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Ford really should have let Marianne Moore name the Edsel
12.02.2013
12:57 pm

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1958 Edsel Convertible
1958 Edsel Convertible
 
In the mid-1950s, the Ford Motor Company was working on a car that they fancied would represent the new cutting edge in automotive pleasure. History records that the Edsel, unveiled in 1956, stands as one of the epochal failures in the history of the horseless carriage. In the telltale detail that seemed to promise an unpropitious outcome, the Edsel was named after Edsel Ford, son of the great Henry Ford. Curiously, Henry Ford II was steadfastly opposed to naming the model after his father, and the decision was reached at a board meeting in which Henry Ford II was not present—still, even if it wasn’t sheer Fordist ego, the inescapably sycophantic quality of the name wasn’t promising.

In 1955 Robert B. Young of Ford’s Marketing Research Department reached out to poet Marianne Moore for assistance on the name of the astounding new jalopy, seeking a moniker that would “convey, through association or other conjuration, some visceral feeling of elegance, fleetness, advanced features and design.” Letters of Note posted the full correspondence over the weekend, and it is hilarious.

Moore comes up with a great many remarkable names, most of them apparently facetious or satirical in intent, although presented with an entirely straight face. Young remarks that “seldom has the auto business had occasion to indulge in so ethereal a matter as this” and appears to brush off Moore’s more ridiculous proposals, noting that “we should like suggestions that we ourselves would not have arrived at. And, in sober fact, have not.”

Among the names Moore offered were “Mongoose Civique,” “Dearborn Diamanté,” “Pluma Piluma,” and, fantastically, “Utopian Turtletop.” On December 23, 1955, Young sent Moore “a bouquet of roses, eucalyptus and white pine” with the note “Merry Christmas to our favorite Turtletopper.”

In all, Ford weighed roughly six thousand names before coming up with “Edsel,” which today is roughly synonymous with “stinkbomb.” It’s impossible to say whether the name was a true factor in the eventual failure of the car, which first hit the road in 1958. In the final note, written by Young’s boss David Wallace, Moore learned that Young was now in the employ of “our glorious U.S. Coast Guard.”

Honestly, the correspondence is so smashingly amusing that it feels like it has to be entirely fictional. But apparently that is not the case.
 
Marianne Moore reads “Bird-Witted”

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Kris Kool’: Mind-blowing French psychedelic pop art comic, 1970
11.22.2013
01:42 pm

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Art
Books

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Kris Kool
 
My French isn’t quite good enough to figure out what’s going on in Kris Kool, an ultra-psychedelic journey to Venus, Mars, and Saturn, which turn out to feature puzzling geometrical landscapes with a pansexual phantasmagoria of nubile kaleidoscopic enchantresses in the full complement of Peter Max-ian primary colors. You’d never guess it was from 1970, now would you?

Philippe Caza is a respected French illustrator, and this was his very first graphic novel. You can download the whole thing for just €7.00 (about $10)—and it comes with “quelques bonus”—“some bonuses,” including “early research, original black and white” and a few other things. Caza explains that the original print run got bogged down in some legal difficulties. It would be great to see this thing get published properly. I suppose it would help to understand French but it seems almost beside the point….
 
Kris Kool
 
Kris Kool
 
Kris Kool
 
Kris Kool
 
Kris Kool
 
via 50 Watts

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Fanciful recipes illustrated by a young Andy Warhol
11.21.2013
03:50 pm

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Art
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Food

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Andy Warhol
 
In 1959—three years before his breakout solo exhibition at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in New York—Andy Warhol teamed up with a well-known socialite named Suzie Frankfurt to produce a slim satirical cookbook mocking the trendy French cuisine recipe books that were all the rage at the time. It was called Wild Raspberries, named in jest after the Ingmar Bergman movie, Wild Strawberries, that landed on U.S. shores the same year. Frankfurt took care of the text, Warhol did the illustrations, and none other than Julia Warhola—Warhol’s mother—did the lettering. Warhol hired several young men to help with the illustration—some have argued that this cookbook was the genesis of Warhol’s later assembly line method of art production. 
 
