Monday 31 December 2012

Ruth Rendell reads M. R. James' Canon Alberic's Scrapbook

A ghost story for New Year's Eve:
Ruth Rendell reads 'Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook' by MR James
Ruth Rendell doesn't believe in ghosts, of course, but MR James's stories, like 'Canon Alberic's Scrapbook', frighten her nonetheless
Monday 24 December 2012

I chose a ghost story partly because I thought no one else would; and also because the Victorians wrote the best stories and MR James the best of all. I edited a collection of his, so I know them very well. I don't, of course, believe in ghosts, yet reading one MR James story when I'm alone in the house still terrifies me. I hope it will frighten you but make you want to read more – "Casting the Runes" and "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas", as well as this one, the chilling tale of poor Mr Dennistoun and the demon.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Harry Carey Jr RIP

Harry Carey Jr., a venerable character actor who was believed to be the last surviving member of director John Ford's legendary western stock company, died Thursday. He was 91.

Carey, whose career spanned more than 50 years and included such Ford classics as "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and "The Searchers," died of natural causes in Santa Barbara, said Melinda Carey, a daughter.

"In recent years, he became kind of the living historian of the modern era," film critic Leonard Maltin told The Times on Friday. "He would get hired on films by young directors who just wanted to work with him, to be one step away from the legends. Some hired him to just hear his stories between takes."

Director Joe Dante, who used Carey in his 1984 comic-fantasy "Gremlins," told The Times in 2003: "You got a lot of free movie history when you cast him."

The son of silent-film western star Harry Carey Sr. and his actress wife, Olive, Carey made more than 100 films. They included "Red River," "Beneath the 12-Mile Reef," "Big Jake," "Cahill U.S. Marshal," "The Long Riders," "The Whales of August" and 1993's "Tombstone."

The boyishly handsome Carey lacked the screen-dominating star quality of his longtime pal and frequent co-star, John Wayne. Instead, Carey brought a rare authenticity to his westerns as one of Hollywood's best horsemen.

That was amply illustrated in 1950's "Rio Grande," for which he and cowboy-turned-character actor Ben Johnson learned to ride two horses while standing up, with one foot on the back of each horse.

His other films with Ford include "3 Godfathers," "Wagon Master," "The Long Gray Line," "Mister Roberts," "Two Rode Together" and "Cheyenne Autumn."

Carey also appeared in dozens of television shows, most of them westerns, and portrayed the boys' ranch counselor in the popular 1950s "Spin and Marty" serials on "The Mickey Mouse Club."

According to Dante, Carey was at his best in Ford's 1950 western "Wagon Master," in which Carey and Johnson co-starred as horse traders who join a Mormon wagon train.

"Harry was a straight-arrow, realistic person on the screen," Dante said. "It didn't seem like he was acting. He really had an aw-shucks quality."

He was born Henry George Carey on May 16, 1921, on his father's ranch north of Saugus and a 45-minute drive from Universal Studios, where Harry Sr. made westerns in the 1910s and 1920s. More than two dozen were directed by John Ford, who became a close family friend.

When Carey was born, his father, Ford and then-New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker awaited the baby's arrival by drinking a whiskey named Melwood.

From then on, as Carey wrote in his 1994 memoir, "Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company": "Every time Ford saw me with my father he'd say, 'Mellllwood … li'llll Mellllwood,' alluding to how drunk he and my dad were that night."

The young Carey graduated from Black-Foxe Military Institute in Hollywood in the late 1930s, studied voice and made his stage debut, with his father, in summer stock in Maine.

During World War II he served in the Navy in the Pacific theater, then worked in Washington on Navy training and propaganda films for Ford, at that time a naval officer.

In 1944, Carey married Marilyn Fix, daughter of character actor Paul Fix.

After the war, Carey attempted a singing career but turned to film with a small role as a cowboy in the 1946 movie "Rolling Home."

"When he went into the movies, everybody suggested he go by Harry Carey Jr., but I think he regretted that forever," his daughter said. "He just wanted to be Dobe, the nickname he always went by," and which his father gave him because his red hair matched the ranch house's adobe bricks.

John Wayne recommended the fledgling actor for the role of a cowboy who dies in a cattle stampede in the 1948 Howard Hawks' classic "Red River." Shot in 1947, it also featured the elder Carey in his final role. He died the same year at 69.

When Ford made "3 Godfathers," he cast Harry Jr. in a leading role as the Abilene Kid and dedicated the 1948 film to Harry Sr. The film's three desperadoes — played by Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Carey — risk their lives in the desert to save a baby.

Before filming in Death Valley, Ford — who was well-known for his sadistic behavior toward actors in his films — told Carey: "You're going to hate me when this picture is over, but you're going to give a great performance."

After the first take of Carey's death scene, filmed in scorching heat, Ford cussed him out and left the actor to bake in the sun for 30 minutes. When the director returned, a near-delirious Carey delivered his death speech, his mouth so dry he couldn't swallow and with a voice that resembled the croaking of a dying man.
"Why didn't you do that the first time?" a grinning Ford told Carey. "See how easy it was? You done good! That's a wrap!"

Carey is survived by his wife, Marilyn; daughters Melinda and Lily; son Tom; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.,0,4888843.story

Friday 28 December 2012

Johnny Cash in a box...

Johnny Cash - Complete Columbia Albums Collection
Representing the entirety of the musical performances released by the Man in Black on Columbia Records during his lifetime, JOHNNY CASH: THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA ALBUM COLLECTION is a 63-CD treasure trove that will appeal equally to longtime Cash followers, as well as new¬comers to his timeless body of music. Featuring 59 original album titles Cash recorded for Columbia, from 1958’s The Fabulous Johnny Cash through the two Highwayman albums of 1985 and 1990 (with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson), JOHNNY CASH: THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA ALBUM COLLECTION shows Cash in command of his country & western and gospel roots, as well as the blues, straight-ahead rock and roll, traditional balladry and folk music he loved so dearly, and much more.

The box set includes:
  • 59 Columbia albums plus two new supplemental compilations make this the all-time, hands-down granddaddy of all Johnny Cash collections, period.
  • 35 titles released for the first time on CD by Columbia/Legacy in the U.S.
  • The first 19 chronological titles released in monaural (mono) sound for the first time on CD in the U.S.
  • Each title is packaged in a LP-replica mini jacket with its original artwork
  • The accompanying booklet includes a definitive 5,000-word liner notes essay by music historian and author Rich Kienzle.
  • Also included in the booklet is complete and extensive discographical information (songwriters, recording dates and cities, musicians, guest performers, producers, release dates, original catalog numbers and Billboard chart numbers for albums and single tracks, and more).
Disc listing:
Disc #TitleRec.Rel.
1The Fabulous Johnny Cash 19581958
2Hymns By Johnny Cash 1958-591959
3Songs Of Our Soil 1958-591959
4Now There Was A Song19601960
5Ride This Train 1959-601960
6Hymns From The Heart 19611961
7The Sound Of Johnny Cash 1961-621962
8Blood, Sweat And Tears 19621962
9Ring Of Fire: The Best Of Johnny Cash 1958-631963
10The Christmas Spirit 1959-631963
11Keep On The Sunny Side by the Carter Family 19631963
12I Walk The Line 1963-641964
13Bitter Tears: Johnny Cash Sings Ballads Of 19641964
14Orange Blossom Special 19641965
15Johnny Cash Sings The Ballads Of The True West 1959-651965
16Everybody Loves A Nut 1965-661966
17Happiness Is You 1962-651966
18Carryin' On With Johnny Cash and June Carter 1964-671967
19From Sea To Shining Sea 19671967
20Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (live)19681968
21The Holy Land 19681968
22Johnny Cash At San Quentin (live)19691969
23Hello, I'm Johnny Cash 19691970
24The Johnny Cash Show 19701970
25I Walk The Line original soundtrack 19701970
26Little Fauss and Big Halsey original soundtrack 19701970
27Man In Black 19711971
28A Thing Called Love 1971-721972
29America - A 200-Year Salute In Story and Song 1970-721972
30Christmas - The Johnny Cash Family 19721972
31Any Old Wind That Blows 19721972
32The Gospel Road [2-CD]1971-721973
33Johnny Cash and His Woman 19731973
34Johnny Cash pa Osteraker19721973
35Ragged Old Flag 19741974
36The Junkie And The Juicehead Minus Me 1973-741974
37The Johnny Cash Children's Album 1971-731975
38Johnny Cash Sings Precious Memories 19741975
39John R. Cash 19741975
40Look At Them Beans 19751975
41Strawberry Cake (live) 19751976
42One Piece At A Time 1975-761976
43The Last Gunfighter Ballad 1975-761977
44The Rambler 19771977
45I Would Like To See You Again 1976-771978
46Gone Girl 1977-781978
47Silver 19791979
48Rockabilly Blues 1979-801980
49Classic Christmas 19801980
50The Baron 1980-811981
51The Survivors Johnny Cash + Jerry Lee Lewis + Carl Perkins (live)19811982
52The Adventures Of Johnny Cash 1981-821982
53Johnny 99 19831983
54Koncert V Praze - In Prague Live 19781983
56Highwayman - Waylon Jennings + Willie Nelson + Johnny Cash + Kris Kristofferson1984-851985
57Heroes with Waylon Jennings 1984-851986
58Highwayman 2 - Waylon Jennings + Willie Nelson + Kris Kristofferson + Johnny Cash19891990
59At Madison Square Garden (live)19692002
Bonus Discs:
60Johnny Cash With His Hot & Blue Guitar 1955-582012
61The Singles, Plus (2-CD)1958-852012

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Gerry Anderson RIP

Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson dies aged 83
Animator behind popular puppet TV shows Captain Scarlet, Stingray and Joe 90 died in his sleep, his son announces

Alexandra Topping
Wednesday 26 December 2012

Gerry Anderson, best known as the creator of Thunderbirds, has died at the age of 83. The film and television producer, whose credits also included the puppet shows Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 had suffered for several years with mixed dementia and died in his sleep, his son announced on Wednesday.

The news was announced on his son Jamie Anderson's website. He wrote: "I'm very sad to announce the death of my father, Thunderbirds creator, Gerry Anderson. He died peacefully in his sleep at midday today (26th December 2013), having suffered with mixed dementia for the past few years. He was 83."

He requested that any fans wishing to make donations in honour of his father should contribute to the Alzheimer's Society.

His website also included a tribute written by his fan club, known as Fanderson. Nick Williams, chairman of the club, said: "To those who met him Gerry was a quiet, unassuming but determined man. His desire to make the best films he could drove him and his talented teams to innovate, take risks, and do everything necessary to produce quite inspirational works. Gerry's legacy is that he inspired so many people and continues to bring so much joy to so many millions of people around the world."

Gerald Alexander Anderson – famous for the use of "Supermarionation", or the use of modified puppets – was born in 1929 in Hampstead, north London, and began his career as a film trainee at the Ministry of Information before starting work at Gainsborough Pictures. He later set up AP Films with some friends.

With commissions thin on the ground Anderson and his team were eager to produce their first puppet show The Adventures Of Twizzle. Others including Torchy The Battery Boy, and Supercar followed. Success continued with Fireball XL5 and Stingray. But it was Thunderbirds, filmed on the Slough Trading Estate in Berkshire and first broadcast in 1965 that made his name. With the catchphrase "Thunderbirds are go!", the programme revolved around International Rescue, a secret emergency service run by the Tracy family aided by London agent Lady Penelope and her butler, Parker.

In 1966, Thunderbirds was made into a major feature film for United Artists, Thunderbirds Are Go, which was followed by a sequel, Thunderbird 6.

Anderson moved towards live action productions in the 1970s, producing Space: 1999. In the 1980s, a burst of nostalgia for his Supermarionation series led to the commission of new productions, including a remake of Captain Scarlet. New Captain Scarlet, a CGI-animated reimagining of the 1967 series, premiered on ITV in the UK in 2005. He also worked as a consultant on a Hollywood remake of his 1969 series UFO, directed by Matthew Gratzner.

Anderson was a one-of-a kind film and television producer, who had far-reaching influence, according to his fan club dedication. "Anderson's unique style of filmmaking influenced the imaginations and careers of countless creatives that succeeded him, and his productions continue to be shown around the world to new generations of fans," it read.

Television presenter Jonathan Ross praised his work, tweeting: "Sad news. Gerry Anderson RIP. For men of my age his work made childhood an incredible place to be."

The producer was diagnosed with mixed dementia two years ago and his condition had deteriorated over the past six months and he had moved into a care home in October. He also worked as an ambassador for The Alzheimer's Society, to raise awareness and money for the treatment of the disease. Gerry Anderson leaves three children from former marriages, Joy, Linda and Gerry Junior, his son Jamie and widow Mary.

Jack Klugman RIP

Jack Klugman obituary
Actor who won fame as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and crimesolving medical examiner Quincy

Ronald Bergen
Tuesday 25 December 2012

Television was the medium that conferred stardom on the actor Jack Klugman, who has died aged 90. In a long, distinguished career in theatre, film and television, he was principally identified with two characters: Oscar Madison, the slovenly, down-to-earth, cigar-smoking flatmate of the neurotically neat Felix Unger (Tony Randall) in the long-running comedy series The Odd Couple (1970-75), and Quincy in Quincy, ME (1976-83), a crime-solving medical examiner.

Born in a poor neighbourhood of Philadelphia, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Klugman had a tough childhood. His father, a house painter, died young, forcing his mother to make hats in her kitchen to buy food and clothing for her six children. Young Jack, who worked as a street peddler, later observed: "Poverty can teach lessons that privilege cannot." This background may have contributed to many of his impassioned and gritty performances.

After serving in the army in the second world war, Klugman was able, under the GI bill, to enter Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he studied drama. But after his first audition, his teacher told him: "You're not suited to be an actor. You're more suited, Mr Klugman, to be a truck driver. Not that there's anything wrong with truck drivers, but you're really not ready for this."

However, he persevered, and in 1949 made his stage debut at the Equity Liberty Theatre, New York, in a play called Stevedore, with Rod Steiger. Yet, even though he was on stage, Klugman and his roommate Charles Buchinsky (later Charles Bronson) had to take menial jobs to pay the rent. At one point, Klugman was even selling his blood for $85 a pint.

He made his Broadway debut in the 1952 revival of Clifford Odets's Golden Boy with Lee J Cobb and John Garfield. In the same year, he made his first film appearance, as a heavy in a cheapie black-and-white western, Apache Gold (1952). He gradually got his big break in television, much of it live, with character roles in Kraft Television Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Naked City.

There were also a few films, such as Timetable (1956), an effective film noir with Klugman as a phony ambulance driver with bank robbery loot in the back. More memorable was his Juror No 5 in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men (1957). The character (and Klugman), coming from a similarly rough neighbourhood as the Puerto Rican youth on trial for murder, argues, with passion, that it would be very unlikely for the knife to have been thrust downwards when the boy was apparently expert with knives. (Klugman was the last surviving member of the 12-juror cast.)

On Broadway, he played Herbie opposite Ethel Merman in the hit Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne musical Gypsy (1959). Although Klugman was a major presence in the story, he had only a couple of duets, You'll Never Get Away from Me and Together Wherever We Go, since his singing voice was little more than a croak.

Simultaneously busy working on television, he won an Emmy for his performance in the celebrated Blacklist episode (1964) from The Defenders. Klugman's sporadic film roles included a thug in the thriller Cry Terror! (1958); a sympathetic former alcoholic trying to persuade Jack Lemmon to join an organisation to help deal with his drinking problem in Days of Wine and Roses (1962); Judy Garland's frustrated manager in I Could Go On Singing (1963); and a police colleague of Frank Sinatra in The Detective (1968).

Then came The Odd Couple, the TV series based on Neil Simon's play: on Broadway in 1965, Klugman had taken over the role from Walter Matthau, and its small-screen version brought him two further Emmys. His hit teaming with Randall – a great friend outside the studio – was resumed long after the show had ended with a feeble 1993 TV movie, The Odd Couple: Together Again, and on Broadway in The Sunshine Boys, another personality-clash comedy by Neil Simon.

Quincy, ME, inspired by the well-known Los Angeles county coroner Thomas Noguchi, immediately followed the long run of The Odd Couple, with Klugman as the gruff medical examiner whose first name was never revealed. The actor appreciated the series' scope for what he saw as "muckraking" on social issues.

In 1974, Klugman was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. Like Oscar, his most notable character, he always had a cigarette in his mouth. "I saw John Garfield smoke. He was my idol, so I smoked. I even smoked like him," Klugman explained. With surgery and some treatment, he was able to continue acting, though he refused to give up smoking. In 1989, he underwent surgery again to remove the cancer, but this time his right vocal chord had to be removed, which left him without the ability to speak. Eventually, he regained it, though in a small, raspy voice.

Remarkably, he was able to continue with stage acting. In 1996, he and Randall revived The Odd Couple in London. (Klugman had already played Oscar opposite a miscast Victor Spinetti in the West End in 1966.) He also gave a two-hour, one-man show, An Evening with Jack Klugman in 2003, during which he told anecdotes of his five decades in show business.

In 1953, Klugman married Brett Somers, who went on to play his ex-wife in The Odd Couple. They separated in 1974, and she died in 2007. A long relationship with Barbara Neugass resulted in her losing a palimony claim in 1997. By that time, he was living with Peggy Crosby, the ex-wife of Bing Crosby's son Phillip. They married in 2008, and she survives him, as do two sons from his first marriage.

Jack (Jacob Joachim) Klugman, actor, born 27 April 1922; died 24 December 2012

And then there were none... Jack Klugman, last of the 12 Angry Men, dies aged 90

James Cusick
Tuesday 25 December 2012

The death of the American actor Jack Klugman will be mourned by TV fans of the slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and the forensic medic Quincy, M.E.

But his death at 90 will be noted by Hollywood historians for another reason. Klugman was the last survivor of the dozen jurors in Sidney Lumet's landmark 1957 film, 12 Angry Men.

Five years ago the Library of Congress selected the film as being culturally and significantly important in US history. The US Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, recently said the jury drama was crucial to her decision to follow a career in the law.

Klugman made his name on television in the early 1950s, but got his big-screen break in Lumet's film. For the 12 actors who appeared together in the one-set jury room throughout virtually all the film's 96 minutes, the drama became the defining, and in many cases the proudest, project of their careers.

Based on a teleplay by Reginald Rose, it explores the tense road towards a unanimous verdict of a jury following the murder trial of an 18-year-old Puerto Rican in New York.

The acting credits for 12 Angry Men are a Hollywood rarity. No names are used in Rose's script. The accused is simply referred to as "the boy". Klugman played juror # 5 whose backstory included a violent slum past and support for Baltimore's baseball team. He was the youngest of all the jurors.

For an American audience that had for six years endured the anti-Communist witch hunts of McCarthyism, Lumet's film would have made uncomfortable viewing. For Lee J Cobb, who played juror #3, a hot-tempered businessman who was the main antagonist for juror #8, Henry Fonda's liberal architect, the horrors brought by Senator McCarthy were real. Cobb was accused of being a Communist, and refused to give evidence to the House Un-American Activities Committee, for which he was blacklisted. But in 1953, after his wife had been institutionalised, he "named names", 20 of them. He said he'd been worn down.

Klugman went on to appear in a succession of film and TV roles throughout the 1960s before securing his starring role in The Odd Couple from 1970 to 1975, for which he was nominated for two Emmy Awards. A year later he was back on the small screen in Quincy, the series about a medical examiner in Los Angeles who used forensic science to get to the bottom of suspicious deaths. The show aired on NBC until 1983 and netted Klugman another four Emmy nominations. He described Quincy as a precursor to later crime-scene investigation shows, which he said "just took what we did and made it bloodier and sexier".

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Christopher Lee reads M. R. James' A Warning to the Curious

A ghost story for Christmas night.

Merry Christmas from the Friday Night Boys!

Monday 24 December 2012

Richard Ford reads The Student's Wife by Raymond Carver

"The Student's Wife" is from Raymond Carver's first story collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please, published in America in 1976. You could say it's from Ray's "early period" – written possibly as early as the late 60s, when he was one side or the other of 30 years old. Its verbal resources are spare, direct, rarely polysyllabic, restrained, intense, never melodramatic, and real-sounding while being obviously literary in intent. (You always know, pleasurably, that you're reading a made short story.) These affecting qualities led some dunderheads to call his stories "minimalist", which they are most assuredly not, inasmuch as they're full-to-the-brim with the stuff of human intimacy, of longing, of barely unearthable humour, of exquisite nuance, of pathos, of unlooked-for dread, and often of love – expressed in words and gestures not frequently associated with love. More than they are minimal, they are replete with the renewings and the fresh awarenesses we go to great literature to find. When they were first published in Britain by Collins Harvill, they made a great sensation that quickly spread all over the world, and made Ray (who was lovable, anyway) adored as the great story writer of his generation. Which he was. And is.

Sunday 23 December 2012

M. R. James at Christmas...

Christmas with Monte

Colin Fleming
The Paris Review
13 December 2012 

Up until the early spring of this year, I considered myself an absolute Christmas fiend. Not in the Grinch sense of breaking out the Boris Karloff accent and green grease paint and plotting how I might swipe presents, but rather trying to figure out, as early as possible, how best to immerse myself in a holiday that I loved like no other, in a typically over-the-top fashion. You know that person you read about, who bops his head along to Christmas songs on the oldies station—yes, Brenda Lee, you rock around that tree indeed!—the day after Thanksgiving, who insists on seeing Rudolph “live,” every year, because it’s just more real on TV than Blu-ray? I was that guy. Before I had occasion to become a different guy. And before I decided to spend this holiday season with M. R. James.

Christmas has always been a bit dark. Sure, we’re all accustomed to bromides about how the holidays can be hard and what not, but when life goes belly up, as mine did, you find that you become—to steal an idea from Rudolph—a Christmas orphan of a sort. The latest airing of whatever movie version of A Christmas Carol is not going to do it for you. Not that first orphaned Christmas, anyway. You start to pick up on things you had never picked up on before. Like, man, It’s a Wonderful Life is super dark—Jimmy Stewart really wants to off himself bad. And what on earth is the Devil doing in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen?” True, the Heat Miser from Year without a Santa Claus was pretty devil-y, but when you really poke around, you can see that Christmas, or Christmas in its old-time artistic trappings, can get a bit, well, grim.

Enter then my man M. R. James. If you know M. R. James, you probably know him because of his ghost stories. Still, he doesn’t have the notoriety of H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, or even Algernon Blackwood, although I think in the case of the latter, the name itself goes a long way in establishing macabre cred. But I’d argue that none of them can creep you out with a proper ghost story better than Montague Rhodes James, whose penchant was doing so, interestingly enough, at Christmas. A scholar and antiquarian at King’s College and later Eton, in the first third of the twentieth century, James, at the urging of his friends, would pen one of his patented bleak narratives, and then bid you to his room, where you’d gather, as everyone else went a-wassailing or whatever, to listen to him read and scare the piss out of you.

The stories endured—in Britain, anyway—and even came to factor into the mores of the season, quite beyond the walls of James’s room, and long after the man himself passed away in 1936. The best of the stories, like “Casting the Runes” (which was worked into the ’57 Jaques Tourneur classic, Curse of the Demon). “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” “The Mezzotint,” and “Number 13” featured a standard Jamesian set-up: someone, usually a professor, leaves the city behind for a stay by some weald or copse—the type of place you’d imagine John Keats strolling about, composing rustic verse in his head—and discovers a book, or a snatch of paper, or musty relic that brings the supernatural, and various hellish things, into his life. These stories often feature an inn of the type that you would like to spend a week at yourself, with firelight, port, and normally a personable companion or two who becomes a fast friend. And just when you’re thinking, hmmm, this is nice, I wish I lived back then, James positively has at you, and it is difficult not to at least entertain the notion that just as man has a dual nature, so too does Christmas, something I suspect someone like Linus—going by that blanket-in-hand speech of his—knew all along, but which dear old Monte positively rams home. Christmas done got the blues in the world of M. R. James. Fiery blues, though. Which has the weird effect of making these ostensibly glum stories galvanizing in a way, with this feeling that though they’re sort of on your side, your mates, when you’re down, you’d like to read them when they’re more up, if only to be more scared and less immersed. But that’s James’s big writerly talent: he makes terror an enticing companion, something you move toward, rather than away from.

Someone at the BBC had the idea of making short film versions of a handful of James’s ghost stories and airing them at Christmastime, starting with The Stalls of Barchester, in 1971. The British Film Institute has recently issued a box set of these offerings, along with choice nuggets like a production of Dickens’s “The Signal-Man,” from the series that was appropriately titled A Ghost Story for Christmas. The box includes a 1968 mounting of “Whistle,” and if you’ve had enough of Scrooge and redemption, try this one on sometime as you’re sipping your mulled cider. For sheer TV horror gravitas, I’d put it a peg ahead of that wonderful version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Ambrose Bierce strikes me as a guy who would enjoy an M. R. Jamesian Christmas) that aired during the last season of The Twilight Zone.

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, from ’74, is nearly as good, with its stained-glass window ciphers and one menacing culvert, and you have to wonder about the nature of the fellowship between James and his in-person audience on those December nights. By rights, those gatherings should have been woozily eldritch, and then some, and yet, by all accounts, they were not. Personally, I picture a kind of lonely hearts club of the season, where terror serves to bond, rather than fracture. That’s exactly what it does in the sublime BBC production of Dickens’s “The Signalman,” where the title character is comforted by a wandering tourist in his cabin in some desolate railway cutting. The best scenes, the scenes so suggestive of Christmas, both as it is and as we would like it to be, feature our duo hearthside talking through problems. Granted, said problems center on apparitions, but it is not difficult to shift the paradigm, somewhat, and allow that apparitions take all forms, both in terms of the world of the living, and the world of the dead. There’s something very human about being haunted. And if Christmas is, by some standard, the most human and humane of seasons, I suppose it would also have to be the season of ghosts and M. R. James, with a dash of Dickens. As for you, Frosty, and you, Charlie Brown: I shall endeavor to see both of you next year.

Saturday 22 December 2012

William Wellman's Wings...

A Newly Restored Wings
Daniel Eagan
17 January 2102
It was the highest-grossing film of the year, and helped inspire an entire genre of movies about aviation. And for several years it was one of the most difficult Best Picture Oscar winners for fans to see. Now, as part of the studio’s centennial celebration, Paramount Pictures is presenting a restored version of its World War I blockbuster Wings. The film is screening tonight at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and comes out on Blu-ray and DVD on January 24—the missing link, as it were, since it is the last of the Best Picture Oscar winners to appear on those formats in this country.
Wings helped launch several careers when it was released in 1927, including John Monk Saunders, who went on to write The Dawn Patrol, and director William Wellman, director of such classics as The Public Enemy and A Star Is Born. Nicknamed “Wild Bill,” Wellman was an ambulance driver in the French Foreign Legion before joining the Lafayette Flying Corps as a pilot after the United States entered the war. Barnstorming after the war, he met and befriended Douglas Fairbanks, who helped him get established in Hollywood.
Wings was Wellman’s first big project, and he responded by securing some of the most thrilling aviation scenes ever filmed. Seventeen cameramen received credit along with cinematographer Harry Perry, and Wellman even had cameras installed in cockpits that actors could operate. Location footage was shot mostly in Texas, where the production received the cooperation of the Army’s Second Division, garrisoned in San Antonio. As a result, a single shot in Wings might include machine gunners, a tank spinning left, planes flying overhead, a tree exploding, and a full complement of fighting troops.
Paramount was responding in part to The Big Parade, a similarly massive WWI film made by MGM the previous year. Wings starred Clara Bow, soon to be the nation’s “It” girl, as well as Charles “Buddy” Rogers (who later married Mary Pickford) and Richard Arlen, who flew with the Royal Canadian Flying Corps during the war. Arlen’s career stretched into the 1960s. Featured prominently in a key scene is Gary Cooper, on the verge of stardom after supporting roles in several movies.
Wings would be a “road show” movie for Paramount, one that would screen in big cities like New York and Chicago with a full orchestra, sound effects, and something called “Magnovision,” basically a lens attachment that enlarged the image. When Andrea Kalas, Vice President of Archives at Paramount since 2009, began overseeing the restoration of Wings, she and her staff researched periodicals and other materials to pin down exhibition details.
Kalas also spent months looking for the best possible picture elements before lab work began. “The actual process of restoring the picture and rerecording the original score took about four months,” said Kalas.
Paramount not only hired a full orchestra to rerecord the original score by J.S. Zamecnik, but had Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt and the engineers at Skywalker Sound record an effects track that used authentic sounds from period library collections.The materials presented several problems. “There was printed-in nitrate deterioration that I really didn’t think we could get past,” Kalas said. “We managed to actually fill the spaces of what the nitrate deterioration had eaten away at the image.” Special effects software enabled the team to duplicate the Handshiegl stencil process used for the original film’s bursts of color for gunfire and flames during air battles. A vintage continuity script gave the team cues for the tints used in other scenes.
The first manned flight had occurred only about 20 years before Wings was released. For many viewers of the time, this was the closest they would ever come to experiencing what flying was like. “It was an amazing time for aviation,” Kalas said. “People were really fascinated with World War I aviation.” Wings would be Paramount’s way to cash in on that curiosity. “I think they really wanted to do The Big Parade with planes,” was how Kalas put it.
Kalas also enthused about seeing the film in a theatrical setting. “It’s a highly reactive film—there are thrills and gasps, and you really do feel the movie in a much different way when you’re seeing it with an audience.”
Interestingly, Kalas recommends viewing a Digital Cinema Print (DCP) over film. “With 35mm film, you basically have to cut off a part of the silent film frame in order to fit a soundtrack on it. With a digital cinema print, you can actually see the entire full frame silent image and hear what I think is a really incredible rerecorded soundtrack.”
Wings is one of several box-office hits Paramount released in the silent era, but only a handful are available for home viewing. “It’s hard out there for silent films,” Kalas acknowledged. “There’s preservation and restoration in archives, and then there’s the actual release of the films, and those are two different steps.  We will keep preserving and restoring and hoping that people will distribute.”

Friday 21 December 2012

End of the World...

Archaeologists find evidence of Mayan Peter Yare.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Bob in hospital!!

Ron Sexsmith - Forever Endeavour

Just a few thoughts after receiving an advance copy of the new album. Blake composed his Songs of Innocence and Experience, and if Long Player Late Bloomer represented the hope of innocence, Forever Endeavour is the experience part of the deal. One of Ron's most reflective, melancholic albums, perhaps inspired by health issues he apparently experienced and overcame last year, Forever Endeavour contains much soul searching and a weighing up of the past: "A shadow falls across my mind/And the silence comes over me/When I look behind..." (Nowhere Is) Or this from If Only Avenue, sung to a bass line worthy of Duane Eddy: "With the luxury of hindsight/The past becomes so clear/As I look out on the twilight/My days have become years." There is also some rueful musing on past mistakes - "couldn't keep my thoughts straight/Couldn't keep my trousers on" (Snake Road) and the lovely, fragmentary Lost In Thought, occupied by "regrets and forget-me-nots." The country-folk of Sneak Out The Back Door is as good as Gordon Lightfoot in a carefree mood: "There's a man here talking my ear off/Gonna sneak out the back door." These things change with repeated listenings, but for now, Deepens With Time sounds like the album's solid gold classic: "I hear my mother's voice calling me home/Across a field so long ago...I feel my brother's hand crossing the street." For now, I cannot get the song's haunting refrain out of my head. Ron fans are in for a treat.

Terry Kelly

Available early February, but here's a sneak preview:

Saturday 15 December 2012

The Dandy RIP

The Dandy was drawn by a genius who bears comparison to Magritte
I grew up with DC Thomson comics, but it's all changed now. Where did the polite tramcars of Cactusville go?

Ian Jack
Friday 7 December 2012

I went to two newsagents to buy the Dandy this week, but it had sold out. "Last issue," said the people behind the counter; customers had bought it as a collectors' item, learning about the demise of its printed edition (a digital version will carry on) from media stories that told us how its weekly circulation had declined from a million in the 1950s to 8,000 today, which is a greater falling away than even the Church of England can manage.

Deprived of the Dandy, I bought the Beano instead, and saw how unhinged and hyperactive it had become, a comic needing Ritalin. No character looked fully human – they were pop-eyed, wide-mouthed, single-toothed. Refined and subtle draughtsmanship had vanished. Plot lines were crude. Events happened violently and messily. Exclamatory noises were no strangers to my childhood Beanos and Dandys – "Oo-er!" from children, "Grr!" from dogs, maybe a "Sapristi!" from a passing onion seller – but the modern Beano specialises in the commotion of machinery and explosive disaster, and always in capitals: "VROOM!" and "VUM-VUM-VUM!" and "SPLOONGE!" There was even a "FARRT!!" and it was shocking to think that such a word could come out of DC Thomson's printing plant in Dundee.

The words "dandy" and "beano" are Victorianisms: the first for a peacock male or sparkling excellence ("fine and dandy"), and the second for a bean-feast or celebration, though it seems doubtful whether anyone at Thomson's considered meanings when the comics were launched, in 1937 and 1938 respectively. The Dandy's mascot was a hotel bellboy in a pillbox hat who stood grinning next to the masthead, when a more literal illustration of the title would have been a figure like the New Yorker's monocled Eustace Tilley. But this was not an objection that occurred to six-year-olds, for whom the contents of the world were a given; their having had, so far as we knew, no other shape or form than those we found them in.

When I first saw the Beano, it had Biffo the Bear on the cover. The Dandy had Korky the Cat. As a graduate of Chicks' Own, where the captions beneath every frame were ri-gor-ous-ly hy-phen-at-ed, I found nothing unusual in talking animals – the Rupert Bear annuals had nothing else – but the real joy of the Thomson duo were the strips that featured humans. Dudley D Watkins drew Desperate Dan in the Dandy and Lord Snooty in the Beano, and the enduring celebrity of these stand as testimony to his observant eye and witty draughtsmanship. Nearly 40 years ago, the writer George Rosie compared Desperate Dan to the works of Magritte and appeared in Pseuds Corner for it, and yet, as Rosie pointed out, what could be more surreal than a town, Cactusville, which combined hitching rails and wild west saloons with tramcars and pillar boxes, and where a cow pie with two horns poking through pastry could be bought from a corner shop that looked suspiciously like a Scottish bakery.

In Watkins, DC Thomson had found their inhouse genius. He was a devout Christian who kept a Bible near his drawing board, and in his spare time – the little there was of it – drew cartoon strips for evangelical newspapers wanting to show that loving God could be fun. His great ambition, barely begun when in 1969, he keeled over his drawing board with a fatal heart attack, was to convert the Bible into what would now be known as a graphic novel.

In the context of his employer's culture and traditions, none of this seemed too eccentric, even in the 1960s. With publications that catered to the sentimental, religious and conservative side of north Britain, the Thomson family became celebrated as the enemies of trade unions and anything that smacked of socialism, atheism and dissipation. Eleven million newspapers, comics and magazines poured every week from Thomson presses in Dundee, Glasgow and Manchester. In 1971, the Guinness Book of Records recognised that no newspaper had a greater penetration of its circulation area than the Thomson flagship, the Sunday Post, which was read by 79% of the Scottish population over 15. Comics, weeklies and women's magazines extended this influence south of the Tweed. "There can hardly be a home in Britain [where] at least one DC Thomson publication does not come over the doorstep every week," wrote Rosie. "Most of us, to some extent, are DC Thomson's bairns."

And so we were. As my birthdays advanced, I moved from the Beano to the Topper, then the Eagle and Rover. The Eagle has deservedly become a cult, but it was my only departure from the shelter of what the brilliant historian ES Turner called "the Dundee school" of children's periodicals. The senior ones included the Hotspur, the Wizard and Adventure as well the Rover, and appealed to boys. As Turner noted, the problem of sex in these titles was simply solved: "Girls did not exist." Now and then, "there might be a reference to some fellow's sister being rescued from a fire, but it could just as easily have been a tame goat or a sack of flour".

Dundee also arrived every week in the form of the Sunday Post, where Watkins drew Oor Wullie and The Broons, and less regularly as The Scots Magazine, My Weekly and the People's Friend ("the famous story paper for women") that a neighbour believed my mother might enjoy. They did no harm, but nobody in the family succumbed to their world view, and when, aged 17, I was offered a job by DC Thomson as a "trainee assistant sub-editor", there were political voices at home to deter me from the job, as well as the three diminishing adjectives before the word "editor". Nobody then, of course, could imagine a world without comics, any more than they could imagine Twitter, but comics were on the skids well before the digital age. By the early 1980s, Thomson's Rover, Wizard, Hotspur and Adventure had all gone – "too many words and not enough pictures", people said – to be joined in the next decade by the Topper and the Beezer.

DC Thomson survives, though at only a fraction of its former size. Its website gallantly describes the Sunday Post as a "thoroughly decent read", while writers who want to contribute stories to the People's Friend are advised that its readers "like realistic material, but not so realistic – with sex, violence, drugs, drink, etc – that they are frightened or saddened. They still believe in the sanctity of marriage and the importance of the family." This is the remnant of what was once a powerful moral universe. When did it begin to shrink? Some people would put the date around 1955, when a new artist, Leo Baxendale, arrived at the Beano to create the strip that was eventually titled the Bash Street Kids. In its exaggerated violence and grotesquery, nobody had seen anything quite like it before. "Eeeeekkkk!" went the pop-eyed children, and "ggulllpp!" and "grrrrrrrrr". We were leaving Dudley D Watkins behind. Say goodbye to the polite tramcars of Cactusville. We were on the road to FARRT!!

Friday 14 December 2012