Archive for December, 2010

Sorry this is a day late (if not a dollar short); my daughter had oral surgery yesterday, which kind of tended to crowd out less familial concerns such as the penultimate installment of my précis of Matheson’s screen career on Tor.com.  This one backtracks to cover his seminal contributions to the original Twilight Zone, including the classic entry “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” while the next post will cover not only his subsequent Zone involvement but also some recent adaptations of his work.  Due to the holidays, my editor and I have yet to discuss where the “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series might then proceed, but you’ll surely be able to read about it here, uh, second.

As longtime BOF readers already know, my Google Alert for Matheson’s name has taken me to some strange places, but perhaps none more so than this post in a “Spielberg Blogathon,” which makes a major contribution to Matheson scholarship by explaining that “Duel is essentially about gay panic inspired by a traumatic car accident.”  It refers to “the handlebar mustaches [that] are [part of] the foundation of Spieberg’s gender-coded man’s world,” and its “central preoccupation with transferring fears of being assaulted, in this case rear-ended [!], into objects—leather boots, rear-view mirrors, bumpers…”  Joke’s on Richard, who clearly had no idea what he was writing.

Finally, I offer this holiday-themed video with no editorial comment whatsoever.  Bradley out…

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The life part is easy, because it being the wee hours of Christmas Day as I write this, we’re now celebrating the birth of J.C., despite being the least prepared for this holiday we have ever been.  Kicking off a ten-day vacation, I slept until 10:00, finished writing a Matheson post for Tor.com, and availed myself of the last opportunity for some, uh, “quality time” with the wife before our daughter and her boyfriend fly in from Oregon.  Then we gorged ourselves on corned beef (an unusual gift from the senior Mrs. B., who sent us a Box o’ Ruben Fixin’s from Zabar’s in New York) and I slipped in a nap, with Mina sleeping on my lap, and a workout on my exercise bike, while embarking on Kurosawa’s The Idiot (1951), before I had to shower and change for church.

Although I’m technically an agnostic, Madame BOF and I attend a local Congregational church and are in the choir, singing on Christmas Eve at 7:30 and 11:00.  In addition to the traditional carols for which we join the congregation (e.g., “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night, Holy Night”), this year we did a pretty French carol, “Saw You Never, in the Twilight,” and a rousing English one, “Masters in This Hall.”  In between the two services, we repair to the home of a fellow choir member for potluck food and drink—albeit hopefully not too much of the latter—and a nicer bunch of people to sing or socialize with cannot be imagined.

The death part is a little trickier, and I’ll state at the outset that this is going to be one of those I’m-not-really-crazy-about-So-and-So-but-feel-I-must-acknowledge-their-passing posts, in this case (belatedly) that of writer-director Blake Edwards, who left us on the 15th at 88.  Without wishing to speak ill of the dead, especially on Christmas, it’s become a running gag among the Movie Knights that our Host with the Most will not allow any Edwards films to be shown, yet he takes his Hostly duties seriously enough that more than once he’s made exceptions for a Knight to see his favorite Pink Panther film.  Gilbert loves A Shot in the Dark (1964), I favor The Return of… (1975), and the mighty Turafish comes down squarely on the side of …Strikes Again (1976).

I’m sure part of Gil’s fondness for Shot is due to the fact that William Peter Blatty, whom people forget worked in comedy before he struck gold with The Exorcist (we’re still waiting to receive the new issue of Cinema Retro featuring our interview with Bill), co-wrote that and three other films with Edwards.  Yet I’ve seen two more, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) and Darling Lili (1970)—the latter starring Julie Andrews, who married Edwards the year before—and didn’t care for either of them.  I haven’t seen Gunn (1967) or the Edwards-created private-eye TV series that spawned it, although I absolutely adore the driving theme song (especially the Art of Noise version) by Henry Mancini, his longtime, and perhaps most valuable, collaborator.

Interestingly, as much as I admire Peter Sellers (TCM’s star of the month for January), I also saw the only non-Inspector Clouseau movie he made with Edwards, The Party (1968), and found that painfully unfunny.  This suggests that Clouseau created a special alchemy among Sellers, Blatty and/or Edwards that may not have existed elsewhere, just as director Jack Arnold and producer William Alland seemed to do better work together than apart.  And because the Edwards/Sellers relationship was a fractious one, it also calls to mind a milder version of the almost murderous love-hate bond between director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski, which was documented in Herzog’s My Best Fiend (1999), and nonetheless produced some brilliant work…but I digress.

Edwards worked as an actor and screenwriter before graduating to director, making several films with Tony Curtis:  Mister Cory (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958), and Operation Petticoat (1959); in spite of Cary Grant’s presence in the latter, I think that as an undiscriminating teen, I actually preferred the TV spin-off.  Now, I’m not dumb enough to say that I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) isn’t a good movie, but I will say it wasn’t my cup of tea, nor was I crazy about his other pre-Panther successes such as Experiment in Terror or Days of Wine and Roses (both 1962).  I’ll also freely admit that my feelings toward Days have since been colored by my loyalty to John Frankenheimer, who directed the Playhouse 90 version and was passed over for the film.

The Pink Panther (1963) changed everything, giving Mancini his second immortal theme, and if the scenes involving top-billed David Niven and his aspiring jewel-thief nephew Robert Wagner have aged less well, Sellers steals the film with no less aplomb.  The eponymous diamond did not appear in many of the sequels, but as with The Thin Man (1934), the inaccurate name stuck, eventually becoming synonymous with Clouseau himself.  It’s clear from his contemporaneous work with Stanley Kubrick on Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) that when Sellers was on, nobody could touch him as a comic genius, and the early Clouseau films bear this out, but I would agree with Hostly that they—selectively, at that—are the only Edwards movies to watch.

Although I seem to recall that a case could be made for Victor Victoria (1982), my impression is that most of his subsequent non-Panther films—although, God knows, I didn’t subject myself to all of them—relied overmuch on slapstick, toilet humor, mean-spiritedness, or some combination thereof.  I’m thinking particularly of 10 (1979), despite the frenzy over cornrowed Bo Derek, and S.O.B. (1981), for which he persuaded wholesome spouse Julie to bear her breasts.  But his worst sin was milking the Panther series beyond Hollywood’s most avaricious dreams, descending into first a patchwork quilt utilizing outtakes of Sellers from …Strikes Again (Trail of…, 1982), and then a pair of films in which Clouseau does not even appear (Curse of…, 1983; Son of…, 1993).

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Tor.com Alert 12/21/10

BOF was offline (BOFfline?) for several days while entertaining my main man Gilbert Colon, delightfully en famille with wife Carolyn and one-year-old son Louis, so we have some catching up to do here tonight.  First, as usual, I draw your attention to the latest “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” installment posted on Tor.com today, this one devoted to his cult movie Somewhere in Time.  I will be winding up the series, or at least its potted history of Matheson’s film and television oeuvre (about which you can, of course, read in A Certain Book), with the last two posts, which cover his work on no fewer than four different incarnations of The Twilight Zone and some of the more recent films based by other scenarists on his work, e.g., Stir of Echoes.

Second, speaking of said Book, the promised review by Sam Christopher has run on the Axiom’s Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy website, and although much of it is devoted to explaining who Matheson is—a sadly necessary task, as I know all too well—there’s still some good stuff about the book itself (which got their highest rating, five out of five stars).  A sampling:  “There is just so much here that is fascinating.  So much about Richard Matheson’s 50-plus year career that is fascinating.  And Matthew R. Bradley compiles a ton of it in a comprehensible and fun-to-read way.  This book is just an amazing resource for anyone interested in Matheson, the history of SF cinema and television, and/or the inner workings of Hollywood from the writer’s perspective.”

Finally, as soon as I’ve caught up on my sleep a little, I’ll weigh in on Blake Edwards’s death…

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Tor.com has posted the latest installment of my “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series today, and it was quite a challenge tackling his miniseries The Martian Chronicles, because despite its many detractors, I think he did a superb job adapting Ray Bradbury’s book.  In other Matheson news, the first trailer for Real Steel (a remake of his Twilight Zone episode “Steel”) is making the rounds and getting raves for the filmmakers’ wise decision to use motion-capture—coached by Sugar Ray Leonard, yet—to create its robot boxers.  Finally, I’ll hold off on a formal publication alert until it’s in my hot little hands, but the official word is out from Cinema Retro that the cover stories in their Exorcist issue include the William Peter Blatty interview I did with Gilbert Colon.

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Dear John

I’d been trying not to think about what day this is, but when I left work and got on the shuttle to head to the station, they had “Imagine” playing on the radio and it all came pouring out, in more ways than one (yes, I was discreet).  Although that song has long affected me, it didn’t help that I vividly remember hearing it in the car the night Dad died and I drove over to be with Mom, after which it has had an even greater significance.  Some people—and I’m not naming any names here—take it a little too literally, and argue that it conjures up a world in which they wouldn’t want to live, but I think they miss the point and the ideals that John Lennon was writing about.

I can’t recall exactly where I was or what I was doing when I heard that John had been murdered, thirty years ago today, yet I sure as hell remember the aftermath because my then-girlfriend Gale and I were both big Beatles fans.  Their music was a huge part of our relationship (as well as, in a somewhat melodramatic fashion, the breakup that followed), and we were both devastated, of course, but she practically went into mourning, and I had a hard time trying to get her through it.  It was midway through my senior year in high school, and it must not have been long before I broke up with her, because I had my first date with Madame BOF on Valentine’s Day of 1981.

The Beatles have been my favorite group ever since my fairly cool parents used to play Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was little; Dad loved “When I’m Sixty-Four,” among others.  While I think that was the only one they actually owned, one or more of my three older brothers had Hey Jude (which I now know is not a “real” Beatles album, but never mind), Let It Be, Abbey Road, and the White Album, so I’ve been surrounded by their music as long as I can remember.  Among the very first audiocassettes I ever owned were the red and blue compilation albums, The Beatles 1962-66 and 1967-70, which I literally listened to until they wore out, and when my friend Chris splurged and bought all the albums, I taped the stuff I didn’t already have.

Sure, the Rolling Stones have been at it longer—a lot longer—but even in their comparatively brief time together, the Beatles created what I consider the greatest canon of popular music in our time, distinguished by not only quantity and quality, even if every song inevitably wasn’t a masterpiece, but also variety.  There’s such a difference between the flavor of their early, middle, and later works that, as with Peanuts cartoons, it’s easy to find a Beatles song for almost every occasion.  I know some of them down to the last inflection, and God knows I’ve put my love and knowledge of them to work time and again, rewriting the lyrics to at least thirty of their songs.

I have no profound point to make here, people.  I can’t claim that John was my favorite Beatle, because I loved them all, and I can’t honestly say that after they broke up I followed his or any other ex-Beatle’s solo career with particular interest; I loved the Beatles, and that was that.  But God damn it, attention must be paid, and I will bloody well remember, and cry, because for no good reason, some fucking wannabe killed a guy who’d always stood for peace and love, and a chunk of my life along with him, and even though we all already knew there was never any way the Beatles would get back together again, that day we knew it with the certainty of the grave.

John, God bless you, wherever you are.  Your music truly made the world a better place, and as we enter the holiday season, I’ll cry again every time I hear “Happy Christmas,” as usual.  “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”  Nothing more for you to fear, man; they could kill you, but the joy you brought to the world, and the love you championed, will live forever.  This post is dedicated with great affection to my oldest friend, Fred Pennington, with whom I have shared my devotion to the Beatles for thirty-five great years, and to my dear friend Brian Boucher (who I somehow sense will “get it” better than anybody else) and his delightful and inspiring family.

Crank it up and rock out.  You know it’s gonna be all right.


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Tor.com Alert 12/7/10

Today, I am able not only to report that my “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” segment dealing with the remainder of his work with Dan Curtis is up at Tor.com (followed by a He Is Legend giveaway), but also to share a little news regarding Richard Matheson on Screen.  John Cozzoli gave the book a nice plug at Zombos’ Closet of Horror, calling it “essential reading for every horror fan,” and providing links to John Kenneth Muir’s great review and my Tor.com posts.  Sam Christopher of Axiom’s Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy reports that his review will be up within a few days, and tantalized me by writing, “Amazing book, Matthew!  I was enthralled.”

In the bird-in-the-hand department, Simon Drax has included the book in his holiday shopping guide, also citing Muir—and why not?—and reminiscing about our shared adventures as I wrote the thing.  Finally, Scott A. Johnson has written a review for Dread Central, which has a factual error (Matheson never wrote for Tales from the Darkside) but is very favorable, giving the book five out of five bloody daggers.  Those familiar with my Maudlin Man sobriquet will chuckle to read, “The respect with which Bradley treats [his subject] is appreciated without being maudlin.…a remarkable tribute to one of the true luminaries of not just horror, but literature in general.”

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For Loreen 12/4/10

Every time I see your face, it’s as though in my mind I’m hearing the most beautiful music ever written.

You are like the richest sunset, yet without its ephemeral tragedy, enduring and deepening.

Riding the subway reminds me of so many happy trips; love being anywhere with you.

Every meal eaten across a table from you is a banquet fit for a king.

How can I fall for you again whenever you rest your hand on my shoulder?

In a film I first thought I wouldn’t like, a woman in love reminds me how I love you.

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The Park Is His

I’m posting live from our annual year-end festive holiday Movie Night, now in our Host with the Most’s new Ozone Park digs.  Even on our first visit here a couple of months ago, he had already comfortably made the setting his own, down to the last spaghetti Western poster and neon Molson sign.  Having established it almost literally from the ground up, he has left his delightful and distinctive stamp all over it, which is well to the good for those lucky few who are honored with an invitation.

We’re kicking off with one that I know will please my friend Fred, Blood and Lace, which brings back voluminous memories of the 4:00 afternoon movie on channel 9 in my youth.  It has the lurid sleaziness I so readily associate with WOR-TV, one of the qualities that distinguished a given independent from another back in the day.  It also marked one of those unfortunate latter-day roles for a fading leading lady, in this case Gloria Grahame, whom I’ve never particularly liked, especially after seeing this film before her earlier vehicles.

We’re kind of a skeleton crew tonight, just Tom, my main man Gilbert and myself, three out of a possible six Musketeers, some of whom we hope will be able to join us for a January redo.  As always, this particular mix is an especially congenial one, and we’re looking forward to some exciting programming:  Blood Freak, Night of the Juggler, Tarkan vs. the Vikings and/or The Big Lebowski are all on the list, depending on what we get around to and what other ideas present themselves in the meantime.  Many a memorable Movie Night viewing experience has sprung from just such an “Aha!” moment, like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Tom’s asked me to include his joke:  “Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is a remake of Blood and Lace with an all-black cast.”

Tarkan is apparently some sort of Turkish Conan rip-off, straight from the bottom of the barrel, but with no basis of comparison (other than a partial and largely forgotten viewing of its DVD co-feature, The Deathless Devil, some time ago), I can’t say whether or not it’s typical of Turkish cinema, be it genre or otherwise.  “If nothing else, it’s at least enthusiastic,” opines Tom in between howls of laughter at some over-the-top scene.  The bizarro sound effects and plagiarized soundtrack would of themselves be amusing, blaring from an ear-level speaker as I pen these words, grateful to be here after an arduous three-and-a-half-hour trip, almost as long as it takes to get to Cornell.

Add to that list of things for which I am grateful:  the prospect of some down- and/or viewing time with my daughter, who will get a break from distinguishing herself in multiple fields, be they academic or artistic.  I’m so proud of that kid I could bust, and I don’t care who knows it, especially mindful of how lucky I am to have a college-age daughter who still likes to hang out with her old man, thank God.  I don’t think anything will ever change that, however important anybody else in her life may be…my Maudlin Man persona asserts itself even as cuts from 2001 and Morricone bleed forth from the screen.

We’ve just had a character “killed” by the phoniest FX octopus since Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster, but without poor Lugosi to wrestle it to a draw, reminding me of the low-end Lugosi titles seen in the 50-horror-film boxed set Tom recently lent us.  Proving my point once again, they’ve just stolen one of John Barry’s tracks from You Only Live Twice, which I know intimately since I own the damn soundtrack, one of his better ones (and that’s saying a lot).  Meanwhile, in terms of the trip itself, at best it’s a schlepp and at worst it’s a headache, but being here is always, always eminently worth it at the literal and metaphoric end of the day.

Blood Freak, believe it or not, has the thinnest of Matheson connections when one character compares her situation to an episode of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone, two series to which he contributed.  The movie has far more than its share of screaming, and some cheesy gruesome low-budget effects, but its papier-mache turkey-head monster is unforgettable, as is the loopy plot, in which leading man and co-director Steve Hawkes mutates from eating Frankenfood. This lurid narrative is periodically punctuated by hilarious scenes of co-director/narrator Brad Grinter lecturing us about the evils of drug use…while chain-smoking behind a studio desk.

At this point, Tom slips me a Mickey by interpolating Antonio Margheriti’s (aka Anthony M. Dawson) Cannibal Apocalypse, but I take one for the team, especially since I did interview pleasant and patient star John Saxon for Filmfax several years ago regarding that and other roles.  The gore is legendary and the story familiar from various Romeroesque films, especially those of the Italian model, but the overall level of quality is average at best.  In my opinion, Margheriti did much better on his two films with Barbara Steele, Danse Macabre (aka Terror Castle) and The Long Hair of Death.

Well, we’re going to treat (?) ourselves to viewing some of my musical Movie Night performances.  Bradley out.

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