Don't you miss the days when it was called "catsup"? Me too.
21 April 2012
20 April 2012
The so-called "disaster" movie has been with us since virtually the beginning of film -- one of the earliest examples being "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1913). Humans have always tried to contain things they could not understand in pictures, then words, then moving images. Disasters -- like so much of the natural world that was not understandable -- might be understood if only they could be contained and reduced to a more human scale.
Over the years, disasters have gotten larger -- both in real life and in media depictions. At the time, who in America could have imagined a disaster bigger than the San Francisco earthquake (1906)? It was unfathomable to the people who experienced it and even harder to understand for those who did not. It was eclipsed by the sinking of the Titanic (1912) which was surpassed by the great Mississippi flood (1927) which was surpassed by the Long Beach earthquake (1933), then the Johnstown Flood (1936), the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941), the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945), the super tornado outbreak (1974) and on, until the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 and the Japanese earthquake in 2011.
Real disasters are scary. They put us on edge because they are (usually) unexpected. We didn't know they were going to happen and, so, don't know when the next one will occur. Putting disasters on film achieves two purposes: it shows people what happened (in the case of real events) and what could happen (in fictional events); and provides some idea of how we can cope with them when they do occur.
I have long been a fan of disaster movies. I got into them because of my love of special effects -- the "old school" kind of practical effects: models, hanging miniatures, matte paintings and sets constructed to come apart (as opposed to the new school where everything is done with computer graphics). I am amazed not only by the effect achieved on the screen, but also by the fact that something so believable (usually) could be achieved with a bunch of fakery. Clearly, lots of hard work went into making the sets for "San Francisco" (1936) that came apart and fell around the actors. Pretty impressive stuff for 1936.
My love for disaster movies came to a peak right around the time that Hollywood was turning out some of the best examples ever of the genre: the 1970s.
First, there was "Airport" (1970). I am still impressed all these years later by the scene where the bomb explodes in the bathroom. It's so believable. That was followed by "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) with its amazing scene of the ballroom turning upside down. If you ever get the chance, you should watch the "making of" that came out around the time of the movie. Those are real people falling from real upside down tables. Stunt people really deserve more respect than they get. "Earthquake" (1974) was next. It's pretty laughable now, but I was scared when I sat in the Bethany Theater in Phoenix specially equipped with "Sensaround" that made the seats and floor vibrate when the earthquake occurred. (I've been in several earthquakes since; "Sensaround" didn't come close to the real thing.)
One month after "Earthquake" opened, came "The Towering Inferno" -- what I consider the quintessential example of a disaster movie.
"The Towering Inferno" has everything: great idea (tallest building in the world catches fire), set in a gorgeous city (San Francisco), populated with beautiful people (Paul Newman!) with a script that is actually plausible (cheap wiring causes fire on the night of the big opening party). All of the cast deliver excellent performances from the pitiable Fred Astaire and doomed Jennifer Jones, to the smarmy Richard Chamberlain and the dense-as-a-brick William Holden. Even model-turned-actor Susan Blakely hits a believable note.
Then you have the super special effects: the huge "miniatures" of the main building (70 feet tall!), the believable fire shots (especially the elevator that accidentally opens onto a fire floor), the passengers imperiled in the outdoor hanging elevator, the cascading water at the end.
Add to that the excellent production design (by William Creber; see photographs), the costumes (Paul Zastupnevich), editing (Carl Kress and Harold F. Kress), photography (Fred Koenekamp) and score (by John Williams -- easily the best of all his work) and you have nearly the perfect film.
Another reason I love this movie could be that I moved to San Francisco about five years after I saw it in the cinema. San Francisco was everything I thought it would be. It was totally cool walking into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero and realizing it had been used for the main lobby in "The Towering Inferno" -- complete with hanging elevators! That was a surreal experience.
I whole-heartedly suggest you rent or buy "The Towering Inferno" to see an excellent example of the disaster genre. I also suggest the following disaster films:
San Francisco (1936)
Things to Come (1936)
The Hurricane (1937
In Old Chicago (1937)
The Rains Came (1939)
When Worlds Collide (1951)
The High and the Mighty (1954)
The Birds (1961)
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
The Hindenburg (1975)
17 April 2012
Would you like to win a free ebook copy of my novel "News on the Home Front"? Of course you would. Who wouldn't? You have a chance to win one by going to this site. After you read a little interview with me, you can enter the contest by leaving a comment at the end. The contest runs through the end of the month. Bonne chance!
16 April 2012
So, last night Matt and I were watching the documentary "Smash His Camera" about celebrity photog and pariah Ron Galella. Toward the end, they had some young woman walking through an exhibit of his celeb photographs saying "I don't know who that is," and "He looks familiar, but I can't think of his name," and "Nope, no idea who that is." The people she could not identify were President John Kennedy, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and (surprise!) John Belushi.
I made a comment about the state of the American school system and Matt said: "There are some people who don't know the Titanic really happened."
Sure is a good thing I wasn't drinking any liquid because it would have been a spit take all over the coffee table.
So today, a little research and yes, it's true: people watching the current re-release of the 1997 "Titanic" were questioning whether it was based on a real event. Okeh, really? I'm sure Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is spinning in his grave -- he who originally said "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
Are these people merely exceptions or indicative of what we can come to expect? I have a sickening fear one of these people is right this moment sitting at his/her computer sketching out an idea for the biggest ship in the world, one that is absolutely unsinkable.
15 April 2012
The Titanic sank 100 years ago today. Believe it or not, I actually have a personal Titanic-related story:
Sometime in December 1975 I was somehow invited to attend a special opening-day screening of the new film "The Hindenburg." The "special" thing about this screening is that it was to be attended by a survivor of the Hindenburg. Being the huge fan that I am of America between the wars, I was all over this special screening.
So, we get into the cinema. The special screening comes complete with special commemorative newspapers reprinting many articles about the Hindenburg.
We are all looking around to see if we can spot the survivor of the Hindenburg.
Some guy walks up to the front of the cinema, with a microphone, and introduces a woman who survived (get this) the sinking of the Titanic! I remember the groans from the audience (myself included). "What? The Titanic? Who cares?" (I was, like, 15 at the time -- cut me some slack.) So, we sat through the movie, and then dutifully queued waiting for an autograph from the Titanic survivor (disappointed maybe, but an autograph is an autograph). I got her autograph.
So I had a reproduction newspaper announcing the crash of the Hindenburg signed by some woman (whose name I do not recall) who survived the sinking of the Titanic.
Years later, I have no idea whatever happened to that newspaper with the autograph. It would probably be worth something today; but nope, no idea where it is. Oh, well.
14 April 2012
12 April 2012
Back in 2003, Matt and I published our first book together: "Mama Cat: A Cat Tale." It sold fairly well on Amazon but it's been out of print for a while.
Well, "Mama Cat" is back in print -- and you can get your own revised copy on Lulu.
In honor of the revised edition, we recently made a video version that you can see here:
11 April 2012
07 April 2012
05 April 2012
02 April 2012
Just a quick note to let you know my second novel has just been published!
"The Life Line" is all about the big one -- the earthquake that levels San Francisco and how this affects the lives of about half a dozen characters.
I spent about ten years in the Bay Area right out of college and had a ball. It was a great time to be there and I hope my novel conveys some of that. (Of course, San Francisco has never been completely destroyed by an earthquake -- yet; but, if scientists are correct, that day is coming!)
You can read a free preview of my newest novel and download it here.
Once again, a special tip o' the hat to my talented spouse, Matt, for another great cover design!