Purple Reign

princePrince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl

A glimpse behind the purple curtain, and perhaps the most important recording period of Prince’s career – I say ‘perhaps’ because although Purple Rain is widely considered Prince’s masterpiece/breakout period, I really think Sign o’the Times and his output during that 1985 – 1986 period is more interesting, but that’s likely just a personal thing and I’m certain many fans will argue otherwise. At any rate, this exhaustive  book is an utterly fascinating read. And I must say, it’s a formidable prospect-  it’s huge, running at well over 500 pages of detailed text, I have to admit I’ve barely delved into it but having already learned so much from it,  I feel it necessary to mention the book on this blog to get the word out there to all Prince fans- you need this book. Buy it now or get it put on your Christmas lists, because this will surely be a cornerstone of anybody’s Prince collection in years to come. Best yet, the author intends for it to be the first in a series of such books, so hopefully my beloved Sign o’the Times era will get similar treatment someday.

The book is pretty much a day by day account of Prince’s work in the recording studio from 1st January 1983 through to the end of December 1984, from the last days of the 1999 tour through to the breakout that was Purple Rain and how it changed everything for Prince. It breaks it down to day by day, recording the dates and times and what was done, song by song, session by session, including those many songs currently in the fabled vault yet to be released (and those that leaped out onto the extras disc of the recent Purple Rain deluxe reissue). It documents how he worked, where he worked, who he worked with, and is filled with commentary from those who were there. It really is a new insight into Prince’s genius at a time when he was particularly on fire creatively, and shows just how hard it was to craft those songs. The work involved in documenting all this and collating it is quite breathtaking.

I’ll be losing myself in this book over the coming days and weeks. It’s a helluva book.

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Facepalm Hell: Tomorrow, When The War Began

tomm2017.64: Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010)

Oh boy. This is one of those films that you just know is going to be bad, the premise is… well. You know all those teenager-oriented flicks we’ve been inflicted by over this past decade? Here’s another one. We’re in Australia, and seven teenage freinds from a small town go on a camping trip. They have a great time, but what they don’t know is that while they are out in the wilds without any internet or mobile phone signal,  Australia is being invaded by a mysterious Asian superpower. Returning home they find that they are at war and their townsfolk and families have either been imprisoned or murdered. There’s only one thing for it, the seven teens must wage all-out war and free their country. Fortunately, although Australia has fallen, none of the Asian invaders can shoot straight.

Wait, what?

I don’t know, I may have missed some details from going dizzy slapping my face with my palm. Good grief this is pretty horrifyingly stupid.  Attractive lead female secretly has crush on Asian guy from school, invites him to camping trip, and you won’t believe this but… he secretly likes her too. Another girl, a gorgeous dizzy blonde from a rich family (yawn) goes on the trip, has no experience with boys but is bravely confident one day some boy will ask her out… do you think one of the boys in the group has the hots for her? One girl comes from a strict religious background and refuses to resort to violence- will she compromise her beliefs when her freinds are in mortal danger and she suddenly finds herself holding an automatic rifle?

It did occur to me that, with very little effort, this could have been turned into a really effective, really funny comedy spoof of all those teenager-based movies and of course the film Red Dawn which it so closely resembles, but instead it is dreadfully earnest and completely, shockingly serious. This is no doubt due to the fact that it is based on a series of books written by some guy named John Marsden which I have been happily ignorant of up to now. I guess they are great reads for teens who feel misunderstood and under-appreciated and feel capable of curing the world’s problems, but I doubt they are great for adults who have lived in the real world and grown up, and they certainly don’t seem to make for great movie-making. As this film was released back in 2010 it seems it didn’t set the world alight and lead to further films, so at least we should be thankful for that.

