Thursday, July 27, 2017

Friday's best pop song ever

Der Fluch Des Schwarzen Ruben, aka Thirteen Days To Die (Germany/France/Spain, 1965)


To my knowledge, Thirteen Days to Die is the only cinematic attempt to modernize Rolf Torring, the adventuring hero of a series of German pulp novels that rose to popularity during the years leading up to World War II. It seems the idea was to present Torring as a sort of James Bond figure, and that’s not an improbable fit. Both Bond and Torring put a dashing face on the privileges of empire, each treating the exotic lands of the developing world as mere theaters for their ever more destructive antics (and, in Bond’s case, procuring grounds for his harem.) Of course, each man was the face of a different empire in a different time, which might account for why one of them had a lot more holding power than the other.

One need only look at the cover illustration of one of the Torring novels from the 30s to see why the character has aged badly: In each, he is presented as the great white hunter, charged with taming a savage land with the assistance of his loyal companion, a muscle bound and perpetually shirtless black brute who is often depicted wrestling an alligator or tossing opponents overhead like ragdolls. This is Pongo (you heard me) and he looks as if he could have been one of the “noble savages” so notoriously fetishized by Leni Riefenstahl in her later years. He is also likely to be one of the reasons that the Rolf Torring novels are less well remembered (and have less cross-cultural appeal) today than other, less potentially controversial German pulp series, like, say, Perry Rodan or Jerry Cotton.


Fans who are well versed in the Eurospy genre will find much that is familiar within Thirteen Days to Die, and for good reason. The film’s director, Manfred R. Kohler, had his hand in a number of Eurospy efforts, including the Kommissar X entry Three Golden Serpents, which he wrote. 13 Days bears a lot of similarities to the Kommissar X films, from its snappy, lighthearted tone to its shrewd use of an exotic Asian location (Thailand, in this case.) Like them, it plays out as a series of well-staged and mildly farcical fight scenes punctuated by well-shot tourist footage of local landmarks and customs.

What Thirteen Days to Die lacks that the Kommissar X movies had is a magnetic central presence of the caliber of Tony Kendall, or even Brad Harris. As Torring, who is rechristened “Ralph Tracy” for the English dub, Bavarian actor Thomas Alder doesn’t leave much of a footprint. This may be because he delegates so much of the action to one of his two associates, who, thankfully, are a lot more entertaining to watch. One of these if a hulking Swede by the name of Warren (“Hans” in the original, “Hank” in the English dub) who is played by Euro-genre stalwart Peter Carsten (Dark of the Sun, And God Said to Cain) with a lot of good natured bravado.


And then, of course, there is Pongo, who is played by French body builder Serge Nubret. In this incarnation, Pongo is at least allowed to keep his shirt on for the most part—that is, until the final act, for the entirety of which Nubret wears nothing more than an abbreviated pair of cut-offs (which, to be fair, he looks amazing in.) While outshining his co-stars in terms of charisma, Nubret’s character is treated like a houseboy by his companions—making their drinks, fetching their mail—far too often for his performance to be enjoyed without a fair amount of cringing. That’s a shame, really, because Pongo is clearly the muscle of the group, the heavy lifter, and the energy and physical mastery Nubret brings to his action scenes make them the highlights of the picture.

The film’s action begins when Torring and his team arrive in Bangkok to investigate the theft of a necklace belonging to the Thai royal family. The perpetrator of the theft is a gang led by Perkins, whose portrayal by Euro villain extraordinaire Horst Frank is a master class in effete menace. Perkins answers to a mysterious number one who is none to pleased when it is found that the necklace is missing a section, the absence of which makes it impossible to decipher the code contained within its pattern of jewels. Thus begins a campaign of extortion against Thai Prince Gulah in an effort to get him to divulge the location of the missing piece.


Meanwhile, Torring and his crew are assisted by Barrington (Carlo Tamberlani, also seen in the Kommissar X films The Green Hounds/Death Trip and Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill), the director of the museum that the necklace was stolen from. Also lending a hand is his assistant, Chitra, who is played by Metta Rungrat. Rungrat is a Thai actress whose meager credits included a bit part in the ill-fated Jim Kelly vehicle Hot Potato. She also co-starred with Thai superstar Sombat Methanee in a Thai Krasue film called Krasue Sao. Her part here is fairly substantial, as her character turns out to have more to do with the affair of the necklace than even she imagined at the outset.

