Friday, September 29, 2017

William Shatner's Shatoetry

Everyone should know by now that I ADORE William Shatner. The man has mastered the eerie art of reverse ageing, so that he looks a little younger every time I see him. I'd say he looks about 62 now, and is . . . I have to take a breath to say it - 86. Even Betty White, the infamous hot dog-eater of my recent animation, is not quite so ageless, and though she's an attractive old lady, she is just that - an old lady. This guy is  just - what? An anomaly?

If I ever get to meet him, I need to ask: so what's the deal here? Did you really make a deal with the devil when you were 25 years old, or what? And what was the deal? To serve humanity until the end of time? It's all so enthralling. He just seems to go on and on. And that's not even getting into the horses, and how he rode that horse at full gallop in Alexander the Great, without a saddle and in a short skirt.

I saw an incredible video that said he's going to be in Cirque de Soleil, but I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. Maybe it's even true?

OMG, yes, it was last March! The last time I saw such agelessness, such an easy vitality and effervescent life, was when I watched Ringo Starr in concert. He has reverse-aged as well, in his own way, going from hangdog to hip, from mutt to marvelous. 

I don't know how these guys do it. Put it in a jar for me, will you?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

When good rabbits go bad

Just when I think I've seen the all-time worst movie ever made (Plan 9? Glen or Glenda?), something like this comes along.

It's one of those super-low-budget creature-feature things made in the early '70s. It has a noble cast, from Janet Leigh (yes, THAT Janet Leigh) to Stuart Whitman to Rory Calhoun, not to mention DeForest Kelley, the legendary Bones on Star Trek. This makes you wonder if the rent was overdue or what.

For the evil menace in this movie isn't giant locusts or rogue apes or killer ants or Godzilla. Not even Gila monsters filmed to look big, or anything like that.

It's bunnies.

Bunnies which supposedly have been made real big and bloodthirsty by some sort of experiment. One escapes (ONE?), and within a couple of days, the whole area is swarmed by "thousands" of giant rabbits (though we see only a dozen or so at a time, hopping along in slow motion).

The only problem is, they're so darn cute we can't believe they'd be a menace to anyone, let alone snap off someone's arms and legs like they're made out of china.

This isn't one of those tongue-in-cheek horror-movie-parody things like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It's in dead earnest. This movie is trying very, very hard to be a scary movie. The rabbits, filmed against dinky little sets to make them look big, are depicted as bloodthirsty marauders as they hippity-hop along the bunny trail, leaving humans sprawled in a wash of maroon house paint. This just drags on for an hour and a half, but it's unintentionally hilarious. I watched it one night and my husband came downstairs and said, "WHAT are you watching?" He hadn't heard me guffaw like that in some time.

This one is listed under "comedy" on YouTube, though I assure you it's made with the utmost seriousness. The filmmakers ask us to accept the fact that when the rabbits wouldn't cooperate, actors in bad rabbit suits and even hand puppets acted as viable stand-ins. What ISN'T so funny is what happens to all those fluffy-tailed, hippity-hoppity, twitchy-nosed, lop-eared Peter Rabbits: they're all electrocuted and end up lying in a heap of smoking ruin. 

I hope nobody took their kids to see this. It's the one horror movie where you hope the "monster" will win.

And here's what the critics said. . .

Robert Sellers
Radio Times

A total bloody shambles.

TV Guide

The mind marvels at the bravery of the person who walked
into the producer's office to pitch this idea.

Dennis Schwartz
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Well worth watching for those enamored by bad films that are
unintentionally funny.

Bob Baker
Time Out

Impossible not to admire the total withholding of irony in
Claxton's approach to this kamikaze project.

Eric Henderson
Slant Magazine

Rabbits produce two things in obscene quantities: other rabbits
and rabbit pellets.

Christopher Null

One of the worst films ever made.

John J. Puccio
Movie Metropolis

The only thing more lifeless than the corpses in Night of
the Lepus is the movie itself.

Roger Greenspun
New York Times

It is this technical laziness as much as the stupid story
or the dumb direction that leaves the film in limbo and
places it in neither one camp nor the other - neither with
Attack of the 50-Foot Woman nor with Flopsy, Mopsy and

Staci Layne Wilson

Here comes the 'eater' bunny!

Shane Burridge

A failure on every level.

Glimpse of heaven: roll cloud

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Giraffes for dinner

Electrophone Girl

When I first saw this image of a winsome, euphoric young woman with what looked like earphones on her head, I thought, what the hell year was this taken? I immediately wondered if she was about to be therapeutically electrocuted, as was the fashion back then. Electricity was thought to be a panacea, a cure from everything from sexual desire to neurasthenia (whatever that is).

