

As an interested member of his audience with the latter two projects, I was a former daily reader of Ian's online diary but I drifted away when his suddenly resumed touring/recording career took him away from those writing duties for long stretches of time. We swapped one or two e-mails during those times, I'm sure, and I was very surprised to learn about his passing and his illness when I got online today.

When you read someone's daily diary online, you feel you know them, though it's debatable whether such knowing exists unless they also know you as well. Ian had a tremendous knack not only for diarizing, but for lively, humorous writing, and I encouraged him to apply his twinkle toward a more ambitious writing project, as other regulars did. But then the opportunity to replace Michael Giles in the 21st Century Schizoid Band came along, and Ian seized it. I suspect from his many blogs about the pleasure he took in dining with his fellow Nashvillian, King Crimson frontman Adrian Belew, that it would have been his greatest wish to rejoin King Crimson, which wasn't likely to happen given their current musical direction. His stints with the 21CSB and the Crimson Jazz Trio (whose debut album is most inventive and impressive) were the consolation prizes that allowed him to close his career by reaffirming his place in the band's history and its music's future.

The core of Ian's blog readership was made up of King Crimson fans, though the true measure of his contribution to the band didn't become fully apparent until Discipline Global Mobile (KC's self-goverened label) began issuing KCCC (King Crimson Collectors Club) live discs from their website some years back. Ian's two Crimson albums, ISLANDS and EARTHBOUND, have always been the least understood/appreciated of the oft-mutating band's releases; EARTHBOUND, a live recording, suffered from harsh sound quality and I've personally found that ISLANDS never quite blossomed as a listening experience until its latest remastering. It was usually seen as the weakest of their first four studio albums, but time has been kinder to it than perhaps to either IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON or LIZARD (once my favorite of the first four); it contains at least two bonafide KC classics, "The Sailor's Tale" and "Ladies of the Road," both of which are memorably propelled by Ian's high-and-mighty traps. The live discs of the Wallace KC, which featured Boz Burrell (who passed away last year) on bass and vocals, salvaged the reputation of that lineup, especially the 9th KCCC set recorded at Denver, Colorado's Summit Studios in March 1972. Other such releases, like the 18th volume from Detroit in November 1971, offered perfected versions of the album that EARTHBOUND should have been. A selection of the best of this material was subsequently issued under the title LADIES OF THE ROAD.

When King Crimson dissolved in 1973, only to be reborn as a radically different, experimental unit in 1974, Ian Wallace moved on to drum for Bob Dylan. His playing on 1975's STREET LEGAL, while less "Dionysian" (to use another critic's word) than his phase-heavy drum solo on EARTHBOUND's "Groon," sounds infinitely more chipper; his airy but buoyant drumming on the underrated classic "The Changing of the Guards" allows the grave lyric to levitate, and he kicks "Where Are You Tonight?" into a zone only an avenue or two away from "Positively 4th Street." "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)" also gives him opportunities to infuse Dylan's work with solemnity and atmosphere. He later rejoined Dylan for 1983's INFIDELS, where many of the songs, including the classics "Jokerman" and "I and I", are launched from Ian's distinctive, reggae-flavored, opening drum fills.

The DGM site has created a page in remembrance of Ian Wallace, which offers two free mp3 downloads, one of them "The Sailor's Tale" (which also features one of Robert Fripp's finest guitar solos, and perhaps his earliest truly characteristic one). Take advantage and give them a listen. Then pop over to his website and read some of his older blog pages and, if you've a mind to, continue reading through his wife Margie's account of his last months -- a document of their mutual bravery. My heart goes out to Margie because, as much as I remember the musician on this sad day, I remember the man of words, of heart and humor, who turned my respect for Ian Wallace into fondness.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Half A Million Served

Video WatchBlog surpassed its 500,000th hit sometime early this morning. My sincere thanks for your continued attention!

I should write about Bob Dylan more often. Thanks to a link posted at the Dylan website Expecting Rain, today has been VWb's biggest attendance day ever -- close to 2200 hits today already, and it's not even 8:00 pm. I've told Donna that we should give some serious consideration to starting up VIDEO WATCHBOB.