Of course, this being a Eurospy film, Rolf, Hans and Pongo are assailed by myriad assassins from the moment they set foot in Thailand. To the filmmakers credit, each of these attempts in pretty nutso, one involving a little girl throwing a pot full of acid into Hans’ face and another a poison-coated butterfly. Pongo, of course, gets to wrestle and alligator, and Rolf, a tiger. Unfortunately for Perkins, none of this manages to prevent Team Torring from getting closer to finding the missing piece of the necklace—and with it the solution to the code that will lead them into the stunt and explosion filled climax.

Oh, and there’s also a monkey. He’s named Kango.


I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, despite my deep reservations about its racial attitudes, I enjoyed Thirteen Days to Die. It’s resemblance to a missing Kommissar X movie pretty much guarantees that. It’s got everything that makes any competently made Eurospy movie cozily diverting. The score, by German sexploitation veteran Gert Wilden, is a jazzy spy movie delight, complete with a chugging, Peter Gunn-style theme tune. And then there are familiar faces like Horst Frank and Carlo Tamberlani, whose very presence lulls you into a sense of security, false or otherwise. Nonetheless, it’s hard to enjoy any of these old spy movies without acknowledging the extent to which their heroes are simply defending the status quo, rather than working from any innate sense of justice. I guess in the 60s, people thought that was cool—until they didn’t anymore.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A bog of blogs


So I decided it was time to clean up the links in my Blog Roll, because—what with my new book, my podcast, my radio show and my writings elsewhere online—it seemed like I just didn’t have quite enough to do. In doing so, it occurred to me that I should maybe clarify for all of you what my policies regarding linking to other blogs are—even though that begs the question of whether any of you pay attention to the Blog Roll at all. I mean, have any of you found a blog you enjoy via a link from 4DK, or any other blog, for that matter? Until you can supply me with a succinct answer, I’m going to assume that you responded with an enthusiastic “yes” and continue with this post.

Because, you see, you can actually consider those links to other blogs in my sidebar as a personal recommendation from me. I don’t just link to a site because people ask me to. In fact, I won’t do it unless I have read and liked that blog and returned to it on at least an occasional basis. Given that, I was very happy to find on this latest pass that, aside from a couple of dead links, the vast majority of the few dozen blogs on the list are still thriving, with posts as recent as this week. Because, as you probably know, starting a blog is as risky a proposition as opening a coffee house in Seattle, or a jerk store in Jerkistan. Many are abandoned after a couple posts, left to drift eternally in the vast loneliness of cyberspace like a digital version of Laika the space dog. This is why it is important that your first post not be anything that requires a reader response, because nothing is sadder than a readers poll whose only response in fifteen years is a spam comment about Azerbaijani escorts.

Of course, I generally delete those derelict sites when I find them, except on a couple of conditions. If an author has kept her or his blog going long enough for it to have archival content rich enough for it still to be valuable to readers, it stays up. A good example is my pal David Wells’ blog Soft Film, which did the hard work of compiling a lot of hard-to-find information about classic Cantonese films in one place. Unfortunately, David chose to take that blog offline completely, taking with it a little of the world’s light, and so the link was tearfully removed. Still available for all to see, however, are Andrew “The Search For Weng Weng” Leavold’s twin blogs, Bamboo Gods and Bionic Boys and Destroy All Monstruous, both of which review a comprehensive list of classic pop films from, in the former case, the Philippines and, in the latter, Mexico. Also an inexhaustible source of wonder is Professor Grewbeard’s Magic Carpet Burn, which, though not updated since Halloween of 2011, still contains a wealth of drool worthy images of old comics, 60s kitsch, and monster movie ephemera. Greta Kaemmer’s Memsaabstory, if not for its many thoughtful, informative and highly amusing reviews, would still be up by virtue of the Nahiiin Face Gallery alone.

