The Short, Embarrassing History of Man (and Superman) Riding Rockets
If the subject of men riding rockets in the movies ever comes up (and when doesn't it?), most of us think of Maj. Kong (Slim Pickens) at the end of “Dr. Stangelove,” whooping it up Texas-style as he and the world are about to end forever:
But Slim was sloppy seconds in the nuke-missle riding category by nearly 15 years. The Man of Steel beat him to it.
The above screenshots are taken from the 1950 serial “Atom Man vs. Superman,” chapter 14. Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot) has just shot a missile at Metropolis, and Superman (Kirk Alyn) soars to the rescue and stradles it (cough), and then, at the beginning of the next and final chapter, rides it out to sea, where it explodes harmlessly. Well, “harmlessly.” It was a nuke, after all.
It's a bizarre image to see in 2013—and maybe in 1950, too. Still don't know what Supes is doing in that third photo but don't tell me there wasn't laughter on the set.
I didn't know it when I was watching it, but Supes is simply following a comic-book tradition, particularly big during World War II, of superheroes riding rockets. Here's three of them. I'm sure there are many more:
Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. and Uncle Sam during WWII, when men riding rockets was all the rage.
So at least we know where Maj. Kong got the idea.
Wa ... hoo?
Quote of the Day
“We started to work [on 'The Producers' on Broadway] and it was shortly after that, sadly, that my husband [director Mike Okrent] became ill with leukemia ... and we lost him. [She begins to break down.] Sorry.
”He wanted me to go on as the director and choreographer. I didn't think I could do it just because how I was feeling. But Mel said, 'Stro, you will cry in the morning and you will cry in the evening. You'll cry before you see me and you'll cry after you leave. But you will laugh all during the day.'
“And it saved me. It really did.”
-- Susan Stroman, director and producer of the Broadway musical “The Producers,” talking about Mel Brooks for the PBS American Masters documentary, “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise,” which aired Monday night.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
Third in a series. Collect them all.
What the hell is Superman doing here? Is he greeting us? Trying out the Vulcan salute? Taunting us about our inability to fly? Taking a cue from pigeons and shitting on humanity? And what the hell is this from anyway?
It's from “Atom Man vs. Superman,” a 1950 serial starring Kirk Alyn as the Man of Steel. Two years earlier, in “Superman,” Alyn's was the first live-action cinematic portrayal of Superman, but Columbia couldn't (or couldn't be bothered) to recreate him flying. So in the first serial Alyn simply turns into a cartoon and takes to the air, then lands behind a rock and emerges as himself. In the second serial, “Atom Man,” we do get a few shots of Alyn navigating the air, looking downward with concern, but most of the heavy flying is still done with animation. And here? Superman is getting ready to land feet-first through a window, which accounts for the oddness of the pose.
5th and Wall
I usually bike to work but I walked this morning. It's about a 45-minute walk through downtown Seattle, and I was heading north down 5th when I had to wait for the red at 5th and Wall. I'm no Seattleitie, by the way, I'll run that red on foot (or on bike), but there was a lot of traffic heading west on Wall, so there was no opportunity. Even though most of that traffic was turning left onto 5th.
In case you don't know: Seattle's famed monorail (cue: “The Simpsons”) bisects 5th, leaving two lanes on one side and one on the other, and I noticed a lot of the traffic was turning from the middle lane of Wall into the far, single lane of 5th. I wondered if they were allowed to do this. Then I saw the straight-or-left arrow painted on the street in the middle lane. So: yes. Still, it seemed slightly dangerous. What if the car in the left lane on Wall wanted that far lane of 5th? I imagined accidents happening.
Then I nearly saw one. Just before the light turned red (for them), an SUV in the middle lane on Wall turned left ... but into the near lane, cutting off a driver in the near lane on Wall who was about to turn into the near lane of 5th. Luckily that driver was observant. He put on the brakes, and the SUV kept driving.
