Tuesday, February 22, 2011

LEGO Noir: The Third Man (1949)

I'm a huge fan of Carol Reed's post-war noir classic, The Third Man (1949), which means that I naturally wanted to recreate images from the film in LEGO. I'm not entirely satisfied with these, but I'm going to keep working on a definitive LEGO version of some image from the film. A friend with a wide angle lens has offered to come over and see if we can make the tunnel seem deeper. Hopefully that will help!

In the film, Joseph Cotten arrives in the still-smoking wreck of post-war Vienna looking for an old friend who has promised him a job. Cotten's character is a writer, which of course means that he's broke, so he needs the work. Unfortunately, he gets there just in time for the friend's funeral. The mysterious and supposedly deceased friend is a guy named Harry Lime, played by an astonishingly handsome Orson Welles. Harry is thought to be dead for the first part of the movie and then presents himself as a thoroughly enigmatic figure in the second half, so it's appropriate that most of the publicity stills for the film show him in shadow or shoot him so that his face remains unseen.

The movie ends with a brilliant chase sequence through the dark tunnels beneath Vienna. Many of the publicity stills feature this shadowy underworld, and so I have represented it here. The LEGO tunnel is built using a technique that allows for a curved shape, but it can only be bent so far, which means that my tunnel is not as narrow as I would like. I do like the shot in which Harry is trying to escape up a ladder out of the tunnels; my minifig actor certainly has the right expression of panic.

Friday, February 18, 2011

LEGO Noir: Double Indemnity (1944)

I'm still playing with shadows and camera angles for my LEGO shoots. This time it's scenes from Double Indemnity (1944), with Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson. I wanted to do something with a good femme fatale, and it's hard to beat Stanwyck as scheming Phyllis Dietrichson. One of the best scenes of the film involves Stanwyck hiding behind a door while MacMurray tries to get rid of Edward G. Robinson. The LEGO version recreates the basic set-up, although there's no good way to replicate the shadow that Robinson throws against the hallway wall, and the size and shape of minifigures require some allowances to be made for positioning.

The femme fatale is an especially fun character to photograph because the use of lighting and angles can make her seem like a helpless kitten one minute and a man-eating tigress the next. Double Indemnity does this to great effect; the camera shows us which side of her personality Phyllis is revealing at any given moment. Again, the hallway shots are famous for their depiction of her barely repressed menace. Hidden behind the door, Phyllis is partly in shadow and partly illuminated, reflecting her dual nature and suggesting how little we (and MacMurray's Walter Neff) really know about her. We see this half-shadow/half-light image a lot in noir because all noir characters have hidden aspects and secrets. You never really know the other people who come into your life as well as you think, and sometimes that ignorance - and your assumption that you have any real knowledge - comes back to bite you. It certainly hits home for Walter Neff, who doesn't get the money or the woman, although he does get a bullet and a couple of corpses thanks to his fascination with Phyllis.

Of course, Walter's equally to blame for following her down the primrose - or, in this case, honeysuckle - path to destruction. Another angle of the famous door shot shows how Phyllis and Walter are linked, like two sides of a bad penny, the yin and the yang of damned desire. Divided by the door (as they are divided by their murder of Phyllis' husband and by their distrust of each other), they are nonetheless inextricably connected. As Robinson's character, Barton Keyes, says, they've got to ride that trolley car together all the way to the end of the line, whether they like it or not, and the last stop is the cemetery.

LEGO noir: The Maltese Falcon

Even LEGO people love film noir. Here's Sam Spade to prove it! I'm trying to learn how to take photos of my LEGO vignettes using noir lighting and shadows. These are inspired by publicity stills of Humphrey Bogart for The Maltese Falcon (1941). I wish I had time to build elaborate sets for my photo shoots, but right now I am focusing on close-up shots that can be put together and taken down pretty quickly. I'm mostly interested in recreating the lighting, shadows, and general mood. Sadly, it's hard to get a good Bogie hairline on a minifigure, and they definitely need to make a better selection of men's hats for the little guys. Still, I think the pictures came out rather well.

Femmes Fatales, Film Noir, and Freshmen

The following post is adapted from a conference paper I presented at the Popular Culture Association in the South meeting in 2008. I'm posting it this week as part of the film noir blogathon, For the Love of Film (Noir), which is raising funds to help the Film Noir Foundation.

Dark City (1998)
With the release of blockbuster films like Sin City and the revival of cultural interest in characters like Batman, film noir has enjoyed something of a resurgence in the last few years. College age film goers and cultural consumers love dark violence and tortured protagonists, but they rarely recognize those elements as the territory of noir. Generally speaking, they have no idea what noir even is, much less where modern cultural productions are coming from when they draw on its conventions and traditions. This interesting combination of cultural currency and generational ignorance makes noir an especially productive choice for teaching film in lower level courses. I began to recognize noir’s potential for the classroom when I started teaching Alex Proyas’ 1998 film, Dark City, in Introduction to Literature courses some years ago. I quickly realized that my students liked the film but had no contextual knowledge on which to build a more sophisticated understanding of what they saw. Eventually the unit on film evolved into a fully-fledged engagement of film noir and its themes, and student evaluations of the course have proven it to be the biggest hit of the semester, far outstripping the units on poetry, short fiction and drama, and even surpassing a popular novel unit on Treasure Island in terms of student enthusiasm and response.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
For those who might be less familiar with the term, “film noir” refers to a cinematic style first popular in American film in the 1940s and 50s, with the classic period of noir spanning from the 1941 release of The Maltese Falcon to the 1958 release of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. The term “film noir,” which suggests the darkness and fatalism typical of these films, was first coined by French critics watching American films in the years following World War II. Early noir films were often produced as “B” movies that were quickly filmed for as little money as possible, and they flew somewhat under the radar of the censors, whose attention to such matters was not as keen during the all-consuming war years. Taking their cues from hard-boiled crime fiction of the period and German expressionist film of the 1930s, noir films presented World War II era audiences with a gritty alternative to the bourgeois optimism and increasing social homogeneity that transformed American culture in the years following the war. Noir touched on themes that spoke to the barely suppressed fears of its original audiences, from paranoia and disillusionment to betrayal and the grinding inescapability of personal fate. The hard-boiled private detective and the seductive femme fatale would emerge as the quintessential icons of noir, with actors like Bogart and Stanwyck personifying the grim cool of the true noir soul. Later generations have alternately rejected and embraced the dark charms of noir, with the early “neo-noir” movement epitomized by Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) later evolving into postmodern noir and the sci-fi hybrid of “tech-noir” characterized by films like Blade Runner (1982). More recently, films like Memento, Brick, Sin City, A History of Violence, and, arguably, Batman Begins, have brought noir style back into the cinemas and into DVD viewers’ homes, along with television series like Veronica Mars and The Dresden Files.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
In the classroom, of course, our discussion of noir has to begin with a similar definition, since most of my students are unfamiliar with the term and few have seen enough older films to grasp the idea very quickly. They have a vague idea about the identity of Humphrey Bogart, thanks primarily to the lionization and commercialization of Casablanca, but they have never heard of noir’s other stalwarts, including the likes of Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, Barbara Stanwyck, and Dana Andrews. They are utterly unfamiliar with classic Hollywood’s plethora of important directors. We cover elements like cinematography, lighting, and editing in a very basic way, using props and examples from popular modern films to illustrate the ideas. We discuss the main character types of noir, including the detective, the damaged man, the good girl, and, of course, the femme fatale. At this point I ask the class how many of them have seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and a light bulb appears almost visibly over most of their heads. We watch the scene where Jessica Rabbit first enters the film and performs the number “Why Don’t You Do Right?” to a bewitched, bothered, and bewildered Bob Hoskins as detective Eddie Valiant. The basic information gives the students some tools to apply to the films they’ll be studying, and Roger Rabbit primes the enthusiasm pump. At this point, they’re ready for a movie.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
 I allow my students to vote on the noir film that we will actually watch in class, but I make them choose a classic film, an old school, black and white, traditional noir. Generally, I offer them The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Out of the Past (1947), and Sunset Boulevard (1950). I give a brief description of each film and show trailers if time allows. They have generally chosen either The Maltese Falcon or Sunset Boulevard, and Boulevard goes over particularly well. Certainly, it’s hard to beat a maniacal Gloria Swanson, a talking dead man, and a monkey funeral for sheer spectacle value to get the attention of a group of restless freshmen. I force the class to choose a classic film because the basic themes and images of noir are being worked out in those texts, and those films will be the foundations on which later noir depends. I also know that, given the choice, they will instinctively choose a newer, more familiar, more comfortable color film. The entire class will watch this one film together, but their assignment allows them to watch additional films on their own and write about those for the required essay. Once students see and like one classic noir film, they are much more likely to choose other classic films as well as newer ones for these additional encounters.
Tension (1949)
One very important element of this assignment is the library of noir DVDs that I maintain for students to borrow as we make our way through the unit. I keep a collection of films, especially the older and harder to find ones, for student use. The lending library encourages the students to watch more films and to engage the idea of noir in more interesting and personal ways, and it leads to a more diverse set of essays. I also provide students with a long list of other noir films, including neo-noir and tech-noir pictures that they can watch as part of the unit and write about for their essays. Popular choices include Sin City, of course, as well as Blade Runner, Memento and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The sleeper hit of the lending library is the 1949 Richard Basehart/Audrey Totter film Tension, which has only recently become available on DVD thanks to the noir resurgence and a Warner Brothers box set. While not a well-known example of noir, it might just be the perfect film for freshmen, with a nasty femme fatale, a sympathetic hero, and a tight 95 minutes of gripping entertainment. Students typically laugh at the introductory scene with the police detective, but a character like Audrey Totter’s Claire Quimby magnetically draws their attention and presents the femme fatale as a strikingly physical, even vulgar female monster.
Talking about what movies students can watch while studying noir brings up one of the chief difficulties and chief delights of using it as the basis for a film unit. Nobody can quite agree about what noir IS. Some critics, like Foster Hirsch, argue that noir is a fully-fledged genre, while others refer to it as a “cycle,” a “movement,” or a “style.” Noir is certainly more difficult to identify than, say, a Western or a gangster film, and some Westerns and some gangster films might even simultaneously be noir films, as well. Explaining the contested identity of noir to freshmen can be challenging, but it also invites them to have an opinion about the debate, and it gives them a clear argument that they can take a stake in, especially as that argument relates to specific films. Is Dark City, for example, really a noir film? What about other modern films? Do they have that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a film noir or not? Sometimes students suffer a kind of “medical students’ syndrome” where they begin to think that every movie they see must be noir, and we have to address their perception of the film and talk about what kind of classification is really defensible. However, as problems with students go, over-engagement is certainly one of the nicest problems one could have.
One way to head off some of this confusion is to lay good groundwork for the noir unit earlier in the term. In order to help students have a better sense of the elements of noir, I make a conscious effort to connect our film unit with the other material that we cover over the course of the semester. In our poetry unit, for example, we read texts like Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and introduce the idea of the femme fatale and the traditional virgin/whore dichotomy. Then, when students see Norma Desmond or Brigid O’Shaughnessy or Tension’s Claire Quimby for the first time, they know exactly what they are looking at. We study short stories and poems that deal with the themes of murder and death, and we talk about how the texts shape our perceptions of criminals or of fate. For an introduction to literature course, this multi-genre connection of themes and ideas helps to justify devoting a whole segment of the class to film studies because it presents film to students as a place to analyze and engage literary concepts. Students end up with a broader and more sophisticated picture of the literary themes that dominate the course, and they discover that the literary concepts we have studied apply to many different kinds of texts.
As I mentioned earlier, the noir unit consistently ranks as students’ favorite part of the entire course. Why do students respond to noir so enthusiastically? Partly they just like to watch movies more than they like to read, but that’s a generational trend that reflects an increasingly visual culture, and I incorporate visual and multi-media elements into every unit in the course. It isn’t that watching is “easier” than reading, though, because noir is a tough cinematic nut to crack, with a problematic identity and a lot of sophisticated themes. What students tell me about studying noir is that it teaches them to watch differently from the way they watched movies before and makes them think more about what they watch. It opens up classic films for them as interesting and even provocative. It casts new light and new shadows on the culture that they are already familiar with in films, television, video games, music and comic books. They appreciate Veronica Mars more, think a little harder about the themes of Sin City, play Max Payne with a greater understanding of its context, and read or watch Batman with a fuller sense of the Dark Knight’s darkness.  Students have even asked to borrow more films to watch after the course ended, and one student went on to develop an entire independent project for his art major around the creation of photographic images inspired by the look and style of noir. These are freshmen at a public university, majoring mostly in engineering, nursing and business. They are not the already intellectually engaged, privileged denizens of a liberal arts college. In spite of that, noir gets them, and most of them, ultimately, seem to “get” noir. They leave the classroom as better and more sophisticated readers of the culture in which they live. In short, noir inspires them to think and to learn more than anything else we study. For this teacher, at least, to paraphrase Sam Spade, that’s the stuff that dreams are made of.
If freshmen can learn to love it, then film noir must be worth saving! You can help the Film Noir Foundation preserve and restore classic noir films by donating during the Film Noir Blogathon, February 14-21, 2011. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

