…and another…

ditko.jpgWoke up this morning to more sad news; the American comicbook artist Steve Ditko, co-creator of Marvel’s Spider-Man, has passed away at the age of 90. Its the kind of news that can’t help but colour the remainder of the day.

By all accounts, Ditko was something of a recluse who shunned publicity and harkened from a time when artists and creators were ill-rewarded for their work- his creation of Spider-Man in the 1960 with Stan Lee should have made him fabulously rich, but didn’t (Marvel of course has gone on to make a fortune from the character over the decades from the comics, merchandising and movies). Ditko also co-created Doctor Strange, and I noted with some satisfaction that the recent Doctor Strange movie had visuals that referenced the trippy images that Ditko conjured up for that comic. Like a lot of comic artists of that era (Kirby, Buscema, Kane, Colan etc) Ditko had a unique visual style all his own.

Ditko’s original Spider-Man strips are likely the definitive Spider-Man (although as I grew up I preferred the John Romita period for the more ‘sophisticated’ stories of their time, today the DItko era is clearly the most evocative). If I find time today I will reach for my Marvel Omnibus of the Amazing Spider-Man that features Ditko’s run on the strip and re-read one of those glorious issues that I loved so much as a kid reading the British reprints in the early 1970s.

But yes, sad news, and again, as I noted in my previous post, another great icon/name of my youth and cultural-scape has passed. I know its an inevitable side-effect of my own ageing, but it remains awfully depressing that so many of them are fading away. Two consecutive posts such as this are lousy reasons to write here, and I sincerely hope a third is a long time in coming….

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Another One Gone

harlanThe passing last week of the American author Harlan Ellison deserves a belated mention. I neglect to describe him here as a science-fiction author as a mark of respect because he didn’t consider himself as such, although he always seemed to be, to me. That being said, I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a fan of his work. I’ve read some of his stories and of course seen the 1975 film A Boy and His Dog (based on one of his stories) and the much-celebrated (and much-maligned by him) Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever, and the Outer Limits episode Demon With A Glass Hand.  I have a hardback book, a huge tome titled The Essential Ellison: A Fifty-Year Retrospective, that I bought back in 2001 and have only dipped into occasionally since. I do well recall a review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that he wrote for Starlog back in 1980 that was pretty blistering and which I didn’t really agree with… but I remember it so well it clearly left some impression.  In hindsight, I think Ellison was right in what he wrote about the film, but back then I wasn’t ready to admit it.

Ellison was loud. He always seemed to have a rough and aggravating character, a reputation that always turned me off him. In truth it was probably narrow-minded and foolish of me, but there was always plenty of other authors’ work to read that didn’t carry all the background noise and politics of Ellison’s stuff. We were like chalk and cheese I guess, although as I have grown older maybe I find myself agreeing with more of his views than I once did.

Regular readers will know that I am forever loathe to neglect a Blade Runner reference when it slides into view. Did you know that when Ridley Scott was attached to the Dino De Laurentiis’ Dune project (eventually helmed by David Lynch), Scott approached Harlan Ellison to write the screenplay? I mean, just imagine that- a Dune film directed by Ridley Scoot based on a screenplay by Harlan Ellison: the mind boggles, and I dizzyingly think of Ray Bradbury and John Huston conjuring the 1956 Moby Dick (but hey, we got Blade Runner instead so its all good). In an essay in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,  Ellison recalled that he met Scott for breakfast in September 1979, and instantly declined the job. The book was too vast, too complex, to ever be made into a satisfactory movie, and “…besides, who needs to see Dune when David Lean has already made Lawrence of Arabia? Its just King of Kings with Sandworms… No.. there isn’t a writer living or dead who could beat this project,” he told Scott. Whether Scott came to agree is unclear, but he later left the project in order to make Blade Runner instead. Oddly enough, the new Dune project is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, director of the Blade Runner sequel- its weird how these connections come around.

One interesting note- this meeting between Ellison and Scott is when Scott remarked that he wanted to be known as the “John Ford of science fiction films,” a quote that was bandied around often back when Blade Runner first got released. With Alien and Blade Runner to his name I remember it seemed an admirable and exciting intention, but I guess the box office of Blade Runner nixed that intent.

One more Blade Runner note: while Ellison was apparently somewhat sour about the film in 1982 (feeling it inferior to the original Philip K Dick novel) he later warmed to it: “[Blade Runner] has come to look to me, after repeated re-viewings, as a significant achievement, deeper in human values than I’d supposed, far more than a glitzy melodrama of sci-fi machinery and thespic posturing. Over time, my respect and admiration for Scott’s vision has grown substantially.”

Withdrawing from the Blade Runner talk, the reason why I’m writing this is simply the obvious observation implied by this post’s title- another one gone. I have been lucky, more lucky than I ever appreciated at the time really, to have grown up in a world in which some quite remarkable people lived and worked. The names are quite extraordinary, when I think of them:

While I lived, these people walked the same Earth as I: Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Herbert,  Frank Frazetta, John Buscema, James Blish, Jeffery Jones, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Philip K Dick, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, John Barry, Basil Poledouris, Jack Lemmon, Christopher Reeve, Stanley Kubrick, Chris Whitley, Eric Woolfson, Prince, Steve Dillon, Gil Kane… some of these names will be familiar to you, I have no doubt, some may have you curious enough to reach for the google search tool (please do, you should know these people’s work) and there are many, many others that I have not listed but should have.

What I am getting at is that, as I have gotten older, so many people that I grew up reading about or watching or listening to, are simply not around anymore. And the world is so much lesser for the loss. I honestly can’t see how many of the names I have cited above are ever going to be replaced by a successive generation because the world isn’t the same. Fame now is hardly earned, its almost stumbled upon for a few fleeting fifteen minutes in an entertainment arena which measures careers in months/years rather than the decades/lifetimes they used to be. The talent honed over years and decades seems to be lost to us when careers are so much louder and shorter. I’m no fan of the Rolling Stones, but its clear to me that when they are finally gone, they will be gone, and we won’t see the like again (good riddance, many of us may say, or hardly blink a notice, but we all should get the point that rock bands like that just don’t happen anymore and the world is missing something for it).

 

So anyway, Harlan Ellison is gone. Another name that featured in the culture-scape of my existence has been extinguished at last, joining an ever-increasing list.

Meanwhile, I think I shall go to bed tonight and dream about what that Dune film might have been like, with visuals by Ridley Scott in his prime and words crafted by enfante-terrible Harlan Ellison… I shall dream in 70mm, and Dolby Stereo…

The Wimbledon Syndrome

chinasyn.pngHere’s a bit of a mystery. Jack Lemmon is probably my very favourite actor. I think he was some kind of genius and by all accounts an unassuming one at that, unusual for a profession dominated by egos and extroverts. I rate some of his films as my very favourite films.

And yet here is a film featuring him, widely praised over the years for being a memorable thriller, that I have not seen. Its strange, really, some of the films that slip us by, which we figure we’ll get around to one day. And that ‘one day’ seems to slip by endlessly.

Anyway, the great Indicator label has just released The China Syndrome on Blu-ray and I’ve naturally bought it, taking the release to finally mean that that ‘one day’ has finally come around for this movie. Well, almost. Wimbledon has curtailed much of my viewing for the next two weeks, not helped by my wife finally ‘getting’ the pleasures of 4K (“what do you mean its sharper than blu-ray?”) thanks to the BBC’s pretty amazing UHD feed on iplayer. It looks astonishing and even she can see it. Unfortunately she’s a Wimbledon junkie and she’s now monopolizing the OLED panel.

There ain’t no justice. Even Blade Runner on 4K disc is having to wait.  And there’s no rain delays in sight according to the weather forecast…

Vangelis piggy bank

vangpigHere’s something of an oddity; a piggy bank designed by Vangelis for charity, sold at auction yesterday for £2,900. Really, the world is crazy enough with Trump in charge across the pond without news stories like this having me convinced I’ve slipped into the Twilight Zone. Vangelis? Piggy bank?  Not words I’d have associated with each other before this past weekend, naturally.

For Vangelis collectors, of course, this one-of-a-kind item must have been irresistible- I suppose I should just thank my lucky stars it wasn’t some one-off edition of a complete Blade Runner soundtrack. Proceeds went to a fine cause – the charity ‘Innocence in Danger’, for the protection of children against sexual abuse.

The selfish fan in me would rather suggest that Vangelis release some of his unreleased albums/material with the proceeds of the sales going entirely to charity, like his original El Greco limited edition back in the early 1990s,  There’s plenty of material in the vaults, I hear, and plenty of fans who would buy it even at the somewhat premium prices some of these ‘superdeluxe’ sets go for, but hey ho, piggy banks it is.

The world is getting sillier by the minute, I fear, and news such as this does nothing to dissuade me otherwise, but its a nice gesture by Vangelis to get involved.

 

Do Androids Dream of 4K?

It may not have been particularly good for maintaining this blog, but the crazy hours I’ve been doing at work since my (soon at an end, hopefully) relocation down the M6 has resulted in a lot of overtime. Which has had me looking at perhaps changing my television sooner than originally intended. It was with some shock that I discovered that my current LCD Sony Bravia is now eight years old- its still got the best picture quality I’ve known in a television and yes, its still refuses to go on the blink (other than occasionally needing a unplug/plug-in to reboot it when it gets confused, but hey, I know how that feels, so that’s nothing to be embarrassed about). I mean, it works, it even looks great, so whats to change?

Okay, here I’ll admit it. I went into Currys the other day, and looked at the televisions. They were playing some of Blade Runner 2049 on a few of them, the fiendish bastards must have known I was coming. Good God almighty, that film looks like something else on a 65″ 4K OLED. I may have been drooling at some point. It looks great on my television in HD, but on that OLED set, it looked like some other movie.

Now of course. I will never own a 65″ television. I’d have to win a lottery and move into a bigger house for that to ever be an option. But the picture quality. Good grief. Maybe these people jumping on the 4K bandwagon are onto something. Some of those televisions sure are something; why ever go to the cinema with something like that sitting  at home? Hell, I can imagine watching the 1982 Blade Runner and its sequel in 4K endlessly, how beautiful 2049 looked, I mean, who’d need any other film to watch? Well, my wife would have a few words on that subject, to be fair…

It is curious though- back when I had my Sony Bravia, 40″ looked like a big screen (anybody remember when 28″ LCD seemed a big deal?), and so did the 49″ set my brother bought a few months ago (the size of television that my common-sense part of my brain knows is the right size for my lounge). But those 55″ sets look awfully tempting. 65″ is a pipe-dream for another life and another home but 55″ might just squeeze in… and its funny how little of a jump it seems from 49″ to 55″ when you’re walking around the Currys Fantasy Land where televisions are lined up like Christmas trees in November.

So anyway, anybody got any tips? It is pretty confusing- LED, QLED, OLED, so many sizes… all the latest models/gimmicks, all last years models going for a song. There’s a few televisions I’ve got my eye on, but as far as pulling the trigger on one, well, its still a lot of money, and while my heart races with visions of 4K Los Angeles my brain still has enough sense to remind me that there’s an old Bravia in my lounge working pretty fine. Or maybe that’s my wife talking- women are always much more grounded in reality than we men, I find, particularly when it comes to gadgets etc.

So yeah, any experiences good/bad and advice, feel free. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on daydreaming of 4K Electric Sheep…

 

Brushing up to mortality

IMG_20180515_162328015_HDRLikely there’s an old old joke- Graveyards are nice places to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay there?

Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.  So best move along if the idea of reading about mortality strikes you as a no-no. What led me to this post was a visit a few days ago to an old cemetery where my wife’s grandparents, on both sides of her family, are buried.  We don’t go there very often and this visit was well overdue, and a few days off work and the fact that we were over that way gave us an opportunity we could ill-ignore.

This post is not, in fact, intended to dwell upon Claire’s grandparents that I never knew- of Claire’s grandparents I only knew one; May, her maternal grandmother, who passed a few years ago.  Her maternal grandfather died in 1984, and paternal grandmother back in 1972. Her paternal grandfather died well before Claire was born, back in 1955. So for me. other than dear old May, the names are just that- names inscribed on stone that mean nothing to me other than that they mean something to Claire and her parents.

Old cemeteries are curious places in which the real estate of the dead is like a vivid geography of Time- for obvious reasons, the more recent burials are those most visited and well-tended, and the older plots dating back presumably to when the cemetery first opened are deserted and frankly ruinous. These areas draw me in like a moth to a flame in some strange morbid fascination with death and decay and the relentless passing of Time. They also disturb and depress me. If we judge a society on how well it looks after and respects its dead, then how should we judge ourselves by the state of our older cemeteries and the forgotten, collapsed stones that mark the passing of the long-forgotten dead? Of course it is understandable- anyone who would have mourned these dead of long ago are by now long-dead themselves and there is no-one left to visit or remember the abandoned stones in these plots. But the  terrible condition of them is distressing and, yes, brings to question our society, Better, surely, to just remove these crumbling fallen-in edifices, purposes of grief long past, with inscriptions so weather-beaten as to be ineligible, and leave the area as a tidy area of garden?  We know there are people buried here long ago, and we have records, surely, of both who and when, but should we not leave them the dignity of a tidy and respectable resting-place, rather than the crumbling, moldering ruins that currently remain?

Over in the more recent, better-frequented and more colourful areas of the cemetery, I noticed a new trend of having enamel photos of the deceased adorning the tombstones. Initially I considered this an off-putting and rather garish act, but as I thought about it, it seemed to make increasing sense. Tombstones are our last statement- our final ‘I was here‘ and a mark of love and respect from those left behind, serving the exact same function of those Egyptian Pharaohs and their Pyramids of ancient times. albeit on a much smaller scale. I was here. Its a simple thing, a fragile statement in the face of Eternity and the final mystery of death. If this is all there is, and there is nothing more, than the last of us rests here, and our tombstones our only marker.

I found myself drawn to a particular tombstone not far from Claire’s nans plot. It was adorned with many flowers recently left there, marking the fifth anniversary of someones passing. This was the final resting place of a young man named Stefan, who died at the far too young age of thirty. An enamel photo of him adorned the tombstone – a handsome, happy young man with a disarming smile, full of life- indeed, as if a long lifetime lay ahead.

The idea of having images of the passed suddenly made sense to me- Stefan was no longer just a name with dates of birth and death and some other words of loss/passing/respect. Suddenly this young bloke had a face and seemed more real to me than just a name. Of course he remained little more than a name to me, a stranger always, as I never knew him and never will, and will never know the circumstances of his death, but he died too young and was a husband and father and son and grandson, and from all the flowers at his graveside he is sorely missed by his family. But I could see his face. Just like the photographic  images from history books or old documentaries or indeed old movies, it was an evocative marker of someone who lived and breathed, someone who was here.

Thirty is no age. But Stefan obviously lived, and had a wife and at least one child and freinds and parents. So in thirty years he lived a decent life, if not long enough. But what is time enough? And when does it all become relative? Mind, there are distressing sights in cemeteries- another tombstone across from May’s was from a child who died just 28 days old. Stuff like that can mess you up. Cemeteries are awful reminders about how wild and senseless and without purpose the world can seem, and it can feel like true perspective slaps you in the face at every turn. I am 52 years old now, and while I have a wife and have achieved some manner of a life well-lived, how that measures up against Stefan’s thirty years or some other por souls 28 days is… well, it’s foolish philosophising. Cemeteries are full of stories. Its what we leave behind.

That evening, I watched the news and it seemed so very distant. Trump, Brexit, a Royal Wedding and all the sycophantic hysterics surrounding it (nope, I’m not a Royalist) rightly seemed trivial and nonsensical. I felt a similar feeling to that when looking up at the stars on a particularly clear night and contemplating one’s place in the great scheme of things. Brushing up to mortality, perhaps, yes.

V’ger Annunciation

Over Easter I saw a documentary which featured this painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner from 1897, of the Annunciation. Its an unconventional image depicting Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel – Mary is depicted as an ordinary young woman, without halo or any holy adornment, and Gabriel is, brilliantly, simply depicted as a shaft of very bright light…

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

…and immediately this sprang a connection in my mind to the V’ger probe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in which the probe penetrates the Enterprise defenses and appears on the bridge of the ship, examining the crew and the ships equipment/computer. I wonder if Tanner’s painting was an inspiration for the effects crew’s realisation of the V’ger probe? It does look particularly close, a bit like one of those ‘separated at birth’ captions from Private Eye etc.

In any case, that Tanner painting is quite exquisite, and the decision to render the angel as a strange shaft of light was a stroke of genius on Tanner’s part.  Astonishing really; I was quite taken aback by the sheer audacity of the painting and the realism of it, considering how embroidered with symbolism and religious tropes many such paintings were. The V’ger connection just made it all the more weird. Its a strange world sometimes.