Stay interested!

Ubu Swag Dream

David Thomas of Pere Ubu. He sings for all those guys.

Last night I dreamed I was at a Pere Ubu concert. It was in a sweaty little club, just like the time I saw them for real. I'm not a big concert-goer, but my real Ubu show was one of the great shows I've attended: a rainy night at Bogarts in Cincinnati, probably 1987. The band had just reunited after a layoff of several years, and I couldn't believe I was actually going to get the opportunity to see them play. But it got better than that: when maybe 75 people showed up for the gig, the band waved for everybody to come closer to the stage. So I was able to stand about ten feet away from one of my favorite bands as they plugged in and performed all my favorites. Except for one idiot in the crowd who insisted on exclaiming "Little fishes!" at intervals that baffled crowd and band alike, it was everything I could have hoped for. And I got to see them with Allen Ravenstine too, not long before he left the group.

Anyway, I promised you a dream, so here goes. When the performance ended, I complimented the band as they passed by en route to their dressing room, then I piled into a line that lead to the table where vocalist and spike hammerer David Thomas settled down to sell and sign exclusive Ubu swag. There was a rotating rack filled with CDs, all indie stuff, but I couldn't find any Pere Ubu on it. I could tell by looking over the shoulders of the people in line ahead of me that there was an album, an old fashioned vinyl album, that Thomas was selling for fistfuls of green cash, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a display card confirming that VISA and MasterCard were also being accepted. (Blogger's note: The band's website features an "Ubutique" that sells such swag, but it does not accept credit cards.)

By the time I got to the table, everyone else in the club was gone... except a guy in a Porter Paints cap who looked a lot like a character actor I've seen many times on television but couldn't put a name to. There were two copies of the album left, unshrinkwrapped but in mylar sleeves, and upon learning that the album wasn't being sold anywhere but at live shows, I bought both copies.

Then I said to David, "I sure would like to have these signed by the band."

"No problem," he said, carrying them off... presumably to find the band, whom I figured were having beers in their dressing room.

After awhile, I looked around and saw David Thomas lollygagging on the floor of the club, signing the album covers with a brightly colored Sharpie. He wasn't only signing his name, he was signing everybody else's name too -- switching the Sharpie from his right to his left hand if the member whose name he was signing happened to be a southpaw.

I yelled, "Hey, don't do that! That's dishonest!"

He yelled back, "No, it's not! I sing for all these guys!" *

That's when I woke up, realizing that he had a point.

To make this utterly personal dream somewhat more relevant to the readers of this blog, I should mention that Pere Ubu have been making personal appearances over the past few years in which they've provided a live underscore to the Roger Corman movie X - THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. You can read a bit about the project's background here, and you can actually hear one of the live performances in its entirety by clicking on the movie title link found here (heck, synch it up at home with your DVD and make a night of it).

If you do this, make a point of going to the Ubutique and buying something from the band for real. I just learned that they've issued a 5.1 mix of their first album THE MODERN DANCE, and I'm going to Amazon right now to grab my copy.

Is this the future of commercials? People speak to you in your dreams, causing you to buy their products when you awake?

* My friend Brian Gordon once met David Thomas in a club. He walked over and said he'd like to shake his hand, and David said, "Sure, just let me put my change away first." God knows how many years later, we both still think of that line with amusement... but what David said to me in my dream seems to me equally amusing, and more profound in the bargain. Dreams are funny.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bob Dylan - The Man Who Sold the World

The constellations governing my interests have been aligning into the likeness of Bob Dylan over the past week or so. I was too young to appreciate (or even hear much of) Dylan during the Civil Rights days of the early 1960s, and I was never a big fan during my teens, twenties, or even my thirties; I was pulled in different musical directions in those days. But once I reached my forties, something in me opened to Dylan (probably after I saw DON'T LOOK BACK for the first time) and I began to listen more attentively; he's not an artist to be appreciated passively.