Andy Warhol and Suzie Frankfurt, Wild Raspberries
Andy Warhol and Suzie Frankfurt, Wild Raspberries
 
Frankfurt appears to have been a pretty interesting woman. She was an interior designer and worked at Young + Rubicam in the 1950s, the same time that Warhol was working as a commercial artist. As her New York Times obituary put it in 2005, “A bohemian hostess, the flame-haired Ms. Frankfurt was known as a creative catalyst as well as a celebrity decorator. The designer Gianni Versace, for example, credited her with introducing him to America when he was largely unknown, not to mention also introducing him to Studio 54.”
 
Andy Warhol
 
Andy Warhol
 
More recipes after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Gay pulp paperbacks of the early 1970s
11.21.2013
12:14 pm

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Books
Queer

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Chamber of Homos
 
These paperbacks from the days of Stonewall are simply incredible. They elicit phrases that increasingly seem dead to us now—“the closet,” “homosexual panic”—and for that reason they make me sad. They straddle the categories of alarmism and regular ol’ enjoyment—expressing the inherently coded nature of gay life during that era. In that sense their true meaning is confusion and pain. I hope they gave their readers pleasure. One can hope, at least, that this particular facet of sexual life is dying off.

They’re all from an imprint called French Line. I admire these books because they are so deadly intent about reaching their audience. The design of these covers is so potent—they are not kidding around. And hey—what’s Guy Fawkes doing writing Chamber of Homos, anyway? What’s up with that Nazi one? How long does it take to make a straight guy gay? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

All of the covers but one use that circle-arrow male symbol—are those symbols themselves a relic of the sixties? you don’t see them very much anymore—and everything about these covers, every word and every image, is calculated to intrigue, alarm, and arouse.
 
Homo Horror
 
The Chocolate Speedway
 
The Reamers
 
More covers after the jump…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Everything’s Turning Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals
11.13.2013
02:53 pm

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This is a guest post from New York-based writer Mike Sacks. Mike’s next book, Poking a Dead Frog, will be released in June 2014 from Viking Penguin. It’s the second volume of his in-depth interviews with comedy writers.

One of my favorite books of the last few months is Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. Co-written by Steve Young, a long-time writer for Late Show with David Letterman, and Sport Murphy, a professional musician and pop-culture historian, the book is a tribute to a bizarre, fascinating world that I never knew existed, but had only heard about through back-alley innuendo and late-night, cross-country A.M. radio chit-chat: the personal life of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

Wait a sec, I’m confusing my notes. Here we go: This book, published in mid-October by Blast Books, is a beautifully-designed, wonderfully-written tribute to musicals performed at corporate conventions, mostly taking place from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s.

Often written by professional composers and lyricists, these elaborate, expensive productions were used to elevate the morale of employees during their once-a-year company-sponsored vacations to not-so-exotic locales, such as Tampa or Pittsburgh. Some musicals were about cars. Others were about appliances, tractors, and fast-food. One 1971 musical, All Aboard, was written to promote Country Club Malt Liquor, a product whose mascot appears to have been an aging pirate with one hand in his pants. The product still exists. The mascot does not.

As if the musical productions weren’t enough for these sunburned, possibly inebriated employees, companies were sometimes also gracious enough to press LPs for employees to be enjoyed on home turntables, perhaps only a few times, if at all. Chances are better that the LP sleeves were taken out every once in a while just to prove that, yes, a musical did once take place that featured actresses in marching band outfits, singing disco-infused ditties about a brand-new Johnson & Johnson sunscreen called “Sundown.” (That musical took place from December 5 – 9, 1977, at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Phoenix. The hotel still exists. The sunscreen does not.)

As with any sub-category of LPs, there exist a handful of experts. Luckily for us, the two foremost authorities in the world on “industrial musicals” joined forces (after having battled each other for LPs on eBay for years) in order to produce a book that will delight any fan of the glorious disasters that often resulted when big business crashed into big entertainment.
 

