Archive for August, 2012

Publication Alert 8/25/12

As promised, Filmfax has paid tribute to Ray Bradbury by making my career-spanning interview—which originally ran in their late, lamented sister publication, Outré, in 1995—the cover story in the current issue (#131, Summer 2012).  They’ve even borrowed the title and some snippets from my recent post on his passing, “Someone Wonderful This Way Came”; illustrated the piece with numerous behind-the-scenes photos, as well as movie stills and vintage magazine covers; and added a bonus interview with erstwhile managing editor James J.J. Wilson on The Martian Chronicles.  Editor/publisher Michael Stein has generously chosen to run my interview in multiple parts, in order to give Ray the space he deserves, and for you lucky readers, my blather is at a minimum for just that reason.

Thanks, Mike.

Speaking of Ray, if you haven’t done so already, you should check out all the wonderment my esteemed Marvel University colleague, Jack Seabrook, is unleashing on a regular basis over at bare•bones.  Among other things, he’s reviewing the entire canon of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and its hour-long successor, but rather than cover them in a traditional chronological format, as we are at MU, he’s grouping his posts by collaborators (e.g., Robert Bloch, William Shatner), the latest of whom is—you guessed it—Ray.  Since he’s just covered the second of seven Bradbury-related episodes, “And So Died Riabouchinska,” there’s still time for you to get in on the ground floor…even if you’ll have some catching up to do on his Batman coverage with Peter Enfantino.

Thanks, Jack.

A friend and former GoodTimes colleague who once worked for Matheson’s agent kindly sent a copy of “The Science Fiction Issue” of The New Yorker (whose cover dates of June 4 & 11 oddly encompass both my birthday and the day of Ray’s death).  Among the myriad of wonders therein is “Take Me Home,” a warm, wistful essay in which Ray writes about his boyhood in Waukegan, Illinois.  Although it’s not immediately clear whether  it was written specifically for this issue—the late Anthony Burgess’s piece on A Clockwork Orange certainly was not—both the tone and the title suggest that Ray had, in a sense, penned his own epitaph, which is not a bad thing to be able to do, and it should go without saying that nobody could do it more eloquently than he did.

Thanks, Anne.

Finally, on a non-Bradbury-related note, I wanted to express the pride I feel at the strong show of support for Alexandra’s first guest post, in which she has again surpassed even my expectations.

Thanks, honey.

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A while back, Daddy BOF invited me to write a guest post for his blog, and though I graciously accepted the challenge, I had an extremely difficult time coming up with a topic. What could I, with half as many years of experience as he has, add to this blog that my movie buff father could not say better and with more nuanced accuracy?  After months (literally) of pondering this issue, I was suddenly struck with inspiration thanks to our outing to see Prometheus a few weeks ago. What better perspective could I bring to a film that my father cannot than that of being a female viewer? With many discussions on this very topic with my father already under my belt, I felt confident that I could bring something to the table. 


So, with all that in mind, here is the first entry of my wild and crazy thoughts about movies through the eyes of a female viewer. In honor of my Prometheus inspiration and because it is probably the easiest genre through which to introduce my point, I have decided to begin the discussion with action films. Take from this what you will, and I welcome any and all productive discussion on the topic.  Just be nice to me; it’s my first time blogging ever!


Hugs and kisses, Alexandra


Part I: Where Alexandra explains the source of the problem


As the years go by and my understanding of the world around me rapidly develops, I am becoming more and more of a feminist.  And for those of you who still think that means that I am using The SCUM Manifesto [immortalized in I Shot Andy Warhol —BOF] as my “bible,” let me clarify that I call myself a feminist because I am an advocate for equality and social change, not a raging lunatic.


Anyway, with this developing mindset, I have had a hard time reconciling my values with my deep affection for horror, sci-fi, and even (the few good) action films to which my excellent father introduced me.  You see, it’s very hard as a woman to watch a classic horror flick and leave feeling your value is any greater than a pair of breasts posed to be torn into by some weirdo’s knife, or to watch an action movie where you’re not seducing somebody (or being seduced by them), or to watch any of these films where you’re the one saving the day and not being saved by the big handsome man. 


Are there exceptions to this problem?  Oh, most certainly yes. As a matter of fact, Daddy BOF and I have had many a conversation about the various kick-ass female characters of recent years, and he was very surprised to learn that his normally “let’s go women!” daughter did not automatically fall in love with any film that featured a female protagonist, even if she was a seemingly rocking chick. The problem is, unfortunately, that most of the exceptions aren’t much better than the rule.


“But why?!?!  Why, oh, why is Tomb Raider not going to be totally up your alley?” he asked, far less dramatically in real life.


Well, the response to that question is surprisingly difficult to put into words.  However, I strongly believe that the root of these differences can be traced back to something as simple as why the character was created to be a female. 


