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Off with your nose!: A look at the long, strange, cinematic history of Baron Munchausen


An enchanting movie poster for the Czechoslovakia film ‘The Fabulous Baron Munchausen’ (aka ‘The Outrageous Baron Munchausen’/‘Baron Prášil’) directed by Karel Zeman (1962).
 
I suspect the vast majority of Dangerous Minds readers have seen Terry Gilliam’s’ multi-multi-million dollar film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)—though I also believe that many of our devoted followers are probably also acquainted with the rich, cinematic history (at least eight shorts and more than a handful of films exist) based on the tall-tale-telling Baron who was actually a real person. It should also be noted that any George Harrison superfan likely knows a bit more about the Baron’s 200-year-old history as Harrison was an avid collector of the work of Gustave Doré, the great illustrator and engraver who conceived the quintessential image of the Baron.

As he notes in the extras of the Second Run Blu-ray of The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Terry Gilliam gives much credit for his vision of the story to director and special effects artist Karel Zeman saying Zeman’s influence on his own work is “continual,” and he’s “pretty sure” he has stolen many of Zeman’s artistic methods for his own films. Other fans of Zeman’s work include Tim Burton and special effects legend Ray Harryhausen who has said he “deeply appreciated” Zeman’s talent. As it relates directly to this post, one of the films the former Monty Python member perhaps pilfered from was The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (aka The Outrageous Baron Munchausen/Baron Prášil).

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen was directed by Zeman who also created the multi-layered, dreamlike special effects in the film. Here is Zeman (as seen in an interview with the director in the Second Run release), on his vision for the movie:

“I wanted to capture the surreal world of Baron Munchausen. I wanted this romantic fantasy to be unleashed from the mundane reality. So I used imagery resembling prints from the period. At the same time, I decided to treat color like a painter on a canvas. I put in only when it was necessary.”

 

Zeman on the set of ‘The Fabulous Baron Munchausen’ giving direction to actors Milos Kopecký (Baron Munchausen) and Rudolf Jelínek (Tonik). This image is part of a large collection of Zeman’s work displayed at the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague.
 
Every shot in The Fabulous Baron Munchausen contains some variety of extravagant special effects, and Zeman’s vivid imagery—much of which is based on Doré‘s original illustrations, fill every inch of every frame. According to Zeman’s daughter Ludmila, her father was an avid reader and collector of comic books and would often incorporate jokes or gags he found amusing into actions performed by his actors. Zeman even recruited Ludmila for The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and the then fifteen-year-old got to ride a horse as the stunt double for Jana Brejchova, the stunning Czech actress (and former wife of director Miloš Forman) who played Princess Bianca in the film. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is widely considered a masterpiece thanks to Zeman’s determination to make a very different film than German director Josef von Báky’s beloved Nazi-funded version of Munchausen’s story, 1943’s Münchhausen or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

The budget for Báky’s movie was estimated at $6.5 million dollars (or approximately $95 million dollars if it had been made in 2019) and was commissioned by Nazi propaganda pusher Joseph Goebbels. Interesting, the screenplay for Báky’s adaptation was written by Emil Erich Kästner whose novels were regulars at Nazi book burnings. Kästner was in fact banned from publishing his literature in Germany between the years 1933 and 1945. The wildly opulent film was intended to rival The Wizard of Oz, but with an adult-oriented twist including a scene full of topless harem girls and other fantasy-based, “grown-up” scenarios. Despite the fact the film intended to serve as a mechanism for war propaganda, it ended up a luxurious, over-the-top take on the amorous, adventurous, cannonball-riding Baron.
 

George Harrison and Eric Idle on the set of Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
 
As previously mentioned, Python super-fan George Harrison would be the main conduit for the last of the final big-three Baron Munchausen films, Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In 1979 he showed off his large assortment of Munchausen stories and shared his love of artist Gustave Doré with Gilliam. Then, Gilliam’s pal musician Ray Cooper gifted Gilliam with a copy of a book full of the stories of Baron Munchausen written (though published anonymously) by Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720-1797), encouraging the director (if not daring him) to make a film out of them. Allegedly $46 million (though Gilliam says it was “nowhere near $40 million), flowed into the lengthy, arduous production that was already over budget by two million dollars before filming began. Though it was a financial box-office bomb, it received high praise and would collect three British Academy of Film & Television Awards, and was nominated for four Oscars. The stories from the set have become legendary, such as Oliver Reed being perpetually drunk and hitting on a seventeen-year-old Uma Thurman, who plays Venus/Rose in the film. Gilliam’s finished product will forever be considered a triumph in the realm of fantasy filmmaking and “fantastical exaggeration” which the real Münchhausen perfected and unwittingly passed along over hundreds of years through other storytellers fond of hyperbole.

If you’d like to learn even more about the history of Baron Munchausen in cinema, film historian Michael Brooke provides a fascinating, in-depth exploration of the Baron’s many appearances on the big screen on the Second Run Blu-ray for The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil). Far-out images and trailers from all three films follow.
 

A still of actor Hans Albert as Baron Münchhausen riding a cannonball in 1943’s ‘Münchhausen’ or ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
 

A curious scene from ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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03.19.2019
08:51 am
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The obscure teen film that inspired ‘Captain Midnight’ the infamous HBO hacker
02.22.2019
08:35 am
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VHS
 
During the early morning hours of April 27, 1986, a Florida man by the name of John R. MacDougall hacked into Home Box Office’s satellite signal. MacDougall owned a satellite dish company, and was upset that HBO and other cable networks had begun scrambling their signals so their programming couldn’t be seen by dish owners any longer. MacDougall, desperate because his business had suffered, decided to send a message. As HBO subscribers were watching an airing of The Falcon and the Snowman, the following appeared on their screens for more than four minutes:
 
Captain Midnight on HBO
 
MacDougall came up with the alias “Captain Midnight” not long after viewing the 1979 teen film, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight.
 
