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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

And You Though "Little Red Riding Hood" Was for Kids

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Here is the film adaptation of Angela Carter's short story, "The Company of Wolves." It is directed by Neil Jordan, whose credits include "Michael Collins" and "The Crying Game."

Since so much of the quality of a werewolf movie depends upon the movie's appropriation of elements from film and folklore, this one has to be considered as top-notch. There is a brief bit in The Howling (1980) in which two people watch the old black and white cartoon of the three little pigs while a werewolf attack is happening at the same time; this movie is essentially that device carried out over an hour and a half.

The film merits much more attention than I can give it here. Suffice it to say that it is a deeply thought-provoking script and a richly textured picture, full of symbolic color and an effective score. It is at times hard to know what's going on, but that is partly the point, the disruption of a "fairly tale," the meaning of which has universally accepted. Little Red Riding Hood, it turns out, is about a lot more than a sweet little girl's trip to granny's house; and the big bad wolf would like to do a lot more than eat her.

It's an explication of the themes of maturity, girlhood, and sexual awakening, none of which are standard werewolf movie territory. But, as the promotional picture (above) shows, the movie is still concretely concerned with the central werewolf idea, the warring human and animal impulses in a person and in societies (or, here, genders) at large.

The recurring advice that the protagonist gets from her gran is to not "stray from the path." It is a warning, essentially, not to go out into the woods with boys, but I couldn't help hearing the refrain of the small town villagers in An American Werewolf in London: "Beware the Moors; stick to the road." There is this sense that the woods, the wild, the un-trodden is the domain of the big bad wolf. And so it is. Also, the woods are nothing without the full moon.

It's not that all men are wolves and would prey on the defenseless innocence of little girls. It's that childhood inevitably gives way to maturity; the wolves outside outside the window are going to get in, and when they do, they will destroy all of the trinkets of childhood, although maybe not the child herself.

The strength of the movie (and its contribution to the werewolf canon) is in its facility with narrative. By itself, the main narrative is compelling. But it does one better, by interweaving a number of stories-within-the-story and showing the ways that stories (be they "old wive's tales" of "God's honest truth") function to usher one from childhood to maturity in either destructive or healthy ways.

I conclude with a simple repitition of the movie's best line, uttered by Gran (Angela Landsbury): "The worst wolves are hairy on the inside."

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:09 PM | link | 1 comments |

"A Naked American Man Stole My Balloon."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

There is nothing like An American Werewolf in London. Nothing.

The movie's title by itself held a mythic place in my family's history, as my father was said to have been so scared by the movie that he took a coat hanger with him to bed for weeks. Who knows what parents will say to keep their kids from watching movies that give the parents themselves nightmares; it didn't work. I watched the movie as a teenager largely because of the mythic proportions it had acquired. And now, watching it again, I realize how firmly fixed pieces of it--indeed how firmly fixed the simple idea of it--has been fixed in my mind.

It is a superior movie in every respect: tightly-written script, magnificently utilized special effects (sans computers, by the way), well-acted, and beautifully shot. But this is no film critic's exercise; this is a werewolf movie tour. So we leave the film's technical merits to themselves and proceed to its place in the canon.

Its place is simply at the top. Because it is powerfully daring and unique while also being grounded in a deeply-understood tradition. The movie's writer and director, John Landis (who also wrote Animal House and Blues Brothers) was a big fan of the Wolf Man movies starring Lon Chaney, Jr. What he was trying to do here was make a contemporary version of a very traditional story. It is traditional in that it knows the tradition thoroughly and can quite consciously appropriate or reject any given piece of it (the suggestion of silver bullets, for example, is greeted with the rejoinder, "don't be ridiculous."). So the full moon is important, the five-pointed star (ala Bella Lugosi) and the curse itself.