Then again, there are those abandoned blogs that remain on my list as my passive aggressive way of hectoring their authors into reviving them. These include Amrita Rajan’s Indiequill, as well as Rumnique Nannar’s Roti Kapada aur Rum, which left a black hole of shouty enthusiasm in its absence.

As I said, I recommend every one of these blogs, but when I look at 4DK’s blog roll I see a lot more than a personal “best of” list. I also see a vast combined knowledge that amounts to a kind of alternate film history, one in which more than just the winners have their say. I think of the thousands of neglected, ignored and forgotten films that these writers have struggled to drag into the light, whether out of altruism, sheer competitiveness, or obsessive curiosity. It makes me proud to be one of them. And because of that, I hope that each of these writers, when they choose to walk away from their respective projects, choose to leave them online for the enjoyment of future generations of pathetic film geeks such as ourselves. The ghosts of all those neglected, ignored, forgotten—and, yes, derided—will thank you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Now you can read PLEASE DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME anywhere!



Rejoice bibliophobes, for the last physical impediment to you reading my new novel, Please Don't Be Waiting For Me,--by which I mean actual books in all their loathsome, paper-based tactility--has been removed. In other words, an eBook version of PDBWFM has just been made available on Amazon for the perhaps-too-reasonable sum of $4.99 (you see, you have to make eBooks less expensive than print books because they kind of suck--hey, just my opinion!) If this is you, head on over to Besos' place and download that sucker.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Friday's best pop song ever

PLEASE DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME is GO!


Last night's launch event for my novel Please Don't Be Waiting For Me, held at Oakland's A Great Good Place For Books, came off swimmingly. Books were signed, questions asked and answered, pictures taken, booze consumed... in other words, a good time was had by all.


I want to thank Nancy Davis Kho for being such a great interlocutor (and for asking me a few questions I really hadn't expected) and Kathleen from GGPFB for so generously making her store available to us. But, most of all, I want to thank all of you who came by to show this grizzled old hack some love.




With this event out of the way, the book's release finally feels official. The next big step is it's release as an eBook next Tuesday. In the meantime, if you would like to hold a signing and/or reading and/or orgy of unrestrained adulation in your home town, contact us via the book's website: pdbwfm.com.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

BOOK EVENT TONIGHT!


That's right; it's time to stop waiting for the PLEASE DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME launch event, because it's goddamn TONIGHT! Stop by Oakland's A Great Good Place For Books at 7pm tonight to HEAR a hand-picked selection of classic punk tunes, a reading by yours truly and an interview with Nancy David-Kho. You will also DRINK the provided libations and SEE a bunch of old people who used to be cool (or just really sweaty and obnoxious--see above.) Oh, and also: you can BUY my book, which I will SIGN at your discretion--forced book signings being something that this repentant author has put long behind him. The surviving record will reflect that a good time was had by all who survived. (Photo by Erik Auerbach)

Monday, July 17, 2017

A great good place to start


I apologize for exposing you to the above image. It's harrowing, I know. But, you see, my book launch is this Wednesday, and I wanted to promote it with an image that would be memorable. And what's more memorable than something that causes you PTSD?

So the launch event for my new novel, Please Don't Be Waiting For Me , is coming up this Wednesday, July 19th at 7pm. The venue is A Great Good Place For Books, which is located at 6120 Lasalle Avenue in Oakland's Montclair District. And yes, I know that you'd love to come if only you didn't live in Podunk Holler or one of those awful cities in the middle and bla bla bla--but come on! You know you've been wanting to take a trip to the Bay Area, and Oakland has many... um, things to recommend it. Like trees and stuff. Oh, and a lake. We have a lake.

Events for the evening will be a reading by yours truly, and a chat between me and Nancy Davis Kho of the wonderful Midlife Mixtape blog. Alcoholic refreshments will be available, as will copies of my book for you to purchase. And yes, I will sign your book, if you so desire, but please heed this warning: no matter how obviously shellacked you appear, I will not sign your boob. That is a solemn act of statesmanship that only our president is qualified to perform.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Son of Ingagi (United States, 1940)


Son of Ingagi is one of approximately five hundred “Race” films made in the United States between 1915 and 1950. For those who don’t know, these were films with all African American casts that were made for primarily African American audiences. They were typically made outside the Hollywood studio system by small independent production companies—in the case of Son of Ingagi, by Alfred N. Sack’s Sacks Amusement Enterprises.