Clipping
Newspaper clipping, July 27, 1986.

The movie chronicles the adventures of a southern California high school student, Ziggy, who’s the voice of a pirate radio station. Captain Midnight has elements of the “teen sex comedy” film type, though it’s relatively tame compared to the onslaught of raunchy R-rated movies that came to define the genre in the 1980s. Anyone who came of age during the decade and remembers sneaking into theater showings of flicks like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), The Last American Virgin (1982), and Porky’s (1981), or staying up late to watch them on cable—all without mom and dad knowing—is going to love the awesome new book, Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!. Author Mike “McBeardo” McPadden has penned reviews for over 350 films, from the “hard R’s” of the ‘70s and ‘80s, to softer fare such as Captain Midnight, and early teen sex comedies like the 1925 silent picture, The Freshman. McPadden examines these films, many of which are decidedly not politically correct, in the context of our current world, acknowledging, for example, the problematic aspects of Revenge of the Nerds (1984). There are also insightful essays from various contributors, and loads of stunning, vintage poster art that will take you back. 
 
Book cover
 
Teen Movie Hell hasn’t been published just yet, but Dangerous Minds has a preview for you. We’ve got McPadden’s review of On the Air Live with Captain Midnight, along with pages from the book, which will follow. We’ve also included screenshots from the Captain Midnight film.

A fun trifle from interesting husband-and-wife schlock filmmakers Beverly and Ferd Sebastian (they also made the sexy 1974 bayou action flick Gator Bait and the crazy 1984 heavy metal movie Rocktober Blood), On the Air Live with Captain Midnight seems to have been unofficially and without acknowledgment remade in 1990 with Christian Slater as Pump Up the Volume. Technically, Pump is the better film, but in terms of conveying the movie’s subject—a teenager turned pirate radio star—the Captain rules the high seas all the way.

 
Title card
 

Tracy Sebastian, son of directors Bev and Ferd, stars as Ziggy, a high schooler who works part-time at a local radio station to make payments on his sweet van. While futzing with the van’s CB radio, Ziggy’s chubby nerdlinger pal Gargen (Barry Greenberg) accidentally takes over an FM broadcast signal. Ziggy immediately grabs the mouthpiece and launches into a rock-jock rap, introducing himself as “Captain Midnight.”

 
Ziggy
 

Every kid at school happens to be tuned in at just this moment. Instantly, Captain Midnight becomes a campus mystery and a hero. Ziggy-as-Cap keeps his good thing going, spinning tunes and spewing truths from his mobile outlaw broadcast station, building the legend each time he hits the airwaves.

 
Gargen
Gargen, a teen movie nerd archetype.

The FCC catches wind of the Captain and dispatches Agent Pierson (veteran tough-guy actor John Ireland) to stop the madness. Real-life Los Angeles FM legend Jim Ladd, as “Disc Jockey,” voices support for the radio renegade.

 
Ziggy and the DJ
Ziggy and the Disc Jockey.

Ziggy finally deigns to save Captain Midnight by destroying him. He announces he will parachute into Magic Mountain theme park, where devotees will finally get to press flesh with their underground idol. As the climactic scene unfolds, a local news report claims five thousand Cap fans have assembled amidst the amusements. The same locale also welcomed the band Sparks in Rollercoaster (1977) and Kiss in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978). On-screen, the crowd of “thousands” appears to number perhaps a few dozen extras.

 
Girls
 

Though the movie adventures of Captain Midnight end with the big airborne stunt, his spirit lived until at least until 1986, when a satellite TV tech jammed HBO’s Florida signal for five minutes and broadcast a message of outrage against the network’s service fee. The video protestor was named John R. MacDougall, but his on-air live handle was Captain Midnight.

 
Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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02.22.2019
08:35 am
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Oliver Reed as a prototype Alex from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in ‘These are the Damned’

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At one point, Ken Russell was the favored director for a movie version of A Clockwork Orange supposedly starring the Rolling Stones. What Russell would have made of Anthony Burgess’s novel is a moot point. However, it is more than conceivable that Russell would have cast Oliver Reed as Alex, the sociopathic gang leader who together with his “droogs” unleash acts of opportunistic “ultra-violence,” rather than Mick Jagger. Reed would have been an interesting fit though a bit too old for the role of teenager Alex.

Reed had played such a brooding, nasty, thuggish type before. Two years prior to the publication of Burgess’s novel, Reed played King, a psychopathic prototype-Alex in Joseph Losey’s These are the Damned (aka The Damned). Dressed in a tweed jacket, collar, tie, silk scarf, black leather gloves, and carrying an umbrella with an eight-inch blade hidden in its handle, Reed could easily have been auditioning for the role of Alex. His gang leader King terrorises tourists at a small seaside town, using his sister Joan (Shirley Anne Field) to ensnare unwitting victims for a bit of the “old ultra-violence” or as the film’s trailer puts it:

Black leather, black leather,
Smash, smash, smash.
Black leather, black leather,
Crash, crash, crash.

 
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Reed ready for a bit of the ‘old ultraviolence.’
 
Director Joe Dante has described These are the Damned as “an undeservedly obscure British science-fiction picture…unjustly neglected…[which] is really…one of the key films of the 1960s.” High praise for a low budget feature shot quickly over a few weeks in May 1961. Produced by Hammer Films, the company best known for their hugely successful series of horror films starring Peter Cushing and Christopher starting in 1956 with The Curse of Frankenstein and then Dracula (1958) and the big screen adaptations of TV’s sci-fi classic Quatermass. These are the Damned was an odd fit for the company’s roster with its strange mix of gang violence and disturbing (yet topical) science-fiction plot.

