Monday, September 30, 2013

2013: Part Ten: Cinematherapy 7

About a month ago, my blood brother Scott Mosely aka Vesbius Flestrin, invited me over for a swinging Saturday filled with some drinking and great conversation, not to mention a few listens to everything from Eric Dolphy to Loudness on Spotify. But the centerpiece of the day was no doubt the viewing of a trifecta of Japanese films, though they were all completely different. 
We launched this wildly disparate trio of flicks with Masaki Kobayashi's immortal classic Harakiri (aka Seppuku). We were entranced by the film's stunning widescreen black and white photography, and its slow burn until the action erupts in the final reel. This film definitely has a message, and challenges Japan's  long prevailing samurai code. In its rigorous defiance of this code, Harakiri is different than the majority of chambara (samurai films), and is among the most subversive films of that era of Japanese cinema.
The brilliant actor Tatsuya Nakadai (The Face of Another, Ran, The Sword of Doom)  carries the picture with grim determination and raw conviction. As Tsugumo, a ronin petitioning to commit harakiri, he spends most of the film reciting tales, shown in flashback, about the circumstances that led to him coming before a samurai council. Tsugumo - displaced, disgraced, and distraught - peels back layers of the past to share his story with the heedless samurai council. After this lengthy but compelling litany of his family's sorrows, the ronin falls victim to the council's arrogant politics. The conclusion of the picture, which the film has been suspensefully building towards through its entirety, does not disappoint. It drives Kobayashi's point home in a stunning action setpiece as Tsugumo is set upon by his once fellow samurai.
Scott and I were equally impressed, though I'd seen Harakiri a few times prior to this, and it was Scott's first time. Next up was Latitude Zero, and our positions were reversed. Unlike Scott, this was my first viewing. The film was directed by Godzilla vet Ishiro Honda, and was great fun from start to finish. Latitude Zero is an adaptation of a 1940s radio serial heavily inspired by Jules Verne's classic character Captain Nemo. The main character of the radio show, and of the film was Captain Craig McKenzie (played with aplomb by Joseph Cotten), who helms a nuclear submarine called the Alpha (it was the Omega in the radio show) clearly patterned on Nemo's Nautilus. One angle that makes McKenzie more intriguing in the movie, as well as in its source material, is McKenzie's immortality, an attribute shared by his arch-nemesis and former colleague played by Cesar Romero. They make several teasing comments about their age (they are at least 180 or so years old), and how they know each other, but the answers are not to be found, nor were they in the radio version of Latitude Zero. 
The action is plentiful, and the low rent sci-fi imagery, especially aboard the Alpha, is quite impressive, though it would be derided today for not using CGI for enhancement.  But Honda was always good at making the most of his limited resources, and this film is no exception. For Verne fans, pulp fans, and afficionados of slightly cheesy but fun flicks, you could do worse than Latitude Zero. However, it is out of print on DVD currently and commanding large sums of cash. Scott, you're a lucky man to have nabbed this one when you could.
Our final selection for the evening ran kind of late, and I wasn't able to view it all before taking off. Luckily, I'd seen this one once before, though I didn't recall much of it. Hayao   Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle was our final choice for the evening's fare - an acclaimed, yet idiosyncratic anime put out under the Studio Ghibli imprint (now owned by Disney - as with almost all things of late...). In this film, Howl is a sorcerer with a "moving castle", an ambulatory, steampunk-influenced juggernaut. A girl named Sophie has been cursed by the Witch of the Wastes to become an old hag. After a Faustian bargain with the demon Calcifer, Sophie is saved by Howl, who now loves her, and she is returned to her usual 18 year old self. Skimming the plot does not do justice to the imagination and charm of this complexly rendered anime. Like all the Ghibli product I've seen (which, admittedly, is not nearly enough), its appeal bridges nations and age groups. I look forward to finally viewing this one, start to finish, and retaining it.
So ends another Covert-Flestrin filmfest, and so ends the '2013' segment of my blog. If there's interest, I'll continue blogging on film from time to time. If anyone wishes to leave me a comment, please do so below or on my Facebook page linking to this. Special thanks to my dear friends Sean Levin and Bill White for their support.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

2013: Part Nine: Cinematherapy 6: Centennial Special

When first broadcast in 1978-9, Centennial was a 26-hour television mini-series (with commercials; on DVD, it runs 21 hours), which must rank as some sort of record. I was fortunate enough to view most of the episodes, often with my mother, a fan of James A Michener, whose novel of the same name the mini-series was based upon (my mother always preferred Michener's Hawaii to Centennial; I begged to differ). I read Michener's novel after seeing the mini-series, and the novel Centennial was a rich and engrossing experience. As was the television adaptation, despite some minor alterations in some of the structure of the story and the genealogies of the central characters, which essentially make up one long extended family, spanning about six generations.
This genealogical angle is perfect, as Centennial the series (not to as much an extent as the book) spans millenia in the history of one spot in Colorado, specifically the Platte River area. The film traces the molten upheavals and shaping of the land, much as in the novel, but the TV version doesn't trifle with dinosaurs or tarry long on prehistory as in the book. Instead, the television adaptation first focuses on the Arapaho Indian Lame Beaver, from his youth in the 1750s, following his family and the history of the land from then until the 1970s (1973 in the novel; 1978 in the TV version). Along the way, we meet Lame Beaver's daughter Clay Basket; a Scottish trapper named Alexander McKeag; and, most importantly, the first white man to traverse the Platte River and trade with the Arapaho - the French-Canadian adventurer Pasquinel.
After many years, McKeag becomes like a brother to the diminutive and hot-headed Pasquinel, who maintains at least two wives. Pasquinel moves in two worlds - wed to a German girl, Lise, and to Clay Basket, who gives birth to their third child shortly before Pasquinel meets his fate. This child is raised as McKeag's own, as Lucinda McKeag, who plays a key role in Lame Beaver's family line when she marries Levi Zendt, a widowed westward explorer who hails from a repressive religious background. Zendt, with Alexander's aid, builds the first store in the area. This store for traders makes the Platte a hub of commerce, and the store serves as the foundation of Centennial, which becomes an official town 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, hence the name Centennial.

From there we follow various characters drawn to the area, from cowboys to con men, and trace the family lineage of Lame Beaver's descendants, all the way down to 1978, when the series' end takes place. At that point, all bloodlines have converged in Paul Garrett, a man descended from all the noteworthy characters in the earlier episodes of the series ("Damn near incestuous", says Paul of his family tree). Paul is a reluctant torchbearer of the  legacy of his family and of the town, but he feels he must win a local election to see that his family's values are upheld and that the conservation of the land, sacred to his ancestors, is ensured.

Even this overlong synopsis is truncated and omits scores of key characters and events, and the mini-series in turn omits much from the novel that would have made more sense if it had been included in the TV film. But then, Centennial would've been even more sprawling. It'd make an ideal cable series these days (but please, no remakes...).
I admit it's easy to get carried away with the story, and not stop to appreciate the fine actors featured in this production. Robert Conrad (Wild Wild West) steals the show as Pasquinel, though Richard Chamberlain (The Thorn Birds) is amazing as Alexander McKeag. Michael Ansara gets a more dignified role than usual as the pivotal character Lame Beaver, and Barbara Carrerra is wonderful, and looks great, as Clay Basket. The present day character of Paul Garrett is perfectly embodied by a grizzled David Janssen (The Fugitive), who also serves as the series' narrator. I've always assumed this was Paul telling the story to writer Lew Vernor, portrayed by Andy Griffith, which is odd as the novel is written from the POV of Vernor, so I wondered why Griffith didn't narrate. Regardless, Janssen's voice-overs are excellent. Other performers stand out in my mind but this blog needn't be too long-winded, so I'll just close with a partial list of onscreen talent that stood out to me: William Atherton, Chad Everett, Gregory Harrison, Christina Raines, Sally Kellerman, Stephen McHattie, Lynn Redgrave, Timothy Dalton, Dennis Weaver, Glynn Turman, A Martinez, and many more, I'm sure.  

So although I usually chronicle indie, underground, cult, foreign, and genre fare, I had to make a huge exception and spill a profuse amount of electronic ink on this rather sublime and (at the time anyway) historic storytelling event, all 21 hours of it. Centennial is a compelling saga of epic proportions, yet it never feels overlong or pretentious (though there are some utterly unnecessary flashbacks in later episodes of earlier scenes that drove me crazy; the show's running time could've been clipped about an hour without those). If anyone is interesting in tracing the family trees of fictional characters (and in the Wold Newton community I belong to, this desire is common), and/ or if someone craves solid historical drama and has the patience, I highly recommend Centennial (all 21 hours are available rather affordably on DVD now).

Next: 2013 Part Ten: a trio of Japanese goodies... finally.