Where it is contemporary is in its realism. Landis was very intentional about creating something that, espcially in its violence, would seem very, very real. And so he does. And so, without being intentionally psychological as a number of werewolf movies have been, Landis creates something that is brutal on the psyche. I mean, the gore dial is ratcheted way up, even for 1981. A werewolf movie is a movie about something painfully inexplicable, and so Landis even creates a scene of chaotic automobile violence in Picadilly Circus near the end of the film that is relentless and shocking. And then its all over.

The thing that Werewolf is best known for, of course, is its transformation sequence. Like the sequence before it in The Howling, it takes a respectable amount of screen time. But unlike its sole predecessor, its metamorphasis is believable and eye-popping and the same time. It is believable because Landis conceived of it as something that would be painful to his protagonist (ultimately he called it a metaphor for adolescence); the skin stretches, fingers elongate, the face contorts, and the whole thing just looks and feels excruciating. By the end of it you have the first non two-legged werewolf in the history of werewolf movies; this one crawls on the ground on all fours. I doubt that it will ever be surpassed.

Oh, and a quick note on the music. The metamorphasis takes place to the soothing tones of Sam Cook singing, "Blue Moon." Landis also used Van Morrison's "Moon Dance" and CCR's "Bad Moon Rising" in the movie (which is why that song has always creeped me out). That's almost it as far as the music goes. No big orchestral hits; no suspence or mood music. Just the odd pop track with moon in the title, played almost all the way through. The use of music and the restraint from music is very effective.

Ultimately, the werewolf story has the afflicted party as its subject. It's a sad story about a person who, through no fault of their own, becomes the owner of a terrible violence that they cannot control or get rid of. Their only option is suicide. Landis understood the very simple and traditional premise of the werewolf story, and he appropriated it skillfully and compellingly. There's no attempt to get into the psychology of it. He just says, "here's a cool story. Enjoy."

And we do. But, man, buyer beware. When Landis called his movie a "contemporary" version of a "traditional" tale, I think that by "contemporary" he partly meant violent to a punishing degree. I'm not into that so much, and so I recommend the movie somewhat cautiously (oh, and there's a 10 minute sequence of dialogue that takes place in an adult theater, if you can handle that kind of thing). But, unless I am subsequently proven wrong, there simply is no better adaptation of the werewolf tale out there.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:48 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Werewolf Brings Da Hamma!

Monday, October 24, 2005

One of the cool things about this werewolf movie tour has been the discovery of other little bits of movie history along the way. Like the history of the Wolf Man franchise run by Universal Pictures and all starring Lon Chaney Jr. Today's little side-discovery in the way of movie history comes compliments of the 1961 film The Curse of the Werewolf, a production of Hammer Films.

Hammer Films was a British company that perfected, during the 1950's and 60's, the production of low-budget and high-gore horror movies. The company quit making movies in the mid 1980's, but it enjoyed a long and successful run due in large part to agreements with major American studios to release their films to American audiences. Those films have come to be known as a sort of genre in themselves, the Hammer Horror genre.

O.K. Enough of history. When people say that Hammer Horror films were low budget, that they utilized cheap and second-hand sets, and that they recycled the same actors over and again, believe that it's as bad as it sounds. The Curse of the Werewolf is really not good. I mean, it's not horrendous, but it's a far howl from good.

Adapted from the novel The Werewolf of Paris, the story is actually set in Spain and centers around an orphan boy, Leon Corledo (played by Oliver Reed). Leon's mother was cruelly thrown into a dungeon by the town's evil Marques, where she was attacked by the only other prisoner, a beggar thrown in the dungeon by the same evil Marques years earlier. Leon is the offspring of that attack. His mother dies in childbirth, and he is raised by a kind citizen, Don Alfredo Corledo, and by his servant, Teresa.

As a boy, Leon discovers he likes the taste of blood. Then he takes to leaping out his bedroom window at night during the full moon and tearing out the throats of the villagers' goats. And here's where it gets interesting: his parents figure this out (they find him their fang-bearing son seeting at the window in the middle of the night), and they approach the local priest (we are in mid 18th century Spain). The priest quite matter-of-factly diagnoses the boy as a werewolf. His explanation? Sometimes, as an accident of birth, of heredity, the evil in a person's soul will so dominate the good that the person is rendered an animal. The cure, of course, is the same thing that cures everything in movieland--love.