That's capitalism to me. Being careful, observant, respectful helps you not at all. The dick move gets you ahead.
Movie Review: The Deep (2012)
I kept trying to place Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, the star of “The Deep,” the 2012 movie that was nominated for 16 Edda Awards, Iceland’s Oscars, and won 11 of them, including best picture, director, and actor. It was the second best actor in a row for Ólafsson, even though he’s hardly leading man material. He’s overweight, frumpy, and in Hollywood would be typecast as a villain or the best friend; but in Iceland he’s Tom Hanks. Except he was reminding me of someone else.
At first I thought of Clancy Brown, who played the sadistic guard in “The Shawshank Redemption. I sorted through other options, including Chuck McCann, whom I knew best from the Saturday morning live-action show, “Far Out Space Nuts, ” before it hit me: Vincent D’Onofrio. Both men are charismatic when they want, intense when they want, and both of these factors are important in playing Gulli, a national hero in Iceland, an ordinary man who, one horrible evening, defies the sea, human nature, and, ultimately, science.
Gulli is a fisherman on Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands), an archipelago off the southern coast of Iceland best-known for a 1973 volcano eruption that forced a month-long evacuation of the entire island. Gulli was a teenager at the time—we see him in flashback—but now it’s 1984 and Gulli’s a young, aimless man. He’s part of a crew of six on a fishing boat, the Breki, but seems to lack the passion or focus of the others. One is a family man, with a wife and two boys, another has an extensive LP collection and a dog, a third loses himself in drink, a fourth in women. Gulli? He’s just there. At the local bar on a dark frigid evening, he teases the new cook, then comes to his aid when a fight breaks out. His temper, we see, is fierce, but he’s a decent sort. There’s a girl, too, pretty, and a suggestion of a history, but Gulli doesn’t act on it. He still lives with his parents. He still drinks milk from the carton.
He also seems fairly impervious to cold. On a frigid December morning, when the crew of the Breki is going out despite a recent winter storm, and everything from cars to ropes creak with frost and cold, Gulli is hanging out hatless and gloveless, wearing an unzipped jacket with an open flannel shirt underneath. He’s just hanging.
Going in, we know the boat will capsize but we don’t know why. Is it the weather? Palli (Jóhann G. Jóhannsson), the family man, places a damp drawing his son made for him on a heater. Will that start a fire? We get bits from the crew: the alcoholic throwing up in the engine room; the cook unable to make a good cup of coffee for the captain; the watching of “Jaws” on Betamax and a discussion about thow they need to switch over to VHS.
Early in the day, the fishing nets get caught on something on the bottom of the ocean and the boat tilts precariously before extricating itself. So it’s not that. But it happens again in the evening, and the captain, not wanting to lose the nets, which are new, doesn’t order them cut loose. The boat tilts, and tilts, and finally goes over. The men go in. Most die quickly. Three cling to wreckage: Gulli, Palli, and the Captain. But the wreckage keeps getting swamped. The air temperature, we’re told, is 27 degrees, the water temperature 41, and they’re three miles out. “I’m so cold,” Palli says. “We can’t just die here!” the Captain says, panicking, “we have to start swimming.” He does, leaving the other two, but he doesn’t go far. Gulli spots a nearby boat, shouts and waves, but isn’t heard, and in that moment Palli dies, too. “If you make it … ” he begins to tell Gulli. Then nothing. Then his hand goes limp. Gulli, alone, begins to swim. At which point the camera pulls back and we see a lone man bobbing up against a vast, cold blackness.
On his painful journey, he talks to seagulls, tries to tell jokes (but can’t remember the punchlines), remembers the past, makes promises for the future. He gets angry. He prays. He promises that if he’s given just one more day this is what he’ll do. He won’t drink milk from a carton but from a glass—to please his mother. He’ll visit Palli’s wife and kids and tell them how he died—nobly, and thinking of them. He’ll visit his friend’s dog. He’ll pay off his motorcycle so he’ll have no debts. Then he’ll visit the girl from the bar, the one with whom he has a history. This time he won’t just walk past her house. This time he’ll go in. If he’s given just one more day.
