Monday, October 29, 2012
When you are watching a silent film, much of the narrative is transmitted through title cards (the original text messages). Yes, action is happening, but often the context of the action is unclear until the title cards explicate it. Some silent films don't have many title cards, so the action can persist for quite a while without explicit explanation. In the case of a silent horror film--the almost silent Vampyr, for example--the mood can build and build as you await the next title card, the next slice of dialogue, to interrupt the momentum of gloom. And as time passes, every movement on screen becomes part of a slow burning, dream-like anxiety; where every dart of the eyes and every cautious step forward seems to have tremendous import. You forget that it's just a scene with a guy walking through a field.
What it comes down to is misdirection. In a talkie horror, with the constant dialogue (and with it, explanation), things are much more on the surface*. The advantage of misdirection that you find in silent horror films can also be found in effective horror novels. There are all kinds of distractions; minor characters, minor character details, location details. These distractions help magnify the story's ending because you're diverted by all the dead-ends and false starts leading up to the ending and therefore less likely to see it coming.
When you read horror short stories, there is less room for misdirective details, so the ending and direction of the plot is easier to guess. Same goes for horror anthology TV shows like "Tales From the Darkside". Because of time constraints, the expositions are necessarily abrupt. The dialogue must come right out and announce what is happening. There are no extraneous details to obscure things, so you fixate purely on the story. And let's face it, it can only end a few different ways. And because the story is so predictably compressed, you know that after that last commercial break, it has to end somehow. And if you have seen a few horror anthology episodes, you can pretty much guess the ending to all of them.
I think these mechanics partly explain why there are so few decent (let alone great) horror films, and why there are so few horror anthology episodes that are even worth watching all the way through. There is a reason why every classic horror film list pretty much has the same handful of titles on it...not that many classics to choose from.
*The Blair Witch Project and the Bela Lugosi Dracula are two talkies with creepy, silent film-like pacing. Many early talkies of all genres were short on dialogue as the medium made the transition out of the silent age.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Saturday, October 20, 2012
There are many reasons why a memorable horror story is so tricky to pull off, but right now I have no interest in mining my remarkable brain for the answers.
The Music of Erich Zann
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Colour Out of Space
Meeting Mr. Millar
Your Tiny Hand is Frozen
Our Temporary Supervisor
The Willows (Lovecraft called this the finest weird tale ever, and I can’t disagree).
“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”
Casting the Runes
Metamorphosis by Kafka (Kafka is obviously taught in school, but this is a great weird tale that is often soiled by shaky literary analysis, thus robbing virgin readers of potential enjoyment).
Mimic by Donald Wolheim
Night Wire by HF Arnold
The People of the Pit by Abraham Merritt
The Voice of the Beach by Ramsey Campbell
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Edmund Wilson, esteemed literary critic of the first half of the 20th Century, famously did the first serious critical review of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Titled “Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous”, Wilson’s essay was published in The New Yorker in 1945 (Lovecraft died in 1937). The piece was scathing*, saying "the only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art." He then went on to reduce Cthulhu, Lovecraft’s most famous monster, to “a giant whispering octopus.”**
Given that Weird Tales was Lovecraft's primary forum, maybe it shouldn't be surprising that Lovecraft once suffered from guilt by association. Similar prejudice exists today. In its prime Playboy gave attention to many neglected/soon to be famous literary luminaries. But try bringing that up in your next literary conversation and see how quickly you have to explain you're not a porn freak.
Still, maybe Lovecraft is indebted to Wilson. Maybe the mere fact that a major literary critic stooped to bash Lovecraft helped lift his name from the bowels of the pulp world and into more polite company. Maybe Lovecraft fans should be hailing Wilson's contribution to the astonishing posterity that Lovecraft's work now enjoys. Maybe there really is no such thing as bad publicity. It certainly can't be worse than playing second fiddle to "The Ghost Table".
*I don't agree with Wilson's assessment of Lovecraft, but at least the essay is well written and amusing. More importantly, unlike nearly all reviews I read today, IT ACTUALLY PROVIDES YOU WITH A CLEAR IMPRESSION OF LOVECRAFT'S STYLE AND SUBJECTS. Isn't that what reviews are for? Wilson at least cared enough to delve into the particulars of Lovecraft's approach, and he had a point about some of Lovecraft's excesses.
**Lovecraft was in good company. In 1947 Wilson wrote of Kafka: "I find it impossible to take him seriously as a major writer, and have never ceased to be amazed at the number of people who can."
***I have a soft spot for many of these covers, but prolonged exposure to them is worse for the IQ than lead paint, something an aristocrat like Lovecraft would not have endorsed.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Bashing special interests is a staple of every politician on every campaign trail:
I'm going to stand up to special interests.
For too long now, there has been too much money coming from special interests.
Unlike my opponent, I'm not beholden to special interests.
Of all the red meat talking points, this one might be the filet mignon. Everyone loves it.
"Special interests" are the money people who put politicians in office; the people who do the most to hire Eric Cantor or Harry Reid for the job. The word hire is appropriate.
What happens when you, a non-politician, get hired? You are expected to perform a task, regardless of how you feel about it. Your employer pays you, so in so many words he controls what you do. To keep getting that paycheck, you will recite slogans you don't believe in, follow rules that make you retch, and associate with people who if it weren't for the shared paycheck would be your sworn enemies. Why do you do all these things that run counter to your values? Because you want to keep collecting checks. That's part of what it is to have a job; bending to other people's rules and preferences in exchange for cash.
And like a politician, you lie to get the job. You lie and embellish during the interview process to get the job. You greatly overstate your previous achievements when campaigning for yourself. Some achievements you just invent altogether. Sound familiar?
Right now some dunce is reading this and is no doubt breaking out in a cold, duncy sweat: "Screw that, I own my own business! I'm my own boss!"
Not so fast lyric from a Beyonce song. You might own your own business and sing "My Way" on karaoke night, but your customers are the boss. Let's say you have a kitchen renovation business. You might hate zinc countertops. But if all the people having their kitchen redone read an article in the New York Times telling them that zinc countertops have a centering effect on urban middle children between the ages of 25-47 months, you're either going to install zinc countertops or you're going to be on a breadline. It is that simple.
If a teacher's union or oil company pays a politician a bunch of money, they aren't doing it because they like him or care about "the greater good" (whatever that means). They're doing it to hire him to perform the tasks they want performed...votes in their favor...subsidies in their direction. Money exchange=expectation of service. No one ever gives money just because. This is true of every scenario in life, politics included. The special interest groups paid Eric Cantor to do a job and they expect him to do it. If the Grand Union of Lesbian Podiatrists gives a wad of cash to Eric Cantor and he continually votes against their interests, he is breaking the deal, and he'll be fired. GULP will do whatever it can to hire someone else. Same thing that happens to you when you disobey your boss.
That is why people go to fundraisers. That is why you give money and go to rallies with your dopey signs. You too are trying to be a "special interest." Unfortunately for you, you as a special interest aren't special enough to matter. Most of you are just mad because you're losing.
And we're not just talking about the dreaded super PACs. A huge collection of grannies sending in five dollar donations to save social security (which imposes a huge cost on younger, working age people who didn't exactly sign up for it), is also a political donor/special interest situation. Perceived voting blocs also spark whoring and duplicity.
You want politicians to be just like you? Well friend, they already are. Whoever pays them gets to tell them what to do. You tell everyone you're an independent, uncompromising maverick who marches to his own drum. Then the manager at the restaurant where you work schedules you to wait tables on Super Bowl Sunday. No Super Bowl party for your independent ass. You're going to be the help at someone else's party that day. Because he said so.
I'm glad I brought up the Super Bowl, because I know someone is going to try to counter this by saying, "Hey, I'm a taxpayer, so I pay Eric Cantor's salary!" Reminds me of the sports fan who thinks he controls Mark Sanchez. Yes, in a roundabout way, you pay Mark Sanchez's salary, but Woody Johnson, the Jets owner, is the one who pays Mark Sanchez directly and handsomely. Sorry Jim The Twice a Decade Jets Game Attendee, but Mark Sanchez is going to defer to Mr. Johnson over you, and Eric Cantor is going to do the same with the folks that pay him the most. And unless a lot of Jim The Twice a Decade Jets Game Attendees rise up and do something big (rather than just complain on sports radio), it is going to stay that way.
It shouldn't take a wonk to realize that he who pays the piper the most picks the tune. Actually, most wonks seem to understand this even less than regular people. Same goes for political junkies who love to tell everyone how "aware" they are. Remove the jargon and tell them plainly that a politician accepts a check and behaves like any other hired gun and their face becomes as empty as the prospects for changing the political system.
I don't blame politicians for any of this. I blame voters for expecting it to be any other way.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Slip on one of my banana tweets: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne
Saturday, October 6, 2012
And back when everyone was talking about climate change, what hogged the discussion? Green energy, clean energy. Not WORKING FROM HOME so you’re not constantly driving.
The focus on climate change sparked plenty of discussion about public transportation, but very little talk of not needing as much transportation. In 2012 does the subway still need be like a turkey farm each morning?
One part of my 1994 prediction has come true. All over America, commercial property stands empty. In some parts of the country, LOTS of it stands empty. Not because of telecommuting; but because the economy is in such bad shape. It is enough to make you wistful.