To the Moon!

I was stationed in Thailand with the U.S. Air Force when the first manned moon landing happened on July 20, 1969. (That’s me defending the free world at right.) We received news there via armed forces newspapers and radio, but I think I felt a distance from events since most of them were taking place half-way around the world. Besides the moon landing, other seismic events in 1969 included Woodstock, Altamont, Chappaquiddick, the Chicago Seven trial, Easy Rider and Abbey Road, the Stonewall riot, Nixon’s election, and the Manson murders. It was a full load. I just realized there was a second moon landing (Apollo 12) that November. I’d forgotten that. You always remember the first time something significant happens.

I read a lot of science fiction as a kid. And saw many SF movies. When the Russians kicked off the space race with Sputnik in 1957, it felt like the promise of all that was being fulfilled. It’s been very disappointing that space exploration stalled for years and only now seems like it might get off the ground again. I’d thought at the very least that the moon and Mars would have colonized by now. The films I saw in the years before Apollo 11 fired my imagination. Here is a selection of films made both before and after the first moon landing. Most have serious intent, while a couple are just plain goofy.

_______________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

___________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

__________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________

Release dates and directors for the films are as follows:

A Trip to the Moon (1902) – Georges Méliès

Woman in the Moon (1929) – Fritz Lang

Destination Moon (1950) – Irving Pichel

From the Earth to the Moon (1958) – Bryon Haskin

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) – Arthur Hilton

Radar Men from the Moon (1952) – Fred C. Brannon

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick

Countdown (1968) – Robert Altman

Moon Zero Two (1969) – Roy Ward Baker

The Right Stuff (1983) – Phillip Kaufman

Apollo 13 (1995) – Ron Howard

First Man (2018) – Damien Chazelle

Apollo 11 (2019) – Todd Douglas Miller

_______________________________________________________

See you next time. — Ted Hicks

______________________________________________

Posted in Books, Documentaries, Feature films, Fiction, Film, Home Video, Non-Fiction, TV & Cable | 3 Comments

“Nice Guys Finish Dead” – Part 2

I had so many great covers left over from the last post that I decided to put them in a follow-up. As with the first batch, these depict lives largely lived in dirty back alleys with broken bottles on the pavement, in a kind of netherworld. These are not visions of the traditional American dream. For me, they’re a direct connection to film noirs of the late 1940s and ’50s.

My focus has been on paperback covers. I haven’t gone into the authors or content. That would be another kind of piece. But in the process I’ve missed some interesting connections. It’s been pointed out to me that the author of Lovers Are Losers, Howard Hunt, is the same E. Howard Hunt who gained notoriety as a Watergate conspirator. It turns out that during and after World War II he wrote novels under his own name as well as spy and hard-boiled novels using a variety of pseudonyms. Night Light was written by Douglass Wallop, who would write the novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, which became the Broadway musical Damn Yankees.

Okay, here are more covers. I think the most problematic aspect of these, from a “woke” point of view, is the way women are depicted. But as before, I’ll let them speak for themselves. The first one doesn’t waste any time.

__________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________

I particularly like the title of this one. Very hard-boiled.

________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________

___________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

__________________________________________________

_________________________________________________

________________________________________________

_______________________________________________

I want to wrap up with a really strong cover. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing more of these. – Ted Hicks

____________________________________________________

Posted in Art, Books, Fiction, Film | 2 Comments

“Nice Guys Finish Dead” – and Other Hard-Boiled Visions

I’ll get back to film-related subjects shortly, but in the meantime, there’s this.

Started by Fawcett Publications in 1950, Gold Medal Books was notable for introducting paperback originals. Other paperback publishers dealt in reprints. No one had done this before, and they made sure you knew it. At the bottom of many of their covers was the statement, “Original Gold Medal Novel — Not a Reprint.”

Per Wikipedia, “Gold Medal’s obvious success…revolutionized the industry.” They had a staff of artists, and the first thing that hit you at the newsstand was the covers, which were sexy, violent, and melodramatic — sex and death, all of it scantily clad. The covers and titles were often noirish and hard-boiled, not to mention incredibly sexist. Gold Medal wasn’t the only publisher who used this approach, but they excelled at it. Other paperback publishers had covers and titles that were just as lurid and sensational, but Gold Medal takes the cake. The majority of the covers I’ve selected for this post are theirs. They also attracted interesting writers, including David Goodis, John D. MacDonald, W. R. Burnett, Louis L’Amour, MacKinley Kantor, and one of my personal favorites, Richard Matheson. I was the proud owner of the two great horror novels seen below (and still have this edition of I Am Legend, held together by rubber bands, somewhat the worse for wear).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________

One of Gold Medal’s titles in 1950 was Women’s Barracks by Teresksa Torres, reportedly the first lesbian pulp novel.

________________________________________________________

I think now I’ll let the covers speak for themselves (with occasional asides).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________

“…in a world of lonely women.” Whew! I like how he’s adjusting his tie.

_______________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________________

There were Westerns, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________

It’s interesting when the pulp approach is used to market literary classics.

__________________________________________________

Some may not be “classics,” but were written by established authors in their field. This Raymond Chandler cover is really out there. I wasn’t sure if it was real or a parody, but as far I can find, it’s authentic.

______________________________________________

Here are two written by Patricia Highsmith. Strangers on a Train (1950) was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film version with Farley Granger and Robert Walker. Highsmith used the pseudonym Claire Morgan for The Price of Salt (1952). She didn’t want to be identified as a writer of lesbian fiction. It was the basis for the Todd Haynes film Carol (2015), with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in the lead roles.

____________________________________________

This is one of the more subtle titles.