For the BR2049 Bookshelf

cinefexBack in 1982, I remember standing in the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, upstairs in the magazine section. looking through Cinefex issue 9, which was devoted to Blade Runner. I very nearly bought it, but on limited pocket money funds decided to buy a few REH paperbacks instead, and maybe pick up the Cinefex at a later date. Damned fool I was. There was never any later date for Cinefex 9, as it quickly sold out and I spent years looking for a copy. Fortunately the issue was reprinted by Titan books in a hardback book many years later, which itself is OOP now and fetching rather large sums, so I did manage to eventually own and read it.

So, when I learned the latest issue of Cinefex would feature BR2049, I quickly ordered it, keen on history not repeating. It arrived a few days ago and it’s a pretty good read. It doesn’t look as if Cinefex devotes issues to single films as it used to (God knows there’s far more effects films these days than there used to be) so the BR2049 article shares the issue with articles on Dunkirk, The Dark Tower and the latest Kingsman film. Consequently the coverage isn’t as in-depth as it was for the original film (the issue also devotes a few pages to a pictorial of the original Blade Runner coverage from 1982, which is nice but does raise the forlorn wish that the issue might have simply been devoted to both films).

Of course in the good old days Cinefex coverage meant brilliant pictures of behind the scenes stuff, like models being built and matte paintings being painted on glass, and on the whole that’s all gone now thanks to CGI taking over. But BR2049 does feature extensive miniatures so there’s some nice pictures of that, amongst the CGI renders and wireframes that no-one on this planet can make exciting. I think the Cinefex article suffers from the cloak-and-dagger secrecy around the film prior to release, so although it discusses the creation of the 1982 Rachel, it doesn’t have any images to back it up, which have been made available elsewhere on the internet since the films release. Ultimately it’s a good article but not as exhaustive or complete as I would have liked, but hey, it’s different times now. We don’t even have the massive articles of Cinefantastique these days either. Progress, eh?

artbrA much more complete package, imagery-wise at least, can be found in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 book. Its an oversized (and consequently rather expensive, although Amazon have since reduced the price substantially) coffee-table book, that from the title might be inferred to be an art book but is actually more of a making-of book, dominated more by behind the scenes and production photographs than artwork. As a visual record and memento of the film and how it was made, it’s quite brilliant and everything a fan of the film could hope for. The imagery for the visual effects material is superior to the Cinefex article, although the text less substantial (so yeah, you really need both sources, unfortunately). The book also shares some of the limitations of the Cinefex article regards some of the more closely-guarded sequences (no imagery, again, of the CGI Rachel for instance).

It’s a brilliant book though. I might have preferred more substantial text but the imagery is breathtaking in the film so consequently that gets reflected here. There are some lovely behind the scenes shots and commentary about the film. It’s exactly the kind of book that I would have loved to see about the original film. Both are intensely visual experiences, and the Blade Runner ‘bible’ Future Noir is severely lacking in that regard. So maybe someone might write a more in-depth book about making BR2049 someday, who knows, but for now this will more than suffice.

george-hull-br6.jpgI almost wish one of the actors could have written a diary like Bob Balaban did for CE3K, that was a great book. Walter Koenig did a similar fly-on-the-wall book for ST:TMP. You don’t see that kind of book/coverage anymore but both were fascinating glimpses of the frustrations of making technically-demanding films and managing all the boredom behind the scenes. Yeah we get loads of DVD/Blu-ray featurettes on the best disc releases these days but that’s never as impartial/balanced coverage as one would prefer.

Fabrications & Misinformations: (not) a Youtube Woody Allen movie, but maybe it should be.

utbeThis morning I had an hour free, and thanks to the wonders of intelligent televisions (question for later: are the televisions more intelligent than the programs displayed on them?) I decided to load up Youtube, put ‘Blade Runner 2049’ in the search box and see what popped up. There’s a few nice featurettes on there; Weta has a nice one about the miniatures, and there are obviously those prequel shorts (I rewatched the Blackout 2022 anime, that’s really good). Some nice analysis videos are starting to surface- 2049 is clearly a great film for discussion.