And here his troubles began
One of the most horrifically ironic subtitles I’ve come across is from Art Spiegelman’s “Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale,” which, after the first volume of various Nazi horrors culminating in husband and wife taken to Auschwitz, is subtitled, “And Here My Troubles Began.”
I thought of this when Gulli makes it to shore. It’s still night, it’s still dark, and he’s been through hell. But shore, when he reaches it, is a horror of pounding waves and sharp rocks that lead to a cliff face that can’t be scaled. So he has to go back. He has to go out into the surf again. When he finally finds a cliff face he can scale, and reaches its top, he sees nothing but desolation. The ground is cooled lava and cuts his bare feet. He has to fashion socks out of the arms of his shirt. He keeps throwing up all the salt water he’s swallowed. When he reaches a town, a kid thinks he’s a drunk. When he’s finally taken to a hospital, his body temperature is below 93 degrees. He has no heartbeat. Yet he lives.
There’s confusion at first. He said the boat went down where? And he swam how long? That’s impossible. But they find the wreckage where he said it was. A Reykjavik scientist hears of the tale and is intrigued, since what’s being talked about is scientifically impossible. A man can’t survive that long in temperatures that cold. Studies are done. When they prove inconclusive, Gulli is taken to London where more studies are done. With monitors all over his body, he’s placed in a tub filled with ice with three chiseled members of the Special Forces. Their best lasts 19 minutes. He lasts hours. It’s survival of the unfittest. His body fat is like seal fat, we’re told, but even that doesn’t explain it. He still shouldn’t have lived.
In a way he’s not. His survival is not triumphant at all. He suffers survivor’s guilt, and seems halfway between the living and the dead. And the day he promised if God let him live? Where’s that?
Bring warm clothes
“The Deep,” written by Jón Atli Jónasson and Baltasar Kormákur, and directed by Kormákur, is a quiet, matter-of-fact film that’s as unpretentious as the people it portrays, and much recommended. It’s spare. No real answers are given for what happens, but at some point Gulli has had enough of the tests and he returns to Vestmannaeyjar; and he has that day he promised God. He visits his friend with the LPs and the old dog, who doesn’t respond to him until he puts on the music. Then the dog is his. He visits Palli’s widow and her kids and gives them a kind of closure. But he doesn’t find his. He still doesn’t visit the girl. That’s the part he can’t do. Instead he returns to fishing. He goes out to sea again with another crew. Does he go like Superman? Like someone the sea can’t kill? No. He goes like Gulli.
Did I want more from the end? Yes. But it works. “The Deep” is a movie about blunt facts: what the sea does to you; what the cold does to you. At the end you’ll feel chilled to the bone. Bring warm clothes.
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, the Tom Hanks of Iceland, before the plunge.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
This is from Filmation's 1966 Saturday morning cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman,” which is probably my first encounter with the Man of Steel. In an episode entitled, “The Mermen of Emor” (written by Oscar Bensol), Clark and Jimmy are in Italy, for some reason, and they come upon a mystery: experienced scuba divers going missing off the coast. Turns out the title characters are responsible. The mermen capture the divers, bring them to some underground lair, and use them in gladiatorial-like contests. (That's why Italy.) At this point in the story, Jimmy's gone missing, while Clark, oblivious, is simply enjoying a nice espresso at an outdoor cafe. Love the expression on his face. “What, a man can't wear an ascot, and drink espresso in outdoor cafes in Italy, without people talking?” Nope, apparently not.
Movie Review: Out of Print (2013)
“Out of Print” is a documentary about the shift from the printing press to this. It’s not a small shift. So many areas are involved—historical, cultural, sociological, economic, legal, neurophysiological—it would require a series of documentaries to do them right. “Out of Print” is 55 minutes long. It’s the CliffsNotes version of the topic.