 
The book’s companion website, industrialmusicals.com, exists for those readers brave enough to listen to (among other earworm-inducing songs) the strangely melancholic “My Bathroom” from 1969’s The Bathrooms are Coming.

My bathroom, my bathroom, is a private kind of place/very special kind of place/the only place where I can stay making faces at my face.

Profits is the perfect coffee table book. Buy it. I spoke to Steve and Sport by email and in person.

Steve, you’ve been in charge of Late Night’s and Late Show’s recurring comedy bit “Dave’s Record Collection” since you started as a writer for Letterman in 1990. Can you tell me about coming across your first industrial musical LP and your initial thoughts?

Steve Young: The first one I saw was Go Fly A Kite, in 1993. While I was typically going out to record stores to hunt for “Dave’s Record Collection” material, I think that particular album was actually sent in to the show by a viewer. I certainly didn’t understand what it really was; I just thought, Oh good, GE. We can make fun of that on the show. In those days, NBC was owned by GE and we were always mocking them. I had no idea of the significance of the names John Kander and Fred Ebb [composers for the stage musicals Cabaret, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman, as well as the 1977 Martin Scorsese movie New York, New York], having grown up with no exposure to musicals. I did think, Wow, this is awfully elaborate and well done for some oddball private show. It wasn’t until later when I’d turned up a few more—and realized that songs about selling insurance or diesel engines were getting stuck in my head—that it began to dawn on me that this might really be a genre. In ’96, I began tracking down composers and cold-calling record stores.

How about you, Sport?

Sport Murphy: I found 1962’s Penney Proud [for retail chain J.C. Penney] in a Salvation Army thrift store on one of my oddity expeditions, circa ’79 or ’80. Like most civilians, I never knew these shows existed and I thought this was a singular slice of weird. There were any number of oddball finds in those bins: self-released horrible comedy albums, instructional records of the least practical sort, product promo giveaways, but it was the deluxe nature of Penney Proud that set it apart. Gatefold sleeve, performance photos, and the lush, totally professional music. As other such LPs gradually emerged over the years, the idea that this was an entire genre—one immortalized on vinyl for our hunting and gathering enjoyment—beguiled me.
 

 
How good a career could these songwriters achieve by writing industrial musicals?

Steve Young: Apparently the money was quite good. I don’t know that anyone ever had industrials in mind as their ultimate goal, but while a composer angled for his big “real Broadway” breakthrough, industrials could make life very comfortable. In the industrial heyday [1950s through 1970s], corporations often had enormous budgets for these productions, and if a composer had gotten their foot in the door with a successful first attempt, they might continue to work for many years for the same production company or the same corporation. The downside was that you’d often get stereotyped within the Broadway community as an “industrial show composer,” a lesser level of talent and seriousness. A 1976 NY Times article profiled the excellent Hank Beebe/Bill Heyer writing team, who’d just been hired to help with the Jerry Lewis flop Hellzapoppin’. In the piece, Bill Heyer said something like, “You do a great job, but you can’t really go brag to your friends, ‘I just did the American Motors show.’”

Sport Murphy: Not only songwriters but performers, designers and all other skilled specialists and artisans could build entire careers in the industrial field. One prominent purveyor of industrials, Jam Handy Corporation, had by the 1950s become the nation’s largest employer of theatrical talent, producing as many as twenty sales conference shows yearly. The rarity of these albums belies the enormity of the enterprise they represent.

Have you seen any video footage of these musicals?

Steve Young: Thanks to [composer] Hank Beebe and his transferring the original twenty-minute 1973 film to DVD, I finally got to see Love Is The Answer, the film that was part of the ’73 GE show Got To Investigate Silicones. Our industrialmusicals.com site has an excerpt, the legendary “The Answer.” Film of the actual stage productions is rare; there’s part of a ’55 Chevy dealer show on YouTube, and there are a few brief clips of the ’66 GE Go Fly A Kite show. Video is definitely harder to come by. I hope some more will emerge.
 