____________________________________________

 The image here is less lurid than many of the others and captures a feeling I’m not sure I could define, but there’s definitely something going on. This is one of the more interesting covers.

_________________________________________________

I’ll end this politically incorrect collection with the only science fiction title in this post. This cover really pops.

_________________________________________________

That’s all for now. I hope this has been interesting. See you next time. — Ted Hicks

__________________________________________________

Wait, one more, a book I’d never heard of by Harlan Ellison. It has a very kinetic cover. Ellison is better known for his science fiction.

__________________________________________________

Posted in Art, Books, Fiction, Film | 11 Comments

Bookish – Favorite Books, Then & Now

As far back as I can remember, I was always reading. I grew up on an Iowa farm in the 1950s. As an only child, I created my own world and spent as much time there as possible. All the comics, books, and movies I consumed fueled that world  in my head. There were two public libraries nearby; one in Storm Lake, north of us; the other in Sac City, south of us. I spent more time in the Storm Lake library, usually on Saturdays when we’d go to town for grocery shopping. I loved this library. Made of stone and brick, its turret and peaked roofs made it seem like something out of a fairy tale. The library opened in 1906 and is still there, but no longer a library. As you can see from the photo below, it’s now Santa’s Castle, which is fitting, I suppose, given my early memories of the place.

Children’s books were in the basement level, accessed by a stairway that felt like you were going down into a mysterious vault. I’d take out the maximum number of books allowed, burn though them during the week, and get another load the next week. Wash, rinse, and repeat. I did the same thing at the Sac City library. At some point, I felt ready to get out of the kids’ section, even though I was still a kid.  I wanted something more interesting. This, for me, was science fiction. I specifically remember reading Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at least twice, though I can’t remember if this was before or after I’d seen the Disney movie released in 1954. This was the one of the first “adult” science fiction books that really captured my attention. I also read the Classics Illustrated comic book version. Another book I checked out multiple times was Adventures in Time and Space, a collection of classic science fiction short stories first published in 1946.

 

____________________________________________________

____________________________________________________

I also read a lot of Hardy Boys mysteries, which were more age-appropriate for me, I suppose. But my first love was science fiction and horror. As I wrote in a previous post, Famous Monsters and Me – Pt.2: Books and Comics, “…from an early age, as early as I can remember, I was totally in love with science fiction and horror (monsters!) via all their delivery systems; i.e. books, magazines, comics, TV, and movies. Mainly movies, probably because films are so immediate. This is true, but I can’t overestimate the importance of books to me at that time, either. Books fed my imagination and kept me going between films. I was in love with the library and the newsstand.”

That post cites the work of Richard Matheson, a writer of horror fiction who was immensely important to me, especially his novels I Am Legend (1954) and The Shrinking Man (1956).

________________________________________________

I was also engaged by books published in the John C. Winston Science Fiction series from 1952 to ’61. These were in our school library. I was always excited when a new title came in. The jacket illustrations were great, as were the end papers in each volume, drawn by Alex Schomberg. These still give me a charge.

_______________________________________________________

Around this time I joined the Science Fiction Book Club, published by Doubleday. Or rather, my mother joined it for me. I must have seen an ad like the one below.

I still have a number of these books, though Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity (1956) and Earth Is Room Enough (1957) are the only ones with the jackets still intact (mostly). I especially like time-travel stories. The End of Eternity is a good one. I reread it last year and it holds up pretty well.

______________________________________________________

Here are some of the book club titles I still have. Lots of Asimov. His robot stories are great.

________________________________________________

From 1956 to 1962 I bought the Dell paperback editions of the annual anthology, SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Judith Merrill. The first collection contains a story by Steve Allen called “The Public Hating,” which takes place in a near-future where executions are carried out in a large stadium filled with thousands of people who direct their hate at the condemned person strapped to a chair in the center of the field. The result is horrifying. I was surprised when I realized “The Public Hating” had been written by the same Steve Allen who was a famous comedian, musician, and the original host of The Tonight Show. It’s an extremely unsettling story that has stayed with me all these years. In 1985 I saw Steve Allen performing an evening of comedy and music at The Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. After the show I went back to his dressing room (one could do that then) with my original copy of the book that had his story and got him to sign the title page. He seemed to have forgotten about the story, but it was a nice moment. The third annual collection contains a long story by George Langelaan called “The Fly,” which was made into a feature film in 1958. I’ve forgotten most of the many other stories, but they all fed my imagination at the time.

________________________________________________

It wasn’t only science fiction and horror that I was consuming. In seventh and eighth grade I became obsessed with cars — especially custom cars and hot rods — in anticipation of getting a drivers license when I turned sixteen. I remember reading a series of novels about teens and cars written by Henry Gregor Felson. They usually had a cautionary agenda, but I’m sure I wasn’t too interested in that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________

Around this time I read Audie Murphy’s war time autobiography, To Hell and Back (1949). It had been made into a film starring Murphy as himself, the most decorated American soldier in World War II. The paperback edition I got had Murphy on the cover in a scene from the film. I hadn’t seen this film, but I was aware of Murphy as an actor in Western films, and I liked war stories, so wanting to read this book seemed natural.

______________________________________________

Two other books I got a big kick out of were My Brother Was an Only Child (1959) by Jack Douglas, and May This House be Saved From Tigers (1960) by Alexander King. Both were frequent guests on The Tonight Show during the years when Jack Paar was the host.

_______________________________________________________

My first stretch at the University of Iowa was from 1962 to 1966. It was during that time that I read Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for the first time. I can’t remember if this was for a course or if I read them on my own. Regardless, I was quite blown away by both books. They seemed perfect to me. When Hemingway’s A Movable Feast was published in 1964, I bought a copy and read it cover to cover in one sitting. I was sharing an apartment with three other guys. After everyone had gone to bed, I took the book and a pillow into our bathroom and got into the empty tub where I stayed until I’d finished reading. What the hell, I was younger and full of enthusiasm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________________________________________________

Somewhere in there I encountered Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957). I remember Sal Paradise’s description of being with Dean Moriarty in Mexico and getting so excited by music from a jukebox in a bar that they fell out of their chairs. I wanted to feel that way, and years later, at a Who concert in St. Paul, I did.

Here’s my original copy of On the Road, which has seen better days. It’s used to be on one of our bookshelves, held together by rubber bands. I thought I couldn’t  bring myself to throw it away, but I guess I could, because I was looking just now and it seems to be gone. That’s probably appropriate.

The ending of On the Road is quite moving, with Sal’s invocation of Dean Moriarty. Gatsby is even more so, with its final line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

_____________________________________________

Another book that was very important to me at the time was Lenny Bruce’s How to Talk Dirty and Influence People (1965). I read parts of it over and over. My copy got a real workout. It wasn’t until several years later that I first listened to some of his LPs and finally heard the sound of his voice and unique delivery.

_________________________________________________________

In the winter of 1965/66, I came back to Iowa City early from the holiday break to work at my bookstore job. I remember spending most of the evenings in my single-room rental reading John Fowles’ The Magus (1965). I was in love with that book. It drew me in and wrapped me up in the mystery of its strange and ominous world.

______________________________________________________

I totally embraced Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 when I read it. It’s a perfect book to read when you’re in college. The 1970 Mike Nichols film didn’t come close to capturing the spirit of the book, though Alan Arkin was great as Yosssarian. Hopefully the mini-series streaming on Hulu from George Clooney will be better.

___________________________________________________

I joined the air force in October of ’66. There wasn’t much opportunity to read during the six weeks of basic training at the base near San Antonio, Texas. They confiscated the paperback copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan (1959) I’d brought with me. The scantily-clad people on the cover were probably too disruptive. I was reading a lot of Vonnegut at the time. He was teaching in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop then, though our paths never crossed, except at a distance.

_________________________________________________

The first base I was stationed at was in California, north of Sacramento. I arrived there in June of 1967. At some point I read that a paperback literary magazine called the New American Review was about to appear and would be a regular publication. This sounded interesting, but when  I asked about it in a small bookstore in the nearby town of Marysville, I was told in no uncertain terms that there was no such thing as a paperback magazine. Shortly after that, I was back in the store and there it was on the shelf, the first issue of New American Review. This was very exciting. Each issue had fiction, poetry, and essays. It featured writers such as Donald Barthelme, Jorge Luis Borges, Ralph Ellison, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer. This was a reminder of the university life I missed and longed for. I needed this connection. I think new issues appeared on a quarterly basis. New American Review was published from 1967 to 1977. In 1973 the title was changed to American Review when it moved from the New American Library to Bantam Books. James Wolcott, writing in Vanity Fair, said the publication “started off stellar and never lost altitude, never peaked out, continuing to make literary news back when literary news didn’t seem like an oxymoron, each issue bearing something eventful.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

When I learned that I was being sent to an air base in Thailand for the year of 1969, I took out subscriptions to Rolling Stone, Berkeley Barb, and the British film magazine Sight and Sound. This was another effort to feel hip, involved, and provide a link to my previous life. Though in retrospect, leaving copies of Rolling Stone and especially Berkeley Barb, out in the open in my work area might have been asking for trouble. The Barb certainly raised a few eyebrows. But Sight and Sound, especially, made me feel like I was still connected to that world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

The base in Thailand had a library that I frequented. I was the first person to check out Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) when it arrived. I’d read about it and knew it was causing a serious stir. The book was a real kick and a radical change of pace from what I knew of Philip Roth’s work. It was incredibly funny in the most profane way. I had a problem when someone who lived in the same barracks as me swiped the book before I could return it. Despite my anger at this, he didn’t give it back until he was done reading it. This caused trouble with the librarian, who got on my case whenever she saw me. It was the only copy they had and she wanted it back. I didn’t tell her what had happened, because I thought that would only cause more trouble. So it goes.

_________________________________________________

Another book I read in Thailand in 1969 was Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes (1968). I became obsessed with this book. A Fan’s Notes is subtitled “A Fictional Memoir.” In a “Note to the Reader” at the beginning, Exley writes: “Though the events in this book bear similarity to those of that long malaise, my life…I have drawn freely from the imagination and adhered only loosely to the pattern of my past life. To this extent, and for this reason, I ask to be judged a writer of fantasy.” Throughout the book we see the Exley character as a self-destructive alcoholic, yearning for fame without the talent to achieve it. He’s a spectator in his life, a watcher. This engaged me because I strongly identified with this picture of a romantic, “tragic” figure who greets each new disappointment with a joke and a smirk. I was drinking a lot at the time, and would continue to do so for another eight years before finally stopping. Anti-heroes like the narrator of A Fan’s Notes became extremely popular in fiction and film of the 1970s. Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces (1970) is a prime example, a film I took to heart.