Remember CliffsNotes? Dull synopses of great works of literature for students too lazy to read the book. Now students are too lazy to read CliffsNotes. Now they go to websites and cut-and-paste. Maybe they come here. Hey you. Stop that. Stop I said.
From the birth of a written language, possibly in Mesopotamia, to scrolls in 3,000 BC, to codices around the time of Christ, to Gutenberg and mechanical movable type in the 15th century, to the creation of public libraries in the 17th century, to Alexander Carnegie’s gift of public libraries across the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century, the flow of information through a visual representation of language has gotten easier and easier. Now we’ve gone digital. Now we’re all here. Welcome.
As a writer, I’m interested in the economics of this shift. If anyone can write, anyone does. If it’s all out there for free, how does anyone get paid? By singing his didn’t? By dancing his did? (Confused? Visit your local library. Kidding. Google: e.e. cummings.)
As the ground is shifting beneath us, a few are making a mint (Google, Bezos) while the majority are struggling to survive (writers, photographers, libraries, bookstores). This gets a big ho-hum from most. It’s the way of the world, they say. A new technology comes in and wipes out the old professions. We’re all cutters now.
Johnny can’t analyze
But beyond economics, beyond copyright issues and pirating, beyond the digitizing of libraries and the fear of Google and Bezos and where will our libraries and bookstores be in 10 or 20 years (if they be), the biggest issue the doc raises, for me, is this: What is it doing to us? If books are the foundation of civilization, if Gutenberg led to the Renaissance, what is this leading us to?
Kids average 7.5 hours a day in front of screens? What does that mean?
They don’t go to the library to look things up anymore? They just Google it? No duh. But what does that mean? And what is lost? And what—since you can’t Google everything, since everything isn’t under the umbrella of Google yet—are they missing? What are we all missing?
If everything’s easy to find, where’s the joy in finding it? Watching this doc, I flashed back to articles I wrote in the 1990s, and the research I did at the various libraries at the University of Washington, and the nuggets I pulled out. For an article on David Horsey, the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winner for editorial cartooning, I found his early editorial cartoons for The Daily, the University of Washington school newspaper, and it led to this paragraph in the final piece:
Horsey was so successful at the UW Daily that by 1972 they were printing “The Best of Horsey” in their pages; they also interviewed him in the in-bred fashion of college newspapers. Photographs show Horsey bedecked in tight turtleneck, love beads, and, one imagines, hopeless idealism. In a comment that causes the adult Horsey to roar with laughter, for example, his younger self opined, “I can’t see myself spending my life in an office. ... I don’t want to be working for a bunch of fat old men in an office all day long.”
The concern isn’t that Johnny can’t read but can’t analyze. He just extracts data. They all do. The documentary includes a story about a 7th-grade class reading a website about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, and the different ways to save it, and everyone believed it. I was reminded of a recent incident in which a friend, in her 20s, told me that Justice Scalia was retiring. For a second, my hopes were raised. Then I went, “Wait, where did you get this? The New Yorker site? Andy Borowitz?” I shook my head.
On the other hand, I certainly know one kid who’s good with critical thinking. Is he an anomaly? Does it help that he reads big books all the way through?
Hunt and peck
That’s another of the pervasive fears in the doc. In the Internet age, we’re distracted and nibble at bits of information and move on. We visit Facebook and Twitter three times a day, five times, 10 times. We don’t meditate enough with one big, slow source of information: a book. We hunt and peck at the computer screen and come away hungrier than ever.
Unfortunately, that’s what “Out of Print” is like, too. It’s no slow meditation. It hunts and pecks after little bits of information and tosses them to us and we gobble them. But we come away hungry. Worse, it tries to end on a up-note (the children are our future), but, given everything that’s come before, it’s a false up-note. The director, Vivienne Roumani, is a former librarian who now does this. A testimonial might have been interesting.