For a time, the love of Leon's parents makes his lycanthropy abate, but then he comes of age and moves away to work on his own. Then he becomes a werewolf again, kills a few people, is racked with guilt, and then shot and killed by his silver bullet-wielding father.

O.K. The werewolf commonalities: the full moon, the guilt-ridden and tormented protagonist, and the silver bullet (also, the presence, ala Werewolf of London, of an antedote--love)

The werewolf distinctives: Leon's werewolfery is not something he got from a bite; he was born with it. And there's no mention of him passing it on to anyone else. So, unlike almost every other werewolf movie, where the afflicted party is a victim of animal violence, The Curse of the Werewolf's afflicted party is a victim of . . . fate.

The most valuable contribution that this movie makes to the genre is a more-thorough-than-usual examination of the human/animal dichotomy. Where most werewolf movies take this to be a given of human life--that we are prone to animal bahavior--The Curse of the Werewolf wants to know why. The answer it proposes is that, at least to some extent, it is a human-created problem.

In the film's opening scene, the beggar (Leon's father) is literally treated like a dog by the Marques, who marches him in front of his wedding guests, makes him dance for food, and then throws bones at him for him to eat off the floor. Then he throws him in a dungeon, never to look at him again. Such treatment turns the beggar into something of an animal, and he perpetuates a ferocious attack on another human being (Leon's mother). The "curse" of the werewolf can be said to be nothing else than the "curse" of how some people (the wealthy and the powerful especially) treat others (the poor), and what, in turn, they turn those people in to.

Finally, The Curse of the Werewolf is the most explicitly religious werewolf movie out there. The theology is not really worth elaborating on, but one interesting point should be made in relation to contemporary life. The village priest discovers the boy to be a werewolf, but does nothing and tells no one. So, later on, when the grown boy is once again wreaking havoc and death on the village, the mayor is made aware of this early diagnosis, he berates the priest: "You knew, and you didn't do anything?" To which the priest can only whimper, "I wasn't certain."

So, yeah, a Catholic priest covers up something about someone, and then that something emerges later to kill and destroy. Interpret as you will.

The Curse of the Werewolf is kind of fun, but it's not very good. It's not scary at all, and it takes waaaay to long to actually get to the werewolf stuff. It's kitchy and, at times, more thoughtful than the average werewolf movie; but it'll end up somewhere near the bottom of the list, I'm sure.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:55 AM | link | 0 comments |

To Stay in One Place

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Christian Century's Fall Book issue came out this week, and one of the practical theology title's that Anthony Robinson recommended was this one by Mount St. Mary's College theology professor David Matzko McCarthy, The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class.

Here's a money quote from the first chapter, a reflection of the gospel story of the rich young ruler who is asked to sell all he has, give the money to the poor, and follow the Wandering Galilean Teacher:

"The rich young man is asked to risk a greater bond, to walk with others, to put on the clothes of discipleship and to cary the tools of peace, to depend upon the hospitality and grace of his hosts, to remain with others as their guests and to call their homes his own. The disciple's journey is one of stopping and staying, resting and eating, and bringing peace."

To risk a greater bond . . .

Greater than what? Greater than riches? Greater than career advancement? Greater than upward mobility? Greater than lifestyle flexibility?

Yes, the risk of "genuine Christianity" is greater than all of these. Yet here I sit in an apartment that my wife and I have inhabited for less than six months, after vacating a house we lived in for about a year, after moving from a city we lived in for one year, after moving from a seminary apartment complex we lived in for one year, after getting married. We have moved four times in four years.

To remain with others? Remaining is a virtue of Christian discipleship that I fear I am not learning and cannot practice. Eugene Peterson is fond of describing the Christian life as "A long obedience in the same direction"; and while, professionally, the direction has been constant for about five years now, the same cannot be said personally or civically.

And that, of course, is the trouble. Because "genuine Christianity" is not a profession; it is a way of life, the walk of discipleship that calls you to risk a greater bond. I'm finding that what my training has taught me is to not risk that greater bond, but to seek out opportunity and advanement.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:12 AM | link | 1 comments |

Werewolf Impossible or Disco Werewolf

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Anyone who wants to do a historical sweep of the werewolf movie genre will find themselves traversing a Grand-Canyon like terrain of possibilities. Starting in the 1930's and stretching for nearly two decades, werewolf movies are in abundance. Granted, most of them are produced by the same studio and feature the same character, Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man, but there is plenty of material to work with. Likewise, from about 1980 through early 2000, there was a remarkable output of werewolf films, a number of which we will be viewing later.

However, like it is in so many other ways, the decade of the 1970's is a cultural wasteland when it comes to werewolf movies. And so we are left with one 70's werewolf movie, The Scream of The Wolf, a made-for-television flick made in 1974 and starring Peter Graves and Clint Walker.

Graves (John Wetherby) is a retired game hunter who is recruited out of retirement by a local sheriff to help track a wolf-like animal that is terrorizing a small California town. At the scenes of the terrors, cops and hunters alike are baffled by two things: the tracks surrounding the victims change from four-footed tracks to two-footed tracks before disappearing altogether, and search dogs can't keep the scent of the predator because the scent keeps changing.

Wetherby tries to recruit his old friend and colleague, Byron Douglas (played by Walker), but the creepy and enigmatic Byron refuses. As the story unfolds (somewhat like a ceral box statuette), we come to know Byron as a menacing figure who travels the world hunting dangerous animals, nearly escaping death himself on a regular basis. He has, in fact, been bitten by a wolf. Hmmmmm.

The movie plays upon the most obvious pieces of werewolf legend without actually appropriating it. You get shots of a full moon, the brief mention of Byron's wolf-bite, and an off-handed joke about silver bullets. But the movie isn't really about a werewolf; it's about Wetherby and Byron, their tarnished friendship, and the different paths their lives have taken. Wetherby has quit hunting and settled down to write a book, while Byron continues to hunt, driven by the conviction that the animals he kills are never more alive than the moment before he kills them; he's doing them a favor. Would that people could feel so alive. Hmmmmmm.

Scream of The Wolf really doesn't merit much more attention than I've already given it. Nostalgia requires me to point out the film's akward mechanics, like the never-ending and unsteady super-up-close-pan shots (you can almost hear the director: "Pan in on Peter's face! Pan in on Clint's face! Pan in on the handshake! Hold it there guys--pan in! Pan in!"). And that is as technically sophisticated as the movie gets; you never see a werewolf, and you--thankfully--never see a victim.

And in addition to the dun-dun-dun!! pan shots, you get wa-wa pedals and disco beats at the beginning, middle, and end of the movie. Add that to Graves' sweet burgundy Corvette, and you have the makings of a swanky 70's thriller--just not a werewolf movie.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:49 AM | link | 0 comments |

The Defiant Ones Revisited

Monday, October 17, 2005

I'm reading James Baldwin's The Devil Finds Work, a sustained personal essay about the movies that have most influenced Baldwin, the ones that he recognizes to have been both formative and reflective of the racial attitudes and realities in America.

The Defiant Ones, the Sydney Poitier and Tony Curtis film I watched a few weeks ago, receives significant comment in the book. It is comment that I find troubling, troubling because it exposes the naivete (if not something worse) at work in my reading of the film, a reading which Baldwin would say is the only one that a white guy could come up with.

I praised the central tenet of the film, that the fates of Black and White Americans are as tied together realistically as they are metaphorically between the two characters. But do I really believe that to be true? Does my life reflect that? Has it been conditioned by that? Most definitely not. Which opens me up to the scathing observation of Baldwin about the film, which is that, rather than existing to make the claim that blacks and whites in America are somehow bound to one another, it simply exists to soothe the white conscience, to assure hand-wringing white people that they aren't hated by their black neighbors. Because, of course, Poitier jumps the train when Curtis can't make it; he forfeits the only shot at freedom he'll ever have in order to end up arrested, sitting in a track-side ditch singing "Sewing Maching" with his white buddy in his arms.

It would never occur to the white viewer that black audiences--as Baldwin attests they did--shouted during the film's climactic scene, "What are you doing? Get back on that train, you fool!" White audiences would shout no such thing, but would sigh a sigh of relief (as I did) that the black protagonist's character had not sunk so low as the white one's--by white standards.

I need to watch the movie again; and I need to hear other people's take on it.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:26 AM | link | 0 comments |

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Werewolf for the Media Age

In 1980, audiences were treated to The Howling, the first, I think, Werewolf movie from a major American studio in a long while. What those audiences saw was a smart, self-conscious thriller of a movie, in love with its’ new-fangled special effects.

The story is essentially this: a beautiful TV reporter is attacked by a serial killer in a sting, and the killer is shot by police who bust on the scene. But the reporter, shaken and spooked, can’t return to work. So she accepts the invitation of a well-known behaviorist and author to spend a week at his quiet community in the woods, called “The Colony.”

While there, lycanthropy breaks out. Howls outside the window, inexplicably mangled cattle, and then the reporter’s husband is attacked while walking alone at night. He then begins to act strangely (he begins to voraciously eat meat after repeatedly expressing a distaste for it). From then on, werewolves are everywhere, and I won’t spoil the plot. At least not yet.

The Howling is a media-aware werewolf tale that implants in its’ narrative little reminders of the human/beast mythology that operates in the culture. For example, during one werewolf attack scene, the action cuts back-and-forth between the attack and a television broadcasting the cartoon, “The Three Little Pigs,” with the Big Bad Wolf baring his teeth and huffing and puffing. Also, there is a bookstore owner who is consulted by investigative reporters, an expert in the salesmanship of the werewolf mythology (“Hollywood nonsense,” he calls it). And, best of all, scenes from the 1941 werewolf classic The Wolf Man are shown on TV as a couple watches them in bed.

So The Howling wants us to be convinced that it knows whereof it speaks.

There is much traditional werewolf mythology here: silver bullets, the perpetuating of the condition via a bite, and the never-ending editorializing about the human/animal condition. But there are notable departures from the tradition as well. For one, the werewolves can seemingly become so whenever they wish; there’s no reference to the full moon or to the wolfbane blooming or anything like that. This is the film’s signature shot, too, where the afflicted newscaster becomes a werewolf in the middle of her broadcast as a way of outing the rest of the werewolves. Heavy modern science, too (as well as the psychological professional), is present, as in Werewolf of London and The Wolf Man, but here the werewolf phenomenon persists not simply in spite of modern science and reason, but also persists against it, overpowering it as something raw and animal (“You can’t tame what’s meant to be wild, doc; It aint natural.”)

Finall, contrary to the classical dilemma of the werewolf film, the tortured afflicted individual in the midst of “normal” society, The Howling’s protagonist turns out to be the only un-afflicted individual, surrounded by the abnormal.

And a word should be said about the technology. The Howling’s special effects for depicting the transformation of people into werewolves were the inspiration for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. They depend heavily on colored contact lenses, primitive computer graphics, tons of makeup, and those little inflatable pockets underneath facial masks. But the sheer spectacle of the special effects, to my mind, is a weak-point in the movie. Because the employment of those effects becomes a kind of end in itself, so that our terrorized protagonist literally stands there motionless for what can’t be less that four minutes of movie time, simply watching this whole transformation take place, in all of its tortured and exquisite detail. It’s terribly unbelievable.

Here’s the real value in The Howling. It contributes a pre-Truman Show analysis of the role of television in our lives, especially when it comes to separating reality from myth. It is no accident that the film’s protagonist is a newscaster, and it is not simply incidental that one of the central problems of the first half of the film (that she can’t recall the face of the serial killer who attacked her) is due to the fact that he attacked her in a movie booth, with the projector light shining straight into her eyes.

It is the question of perception that is central. As the noted behaviorist assures his patient, “Everything will seem better in the light of day.” That, of course, turns out to be just untrue. Because these werewolves are no respecters of daylight. And when Nightly News viewers are treated to the spectacle of the local anchorwoman turning into a werewolf and being shot between the weather and the sports, most of them either go “cool,” or they change the station.

The Howling, I think, was probably an important contribution to the werewolf genre, because it so adapted it to the context of late 20th century America that it told it in a way that it never had been before. In that way it gives you the best of Werewolf of London, with its concreteness of place and time, while also taking advantage, like The Wolf Man, of the classical tools of a horror movie (the woods, the fog, the music, and so on).

It’s a good watch. A bit more labored when it comes to the gore and the special effects, but the core of the story is compelling, and, who knows? It just might scare you.


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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:05 PM | link | 0 comments |

At Least English Werewolves Have Manners

Friday, October 14, 2005

In 1935, Werewolf of London set the stage for Universal Studios' franchise of Wolf Man films. Yet this movie is markedly different and appreciably more complex than the Wolf Man franchise ever became.

Werewolf of London is just downright good. It's more intentional filmmaking, with a better script and a much more imaginative direction and cinematography (though not better actors). At its core, Werewolf of London is just a good story told well. So well, in fact, that the modern viewer can even excuse the film for having its' werewolf stop and put on its' coat and hat before treacherously steppin' out.

Some interesting contrasts to point out between this one and The Wolf Man, released six years later:

  • In The Wolf Man, the protagonist, Larry Talbot, gets bitten by a werewolf when he goes home to England, after 18 years in America; Werewolf of London's protagonast, Dr. Wilfred Glendon, gets bitten on a botanical expedition in Tibet. So, in both cases it's a well-meaning and successful white guy who gets attacked by a weirdo-cum-werewolf (Bela Legosi's gypsy in The Wolf Man and the vaguely Asian Mr. Kigama in Werewolf of London). But it falls to one in a far away and foreign place, while it falls to the other in his childhood home.
  • Werewolf of London takes place in a definite place: London. The city is as much of the story as anything else; its' streetnames and landmarks, slums and citizens, are important pieces of the story; The Wolf Man takes place in "the woods," somewhere in the countryside.
  • Further, all of the violence in The Wolf Man happens in the woods, the domain of the ubiquitious low-lying fog; Werewolf of London's happens in alleys, in the zoo, and at an estate, all specific places that lend an air of particularity to the story. Indeed, the phenomenon, in Werewolf of London, of something so savage as a werewolf coming to inhabit a place so "civilized" as London, or, as one character put it, "Christian England," is largely the point. Becuase this London is a place where the wealthy aunt lives only a block from "The worst slum in England," where they'll "knife you for a schilling"; the savage and the civilized are already bedfellows.
  • The protagonist in The Wolf Man is positively tortured with the knowledge of what has overtaken him. In fact, it would become a running theme in the rest of the franchise's films that he simply wanted to die and no longer be a threat to people; but Werewolf of London's Dr. Glendon is rather self-obsessed about the whole thing and can hardly be bothered to consider the risk his condition poses to the public. The only person he can be moved to actually worry about is his doleful wife, so that he takes the extreme measure of locking himself into a shabby slum apartment and praying beneath the light of the moon: "Please Father in heaven, don't let this happen to me again; or if it must happen, please keep me away from the thing I love."
  • In Werewolf of London, those who are suspected of believing in the "superstition" of the werewolf, or those who profess to having actually seen it, are given over to speculations of drunkenness; it's the drink that would cause one to think such a thing. But in The Wolf Man, psyco-analysis has taken over and belief in the veracity of the monster is the result of psychic trauma or delusions, a black-and-white world view that in unhealthily simplistic.
Werewolf of London is a really neat movie. The story, the setting, the comic relief, the cinematography: all of it adds us to what must have been a quite scary film in 1935 and what is still a very engaging one today.