As the products of a segregated America, the Race Films, quite ironically, present us with a vision of America that can be seen nowhere else in the commercial cinema of the time. This is an America where blacks are doctors, lawyers, police detectives, scientists and a wide array of other urban professions. There is not a white face in sight, nor is any white presence even implied, and so the black actors are free from having to react to the oh-so-important doings of Caucasians and can instead relate to each other as equal inhabitants of an all-black milieu.


Of course, the presence of so many African American faces in front of the camera didn’t guaranty the presence of any behind it. Like most Race Films, Son of Ingagi was directed by a white man. Richard C. Khan directed a number of all-black pictures over the course of his 27+ year career, with a predilection for Westerns (Two Gun Man From Harlem, Harlem Rides the Range) and also a few straight-up exploitation films, like the lesbian expose The Third Sex, aka Children of Loneliness (“Every normal person should see this, an amazing motion picture!”) The writer of the film, however, was a black man, actor Spencer Williams, who wrote himself a part in the film as Detective Nelson. Though it has to be said that Williams’ portrayal of the detective draws somewhat on the jittery, bug-eyed shtick of the then-popular black comic actor Mantan Moreland.

Son of Ingagi has earned its place in the cult cinema canon by being one of the only—and, by some accounts, the only—race film in the horror/sci-fi genre. Its title might lead you to think that it is a sequel, but that title is only meant to forge a vague association with Ingagi, a popular exploitation film from 1930. Ingagi sounds as if it was a forerunner of the Mondo genre; a fake documentary that used its putative jungle setting as an excuse for lots of footage of topless native women (this at a time when National Geographic was the closest thing to pornography that a randy young lad could get his hand on.)


What Son of Ingagi and Ingagi do have in common is that both prominently feature an ape man as their central boogey man. In Son of Ingagi , that ape man is N’Gina (Zack Williams), a creature brought back from Africa by Dr. Helen Jackson (Laura Bowman), an elderly scientist bent on creating a wonder drug that will be “the greatest discovery in medicine since Louis Pasteur!” Jackson has trained N’Gina to respond to a Chinese gong, and uses him to get rid of her conniving brother when he threatens to report her hidden fortune to the feds. Unfortunately, when N’Gina accidentally drinks her potion, he becomes violent and kills her.

Enter Bob and Eleanor Lindsay (Alfred Grant and Daisy Buford), a newlywed couple who, despite Bob’s position as a foundry worker, are presented as the portrait of middle class rectitude and marital bliss. We meet them at an impromptu wedding reception where they are serenaded by the vocal group The Toppers, who also appear in the same years’ Mystery in Swing. Like the rest of their town’s residents, Bob and Eleanor simply regard Dr. Jackson as a cranky old hermit. That is, until an emotional Dr. Jackson reveals to them that she had a relationship with Eleanor’s father when they were both missionaries in Africa. If you are blind to the veiled implications of all this revelation , all will become clear when, upon Jackson’s death, Eleanor finds herself the surprised heir to her considerable fortune, as well as her creepy old house avec basement-dwelling ape man.


Once Bob and Eleanor move in, the rest of Son of Ingagi plays out like a classic “old dark house” tale, with various shady individuals—including Bob and Eleanor’s crooked lawyer, Bradshaw (Earle Morris)—trying to get their hands on the hidden treasure while N’Gina slips in and out of the house by way of a series of secret passages. Throughout, Zack Williams’ mournful expressions and stooped demeanor tell us clearly that we are meant to regard N’Gina with a degree of pathos, like Karloff’s Frankenstein. And when N’Gina abducts Eleanor and spirits her away to his basement cell, his tragic arc is nearly complete. As you’d expect from any classic monster movie, there will be fire and lots of screaming, as well as a chance for young Bob to emerge as the square jawed hero of the story, rising from the ashes with the damsel in distress draped across his arms.

