Musings on genre writing, waterfall wandering, and peak bagging in the South’s wilderness areas.
One of these was a movie called TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE. The movie was written and directed by Zbynek Brynych who was a Jew of Czech extraction. The film takes place in the concentration camp called Theresienstadt. Brynych was actually a survivor of that camp, having emerged from it as a teenager at the end of the war as the Soviet Red Army rolled across eastern Europe liberating the extermination facilities and opening the concentration camps. Oh–and also killing the fuck out of German Nazis and as many of their filthy collaborators as they could find and execute.
Brynych lived it. He was there. I got to talk to him a bit both before and after watching the movie. One thing that I recall is that a lot of people ended up leaving the film (we watched it in a small college auditorium). It disturbed me to no end that the group of Jewish students who took up the row behind me all left halfway through the movie. Why? To tell you the truth, I think they just got bored.
It’s not exactly what you might think of when you compare it to US movies about the Holocaust. The movie is very low-key. Almost silent at times. There is brutality, but not the bestial, bloody type of thing you see when you watch movies about those crimes that were produced here in this country. After the war was over Brynych chose to remain a Czech citizen and became a movie director, lensing several projects about the subject of the Holocaust.
The nice bit about the movie presentation was that Brynych made himself available to answer any question concerning the movie. I remember that he said that he chose to cast the Nazis with Jewish actors and those of the inmates with gentiles. He also talked about how Stephen Spielberg had lifted specific images and scenes from his movie and reshot them for use in SCHINDLER’S LIST. Brynych had a fatalist’s view of that. You could tell that it upset him to a certain extent, but with a shrug he passed it off. What was he gonna do about it? Nothin’, that’s what.
He told me that Spielberg had called him once to say that he’d seen and enjoyed TRANSPORT, but had said nothing about the sequences he’d borrowed for LIST. And that was all that he mentioned about that particular subject, which had been brought up when another student had asked him if he’d seen Spielberg’s movie.
Anyway, the two are very different films. Of them, I prefer TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE for a number of reasons. One reason is that Brynych of course lived it, emerging from that concentration camp as a teenager. One chilling thing he told me about his experiences watching the rise of the Nazi juggernaut was that as he saw it all unfold, he found the power of the Nazi imagery to be “beautiful”. That’s the word he used to describe it. (He spoke English fluently and knew exactly what he was saying.)
Also, he told me of one his friends at the camp–a teenager like himself. The kid had been placed in the camp because his father was an SS officer, and his mother was a Jew, (which halachically made the kid a Jew). As an officer in the fanatical SS, his dad had given up his wife and son because they were Jews and he had continued his work as an SS officer.
Brynych said that–in the last weeks before the Red Army liberated them–the kid had gotten his hands on a pistol, somehow. The kid told Brynych of his plan to sneak out of the camp (there were still guards there at that point) and to find his father who was quartered nearby and kill him with the gun. Apparently the kid did get out of the camp, but returned later, dejected, having crept back in. The teen had tried to find his father, but in the chaos created by the advancing Soviet troops, the SS-man was nowhere to be found.
This opened up a whole notebook full of questions I wanted to ask Brynych, but I never got the chance as he had to leave for other meetings.
I still have those questions, but Brynych is no longer among the living, and I am left with the mysteries of them.
|Carefully framed shot from Brynych’s TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE.|
Musings on genre writing, waterfall wandering, and peak bagging in the South’s wilderness areas.
When I began to read various Walt Disney comics I gravitated toward stories with Donald Duck and his family–Uncle Scrooge; Huey, Dewey, and Louis, and supporting cast. I didn’t care for Goofy or Mickey Mouse or Pluto, etc. It was the raucous, angry, impetuous Donald Duck I liked, and of his stories I began to discern that one artist stood out above all the rest. I didn’t know the guy’s name, but I sure as shit knew what his style of art was like.
So I’d go into the warehouse or back room where my dad was storing the comics to replenish his stock of used books and I’d pick through them and raid them for the ones I wanted to take home to read. For a while I targeted only Disney books and I’d look for covers I’d never seen and open them up to see if the “good artist” had illustrated them.
Around this time–eight years old–I was also reading books avidly and had realized that some writers were a hell of a lot better than others. I could depend on Ernest Thompson Seton, Ray Bradbury, and Jim Kjelgaard to deliver the kind of story I wanted to read. This had me wondering if the guys who drew the comics I liked the most were actually writing them.
What I began doing was looking through the comics to see if I could find a clue how the stories were produced. I asked my parents, and they didn’t know. Marvel Comics and DC Comics often labeled the creators (sometimes falsely, I later discovered, as in the case of the lying shill, Stan Lee). This was one way that I knew that sometimes one person wrote the stories and another guy drew them. But with the Disney comic books there was no such method and a total lack of evidence. All I knew was that there was one “good artist” who drew the Duck stories and the other guys sucked in comparison.
I remained ignorant of this good artist‘s name for some years, but what I began to do was look for clues to whether or not this same guy was also writing these amazing stories. And then, one day, sitting at the dining room table reading a story that featured Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, I came to the last panel. Today all I can recall about the story was that it had, as a principle foil, an elephant in the storyline. I seem to recall that Uncle Scrooge ended up with the pachyderm and Donald did not. That final panel featured Donald. Nothing strange about that. The last panel should feature the title character.
…off in the corner of that final scene, on the horizon, was the silhouette of the elephant being led away by Uncle Scrooge using his cane as a kind of tether that the elephant was grasping with his trunk. This image was terribly small. Donald dominated the scene in the foreground, but the panel had been illustrated in such a way that your wandering eye led you to see these tiny silhouettes off in the distance.
And in that instant I realized that the guy who was drawing these amazing images was also spinning these wonderful yarns. No mere writer of scripts could possibly have included such an engaging and funny detail! Therefor, the guy drawing that story was also the man writing it!
It was only much later that I learned that the “good artist” was a fellow named Carl Barks and that he had been hand-picked from the animation department at Disney specifically to oversee the production, writing, and illustrating of all of the Duck stories for Dell Comics (and, later, Gold Key). Walt Disney himself chose Carl Barks, because back in those days Disney comic books published by Dell sold well over a million copies per issue! Each and every month. Disney knew that millions of kids would be seeing these comic books and reading these stories and it was important, almost paramount, that only the best of the best should produce the kind of comic books worthy of the Disney logo and trademark.
So…here’s to Carl Barks, the “good artist” whose work I picked out of the crowd, and who also made me realize that the guy who was drawing those wonderful tales was also writing them.
|Donald Duck, as portrayed flawlessly by the brilliant Carl Barks.|
So, I really like the holiday and make no apologies for it.
Here, then, are some of my favorite Christmas songs in no particular order except for the first one which has been my favorite since I was a child. Here goes!
First on my list is “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” from Andy Williams. Except, perhaps, for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” this is the earliest Christmas song that I can remember enjoying. I know I heard it the year it was released (1963). My mom adored Andy Williams so we watched any show he hosted or where he was a guest.
The Ronette’s “Sleigh Ride”. Produced by Phil Spector, the song showcases Veronica Bennett’s wonderful voice. Again, I must have heard it the same year I heard William’s song–when I was six years old. It must have been a good year for Christmas songs.
I have always enjoyed this tune. I have to admit that I’ve been a Gilbert O’Sullivan fan since I was a kid. I know that some people can’t stand his work, but I enjoy it. This tune does bear some similarities to another favorite of mine, but not so much that it bothers me.
I discovered this song very recently. First of all, I have to apologize for a bit of the quality of this recording. It’s the best one that I could find, but is such a bit of a novelty song that I couldn’t locate a better one. Valerie Masters was a UK actress who also had an engaging voice used to excellent effect on “Christmas Calling”. The song was produced by Joe Meek, one of the most tragic figures in 1960s pop music. They made a good artist/producer pairing.
I’ve always preferred the Bobby Helms version of “Jingle Bell Rock”. There have been plenty of others, but this one is my favorite. It first appeared the year I was born, but that’s not really why I like it best. Helms just had a damned good voice, especially on this tune.
I have to put a Carpenter’s song on here. They did so many great ones, but this is my favorite. I’m not sure whose idea it was to infuse this song with so much bittersweet emotion, but it is extremely effective in that way. Touching, a spirit of nostalgia, and an aching sadness that reminds us all that joy, like life, is fleeting.
Most people prefer Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and it’s a great one, for sure. But to me “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” nails down some of the ideas and images that make Christmas sweet and fun.
For just creating the finest imagery more effectively than any other Christmas song I know, we have Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” which, Torme’ said, Nat King Cole insisted he be allowed the first to record. I think this one is from 1961, which means I was four years old at that time, so I probably heard it that year for the first time.
Here’s another song that I just really got a kick out of when I was a very young child. It aired for the first time in 1964 on the Christmas TV Special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from Rankin-Bass. Voiced by Burl Ives as the Snowman, to me it’s a classic tune and conveys a wonderful idea.
This is the most recently written and produced song on my list of favorites, so I’ll close it out with this one. From George Michaels (and Wham!), it’s “Last Christmas”. One of the few Christmas songs written after the 1960s that I really like.
I could have gone on with a vast list of great Christmas songs, but I’ll end it here. To me, these are pretty much my favorite songs of the season. So, I’ll leave it here. I’m sure I’ll discover more holiday songs as I get older, and songs not at the top of my list now will find their ways to the top. Or maybe friends and family will tell me about some compositions I’d never heard and I’ll find they become my new favorites. As I said, life (and tastes) are fleeting.
|My wife and I picking out our tree at a choose and cut tree farm in 2009, on an appropriately snow-covered day.|
To make it plain, I ignore the latest in hit films and, since the media is packed with ads and promotions for movies that I consider garbage, I tend to avoid the advertising for all modern movies. This means that I often miss hearing about films that I might enjoy because of the fact that I remain ignorant of them due to intentionally avoiding the constant bombardment from vast corporations promoting their vile shit.
Thus, I missed hearing about a 2016 movie called THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER. The movie was written and directed by “Oz” Perkins (Osgood Perkins, son of the later actor Tony Perkins and Berry Berenson). Set at a private all-girls Catholic school, the story reveals itself as a particularly creepy tale of madness, obsession, and (possibly) demonic possession. Told partially in a series of flashbacks, the story unfolds slowly and effortlessly, although with a kind of cool tension.
And cold is the key word for this film. Everything about it is chilling and sterile. The setting of the film at the Catholic girls prep school is the ultimate of alienation and abandonment. Amid this frozen landscape (both within and without) we are introduced to a pair of students who find themselves trapped at the location because each set of parents failed to show up to gather the girls at winter break. (Yes, the school director attempts to locate and communicate with the two sets of parents, to no effect.) So the girls must wait to be collected by their parents for another day, during which everything changes for them both.
Kat (played by Kiernan Shipka from MAD MEN–yes, I have seen some pop culture TV now and again) is convinced via a nightmare that her parents have been killed in an auto accident and will never arrive. Rose, (performed by Lucy Boynton, an actress I had never seen before) has intentionally misled her parents to think that she is to be picked up later because she wanted to see a boyfriend before she left for home. So the two girls (one older than the other by a couple of years) are left in the silent halls with only a couple of nuns for company–the girls staying in their structured dorm, the nuns in a brownstone on the campus.
And there is the appearance of a third youthful woman (played by Emma Roberts) inserted into the plot whose story seems disconnected from the others, told in a setting that occurs several years after the initial storyline. Alone at a bus station, she’s offered a ride by a married couple played effectively and coldly by Lauren Holly and James Remar (who normally delivers villainous roles, but not here).
I found both Perkins’ script and direction to be exceptionally good. The feelings of sterility and alienation that he communicates via images and dialog are effective. The story he tells is also deceptively simple, which adds to the power of it as it unfolds.
If I had any criticism of it after this recent viewing, it would be that the theme of the movie could be considered routine in some ways. But again, I am a hard viewer to please, so I often find fault in most movies.
I do think the movie is engaging in most ways. Keep in mind that it is a horror movie, and an effective one. It’s not a romance, and it’s not a feel-good yarn. It’s a horror movie, with accent on the slowly unfolding, implacable monstrosity.
|Lucy Boynton as Rose.|
|Kiernan Shipka as the creepy Kat.|
Unfortunately, for some decades now the National Park Service has been continuously underfunded and our Parks have been allowed to deteriorate. Doughton Park and the structures which were once used as recreation, information, and lodging is a prime example of everything that is wrong with our National Parks system.
This center is still good for picnicking, hiking, and camping (outside of winter). But all of the buildings at Doughton Park are now closed, and have been since 2010. The Bluffs Lodge, the store, and the coffee shop have all been shuttered due–we are told–to the presence of mold and the need for reconstruction. I will take them at their word on this. However, the problem is that while the people who cannot enjoy these places are left waiting, the nation has more than enough money to squander on any number of corporate projects and weapons systems that are not needed.
This is the kind of thing that I see when I go out to use our Parks and Recreation Areas that makes my blood boil. Whose ass should I kick? Whose skull needs to be caved in?
For now Doughton Park and the buildings that we can no longer use and enjoy sit vacant and waiting, receiving just enough attention to keep from falling in. There is a pathetic attempt to raise less than one million dollars via private donations to get the coffee shop and the camp store reopened. (You can donate to that effort here.) Corporate welfare and military expenditures consume this much cash in seconds, but citizens cannot enjoy what we built and own because of the greed and stupidity of the way government tax revenues are disbursed. This is insane.
For now I can (and do) still visit Doughton Park to picnic, hike, and camp (in season). However, the rest of the recreation area sits largely ignored and abandoned. This is wrong. Our Parks and Recreation Areas are not meant to make a profit. The profit within them lies in the recreational activities and the pleasure of how our citizens are able to enjoy their leisure time. If it costs tax money to operate these areas, then that is money well spent. Doling out the working class taxes on corporate welfare and for insane weapons systems and the production costs that go into the pockets of the billionaires is a stinking way to piss our money down the 1% rathole.
|The Bluffs Lodge. 24 rustic rooms that provide peace and quiet, and a wonderful environment in which to experience that peace.|
|The Park Service may very well level this lodge that should remain open and in public hands.|
|Central pavilion between the two buildings.|
|The view from the paved pavilion.|
So I just thought I’d show a photo of a true alpine setting from a long backpacking trip I took at very high altitude in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The peaks around me here were well over 12,000 feet, and I think the one in the background was well over 13,000 feet. The table lands on which I was hiking is classic alpine meadow.
The second photo is of the slowly healing southern high country (roughly 6200 feet above sea level) in the North Carolina mountains in the Shining Rock Wilderness. It closely resembles the classic, true alpine setting. Eventually the Shining Rock area will once again be forested with red spruce and balsam trees. Until then, it will be similar to the open, high country we call “alpine”.
Here’s the thing about Lovecraft: He was an atheist. An adamant atheist. He believed in not one speck of the supernatural. Nothing. They also called themselves at that time, “realists”. If it could not be detected or proven, then it was likely false.
So…a truly guilty pleasure of Lovecraft’s was supernatural fiction. He loved the stuff. He reveled in it. Combined with his ironically Puritan ethics, such guilt must have driven him close to bats struggling with the incongruity of it all.
Thus, to assuage his guilt and put the matter to bed, he was struck with the spark of brilliance to create fiction in which the supernatural was given a SCIENTIFIC origin and principle.
This is the genius of Lovecraftian fiction. It puts the shade of supernatural within the realm of what is real. There is no magic, only science. There are no gods, only alien beings. Evil has no place; but cosmic indifference to squalid, tiny, insignificant Man rules the universe.
Therein lies the art of what Lovecraft did with horror/supernatural fiction. Nothing was the same after he created his literary work. It has dominated horror fiction and fantasy since the day he began to publish these works.