 
Sport Murphy: One of the things about writing this book that’s fun is getting to see what kind of stuff will turn up now that there’s a light thrown on the genre; for me, film and video footage is the most interesting possibility. We know that some of these shows were simulcast closed-circuit, so kinescopes are possible. Others were produced as films, to be shown in conjunction with live elements. I’m guessing that there are numerous privately-held videotapes and films, made as keepsakes or perhaps as work-sample reels for prospective clients. The thought makes one salivate. And the thought of that shames one, as it should. One had better just drop the whole subject.

Do you think that these musicals actually did improve company morale? The attendees seen in the book’s photos tend look a bit indifferent, if not drunk.

Steve Young: Hard to tell. For a long time, the companies seemed to think there was a definite effect, and composers I’ve talked to have anecdotal evidence about audiences moved to tears. I do think it was a less cynical time, at least until the ’70s, and employees really could feel that the company was their home and something to believe in. Of course, as with many areas of endeavor, the best examples have a long comet tail of knock-offs and wanna-bes, and there’s a large percentage of industrial shows that were not terribly ambitious or clever. For a while it seemed to be “the thing to do,” and a lot of it felt perfunctory.

But I love those shows just because they’re so sad and desperate. Probably most of them were well-received enough to provide a brief flash of amusement, and make attendees at least think, Well, that was sort of fun, I guess. The best show really did address the rank and file’s concerns and problems in an amusing, tuneful way, and must have really been very effective. I know the ’65 Seagram show wasn’t going to be recorded, but the audience went so wild for it that the executives had to hastily promise a recording. I also know of a song in 1966’s Diesel Dazzle with a line that, according to Hank Beebe, brought down the house so thoroughly that the orchestra had to vamp for a while until the howling stopped . . . and yes, the audience may have been drunk.

Sport Murphy: Undoubtedly, there were many gradations of indifference and/or inebriation among attendees. I’ll bet these pics were snapped during early morning speeches, not during our corporate extravaganzas. And I bet that even the photographers were too busy imbibing and cheering during these showstoppers to take pictures. But I do believe these shows boosted morale, though it likely needed little improving. These shows were commissioned by companies that had an obvious interest in keeping their employees motivated and team-oriented. That fact alone suggests a corporate environment difficult to understand today, when company “lifers” are as rare as ballplayers loyal to only one team.
 

 
What specifically is it about the combination of commerce and creativity that intrigues you to such a degree?

Steve Young: I’m tickled at the deepest level by the improbability, the resoundingly odd juxtaposition of jolly musical entertainment and messages about selling and product details. Of course, it made perfect sense at the time to the people who were in the middle of it, but to us outsiders it seems like it must be the work of comedy writers trying to be perverse. Yet it’s real, and at the genre’s upper reaches, it’s so far superior to what you could have imagined that it blows you away—yet another layer of improbability. It’s like finding out that Shakespeare secretly wrote a play about his favorite tavern’s ale, or that Rembrandt produced paintings of wagons for a calendar to be distributed only to employees of the wagon company. Again and again I’ve heard from composers both famous and less famous, “We always did our best, because that’s the only way we knew how to work. It was a great way to practice the craft.” And the more I looked into it, the more I moved from glib mockery to respect for creators and performers who gave 100%—often on extraordinarily daunting assignments, knowing their work was never going to be heard by more than a handful of people.

Sport Murphy: The dorkiness of it has a charm I cannot quite explain, but part of that comes from growing up with a sensibility honed by Mad magazine. The culture’s idiocies and contradictions were upended in every issue, but without savagery. A good-natured sense of sanity-as-irreverence, redeeming the tedium of everyday entertainment and its attendant commercial touting, became reflexive for me.

In the popular music I enjoyed, there were many lyrical “givens” to which I had no connection or interest; loved the Beach Boys, but had zero interest in surfing or cars. There are songs that connect emotionally to me based on a recognized lyrical truth or resonance, but there are also any number of things where I just dig the sound, or the melody, without any personal significance. Syd Barrett can name the planets and stars in “Astronomy Domine” and I dig, so why not a list of the possible uses for silicones? 