Loosely adapted from the novel The Children of Light by H. L. Lawrence, These are the Damned was directed by blacklisted director Joseph Losey, who’d been kicked out of Hollywood due to his allegiance to the Communist Party, which he’d joined in 1946. Losey considered working in Hollywood as “useless” and his association with the Communist Party made him feel “freer” and “more valuable to society.” Through politics, Losey believed he could make films of substance. What was America’s loss proved to be England’s gain, as Losey directed a string of classic films including a trio in collaboration with Harold Pinter The Servant (1963), Accident (1967), The Go-Between (1971), alongside The Assassination of Trotsky (1972), Brecht’s Galileo (1975), and the opera Don Giovanni (1979).

Losey was never quite happy with These are the Damned. Constrained by studio demands to make a commercial sci-fi flick, Losey “possessed little if any interest in science fiction as a literary mode and consequently threw out pretty much all of the novel, except for the image of the gang of teddy boys, led by King (Oliver Reed).”

He felt the rough framework of the book might act as the vehicle for a commentary upon the proliferation of atomic power and the potential debacle that could lead from its irresponsible use by high-minded technocrats. What more immediately attracted him was the setting he chose for the piece: Weymouth, an out-of-the-way part of England that is bleak, wild and ancient, and associated by the literary with the novels of Thomas Hardy and John Cowper Powys. Losey envisioned the kinds of contrasts that could be drawn between the isolated seascapes that housed the cordoned-off research laboratory overseen by Bernard (Alexander Knox) and the urban hubbub of the town crisscrossed by the motorcycles of King’s cohorts. In his mind, alien as these individuals and their surroundings seemed to be, they shared a common propensity for violence: “one was paralleling different levels of the same society which in effect were, in their own way, doing the same thing: the politicians and the hoodlums.”

What starts out as a film about gang violence and the sexual relationship between Joan and “an innocent American abroad: Simon (MacDonald Carey)” quickly develops into a dark and disturbing tale of the consequences of nuclear war. Joan and Simon discover hidden among the seaside caves groups of children who are being held captive and have been experimented upon and irradiated as a form of inoculation by a sinister secret military organisation in readiness to repopulate the planet after an imminent nuclear war.

The film was highly prescient, tapping into fears made real by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. However, Hammer and its distributors didn’t know what to do with the film. It was passed uncut by the British Board of Censors in December 1961, but was only released in an edited form first in the UK in 1963 and then in the US as a support feature with further cuts in 1965.

However, it’s Reed who attracts the most interest and almost steals the film from Carey and Field with his turn as the psychopathic King. For a then relatively unknown and inexperienced actor, Reed showed his prowess in front of the camera and his ability to add depth and considerable menace to his role. It was the start of a series of films which have often, until more recently, been overlooked—films like Paranoiac (1963), The System (1964), and The Party’s Over (1965)—which revealed Reed’s talent as an actor which at its best placed him as the equal of Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, and Richard Burton.

Happy Birthday Oliver Reed.
 
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Shirley Anne Field.
 
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More production stills, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.13.2019
09:43 am
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Growing Up in Wallace Berman’s World: An interview with Tosh Berman


 
This is a guest post from Matthew O’Shannessy

Tosh Berman’s memoir Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman’s World documents a childhood immersed in West Coast bohemia, from the Beat era of the 1950s through to the crumbling ruins of hippie idealism in the 1970s. Through his father, the cult artist Wallace Berman (who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1976), Tosh gained first-hand experience with an eclectic cross section of post-war culture growing up amongst many now-iconic poets, artists, actors, musicians, and counter-cultural figures.

Despite Wallace Berman’s celebrated connections (his face appears on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s LP), the artist has remained an enigmatic figure, little known outside the art world where he is venerated for his Verifax collages and assemblages that combine popular culture, Jewish mysticism, and pornography. His handmade journal, Semina, featured writing by Alexander Trocchi, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, and Jean Cocteau, and was purposely circulated mostly amongst friends.

Tosh presents an intimate view of the hermetic artist-father told as a non-linear coming-of-age story that stretches from the relative isolation of Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles to the bustling Beat scene of San Francisco’s North Beach. Everyday brushes with fame—drop ins by Brian Jones, a chance encounter with William Burroughs in the back of a London cab, getting caught up with notorious occultist Marjorie Cameron—are juxtaposed with the more mundane financial and logistical dramas of growing up with a father who rejected the straight world and all its trappings.

I spoke with Tosh at his home in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
 

 
Matthew O’Shannessy: In the book, you mention that the TV Western “The Rifleman” was a reference point for your relationship with Wallace. Can you talk a little about that?

Tosh Berman: I always loved “The Rifleman” and during the repeats I would watch it over and over again. The story’s about a ranch widower and it’s just him and his son on the ranch. His son would have to help him out and they would go into town together. Like with me… you know, they can’t just go around the corner. He had to get on the horse and go into town and get everything. You know, eat dinner, have lunch, because it was too far to the ranch and back. Which is kind of like Topanga, away from civilization. So I started to identify with it, not only because of the relationship with my father but also the geography and the physical hardship of [living in a more] rural area.

I was with my dad consistently for my first 20 or 21 years. Except when I went to school or I visited friends, I never traveled alone. So I was always with my father. He was home all the time. I would hang out in the studio and help him make work. My mom was the one who did the actual work in the fifties and sixties. She’s the one who went out and made a salary. She’s the one who worked. My dad supported us when he sold art, which wasn’t that often, but he also made money by playing cards. He played with his friends and I remember once he played a game with Robert Blake who was a known actor that time. My mother hated him. She made him leave the house. She made my father take him somewhere else.

Topanga was very secluded at that time. It’s a canyon area of course, and people went to canyon areas at that time to get away from society, so not only did you get creative people and rich rock ‘n’ roll people, you also got the losers of all sorts, people who just can’t deal with the outside world or they’re paranoid. In the sixties, there was a lot of paranoia. Topanga became like a fort or fortress in this corruption of the sixties. It was totally a utopian thing. But I didn’t see as a utopian thing. It’s always been, to me, a depressing area. Very beautiful, but living there can be so difficult.
 

A portrait of Tosh Berman taken by his father. The woman in the photograph is Berman’s wife, Shirley.
 
One of the stories in the book that’s interesting to me is when Wallace takes you to the T.A.M.I. show. It’s the dress rehearsal and he has a film camera but he doesn’t film anything. Then later he watches the documentary of the concert and films the images of the bands off the screen. Do you think that says something about his artistic sensibility? 

He never talked about his artwork or his techniques or why he did stuff. Never, to anyone. Around 64, 63, 65, he would carry an eight millimeter camera with him all the time—one that you had to wind up. At the time you could take it anywhere, there were no copyright issues or security issues.

My dad had it with him at the dress rehearsal and there were people like the Beach Boys sound checking, rehearsing. And I remember them well. They were totally in uniform. They had striped shirts, white pants, and then the Supremes came on afterwards and they all were in hair curlers and bathrobes. The only people in the audience that were our friends were like Toni Basil and the members of the Rolling Stones. That’s where we first met Brian Jones and I met Mick Jagger that night. My dad did not shoot anything. It wasn’t until the movie came out, because this was a film concept that played in theatres, that he actually shot footage of James Brown and shot footage of Mick Jagger.

I think my father’s aesthetic is that he needed to be distant, he needed another process between him and subject… rather than be directly in front of that person. He liked that idea of shooting off a movie or shooting off another photograph.
 

Tosh Berman with Allen Ginsberg.
 
You talk about how meeting Brian Jones had a big impact on you because you were a fan. 

I met him when I was 10 or 11 years old and the last time I saw him was probably when I was 15 or 16, a teenager. I was a Rolling Stones fan. My father brought in rock ‘n’ roll records himself, but with allowance money I bought records as well. As he bought Rolling Stones records, I bought Rolling Stones singles. So, anyway, I was very aware of who Brian Jones was and his presence. When he came to our house in Beverly Glen, it was like he walked right off the Aftermath album cover, especially the back cover, always wearing a black turtleneck, white jeans, desert boots, like the classic Brian Jones look.

You say in the book that the first time you were really aware of fame is when you met Marcel Duchamp.

[Marcel Duchamp] was the first person I met where I went into to a room and I knew there was somebody important in that room. And everybody was focused on the importance of this one person, like a legendary iconic figure. And I knew he was an iconic figure and I knew this artwork actually because my dad always had a picture of his artwork on the wall in the studio. And I think mostly what I remember is the bicycle wheel. That appealed to me because the bicycle wheel, for a child, represents a bicycle. It’s very simple and very direct.

A lot of the chapters are named after significant people in your life, and a lot of them are now iconic. Was it strange writing about your own life that’s filled with encounters with people who have gone on to be mythologized?

That wasn’t strange to me. I realized that they were mythologized and iconic and when I was writing the book I didn’t feel that way because when I knew them, I knew them as a child. If I knew them when I was a grown up, I think it would be more like, “this is Dennis Hopper, the iconic actor”, but I was introduced to Dennis at a very young age, of course, and at the time it was before Easy Rider, so it was before “the iconic Dennis Hopper”. It was sort of “the local arts scene Dennis Hopper”. So while writing the book I didn’t really pick out iconic people. I didn’t try to think of people who would sell the book later or to make a blurb about it. I really sat down and wrote everything I can remember and it was just one long rambling manuscript. And then it was the suggestion of people who had read the manuscript to make it into smaller chapters. I started doing a chapter on Toni Basil or Dean Stockwell… Dennis Hopper.

As I wrote it I really wanted it to be multifaceted. I wanted the book to appeal to people who were interested in the arts aspect, the Beat Generation, Beat Era, as well as the coming-of-age / teenager-to-adult story as well. So from the beginning, I was aware that it was important to have these multi-levels coming through the book and hopefully one interest will expose the reader to another, maybe new interest.
 
Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.29.2019
11:26 am
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Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey
01.10.2019
08:15 am
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Cultural critic Mark Dery, whose erudite essays have appeared in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, Village Voice and his own collections, The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century, returns with his remarkable biography of the comically sinister author and illustrator Edward Gorey. This delightful combination of biographer and subject has been praised in the New York Times, the New Yorker, at NPR Vogue and other prestige outlets. We’re pleased to present a short excerpt from Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey (Little, Brown) at Dangerous Minds.

In the following excerpt from my just-published biography, Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey (Little, Brown), I explore Gorey’s role, alongside Seuss and Sendak, in the postwar revolution in children’s books, a gleeful insurrection that killed off those insufferable, simpering Goody-Goodies, Dick and Jane, for good. In so doing, Gorey and other writer-illustrators reshaped American notions of kids lit and even childhood itself, making way for a more honest acceptance of the facts of life: divorce, death, racial tensions, queer desire. As well, the new wave slyly satirized not only the mainstream culture of the ‘50s and ‘60s but the conventions of children’s literature itself, many of which dated back to the cautionary tales and nursery-rhyme sermonizing of the Victorian era, when the children’s book as we know it was born. Whether Gorey’s work really was kiddie fare or arsenical treats for adults ironically disguised as picture books is still up for debate. Regardless, his influence is stronger than ever, identifiable at a glance in the YA novels of Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), the twee-goth movies of Tim Burton, and somber memoirs of “the miseries of childhood,” as Gorey put it, such as Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home.

— Mark Dery

Nineteen-sixty saw the publication of Edward Gorey’s sixth book, The Fatal Lozenge, by the New York publisher Ivan Obolensky. Subtitled An Alphabet, The Fatal Lozenge was his first foray into the ABC genre. He would go on to perform variations on the abecedarium theme in six books, one of which, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, would become his best-known title. [They are, in chronological order, The Fatal Lozenge, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Utter Zoo, The Chinese Obelisks, The Glorious Nosebleed, and The Eclectic Abecedarium.]

The alphabet book is one of the oldest forms of children’s literature. Rhyming couplets, illustrated by woodcuts, aided memorization. Early examples wedded ABCs and Calvinist catechism. The New England Primer, ubiquitous in late-seventeenth-century America, is typical of the genre:

A In Adam’s Fall We sinnèd all.
B Heaven to find; The Bible Mind.
C Christ crucify’d For sinners dy’d.
D The Deluge drown’d The Earth around.

Gorey’s interest in the alphabet book was undoubtedly a byproduct of his interest in Edward Lear, well known for loopy abecedaria like “Nonsense Alphabet” (1845) (“P was a pig, / Who was not very big; / But his tail was too curly, / And that made him surly”). His library reveals a longstanding fascination with the form, with a predictable focus on the nineteenth century. On Gorey’s bookshelves, we find A Moral Alphabet (1899) by Hilaire Belloc, A Comic Alphabet (1836) by George Cruikshank, a Dover facsimile of The Adventures of A, Apple Pie, Who Was Cut to Pieces and Eaten by Twenty Six Young Ladies and Gentlemen with Whom All Little People Ought to Be Acquainted (circa 1835), and of course Lear in abundance. 

At the same time, he couldn’t have been oblivious, as an illustrator working in commercial book publishing, to the waves Dr. Seuss was making in kid lit. Alphabet books were playing an important part in reshaping American ideas about childhood. Consider Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra! (1955), whose boy narrator dreams up a new alphabet for kids who think outside the Little Golden box (“In the places I go there are things that I see / That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z”). Or Maurice Sendak’s Alligators All Around (1962), in which “shockingly spoiled” reptilian protagonists throw tantrums and juggle jelly beans with abandon. These and other unconventional abecedaria celebrate Romper Room radicals who flout the rules. Seen in their cultural and historical context, they look like premonitions of the hippie era, with its worship of nonconformity and its elevation of the child to a cultural icon, not to mention its stoner humor and acid-soaked song lyrics.

Though he seemed barely to notice the counterculture of the ’60s, beyond the Beatles, Gorey was in his own quietly perverse way more iconoclastic than Seuss or Sendak. In The Fatal Lozenge, as in The Listing Attic, his earlier book of macabre limericks, his combination of a children’s genre (in this case, the ABC book) with dark subject matter and black comedy is both mordantly funny and unsettling, especially when he crosses the line, as he occasionally does, into the “sick humor” of contemporaries such as the cartoonist Gahan Wilson. When an interviewer mentioned to Sendak that the grisly drawing of an infant skewered on the point of a Zouave’s sword in The Fatal Lozenge was the moment when Gorey went “down the road of no return as far as publishers were concerned,” Sendak quipped, “That’s why he was so loved. There’s never enough dead babies for us.”
 

 
The literary theorist George R. Bodmer places Gorey’s ironic, sardonic ABCs in the context of a postwar pushback, among children’s authors such as Seuss and Sendak, “against the limits of imagination, or the limits the outside world would impose on imagination . . .” In his essay “The Post-Modern Alphabet: Extending the Limits of the Contemporary Alphabet Book, from Seuss to Gorey,” Bodmer calls Gorey’s “anti-alphabets” a “sarcastic rebellion against a view of childhood that is sunny, idyllic, and instructive.” Gorey’s mock-moralistic tone satirizes received wisdom about the benignity of parents and other authority figures: a magnate waiting for his limousine “ponders further child-enslavement / And other projects still more mean”; two little children quail in terror at the sight of their towering, bearded uncle, for they “know that at his leisure / He plans to have them come to harm.” Yet Gorey also punctures the myth that children are little angels: a baby, “lying meek and quiet” on a bearskin rug, “Has dreams about rampage and riot / And will grow up to be a thug.” (The rug’s enormous, snarling head, with its bared fangs, is an omen of mayhem to come.)

Talking about The Fatal Lozenge in 1977, Gorey said, “This was a very early book and at that date I was not above trying to shock everyone a bit.” In that sense, his sixth book is so similar to his second that it might as well be called Son of Listing Attic. A good part of the book consists of the usual droll riffing on stock characters and situations borrowed from gothic novels, penny dreadfuls, Conan Doyle, and Dickens.

But just as clearly, there’s more going on in The Fatal Lozenge than enfant terrible-ism (“trying to shock everyone a bit”) or the larger trends identified by Bodmer: the bohemian backlash against the suffocating normalcy of the Eisenhower era and the growing resistance, led by Drs. Spock and Seuss, to outdated, repressive ideas about childhood and parenting. The recurrence of themes closer to home—the beastliness of babies, the depravity of the clergy (a nun is “fearfully bedevilled”), the furtiveness and shamefulness of homosexual desire, here associated with child molestation and even more monstrous perversions (“The Proctor buys a pupil ices, / And hopes the boy will not resist / When he attempts to practice vices / Few people even know exist”)—makes us feel, at times, as if we’re eavesdropping on a psychotherapy session. That these disconcerting images come to us in the reassuring wrappings of a children’s book makes The Fatal Lozenge even more disquieting.

It’s precisely that insinuating knowingness that Sendak loved about Gorey’s little books. “They all had what appealed to me so much—aside from the graphics and the writing—[which] was the wicked sexual ambiguity that ran through all of it.” Even Gorey’s artlessly brilliant covers for Anchor Books, Doubleday’s tasteful paperback line, exhibited an arch wit, Sendal thought. “I remember a jacket he did for…a novel by Melville, Redburn. And the jacket summed up completely the kind of confused homosexuality of that novel….So erotic and yet so simple. You can look at it any way you like. . . . [H]e buried a lot of information about himself in the art.”
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.10.2019
08:15 am
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A Classic Ghost Story for Christmas: ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’
12.26.2018
09:31 am
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The sole object of a ghost story, wrote M. R. James, is to inspire “a pleasing terror in the reader”. James was an academic and writer who reinvented the ghost story for a new era. He believed ghosts should be “malevolent or odious” rather than those “amiable and helpful apparitions” that appeared in stories by authors like Charles Dickens in say A Christmas Carol. In an essay on ghost stories, he claimed the most successful tales “make us envisage a definite time and place, and give us plenty of clear-cut and matter-of-fact detail” but:

...when the climax is reached, allow us to be just a little in the dark as to the working of their machinery. We do not want to see the bones of their theory about the supernatural.

Montague Rhodes James was a scholar of medieval history, who served as Provost of King’s College, Cambridge University. Each Christmas Eve, he would invite a small group of friends and colleagues and students to share some sherry around a fire while he read his latest ghost story. He wrote one story a year and most of his tales of the eerie and the supernatural were set in the world of antiquities and academia, where an individual might accidentally stumble across some ancient secret or forgotten artefact that unleashes unnameable horror. 
 
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Among the best known of James’ short stories is “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (1904) in which a rational, you might say somewhat skeptical, and bookish academic called Parkins discovers an ancient whistle among the dunes of a deserted beach while on holiday. The whistle has strange occult markings on one side and an inscription on the other that reads “Quis est iste, qui venit?” which Parkins translates as “Who is this, who is coming?” By removing the whistle from its burial place, Parkins soon finds out what rather than who it is that comes after him.
 
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In 1968, the multi-talented Jonathan Miller brought the tale to television. Miller edged more towards a psychological (if not quite Freudian) drama in his adaptation of James’ tale which made the film’s supernatural elements all the more disturbing. Parkins or rather Parkin as he is called in Miller’s film, was played by Michael Hordern as a slightly stuffy, retiring man, who mutters and mumbles his way through the story—much of his performance was improvised—as if he is subconsciously aware his actions in finding the whistle symbolizes his own repressed desires and fears. Or as horror writer Kim Newman put it:

...a case of severe sexual frustration leading to absolute dementia

It’s a classic tale beautifully told and one of television’s most chilling and effective ghost stories.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.26.2018
09:31 am
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The annual Dangerous Minds foolproof last minute shopping list for hard-to-buy-for rock snobs!!
12.12.2018
07:14 pm
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Each year around this time, I compile a list of what I consider to be the best Christmas gifts for that difficult-to-buy-for rock snob in your life. You know the one. And if you happen to be the rock snob reading this, this is the good stuff. Buy it for yourself.

You will perhaps sense a bit of a 50th anniversary theme going on here, nonetheless, first let me recommend the super deluxe reissue of The Beatles’ White Album. On last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s box set, Giles Martin bestowed upon the world the album that the Beatles would have made had there been 5.1 surround sound in 1967. It stayed true to the original, but nicely expanded it for 21st century audio system capabilities and consumer expectations. In short, it was mind-blowing. This season his gift is this nicely enhanced White Album. Unlike Pepper’s more uniformly hi-fi sound, the White Album is a hodgepodge of various musical and recording/production styles that’s all over the map, which of course is the reason why the collection is so revered five decades later. A different, dirtier, animal, if you will, from its cinemascope predecessor, Martin’s newfangled White Album in 5.1 reveals much and lets each instrument and voice have its own PLACE in the mix. It’s a cleaner White Album to be sure. Obviously there’s more bottom end—McCartney’s bass lines have been nicely accentuated in all Beatles releases issued since 2009—and there are certain elements that stand out in ways they didn’t before, many of them drum fills courtesy of Ringo Starr and the nicely accentuated backing vocals. It also comes with the so-called “Escher Demos” recorded at George Harrison’s house, a sort of “White Album Unplugged,” the original 1968 mono mix in 24bit and outtakes galore. The highlight for me was hearing “Revolution #9” in 5.1 surround. Apocalyptic!
 

 
Isn’t it about time that the Kinks got a pricey box set to call their own? Seems like it’s no coincidence that the 50th birthday of The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society is being celebrated with this bursting-at-the-seams box which contains no fewer than FOUR—I mean FIVE—versions of the exact same album. Vinyl in mono, stereo and the Swedish issue (with different cover and two additional songs). CDs with mono and stereo mixes, alt versions, session tracks, audio tracks from BBC TV appearances, live numbers, interviews, etc. You could say that it’s a bit repetitive, overkill even—and you would not be wrong about that—but we’re talking about a Christmas gift here. To be honest, just the Swedish album on vinyl would probably have been enough for me if I was paying the tab, but if I got this as a gift, yeah, I’d be pretty pleased.
 

 
And what do you know there’s a 50th anniversary box set of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland? Who’d have thought someone at the record label would want to turn that event into product? Well…I gotta say, this one is a ripper. In terms of the new 2018 5.1 surround mix, this has to be at, or very near, the top of the list of the best examples of a classic rock album getting a multichannel remake that I’ve ever heard. When Electric Ladyland was originally released it was considered one of the finest illustrations of the capability of two-channel audio (stereo) as had ever been created up to that point and THIS SURROUND MIX DOES NOT DISAPPOINT. As I wrote in a longer post about the 5.1 mix, the “velocity” of Jimi’s playing is taken to another level here entirely; a song like “Crosstown Traffic” makes it from point A to point B without its tires ever touching the ground. This one is safe bet for almost any rock snob, even ones who are only lukewarm Hendrix fans. After this gift, they’ll become the most rabid Jimi fans, trust me. Also unlike the two north-of-$100 items listed above, you can pick this one up for less than fifty bucks. With lots of outtakes, a documentary, book and a new stereo mix, but the star attraction here is the inspired surround mix.

I am a huge, massive, very very big Bobbie Gentry fan. What a great talent she is, occupying a self-created niche somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Las Vegas showbiz. Everything you could possibly want—and more—is present and accounted for on The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters, an 8 CD set in a slick package. The book-length essay about Gentry’s pioneering career—not only was she one of the first major female artists to write and produce her own albums, she was an extremely shrewd businesswoman, and one of the first to collect a really huge paycheck from doing a Vegas residency—is first rate, giving proper context for Gentry’s work for those too young to remember her. I’ve heard that this box set completely sold out of the first run and it rightly deserved to.  A very high quality product. Any major artist would be lucky to get this treatment, even ones that didn’t totally disappear off the face of the Earth nearly 40 years ago.
 

 
Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story box set boasts ten discs (nine CDs and one four-hour long DVD) which is quite a feat for a band that only ever put out three albums proper during its short existence. Much of the material here comes from their 12” releases and EPs, of which there were many. Soft Cell always put a lot of effort into their remixes and b-sides and the quality here is uniformly very high. The mastering is muscular and charges the atmosphere of your listening room like a nightclub’s booming sound system (I could easily see my woofers moving). This is one of those extremely completist sets (like the Gentry box above) where it’s easy to lost in something new. Not that Soft Cell is exactly new, of course, they broke up for the first time in 1984, but it’ll be new to anyone who doesn’t know them beyond “Tainted Love.” With an extremely good book length essay on the career of these unlikely deviant chart toppers.
 

 
I’ve been getting into a lot of 60/70s English folk music during past year—aided ably by Rob Young’s book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, an exhaustive 650 page volume that would make a great Xmas gift itself for your rock snob—and I consider the Dust in the Nettles 3 CD anthology (Grape Fruit/Cherry Red) to be an indispensable collection for someone who is always looking for “something new to listen to” as dozens of leads are to be found there. Subtitled “a journey through the British underground folk scene,” it starts off strong with Pentangle’s “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” which is immediately followed by the seductive “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man soundtrack. (Listen to those two songs in a row and see if you don’t agree.) Also included are stunning numbers by Joan Armatrading, Bill Fay, the Incredible String Band and Vashti Bunyan, but the song here that I became obsessed with is “Amanda” by Steve Peregrin Took’s Shagrat, the tale of a smiling cropier, gambling on love and much amphetamine. I simply cannot recommend Dust in the Nettles highly enough, it’s amazing from start to finish and it’s a gift that will keep on giving with the discovery of new artists on it. (If you don’t have anyone to buy this for, just buy it for yourself.)
 

 
In late 2017 several early Brian Eno classics came out pressed across two twelve inch 180 gram vinyl platters that play at 45rpm. Using the half speed mastering process at Abbey Road, albums like Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) and Here Come the Warm Jets had a new coat of audiophile gloss put on them that I found mighty attractive and now they’re releasing four of his ambient albums, Discrete Music, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, the enigmatic Music for Films and the mighty On Land, which is my favorite. The sound of these is, predictably, the best you’re ever gonna hear, much more tactile than any CD could ever be, but I couldn’t help but to notice that the meditative “put it on in the background” functionality of Eno’s ambient works is disrupted, if not made entirely moot, by the fact that you have to get up and flip the platter every ten minutes! (The first piece on Discrete Music is cut in half.) Still they’re pretty cool and I will admit to listening to On Land loud enough to threaten a tectonic shift underneath my house. Background music? Only if you want it to be. These also comes in standard single LP 33rpm versions which are apparently made from the exact same master.

Dylan Jones’ superb oral history David Bowie: A Life came out last year, but I was a bit Bowie’d out at the time and although I bought it, I never actually picked it up and read it until recently. Having read practically every major book about David Bowie (starting with The David Bowie Story by George Tremlett, which I had memorized when I was a lad) this is without question my favorite of them all. I enjoyed it immensely and wish it had been ten times as long as its 500+ pages. It’s a terrifically entertaining book full of candid and charming anecdotes about the man. The matter of his work ethic (even when he was out of his mind on heaps of cocaine) comes up often, as does his graciousness and true kindness. David Bowie as a human, in other words, not a rock god. The wonderfully hilarious Roger Moore story is my absolute favorite, but there are several more.

The “rock” memoir is, I will admit it, one of my favorite literary genres, and Playing the Bass with Three Hands by Will Carruthers—who’s been in Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spectrum, and others—is one of my favorites in recent memory. Extremely well-written, this look back at a life lived to the chemical extreme, often in hand-to-mouth poverty and working (literally) shitty jobs to avoid penury whilst a member of several world famous rock bands, has got to be the most brutally honest rock memoir since… The End by James Young? Carruthers has a gift for charmingly observed first person narration that makes this book such a pleasure despite all the drugs, destitution and offal. In the future this book will be read as history to understand what it was like to live in the 80s and 90s.
 

 
And lastly there is the beautifully published Stories for Ways and Means published by Waxploitation’s Jeff Antebi and featuring “grown up” children’s story collaborations from the likes of Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Joe Coleman, Laura Marling, Alison Mosshart, Gary Numan, Gibby Haynes, Kathleen Hanna, Anthony Lister, Frank Black, Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham and many others. The world of contemporary art meets some of the most compelling storytellers in music and the results are between the cover of this gorgeous, slick book with a mission of supporting nonprofit children’s organizations and NGOs around the world. Buy it here.
 

Watch ‘Circus,’ an animated short of Joe Coleman’s art set to a short story by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and narrated by Ken Nordine, as seen in the book ‘Stories for Ways and Means.’
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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12.12.2018
07:14 pm
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Not for the faint-hearted: Gruesome medical illustrations from the 19th-century (NSFW)

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Surgery to correct strabismus, a misalignment of the eyes.
 