What is immediately apparent about Son of Ingagi is that it was made on an almost impossibly low budget. Its flimsy looking, miniscule sets call attention to the stiff, theatrical manner of its staging and make some of its action scenes awkward. In addition, its monster make-up has been the target of derision by some, though I think it benefits the film by making so much of the actor’s face visible. I’d also venture that none of the actors here have anything to be ashamed of (especially Bowman and Williams) although their performances do conform to the highly stylized manner of acting that was the standard of the day.

These problems aside, it’s impossible to dismiss the impact of seeing a film like Son of Ingagi for the first time. If there was a racial version of the Bechdel Test, this film would pass it with flying, um, colors. Unlike the blaxploitation films of the 70s, which would usually include at least one crooked white cop or venal white slumlord, Son of Ingagi presents an enclosed world of blackness, where all forces, be they good, evil, comedic, or indifferent, wear an African American face. Admittedly, I may be idealizing it a bit, but I doubt that I’m the only one who feels that all of us, regardless of race, could benefit from seeing a few less white faces on our TV and movie screens these days.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Punk Offensive?


I'm going to call Wednesday's all-punk episode of Pop Offensive an unqualified success. Jeff Heyman and I, along with our old friend Matt Harvey, had a great time reminiscing about the old days--police raids, broken jaws, and all--hopefully without stultifying our audience. If we did, they had the playlist of wall-to-wall punk classics to rouse them from their torpor. Check it out for yourself by downloading the archived version of the episode from the KGPC website. And if you can't hear the song titles over all that guitar distortion, you can read the full playlist here on the Pop Offensive Facebook Page.

Oh, and by the way, the book is called Please Don't Be Waiting For Me and you can buy it here

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

WEDNESDAY! POP OFFENSIVE punks out!



On this week's Pop Offensive, Jeff and I will be joined by our old pal Matt Harvey to rock, reminisce and remember those punk rock days of yore--this, of course, in connection with the release of my new novel, Please Don't Be Waiting For Me, which you can purchase here. The playlist for the evening will be wall-to-wall punk rock classics, from the Clash, to the Buzzcocks, to the Weirdos, to the DKs and beyond. The whole sordid affair can be streamed live from http://kgpc969.org starting at 7pm this Wednesday, July 12th. Don't miss it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Yes, you can get it on Kindle...


WARNING: Parts of my new novel, PLEASE DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME, are so shocking that it might be dangerous to read while driving, walking, operating heavy machinery, or, of course, texting. Needless to say, that has not stopped me from making it available as an eBook so that you can do all of those things while reading it on that infernal mobile device that is probably glued to your nose at this very minute. You can pre-order it now by going here. Keep in mind, though, that you will not be able to download it until July, 25th, so try not to wander distractedly into the path of an oncoming locomotive until then.

Monday, June 26, 2017

PLEASE DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME is HERE!


I'm ecstatic to announce that, after a long series of hurdles that ended with a surprisingly generous proposal from the Sex Pistols' publishers, my first novel, Please Don't Be Waiting For Me is finally available to the public. In fact, you can at this very moment buy it for the very reasonable price of $7.95 by using either the link at the top of the sidebar, or by following this one here:

https://www.createspace.com/6971097

I'm asking you to purchase the book from Create Space because, while it is available from Amazon and other online retailers, I receive a larger percent of the proceeds if you buy it from there--and you get your book just as quickly. Brother got bills, people!

Of course, you're not obligated to buy it at any particular place, or at all, for that matter. Nor are you obligated to write a review of it on Goodreads and/or Amazon once you've read it. Although, you know, it would be nice.

For those of you who live in the Bay Area--or who are inclined to travel great distances for obscure reasons--a launch party for Please Don't Be Waiting For Me will be held at Oakland's A Great Good Place For Books on Wednesday, July 19th. I'll fill you in on details as they develop.

In the meantime, enjoy the book!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Friday's best pop song ever

Novyy Gulliver, aka New Gulliver (Russia, 1935)


Director Aleksandr Ptushko’s Novyy Gulliver was Russian cinema’s first feature length film to combine live action and stop motion animation. Of course, Russia was a few years behind Hollywood in performing that feat, as special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien had accomplished it as early as 1925 with The Lost World and would repeat it in 1933 with King Kong. Neither of those films, however, could be said to present as clear a condemnation of the exploitation of the proletariat as Novyy Gulliver does—which is of course what you would want from such a film.