In the Lara Croft/Wonder Woman/Charlie’s Angels/Catwoman category, the characters’ problems lie not in their being written by men, but in their being written for men, and mainly fan-boys at that. Just taking one look at any of these characters (go ahead, look up a picture or two) tells me a lot of what I need to know. Sporting the skimpiest costumes or the tightest bodysuits ever made, these women race around the world fighting crime or whatever they do without so much as a stray hair (a real one, not that very-well-planned one they used for Angelina Jolie) or a smear of their eye liner. Everything about them drips with sexuality, and the fact that they are running around beating up on bad guys is just another way to make their sex appeal bounce up another level. And considering they are not written to be women we can look up to or who do amazing things or who have any kind of true strength to them or even a real personality, you can forget about it if you expect them to look like real women.


Now, don’t get me wrong:  I have nothing against the existence of these movies and characters per se. You gentlemen don’t get a complete monopoly on enjoying fun, frivolous, and/or adrenaline-boosting flicks, nor do you have one on appreciating how sexy fill in female action star’s name here looks in that oh-so-revealing outfit.  My point is merely to explain why I’m not going to herald Angelina Jolie as the next role model for our young girls (or any females, for that matter) to look up to for setting the standards of how to be a strong woman.


“So what is the alternative?” you ask.  Well, I happen to have one very specific example in mind.  You see, there are a few action ladies out there for whom I have an immense amount of respect, and I cannot think of a better example than the character I consider the greatest female badass of all time: Ellen Ripley.


But you’ll have to wait to find out why….


Tune in next time to find out more about why Alien rocks my socks in Part II: Why Ellen Ripley is the cat’s pajamas, and other stories.

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Ten years ago today, my father died.  In his honor, I present the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service.

I have a running joke with my closest friend, Gilbert, who is also my daughter’s godfather, about New York being His City.  I’m not sure, but I think it originally started immediately after September 11th, when he angrily asked, “How dare they do this to MY City?”  He’s lived and worked there for many years, and loves it passionately, but long before it was Gilbert’s City, or indeed before there ever was a Gilbert, it was Dad’s City.  He lived and worked there for years, too, and while he had moved to Easton by the time I came along, I doubt he ever considered himself as anything but A Somewhat Displaced New Yorker.  (I, on the other hand, despite working there for seventeen years and even a brief token residence in Brooklyn, do not presume to call myself anything other than a Connecticutian.)  I traveled to New York with my parents and various other friends and relations countless times over the years, but what I most remember were the trips when it was just the two of us, after my older brothers had discovered girls or gone off to college or whatever else took them away from the old homestead.  And I focus on these not only because they are such an immediate association when I look back over “life with Father,” but also because they so perfectly represent what he was to me while I was growing up.

A lot of people commented on Saturday [during the calling hours] about that great photo of Dad from my brother Drew’s wedding, holding forth on some subject or other and looking terribly distinguished with a drink in his hand.  That’s the Dad who made me his partner in crime—if you can call it a crime to spend some time and money in the greatest city in the world—impeccably dressed in his three-piece suit and, as often as not, brandishing a perfectly-furled bumbershoot.  I was only ten when he came back from a hiking trip to Colorado with that beard, and I never saw him without it again.  In addition to resulting in a good number of the endless nicknames I used to call him, to which I will subject neither you nor his memory, it just added to that air of elegant erudition.  And Dad didn’t just look the part—he knew everything.  New York is not a city you can master in a week, but he knew how to get everywhere, and all the good restaurants and stores—he was like a god to me.  I can’t tell you how lucky I felt to have this guy as my mentor, protector, pal, and tour guide all rolled into one.  Perhaps sensing my future among the directionally challenged, he would sometimes stop me in the middle of Manhattan and say, “Okay, which way are we going?”  I’m proud to say I sometimes even got it right, and he also taught me the art of riding on the subway standing up without holding on.

I don’t think it’s too much of a blindingly original insight to say that a lot of people don’t fully appreciate what a good job their parents did—if indeed they ever do—until they become parents themselves, and one way in which I very consciously model myself after Dad in that department is in diligently introducing my daughter Alexandra to what I consider “The Good Stuff.”  Of course, half of what I consider “The Good Stuff” comes straight from my Dad anyway, so there’s a very clear through-line there, and even though she obviously won’t embrace everything her father offers up to her, I feel a very strong responsibility at least to lead the horse to water, as it were.  My Dad and I didn’t do a lot of those things that many fathers and sons do together, like fishing or going to baseball games, and I can’t say I have experienced a single second of regret over those omissions, but he certainly exposed me to a lot of culture and life lessons along the way, which wasn’t hard to do in a city as suffused with both of those things as New York is.

Dad felt in later years that I talked too much about movies, and since I know he’s not the only one who has held that opinion, I won’t argue the point, but I will say he had himself partly to blame.  Some of my very earliest memories are of being taken to current films that were probably way over my head, and yet made an indelible impression on me nonetheless, but what was really special was going to see older movies with Dad in New York, usually uptown at the Regency, and occasionally downtown at the Quad, both of which I presume are now long gone.  The most frequent reason for our little outings was for Dad to visit his dentist in the Chrysler Building; fortunately, the Chrysler Building is still standing, even if said dentist is not.  Dad blessed me with an early appreciation for W.C. Fields, Humphrey Bogart, and the Marx Brothers, and I enjoyed nothing more than sitting in the waiting room leafing through The New Yorker, back when it WAS The New Yorker (a Dad magazine if ever there was one), to see what gems were being revived that day.  Believe it or not, kids, this was way before the days of VCRs and cable television—especially in Easton, of all places—and many of these movies simply did not pop up on TV.  We saw stuff that I still consider rare, even in this era of DVDs and 500 channels.