Final note: the transfiguration process in Werewolf of London is brilliant. Supposedly the writer and director were under much more censorious scrutiny for how they depicted the man/animal transition, so they had to be creative. So the most memorable one happens as Dr. Glendon is walking past a set of pillars at night--the action never stops. He simply disappears behind a pillar, and by the time he emerges on the other side a part of the transformation has happened. After three of them it is complete.

It just goes to show: restraint is as good a vehicle of expression as indulgence.

And all that from a werewolf movie.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:22 PM | link | 0 comments |

Sure it's a heads up play, but who's head is up where?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

White Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Astros: I'm not that interested. If you ask me, Astros/White Sox is the most compelling possibility, given the history--the 'stros have never been to the series, and the Sox haven't been in oodles of years.

So I'm not watching much of these games. But I did catch the end of last night's White Sox/Angels game, the second game of that series, and I have to say it was bogus. Let me say that again. B-O-G-U-S.

If you didn't see it, with the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th inning, and with two outs and nobody on base, the White Sox batter struck out swinging at a low strike. The Angels catcher rolled the ball back to the mound, and he and the rest of the Angels headed off the field for their at-bat in the top of the 10th inning. But the White Sox batter took off for first. And since half the Angels team was already off the field, he was easily safe. Then the White Sox put in a speedy pinch runner who stole second, then scored on a base hit. Game over.


Replay after replay showed two things conclusively. 1) The Angels catcher caught the ball. The rule that allows a hitter to attempt first base on a dropped third strike simply was not in play. The ball was caught, and it never hit the dirt (later, the umpire would confirm that he never said that the ball hit the dirt). 2) Replays showed the homeplate umpire clearly signalling strike three with his arm extend, then signalling "out" by pumping his fist.

So let's re-cap: the batter swung at strike three, the catcher caught the ball, and the umpire called him out. Got it.

Yet there's the box score, telling you that the White Sox won the game in the bottom of the ninth.


In the post-game interviews, all of the White Sox players were claiming ignorance, saying that they didn't know what happened and that their guy was just being "heads up" by running to first. I guess. But the umpIre was doing some "heads up" as well, with his head clearly up his . . .

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:54 AM | link | 1 comments |

Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Werewolf?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

It's time for scary movies. For the past few years, October has tickled my creepy nerve, and I've found myself seeking out scary movies. This year, with the help of Netflix, I did some advanced planning, and will dedicate the season to studying a particular sub-genre of horror movies: the werewolf movie.

A quick note: I like scary movies, but I don't like gore and violence. So that's tough. Those movies that can combine a good old fashioned scare with some restraint are real gems. Here's to hoping this October produces some of those.

Right, so, on with it.

I meant to do this chronologically, but I messed up. Rather than starting with the 1935 Werewolf of London, I started with the 1941 Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney (who was also in The Defiant Ones). What's interesting about the 70 minute film is the time during which it was filmed and its' dominant theme. The condition of inexplicably turning into a werewolf is, obviously, something that torments the film's protagonist, Larry Talbott. But his father has no patience for Larry's belief that he might actually be behind a couple of recent murders; to him, the whole legend of the werewolf is simply folklore illustrating something fundamentally human: "the good and evil in every man's soul."

I have to wonder how that line rang in the ears of Europeans and Americans as they watched newsreels of the Nazi army.

The Wolf Man is concerned with the individual soul and its' dark history and tendencies (Larry has finally returned home to England after 18 years in America--and, poof!, his English accent is completely gone!). It is overweighed with the vocabulary of psychology, of science, and the human mind. And when it comes time, on Sunday morning, to go to church, it is for a psychological benefit, as Larry's father explains: "Belief in the hereafter can be a very healthy counterbalance to all the doubts man is plagued with these days."

But it appears that all of this psycho-babble and its attendant homilies on the folly of a black-and-white world view gets set up as the foil. Because it is a matter of black-and-white. That becomes abundantly clear when Larry's father is forced to kill the werewolf, not knowing it's his own son. All of his psychological and rational explanations can't avert that either-or scenario, nor its consequences.

But maybe I'm reading too much into it; maybe it's just a fun scary movie. I found myself asking my wife, "If you were watching this in 1941, would it scare you?" You obviously don't expect to be scared in 2005 by a 1941 horror movie--and you aren't. The special effects were ground-breaking for their time (Chaney had to sit for hours as makeup was caked on his face), but today they're just funny. All you can see of Larry's transformation from man into werewolf is his legs. The shot cuts from his startled face to his legs (below the knees) repeatedly, and each time his legs have more hair (which was actually yak hair), until, finally, he looks to be wearing slippers. And the werewold is much more man than wolf: he walks upright and looks about, hiding behind a tree, as he is hunted. It's quite entertaining.

It's all fun. Up next: Werewolf of London. Then we jump three decades to get into a 70's werewolf movie.

Stay tuned. Oh, and the Sidney Poitier film festival will resume in November.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:02 PM | link | 0 comments |

New Radio Links

I direct your attention, good reader, to the two new radio links (and the one old one) featured by Not Prince Hamlet. 97.3 The Planet is the locally owned Kansas City station that has so lamentably "changed formats," but which will be available as a commercial free stream for as long as it is used. The Planet, for you Coloradoans, is a lot like KBCO, which less Bob Marley and Allman Brothers but more Coldplay and Green Day (I never said it was perfect).

For its' part, 90.9 the Bridge has taken over the top spot on my car radio since the Planet's demise. It's a public station, run by Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, and therein lies much of its appeal. Here you will find the earthy and organic that the "modern rock" format can't sustain. And man, it's gooood. The only drawback is that, as a public station, peak driving times and much of the weekends are taken up with NPR programming, like Morning Edition and All Things Considered. But when it's playing music, it's the best thing around.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:02 AM | link | 0 comments |

In Pursuit of Poitier, Part III

Friday, October 07, 2005

During my senior year of high school, my English teacher made us read through what are arguably the two best American plays of the 20th century: Death of A Salesman and A Raisin in the Sun.

As part of our study of Raisin, we watched two film versions of it. One was a filmed stage play of it with Danny Glover as Walter Lee, filmed sometime in the 80's. The other was the Sidney Poitier version, made into a movie after its' wildly successful run on Broadway (which featured the same cast).

I just watched that version again.


The play itself (and therefore the screenplay, also written by playwrite Lorraine Hansberry) stands on its own merits. And it is by no means a sure thing that a play can successfully be adapted to the screen. But this one stands the test of time. The performances are astounding, especially Poitier's, and the pacing is more than capable of keeping the attention of an action-saturated audience. Proof: my wife, who's initial complaint was "but it's black and white!," watched all 128 minutes of it enraptured.

In his memoir, Poitier describes the arguments that he got into about the play during its' Broadway rehearsals. To his mind, it is a story about a man, the son of the family, Walter Lee. But to his co-star Claudia McNeil's view (as well as that of Hansberry) was that it was in fact a story about a woman, the mother of the family. Poitier's position was that, as it concerns Walter Lee, the central conflict is a life-and-death matter. He feels himself to be stangled by the world, and has one opportunity to save himself and his family; failure would be tantamount to death.

Regardless of how you take Poitier's reading of the play, you have to grant that his performance breathes a life-and-death energy that is infectious. I mean, not only his voice, but his sinewy limbs and tense forehead cry out in desperation. His fingers and eyes manifest the tension of the film's conflict. It is fascinating.

Which is to take nothing away from his voice. Watching the progression from to Blackboard Jungle to The Defiant Ones, Raisin presented the young Poitier with by far the biggest linguistic challenge. But his delivery is animated and high-paced without sacrificing a note of articulation.

All of it makes me want to go back to the play and read it. Out loud.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:42 PM | link | 0 comments |