open 24/7 always free
things worth reading

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe


Son coeur est un luth suspendu;
Sitôt qu’on le touche il résonne

His heart is a suspended lute;
As soon as you touch it, it resonates.

The opening words of Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher". The line can refer to a few characters in the story. It could apply to Roderick Usher, whose life force seems "in tune with" and symbiotically dependent on the castle in which he resides, or it could apply to the narrator of the story, who is quite smitten by Roderick's younger sister Madeleine Usher and acts on impulse and emotion.

The story opens with the narrator approaching the House of Usher, summoned there by an ailing Roderick. The narrator takes up residence in the castle, and the growing romance between the narrator and Madeleine meets the equally growing disapproval of Roderick.

As the tension increases, mysterious things start happening around the castle. The castle almost seems to attack the narrator while Roderick's illness becomes more pronounced. Madeleine also takes to entering catatonic states with very little provocation.

As the situation becomes more dire, Roderick confides in the narrator the reason why he must disapprove of his romance with Madeleine. There is a curse on the Usher lineage. When Usher children are born, any Usher siblings develop a crazed, bloodthirsty madness and suffer horrible fates. Roderick and Madeleine years ago promised each other that they would be the end of their bloodline. Neither would have children, and the curse would end with their generation. This was their pact, and Roderick was determined to keep it.

This explanation does not deter the narrator in his pursuit of Madeleine, and Roderick takes matters into his own hands, killing his sister by burying her alive. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to discover how the story resolves.

Poe's work here is some of his best. The story and language are carefully crafted, evoking as much imagery with its tone and phrasing as with the words themselves. Poe understood that a good storyteller's skill requires more than just a sizable vocabulary.

My own memory of The Fall of the House of Usher is a vague one. It was Hallowe'en, I don't recall the year, and I was ready to go out trick-or-treating, but the local television station was playing The Fall of the House of Usher. It was likely the 1960 Roger Corman and Vincent Price version as I recall that it did not look very new. I knew nothing of Roger Corman and precious little of Vincent Price, but I remember I was instantly captivated by the dramatic establishing shots of the movie. A rider on horseback, picking his way through a dead, misty forest, approaching an aging stone house obscured by a thick ground fog. My mother, for a reason I still do not know, absolutely did not want me to watch that movie. Of course, her forbidding only made me more determined to watch it. She practically had to shove me outside to go trick-or-treating with my brother. I went, likely after pitching a bit of a fit. ...And that is all that I remembered of The Fall of the House of Usher.

Many years later, the story of Usher would re-enter my life. As I entered my later teen years and devoured scores of vinyl discs, carefully rescued from record store bins and yard sales, I became enamored with many musical legends. One of those legends was and still is Alan Parsons. Parsons has a soft spot for Poe and his album "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" was entirely a musical adaptation of Poe's works including The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart and the Cask of Amontillado. Almost the whole second side of the album was Parsons' own 16-minute, five-movement tribute to an unfinished operatic adaptation by Claude Debussy of The Fall of the House of Usher. Narration by Orson Welles was added to the track in a later mix.

Poe's work here has certainly inspired many other artists throughout the years.

Originally published in Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine in September 1839, The Fall of the House of Usher is in the Public Domain. The Fall of the House of Usher is a roughly half-hour very satisfying read.

Download the ebook for free at Feedbooks.

Download the text of the story from Project Gutenberg.

Listen to a radio play of the story at the Internet Archive.

Watch a 1928 silent film adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber on GenXMedia's YouTube channel. The abstract set design and surreal camera work would have made M.C. Escher proud.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The War Prayer by Mark Twain


Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 - 1910) is better known under his pen name of Mark Twain and renowned for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  and the sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, often referred to as the Great American Novel.

His literary work helped popularise American themes and language. This short story, The War Prayer, was written by Twain during the American-Philippine war, which took place between 1899 - 1902.

The scene is set in a church, the whole community  has come to say farewell, good luck to the men departing to an uncertain fate. Oh, and by the way destroy your enemy at any cost.

Before the young men go off to war a patriotic church service takes place in the town church. In the midst of the service a stranger turns up to speak to the people of the town and the soldiers.
The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism;
daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering 
The religious leaders use the church to rile the masses into a type of fervour. Preaching to them about their responsibility to protect and serve.
In the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country
There are some discerning voices in the masses. The ones, who do not believe in connecting religion and faith with the political circumstances of war. It is not God's will, but the will of the President, the government and the superior officers in the military.
The half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straight away got such a stern and angry warning
Those voices are shouted down by the priest. They need to be silenced, so the masses do not stray from the party line. Do not attempt to listen to any different opinion.

The problem is of course that the religious leaders want the young soldiers to believe God will protect them from harm.

They go into war under the misconception that they will be illuminated and shown the way by the grace of God.

Instead the reality is of course that on the bloodthirsty fields of war there is no protection or helpful hand of God to guide the way. There is pain, mutilation, despair and death.
The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle 
A stranger enters the church and puts himself beside the preacher. His intent is to present an entirely different side and despite doing so with the same fervour as the preacher, his words are intended to sway the listeners.
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon minister... he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting.
What he does say is something I think isn't often taken into consideration during warfare. In retrospect the majority of people do understand that in war the so-called enemy consists of human beings, just like the so-called friendly side does.
If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time.
Men both young and old, but mainly young are destroyed, damaged, killed. Torn from the arms of their mothers, wives and children. Families are left bereaved on both sides. Widows left penniless to feed their families.
Help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded,
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, 
Both sides walk upon the blood of the dead. Country, language and reason for war comes secondary to the actual losses on both sides. All men bleed, be they American, Philippine or Brit.

In a sense the stranger is asking them to remember the simple fact that even the enemy is human, is mankind, is you and I.

Free downloads of the above story and more
Download The War Prayer by Mark Twain from Feedbooks here.
Download Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain here.
Download The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain from the Internet Archive here.
Download The Adventures of Huck Finn by Mark Twain from the Internet Archive here.
Download to listen to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain at Librivox here.
Download to listen to a selection of works by Mark Twain at Librivox here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Vampire Bat


Vampires have always been my favorite supernatural creature. Long before “sparklepires” glittered all over the big screen, long before brooding bloodsuckers started stalking nearly every modern Paranormal Romance heroine, long before they became popular, I liked vampires.

I think part of the allure was the whole “creature of the night” thing. I have always been a night owl myself so I felt a sort of kinship with creatures that cringed from the sight of sunlight glaring in through the windows.

I always felt sorry for the vampires. They have to eat, too, you know. It’s not like they could just get on the phone and order up some B negative to go. And back in the late 1960s and 1970s, when I was first being introduced to the cinematic revenants, there was no where to go and nothing to do after the sun went down in small town middle America. Even the local television stations that we could get (all three of them) went off the air at midnight. What was a poor night dwelling leech to do?

Even though vampires were my favorite monster, they still scared me. We used to always visit my Grandma during the weekend. She could get a channel which showed “Science Shock Theater”. Some guy in creepy makeup would introduce scary movies. I watched many monster movies at Grandma’s house. I can distinctly remember one vampire movie, name long forgotten, that scared me so much I ran into Grandma’s kitchen and watched the movie by peeking around the door at the TV.

I even made myself a vampire Halloween costume. It was the second costume I ever made (first was a hairy space alien with a wooden light saber). It had a red satin dress with a black lace overdress. And a huge swirling half circle cape. I loved my cape.

But despite my love for vampires, I do not remember ever before seeing this week’s Halloween Monster Season movie: The Vampire Bat.

The Vampire Bat is a 65 minute, black and white, Horror / Mystery that was released on January 21, 1933. It stars Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Maude Eburne, and Dwight Frye.

Fay Wray, of course, is everybody’s favorite gigantic ape bait. Fay Wray (September 15, 1907 - August 8, 2004) had a film career that spanned 57 years and she was known as “one of the first “scream queens”.” But she is most remembered for playing Ann Darrow, the love interest of the huge ape, King Kong, in the legendary classic 1933 King Kong movie. Fay had been approached by a producer who promised to star her in a picture with “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood”. She thought: “Clark Gable”, the producer never told her the leading man was a giant gorilla. Fay Wray made just $10,000 in the role that turned out to be her most famous performance. Fay is quoted as saying:
Fay Wray plays Ruth Bertin, love interest and damsel in distress in The Vampire Bat.


Lionel Atwill (March 1, 1885 - April 22, 1946) was an English stage and film actor who is most famous for his horror films, especially his role as the mad sculptor in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and his role of Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein (1939). Although Lionel is equally famous for a nasty sex scandal and trial that pretty much ended his career. Apparently, Lionel threw a wild Christmas party, complete with “an “orgy” at his home, naked guests, and pornographic films”. There was also a rape. Lionel “lied like a gentleman” during the grand jury to protect his guests and was eventually convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years probation on October 14, 1942. His wealthy wife left him and he was effectively blackballed from the better film studios although he was still able to find work with the “poverty row” studios.

Lionel Atwill plays Dr. Otto von Niemann, a doctor with a secret, in The Vampire Bat.

Atwill & Douglas

Also in our film, The Vampire Bat, is Melvyn Douglas (April 5, 1901 - August 4, 1981) a Mayflower descendant and two time Academy Award winner (both times for Best Supporting Actor). Melvyn plays Inspector Karl Breettschneider, love interest and skeptical investigator in The Vampire Bat. Maude Eburn (1875 - 1960) plays Ruth’s hypochondriac  Aunt Gussie Schnappmann, a patient of the good (?) Dr. von Niemann and the comic relief for our film. Dwight Frye (1899 - 1943), who was Renfield in the classic Dracula (1931), plays Herman Gleib, a simple-minded villager with a suspicious fondness for bats.

Majestic Picture, Inc. hired Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill fresh from their wrap of Warner Brother’s film Mystery of the Wax Museum. The Warner Brother’s film was a big budget project with lots of advertising in the works and Majestic was a “poverty row” studio with limited resources. So Majestic hired Fay and Lionel and rushed The Vampire Bat into production and were able to get their film to the screen less than a month before Mystery of the Wax Museum, just in time to take advantage of the bigger film’s publicity.

Majestic Pictures also saved time and money by leasing sets from bigger studios. Majestic filmed The Vampire Bat at night on Universal Pictures “beautiful “German Village” backlot sets left over from Frankenstein (1931)” while Universal used the sets during the day. Interior sets used for The Vampire Bat were from Universal’s The Old Dark House (1932).


Our film, The Vampire Bat, takes place in the small town of Kleinschloss. The village is suffering a surplus of spooky looking bats. Villagers are also dying of blood loss; they are found dead and drained in their beds. Between the bats and the two suspicious looking holes on the throats of all the dead victims, the town is in a hysterical uproar. The Bürgermeister and the other villagers are convinced the deaths are the result of an ancient plague of bloodsucking vampires. Inspector Karl Breettschneider does not agree. He has no belief in vampires at all. All to quickly the attention of the villagers fastens on Herman Gleib, a simple-minded young man who is always seen near the victims just before they die and who has an untimely love of bats (“soft like cats” he describes his bats).


The Vampire Bat holds up very well. The borrowed Universal sets look great and give the movie some weight and all the main players are terrific. I love Melvyn Douglas arching his eyebrow as the doubting Inspector. Fay Wray has a pretty limited role as the Inspector’s love interest but she seems very natural as she laughs and flirts. Too bad she never gets a chance to let loose with one of her famous screams. I can not believe Majestic missed the boat and left out Fay’s screams.


The film is mostly set at night so it is sometimes very dark and difficult to see and there are some scratches and skips in the film from age and damage. But it does not distract from the story. The film’s sound is excellent. A word of warning: the film is listed as being originally 65 minutes long but the various versions found on the Internet Archive range from 59 minutes to 62 minutes long. At least one reviewer complains about missing minutes. The version I watched was 59 minutes and 42 seconds long. I never noticed any gaps or missing scenes in the film so I’m not sure what, if anything, is missing.


Another word of caution: The Vampire Bat has a huge twist. The villagers are convinced they are being preyed upon by actual vampires, the Inspector is positive the murderer is just a human madman, and poor Herman Gleib keeps showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time and muttering the wrong things. But what is really causing all the strange deaths? Is it vampires or humans or something else entirely?


Here are a few lines of dialogue from The Vampire Bat that struck my fancy:
  • The Bürgermeister gets hysterical, “Our friends, neighbors that we’ve known for years, drained of their life’s blood, found dead in bed, lifeless skeletons of skin and bones! Vampires are at large, I tell you! Vampires!”
  • Inspector Karl scoffs, “All the records in the world can’t make me believe in vampires.”
  • The Inspector gets a jab in at the hysterical Bürgermeister and council, “Good night, gentlemen. Don’t let the vampires get you.”
  • Dr. von Niemann lectures, “Our saner, calmer judgment tells us that such things can’t be and yet, here for instance, in this ponderous tome are cited a thousand and one phobias and complexes that human beings are heir to. Some of them are strange, more (un?)terrible even than werewolves and vampires.” 
  • Ruth consoles her Aunt, “Auntie, the doors and windows are all locked. There’s nothing to be afraid of now.” Aunt Gussie protests, “Who said I was afraid? I’m not a bit afraid.” Ruth soothes her Aunt, “No, of course you’re not afraid but you must get some rest.” Aunt Gussie is really upset, “Rest? In this awful place? With dog-faced Hermans and jewel-faced bats and blood and monsters and vampires?”
  • The Bürgermeister thinks the case is solved, “This ends our troubles, Karl! The vampire’s dead! I can feel it in my bones!” Inspector Karl is doubtful, “Hmmm. Well, your bones may be wrong.” Dr. von Niemann interrupts, “But a natural death wouldn’t kill a vampire, Karl. You know the accepted theory: a stake driven through the heart.” The Inspector is disgusted, “Oh yes, that’s the theory alright.” “But…but…but…” stammers the Bürgermeister. “But what?” snaps the Inspector. The Bürgermeister continues, “But they did! They drove a stake through his heart!” “Good god! Are we living in the Middle Ages?” yells the Inspector angrily.
  • The Inspector is mystified, “Why would anyone want human blood? Why? Why?”
  • The Inspector is positive the killer is much more mundane than a vampire, “Those simple fools in the village can believe what they like but you and I are sane, thinking people and you know and I know, doctor, that these are murders.”
  • Ruth discovers the truth, “What mad thing are you doing?”

Overall, The Vampire Bat looks spooky and atmospheric and holds up very well. The film keeps you guessing about the true nature of the mysterious deaths but does expose the secret before the end. Fay Wray is pretty and flirty, Melvyn Douglas is stalwart and skeptical, and Lionel Atwill is condescending and secretive. There is no blood or gore (except for a short scene of blood slowly dripping into a vial from a tube). There are also no sudden scares, just an ongoing spookiness, so most younger film fans should be just fine. Although they may be upset about the sad fate of poor Herman Gleib. There is also some vagueness in the story such as just why and how the killer is able to exert control. But, overall, The Vampire Bat was much, much better than I expected.

Of course, the very best thing about The Vampire Bat is that it is FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive.


The Internet Archive has six versions of The Vampire Bat available.

The version I watched is also the most popular with more than 48,000 views. It runs 59 minutes 42 seconds. Please click this link to watch The Vampire Bat version #1.

The second most popular version has more than 6,000 views and the same runtime as the first. Please click this link to watch version #2.

The Vampire Bat version #3 has more than 5,000 views and actually has two cuts of the film. Cut #1 runs one hour two minutes. Cut #2 runs one hour. This version claims to be sharper than other versions. To watch The Vampire Bat version #3, please click this link.

The fourth most popular version of our film has more than 4,000 views and runs 59 minutes 45 seconds. To watch version #4, please click this link.

Version #5 has less than a thousand views. This version runs one hour two minutes and claims to be the complete version. To watch The Vampire Bat version #5, please click this link.

The sixth and final version of The Vampire Bat also has less than a thousand views. Version #6 runs 59 minutes 42 seconds. Please click this link to watch version #6.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pickman's Model by H.P. Lovecraft


H.P. Lovecraft
Richard Pickman is the person of interest in the story. A reknowned artist in Boston, Pickman had a reputation for creating incredibly disturbing and morbid - but very realistic - art. Critics argued whether it was the subject matter or the realism that made the art so unbelievably unsettling.

The story is unusual in that it is told all in the past tense of the events of concern in the story, and for most of the story you are listening to parts of a conversation about the curious influences and coincidences surrounding Pickman's art.

The narrator is a researcher of abstract art who has become fascinated by Pickman's legend. Lovecraft's style of narrative leaves a lot to the reader's imagination - something at which Lovecraft excelled. Lovecraft never underestimated the creative ability of his readers to fill in the gaps, and he used that to his advantage.

Weird Tales Magazine, October 1927
The narrated interviews expressed that the man himself was as disturbing as his art. The artist would eventually be ostracized from the Boston art community for his ..."eccentricities".

The conversation that we hear recorded in the story is decorated with flavours of witchcraft, ghosts and demons, but the researcher is particularly interested in what Pickman used for his inspiration and his models.

Most artists will use a model, be it a human in repose or a bowl of fruit for still life, or a summer landscape or wildlife scene, the artist always has a model to reference to maximize the realism. The narrator feels that Pickman's art is so realistic he couldn't have been painting purely from his own imagination. He must have had a model, but the scenes are so fantastical and the subject matter so bizarre that a model would have been impossible.

Pickman's model is revealed in the recounting of a disturbing encounter with the artist himself, of course, as the twist to the story.

Published in Weird Tales Magazine in October 1927, this story is available in the Public Domain in countries where copyright is Life+70.
  • Download the eBook at FeedBooks 
  • Listen to the AudioBook read by Miss Avarice at Librivox.org (37 minutes)
  • An audio recording is available at archive.org, read by MorganScorpion (32 minutes) 
  • Another audio recording is available at archive.org, read by Devon Marcel as part of a 2011 Halloween webcast 
  • Artist Kim Holm adapted the story to an illustrated format, available at archive.org 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Nootka for Classical Score Notation


Nootka is an application to learn classical score notation. It helps to understand the rules of reading and writing scores and helps with developing skills of playing and singing notes.

The application is free and open source, and works under Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems.

Features

  • interactive interface to discover the rules of musical notation
  • exercises with possibility to create own sets
  • accurate method for detecting sung and played sounds
  • natural sound of guitars
  • clefs (treble, bass and others) and grand stave
  • analyze of results
  • different kinds of guitars and theirs tuning
  • Czech, French, German, Polish and Russian translations
Let's take a quick look at a lesson. 
The Question 
A Mistake
Correct Answer

This educational resource and instruction can be helpful  

  • for guitarists - it was began writing for them - for beginners and for more advanced ones
  • for all that want to develop theirs skills of playing and singing scores
  • for all to develop musical hearing
  • for teachers to support a progress of their students
  • for teachers to measure progress of their students
  • for parents of students to help their children
Download Nootka free now.