Friday, September 27, 2013

2013: Part Eight: Cinematherapy 5

In terms of eclectic fare, the last month has been exceptional. I'll start off with Spider-Man 2.1, which I nabbed inexpensively at my place of employ and which yielded an "extended cut" of Spidey 2. While I can't say that the extended scenes were any kind of revelation, I can say that this viewing reminded me of why I still love this movie so much, and why I still tear up on occasional during its running time. I thoroughly enjoyed checking this out with the wife for the umpteenth time. And for the record, I am one of the crazed few who (mostly) enjoyed Spidey 3, but that would be another subject for another time.
I showed Sarah John Frankenheimer's Seconds, featuring a tortured Rock Hudson, for the first time ever the same week. She seemed to appreciate its singular charms. As for me it's long been a favourite, filled with suspense, pathos, and several genuine shocks, all shot in a phantasmagorical black and white that keeps the eye engaged and the mind as off-kilter as that of the protagonist (played to fever pitch perfection by Hudson, always criminally underrated as an actor - see All That Heaven Allows by Sirk for further proof). A haunting film, Seconds has just received the Criterion Collection treatment, but I'm not sure if I can justify a double dip just yet.
A pair of low rent oddities were the chaser for the exquisite Seconds. The coda to Rudy Ray Moore's quartet of demented humour classics, Disco Godfather is, sadly, the least of those four efforts, making Dolemite, the Human Tornado, and even the uneven Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law look like towering classics of the blaxploitation genre. Still, Disco Godfather exudes much of Rudy's usual charm, even if it is a schizoid tale of a disco DJ (played by Moore, of course) who happens to be an ex-cop hellbent on banishing angel dust from the streets of his community. The heavy-handed "message picture" is even more odd among Moore's ouevre in that it looks as though there was an almost painful effort to dial down Rudy's decidedly blue approach to humor a few notches, resulting in a PG-13/ light R vibe that is incongruous with the film's heavy subject matter. Why this effort was made, I haven't a clue, but it results in a mildly emasculated Moore not being allowed to use all the tricks in his arsenal. Whether this was his choice or not, I don't know (but I should've asked him - politely - the two times I interviewed him). For what it's worth, the great Carol Speed of The Mack and The Big Bird Cage makes an appearance but is onscreen for far too short a time.
The second cinematic anomaly I picked up that week was Pelo Suelto, starring Mexican pop diva Gloria Trevi at the height of her youthful popularity and hyperactive exuberance. A confession: the only way to obtain this film on DVD is in Spanish with no subtitles, but to paraphrase one Craig Ledbetter: " With Gloria Trevi... who cares???" The whole thing is a fun romp, with a light story but, once again, a "message picture" of sorts - this time about child kidnapping. However, the highlights for me remain the two performances of the song Pelo Suelto. Catchy!

Next up: a Japanese filmfest and at last... Centennial!

Monday, September 23, 2013

2013: Part Seven: Cinematherapy 4

Thanks to the joys of bootlegged video, I finally obtained a really nice print on DVD of the 1978 TV movie Dr. Strange (my favourite Marvel Comics character). I saw this two hour pilot when it was first broadcast, and even as a wee tot I was outraged by all the changes from the source material. I'd read Stan Lee's Origins of Marvel Comics at an obscenely young age, and I knew the story told in this film was not the origin of Dr. Strange as I knew it. Regardless, as time has gone by, I've learned to appreciate the TV pilot's many charms, and appreciate the basic spirit of it, which is admirably translated, albeit awkwardly, from the comics. So I'd call this one a semi-guilty pleasure. Though dated, it stands pretty well on its own apart from the comic. And Doc is given a killer costume similar to the one in the comics, but for some reason, he's given another costume at the end of the film that's garishly ugly.

I recently picked up several great films on DVD. Foremost among these is Abel Ferrara's masterpiece, Ms 45, the ultimate rape-revenge flick. I've always loved this movie, and its star, Zoe Tamerlis (who sadly died an early death) does an amazing job as Thana, the mute seamstress who becomes an avenging angel of the night after being raped twice (!) in one day. I also picked up William Lustig's finest film, Vigilante, starring Robert Forster and Fred Williamson, who contributes some of his best acting. Vigilante is highly evocative of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, and the mood it sustains is nearly as powerful as Carpenter's film. Next up, I received The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a beautiful bittersweet romance starring Catherine Deneuve, who in my mind could do no wrong in the 60s. The dialogue is entirely sung, and much of the music is quite memorable. Director Jacques Demy did two other musicals (though not with every word sung, opera-like, but akin to standard musicals), one of which, Donkey Skin, is among my favourite films.

Next up: Cinematherapy 5

2013: Part Six: Cinematherapy 3

Tinto Brass is widely known for his erotic films exhibiting a keen eye for the female derriere. He's also known as the director of the notorious Caligula. But early in his career, he made a trio of works that embodied an anarchic counter-culture aesthetic. Some might say these films are dated relics of the 60s that don't hold up today. While these films are firmly lodged in the trappings of that era, many of their techniques - rapid-fire editing, aggressive montage, the music video, comic book influences, extreme imagery  - were well ahead of their time, even if they had all already been pioneered by the likes of Anger, Bava, Questi, Arrabal, Kren, and Jodorowsky.
These films were something of a revelation to me. The Howl (aka L'Urlo) was the first Brass film I acquired, some time back, but I rewatched it recently upon receiving the other two entries in this psychedelic trilogy: Deadly Sweet (aka Col Cuore in Gola or I Am What I Am) and Attraction aka Nerosubianco (also retitled The Artful Penetration of Barbara by the film's American distributor, master erotic filmmaker Radley Metzger). Whereas the Howl is an all-out assault on society, war, and sexual mores, and is totally bold and transgressive, Deadly Sweet sublimates the more extreme of Brass' sensibilities, making it the most subversive of the three. If The Howl defies all labels and Attraction appropriates the tropes of the kind of erotic film Metzger himself might make (were he dosed on LSD), Deadly Sweet roughly fits the conventions of the giallo, all the way down to the casting of the two stars of another subversive giallo, Death Laid An Egg - Jean-Louis Trintignant and Ewa Aulin. Despite its easy classification genre-wise, Deadly Sweet is still rather experimental in its construction, especially in the editing, which many time emulates comic book sound effects. Deadly Sweet's a worthy twist on the giallo, and a unique sort of psychedelic thriller. I'd recommend adventurous viewers give it a chance.

Adventurous viewers may be the only ones to give The Howl a go, and that's fine. It's definitely for those who crave an all-out barrage on the senses. It has a very Panic Theatre vibe to it - evocative of the circle of artists that included Jodorowsky, Moctezuma, Arrabal, and Topor. However, of Brass' "lost trilogy", the film that is growing to be my favourite is Attraction. Featuring the stunning Anita Sanders as Barbara, the film follows Barbara as she journeys through the counter-culture, unshackling herself from a repressive marriage. Her voyage is marked by two crucial ingredients: the rock band Freedom (an offshoot of Procol Harum), who serve as a running Greek chorus to Barbara's encounters; and a mysterious black man who seems to beckon Barbara to an erotic encounter. This man is played by Terry Carter, who went on to portray Col. Tigh in the original Battlestar Galactica television series.
The music is quite striking, and with the film's daring editing, it at times resembles a primeval music video. Indeed, the editing is one of the film's most amazing attributes, as in The Howl. The quick, hypnotic cuts remind me of Giulio Questi's opening to Django Kill, or of Kurt Kren's aktionist classic Mama und Papa. In Attraction, however, the editing, as the music, serves well the admittedly thin story, propelling Barbara towards a - you guessed it - sexual awakening. Sanders and Carter are both wonderful, wringing the most from their almost archetypal characters. Their minimalist acting works as a great counterpoint to Brass' often crazed montage. So with the two leads, the band, and Brass' psychedelic imagery, Attraction is a resounding success of mood and technique. If you catch only one in this tripped-out trilogy of films, I recommend Attraction aka Nerosubianco - an artful penetration indeed.

2013: Part Five: Cinematherapy 2

Back with more observations on films I recently watched, most of which are in the Covert library and have been viewed previously. A few nights ago, I watched Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake of June for the second time and found it a very erotic, very human, exploration of voyeurism and coming to grips with one's own sexuality. Bathed in monochrome blue, the photography is top notch and, though a more straightforward story, at times the film approaches  the same surreal delirium as Tsukamoto's most well-known feature, Tetsuo: the Iron Man. I highly recommend this one.

I next turned to an incongruous pair of flicks. The Lady Hermit, a Shaw Brothers classic, was filled with action and starred the unbeatable woman warrior Cheng Pei Pei (who played swordswoman Golden Swallow in both Come Drink with Me and an eponymous follow-up). A very enjoyable film. For some bizarre reason, I followed up with La Dolce Vita, which, at three hours long, is really a film one can lose oneself in. Following the paparazzi Marcello on his trek through Italy, surveying "the sweet life", is an immensely satisfying journey. 

Saturday a week ago, I resolved to try A Serbian Film. With some credit I had at my workplace, I rolled the dice and picked it up to be viewed by myself and my dear friends Michael T. Jones and Mark "The Marksman" Baranowski. Something came up at home that required the Marksman's attention, so it was me and Michael (even Michael's wife opted out), a bottle of vodka, and fate that left us to the dubious charms of this notorious movie I'd read so much about. Well, by the end, I was grateful for the vodka.
I won't retread the zillions of reviews I've taken in on this film, iterating the plot, premise, and alleged subtext. And what I say, on face value, will likely frighten some, and frightfully titillate others (though hopefully not). Suffice to say, no taboo is left unturned. This one has it all - rape, oral rape, baby rape (yes, you read correctly - though thankfully not on camera), sodomy, incest, murder, necrophilia - need I say more? Like Salo (essayed in my last blog) and the extreme films of Jorg Buttgereit, everything is simulated. This is no real snuff movie, though it would surely have been deemed a "video nasty" by the BBFC.

In the end I can only offer my personal read of A Serbian Film. It shocked me, yes I admit it. It shocked a fan of Salo and of Cannibal Holocaust (though to be fair, those films still shock me; I am not wholly desensitized and I might worry if I was). I believe the combination of (simulated) porn and extreme violence - in other words, extreme sexual violence - shook me up. Such imagery affects me. There were images that were hard to shake. Hell, the whole vibe was hard to shake. I'm not quite sure what lends this film the power it has when other, similar torture porn opuses fall by the wayside (though I understand the film Martyrs has a similar force), but it certainly affected me. I watched it again when I got home from Michael's, and, the excitement of discovery behind me, I felt I was just wallowing in it. Not a film I'll be up for viewing again anytime soon. Hell, it may not remain enshrined in the Covert library. But if this is your thing, go for it. I've not heard Michael's verdict since that night, and Mark got a copy but I've yet to get his read on it, so this remains my own two cents, for what they're worth.

On to more pleasant fare - a cluster of films watched over a two day period, starting with Douglas Sirk's Shockproof, a longtime favourite written by Samuel Fuller that my good friend Bill White got me into. I'd call this one a "romantic noir", and is a terrific little picture that lends itself to multiple viewings. This was made in 1949, before Sirk's celebrated starcrossed melodramas, but you can see the seeds of them here, cultivated by crime story trappings. On to one of my wife's faves - She's So Lovely, directed by Nick Cassavettes from a script by his late father John Cassavettes (whose Shadows I briefly discussed in my last blog). Two down-and-out losers at life form a lasting romantic bond - until the man (Sean Penn) is committed for ten years, during which his lady (Robin Wright Penn) moves on, cleaning herself up and marrying the "respectable" jerk played by John Travolta. The fact Travolta's character is so unlikeable makes his usual indigestible acting bearable. And just how unlikeable this character is surfaces when the Penns reunite.
Next up is B. Monkey, a wonderful vehicle for Asia Argento, who plays a thief struggling to reform, especially after she meets a Coltrane-loving DJ (Jared Harris). Directed by Michael Radford without the gravitas he lent his brilliant 1984, this picture is mostly a character study of Asia with sex and crime sprinkled liberally throughout. If you're an Asia fan (I am), this is a must-have. Others may want to check it out, as it's a pretty fun film (though arguably, Asia is what makes it fun). After B. Monkey, I took in a movie I'd watched some months back on Netflix - Lulu on the Bridge. This movie really touched me and I wanted to see if it still had that affect on me. Fortunately, it did. The film centers on a love story between Izzy, a sax player (Harvey Keitel) and Celia, an actress (Mira Sorvino). Their love affair begins under strange circumstances (to put it mildly), but it's expressed so joyously, and played so tenderly and realistically, that anyone who's really, really been in love knows exactly what Izzy and Celia are feeling. Willem Dafoe pops up with some villainy to thwart our happy pair, and this leads to a head-scratching ending - one open to interpretation. I'd definitely recommend this one.

Next: Cinematherapy 3

2013: Part Four: Cinematherapy 1

I saw a book once called Cinematherapy. I seem to be someone who practices this on a regular basis. Since my father's death and the attendant stress that accompanies being executor of his estate, I've needed to lose myself more than ever in the world of film. Rather than wading through the deep slog of films I've experienced since my father passed away on August 18, I'm going to stick to the month of September - 23 days thus far (and 23 being a magick number is not lost on me). I make mention only of films I found particularly notable - especially good, especially bad, or merely  possessed of something striking - be it touching, or shocking - that distinguishes it.

So September's most noteworthy viewing (beginning with the most recent and working my way back): I'm currently watching Closet Land, long a favourite of my wife, which we can finally view, as it's available only in PAL format on DVD. We now have a Blu ray/ DVD player that plays PAL or NTSC and enables other bells and whistles with an HDMI connection. So far, Closet Land is intriguing, and very well acted by its only two performers, Alan Rickman and Madeleine Stowe (a far cry from her current arch turn on TV's Revenge).

Last night I watched Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom by Pier Paolo Pasolini. It had been awhile since I'd seen it, and I have to say, the deluxe Criterion remastering is breathtaking. There is a second disc, and a booklet, both filled with commentary placing this most notorious of films into context. Viewing it again, I still like Salo, though "enjoy" might not be an accurate assessment. I wrote a capsule review of Salo years ago for Video Eyeball magazine, and my overarching view of the film has not changed. Pasolini's contrast between cold modern austerity and a descent into scatological savagery parallels his earlier, and better, Porcile, as well as his Oedipus Rex, which I watched a week ago and was as stunned by as ever. Salo simply magnifies these concerns, and is a true terminal document of an artist, considering Pasolini's murder shortly after the film.

Two nights ago, I watched a handful of disparate films: John Cassavettes' Shadows, which I'd seen once before, was a wonderful snapshot of its era and milieu (fantastic soundtrack!) and heralded the coming of the most important voice of the American indie underground. On Netflix, Sarah and I watched Day Watch, sequel to the once-trendy Soviet horror Nightwatch (which we've not seen). Maybe I'm missing something crucial having missed the first installment, but Day Watch, despite some nice effects and photography, well, just wasn't that good. I received a free Day Watch T-shirt when I worked at Borders, but it was too small for me. Now I'm glad, as I wouldn't want to advertise such an overrated film.

Before my wife came home from work earlier that evening, I had a Judex-fest, watching the first 5 episodes of the original silent Judex serial by Feuillade, and the Georges Franju 60s remake, which artfully compresses the 5 1/2 hour original, with a minimum of changes, all well done. The original serial is one of my all-time favourite films, and one of my favourite flicks that falls under the rubric of the 'superhero film', as Judex is assuredly the blueprint for the likes of the Shadow and Batman.

The night before, I watched The Black Cat for the second time since recently purchasing it. Karloff and especially Bela Lugosi are wonderful in this (though David Manners, and his character, are rather goofy), and all that's been written about the expressionist architecture and satanic themes is spot-on, and marks this as an occult classic. Definitely my favourite Lugosi performance. Just don't expect it to have much to do with Poe. Afterwards, I gave Rene Clement's Purple Noon a spin. This one was far better than I recalled. It was playfully suspenseful all the way to the final shot, and I enjoyed it immensely. After viewing this Patricia Highsmith adaptation, I revisited its main character, Tom Ripley, played in Purple Noon by a very young Alain Delon, in a film where the role was essayed by Dennis Hopper. Hopper makes for an older Ripley - more scrupulous, but no less a capricious manipulator. This film was The American Friend, a great flick which remains my main connection to director Wim Wenders, as, unfortunately, I've not explored his ouevre overmuch.

Next: Cinematherapy 2!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

2013: Part Three: Now

When I'm not at work, I'm working as executor of my father's estate - a hard job and one I don't recommend. His estate has been in probate little more than a month (out of three), and then there are various duties before the will's sole beneficiary (myself) can claim his/my inheritance. Being executor, it'll be strange giving myself an inheritance. This executor task is consuming me - there is so much to remember and folks to contact - and bills to pay. Luckily, I have a wonderful lawyer who will no doubt receive a (well-deserved) bountiful recompense for her trouble. 

So where does that leave me when I'm not working on daddy's estate or selling records, CDs, and DVDs? I've been writing intermittently on one of my projected web comix, a dream project called Flicker Street (there's a character slideshow along the right side of this blog somewhere). Also, I've been gradually drifting back into the orbit of She Never Slept. The next piece to see the light of day from me for SNS will be my ConCarolinas and HeroesCon reports. After that? Well, I'd like to resurrect Retrodrome, but that's up to my producer (and wife). I owe my viewers a review of Philip Jose farmer's A Feast Unknown that I promised 8 or 10 months ago, as well as a review of Andrjev Zulawski's classic film Possession. When Retrodrome will return, I do not know. It could be 2014 the way things are going. 

Finally, my friend Scott Mosely (aka Vesbius Flestrin on Facebook) is penning an Oz book that he wants me to illustrate. Perhaps we'll firm up these plans when we go to see Italian prog band (and mastermind behind a number of classic Italian film soundtracks - Dawn of the Dead, Suspiria, Tenebre, Deep Red, Buio Omega, and more) Goblin in Asheville, NC on October 3, their only other appearance in the American South, outside of Atlanta, on - believe it or nor not - their first ever real American tour in their nearly 40-year on-and-off existence. To say we're stoked is an understatement, both of us being longtime fans of Goblin's music and the films it brings phantasmagorical dimension to. 

Next up: 2013: Part Four: Cinematherapy

2013: Part Two: The Conventions (And a Few Surprises...)

ConCarolinas was a great deal of fun. I had a great time and I've long since written my official con report but Sarah's illnesses have knocked her way off track on posting it. Angie Bell, reporter for She Never slept, has also submitted a con report. I'm working to get SNS  to post a convention piece on ConCarolinas, but the pain of Sarah's fibromyalgia and her ankle, as well as bouts of depression, have slowed her writing output, and I (and, I hope, her followers and fans) completely understand (though I am a bit biased, being her husband and all).

One thing that slowed Sarah on the ConCarolinas work and contributed to her stress was her ongoing work for Bob Almond's Inkwell Awards. Bob is a terrific guy, and gave both Sarah and myself a tremendous opportunity these past 2 years to become involved in a cause I'm all for - the recognition of the hard work of the comic book inker - an avocation I've dallied with since a small child. But the Inkwells could be demanding - and for a non-profit, no-pay organization, it could be a difficult task choosing between an assignment for them and a paying gig or personal issue, namely one's (or one's family's) health. As June waned, I was behind on my wikipedia-related work for Bob - and felt terrible about it. But I felt worse about the constant errands for my father, his several visits to the ER, his fading memory, and his struggle to keep track of his finances. And we won't even discuss his gruesome blood clotting issues. And I was determined not to have a massive panic attack accompanied by hand-wracking tremors as I had a few months before when I was scrambling for research on voting for the Inkwell Awards themselves (see my "Carrying On..." blog entry).   

Suffice to say, we made it to HeroesCon in the second week of July. Once again, I had an awesome time. The worry evaporated, and I could safely leave my father on his own for 3 days. Ironically, given the stress of the last few months regarding the Inkwells, Sarah and I had a warm and cordial reunion with Bob Almond, Michael Kellar, and other key Inkwells personnel, including some new to us. This was documented below:

We had a blast with Bob & co., and had a wonderful meal downtown, in which the group brainstormed ways to survive and move forward. I truly miss those guys. Perhaps I'm jumping ahead there. I miss them because, a few weeks after the con, Sarah and Bob and Michael came to a mutual agreement that Sarah would no longer be working in any capacity with the Inkwells, as either as committee member or in her vaunted 'Techno-Queen' position (she basically salvaged, overhauled, and then maintained their website). It was felt that she'd gotten too far behind in her duties due to her health and work issues, and my dad's worsening dependency on us. I was thrown in as part of the farewell deal, though I'd told Bob I'd try to work on wikipedia in between helping daddy. Perhaps this was an unrealistic proposition, and Bob sensed it. In any case, I also was out of the Inkwells and Bob issued a cordial e-mail, copied to the committee, wishing the Coverts well. I was sad to go, and now, for the first time in years, barring SNS' return from hiatus, I was without a regular online or hard copy regular gig for my writing. Which is why I'm lobbying for SNS to rejuvenate.

Despite all that came after, I did have a superb time at HeroesCon, from the lengthy time spent manning the Inkwell Awards table, to running into old Wold Newton comrade Micah Harris, to meeting the legendary Jim Steranko, to getting a picture (still unpublished) of myself with longtime (since 1992) acquaintance and boyhood hero Roy Thomas, to scoring a NM copy of Kirby's The Demon # 1 for $2.00 (!). And of course I scribbled notes for a number of potential SNS articles, and took dozens of pictures, mainly of the wonderfully creative participants in cosplay. Disappointingly, my HeroesCon report has gone the way of my more recent Titan Books reviews for SNS - on proverbial hiatus. First it was illness and work (where stress is a way of life), but I felt on the verge of conquering, or at least keeping at bay, those twin obstacles, with improved medication. 

But in the first week of August 2013, my father once again had to be admitted to the ER. His journey lasted over a week, and, though his age (weeks shy of 91) and general health (heart disease, near-kidney failure) seemed against him, I had little doubt that he would make it. Until he was transferred to a nursing home and I was told he likely wouldn't make the first 100 days. He was convinced they were trying to kill him there, a common reaction in such places, and, sadly, he indeed didn't make the 100 days - barely 5, in fact.

And my father was gone.

2013: Part One

I've enumerated some of the obstacles (mainly health-wise) that barred me and my wife from a more creative output in 2013. Money was also a major factor. In most ways, we were doing better on unemployment than on the paltry part-time gigs we obtained in late 2012. The constant struggle with health and finances made the first part of the year less than productive. and in the midst - towering over it, you might say - was my 90 year old father's rapidly declining physical and mental health. We stayed with my father, and increasingly, I fell into a ritual of grocery shopping and errand running for him on my days off work (I wasn't getting many hours after January anyway). Sarah fared better with hours, but was unhappy with her job at Ross and took a new one up the street from it. Her ankle gave her significant problems at Ross and more recently at her current job. Add this to her fibromyalgia and arthritis, and our bouts with depression and anxiety, and the Covert clan was in rough shape as we approached convention season, which I hoped would be a balm to all this, as cons always excite me and provide an escape from the mundane. 

From HeroesCon to FarmerCon to San Diego Comic-Con, I have always felt truly at home and in my element at a convention, since the first Heroes Mini-Con I attended at age 9.
Also, I felt the cons would give us a chance to resuscitate She Never Slept's content, which had waned since the last barrage of reviews by Sarah and the episodes of my videocast Retrodrome. Associate Editor Sean Lee Levin had been largely maintaining the site under Sarah's direction, and stalwart Assistant Editor Heather Royston had been contributing content, but the Coverts largely lay fallow, beset by the difficulties cited above. When ConCarolinas, a very fun nascent local sci-fi/ fantasy convention, rolled around in the first part of June 2013, we all saw it as a chance to get back on track with our journalism. Sarah and I would each write a report, as would SNS scribe Angie bell. All three of us reported on ConCarolinas for SNS in summer 2012. Such was the plan this year as well. But so goes the cliche about the best laid plans...

Next up: 2013: Part Two: The Conventions (and A Few Surprises..)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Zeo' OZ: An Intermission

Before I continue my journal of the last two years, I'd like to post my most recent sketches. I'm not overly fond of them myself, but brother mine Scott Mosely aka Vesbius Flestrin, was crazy about them and now wants to pen an Oz pastiche with me illustrating. Hey, I'm game. Anyway, here's "Zeo's Oz":

Friday, September 20, 2013

Carrying on (including the 'Heroes Incident')...

In my last blog entry, I attempted to bring my readers and followers (few as they may be) up to date on my personal and creative lives, and to fill in the gaps left by my lengthy disappearing act from the scene. 2012 was a productive year, with my work on the Comics Forge at the beginning of the year; reviews for She Never Slept; convention reports for SNS; and, finally for SNS, my videocast Retrodome, which taped a few shows and has lapsed into a state of limbo. Lastly, I was writing as 'Chronicler', and voting for, the Inkwell Awards. With the exception of the Comics Forge, my wife and I were working in tandem in some capacity or another. And 2012 was the year my web comix projects came apart. On that, more in an upcoming blog...

At the end of 2012, I finally landed a "real job", as a clerk at a very cool record store that sold new and used LPs, CDs, and DVDs, as well as toys and sundry pop culture items. Unfortunately, the job was stressful, and contributed to some serious health problems that reared their head in early 2013. I acquired a serious nervous condition - an outgrowth of extant anxiety issues and stress processing problems. Unfortunately, around this time, my father, who was 90 years old, was facing rapidly declining health and needed more attention from my wife and myself. Finally,  my duties for the Inkwell Awards, which normally would've been no sweat, began to overwhelm me and exacerbate my nervous condition.

One night at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find, the awesome local comics shop I'd frequented for 30 odd years (and which sponsors the yearly Heroes Con here in Charlotte), I had a horrid experience. My friend Rhett took me to do research for my vote in the 2013 Inkwell Awards (which would be held at HeroesCon). While Rhett visited a nearby video store, I struggled with the voting ballot due to uncontrollable tremors in my hands and a feeling on intense anxiety rippling through me. I was so embarrassed, as I could barely scrawl the names of the inkers whose work I was considering voting for. That night was surely a nadir for me in recent times, though sadly it wouldn't be the last such incident, merely the worst - one in which I felt the most exposed in a place where I was usually in my element.

I'm going to cut this short, in the interest of maintaining regular content on this new/ old blog. But I'll be back soon with the terrors and triumphs of 2013, and the vagaries of a life yearning to create but shackled to the mundane.... Plus: some recent sketches perhaps...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More on the Return...

Despite letting this blog lapse into (even greater) obscurity as 2011 waned, the intention was always to build a permanent blog by 2013 at my official website, Purple Purple Serpent is the imprint under which I've done my work in comix, my music, and any other creative ventures. My good friend and former editor Shawnti Therrien (on the comic anthology With Honor, which has fostered a very enthusiastic fan group on Facebook though the book itself failed due to publisher missteps) designed an amazing logo for P.S. that I'll display in the near future (I'm on the mac, and much of my graphics are on the PC's external hard drive, alas). Shawnti is a mad creative, doing comix, prose, and forging demented little dolls.

2012 was a busy writing and performing year for my wife, Sarah L. Covert, and myself. We toiled as volunteers for Bob Almond's Inkwell Awards (and were able to vote for outstanding inking talent for the year; more on the Inkwells in another post). We wrote much for Sarah's website, She Never Slept, and recruited Associate Editor Sean Levin. We did extensive convention reports in the summer - on the HeroesCon (as we had in 2011), and on ConCarolinas, a relatively new convention in the area. I tolied on my web comix much of the year until they became untenable to produce for (about that, more in future installments)

Notable for myself, we recorded several episodes of Retrodrome, my semi-regular discussion of classic, obscure, and overlooked films, books, and comix. Links to all the Retrodrome segments on the SNS site will be provided in an upcoming blog, as will links to all my online work published in 2012, as my resume on this site is sorely out of date. As the year closed, Retrodrome and my SNS reviews and articles were growing fewer, for reasons I'll enumerate in coming blogs (though we were still deeply ensconced in the Inkwell Awards, at least until the summer).

I thank my partner in all things, Sarah, for standing by me and for the support and the creative inspiration in general, but especially during the rough year of 2013. Here we are, happily cavorting in the Pacific Northwest in December 2009 (photo by Jason V Brock).