And then, there was the food.  This period pre-dated Dad’s latter-day romance with sushi, and it’s a shame, because we would certainly have consumed our respective body weights in what we Bradleys call “dead fish.”  Of course, my body weight was a little less back then, but Dad always kept himself trim; I wish I had his discipline.  What we did have, “back in the day,” was smorgasbord.  I’m not talking about today’s all-you-can-eat-for-$8.95 generic buffets, but the real deal, elegantly arrayed on gigantic tables in authentic Scandinavian restaurants with names like, appropriately, the Stockholm and the Copenhagen.  On Saturday, I encountered one of dad’s colleagues, Dr. Peter Shimkin—I say “encountered” rather than “met,” because I probably met him when I was about four, although my memories of the event are understandably dim—and positively genuflected when I learned that it was he who had introduced my Dad to the Copenhagen.  Of course, Dad had his Gibson (before he stopped ordering them as “Gibsons,” after one too many waiters brought him a gimlet instead), and we always started with huge plates of shrimp, which they made us peel ourselves to discourage just such behavior, and after that it was all a delightful blur until we finished up with the Copenhagen’s amazing almond cookies.

Of course, they’re all gone now, just like Dad’s other favorite restaurant, Louise Jr., but by then he had discovered sushi, thank God.  His City has sure gone through a lot of changes.  I was always a big reader, and I remember one of our essential destinations was a place called Marlboro Books, which always seemed to have the best selection, again, back before Borders and the superstores.  He used to stand there with his bumbershoot and his briefcase, waiting so patiently while I tracked down whatever I was looking for—Edgar Rice Burroughs was my big obsession when I was about Alexandra’s age—and it was pretty rare that we didn’t come home with some new treasures in that briefcase.  And now Marlboro, too, is gone, and so is Dad, and yet he’s not, for I’m sure he’s somewhere, raising a glass in our direction, impeccable in his three-piece suit.  And even if he’s not, I know that a large part of anything anybody finds admirable or likable in me is just him in another form.  I know he didn’t believe in any kind of an afterlife, and yet I think it’s fair to say that he did have one, and that it’s in this very room right now.  I miss you, Dad.


I recently discovered links to two professional articles that Dad, a radiologist by trade, co-authored:  “Technique, Hazards, and Usefulness of Percutaneous Splenic Portography” (Journal of the American Medical Association, March 7, 1959, Vol. 169, No. 10) and “The Intrahepatic Vasculogram and Hepatogram in Cirrhosis Following Percutaneous Splenic Injection” (Radiology, August 1958).  As a layman, I may not be able to understand them, but it’s nice to know that he lives on in another way as well.

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Actress/producer Maria Towers has very kindly made my tribute to her late husband, Harry Alan Towers, a separate page on the website that bears her screen name, Maria Rohm.  But you should check it out anyway:  it has trailers, clips, stills, and posters from many of her films, some of which we’ve talked about here, e.g., Count Dracula, Ten Little Indians.  There’s lots of other goodies as well (even an allusion to Robot Monster that I’ll let you find for yourselves), so click without delay and tell ’em BOF sent you.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for publication alerts regarding my James Bond article in Cinema Retro and, if all goes according to plan, a reprinting of my interview with the late Ray Bradbury in Filmfax.

And, as long as I’m here, let me say a brief and long-overdue word about the passing of Ernest Borgnine, who occupied a place in my pantheon similar to that of Robert Shaw.  If you asked me whether either man was one of my favorite actors per se, I’d have to say no, yet each appeared in a disproportionate number of my favorite films.  In Borgnine’s case, that would include—among the B100 alone—The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), John Sturges’s Ice Station Zebra (1968), and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969).

But that’s just the tip of the iceBorg.  His diverse filmography also includes the likes of Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity (1953), Sturges’s Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Richard Brooks’s The Catered Affair (1956; adapted by the late Gore Vidal from a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky of Altered States fame), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981).  Borgnine’s fruitful association with director Robert Aldrich dated back to Vera Cruz (1954), during his early days as an omnipresent Western heavy, and in addition to Phoenix and Dozen included The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), Flynn-fave Emperor of the North (1973), and Hustle (1975).

As a former employee of GoodTimes Entertainment, I even wrote jacket copy for a credit with which few people are probably familiar:  Ernest Borgnine on the Bus, a video documentary in which Ernie toured the heartland of the U.S. at the wheel of his customized luxury bus, The Sunbum, while reminscing about his career.  Film fans are also fortunate enough that he lived long enough for his autobiography, Ernie, to be released by Citadel (publisher of The Twilight and Other Zones) in 2008.  So instead of asking—as he was so famously asked in his breakthrough role as Chayefsky’s Marty (1955)—“What do you wanna do tonight?,” go watch some Borgnine.  We’ll miss you, Ernie.

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