Saturday, January 25, 2020

Richard Stanley's movie "Color Out of Space"

I had been looking forward to this. Boy was I wrong. It is a melange of trite horror tropes and twenty-first-century family issues grafted onto a few plot-elements lifted from H.P. Lovecraft's story, to which is added over-the-top bad acting (Nicolas Cage, especially), to produce a decidedly B-grade horror film. A few directorial hand-waves pass over a large number of unexplained and irrational aspects of the plot. The script is appallingly bad, and the whole is dull and pointless. Save nearly two hours of your life and avoid this movie. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The TLS on Arthur Machen

There is a very interesting review-essay on Arthur Machen in the TLS here.  It's by Aaron Worth, who edited the recent Oxford University Press Machen volume, The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories. An excerpt:
It was, supposedly, after the first of his dinners with Wilde at the Florence, in the summer of 1890, that Machen resolved to try his hand at “modern” fiction (not long before, under the combined influence of Rabelais, Balzac and Marguerite de Navarre, he had produced his “Welsh Heptameron”, the faux-medieval Chronicle of Clemendy). This was the beginning of his decade mirabilis; before the century came to a close he had written, if not published, nearly all of the pioneering supernatural fiction for which he is remembered today. These stories are imbued with a potent sense of the places documented in Occult Territories, above all Machen’s native Caerleon and the “grey labyrinth” of London. Many of them are shaped by a second influence as well, namely Machen’s immersion in a wide range of esoteric literature in the 1880s, when he was hired by the bookseller George Redway to compile a substantial annotated catalogue (The Literature of Occultism and Archaeology).

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Cardinal and the Corpse

I've long known of the short (under 40 minutes) British television documentary titled The Cardinal and the Corpse, or A Funny Night Out, but only recently had the chance to view it. It was originally broadcast in 1992 on the Channel 4 programme "Without Walls." Created by Iain Sinclair and Christopher Petit, it has a strange cast including Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, and Brian Catling, along with legendary characters of the British book world like Martin Stone and Driffield. As a documentary it doesn't really work well. It is nearly formless and sort of organized around the quest for three different books, but it has interesting snippets and scenes. It is mainly, as one commentator described it, "a show about books and bibliophiles in London." The title refers to a pulpy detective novel of Sexton Blake (who, like Sherlock Holmes, lived in Baker Street, London) by Stephen Blakesley, rumored to be a pseudonym of Flann O'Brien. The show is currently on youtube here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Remembering Nigel Kneale and Quatermass

The BBC Radio program "Free Thinking," hosted by Matthew Sweet, had a 48 minute program on November 5th, titled "Quatermass." Guests include Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Clare Langhamer, Una McCormack and Matthew Kneale, the son of Nigel Kneale.  I quite enjoyed this.  It's available for listening here.

Here's a quote from Matthew Kneale on his father:
I remember him mostly as somebody who taught me an enormous amount about writing, and we used  to watch television programs all the time, and he'd dissect them ruthlessly, and say "that makes no sense!" He was very, very proud of his ability to understand the structure of a piece, and he was very good at the structure. And I learned a huge amount. I learned that you can't get away with thing if they don't make perfect sense, if you haven't thought them through. That's a lesson I've never forgotten.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Cult Books That Haven't Aged Well, Even If They Were Bad To Begin With

Over at the BBC Culture page, Hephzibah Anderson has a worthwhile article on "The Cult Books That Lost Their Cool". I don't usually find such agreement with these types of lists, but of the eleven books described here I've read several and am at least familiar with the rest. And while I might argue that these books never had any cool to begin with, it is nice to see their shortcomings pointed out. In particular I have loathed The Catcher in the Rye, Atlas Shrugged, On the Road, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull (read only for its risibility, as it was the favorite book of a person I knew in college), and disliked several of the others, The Old Man and The Sea (someone I knew called it, appropriately, The Old Fart and the Fish), Iron John, The Outsider (Colin Wilson at his pinnacle of glibness), and Infinite Jest.  I've never read The Beach, nor ever been even slightly tempted to read it, for I am familiar with the Leonardo DiCrapio and Tilda Swinton film.

Anyway, a tip of the hat to Hephzibah Anderson (no relation).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Meditation on the Writer’s Library

 "A writer’s library is more than just a collection of books. It is also a piecemeal biography of that writer’s life, and measurably so, as most writers have spent countless hours reading the books that they own or have borrowed, hours that add up to years, perhaps decades, given a long-enough life"

From an essay "My Life in Books" by James P. Blaylock, at Poets&Writers.  The full essay is here.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Michael Dirda on the Snergs

Michael Dirda has an interested column ("Before Tolkien created hobbits, there were Snergs. And oh, how delightful they were!") on The Marvellous Land of Snergs in the June 26th issue of The Washington Post.  Here are the opening paragraphs:
Suppose you were to mash up three of the greatest of all children’s fantasies: J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and T.H. White’s “The Sword in the Stone.” This may be hard to imagine, especially for an adult, but something like E.A. Wyke-Smith’s “The Marvellous Land of Snergs” would be the result. Deliciously irreverent in its narration, silly and spooky throughout, and charmingly illustrated by Punch artist George Morrow, this neglected masterpiece remains as winning today as when it was first published in 1927.

Wyke-Smith opens with a description of Watkyns Bay, where scores of children can be glimpsed playing on the sand and in the water. Actually, they can’t be glimpsed because not a single ship, with one exception, has ever entered the bay. Any vessel attempting to do so encounters contrary winds and dangerous waterspouts, these barriers having been set up by the S.R.S.C., the Society for the Removal of Superfluous Children.

The full article is here, but you may have problems accessing it without turning off ad-blocking (or resorting to other trickery).*  I subscribed to the Washington Post Book World for many years, until the the Post ceased selling subscriptions. Later they got rid of the section itself and merged it into the Post. So since then I read the book reviews on the web, but lately the Post has been making that more and more difficult. Sometimes one can still find a way in, sometimes not. Too bad.  What used to be the best book coverage in the U.S. has been diminished to a ghost of its former self, made easily available only to DC  locals. 

* I must say that forcing a reader to deal with the glaring annoyances of a HUGE number of advertisements does not seem to me to be the way to go. I mean:  I have never clicked on any such intrusive ad (and never will).  Don't the advertisers realize that this is the case for 99% of us? There should be better ways to piss away their ad dollars. End of Rant.