Lately I've been pulled more directly into Dylan's orbit by his wonderful weekly Sirius radio program, THEME TIME RADIO HOUR, which collects songs obscure and familiar from all different eras on a single theme -- be it Coffee, Jail, Women's Names, Halloween, or Tears. Every program is like a court order addressed to the listener to widen their musican horizons, and Dylan's pinched, stylized and often humorous narration provides the perfect accompaniment. So, I've been listening to that, delving deeper into some SACD pressings of various Dylan albums I was wise enough to buy (BLOOD ON THE TRACKS and DESIRE are two favorites because I'm one of those folks who prefer the sound of Scarlet Rivera's violin to Al Kooper's organ), and I also watched THE LAST WALTZ recently. I think the performance of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is magnificent in that film, but I strenuously disagree with NEWSWEEK's assessment that it's "the finest of all rock movies." I'm probably biased, since I've never been a big fan of The Band in terms of their work apart from Dylan, and find Robbie Robertson's thirty-something, world-weary lamentations in the movie about "the road" hilariously self-absorbed and self-important -- you could cut them into a Rutles or Spinal Tap film without doctoring them for comedy in the least. But when Neil Young or Joni Mitchell or Dylan himself step on stage with the former Hawks, the movie assumes its properly mythic dimensions. (THE LAST WALTZ is now available on Blu-ray Disc, incidentally.)

Last night, after reading some Michael Moorcock with BEFORE THE FLOOD spinning in the background, I decided it was time to take this Dylan thing to a head by revisiting Martin Scorsese's NO DIRECTION HOME - BOB DYLAN. (I'm holding off on revisiting DON'T LOOK BACK until the new "1965 Tour Deluxe" edition streets later this month.) I had watched NO DIRECTION HOME upon its initial DVD release in September 2005 and reacted as many other commentators did: it was hard to credit it as a Scorsese film, considering that so much of its footage came from other films, and that Scorsese was clearly not even the person interviewing Dylan. Yet I found that the movie, program, or whatever it is, comes into its own much more with a second viewing, and I could feel Scorsese's guiding hand more palpably in the way all the materials were presented. In fact, as the second half built to its pressure cooker climax, I had the sense that NO DIRECTION HOME was about what celebrity does to you, in the sense that GOODFELLAS is about what cocaine does to you. What happens to Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Bob Dylan in those two films is very similar: the humble origins, the gravitation to figures of legend, the rise to power and influence, the fractious relationship with a woman attracted to him for his possibilities (in Dylan's case, Joan Baez), the craziness that sets in, and the escape behind drugs and dark glasses as one's life and art fall under greater and greater scrutiny. Even the editing rhythms are similar: easy-going and graceful, and accelerating irrevocably toward a paranoid, brittle jerkiness that suggests a life imploding and crashing in upon itself.

Of course what makes NO DIRECTION HOME essential viewing is not merely the importance of what it says about Dylan and the media, or about Dylan's trasfiguration of folk music into rock music, or about this nation's lost-flock need for shepherding voices, but its laying bare of the process of Dylan's self-manufacture and his relationship with his art. I've seen a lot of Dylan interviews over the years, and he's not always the most reliable narrator, being a wily scamp when the mood strikes him, but here I get the sense from his sound bytes that he's being forthright and sincere (at least most of the time). We see him at his typewriter quite often, we see him assimilating his musical and literary influences and see all of these things resurface in his art, newly filtered through his own evolving sensibilities, and we respect his struggle to maintain the honesty of that relationship as he is bombarded with flashbulbs and absurd questions ("Would you describe yourself as a protest singer?" "Could you please suck your glasses?") and strangers and friends alike who are trying to shoehorn him into their own schemes and agendas -- social, political and personal.

At the most intense of these moments, parallels begin to emerge pertaining to Scorsese's THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. In a sense, Dylan is being tempted throughout this documentary with the possibility of becoming the Messianic figure so desperately wished for in the wake of John F. Kennedy's assassination -- tempted with celebrity, sex, success, money, political clout, indulgence, you name it. All he had to do to achieve this was to walk along the carefully dotted line being painted in front of his own wandering bootheels. As fate or luck would have it, the ace up the sleeve of this Jokerman was that he had never sought or aspired to any of this attention; it came to him, naturally or supernaturally, and this would eventually make all the difference in his refusal to succeed as a symbol of the moment (possibly another assassinated symbol of the moment -- Al Kooper remarks that he left the booing 1965 "electric" tour when he saw Dallas on the list of cities, not wishing to find himself "in the John Connelly position") and the mercurial artist he continues to be all these decades later.

Watching NO DIRECTION HOME again, I could see that Dylan's story really is the great musical saga of our time, much moreso than those of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, or The Beatles. Not only does its longeivity make it so, but its stubborn refusal to be (as he might have said) classified, denied, or crucified. It doesn't matter that Dylan hasn't known the continued commercial success of peers who didn't actively last as long, or that he didn't live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. Not only did he write great songs, not only did he write great songs that were infinitely adaptable to interpretation by the common man as well as our most extraordinary musical artists, Dylan was and is (to borrow a phrase from David Bowie) The Man Who Sold the World. He could have had it all -- but he has prefered to live his life on his own terms, or those of his muse, always according to his own values. For a figure of his magnitude to use his position to demonstrate how it's possible to succeed even while opting for a more marginal existence and career may be the most precious gift he will leave to his fellow Americans, particularly as this country has gone from being the land of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to the billboard of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in 40 short years. In that same period of time, Dylan's body of work continues to rise as one of the unassailable towers of contemporary Western culture. It's there for those of us who know it, want it, and need it -- like so much bread cast upon the waters.

A few sentences ago, I mentioned the remarkable adaptability of Dylan's music, which (as NO DIRECTION HOME shows) has been covered by everyone from George Harrison to Bobby Darin to The Jerry Lewis Singers. The latest example of this phenomenon is forthcoming later this month with the release of DYLANESQUE, an entire CD of Dylan covers by former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry.

I've been able to hear an advance copy of the Ferry album, which doesn't dig very deeply into Dylan's rich trove of back catalogue, sticking mostly to songs already extensively covered by other artists -- indeed, covered by other artists way back in the 1960s. ("Make You Feel My Love" from 1997's TIME OUT OF MIND is one of the few exceptions.) Now in his 60s, Ferry eschews the ebulliently campy approach he brought to his interpretation of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" on his solo debut album THESE FOOLISH THINGS back in 1973. These new covers are sung in an appealingly dry, vulnerable and reedy voice that offers readier access to the poetical complexities of Dylan's lyrics than the songwriter can usually provide himself, and the musical arrangements (featuring the customarily brilliant guitar stylings of Phil Manzanera), while hardly startling, are keenly felt. If Ferry's own medium-cool persona sometimes stands in the way of his delivering a lyric like "Someone take this badge off of me, I can't wear it anymore," his tribute nevertheless succeeds in its aim to bring us all back home to the man who, once upon a time in America, felt these songs stirring in the ether and wrote them down for the rest of us.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Finally: Anchor Bay's Bava Box Press Release


The Screaming Commences April 3rd

BURBANK, CA – During his four-decade career as a cinematographer, special effects designer and director, Italy’s Mario Bava created some of the most beautiful and macabre films ever to grace the silver screen, with unsettling images that transcended the boundaries of land and language. He is celebrated by horror and cinema fans the world over and his influence can be seen in the works of Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Tim Burton and Dario Argento. Now, Anchor Bay Entertainment and International Media Films proudly present The Mario Bava Box Set: Volume 1, a 5-disc DVD collection of five landmark films from the first half of Mario Bava’s impressive career. Bowing April 3rd, The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 features new transfers of the original international versions, along with brand-new bonus materials, of such seminal Bava classics as The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday), The Three Faces of Fear (Black Sabbath), The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knives of the Avenger and Kill, Baby…Kill!. SRP is $49.98 with pre-book on February 21st.

On the same day, Anchor Bay will also release Mario Bava’s cult thriller Kidnapped, produced by longtime collaborator Alfredo Leone. Available for the first time on DVD, Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs) features two versions of the film: Bava’s original cut and a previously unreleased uncut version. SRP is $19.98, and pre-book is February 21st.