But I watched a few review videos, and good lord some are just plain terrible. Is this the future of film criticism? Two guys are on there talking about 2049 for some forty minutes and they can’t even remember some of the character’s names. On another there’s four reviewers talking about the film, and one of them claims the original Philip K Dick ‘short story’ states that Deckard is clearly a Replicant. What is he talking about? That is patently not the case, and it’s a novella, not a short story.

This kind of stuff really winds me up. In this day and age, misinformation is everything- I mean, some people believe everything they see on the tv or internet. And everyone seems to think they can be a presenter or critic and put themselves up on stuff like youtube without any qualifications or talk without any research or due diligence. God knows this blog is read by very few and amounts to very little in the great scheme of things, but I think about what I write and make an effort to be factually correct. But some people are spouting utter nonsense and drivel on these videos. It’s like the inmates are running the asylum, and quality control comes a distant third, fourth or fifth in the aim to get as many clicks/views as possible.

The dangers, of course, are that some people’s careers can be put at risk because of the unqualified opinion and vitriol on these sites/videos, whether it be the film-makers being spoken about or professional critics views being swamped out in all the nonsensical noise. Every fool seems to have an opinion, well, of course they do, and I guess everyone has a right to voice that opinion, but please, take the courtesy of due care and do some research.  Next thing you know, our Prime Ministers, Politicians and Presidents will think they can spout any utter nonsense without having to back it up with facts. Oh, wait…

 

The Movie Art of Syd Mead

syd1Here’s a timely arrival, considering it’s clearly Blade Runner week here- Titan Book’s The Movie Art of Syd Mead. It’s a large-format, full-colour hardback totaling something like 256 pages, covering all of Mead’s work on movies over the past few decades, with the inevitable meat of the book (pages 88 – 153) concerned with his most famous project, Blade Runner.

I must say, I’m surprised to find there are pieces here I have never seen before, and others rarely printed, and even the pre-production paintings so familiar over the years are (mostly) printed from great scans and often spread over two pages, unveiling new details. (There is one painting, for Sebastian’s apartment, that is only printed at half-page size and looks to be from an older, inferior scan from the others, which likely explains its reduced size). There are, surprisingly, a few pieces actually missing so its is by no means complete, though the rarities/’new’ pieces are consolation.

For Blade Runner fans, this is a great opportunity to obtain a pretty definitive collection of Syd Mead’s sketches and paintings for the film. If ever a film deserved an ‘art of’ book, it was Blade Runner, and I know there have been a few attempts to get such a work published over the years but various rights issues nixed them. Considering Mead’s importance to the film, I guess this book manages to complete half of such a project (a ‘proper’ art of book would also need the matte paintings, the Ridleygrams, the storyboards etc). In any case, it’s a wonderful way to rediscover Mead’s Blade Runner artwork with most of it all in one place- the omissions are a little annoying, but I suppose they may be due to some pieces being in the hands of private collectors and/or the available scans not being good enough for inclusion (oh, oh- that doesn’t mean a ‘Movie Art of Syd Mead: The Final Cut’ will be due in a few years? It’d almost be poetic considering the many different versions of the film itself).

It even has a surprise at the end- a few pieces that Mead completed for Blade Runner 2049, for which he did designs for the film’s Las Vegas setting. I had no idea that Mead was in any way involved in the new movie. Incidentally, Blade Runner 2049 is getting its own ‘art-of’ book, currently due before the end of this month (conveniently delayed so as to avoid spoilers around the film’s release). So I guess it trumps the original film in that way at least (actually, it’s also getting a soundtrack release too so…).

Anyway, barring the odd omissions it’s a great book. I’d have appreciated a bit more text/ Mead commentary but that’s just being a bit picky, the artwork is the real draw and the reproductions are pretty great. It’s just over £20 at Amazon currently so well worth it.

 

1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.

 

 

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

stigmata“She was a redhead and he liked redheads; they were either outrageously ugly or almost supernaturally attractive.” 