I was to learn - and thank Wikipedia for this! - that, in fact, she was listening to the radio. In 1895! There was a kind of radio in the 19th century, and people could listen to broadcasts of plays and concerts from the comfort of their own home. 

Radio 30 years before radio. Who knew?

If you look more closely at this image, now doing the rounds of the internet, you will notice it has been defaced by "somebody" (not me!) to give the beautiful young lady crude-looking rings, a necklace, a nose ring and wristwatch (which I am sure she never had, wristwatches not having been invented yet). I don't know what the doodles signified, except that perhaps someone assumed she was a time traveller projecting herself decades into the future.

But no. She did it all through her telephone. People were using their phones for all sorts of inventive things back then, enjoying music and plays and comedies and opera, all manner of entertainment. It was Smartphone without pictures. Then, as is usual with the human race, we forgot all about it, the knowledge sank without a trace, and was resurrected 120 years later as a Brand New Thing.

Once more we are playing with our phones, sopping up music and entertainment and even wearing funny things on our heads that would make a Martian think we had gone insane.

Electrophone System

The Electrophone system was a distributed audio system which operated in the UK between 1895 and 1926. This system relayed live theatre and music hall shows and, on Sundays, live sermons from churches. This was a subscription service and users would firstly ask the operator, by using their normal phone line, to connect them to Electrophone. The Electrophone switchboard operator would ask them which theatre they wanted to connect to. 

A 1906 advertisement stated that they could choose from among fourteen theatres — the Aldwych, Alhambra, Apollo, Daly's, Drury Lane, Empire, Gaiety, Lyric, Palace, Pavilion, Prince of Wales's, Savoy, Shaftesbury and Tivoli — in addition to concerts from the Queen's and Royal Albert Halls, and, on Sundays, services from fifteen churches. For opera, they would be connected to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

To pick up the programs, multiple large carbon microphones were placed in the theater footlights to pick up the sounds of the performers. In churches, the microphones were disguised to look similar to bibles. Home subscribers were issued headphones connected to their standard telephone lines. The annual charge was £5, which limited its affordability to the well-to-do. Queen Victoria was included as one of the listeners. In 1897, it was noted that coin operated receivers had been installed in some hotels, which provided a few minutes of entertainment for a sixpenny. Additional lines were installed, for free, for use by convalescing hospital patients.

Although fairly long-lived, the Electrophone never advanced beyond a limited audience. In 1896 there were just 50 subscribers, although this increased to over 1000 by 1919, and just over 2000 at its peak in 1923. However, competition due to the introduction of radio broadcasting resulted in a rapid decline, falling to 1000 by November 1924. In early 1923, an Electrophone director was quoted as saying that "it would be a long time before broadcasting by wireless of entertainments and church services attained the degree of perfection now achieved by the electrophone." However, that proved to be overly optimistic, and as of June 30, 1925, the London Electrophone ceased operations.

A second, much smaller system, was established in Bournemouth in 1903, but the maximum number of subscribers only reached 62 as of 1924. This system was finally discontinued in 1938, after it was determined during the previous year that there were only two remaining subscribers.

Blogservations. Two subscribers! That beats my yearly sales of books by exactly two, so I'm impressed. But I'm even more impressed that back in the Victorian era, someone thought of broadcasting concerts and plays and church services to a home audience, using technology that already existed. Someone was most definitely thinking ahead.

I'm also intrigued by the image of the young woman with the tennis racket over her head. 

Did someone just brain her with it, or did she brain herself? Or is this how you listened to those magical broadcasts, clamping this weird-looking gizmo over your head?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Benny and the Jets

Disco kitties FREAK OUT




Harold and Ginger and boudoir dolls

During my long Harold trek, which I don't think is over yet, I found some pretty sweet photos. The candid shots generally came with no explanation. But this one doesn't need one: it's Harold Lloyd hugging his dear friend Ginger Rogers, in the kind of gorgeous mink coat you never see any more (because someone will throw paint on you if you do). At first it isn't obvious, but you can plainly see his injured right hand with its missing thumb and forefinger. I've found a number of photos like this, where the hand is obvious in public, and it flies in the face of the "information" I found that said he always hid the hand in his pocket.

But he didn't. He was cool about it, so probably few people even noticed. He was relaxed about it with his friends. I think his attitude was: hide in plain sight. I like that, I like it a lot, and it took some courage in an age when "deformities" were kept carefully out of sight.

But this one is even more interesting. It's surprising what you miss when you don't look too closely. I never even noticed, until I posted this on my Harold Lloyd Facebook page (yes! I have a Harold Lloyd Facebook page, though hardly anyone knows about it: 

I knew about the craze for boudoir dolls, a Russian-inspired fad that raged through the '20s and '30s. I even collected some photos of them several years ago, yet still I missed this one! I wonder now if this was a gift from Harold to Ginger. With Harold's great generosity, it might have been.