The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 is the perfect primer for “The Master of the Macabre” with five films that introduced Bava’s frightening visions to horror fans the world over:

The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday)
Mario Bava’s 1960 directorial debut film The Mask of Satan introduced audiences to a new type of horror film – lyrical in imagery, terrifying in impact. Starring British actress Barbara Steele, John Richardson and veteran character actor Arturo Dominici, The Mask of Satan set a different course for gothic horror films, pulsing with stunning cinematography and landmark special effects. Anchor Bay is honored to present Bava’s uncut and uncensored international version of The Mask of Satan, featuring the original Italian score and English dubbing.

The Three Faces of Fear (Black Sabbath)
Horror icon Boris Karloff is our guide for Bava’s 1963 trilogy of terror, taking us through three journeys into the supernatural. In “The Telephone,” a woman is terrorized by incessant phone calls that may or may not foretell greater danger. In “The Wurdalak,” based on a Leo Tolstoy story, Karloff stars with Mark Damon as the patriarch of a family of bloodthirsty ghouls. “The Drop of Water,” adapted from an Anton Chekhov short story, stars Jacqueline Pierreux as a nurse who avails herself to take a ring off the finger of a dead medium – only to realize that sometimes the dead can take it with them!

The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Bava’s fourth film as credited director is a Hitchcockian thriller that many film scholars cite as the first true giallo. Leticia Roman stars as an American tourist in Rome who witnesses a serial killer’s latest killing and convinces a young doctor (John Saxon) to help her investigate the city’s “Alphabet Murders.” For the first time anywhere, Anchor Bay presents Bava’s original international version of La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) in Italian with English subtitles.

Knives of the Avenger
Veteran Bava collaborator Cameron Mitchell stars in their third and last pairing in this Norse variation on the “sword-and-sandal” epics so popular in the 1960’s. Mitchell stars as a Viking drifter torn between guilt, vengeance and his love for a peasant woman and her young son. Co-written by Bava (as “John Hold”), Knives of the Avenger re-imagines the American Western as a Viking epic – complete with pillaging and violence, but with a uniquely humanist slant. It features both the English language audio track and the Italian language audio track with English subtitles, presented together for the first time on DVD.

Kill, Baby…Kill! aka Curse of the Living Dead
Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Erika Blanc star in Bava’s final gothic masterpiece, a hallucinatory tale of a remote village tormented by the specter of a dead little girl. Alternately known as Curse of the Living Dead and Operazione Paura (Operation Fear), Bava’s 1966 stunner has been plagued for decades by inferior public-domain transfers. For this release, Anchor Bay created the definitive presentation, remastered from all-new elements to create the highest quality version ever seen in North America.

Available as a separate DVD, Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs) has a history equal in drama and scope to its explosive narrative. The harrowing story of a botched robbery by three criminals and the aftermath – taking three hostages during their desperate getaway – Kidnapped was never finished due to a dispute with the estate of the film’s financier who died during production. Anchor Bay’s presentation of Rabid Dogs includes both Bava’s original film – now with newly created opening and end credit sequences – as well as the version known as Kidnapped featuring footage shot by producer Alfredo Leone and Mario’s son and longtime assistant Lamberto Bava.

Equally impressive to the feature presentations are the wealth of bonus materials available on The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 DVD:

International version with English dubbing
Widescreen presentation (1.66:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
U.S. and International trailers
TV spot
Mario Bava & Barbara Steele bios

International version in Italian with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.77:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Featurette: “A Life In Film - An Interview with Mark Damon”
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
International & U.S. trailers
TV spot
Radio spot
Poster and stills gallery
Mario Bava & Boris Karloff bios

International version with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.66:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Featurette: "Remembering the Girl with John Saxon"
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
International and U.S. trailers
Poster and still galleries
Mario Bava bio

Widescreen presentation (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
English and Italian soundtracks with English subtitles
International trailer
TV spots
Mario Bava bio

Widescreen presentation (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
English and Italian soundtracks with English subtitles
International trailer
Mario Bava bio

Two versions: Mario Bava’s original film (aka Rabid Dogs) and a previously unreleased uncut version
Widescreen presentation (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
In Italian with English subtitles
Featurette: “End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Mario Bava bio

Street Date: April 3, 2007
Pre-Book: February 21, 2007
Catalog #: DV14854
UPC: 0 1313 14854-9 3
Run Time: 441 Minutes total
Rating: Not Rated
SRP: $49.98

Street Date: April 3, 2007
Pre-Book: February 21, 2007
Catalog #: DV13298
UPC: 0 1313 13298-9 6
Run Time: 96 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
SRP: $19.98

It looks like the "new wrinkle" was a subtle title change for the set.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Many Loves of Watchdog à la Mod

William Finley caught in the act of acting in Brian De Palma's

My review of MURDER A LA MOD, Brian De Palma's first stab at the thriller genre, is now available in the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND... and on their website here.

Unfortunately, a wee mistake was made in the editing of this review for publication. The third paragraph ends: "PHANTOM [OF THE PARADISE] fans will be intrigued to spot De Palma's own name on the clapboard in a film-within-the-film." That sentence should read: "PHANTOM [OF THE PARADISE] fans will be intrigued to spot the name of Swan, along with De Palma's own name, on the clapboard in a film-within-the-film."

In other news, here's your first advance peek at the cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG #129. John and I finished editing the issue last night and Donna posted it to our printer very early this morning. As you can see, it sports one of the most commercial covers we've ever had; it emphasizes our feature coverage of Neil Marshall's THE DESCENT (by Richard Harland Smith and Sam Umland), Shane M. Dallmann's "DVD Spotlight" coverage of the SAW Trilogy, and interior reviews of HOSTEL and FINAL DESTINATION 3. We hope to attract some new readers, who, upon opening the issue, will sooner or later find themselves (ha ha ha) in the deep end of the pool, 'doG-paddling about in content as wildly cultish and outré as our seasoned readers have come to expect.

There's a fair amount of Cult TV coverage in this issue, including ULTRAMAN, SECRET AGENT aka DANGER MAN, and the Nigel Kneale BBC series BEASTS and KINVIG; then there are our reviews of the 75th Anniversary editions of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN; some Toho reviews; the long-awaited return of "Things from the Attic"; Ramsey Campbell on Max Ophüls' THE RECKLESS MOMENT, and lots else.

The BIG news about this new cover, however, is that -- for the first time in our 17-year history -- we've allowed a subtle revision of our familiar magazine logo. You may have overlooked it at first glance, but look again: the central HD in "Watchdog" is now more prominent, flagging the fact that this issue heralds our first steps into the exciting new realms of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. There's just a few HD reviews herein, and we're keeping them a secret for now... but you can depend on this becoming an expanding feature of issues to come. A near-complete listing of the issue's contents, a hi-res look at the cover, and free review samples will be posted soon in the Coming Soon area of the VIDEO WATCHDOG website.

Also, I was sorry to notice on Mark Evanier's blog today his announcement of the death of comic artist Bob Oksner at the age of 90.

I'm only familiar with a fraction of Mr. Oksner's work, and when I was enjoying it most as a youngster, I'm not sure that I was even aware of his name; DC Comics didn't always play up the names of their writers ands artists the way Marvel did. However, the lower right hand corner of this cover of THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #73 shows that Mr. Oksner was certainly known and appreciated by his peers. As I kid, I remember thinking that the artist on such books as THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE, THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS, THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS, STANLEY AND HIS MONSTER and ANGEL AND THE APE might be an anonymous or pseudonymous Mort Drucker, because the draftsmanship and deftness of caricature were comparable in many ways. In recent years, I've been revisiting some of these classic humor comics from the 1950s-'70s and have found that they're still as funny as they ever were, but my admiration for Oksner's work has grown by leaps and bounds. His work was not only superbly narrative and supportive of the scripted humor (much of it courtesy of THE FLESH EATERS screenwriter Arnold Drake), but it was also funny in itself (not an easy thing) and could also be sexy in an amusing way. (Much of the humor of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Dobie Gillis in these comics had to do with ogling shapely girls.) In addition to all that, Oksner could draw monsters on a par with Jack Davis -- my highest compliment.