Here’s my testimonial. For most of my adult life, whenever I found a writer I liked, I tried to read their entire oeuvre. I did this with many writers: Salinger, Irving, Vonnegut, Roth, Doctorow, Morrison, Tolstoy, Baldwin, Updike, Kundera, Mailer. I still think of myself as the kind of person who does this but my last such author was Tobias Wolff in 1997. Since then I’ve read fewer and fewer books, less and less fiction. Maybe I haven’t found the right author. Maybe they’re not publishing the right authors. Or maybe 1997 is the year I got my first dial-up account and went online.
Action Comics No. 1 Found in Wall in Elbow Lake, Minn. Home
A 34-year-old man in northern Minnesota, David Gonzalex, who works in construction and remodeling, buys a dilapidated house in nearby Elbow Lake, Minn., for $10,100, with the idea of remodeling it and selling it at a higher price. While tearing out the walls, he found old newspapers used to insulate the walls. And amid those newspapers? Action Comics No. 1.
Not Action Comics No. 8. Not Detective Comics No. 96. Not Archie No. 51 but Action Comics No. 1. The magazine that introduced Superman, and thus superheroes, to the world. The most high-priced comic book in the world.
Then how awful is this? Amid the excitement about the find, his wife's aunt grabbed the comic out of his hands, and when he grabbed it back, the back cover ripped. That downgraded the comic, according to collectors from a 3 to a 1.5 in quality. (10 is mint condition.)
But how great that he shrugs it off.
Gonzalez said he has no regrets about the argument that damaged his discovery. “I am a humble working guy ... Money won’t buy you happiness.”
To be honest, I think I'm angrier at his wife's aunt than he is.
David Gonzalez (right) with the remodeling find of the year (left).
Superman Screenshot of the Day
I've been watching all of the old “Superman” movies in anticipation of “Man of Steel,” out next month, and the above is from the 15-chapter serial “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950), starring Kirk Alyn (as Superman) and Lyle Talbot (as Lex Luthor). But I assume the above isn't Alyn. I assume it's a stuntman. I just like the look of the shot: the graininess, the hard-to-read label on the box (Explosive? Singular?), the sense of action. It feels like it's from a different time, which, of course, it is. It feels like original source material. It feels like ur-Superman. Out of our grainy past comes the Man of Tomorrow.
I'll probably do a few of these before the premiere of “Man of Steel” next month.
Quote of the Day
“To recap: Don’s real name is Dick Whitman. His prostitute mother died in childbirth; his dad, her john, beat him. His fundamentalist stepmother called him a 'whore’s child.' Then his father got kicked in the head by a horse, and the stepmother moved in with her sister, herself a prostitute, living in a brothel. The stepmother, heavily pregnant with Don’s half brother, prostituted herself to her brother-in-law, as the teen-age Don knelt outside her door. He watched them, through the keyhole, have sex. C’mon, now. This is no longer the backstory of a serial adulterer; it’s the backstory of a serial killer.
”We haven’t even got to the part where Whitman goes to fight in Korea, accidentally blows up his superior officer, Don Draper, steals his identity, forms a secret relationship with his widow (she’s motherly, yet also somewhat prostitute-like, since he pays for her upkeep), becomes a greaser, and seduces a model who is also concerned primarily with appearances. Eventually, he gets into advertising, and when his half brother, Adam, finds him, Don rejects him, and Adam hangs himself. It’s not that none of this makes sense, or could make sense; it’s just too much, overdetermined. None of the other characters has this sort of reverse-engineered psychology, and for good reason: it’s a lazy way to impose meaning.“
-- Emily Nussbaum, in her New Yorker piece, ”Faking It: 'Mad Men''s Don Draper problem," an article that is particularly smart on Don's ad campaigns at the show's beginning and now: how he avoided death with cigarettes in 1960 and how he sees it on a Hawaiian beach in 1968.
What can I say? It's all true.