Ptushko began his film career at Moscow’s Mosfilm Studios, where he started out sculpting puppets for use in other animators’ films. He quickly moved into making films of his own, starting out with a series of animated shorts featuring a character called Bratishkin. More shorts followed and, by 1933, he had assembled a large enough team to begin work on the ambitious Novyy Gulliver.

The film concerns an upstanding Russian youth named Petya (played by 15 year old actor Vladimir Konstantinon) who, while on an outing with his communist youth group, falls asleep during a reading of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. As he sleeps, Petya sees the novel play out in his mind, but, because his head is so full of communism, it turns into a weird Marxist parable. This is not too surprising, as, when we meet Petya, he and his fellow scouts are marching in lockstep while singing a jaunty song about the joys of labor in which they call themselves "flying Leninists.”

Now inhabiting the role of Gulliver, Petya awakes to find himself prisoner of the tiny Liliputians—or, more specifically, of the Liliputian royals. In depicting Liliput’s ruling class, Ptushko draws heavily upon the court of Louis XIV. There is no mistaking this rogue’s gallery for what they are: a collection of spoiled libertines who are living lives of idle extravagance at the expense of the common folk. The king is clearly a simpering idiot, and can only address his public by lip synching to pre-recorded speeches. The real power in the kingdom is held by the King’s chief of police, who uses the military to keep the laborers and general populace in line.


The Chief’s leadership style is, of course, a paranoid one, and so his greatest concern, upon the arrival of Gulliver, is that Gulliver will side with the workers. His answer to this is to recruit Gulliver, whom he refers to as a “human mountain”, to the capitalist cause. This works only until Gulliver sees the chief whipping one of the laborers, at which point he rises to his full, enormous height and regales the crowd with a booming version of the happy working song from the beginning of the film. It is at this point that the Chief determines that this meddling Socialist giant must be killed, but his initial attempts are foiled by the wily Gulliver.

It could be said that Novyy Gulliver‘s combination of live action and animation is more sequential than it is simultaneous. After a live action prologue, it is with the introduction of the Liliputians that the film’s employment of stop motion animation begins, and that it indeed starts to consist of almost nothing but. Ptushko and his crew take a lot of editorial license with the puppet sculpts, making the royals a grotesque lot with bulbous eyes and tremulous, gaping mouths. On the other hand, the workers are portrayed as colorless and almost identical in appearance, like a bunch of green plastic army men given life.


The craft evident in Novyy Gulliver’s execution may be its best argument for the virtues of collective labor. Employing many hundreds of puppets--some with as many as a hundred or more different heads to portray different expressions--it was clearly a massive undertaking. Even more so given that few of these puppets were allowed to remain idle, as Ptushko and his crew took pains to create movement in every corner of the frame. As many of the scenes in the film are crowd scenes, that amounts to hundreds of tiny manipulations per frame. It is perhaps for this reason that, when Vladimir Konstantinon is required to act in close proximity to one of the Liliputians, the filmmakers give themselves a break and use an actual doll or hand operated puppet.

The gears of the royal’s downfall are set in motion when the Chief puts the laborers to the task of building a weapon that will kill Gulliver. Unknown to him, the workers have decided to throw their lot in with Gulliver and stage a revolt in the weapons factory, killing the foreman in the process. This scene, which owes a heavy debt to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is aided immeasurably by a nightmarishly phantasmagorical miniature set in which the bizarre looking factory machinery looms over the workers like malevolent giant insects. More clever staging is employed by the climax that follows, a spectacular puppet battle royal that sees more toy tanks blowing up than a Showa era Godzilla movie.


One of the most fascinating things about Novyy Gulliver is how it employs a medium so often used toward more whimsical ends to depict the grim, life-and-death stakes of class war. In other words, Baby New Year this is not: if all the caricatured puppets and cartoon sound effects lull you into thinking that the end that awaits the King and his chief of police will be in any way pretty, you have another think coming.

Then again, at the end, all of Novyy Gulliver's events turns out to have been a dream—and we are returned to a world where militarized children sing about how awesome it is to work in a factory.