You can read more about Bob Oksner by following the link above to Mark Evanier's blog today and scrolling down several items.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Fine Art of Saying Nothing

It's now late in the afternoon on Sunday, and I've just spent the last hour involved in a pastime at which I've become rather proficient. I read threads on various movie discussion boards, as I'm sure you do, and sometimes I read something that seems to invite my written response. So I set to it: I get the feelings (aggravated, more often than not) off my chest and onto my computer screen; then begins the slow process of their refinement. This involves the slow berry-picking of all the unwanted barbs that come with raw expression, the cooling of any heat, the complementary sharpening of common sense, perhaps even the borrowing of some accepted wisdom from Bartlett's or some other quotation compendium, in the event that some unimpeachable voice like that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bob Dylan, or Susan Sontag might be wrangled to lend support to my point-of-view. And then, after thirty to forty to fifty minutes of such fevered polishing, when my retort finally stands before my eyes at its most complete, what do I do?

I delete it.

I can't tell you how many times I've done this. In the dozen or so years I have been actively participating on various film discussion boards, I'm certain that I've deleted enough material to fill a book, if not two.

I delete these replies for many reasons, but the major one is usually that, even though these discussion threads may entice me to the extent of having my say, I intend my participation as a fling rather than as a marriage. If you post your participation in such threads, you'd better have the time and passion to stay involved, because once you're in, you're in.

My time is precious yet -- mea culpa -- before I act on impulse, I seldom stop to ask myself: What purpose is ultimately going to be served by this online grappling with some other movie buff, anonymous or unmasked, on a subject ultimately of little consequence, perhaps even to ourselves when all is said and done?

Something I've learned about myself in the twelve years I've been participating on discussion boards is that my work as a critic has encouraged in me a tendency to make my views known, and to sometimes labor under the misconception that, because my views are my bread and butter, they carry somewhat more than the average weight. Anyone who's been posting on message boards for as long as I have, especially those who do so under aliases, has likely fostered in themselves a similar delusional arrogance, but they may not have reflected on the idea long enough to see it as delusion; in fact, they may have arrived on the Internet with arrogance in full and malicious bloom, their alias a licence for baiting others for their own amusement. You never can tell.

One thing I've learned about the strangers with whom I've shared the same time and place online over time is that the Obvious means different things to different people. You can show other people what seems like common sense to you, but there is no guarantee they will see it or, if they do, that they will see the same gradations of gray in the simplest black-and-white statement. Such divergences don't necessarily mean that one is right and everybody else is wrong; it means that our respective lives and schoolings and reading and environments have led us to different places, where rights and wrongs don't always apply or have the same values. The other fellow's stance in relation to such matters, after all, may lead him/her to destinies of ultimate, unknowable good with which we have no right to interfere. One might easily say the right thing, only to have it misinterpreted and the wisdom put to pervese and destructive use. Despite knowing all of this in my heart of hearts, very often I don't pause to reflect on this bedrock philosophy as I roll up my sleeves and draft the preliminaries of a dive into the fray.

A good seven times out of ten, my posting of any remark on a discussion board is followed by a pang of regret, or at least misgiving. I don't post under phony names, and because my name is synonymous with my magazine, I need to bear in mind that I'm not only representing myself when I speak my mind, but also my place of business. This matters to me, and is another reason why I'm so soul-searching about a form of social participation that most people seem to engage in without a second (or, in many cases, even a first) thought. When I post a reply to an ongoing discussion, common curiosity prompts me to return, to check the responses to what I've written, and it's impossible to say which is more aggravating: to unintentionally encourage debate and be called upon to defend one's point of view (if not one's sanity) for days on end, or to realize after days of checking back, that one has had such a definitive say as to stop a thread cold.

As I've said here before, one of the main reasons I write criticism is to make the reasoning behind my views more conscious to myself. Perhaps this is what I'm doing when I spend so much time in the careful articulation of views about various online discusssions that no one but myself will ever see. If that's the case, I can relinquish some of my guilt because the time and effort are therefore not entirely wasted. Possibly it's this muted (if not moot) eureka that was my ultimate goal in writing on this subject today.

Now that's settled, the question is...

Do I post this blog entry or not?