The cynical/absurdist side of me, existing after all these years on the outskirts of the music biz, also gets a kick out of the flat out honesty of this stuff: rather than some idealistic anthem created by some talented hack to inflame the naive yearnings of a record buying demographic, gimme an idealistic anthem for a product, aimed at those who sell it. Up Came Oil is more genuine in its emotional appeal than “I Wanna Know What Love Is.”
 

 
What I very much like about the book (among other things) is that it’s in no way snarky or condescending to the musicals or the people who produced them. There seems to be a genuine love for this world.

Steve Young: Yes. There will always be something deeply amusing about the whole field, but I found myself launched on a journey in which I went from snarky to puzzled to curious to respectful. Some misbegotten industrial show tunes may make me gasp with horrified glee, but overall, I have great affection for the material, and gratitude that I got to learn about a hidden history and to meet interesting, talented people (and in many cases bring them satisfaction as their work gets unexpected recognition). And I’ve got enough bizarre, catchy songs in my head and in my iTunes that I’ll never lack for entertainment as long as I live.

Sport Murphy: For me, it comes not only from a love of this work, but a sensibility about what constitutes humor. I used to date someone who worked in an old folks’ home, and sometimes I ran A.V. for theatrical presentations there. Often, the staff and other residents would laugh at the antics of some addled performer, which at first shocked me until I quickly noticed that it was a gentle, sympathetic laughter that served as a vent for everyone’s frustrations in dealing with the limitations of age and infirmity; mockery was never a part of it.

I should also mention my lifelong addiction to the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. I watched every one of these annual ordeals—in its entirety—since 1976. At first it was strictly teenage camp: mocking old borscht-belt comics and 3 A.M. performer-on-drugs-on-live-TV shenanigans. Gradually, I began to recognize that the old comics were brilliant. And that I ain’t exactly at my peak, performing late at night under the influence of this thing and that. Maturity, life lived, and learning the difficulties of performance taught me but good. However, the blunders and excesses are still funny! So one can laugh at and with this stuff, the same way that This Is Spinal Tap is the favorite movie of just about any heavy metal musician you’d ask.
 

 
This is a guest post from New York-based writer Mike Sacks. Mike’s next book, Poking a Dead Frog, will be released in June 2014 from Viking Penguin. It’s the second volume of his in-depth interviews with comedy writers.

Below, Steve Young talks to Dave Letterman about the book on October 18, 2013.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Neil Gaiman
11.10.2013
07:33 pm

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Books

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leingaiman.jpg
 
Happy Birthday Neil Gaiman, the multi-talented author of novels, comics, plays, films and essays, born today, November 10th, in 1960.

Few modern writers have had as much of an impact, or as devoted a following as Mr. Gaiman, whose work has entertained, enlightened and inspired readers with his incredible stories and ideas.

I came to Mr. Gaiman through 2000 A.D. and then The Sandman comics, before picking-up on his TV series (co-written with Lenny Henry) Neverwhere. Then through his stories to the novels, Stardust, Coraline and American Gods.

There are many things to be learnt from Mr. Gaiman, but I always liked this line from The Graveyard Book:

”If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”

Happy Birthday Neil Gaiman!
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Satanism’ was basically anything horror writer Dennis Wheatley didn’t agree with
11.07.2013
11:27 pm

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Books
Kooks
Occult

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Dennis Wheatley probably did more to sell black magic and the occult to the masses than any other writer. During his lifetime, Wheatley wrote over 60 books, which sold more than 50 million copies. His best-sellers included such classics as The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter, and The Haunting of Toby Jugg. Wheatley actually hoped these occult novels would alert readers to the growing “forces of darkness,” which he believed were destroying Britain and the world. He considered these dark forces to be communism, socialism, multiculturalism, and to an extent sexual liberation and personal freedom of expression. Actually, anyone whose politics he didn’t like, the old crumudgeon lumped in with “Satanism” and he once famously said:

“Is it possible that riots, wildcat strikes, anti-apartheid demonstrations and the appalling increase in crime have any connection with magic and Satanism?”