Thankfully I still have quite a number of Philip K Dick novels to read; the guy was nothing if not prolific, with a huge body of work. Reading a PKD novel or story for the first time is a very welcome treat, but it can prove to be addictive. Once you’ve experienced PKD’s rather unique mindset, you find its rather seductive, and as you’ve finished one novel or short story, its all too easy to reach for another. Another ‘fix’. Which is an interesting analogy considering that The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which I’ve just read and was originally published back in 1965, is a story partly about addiction and drug-induced hallucinated alternate worlds. And God. And aliens. Well, God as an alien, infecting the realities of those who try the new drug that this God has brought from deep space. Sounds odd? Welcome to the mind of that genius visionary Philip K Dick.

The funny thing about PKD, is that its easy to get the impression he is making up the story as he goes- its not often that I ever get the feeling anything is really planned out or reasoned before he wrote it. I may well be wrong, but it does seem that he simply takes a proposition or turn of thought and runs with it, sees where it goes. There’s a sense of chaos under everything, as if anything could happen next. One of the best things about his stories is when he indeed pulls the rug from under you, suddenly twists the story into a new direction. Usurps your expectations and, most of the time, your sense of reality. You think its one thing, and then it turns into another.

stig2In the case of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, you find yourself wondering if what is happening to the characters is ‘real’ or just another hallucination, like dreams within dreams, layers of hallucinatory experiences. Time has little meaning- someone under the influence of the drug might be unconscious for just minutes in the ‘real world’ but years or even decades could go by in the strange hallucinatory world he/she might find themselves in – indeed, even trapped in, as Palmer Eldritch/God proves to be rather dangerous and threatening in his/its own attempt at survival.  Is reality being infected by God, as he manifests himself everywhere like some kind of virus, a multitude of Palmer Eldritch’s, or is it just another fantasy? Is it God that has infected Eldritch or some alien approximation? I often think PKD is always writing on the edge, reconsidering where he is going, threatening to go racing off in some other path entirely on a whim. It makes his stories rather challenging but also greatly rewarding.

There’s certainly no way there will ever be a film based on The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. But I’d love to see one.

 

My Favourite Web-Slinger

spidey 60Go back some 43 years, and early on a Saturday morning you’d find me lying awake in bed waiting for the familiar noise of a delivery through the letterbox. It was a regular routine, every Saturday through most of my childhood. The rest of the house would be asleep, enjoying a lie-in at the start of the weekend, and I’d usually be awake, light dimly streaming through the curtains, waiting for that noise. I’d hear the swing of the letterbox flap, the sound of the morning newspaper and my Spider-Man comic being pushed through and finally falling to the hallway floor with a dull thud. With that, I’d get out of bed and silently, oh so carefully (woe I woke my parents!) creep down the stairs trying to avoid the creaky spots, go down to the front door, pick up the latest issue of my favorite comic and return upstairs for a read.

I remember how crushing it would be, those rare weeks that only the newspaper was delivered, and my comic missing/delayed. Upset my whole weekend. Was I ever that young, life ever so simple, days so easily crushed?

Spider-Man Comics Weekly was a UK b&w comic that reprinted the American original The Amazing Spider-Man- the first issue of the UK reprint came out in February 1973 (free Spider-man mask that didn’t really resemble the free gift in the tv ads), and it continued into the ‘eighties. I think I read it until about 1980; sometime after the original mag’s Ross Andru run the quality seemed to fall off dramatically and I’d finally grown out of it- remember Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns were several years away, but I’d already been reading 2000 AD and enjoying it’s harder, more grown-up stories. But during the 1970s that weekly ran through all the Steve Ditko run, the John Romita period and into the Ross Andru years- what an astonishing run that was, with the advantage of weekly installments racing through the original monthly run of four-colour comics.

omni 3Why do I mention all of this? Well, the other day my copy of The Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Omnibus Vol.3 was delivered. This fantastic book reprints issues 68 – 104 of the original monthly edition. This period is probably my favourite period of all the Web-Slinger’s adventures. While I will naturally always love the Steve Ditko years, it was this period, with artwork by John Romita, John Buscema (my favourite comic artist) and Gil Kane, that seemed to feature the strip all grown-up and sophisticated. The artwork was wonderful, and the stories brilliant- the Kingpin, the Green Goblin, Dr Octopus, the ‘drugs’ issues, the death of Captain Stacey… these were the issues that blew me away, and being able to own them in this luxury hardcover is like being ten years old again.  Indeed, sometimes I think we never really grow up. I cannot express the joy of reading strips I have not read in decades and yet remember as if I only read them yesterday, they were so burned into my subconscious. I think I forgot how much of a big deal/real love they were to me, those Marvel comics in the 1970s, and of course, to be able to read them in their original colour format, with the original letters pages, is something of a wonder.

So now I have the three Spider-Man Omnibus volumes, and all those original issues from issue 1 through to 104 with annuals etc in between. Hopefully volume 4 will follow in a few years, with the death of Gwen Stacey and through to the Ross Andru era. One day I’ll sit down and read them through and it’ll be like some kind of microcosm of my childhood. But this book, volume 3, is really something special- I’m sure my eyes must light up with the joy of my childhood self as I read it. No, we really don’t ever grow up, not if we’re lucky.

My REH Bookshelf Pt.1

Last week I received the three most recent Robert E Howard books from the REH Foundation Press, so I thought it timely to post some pictures of my Robert E Howard collection. I’ve been collecting REH books since 1978, and I think it is true to say that REH fans have never had it as good as they do now, thanks to the efforts of the folks at the REHFP. There is still, and always will be, a unique thrill to receiving a box from them postmarked from the post office at Cross Plains, Texas, a special place in Howard lore.

reh1So here’s my first photograph, and this is pretty much my collection from the last few years and it clearly demonstrates how much I have benefited from the REHFP. While many of these books contain stories I already owned in earlier books, they also contain a wealth of fragments and drafts, and informative essays. And of course they are handsomely collected in hardback format in very limited editions, usually only 200 copies. I can never figure out how REH fandom is so limited that these books don’t seem to sell-out. They aren’t cheap, but when I think back to the bad old days of buying paperbacks these are more that worth the investment, and will hopefully last the rest of this REH readers life.

Highlights are almost too numerous too mention. The Collected Poetry is a hugely important volume, and the Collected Letters also. If these were the only books that the REHFP had ever printed, that would have been more than enough to satisfy collectors. In all honesty though I adore all of these books and only wish I could make the time to properly re-read them all enough. I often think that if ever I manage to retire one day I will enjoy the fruits of my collecting by spending years reading and re-reading these volumes -I only hope I can keep my marbles in order to do so! But I’m certain in the meantime I’ll give it a good go whenever I have time- currently I’m reading through the Breckinridge Elkins books. At any rate, though their frequency of books is somewhat haphazard, I’m certain that the REHFP have yet more books in the pipeline.

One anecdote I must make- my copy of the Collected Poetry was actually delivered across town as the address hadn’t been written properly on the package. As it wasn’t tracked, I had no idea, but thankfully it was delivered to me by the recipient of the package who had subsequently managed to track me down. I don’t think I ever had opportunity to thank him enough, as I was quite bewildered when he turned up at my door late one summer evening with the box. I’m really not usually that lucky a person -the ghost of Howard was looking over me that night!

This second photograph is a sample of the REH volumes I’ve collected over the past few decades-

reh2Now this picture contains a few real finds that REH collectors out there will likely recognise and which will mean nothing at all to most everyone else, so please bear with me. First is The Last Celt, which I bought from Forbidden Planet back in, 1985 I think, on a rare trip down to London. I couldn’t really afford the book but I couldn’t resist it. Its a hugely influential book about REH, at one point the bible of REH collecting. Written and compiled by the late Glenn Lord, who was the most important REH fan there ever was, its a cornerstone of my collection. Glenn was kind enough to reply to an email from me many years ago.