In August of 1970, I received an early discharge in order to return to the University of Iowa and my job in a local bookstore. After enrolling and finding housing, I promptly got run over by a Volkswagen and spent five weeks in a hospital. I didn’t resume college life until the second semester in ’71. In April of 1972, Fred Exley came to Iowa City to give a reading, and you can bet I was there. I got him to sign the hardcover copy of A Fan’s Notes I’d bought the previous year. I was very excited to actually be around him, because this guy was kind of an idol to me. Exley returned to teach a class in the Writers’ Workshop that fall. I asked him if I could sit in on these classes and he agreed. I also started going to a bar he frequented when I thought he’d be there. Slowly, but inevitably, he became less of an idol and more of a drunk in a bar. But A Fan’s Notes is still a great book, or at least it was when I read it. It was initially rejected by over a dozen publishers before being accepted by Harper & Row. A Fan’s Notes, which has acquired a cult following, was nominated for a National Book Award in Fiction. Exley wrote two more “fictional memoirs,” Pages from a Cold Island (1975) and Last Notes from Home (1988), but neither is on the level of A Fan’s Notes. He died in 1992 at age 63.

____________________________________________________

It was during this time that I read Gabriel García Márquez’s great novel, 100 Years of Solitude. It has the most amazing opening line: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” It’s impossible not to keep reading after a line like that. It plants the hook deep and immediately raises questions you have to know the answers to. It promises to be a great story. And it is.

___________________________________________________

A book that was very important to me at the time was Charles Bukowski’s Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness. Bukowski has been quoted as saying, “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.” This heavyweight collection of short stories deeply reflects the spirit of that statement, and more than lives up to the title of the book.

Bukowski, who died in 1994 at age 73, was an incredibly prolific writer of fiction and poetry. He embraced the lowlife and the down-and-out. The title of one of his poetry collections, Love is a Dog From Hell, gives you an idea of his outlook. I fell in love with him when I found this book and subsequently bought a lot of his work, which is brutal, often aggressively outrageous, and beautiful.

_____________________________________________________

Another book that seemed like the greatest thing I’d ever read was Hunter Thompson’s truly bizarre Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971). It originally appeared in two issues of Rolling Stone, with illustrations by the equally insane Ralph Steadman, and felt like nothing you’d ever read before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________

I don’t remember reading it in Rolling Stone, but when Fear and Loathing came out in paperback, I burned through it and began running around with my copy to corner people and read aloud my latest favorite passage. From that point on, I was reading everything Thompson wrote. I only wish he was around today to give us his take on our current president. With illustrations by Steadman, of course.

______________________________________________

I hadn’t abandoned science fiction and horror. In 1971 while in Iowa City, I got a paperback collection titled The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. The book is subtitled “The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time.” The twenty-six stories in this collection do a good job of living up to that claim. Authors include Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Cordwainer Smith, Arthur C. Clarke, and Richard Matheson. The book was edited by Robert Silverberg. He’s a great writer who deserves to be represented here, but as editor he probably thought that wouldn’t be fair. The stories selected cover a period from 1929 to 1964. Considering that 55 years have passed since then, it’s probably time for an updated collection. But this is still a great collection of classic science fiction.

There were two follow-up volumes, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume IIA and Volume IIB: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time, edited by Ben Bova. Each volume contains eleven long stories by classic authors in the field. I got my copies in Minneapolis in 1975.

______________________________________________

Fantasy and horror collections I acquired since moving to New York City in 1977 can be seen below. These are excellent. I return to them now and again, when I’m in that kind of mood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________________

After finally getting an undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa in 1973, I lived in Minneapolis for three years before moving to New York. During that time, I read Richard Yates’ Disturbing the Peace (1975), a vivid, harrowing depiction of alcoholism. At least, that’s how I saw it. Its protagonist is a New York adman on a downward spiral. I was surprised recently to see in the Wikipedia entry on the novel that it was “dismissed by critics as his weakest book.” I’ve not yet the novel he’s best known for, Revolutionary Road (1961), so I can’t compare it to that, but Disturbing the Peace didn’t seem weak to me at all. Earlier, in Iowa City, I’d read his terrific short story collection, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962), an evocative title if there ever was one. Richard Yates has been called “America’s finest realistic novelist” by the Boston Globe. I’m not sure when they said that, but he certainly deserves a place at the table.

_____________________________________________________

It was while in Minneapolis that I read E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, another favorite of mine. Doctorow has written many great books, but this is one of his best. I think it was the first time I’d read something that blended fictional characters with historical figures in this way.

_________________________________________________

Shortly after moving to New York, I went through one of those periods when you’ve discovered a writer and have to immediately immerse yourself in everything he or she wrote. Sort of like binge-watching, I guess. For me it was Dashiell Hammett. I love the way he writes, simple, direct, tough, and unsentimental. Of everything I read, the two that have stayed with me the most are The Maltese Falcon (1930) and Red Harvest (1929). When I first read The Maltese Falcon, after having seen the film version many times, I was struck by how closely John Huston had stayed to the book and dialogue in writing the screenplay. It’s like the novel was ready to film as it was.

I really liked Red Harvest and keep meaning to re-read it. Just have to find the time. Red Harvest was an inspiration for Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), which itself was remade first by Sergio Leone in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and then by Walter Hill in Last Man Standing (1996). Elements of Red Harvest can also be found in the Coen Bros. Miller’s Crossing (1990). No small amount of influence from a 1929 crime novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________________________________________________

Several years ago I started reading Dennis Lehane, one of the best writers of crime fiction working today. I read Gone, Baby, Gone (1998) after seeing the Ben Affleck film, which I liked a lot. That book didn’t quite prepare me for The Given Day (2008), a novel that transcends genre definitions. Epic both in length (724 pages) and in scope, the book, set in Boston at the end of World War I, has a large cast of sharply defined characters — black and white, police and criminals — in a story packed with violent action, historical detail. It’s incredibly engrossing and involving.

Lehane wrote two excellent novels that form a trilogy. Live by Night (2012), at 402 pages,  and World Gone By (2015), at 309 pages, are less epic in scope, but no less involving. Oddly enough, I read the trilogy in reverse order, but I don’t think that diminished my experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Affleck directed, wrote, and starred in the film version of Live by Night in 2016. The film was a major disappointment and a complete disservice to the novel, especially considering the great job Affleck had done with Gone, Baby, Gone. In addition to these two, other Lehane books have been made into films. These include Mystic River (directed by Clint Eastwood in 2003), Shutter Island (directed by Martin Scorsese in 2010), and The Drop (2014, with screenplay by Lehane based on his story Animal Rescue).

________________________________________________

Don Winslow is a terrific writer of crime fiction. The Dawn Patrol (2008) and The Gentleman’s Hour, his novels about a laid-back private eye who loves surfing are especially appealing. He’s written 19 books, but his major achievement is an epic trilogy about the ongoing drug wars. The Power of the Dog (2005) was the first one I read, and it blew me away. I hadn’t known it was going to be a series until The Cartel was published in 2015. I thought it was even better. The New York Times called it “A big, sprawling, ultimately stunning crime tableau.” I finished reading the final volume, The Border, just last night. I wish I could say it was as good as the first two, but I was hugely disappointed. Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, disguised only by the names John Dennison and Jason Lerner, appear as a newly-elected president and his son-in-law. While I agree with Winslow’s viewpoint, I think this was a major miscalculation. It’s too obvious and too distracting. I don’t think the book was worth the 716 pages it took to take me where it did. But The Power of the Dog and The Cartel will always be great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________

Other writers of crime, espionage, and thriller fiction I like include George Pelecanos, Richard Price, Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, John Harvey, Bill James, Ian Rankin, Olen Steinhauer, and John Le Carré.

________________________________________________

Evan S. Connell, who died in 2013 at age 88, was a novelist, short-story writer, poet, historian, and essayist. One of my favorite books of his is A Long Desire (1979), a collection of essays about explorers, both famous and obscure, and their quests. He wrote a followup, The White Lantern (1981), which I’ve not read. Earlier today I ordered a copy from Amazon in an effort to rectify this omission. Another favorite book of his is Son of the Morning Star, an epic and poetic account of the life of George Armstrong Custer and its awesome climax at the Little Big Horn in 1876.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________

 Two important books about the Vietnam war that meant a lot to me are Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977) and Christian G. Appy’s Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides (2003).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________

I’ve always had a fascination with the Vietnam War, which I learned in Patriots is known as the “American War” to the Vietnamese. It was my generation’s war, but I never got closer than Thailand in 1969, something I probably should be thankful for. I really hooked into Dispatches when I first read it. It felt fresh and unusual. Even the book jacket was different; it looked and felt like a kind of textured, brown wrapping paper. In a blurb on the back of the jacket, Harold Hayes wrote, “Dispatches is a series of refractions of Americans in Vietnam, kaleidoscopic images of sounds and senses: from Hieronymous Bosch to Jimi Hendrix… It’s a brilliant, lasting work of art.” Herr’s writing is hip and vivid, unsentimental and electric, suggestive at times of Tom Wolfe, and maybe even a little William Burroughs. It probably makes sense that Herr subsequently worked on the narration for Apocalypse Now (1979) and co-wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket (1987). He later wrote a short book called Kubrick (2000), a memoir of their nearly 20-year friendship. I love the opening sentence: “Stanley Kubrick was a friend of mine, insofar as people like Stanley have friends, and as if there are any people like Stanley now.”

Herr went to Vietnam in 1967 as a correspondent for Esquire. Dispatches is an account of his time there. I always took it straight and never questioned anything about it. However,
I only recently (as in two days ago) found out the following, per Wikipedia:

“…after publishing Dispatches, Herr disclosed that parts of the book were invented, and that it would be better for it not to be regarded as journalism. In a 1990 interview with Los Angeles Times, he admitted that the characters Day Tripper and Mayhew in the book are ‘totally fictional characters’, and went on to say: ‘A lot of Dispatches is fictional. I’ve said this a lot of times. I have told people over the years that there are fictional aspects to Dispatches, and they look betrayed. They look heartbroken, as if it isn’t true anymore. I never thought of Dispatches as journalism. In France they published it as a novel….'”

I’m not sure how to take this. Would my reaction to the book have been different if I’d known this at the time? Maybe. I don’t know. But I hope not. Even though aspects of Dispatches were fictionalized, that doesn’t make them untrue to the time and place.

_________________________________________________

Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides is a revelation. Per description on the back cover, “Christian G. Appy’s monumental oral history of the Vietnam War is the first work to probe the war’s path through both the United States and Vietnam. The vivid testimonies of 135 men and women span the entire history of the Vietnam conflictl, from it’s murky origins in the 1940s to the chaotic fall of Saigon in 1975.” The people interviewed include “…generals and grunts, policymakers and protesters, guerrillas and CIA operatives, pilots and doctors, artists and journlists, and a variety of ordinary citizens…” It’s an impressive and important piece of work.

___________________________________________________

Here are four other books that have been important to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________

Finally, of all the books I want to read again, the one I want to reread the most is Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Beginning in the 1930s, and continuing through World War II and after, two cousins, Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, become major figures in the birth and growth of comic books in this country. It’s a work of almost Dickensian density and great imagination. It was no surprise to read in Chabon’s author’s note at the end of the book that Stan Lee, Will Eisner, and Gil Kane had shared their memories of the Golden Age of comics with him. I’ve always loved the world of comic books and superheroes, so I was more than willing to be immersed in Kavalier & Clay. As with all good books and films, it kept me asking the question, “What happens next?” If you haven’t read Kavalier & Clay, I urge you to do so. It may seem daunting at 656 pages, but it’s more than worth it, believe me.

____________________________________________________

Well, that’s more than enough for now. This has been a longer ride than usual, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Stay tuned for Bookish Part 2: Favorite Film Books. Ted Hicks

Posted in Books, Fiction, Film | 5 Comments

Best TV 2018 – Supplemental

For those who want to go a little deeper, here is additional material on some of the titles in my Best TV of 2018 post.

______________________________________________________

The Americans

___________________________________________________

Babylon Berlin

____________________________________________________

Barry

____________________________________________________

Homecoming

____________________________________________________

Jane Fonda in Five Acts

___________________________________________________

Killing Eve

___________________________________________________

My Brilliant Friend

_____________________________________________________

Pose

___________________________________________________

Sharp Objects

____________________________________________________

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

______________________________________________________

Finally, here is a list of several shows that didn’t make the final cut, but were too good not to acknowledge.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace (FX)

Dietland (AMC)

Goliath — 2nd season (Amazon Prime)

Homeland — 7th season (Showtime)

The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society (Netflix)

Paranoid (Netflix)

The Same Sky (Netflix)

______________________________________________________

That’s all for now. See you next time. — Ted Hicks

Posted in Books, Documentaries, Fiction, Home Video, Non-Fiction, Streaming, TV & Cable | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched Last Year: Best TV, Cable & Streaming 2018

Looking over my list of best shows for 2018, I see that none of them are on network television. All of them, without exception, were seen via HBO, Showtime, Amazon, Netflix, FX, and BBC America. I don’t think network shows, most of them anyway, can compete with the content and quality available to cable channels and streaming services. Fewer restrictions on language, violence, and sex play a huge role in this. It didn’t take long to realize that The Sopranos, which debuted on HBO in 1999, was just as good as, or better than, than most feature films. That show changed the landscape. I’m as excited now by what I can see on our flat screen as I am about feature films in theaters. That said, you still can’t beat seeing something on a theater screen, which is how I’ve seen Roma twice. Roma has had a good theatrical run, though more people will probably see it on Netflix.

There’s so much content available now, too much to keep up with. We only scratch the surface with what we watch, and that’s without having HULU or Starz or the many other outlets. And there’s going to be a lot more. Apple and Disney are launching streaming services soon.

Well, it’s time to get into what I liked best last year, so without further digression, here goes. These are all great shows, but I have to say that The Americans, Babylon Berlin, Killing Eve, and My Brilliant Friend are the best of the best. And Sharp Objects.

______________________________________________________

The Americans – season 6 (FX)  This is a carry over from previous years, but rather than put it in a section at the end, I wanted to have it right up front. I was initially skeptical of the premise when I first heard about it — KGB sleeper agents living in Washington, DC for 20 years, raising a family and carrying out covert operations. And living next door to an FBI agent who becomes their best friend. Sounded a little far-fetched, but my wife and I were hooked with the first episode. It just got better and better with each successive season. Okay, maybe all the wigs and disguises were a bit of a joke, but that didn’t really matter. We went with it. The final episode of the final season was a killer. Everything in the entire series had led to the scene in the parking garage, where we didn’t get what we’d expected, but got so much more. Then the gut-punch of Paige on the train platform. At the end The Americans was sad, bittersweet, and heartbreaking. It earned every bit of that. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If not, you can stream all the seasons on Amazon Prime.

____________________________________________________

Babylon Berlin (Netflix)  The first two seasons were made available last spring, 16 episodes in all. Reportedly the most expensive German TV series to date, Babylon Berlin begins in 1929 during the Weimar Republic. The main character is Gereon Rath, a police inspector transferred from Cologne to Berlin. He’s a World War I combat veteran who suffers from PTSD and takes morphine to deal with it. It’s a great series with many characters and multiple story lines. Online on Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk described Babylon Berlin as “part noir, part spy thriller, and part historical portrait.” It’s that and more. The atmosphere is rich and deep, and really wraps you up. Babylon Berlin is based on novels by Volker Kutscher. The series was created by Tom Tykwer (who made Run Lola Run in 1998), Achim von Borries, and Hendrik Handloegten. Each episode was written, directed, and edited by all three of them, so it’s all a tight collective vision.

The following video is set in the Moka Efti club, a central location in the story and a place that actually existed. A song is performed, intercut with scenes from the series. This gives a good sense of the tone and feeling of Babylon Berlin.

______________________________________________________

Barry (HBO)  Created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg, Barry stars Hader as a contract killer who goes undercover in an acting class in Los Angeles and begins to take part in the proceedings. He discovers he enjoys acting more than being a hit man, but it’s not so easy changing careers. Hader is great in the role. He’s probably best known for his eight seasons on Saturday Night Live (his uncanny Vincent Price impression is one of my favorites). Henry Winkler is the teacher in the acting class, and he underplays the puffed-up self-importance of the character. Barry’s handler, who schedules his hits, is played by Stephen Root, an actor who seems to work all the time. He’s had 236 credits since 1988, but will probably always be remembered as Milton in Office Space (1999). Barry is a comedy that gets serious in uncomfortable ways. Barry is, after all, someone who kills people. The show doesn’t shy away from the reality of that when it happens, and as a viewer it’s not always easy to know how to respond. Hader plays this perfectly. Season 2 begins on March 31.

Here are trailers for seasons 1 and 2.

______________________________________________________

Bodyguard (Netflix/BBC)  This British series about a liberal London cop (Richard Madden), assigned to provide security for a right-wing Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes), was hugely popular when it aired in the UK. It shares DNA, along with many other shows, with the Kiefer Sutherland series 24. It’s fast paced, with shocking events, sudden reversals, and a down-to-the-wire momentum.

The following clip is of a sniper attack on the Home Secretary and the way her bodyguard deals with it. It’s pretty intense, so keep your head down.

_________________________________________________________

Homecoming (Amazon Prime)  Nothing normal about this one. Julia Roberts is a counselor at a government organization called Homecoming that ostensibly helps returning veterans readjust. Everything feels sinister and the true agenda is slowly revealed. Bobby Canavale is outstanding as Roberts’ supervisor, as is Shea Wigham as a DOD functionary trying to figure out what is going on. Just like the rest of us. There’s a Twilight Zone vibe to this show. You never know what’s coming. Homecoming is ten 30-minute episodes, very compelling and perfect for bingeing.

______________________________________________________

Jane Fonda in Five Acts (HBO)  This fascinating documentary was directed by Susan Lacy, the creator of American Masters on PBS and director of the documentary Spielberg, which aired last year on HBO. Everyone thinks they know who Jane Fonda is, but seeing this survey of her entire life is a bit of a revelation. She’s been around as long as I can remember, but Lacy’s film presents the full range of Fonda’s multiple careers. She’s quite candid, especially about her problematic relationship with her father, Henry Fonda, and her marriages to Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, and Ted Turner. Her reunion with Turner on his ranch is particularly touching.

_______________________________________________________

Killing Eve (BBC America)  Sandra Oh is the greatest as Eve Polastri, an MI5 agent pursuing psychopathic assassin Villanelle, played with ice-cold charm by the equally strong Jodie Comer. They become obsessed with one another in a lethal dance while the body count keeps rising.

The following confrontation in the clip below between Eve and Villanelle from season one is quite something. They are obviously adversaries, but at the same time there’s a weird attraction for each other that drives the series.

Season 1 can be rented for streaming from Amazon. Season 2 debuts April 7 on both BBC America and AMC.

______________________________________________________

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)  Michael Douglas is Sandy Kominsky, an actor who was big years ago and is now an acting coach. Alan Arkin is Norman Newlander, Sandy’s friend and agent. Their relationship, not unlike Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple, is prickly and filled with insults and clever putdowns, but they obviously care deeply for each other. The chemistry between Douglas and Arkin is great. Alan Arkin, especially, is wonderful. What he does with the dialogue is a constant pleasure. It’s comic, but it’s not a sitcom. There are real things at stake here. Aging and mortality are frequent subjects of their conversations. It’s nice to see both actors so relaxed and supported by great writing.

____________________________________________________

The Mantis/La mante (Netflix)  Carole Bouquet plays Jeanne, a notorious serial killer known as the Praying Mantis, who has been held in isolated confinement for many years in a vast country estate under high security, a prisoner a la Hannibal Lector. When copycat murders begin turning up, the police ask Jeanne for help finding the killer. She agrees, but only if her estranged son Damien, a cop, will be her contact. He’s had nothing to do with her for years and wants to keep it that way. This series goes to some very, very dark places. It’s like lifting a plank of rotting wood out of the muck and seeing what’s underneath. I loved it.

_______________________________________________________

My Brilliant Friend (HBO)  Absolutely great. Based on the first of four hugely popular novels by Elena Ferrante that tell the story of a friendship that lasts a lifetime. The first season is set in a suburb of Naples, Italy in the 1950s. Lenu and Lila meet in primary school, where they are clearly the smartest kids in the class. Despite an initial wariness, they develop a strong bond that becomes key to their survival in a restrictive, frequently violent community. You sense the joy that comes with shared discoveries and the recognition of a kindred spirit. The production values are incredible. An entire neighborhood was constructed that looks and feels completely authentic. Nothing looks like a set, this is a totally lived-in environment. Everything about My Brilliant Friend is an achievement of perfection. I was constantly knocked out by the depth and richness of the storytelling. Saverio Costanzo co-wrote and directed all eight episodes, which ensured a consistency of vision. He’s scheduled to do the same for the next three seasons. My wife Nancy was reading the first volume in Ferrante’s quartet when the series started. She subsequently burned through the next three back-to-back. It’s a hit.

_____________________________________________________

Pose (FX)  Co-created by Ryan Murphy, Pose is set in the ball culture world of New York City in the late 1980s. Until I saw the excellent documentary Kiki (2016), I’d known virtually nothing about this world. Members of the transgender community compete for trophies and titles in elaborate events held in ballrooms. All transgender characters in Pose are performed by transgender actors. It is extraordinary. Billy Porter is amazing as the live-wire MC of the balls. When I saw Kiki, I noted that it was bursting with humanity. That’s certainly true with Pose as well. Humanity and a full range of emotions at full throttle.

____________________________________________________

Secret City (Netflix)  A dogged individual attempting to expose a cover-up at high levels is nothing new, but it’s all in the telling, and Secret City does it very well. This is an Australian production starring Anna Torv. I first remember seeing her in the excellent series Fringe (2008-2013), and most recently in the amazing Mindhunter (2017). She’s a very engaging actor who makes me care about what happens to her. The deeply ominous Jackie Weaver also stars. The second season is already available on Netflix. We burned through it in a couple of days. Here are trailers for both seasons.

_____________________________________________________

Sharp Objects (HBO)  This is a profoundly disturbing series based on a novel by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. Sharp Objects as a series was created by Marti Noxon, a name I recognized as a producer of Josh Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Already I was interested. Amy Adams stars as Camille Preaker, a burned-out reporter in St. Louis sent by her editor to report on a murder in her hometown of Wind Gap. It’s the last place she wants to go. Too many ghosts. Patricia Clarkson plays Camille’s mother, the ironically named Adora. She’s anything but. Clarkson does this kind of character to perfection. Adora is a smiling cobra, speaking in a soft, purring voice laced with poison. She’s a master of devastating putdowns and quiet eviscerations. This is a creepy, freaky story. It’s a horror story. You won’t look at a dollhouse the same way again. Amy Adams has reportedly said that she wouldn’t want to do another season, because this was too dark a place to go. It’s easy to see why. And it’s quite thrilling.

_____________________________________________________

Unforgotten – seasons 1 & 2 (Amazon Prime)  We watched both seasons of this last year. Nicola Walker (Last Tangle in Halifax and River) plays the head of a police unit that investigates old cases that were thought previously solved. It follows a familiar formula for these types of show, but is very well made and quite engaging. The third season debuts on Masterpiece (PBS) on April 7. Sunday nights are getting very crowded for shows we like. Thanks for the DVR. Here’s a trailer for season 1.

______________________________________________________

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (HBO)  Garry Shandling was a singular talent. He had a solid career as a stand-up comic, but most importantly he created two unique series, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (1986-1990) and The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998). I kept hearing about Larry Sanders and finally got HBO just so I could see the show. It did not disappoint. In it, Larry’s the host of a late-night talk show, surrounded by egos and insecurities, but none as full-blown as his own. Guests on the talk show were often real celebrities playing versions of themselves. It was great. I especially loved Rip Torn as Artie, Larry’s producer. Zen Diaries was directed by Judd Apatow, who counts Shandling as a friend and mentor. It runs four and a half hours, which might sound daunting, but it could have kept going and I would have been there for it. Per a description at IMDb, Zen Diaries “included conversations with more than 40 of Shandling’s family members and friends, among them Jim Carrey, Jon Favreau, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman. There are also decades worth of TV appearances, along with personal journals, private letters and candid home audio and video footage that depict Shandling in a fascinating, funny, sad and, above all, completely authentic way.”

_____________________________________________________

Carry-Overs

Better Call Saul – season 4 (AMC)  The airdate for season 5 has yet to be announced.

_____________________________________________________

Better Things (FX)  Did not air last year, but season 3 is currently on. Based on the episodes we’ve seen so far, it’s better than ever.

________________________________________________________

Billions – 3rd season (SHO)  Season 4 began on March 17.

______________________________________________________

Bosch – 4th season (Amazon Prime)  Season 5 begins on April 19. I don’t think Bosch is as strong as it was the first two seasons, but I’ll be watching for sure. Titus Welliver really owns the character of Harry Bosch, and seeing him with Lance Reddick and Jaime Hector makes my day. Here’s a trailer for the new season.

______________________________________________________

Glow – 2nd season (Netflix)  The release date for season 3 has yet to be announced, but will probably be late summer.

______________________________________________________

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – season 2 (Amazon Prime)  Season 3 airdate is yet to be announced.

_____________________________________________________

Mozart in the Jungle – season 4 (Amazon Prime)  This excellent series has been cancelled by Amazon, but you can still stream the first 4 seasons.

___________________________________________________

Veep – 6th season (HBO)  The 7th and final season begins on March 31.  The writing is nasty and inspired. Julia-Louis Dreyfuss and the entire cast play it for all it’s worth. As farcical and exaggerated as this show frequently is, compared to the actual news from the White House every day, Veep seems more and more like a documentary. It’s probably wise that this will be its final season, because I’m not sure where Veep could go from here.

_______________________________________________________

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)

_______________________________________________________

Bonus News

You may already have heard, but thirteen years after it ended, Deadwood is coming back. Not as a series, but this is better than nothing. On May 31, HBO will debut Deadwood: The Movie. Almost the entire original cast is returning, including Timothy Olyphant as Seth Bullock and Ian McShane as Al Swearengen. Those of us who were fans felt that the series ended much too soon. Hopefully this will allow for some closure.

________________________________________________________

That about wraps it up for this go-round. See you next time. — Ted Hicks

Posted in Books, Documentaries, Fiction, Home Video, Music, Non-Fiction, Streaming, TV & Cable | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Great Covers & Illustrations – A Totally Random Collection

During the last several years of looking for film-related material, I’ve stumbled across a lot 0f other stuff that I felt compelled to save. When I was going through it the other day — in a successful effort to avoid doing anything actually productive — it occurred to me that you might like to see some of these. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to this collection of covers and illustrations, other than they all got my attention in one way or another. Some, such as  the Edgar Rice Burroughs book covers, are beautiful. Others are dynamic, dramatic and kinetic. Some are simply weird and bizarre, possibly offensive. So, with no apologies, here goes.

______________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________

The current blockbuster film notwithstanding, the original Captain Marvel was a guy! As well as being the source for the forthcoming Shazam! movie, which opens on April 5. The lineage is a bit tangled.

_____________________________________________________

British paperback editions of early James Bond novels.

_________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: I’ve been unsuccessful so far in finding out the meaning of the reverse swastikas on two of the covers above. I doubt that they have a Nazi connection, but it’s curious.

__________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________________

I have no idea what the story is here.

_______________________________________________________

The following panel is by Wally Wood, probably for an EC science-fiction comic. The comment “Not exactly, but close enough” is what put it on another level for me. Below that are two of Wood’s greatest EC covers.

____________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

First publication in 1953 of William Burroughs’ Junkie, with Burroughs using the pseudonym William Lee.

__________________________________________________

“Departure of the Witches,” aka “Witches on the Sabbath” or “Witches Going to Their Sabbath.” Painted in 1878 by Luis Ricardo Falero. This looks very modern to me, and quite realistic, aside from the fact that the witches are airborne in the midst of bats and assorted demons.

_______________________________________________

I have no idea what the hell this is.

________________________________________________

________________________________________________

________________________________________________

There’s more, but this is probably enough for now. — Ted Hicks

________________________________________________

Posted in Art, Comics, Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments