AN EMPIRE OF ONE

If you don't think the world's weird, you're not paying attention.

Archive for November 2011

Sword’s Edge: One of the First Graphic Novels

leave a comment »

Sword’s Edge by Sanho Kim (“with” Michael Juliar) was published in the US in 1973, five years before Will Eisner’s A Contract with God.

Kim had been working for Charlton Comics after already having a substantial comics career in his native Korea. His book is an early example of the graphic novel format in this country, yet our histories have unjustly ignored it.

Although Kim did not call his book a graphic novel, a graphic novel it clearly is. It’s clear that he knew that his book was something new and not just another “comic book,” and felt the need to come up with a new term for it. What did he call it? “A montage book.”

Kim’s definition of “montage:”

In the book’s introduction, Kim explains what he wants his “montage” book to be:

 

 

Although he uses his own term, “montage,” Kim uses “comic book” more often. Perhaps he wasn’t entirely happy with his neologism, which, of course, did not catch on. Although the final page of the book promises a volume two of Sword’s Edge, another “montage” book never materialized. Poor sales? Probably. But that’s no reason to forget Sword’s Edge Part One: The Sword and the Maiden, one of the earliest published graphic novels in the US.

Written by David Kilmer

November 30, 2011 at 10:13 am

What Does It Mean to Say a Film Is Good?

leave a comment »

THOUGHTS ON JUDGMENT

1. Is culture merely an attempt to keep us from thinking about our death? That’s the thesis of The Denial of Death, the book that Woody Allen is a big fan of in Manhattan. Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of the book’s hypothesis: “The basic premise of The Denial of Death is that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism.” Think about it. Aren’t most pop stories, whether told in film, video games, TV, music, about a hero’s fight to survive and overcome forces that want the hero dead? The hero almost always triumphs over death. If there is a death in the story, we only know it because we ourselves have survived to hear it. We survive, they don’t. Stories rarely leave us dwelling on the question of our mortality, wondering what it’s all about. Death in pop stories is usually something that happens to other people.

2. One of the most common things we say about a work of art is something like this: “Boy, is that good,” or conversely, “I can’t believe how bad it is.” Does anyone really know what “good” or “bad” in this context really means? Excellent! Awesome! First-rate! Superlative! etc. What the hell do any of these words really mean?  We all know, right? We use them all the time. No one ever asks us, “Good? What does that mean?” Or, if someone did ask, unpleasant thoughts about the person would start swirling about in our heads. Or are we just pretending that we know what they mean? Perhaps this is why we also hear this so often: “I can’t believe you thought that X was good! Your taste is terrible!” Obviously, what Person X’s “good”  is not necessarily Person Y’s “good.”

3. Therefore, my proposition is this: Let’s define “good” to mean a work of art, that is, a film, a book, a song, that keeps us from thinking about our death. So, when I say, “That film was excellent,” what I really mean is that while watching it the thought of my mortality did not cross my mind once. Now, no one will need to pretend that the word “good” means the same to everyone because it really will mean the same to everyone. Four stars? Thumbs up? Gotcha! I know exactly what you mean!

4. Of course, there are some who will differentiate between entertainment, which they will agree aims to deny death, and art, which they say falls under a different set of rules. However, there are far more people who do not make this distinction, and boxoffice results, for example, reflect this group’s evenhanded approach to movies. It would appear that my proposal has, in fact, already been adopted by the majority.

Written by David Kilmer

November 29, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Alan Moore on Superheroes and Courage

leave a comment »

Alan Moore pisses off even more people with another sad, but true comment

Source

Could this barb be aimed at one writer in particular? Grant Morrison, perhaps?

Written by David Kilmer

November 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

Counterpoint Records & Books in Beginners

leave a comment »

Counterpoint Records & Books in Beginners

Since I have not seen Beginners (directed by Mike Mills, it tied with The Tree of Life for Best Feature at the Gotham Independent Film Awards this year), I did not know that it was filmed in Los Angeles. In fact, somehow I had formed the crazy idea that it was set in England. (Apparently, the reviews I had seen failed to mention its setting.) So I was a bit surprised by the photo above which shows Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor being very happy loading up with books at Counterpoint Records & Books in Los Feliz, part of Los Angeles.

The photo shows the back wall of the store, and my favorite section, where the film books reside, is just starting to sneak in on the right.

It’s no surprise that the Beginners crew used it in their film because Counterpoint’s an essential stop if you like browsing bookstores with character. Just like its name suggests, you’ll mostly find second-hand books and vinyl records, but there are also some DVD’s and CD’s lying around. Prices, for the most part, are very reasonable, but parking, can be a pain in the ass. Even though the problem of parking is legendary in Los Angeles, it’s especially true for this store. (I say this knowing that someone invariably will say they have no problems whatsoever parking in the area.)

Counterpoint Records & Books, 5911 Franklin Ave.

Written by David Kilmer

November 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

Edgar Wright Programs the New Beverly Cinema (Again); Or Why Ignorance is Hip

leave a comment »

Edgar Wright, New Beverly Cinema film programmer

Edgar Wright has announced the films that will be shown as part of  The Wright Stuff III: Movies Edgar has Never Seen, at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.

Here is the schedule:

Friday, Dec. 9: Rock & Roll All Nite
7:30 PM – The Girl Can’t Help It (suggested by Joe Dante and John Landis)
9:40 PM – Get Crazy (suggested by Quentin Tarantino)

Saturday, Dec. 10: Stone Face vs. Little Tramp vs. Uncle Claude
7:00 PM – Steamboat Bill, Jr. (suggested by Judd Apatow)
8:40 PM – Modern Times (suggested by Bill Hader)
10:40 PM – The Bank Dick (suggested by Judd Apatow)

Sunday, Dec. 11: Far Out & Far East
7:00 PM – The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (suggested by Harry Knowles)
9:00 PM – Kwaidan (suggested by Guillermo Del Toro and John Landis)

Monday, Dec. 12: The New Romantics
7:30 PM – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (suggested by Edgar Wright)
9:30 PM – Chungking Express (suggested by Quentin Tarantino, Bill Hader, Greg Mottola, and Daniel Waters)

Tuesday, Dec. 13: Rise and Fall and Rise and…
7:30 PM – White Heat (suggested by Edgar Wright)
9:55 PM – Throne of Blood (suggested by John Landis)

Wednesday, Dec. 14: Farewell John, Hello Sam
7:30 PM – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (suggested by John Landis)
10:00 PM – Ride the High Country (suggested by Joe Dante)

Thursday, Dec. 15: Hangdog & Underdog
7:30 PM – To Be or Not to Be (suggested by John Landis and Joe Dante)
9:40 PM – The Bad News Bears (suggested by Bill Hader and Doug Benson)

Friday, Dec. 16: Noir is the New Black
7:30 PM – Hickey & Boggs (suggested by Quentin Tarantino and Daniel Waters)
9:50 PM – Cutter’s Way (suggested by Daniel Waters)

For what it’s worth, here are my comments.

1. If the fates were kinder, I’d be in the front row for every program, despite having seen most of the films. It’s a nice list.

2. On his blog, Wright said:

I hope in my time I have never chastised anyone for not seeing a movie. Neither am I a big fan of the phrase “I can’t believe you haven’t seen…” accompanied by an exaggerated expression of surprise… I basically believe that you can’t be late to a party if the party never stops.

I’m sure I’m not the only one whose first thoughts upon seeing the above program is exactly what Wright says he doesn’t take kindly to, that is, I thought, “I can’t believe Wright hasn’t seen…” Wright’s attitude  is not unique. In fact, nowadays it seems that most people, instead of being slightly embarrassed, consider it  to be more of a badge of honor to be able to say something like,  “I’ve never seen Citizen Kane or 2001,” but is it really what we want to hear coming out of the mouth of a film director who is now into his third round of programming for a major film revival theater? Personally, I’d rather see a program of films not seen by someone who has more film buff cred that Wright, for example, someone such as Martin Scorsese or even Tarantino himself, whose name is attached to the only two films on the list I have not seen, Get Crazy and Hickey & Boggs.

3. Does anyone else think that the way this program was put together was a bit unusual? First, Wright announced his intention of putting together a program of films he had not seen, then asked fans to suggest films without knowing what films he had not seen. In any case, the majority of films were suggested by fans. Yet, somewhat mysteriously, or perhaps not so mysteriously, the final program is made up exclusively of films suggested by Mr. insert-famous-person-here. Every film. No exceptions. Perhaps it’s simply that “suggested by fan x” will not sell as many tickets as “suggested by Mr. Famous Person?” (It should be pointed out that the “suggested by” tag does not appear on the New Beverly site’s official calendar.) But then why involve fans in the process at all?

UPDATE 1/16/12

With regard to my second point above, here’s another example of what I mean by ignorance being a kind of badge of honor nowadays:

The above excerpt is from the website Comics and…Other Imaginary Tales, part of its monthly review of comics featured in the Diamond Previews catalog of upcoming comics and related merchandise.

Note what Jim says: “I have no clue about who Chip Kidd is…”

Note what Gwen says: “I’ve never heard of him either *shrug*.”

Chip Kidd may not be known to these nitwits, but he is nevertheless a well known book designer and writer. His work includes books on Peanuts, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel, and Batman. (All books in my library, as they should be in theirs.) You would think that anyone who poses as a comics expert,  to the extent that they offer monthly opinions on what’s worth buying, would know who Kidd is, or at least google him. Perhaps you will say that I’m making much ado about nothing. Unfortunately, these comments are not only not unique faux pas for this site, they are representative of an attitude that extends far beyond Comics and…. This is an attitude which leads people to think, “If I don’t know who or what someone or something is, it’s not my fault. If I don’t know, it must not be important. If it was important, I would know.”

Nowadays, ignorance is not just bliss. It’s hip!

UPDATE: April 25, 2012

“Gwen” is still out there:

Gwen says, “I’m not even sure who Wally Wood is.”

I say, I’m trying really hard to believe that she’s not representative of  all people out there in internet land.

Written by David Kilmer

November 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Harlan Ellison at Cinefamily

leave a comment »

The other night the family and I strolled down to Cinefamily to see Harlan Ellison. Despite being a fan since seeing the “Demon with a Glass Hand” episode of The Outer Limits as a kid, and living in Los Angeles since before the SF bookstore Dangerous Visions (named after one of Ellison’s books) closed shop, the nearest I had gotten to seeing Ellison in person was to have picked up a signed copy of Mefisto in Onyx at The Mysterious Bookshop many years ago, just missing Ellison due to work commitments.

The video excerpt below captures Ellison near the end of the evening  by which time Tuesday night had morphed into Wednesday morning. I’ve been to a decent number of author and artist events, but  truly cannot recall someone who was as enthusiastic as Ellison was throughout the entire evening, being especially true at the end when meeting his fans. When watching the video, keep in mind that Ellison is 77 and that after the event Ellison still did not call it a night, but headed over to Pink’s for hotdogs with some other enthusiasts. If everyone in the world exhibited this level of enthusiasm, we would no longer be asking, “Whatever became of the world of tomorrow?” because the world of tomorrow would be the world today. The energy on display belies the rumors of his imminent demise. Let us hope that he will live with as much enthusiasm for many more years.

Note: please link to this page for the video rather than the Youtube page. The link is also on the Youtube page because it’s my Youtube channel.

The typo in Mefisto in Onyx that Ellison corrects near the end of the above video. It should read, "Dean R. Koontz."

When we went to the event, we had no expectations of a signing, so it was a pleasant surprise to find ourselves in line waiting to meet Ellison face to face. Ellison was candid about the reason for doing it: he needs dough. (You can order books from him here.)

At least one member of the audience appears to have converted the experience into a paycheck. You can read his account of the entire evening here. (You can read another, more sympathetic account of the event here.) I say “entire” because the writer appears to have been present for the exchange between our son, Tristan, and Ellison, which came near the very end of the evening. And I say “his account” because he screws it up in such a way that his reporting can be used to illustrate how unreliable reporting can be. Thanks to this reporter, the evening turned into a lesson for our son on how the media can screw things up.

Here’s how the reporter describes it:

One awkward young fan could barely speak in his presence. Ellison, without missing a beat, “Do they screw with you at school?” The answer was obvious. “Let me show you something…come here…” And Ellison taught the youngster a painful retaliatory handshake for his tormentors. Again, Ellison knows what it is to be fucked with so well, he can read it on a sympathetic soul — even if he plays a batshit lunatic in public. And occasionally casually wields a knife.

Here’s our version. Our son had been complaining that he was tired and had to get up early for school. It’s true. Our fourteen year old’s energy was flagging whereas Ellison, the 77 year old, seemed to be just getting warmed up. Our son is not unfamiliar with Ellison’s TV work, but as for being a fan of Ellison’s writing, no one should be surprised that he’s perfectly in sync with his generation in finding many other activities more exciting than reading. In short, he wanted to leave and didn’t care about getting the book signed. We are the villains of the piece because we put him in situations such as this hoping that they will have a positive affect on him.

This night, Tristan’s complaints had no power over his evil parents, and eventually he was face-to-face with Ellison. When Ellison saw Tristan’s Thundercats T-Shirt, he took the opportunity to display the Blackhawk emblem on the back of his jacket. This led to an exchange with some of the other fans about Blackhawk comics and after signing Tristan’s book, Ellison said, “Good luck with your cats.” This got some laughs. While thinking that we had gotten through the signing without anything unexpected happening, we thanked Ellison and started walking away.

Of course, these thoughts were premature for when we were already more than half way down the aisle to the exit, Ellison yelled out to Tristan, “Hey, kid! What’s your name?”

“Tristan.”

“Do the kids at school fuck with you?”

Tristan says he said no, but we heard him say, “Sometimes.”

Ellison said, “Do you want to learn some moves on how to take care of that?,” and asked Tristan to come back.

“Shake my hand.”

Tristan grabbed his hand.

“Tighter.”

Tristan squeezed tighter.

“Tighter.”

For the record: the true color of Ellison's tie was red

With a “helluva grip,” according to Tristan, Ellison showed him how to pin an opponent’s thumb down, thus rendering him helpless. It was like the handshake version of Spock’s Vulcan nerve pinch. Is there any kid on this planet, “fucked with” (as the LA Weekly reporter put it) or not, who would not be impressed by that? You might say that the answer is “painfully obvious.”

Ellison then said that if Tristan came to his house, “after 2, I’ll show you some more moves.”

As we walked away, this time for good, Ellison offered Tristan one last bit of advice: “Get rid of the shorts.”

It was a night that none of us, especially Tristan, will forget.

Additional thoughts

There’s a lot more that can be said regarding the question of whether the LA Weekly writer captured the truth of the event or whether the love he obviously has of his own words won out over the mission to tell the truth, to the extent that some of his descriptions make me feel I was on another planet Tuesday night than the one occupied by the writer. But what’s the point? However, I must register my objection to the image of Ellison’s fans that the writer paints in this passage:

Against the type of his prickly public persona, Ellison is fiercely protective of his fans. Guys in sweatpants, appliqué man-vests, and all manner of unhip, uncool, and unwashed ubernerds waited post-show to glean some autographs and wisdom from him, while he in turn, took careful, personal time with each and every one of them.

Here’s a moment from the scene described above. Would you let this LA Weekly guy write captions for your photos?

One of Ellison’s fans asked him, “So what does it all mean? What is the meaning of life?” Of course, Ellison doesn’t know the answer to that anymore than anyone else. However, given that most of us spend most of our time trying to avoid such questions, it’s a tribute to Ellison that such a question, although perhaps not an uncommon one asked by fans of people that they admire, did not seem out of place this evening.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHT

This one falls in the perennial question, “Where do you get your ideas?” department.

One of the clips shown featured Buster Keaton as a guest star on an episode of Burke’s Law, the 1964 episode, “Who Killed 1/2 of Glory Lee?” Ellison was still excited by the simple fact that he got to write a routine for Buster Keaton. The routine had Keaton acting out in pantomime, in the manner of a game of charades, the answer to Gene Barry’s questions, on the pretext that Keaton’s character had laryngitis. However, the routine seemed more appropriate to Harpo Marx than the characters that Keaton was famous for playing. There’s also a very similar scene played by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the Frank Tashlin directed Artists and Models. Was Ellison inspired by something like this? Who would dare ask Ellison?

Written by David Kilmer

November 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Bad Movies?

leave a comment »

Affection for the detritus of the media takes many forms. After watching too many campus simpletons (both students and profs) laugh mockingly at Fritz Lang and John Woo movies, I’m opposed to condescension. I suspect Camp in its disdainful form. I don’t like people demonstrating their sense of superiority to the trash their parents and grandparents enjoyed. Knowingness leaves you with nothing. —David Bordwell

I couldn’t agree more with David Bordwell (I wrote about some of my own encounters with unappreciative audiences here, although you probably should not read it if you fall into that category.)

A lot of us possess a need to feel superior to somebody else, and some of us need to feel superior to everyone else. Much of our humor comes down to us laughing at someone else because we feel superior to them. Currently popular, Ayn Rand’s philosophy is based on the idea that some people are just better than others. The need to be superior even finds expression in The Incredibles: “When everyone is special, no one is special.”

This is humor at the service of the status quo, but it’s nothing new. It’s easy to imagine aristocrats assembled in the salon laughing till it hurts as they tell jokes at the expense of their servants. It works the other way as well, with servants telling each other jokes in which their masters appear foolish and stupid. Some of the most popular comedies in ancient Roman were about slaves who bested their masters. These jokes tell us that despite actual circumstances, we are the superior ones.

So it’s no surprise when many of us, most of whom have not even attempted to make a film, find it so easy to laugh at certain kinds of movies, that which we call “bad.” Of course, we don’t always all agree on whether a movie is bad. I remember watching the Douglas Sirk directed version of Magnificent Obsession at MOMA during a Sirk retrospective. Half the audience was laughing, but the other half was yelling at them, through their tears, to shut up. This half of the audience took the film 100% seriously, seeing nothing funny about it.

But what exactly are we laughing at when we laugh at a film that was not made for our laughter? A post on She Blogged by Night about, what else?, Plan Nine from Outer Space, provides some examples. The blogger asks what can be done to “fix” the movie, for it definitely needs fixing, as we all know. What, exactly, needs fixing? Here’s her list:

  1. Casting: Lugosi’s double doesn’t even look like him.
  2. Set dressing: That shower curtain in the cockpit? Belongs in a shower!
  3. Writing:  Needed an editor to cut, cut cut.
  4. Editing: Was there any?
  5. Special effects: Hubcaps as UFO’s. Gimme a break!
  6. Acting: Don’t get me started!
  7. Etc. Let’s just leave it at that and go back to laughing at poor, inept Ed Wood, Jr.

So that’s She Blogged By Night’s take on Plan 9. What’s the common element of these all too familiar complaints? Judging the film according to the standards of Hollywood film studio verisimilitude. If a set is supposed to be a cockpit, it damn well better look like the real thing. If a hubcap is supposed to be a UFO, we better not see the string it’s dangling from. It’s not enough that we know what it’s supposed to represent. It’s necessary that it look the part 100%. It should look so real that we are not reminded that we’re actually watching a film until the credits roll. It’s hard to believe that in Japan a form of puppet theater developed in which no attempt is made to hide the people manipulating the puppets, let alone make everything look real. In fact, according to Noël Burch in To the Distant Observer (download the book in pdf form here), even Japanese film has a tradition in which the filmmakers do not aim for maximum realism or naturalism. But that’s Japan. Hollywood’s where the real filmmaking action is, right?

So, who benefits from this approach. Certainly not the guy down the street who dreams of being a filmmaker. If an audience expects the film to look “real,” it’s going to cost more. Heaven forbid that you do what Ed Wood did and skimp on production value. Therefore, you’d better have money, lots of money. In fact, you’d better have even more than lots. In short, it’s this attitude, of constantly demanding greater and greater verisimilitude, that makes it next to impossible to compete with companies that do have lots of money, namely the Hollywood film studios.

Meanwhile, the ones who are truly laughing are the people who are lucky enough to run the Hollywood studios. They are laughing all the way to the bank. Sure, they have to spend more, a lot more, but they’ve killed off their most of their competition. They have long since conditioned most of their audiences to laugh at movies that don’t have Hollywood’s kind of verisimilitude. But it was not always this way. People did not always laugh at Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession the way I saw them do at MOMA. The fact that the standards of Hollywood verisimilitude are always changing means that future audiences will never be able to look back at the films of yesteryear with the same eyes as those films’ contemporary audiences.

Many of the earliest films used painted sets and no one thought to apologize for it, and audiences did not think to laugh at it. For example, the original audiences for Georges Méliès’ Voyage À Travers L’Imposible did not rush to the boxoffice to demand their money back after watching this train wreck:

My suggestion for anyone who feels that Plan Nine from Outer Space needs to be “fixed” is this: the easiest way to fix this film, or any other film that does not measure up to the standards of Hollywood verisimilitude, is to imagine that the film begins with a message similar to this:

Remember when you were kids and you would make-believe that you were cowboys and robbers? You used nothing but sticks for horses. Filmmaking is only make-believe, folks.  What difference does it make if you spend a million dollars or one dollar, as long as you get that it’s supposed to be a friggin’ plane cockpit?

We had a ton of fun making this film and I hope you have fun watching it.

Whatever happened to our sense of play?

Written by David Kilmer

November 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm