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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Monster by Georges Méliès

Whilst discussing and brainstorming various blog post ideas, the material on GenXMedia tends to get thrown in the loop a lot.

There is such a great variety of public domain material to choose from it is often quite difficult to pick which piece to do next.

Most of the regular blog readers are probably already aware of  the GenXMedia non-profit channel on YouTube.

For those of you who aren't aware or haven't had a chance to see what our official mascot channel GenXMedia Cinema Vintage has to offer, I highly suggest you take a wee peek at the excellent material.

There is a vast, interesting collection and mixture of public domain and creative commons materials such as full-length films, videos offering documentaries, short films, music, art, clips, trailers and newsreels. Silent films, classic black and white, in general the work of the people who helped create the world of imagery on screen that we have become accustomed to.

By the way thank you to all the team members who work extremely long and hard to maintain and provide these public domain images for all of us to enjoy.

One of those molders of the screen world is Georges Méliès, a man Gen talks about quite often and indeed she donated her collection of his works, the Segundo de Chomón collection and many other pieces to the public domain, so everyone can enjoy them.

Georges Méliès (1861-1936) was a French illusionist and filmmaker. He accidentally discovered a special effect in film-making, the so-called stop trick, also referred to as the Jeannie Cut or locking off. An object is filmed, then the camera is turned off so it can be removed and the filming resumes, so it seems as if the object has simply disappeared.

Méliès was also one of the first people to hand-paint his work, use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography and dissolves. His work had an air of magic like quality, because of the many special effects.

He was known among his contemporaries as the Cinemagician. If you watch the film I have included below you will see exactly what they mean by that.

What appeals to me the most is the way Méliès has fun with his productions. They are like a tongue in cheek episode of tomfoolery created with an eye to detail, a great sense of humour and an almost blasé acknowledgement of his own skill.

In Le Monstre (1903), an Egyptian prince has lost his princess to an untimely death. He  requests the help of a dervish in an attempt to look upon the exquisite features of his fairest love once more. We see the dervish schlepping this coffin like apparatus into the scene, from which he retrieves a skeleton.

The dervish prays to the moon and the Gods to make the skeleton awaken. The skeleton is a bit cheeky and seems to defy or disagree with the dervish. The dervish clothes the skeleton in virginal white beautiful garbs to summon the female spirit of the princess. Then he commands the skeleton, which is encased in white sheets, to copy his movements, much like a puppeteer controlling his puppet.

The ensuing dancing scene is nothing less than hilarious, kudos to the bouncy actor. The real skill however are the special effects portrayed during the ghostly dance scenes. The skeleton appears to merge into the ground and then reappear, it then stretches its neck like a giraffe in a quite inhuman like manner. Fascinating stuff when you think about the fact this was all created in 1903.

The dervish covers the lively skeleton with another sheet, opens it up and out pops said princess. The prince wants to hold her and yet the recently dead doesn't seem as keen on reuniting with her prince and she disappears once more under the sheet. Obviously this isn't the outcome the prince was hoping for and he chases the dervish, who has legged it like a bat out of hell.

Unfortunately many of Méliès films no longer exist, a large amount was completely destroyed by the French Army during WW1 and all the negatives by Méliès himself in 1923, despite that over 200 of his films have been restored and preserved for future entertainment and study.

For free downloads of the above mentioned film and other work by Georges Méliès:
Download to watch Le Monstre by Georges Méliès at the Internet Archive.
Download to watch The Georges Méliès Collection at the Internet Archive.
Download to watch Le Voyage Dans la Lun by Georges Méliès  at the Internet Archive.
To view The Georges Méliès Collection and more visit GenXMedia.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Teenage Hoodlum Blasts the Flesh Off Humans!

Teenagers from Outer Space is an independent “1959 Science Fiction film about an extraterrestrial space ship landing on Earth to use it as a farm for its food supply”. This movie was made on a teeny, tiny, shoestring budget of less than $20,000, most of which was ponied up by some of the actors and actresses themselves. Two of the performers later sued to get back their investment and a percentage of the profits. The judge gave them their original $5,000 back but ruled there were no profits to divvy up.

Thomas Lockyear Graeff (September 12, 1929 - December 19, 1970) wrote, directed, produced, and edited Teenagers from Outer Space. He also “provided cinematography, special effects, and music coordination” although the actual music was just stock stuff that has been used in several other movies. He also played the part of Joe Rogers, the reporter friend of the movie’s heroine. Graeff even managed to find the location that was used as the heroine’s home by posing as a college student looking for housing. He also talked the homeowner into letting the film crew use her electricity to power all their equipment.

But poor Tom Graeff was stressed out by all his hard work followed by the disappointing failure of Teenagers from Outer Space at the box office. Later in the year he suffered a breakdown and placed an ad in the Los Angeles Times proclaiming himself Jesus Christ II. He tried to have his name legally changed to Jesus Christ II and fought with a religious group who opposed him. He was arrested for causing a ruckus during a church service. Tom Graeff fled Hollywood for a while then returned to work in film. But his problems persisted. He advertised a screenplay for sale for the then outrageous sky-high price of $500,000 (the record at the time was a mere $400,000) and got into a war of words with a LA Times columnist. The columnist won when he exposed Graeff as Jesus Christ II. Graeff fled Hollywood for a final time and a few years later, at age 41, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage.

Derek the alien vs Joe the reporter
But Tom Graeff’s problems persisted even after his death. For more than 25 years following his death there was confusion about who, exactly, Thomas Lockyear Graeff was. Nearly everyone appeared to believe he was actually Charles Robert Kaltenthaler aka David Love aka Derek the hero of our movie Teenagers from Outer Space. But how could Tom Graeff used the name Tom Lockyear to play Joe the reporter in our movie. How could Tom Graeff be both David Love as Derek and Tom Lockyear as Joe the reporter? A 1993 magazine interview with two of the performers from our movie revealed that Tom Graeff and David Love were really two individual people and that they had been romantically involved during filming. I admit I take this info with a grain of salt since the two who divulged it were the same two who sued Tom Graeff for the return of their investment years earlier and they seem to have a long running grudge against their former friend.

Yet more confusion swirled about Teenagers from Outer Space over the years. Dawn Anderson aka former child actress Dawn Bender aka Betty our movie heroine was long thought to be dead from alcohol poisoning. But, as of 2010, she is actually still alive. David Love aka our hero Derek only made two movies, and Teenagers was his last, before he disappeared from Hollywood.

While many critics were not kind to Teenagers from Outer Space, long suffering Tom Graeff was actually “applauded in some publications as a director with talent and a creative approach to a minimal budget”. But some of that “creative approach” makes for sheer silliness:
  • The outfits worn by Derek and his fellow aliens are simply old flight suits decorated with masking tape.
  • Their helmets are old US Air Force helmets.
  • The space boots our super cheapo aliens favor are nothing more then men’s dress shoes with white socks pulled over them.
  • Dime store toy cap guns (specifically “Hubley’s Atomic Disintegrator” and really only costing a dime at the time but costing $113 - $895 on eBay now) with an added flashlight bulb act as the alien “focusing disintegrator” ray guns.
  • One piece of alien equipment seen early in the movie is really an old mixing device called a “Multichannel Mixer MCM-2” and it says so right in plain sight on the so-called alien machine.
  • The same bolted-joint skeleton is used as a stand in for every dead human body in the movie and no one bothered to remove the hook-thingie on the top of the skull or to cover up the identification markings on the hip.
  • The movie could not afford to create alien monster gorgon special effects so they just filmed the shadow of a normal sized lobster and enlarged the shadow to be the monstrous alien gorgon.
  • At least part of the movie is supposed to take place at night as you can easily tell by various things the actors say (such as “When it gets light…”) and the interiors of the cars later in the movie are dark but every single exterior shot is actually done in broad daylight.
  • The movie also could not afford the special effects to show more than one alien space ship so the invading fleet at the end of the movie is never seen, just lots and lots of shots of people posing and looking up at the sky in horror.

Despite the silliness, Teenagers from Outer Space is really not a bad movie. I rather liked the Mr. Spock-like emotionlessness that our space hero Derek maintains for most of the movie (Spock was by far my favorite Original Star Trek character). And I positively loved the scenery-chewing snarling and sneering that our evil alien Thor dishes out at every opportunity. Really, I put Thor aka actor Bryan Grant’s scenery-chewing over-acting right up there (or is that “right down there”?) with some of the best. He’s so good at sneering that when he has to look ill and faint after getting shot later in the film he looks like a whole different person. I also rather liked heroine / love interest Betty aka Dawn Anderson. Her voice is kind of wimpy-strange but she has a nice dainty lankiness and, while she is limited to just being a hapless damsel in distress, she at least does a decent job of it.

Sneer mastery
Here are a few of my favorite lines from Teenagers from Outer Space:
  • A dour astronomer foreshadows events to come, “It makes me realize how desperately alone the Earth is. Hanging in space like a speck of food floating in the ocean. Sooner or later to be swallowed up by some creature floating by.”
  • Derek tries to stop his cohorts’ plans, “Wait, Captain. I have found evidence of intelligent beings on this planet.” Thor does not care in the least, “Of what concern are foreign beings?” Derek responds, “Of none to you, Thor. Just as you were so unconcerned when you destroyed this small creature (Sparky the dog) so bravely.”
  • Derek learns to drive, “I have never piloted a vehicle like this before. I will try again.”
  • Derek has a big question, “You are not familiar with the focusing disintegrator ray?” “The what?” asks Betty.
  • Joe the reporter is baffled by the killings, “You know, I don’t get this guy. Animals of humans. He just seems to like killing.” The plains clothes police officer responds, “There’s more to it than that, Joe. There’s something beyond this…. Something we don’t understand. That weapon he uses, it’s unheard of. Blasting flesh right off the bone.”
  • The nurse is glad to have escaped, “Oh, thank heavens it’s over. It was like a nightmare.” Joe has doubts, “I wish it was over.” “What do you mean?” Joe explains, “Back in the cave where he shot at me. Some kind of man-eating monster. Poor Mac - The guy I was with. I could hear the thing tearing him apart. He was dead in a few seconds.” The nurse is shocked, “Oh how horrible! What could it have been?” Joe responds, “I don’t know. But whatever it is, I’m afraid the nightmare’s just begun.”
  • Betty wonders about the alien monster, “How big could it be now?” Derek responds, “There is no telling.”
  • Derek expresses his feelings for Betty, “You make me angry. But I like you very much.”
  • Betty wants Derek to stay on Earth, “You won’t be going back ever, will you?” Derek is absolutely certain, “I shall make the Earth my home. And I shall never, never leave it.”

Teenagers from Outer Space also does a nice job of galloping along and keeping up the thrills. It’s only 86 minutes long but it crams in a dead puppy dog, rivalry and rebellion among the aliens, an evil mass murdering alien running amuck, many skeletons popping up all over town, a dead girl in a bathing suit, multiple car chases, a shoot out between an alien and the cops on the steps of town hall, numerous kidnappings, a car crash, and the shadow of a gigantic alien monster doing its best to devour everything in sight.

There are some problems. While the audio quality is excellent the black and white video is often dark and sometimes blurry. Also the cheapo special effects of the alien monster shadow is very lame and looks ridiculous and does not hold up at all. Although I did think the primitive “ray guns” effects held up decently.

Of course, the best thing about Teenagers from Outer Space is that it is FREE in the Public Domain.

You can download / watch Teenagers from Outer Space at the Internet Archive. Internet Archive has several versions.

Please click this link to go to the most popular version of Teenagers from Outer Space with more than 100,000 views.

Please click this link to go to Teenagers from Outer Space version #2.

Please click this link to go to version #3.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When the World Screamed by Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle (knighted as Sir Arthur Doyle) is best known for his Sherlock Holmes series of stories. Another of Conan Doyle's characters was Professor Challenger, with 3 novels and 2 short stories. "When the World Screamed" is one of the short stories in the Professor Challenger series, published in Liberty magazine in February of 1928.

Probably the most famous of the Professor Challenger works is "The Lost World", where Professor Challenger explores an area of South America still inhabited by dinosaurs.

In When the World Screamed, Professor George Edward Challenger has a theory. He is convinced the planet is alive. Not "alive" in the sense of an ecosystem that thrives or perishes as its denizens do, but an actual sentient creature. He intends to take steps to prove this theory.

The story is narrated not by the title character, but by Mr. Peerless Jones, an expert in well-drilling who Professor Challenger wishes to contract for his idea. The two meet through a mutual friend, Mr. Edward Malone.

Very early on, Jones forms the opinion that Challenger is more than eccentric, he's "a lunatic". After some convincing from Malone, Jones decides to meet with Challenger about this job that he has.

In this first meeting, Challenger puts forward his idea that the Earth is an enormous living creature, much like a sea urchin. Challenger draws comparisons between the planet and the sea urchin, claiming that nature repeats itself and its designs, at many scales. He then asserts that in the same way that an urchin would be unaware of millions of tiny insects living on its crusty bodice, then the Earth is unaware of our presence as well.

Jones reaffirms his opinion that Challenger is a lunatic. A charismatic lunatic, to be sure, but a lunatic nonetheless.

It is then that Challenger reveals his plan - to make the Earth creature aware of our presence by drilling through its shell - the earth's crust. He intends to poke it in the same way a mosquito might burrow through the urchin's shell.

The bulk of the drilling has already been completed, a sizeable tunnel, almost 8 miles down (a remarkably thin part of the crust, this is). Jones' expertise is now needed to go that last length, and make contact with the creature that is our planet.

At the bottom of the 8-mile shaft, Jones discovers that Challenger is indeed correct. They see evidence of movement of something immense, but before they can complete their job, Challenger calls a halt to the proceedings. He knows history is about to be made, our understanding of our world is about to be turned on its ear.

Challenger sends out invitations to the greatest minds of his time, assembling an audience of witnesses to this great discovery and the moment of contact.

What happens after they make contact, I shall leave to you, the reader to discover.

This short story takes about 45 minutes to read, so it's a nice light lunchtime diversion. It reads very well, and I was easily able to remain engaged and visualize the story as I read it.

Download the eBook from Feedbooks

Monday, September 15, 2014

Legends, The Fall of the Bean

Have any of you had the pleasure or rather the distinct displeasure of watching the US TV series Legends, starring Sean Bean?

If you have and are enjoying it, then good for you. If you have and you think watching it is the equivalent to chewing nails and hamsters wacking your eyeballs with spiked paddles, then I am right there with you.

It makes me wince, squirm, facepalm and utter many loud oaths.

Someone needs to have a chat with the person in charge of casting. Aside from the Bean, Tina Majorino, Morris Chestnut and Steve Harris, the constellation hasn't got much going for it. Even the alleged ex-wife has more potential than Ali Larter, who is supposed to be the femme fatale of the series, except she is missing the fatale.

Which of course brings me to the actress with less mimicry than a skin-tight pair of leather pants. Can we do any other facial expressions other than smirk, smarmy smile and I have got my knickers in a twist shocked face?

Give me a tossing break. Let's not even talk about the pathetic attempt at impersonating a lap-dancer. I think I would have gotten more aroused by a Twinkie in lingerie. No wonder the Bean was just sat there like a drowning man being offered a shoelace to pull himself up on board a boat.

Whoever thought Larter was going to bring sparks, tension, playful dialogue between ex-lovers, and pull off being the superior officer in charge to the table, was wrong. So much so that it might be enough to sink the ship, especially because the bad acting and mediocre storylines have already started to drag this particular vessel downwards.

Tell me, can you feel my frustration?

It is aggravating to see an actor of the Bean's calibre be subjected to this farce. Even he knows the show needs a breath of life and perhaps a co-actress with a little more presence and a little less of a hair-tossing affliction.

The Bean himself seems almost resigned in his attitude.You can literally see it on his face when he is playing his part. He spends his time waiting for the others to catch up with him, he halts and gives them the 'get a fucking move on mate' look.

Then there is the 'I am only doing this for the money, because I have a bunch of ex-wives, kids and a grandchild to support' bored look.

My favourite is the 'forget the pint I need a bottle of scotch to survive the pain and embarrassment of this bucket of shite' look.

When I compare the charade called Legends to his work in The Accused, a role in which he plays a transvestite so well that the image of him as Tracy will be forever conjured up in my minds eye when I think of him, well there just isn't any. Or perhaps his epic head-rolling role as Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones. I am still slightly shocked they dared to kill the Bean, again.

He has played the debonair officer in Anna Karenina, the amorous gardener in Lady Chatterley's Lover, the villainous Carver Doone in Lorna Doone, and the slightly rough round the edges soldier in Sharpe.

Role after role of excellent characters thereby proving his ability to play a variety of parts. He is perhaps not your usual Shakespearean high-brow thespian, but he has always had a very distinctive style and flair, which makes him a fan favourite.

I will be more than surprised if Legends gets the chance at a second season. If they do they should consider ditching the blonde lollipop girl, find a new test audience with some taste and tighten up those plots. There is only so many different bad accents a man can pull off.

No matter the outcome, I will always love me a bit of Bean.

Free download of the above mentioned books
Download to read Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence at Feedbooks here.
Download to read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy at the Internet Archive here.
Download to listen to Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore at Librivox here.
Download to read Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore at Feedbooks here or the Internet Archive here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Interstellar Troubleshooter Wants to Shoot the Trouble

Harry Harrison was an US illustrator, editor and Science Fiction writer. Harry was born Henry Maxwell Dempsey on March 12, 1925 in Stamford, Connecticut. Harry’s father changed the family name to Harrison soon after Harry was born (although Harry never knew that until he was 30 years old).

Harry was drafted into the “US Army Air Forces during World War II as a gunsight technician and as a gunnery instructor”. He eventually became a sharpshooter and a military policeman although he also developed a lifelong distrust of generals and hatred of the military (which often comes across in his Science Fiction stories).

After the war, Harry Harrison studied art at Hunter College in New York. He “began his career as a commercial artist about 1946, working chiefly in comics as an illustrator and writer”. He also freelanced and sold illustrations to magazines in a variety of genres. In the 1950s and 1960s, Harry was the main writer of the Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip. He also edited several magazines under the pen names of Wade Kaempfert and Philip St. John.

Harry Harrison’s first short story “Rock Diver” was published in the February 1951 issue of Worlds Beyond. Harry’s short story “The Stainless Steel Rat”, introducing his most memorable character, Slippery Jim DiGriz aka the Stainless Steel Rat, was published in 1957 in Astounding Science-Fiction.  

 Harry Harrison spent many years of his life moving around. He lived in Mexico, England, Italy, Denmark, and Ireland. He learned Esperanto, the “constructed international auxiliary language”, out of sheer boredom when he was in the military and later became an advocate for Esperanto. Many of his characters, such as the Stainless Steel Rat, are speakers of Esperanto.

Harry Harrison was “an extremely popular figure in the SF world, renowned for being amiable, outspoken and endlessly amusing.” He was best known for his later writing, “particularly his humorous and satirical Science Fiction” such as his two series, the Stainless Steel Rat books and the Bill, the Galactic Hero books. These books are action novels with a strong streak of humor “but they are also satirical, knowing, subversive, unapologetically anti-military, anti-authority and anti-violence.”

Harry never won a major genre award for any of his specific works but in 2004 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In 2009, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named him its 26th SFWA Grand Master.

Harry died in his Brighton, England apartment on August 15, 2012, at age 87, after a long illness.

Harry Harrison’s story, The Repairman, was first published in the February 1958 edition of Galaxy Science Fiction. It’s a short story, Amazon Kindle lists it as being 26 pages. The story rockets along nonstop from the moment our unnamed repairman says “I quit!”

Our poor repairman has an iron clad contract - or actually “a steel-and-vanadium-bound contract that you couldn’t crack with a molecular disruptor” and he has no choice but to head off to repair an ancient, 2000 year old, malfunctioning space beacon.

The hyperspace beacons must be kept in working order to ensure safe space travel:
“For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for an accurate fix. For long jumps, navigators use as many as seven or eight. So every beacon is important and every one has to keep operating. That is where I and the other trouble-shooters came in.”      

This is one of the earliest depictions of the hyperspace beacon, a concept that is pretty much considered commonplace in modern Science Fiction. But Harry Harrison was among the first to use the concept in his stories.

Our poor repairman also knows that:
“Hyperspace beacons are made to last forever—or damn close to it. When one of them breaks down, it is never an accident, and repairing the thing is never a matter of just plugging in a new part.”

So off our poor repairman goes. When he arrives at the location of the malfunctioning beacon he finds the repair job will be every bit as difficult as he feared:
“The image blinked, focused - and a great damn pyramid swam into view.”

Our repairman is not the only one nonplused by what he finds. The lizard-like natives are also a bit upset that their “Holy Waters” is not working:
“If the water was still there, the beacon was still there—inside the pyramid. The natives, who, of course, weren’t even mentioned by the idiots who constructed the thing, had built a nice heavy, thick stone pyramid around the beacon.”

“The summit of the stone pile was now covered with lizards of some type, apparently the local life-form. They had what looked like throwing sticks and arbalasts and were trying to shoot down the eye, a cloud of arrows and rocks flying in every direction.”

Unfortunately for our repairman, he can not simply have a “lizard fry” and then swoop in to repair the beacon - especially since there are “spy cells” on his ship that would rat him out and get him in trouble. So he must come up with a plan involving “diplomacy”.

This is a funny and fast paced story. Our repairman is a clever but long-suffering laborer who must work his way up to his actual goal without disturbing the native population too much. The story is loaded with action but, in line with author Harry Harrison’s anti-violence stand, the action is slick and inventive and not reliant on brute force. Our repairman is easily able to think on the run. Nothing phases him for long.

Years ago, I read and was a big fan of the Stainless Steel Rat series. But, over time, and amidst all the new books and authors coming out almost daily, I lost track of Harry Harrison. I was saddened to read that he had died just recently. But happily, several of his stories, like The Repairman, are available FREE in the Public Domain. So I will be able to enjoy re-discovering Science Fiction Grand Master Harry Harrison.

Pleas click this link to go to Feedbooks to download and read The Repairman by Harry Harrison.

Please click this link to go to Project Gutenberg. You can read The Repairman online or download it and read it in several versions.

Please click this link to go to the Internet Archive to listen to or download the LibriVox audio book recording of The Repairman. Two other stories, “Toy Shop” and “The Velvet Glove”, are included in this link.

Please click this link to go to LibriVox and listen to or download The Repairman as read by Phil Chenevert. Two other stories, “Toy Shop” and “The Velvet Glove”, are included in this link and also read by Phil Chenevert.

Please click this link to see other versions of The Repairman offered by LibriVox in collections with other stories.