It was after the Second World War, that Wheatley first indulged his nutty belief that a war between what he described as “good” and “evil” was inevitable, and became firmly convinced people (i.e. those to the right) should be prepared to form private militias to fight against the rise of “Satanism.” Cue thunder and lightning flash.

So, that’s the background to this brief interview, which Wheatley gave to the BBC in 1970, where he discussed his views on “good” and “evil,” “light” and “dark,” and why he believed civilization was disintegrating.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Lurid paperback covers from the French master of espionage
11.04.2013
11:11 am

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SAS
 
Last week, the prolific French author of spy thrillers, Gérard de Villiers, passed away of cancer. According to the New York Times obit, de Villiers was something like the Ian Fleming of France. He invented a hero who, just as James Bond goes by his official designation 007, is identified primarily by the sobriquet Son Altesse Sérénissime (His Serene Highness), or SAS. De Villiers himself called his novels, of which he wrote two hundred (!), “fairy tales for adults,” but they apparently had a second distinguishing feature—they frequently displayed an uncanny knowledge of actual high-stakes geopolitical affairs. Many actual events occurred in fictional guise in his novels, and his high-powered friends were often delighted to see themselves appear in his pages under different names. On a couple of occasions, actual events were closely prefigured in his novels, such as the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat. The books may be pure escapism, but they seem to be a trifle more true to life than Fleming.

The Times also mentioned that “generations of readers have become familiar with the lurid covers of his SAS books—always a scantily clad woman clutching a gun—at supermarkets and railway stations across France.” That description intrigued me, so I decided to hunt down a few for your perusal. They’re pretty silly, but my interest is primarily sociological—it’s fun to see an authentic part of everyday French life in this way. I’ve never read any of de Villiers’ books, but I do enjoy spy fiction, especially John Le Carré, but it seems that very few of his books have been translated into English. Amazon offers only Malko versus the CIA—used copies of which start at $199. I’m not willing to pay that, but maybe a library somewhere can help me out.
 
SAS
 
SAS
 
SAS
 
SAS
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Handwritten Wes Anderson thank you note is charming and irritating in equal measure
11.01.2013
03:05 pm

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Books
Movies

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Wes Anderson letter
 
In addition to being one of the key minds who brought you Taxi, The Simpsons, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show and assisting Jack Nicholson win a couple of Oscars, the legendary TV and movie writer/director James L. Brooks can add to his lengthy list of accomplishments more or less singlehandedly giving Wes Anderson a movie career. According to Pamela Colloff’s May 1998 account in Texas Monthly, “Brooks ... loved Bottle Rocket and, in a generous leap of faith, offered the roommates a deal: He would not only give them $5 million to turn it into a feature but also give them access to a cinematographer, editors, a crew—all the tools they needed for bringing their ideas to the big screen.” You have to hand it to Brooks—he does have an eye for talent.

Brooks generously provided an introduction to the published version of Wes Anderson’s 1998 indie masterpiece Rushmore, written by Anderson and Owen Wilson. Anderson graciously wrote Brooks a handwritten thank-you note, and if you didn’t know who had written it, you would immediately suspect that it might be the director of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Composed entirely in carefully written and self-consciously childlike block letters and featuring a great many copyediting emendations, it somehow manages to be charming and irritating all at the same time.

Below is the text of the letter once the imaginary “associate editor” has incorporated all of Anderson’s proofing corrections.
 

16.Jan.99

Dear Jim,

Thank you very, very much for going to all the trouble on that terrific screenplay introduction number. I personally guarantee that it’s going to be one of the best intros they’ve every published at Faber & Faber; and from me, that really means something (because I’ve read all those movie books). Also, I want you to know how pleased I was by your reaction to my Pauline Kael piece. It was great to hear such good feedback, and I took your advice and sent it to the N.Y. Times, and they’re running it in the Sunday Arts & Leisure in a couple of weeks. (or maybe it’s next Sunday.) Thanks again for writing such a nice piece for us. I’m really very proud of Owen’s & my whole experience with you, and I’m very happy & grateful we’ve had and have your help & friendship.