Stories from the Birth of Xbox
In another life I was an STE (Software Test Engineer) at MGS (Microsoft Games Studio) during the early years of Xbox, testing, specifically, sports games. With the launch, yesterday, of the third generation of Xbox, Xbox One, I thought I'd share a story or two about those times.
Microsoft always seems to run its various groups like little Mom-n-Pop operations, as if they had no connection to this monstrous entity called Microsoft with its $49 billion in cash reserves. At meetings for Microsoft Games Studio (MGS), which occurred monthly in the cafeteria, I was always perplexed by the rah-rah high school atmosphere that pervaded; the sense that this organization was somehow the underdog, and, in the next big game, we were finally, finally gonna kick some ass and show the big boys what-for. I always wanted to say, “But you’re Microsoft!” Probably half the people in the room wanted to say that. Three-quarters. Everybody.
But in 2000 and 2001, in the gaming world, Microsoft was the underdog. They’d arrived late to the game, when industry leaders had already been established in hardware (Sony’s Playstation platform) and software (EA Games), and mere bluster didn’t count for much, and imitation wasn’t the sincerest form of flattery. It was a cause for litigation.
When “NFL Fever” was launched in November 2001, for example, it was immediately compared to the industry leader in football console games: EA’s “Madden NFL.” “Fever”’s graphics were better, and the gameplay, at times, was better, but in the end it was simply too similar for gamers to abandon what they’d always known. Early PC buyers were willing to abandon the Macintosh OS for the similar-looking Windows because, with IBM-compatible hardware, Windows was cheaper. “Fever” wasn’t cheaper, it was just similar. This was the Microsoft mindset. Maybe it's the mindset of most corporations. I remember testing “NFL Fever” in the summer before it launched, and for a month butting heads with the UI developer over a particular issue. The Project Manager and Game Designer always came down on his side. Then another tester told me, “Check to see how ‘Madden’ does it.” I did. They did it my way. I added this to the bug. It was fixed the next day.
In 2001, Bill Gates was just giving away Xboxes. Kidding. People waited all night to buy one for $299.
Milestone: 400 Parts Per Million
“A lot of what’s known about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be traced back to a chemist named Charles David Keeling, who, in 1958, persuaded the U.S. Weather Bureau to install a set of monitoring devices at its Mauna Loa observatory, on the island of Hawaii. By the nineteen-fifties, it was well understood that, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, humans were adding vast amounts of carbon to the air. But the prevailing view was that this wouldn’t much matter, since the oceans would suck most of it out again. Keeling thought that it would be prudent to find out if that was, in fact, the case. The setup on Mauna Loa soon showed that it was not.
”Carbon-dioxide levels have been monitored at the observatory ever since, and they’ve exhibited a pattern that started out as terrifying and may be now described as terrifyingly predictable. They have increased every year, and earlier this month they reached the milestone of four hundred parts per million. No one knows exactly when CO2 levels were last this high; the best guess is the mid-Pliocene, about three million years ago. At that point, summertime temperatures in the Arctic were fourteen degrees warmer than they are now and sea levels were some seventy-five feet higher.“
-- Elizabeth Kolbert, in her piece, ”Lines in the Sand," mostly about whether Pres. Obama will approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska. Her arguments against, including an explanation of what tar-sands oil is, start in the 7th paragraph.
Movie Reviews - 2013
Movie Reviews - 2012
Movie Reviews - 2011
Movie Reviews - 2010
Movie Reviews - 2009
Movie Reviews - 2000s
Movie Reviews - 1990s
Movie Reviews - 1980s
Movie Reviews - 1970s
Movie Reviews - 1960s
Movie Reviews - 1950s
Movie Reviews - 1940s
Movie Reviews - 1930s
Movie Reviews - 1920s
Movies - Box Office
Movies - Documentaries
Movies - Foreign
Movies - The Oscars
Movies - Scene of the Day
Movies - Studios
Movies - Theaters
Movies - Trailers
Quote of the Day
What Liberal Hollywood?
Box Office Mojo
The Film Experience
Large Ass Movie Blogs