This link will take you to an extremely detailed and informative post about boudoir dolls and their cultural significance.

And here is a slideshow I made just for you, dear readers, so you'll know what they looked like. Obviously, there was no one style, but at the same time, they have a certain sophistication in common. Their bodies and limbs were very long and skinny, as if they were mere frames for the clothes. Doll mannequins. I wonder how costly they were? If movie stars were carrying them around, they must have been, though no doubt there were knockoffs then, as there is now.

As I was working on this slide show, I realized I was seeing something with a startling resemblence to the eerily beautiful Enchanted Dolls of Marina Bychkova. I've been obsessed with those dolls for years, and have posted about them many times (and my hope of even seeing one of them in person is very slim - they command tens of thousands of dollars, and only appear at the most prestigious doll exhibits in the world). 

At one point I had the two sets of doll pictures mixed together, and - oh shit! - was it hard to separate them, because of all the similarities. Bychkova's dolls tend towards the waiflike, though some of them are downright fierce. They echo ancient story and reflect the true darkness of the fairy tale. Boudoir dolls have a flapperish quality (some are depicted smoking, or reclining in a seductive way with their legs apart). But the sexuality, the gorgeous costumes, the weirdness and slight creepiness that all dolls exhibit - I see them in both types.

Another slideshow I made of Enchanted Dolls. I think you can see the similarities, as well as the differences. And now I wonder if Bychkova, born in Russia, was influenced at all by these exotic European-made dolls. How could she not be?

BLOGSERVATION. I just noticed another thing. Ginger's doll has a certain resemblance to Marie Antoinette: the elaborate gown, the very high hairdo. 

And behold, this - 

I don't want to start researching the life of Ginger Rogers and trying to find out if she collected boudoir dolls, if this was in fact from Harold, or if they were carrying on together (as he did with so many women). Let it rest for now. But it's a fascinating subject. Though I return to dolls again and again as a topic, I'm not much of a collector.

But I do have a few.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fata Morgana

A Fata Morgana (Italian: [ˈfaːta morˈɡaːna]) is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is the Italian name for the Arthurian sorceress Morgan le Fay, from a belief that these mirages, often seen in the Strait of Messina, were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their deaths. 

Although the term Fata Morgana is sometimes applied to other, more common kinds of mirages, the true Fata Morgana is different from both an ordinary superior mirage and an inferior mirage.

Fata Morgana mirages significantly distort the object or objects on which they are based, often such that the object is completely unrecognizable.

A Fata Morgana can be seen on land or at sea, in polar regions or in deserts. It can involve almost any kind of distant object, including boats, islands and the coastline.

A Fata Morgana is often rapidly changing. The mirage comprises several inverted (upside down) and erect (right side up) images that are stacked on top of one another. Fata Morgana mirages also show alternating compressed and stretched zones.

BLOGSERVATIONS. I knew something about mirages, but I thought they were those things in the desert, where you see water and palm trees on the horizon and by the time you run to them, they're gone. Saw it in a Popeye cartoon or something. But the Fata Morgana is something quite else.

I seem to remember, in certain films, seeing something above the water, something weirdly shimmering that kept changing size and shape. It seemed to melt, stretch and reform like a strange liquid. Sometimes you could see through it. These things likely freaked out those sailors of antiquity, just as they freak out people today. Pirate ship? Imminent attack? One can see where they might be mistaken for a UFO.

A boat can suddenly project itself upward so that it appears to hang in the sky, morphing from an elongated shape to a blob to - nothing. The marine mirages make sense - sort of - because of all that reflection on the water. But what about the ones on land?

Wikipedia tells me (and how can Wikipedia be wrong?) that a Fata Morgana can be almost anything: an island, a mountainside, a mountain GOAT if you could get a goat to hang upside-down. But how about whole cities? The photos from China appear to show tall buildings supended above the clouds, leading a lot of people to cry "photoshop!" Then how to explain the video of the same phenomenon? Who could have created that?

All this comes from the Land of the Strange, that country in which I am a cliffdweller or sharecropper or part-time lover. It's all very well to say "it's just a trick of light". Simple physics. Physics is a strange thing, however, and some time I'll post something about the overtone chanting of Tibetan monks, which is, quite literally, a chord coming from one person's throat. The way the sound leaps all over the musical spectrum is downright spooky, and seems impossible.

Do we believe our eyes, and if we don't, what do we rely on? Physics? Upside-down boats (or goats), or castles in the air? And did anyone in that eerie floating city in China happen to look down?