Next along the shelf are, like The Last Celt,  a number of REH books from Donald M Grant, one of the most important publishers of REH material, certainly in the 1970s/1980s- the highlight of these is the rare Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, a semi-autobiographical novel by Howard. Another favourite from my collection is a book about Howard rather than one by him- a memoir by Novalyne Price Ellis titled One Who Walked Alone. She was a friend of Howard and was the only girl he ever dated or had any kind of relationship with, and as she had literary leanings herself, she kept journals and diaries of their times together. This book is a particularly candid, first-hand document about Howard and formed the basis of a later film. Remarkably vivid, reading this book is like stepping into a time machine and the closest one can get to meeting Howard.

Then we come upon the expensive section of my collection- back before the REHFP rescued Howard collectors, the British publisher Wandering Star instigated an ultimately too-ambitious project of luxury limited editions. The books proved a contentious issue in REH fandom, but I well remember my thrill back when they first came out and I’m grateful to everyone involved in the (ultimately abortive) project. Having had to put up with cheap paperbacks and those old second-hand Donald M Grant editions that I could get hold of, new, luxury hardbacks of curated Howard material were a godsend. I remember picking up a flyer in Forbidden Planet announcing the three-volume Conan books. It was like winning some kind of lottery, it was so exciting! The first Wandering Star book was the Solomon Kane book, lavishly illustrated and bound, complete in slipcase with prints and a cd of some recited Kane material.  I bought that from the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham- it was an expensive purchase but I never regretted it.

Further along the shelf you will see my copy of the Neville Spearman edition of Skull-Face Omnibus. In the history of REH publishing, this is one of the important volumes, originally published in 1946 by Arkham House. Dating from 1975, I bought this copy of the Neville Spearman edition from Andromeda Bookshop in 1983. Although I had bought some Conan paperbacks years earlier, it was this book that truly sealed my fate regards collecting REH books. The typeface is so small just reading a paragraph now is enough to induce a major headache, but fortunately all the books material has since been reprinted elsewhere and more legibly.

A few more Donald M Grant editions follow, and L Sprague de Camp’s rather inflammatory biography of Howard that I bought for £8.75 in 1986 (I know, because I have the receipt slipped inside the book), back when I was deep into buying the many REH  paperbacks of the time. I don’t have any of those paperbacks at hand to display, as they are stored up in boxes in the loft- but there were lots of them.

Finally (for now) on the shelf are two deluxe reprint volumes of the Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith Conan comics that pretty much started my whole affair with REH when I first read the weekly reprints here in the UK in 1975. So in a way they bring things full circle.

I have some other REH books I haven’t photographed here -the Bison books from several years ago, the Del Rey books based on unpublished Wandering Star volumes, the aforementioned paperback pile from the 1970s-1980s boxed away and several volumes of critical works about Howard’s work, as well as a number of comic collections from Dark Horse. Plenty there for an eventual Pt.2 indeed,  but what I have featured here is pretty much the bulk of my collection. I certainly don’t consider myself an hardcore REH collector but it has become something of a lengthy fascination that somehow defines me- any other REH collectors care to share details of their collections?

 

The Princess Diarist

carrie1Anyone looking to learn any real details/minutiae of the filming of the original Star Wars trilogy are likely to be somewhat disappointed by this book. “I don’t remember much about things like the order we shot scenes in or who I got to know first. Nor did anyone mention that one day I would be called upon to remember any of this long-ago experience,” Carrie writes, warning Star Wars fans to manage their expectations before dropping the Carrison bombshell. The bitter truth is that she was writing this book some forty years after the event, and in 1976 she was just nineteen years old and Star Wars was just another movie, really. Important to her career and a lucky break, but hardly the phenomenon it would later become upon release.

So anyone looking for anything as in-depth or fascinating as Bob Balaban’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary should look elsewhere or regauge their expectations. The actual section reprinting her diary from the time is pretty dim, juvenile nineteen-year old girl stuff, random thoughts and poetry full of doubts and emotions about her affair with Harrison Ford and nothing at all concerned with her actual on-set experiences. The remainder (and majority) of the book is a sort of contemporary rambling rumination looking back, at the few things she really can remember, which is pleasant and informative at times, but its all written in a ‘stream of consciousness’ manner.  Like a rambling conversation, shifting around and running off into all sorts of odd corners of whatever was occurring to her as she wrote it. Its annoying and fun and endearing and and enlightening and empty-headed too at times.

A poignant fact that I didn’t realise before, was that she was good freinds with Miguel Ferrer and that it was Miguel who she called up to read the Star Wars script with her so she could rehearse lines for her audition. Imagine my surprise reading this, knowing that only recently both had passed away, within weeks of each other, Carrie in December and Miguel in January. I tried to imagine both of them forty years before, sitting in Carrie’s bedroom rehearsing lines from Star Wars, whole lives and many films ahead of each of them, and the awful odds of both of them dying within weeks of each other all those decades later. Hollywood is a small world, I guess.

Everyone, of course, must know by now of this book’s major revelation, and what likely got sales of the book going (at least until she passed away so suddenly), which was her affair with Harrison Ford during the shooting of Star Wars. A secret both had kept for the all the years since, Carrie decided it was time to let it into the open at last- if only perhaps to justify the book itself, considering how scant other details are of the shooting of the movie. It probably doesn’t cast Harrison in too good a light; an actor in his mid-thirties leaving a wife and two sons back home to shoot a weird sci-fi film abroad, having an affair with his nineteen-year-old co-star. Maybe this sort of thing happens frequently on-set, I don’t know, but it doesn’t really seem to gel with the Harrison Ford portrayed to the public over the decades. Carrie seems to know, even in 1976, that its just an on-set affair to Harrison and nothing serious, him being emotionally detached even if, as her diaries attest, she was quite smitten. At one point Harrison seems quite horrified when it dawns on him that she isn’t really the confident and experienced young woman she pretends to be in her public persona, although at that point it’s too late. In anycase, once filming was over Harrison returned home to his family and the affair was over.

To be honest, that stuff doesn’t interest me, other than the insight into how the two of them would meet in a pub to continue their affair and be totally unknown to anyone else there. Its weird, looking back on a time when Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were just ordinary people unknown to anyone.

The most interesting parts of the book are when she discusses living with Star Wars and its fans for all the decades after 1976. Its an enlightening glimpse of what she and Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford (and yes, George Lucas, too) would go through for the rest of their lives, and is quite cautionary. The strangeness of being subject to so much adoration and fascination, of being caught up in the cultural phenomenon that was Star Wars and it’s almost religious stature amongst fans; “…this little movie leaked out of the theatre, poured off the screen, affected some people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected with it”, she writes. They played with dolls of her, watched and rewatched that same movie over and over. Cued up for hours, decades later, to have photos autographed by her, names kids after her. She would be famous for playing Princes Leia for the rest of her life, becoming a cultural icon, bad hair-do and all. That summer of 1976 shooting Star Wars in London would forever alter everything afterwards- how ironic that that nineteen-year old girl would be so totally fixated in her diaries on her conflicted emotions regards her affair with her co-star, as if that film was secondary. It was secondary, it was ‘just’ a movie, after all.  It just sneaked up on her afterwards when it became ‘Star Wars’ and changed everything.

So its a slight, mildly diverting read. Yes, its disappointing that it lacks any real details but it does serve, in an odd way, in giving a sense of perspective to things. To those of us who grew up with it, Star Wars was an important and sensational part of our lives. But for those who made it, well, it clearly wasn’t such a big deal and they had no idea what was coming, and it’s interesting to read how Carrie Fisher, at least, tried to deal with it afterwards. It’s a curious insight regards her relationship with that level of fame and the fans and indication for what it must have been like for those others caught up in it.