Love, Wes.

 
If you haven’t seen Saturday Night Live‘s recent trailer for a horror movie as directed by Anderson, complete with spot-on Owen Wilson impression by Edward Norton, you really ought to:

 
via Cinephilia and Beyond

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Xerox Ferox and the Lost Art of the Horror Film Fanzine
10.26.2013
11:20 am

Topics:
Books
Movies
Punk

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Guest post by David Kerekes, co-author of Killing For Culture and See No Evil, and author of Mezzogiorno

In the introduction to a new book on the subject of horror film fanzines and the culture they spawned, author John Szpunar deliberates on the place of the zine next to mainstream media. There is a difference, he says, in that the zines had nothing to lose.

I can think of no better example to illustrate this point than a Myra Hindley cut out doll. It’s a pen and ink drawing gracing the back cover of Subhuman #4 (January 1987), which shows one half of the Moors Murderers wearing nothing but her fearsome peroxide bouffant and black panties. A change of dress includes a Nazi uniform along with a bloodstained kitchen knife as accessory.
 

 
Art: Jason Knight
 
The Myra doll isn’t trying to sell anything. It doesn’t relate to a film, nor bear any relation to the content of the zine in question. Its simple purpose is to glower with gentle contempt. In the town I once lived, a short bus ride from the moors of the Moors Murderers, this sort of jape could get you lynched. Who in their right mind would conjure up something as disturbing, disposable and quite as brilliant as a Myra Hindley cut out doll? Disposable is a clue, in deference to the type of horror fanzine one might find in John Szpunar’s book.

To paraphrase the jacket blurb, Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine is a book that covers a scene that has influenced generations of writers, filmmakers and fans (myself included; I published it). Fanzines with lurid titles like Gore Gazette, Violent Leisure, Sleazoid Express and Subhuman expressed a sense of freak camaraderie at a time when technology was yet to arrive for its wholesale delivery of freak. Theirs was a literary DIY ethos, not dissimilar to that of punk rock a decade or so earlier (which incidentally often borrowed from film, particularly cult and horror film).
 

 
Psychoholic Slag. Issue 5 (USA). Argento! Argento? Editor: Dave Kosanke.
 
One zine usually opened the door to other zines. Writes John Szpunar of his own education in this respect:

Before long, I was a part of a network of zine and tape traders, and the goods kept rolling in […] I was coming of age with the help of a new generation, and I was having the time of my life.

Avoiding reference to literary content for the moment (irreverent… informed… typo laden), the thing most striking about the horror film zines is, of course, the visual aesthetic. Although some were designed to a comparatively high standard—i.e., pro-zines like CineFan, Little Shoppe of Horrors and Bizarre —many more were low key efforts of short runs that were perhaps given away for the price of postage. The layouts were urgent and witty, overloaded with elements seemingly vying for space before the page ran out. And defining these products was the photocopier, the Xerox of Xerox Ferox, creating an arresting visual dynamic of harsh black and white contrasts that robbed any image of superfluous detail.

It is reassuring to discover that, in the age of the Internet, a small place still exists for the zine practitioner and the horror film culture of the printed page. Examples are out there, being transmitted through the postal network in a matter of days to defy the blogosphere (a term so abhorrent we are destined to use it). For now, however, a random collection of horror fanzine covers rescued from the mailboxes of old and made suitable for framing…

Get a special hardback edition of the remarkable Xerox Ferox here. 800 fully illustrated pages, about $72 plus a couple more to post. Pre-release paperback available here.
 

 
Killer Kung Fu Enema Nurses On Crack Issue 3 (NZ). A genuine Garbage Pail Kids sticker adorns the cover. Image depicts a police raid on the New Zealand home of editor/publisher Peter Hassall, confiscating books, zines and porn.
 

 
Subhuman Issue 5, March/April 1987 (USA). Design: Dawn Doyle. Editor: Cecil Doyle.
 

 
Trash Compactor Volume 2 Issue 4, Winter 1990 (CAN). Design: The Trash Compactor.

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Leave a comment
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