The artist Francis Bacon spent many hours poring over illustrated medical books looking at surgical procedures on mouth and tongue cancer, hare-lip correction, and tracheotomies. He declared these image beautiful, in particular the way in which the artist had used color to represent a tongue or a mouth. It was something he tried to recreate in his own paintings. Bacon was a voracious reader. After his death, more than 1,000 of his books were donated to Dublin’s Trinity College History of Art Department and the City Gallery, the Hugh Lane. Among this collection are works by Beckett, Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, De Beauvoir, Elizabeth David cookery books, and a well-used set of medical textbooks, some illustrated by Frank Netter, others containing work by Joseph Pancoast (1805-82).

Pancoast was an American surgeon who pioneered many techniques in surgery and in particular plastic surgery. He also wrote the highly influential book A Treatise on Operative Surgery, first published in 1844, which compiled various surgical procedures or “processes” that exhibited the “state of surgical science in is present advanced condition.” The book contained some 80 color-plates and 486 illustrations, and was further enlarged in 1846.

Illustrations from another medical book that caught Bacon’s interest was Précis iconographique de médecine opératoire et d’anatomie chirurgicale by Claude Bernard (1813-1878), a French physiologist, who has been described as “one of the greatest of all men of science.” Bernard was the first to use “blind experiments” by which information is kept from the participants to eliminate any possible bias. He also believed scientists must endeavor to disprove their own theories as scientists can “solidly settle” their ideas “only by trying to destroy [their] own conclusions by counter-experiments.”

Like Bacon, I’ve had a long fascination with old medical textbooks and their illustrations as I find the artists’ depictions of surgery and disease beautifully capture the essential frailty of the human condition. However, some readers may find a few of the following illustrations potentially disturbing. You have been warned.

 
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The removal of cataracts.
 
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Surgery for correcting a harelip.
 
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Ear surgery.
 
Far more disturbing surgical procedures, after the jump….
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.12.2018
09:22 am
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Miscreants rejoice! Artist Krent Able’s new ‘appallingly filthy’ illustrated book is coming!
11.19.2018
01:54 pm
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The cover of the forthcoming book ‘The Second Coming of Krent Able’ by Steve Martin.
 

“This book will make the perfect Xmas gift for elderly relatives, beloved friends, and hated enemies.”

—London-based artist and illustrator Krent Able (the alter-ego of author Steve Martin) on his upcoming book, The Second Coming of Krent Able.

If you think Mr. Able’s statement about the follow-up to his gritty Big Book of Mischief (2012), The Second Coming of Krent Able, sounds like a warning wrapped in a delicious piece of candy, you would be correct. There is nobody quite like Krent Able, a long-time illustrator of morally questionable comics, that initially ran in the UK bi-monthly mag The Stool Pigeon (RIP, 2013). Able’s work has also disgraced the pages of the Guardian and NME, often depicting musician Nick Cave as the no-good chain-smoking “Doctor Cave.” Or meat-is-murder crusader Morrissey, looking forward to devouring a plate of bloody entrails topped with a skinned animal head—one fixated dead eyeball staring right at you because, even though it’s dead, it is as confused about this fucking situation as you are. 

Does this mean Krent Able is a malapert of the highest order, here to provide us with “appallingly filthy” comic book tales full of mayhem, dicks, and death? Assuredly the answer to this question is yes, and knowing Krent’s Second Coming is coming is great news indeed. As a graphic novel enthusiast (amusingly, my last was 2017’s Nick Cave: Mercy on Me), and proud owner of Big Book Of Mischief, I can safely say The Second Coming of Krent Able will be chock full of vitriolic comics which will disgust and delight you at the same time. If you enjoy subversive subject matter, I’m sure you will enjoy looking at some NSFW images from Able’s forthcoming book, courtesy of the artist himself. If you’d like to learn more about Able, check out the engrossing, award-winning short documentary, Ink, Cocks, & Rock ‘N’ Roll (2017) which will give you yet another reason to appreciate the artist and his ultra-salacious take on satire.

The Second Coming of Krent Able is due out in the UK and U.S. on December 13th, 2018. Signed copies of the book can be pre-ordered here.
 

The not-so-good Doctor Cave by Krent Able.
 

William Burroughs and his creepy pal.
 

 
Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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11.19.2018
01:54 pm
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Watching ‘The Prisoner’ with ‘Repo Man’ director Alex Cox
11.12.2018
06:34 am
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It turns out leaving your house still pays sometimes: if I hadn’t stepped into a bookstore last weekend, I would be unaware of Alex Cox’s latest volume, I Am (Not) A Number: Decoding the Prisoner. Kamera Books published it in the UK last December to mark the series’ 50th anniversary, and the book came out in the US this May.

Like his introductions to cult movies on Moviedrome—like his interpretation of his own Repo Man, for that matter, a movie Cox insists is really about nuclear war—the director’s reading of The Prisoner is idiosyncratic and ingenious. Even though I don’t buy them yet, the solutions he proposes to the series’ riddles are brilliant and original; I won’t spoil them here, but it’s safe to say you’re unlikely to have come up with them yourself.
 

 
The 17 episodes of The Prisoner were broadcast in a different order in the UK and the US, and their correct sequence has never been settled. The Wikipedia page on the subject compares the production order (“not an intended viewing order,” the alt.tv.prisoner FAQ of blessed memory asserts) with four plausible running orders advanced or defended by fans over the years, based on the original broadcast or on different kinds of internal evidence in the shows: dates mentioned, logical sequence of plot developments, etc.

Cox has no use for any of these. Along with the series’ call sheets and screenplays, his interpretation is based on watching the episodes in the order of their filming—i.e., the production order most cultists reject as totally unsuitable for viewing. While this sequence is as reasonable as any other, it radically shuffles the narrative. For instance, “Once Upon a Time,” which is the second-to-last episode in every other programming of the series because it seems to lead directly to the finale, is sixth in Cox’s.

I’ve just started rewatching the series as Cox recommends. It’s too early to say whether the production order supports his conclusions, but I’m enjoying the shake-up so far. Below, the director discusses his book in a short promotional video.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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11.12.2018
06:34 am
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