January film roster, 2011

I keep a record of every movie I watch; I started it when I first began writing for Examiner.com, and I have now been keeping track for almost two years. It's an interesting document - to me, anyway - because it reveals certain trends in my film viewing. It also helps me remember what I have seen; some movies are just not as memorable as others. Sometimes I write reviews of the films for my column, and sometimes I write one for the classic movie guide I am writing. I recommend it as a practice to anyone who watches films seriously (or even just intelligently). Here's the list for January 2011, with links to the articles when there is one.

Don't Bother to Knock (1952) - good Monroe film, trying to see more of her movies
I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) - one of my favorites, have seen it several times now
A Night at the Opera (1935) - with my daughter, the Marx Brothers fan
Stella Dallas (1937) - love Stanwyck, and she's great in this weepy melodrama of mother love
Room Service (1938) - again with the kid
Lady of Burlesque (1943)- more Stanwyck, but funny this time
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) - we own the pinball machine, so we have to watch the film sometimes
Miranda (1948) - with the kid, who enjoyed Glynis Johns as a mermaid very much
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) - terrific Cagney picture!
Mad About Men (1954) - more Glynis with fins, at the insistence of the kid
42nd Street (1933) - with the LearningQUEST group for my First Fridays Film Festival series
The Old Dark House (1932) - a funny old screamer with Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton, and Boris Karloff
The King's Speech (2010) - took the kid to see it, to heck with the R rating! Great film
The Legend of the Guardians (2010) - kid's choice, and I enjoyed the visual effects
True Grit (1969) - had to see the original again after seeing the Coens' version; still good
Play It Again, Sam (1972) - Adorable Woody Allen with a Bogart twist; almost as good as The Purple Rose of Cairo (but not quite)
A Day at the Races (1937) - more Marx for the junior film fan; she says this one is the best

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Die Toten Reiten Schnell

"The dead ride fast" - Stoker quoted an earlier work for this line from Dracula, but it still makes one of the novel's most haunting sentiments. At the very end of the 19th century Gothic timeline, Stoker created a story that would dominate what Gothic came to mean for the 20th century (and arguably for the 21st, too). I like Dracula for what it does with the Gothic and for its rich legacy, although, like many people, I find the vampire more compelling than the ostensible hero, Harker. I always appreciated the fact that Alan Moore liberated Mina from her all too conventional husband in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Who wouldn't prefer Quincy - or Quatermain - to Harker? 
Dracula himself remains a powerful figure, far more dangerous than the shiny vegetarian vampires of Twilight and therefore infinitely more attractive. To be embraced by the Count is to fall into the seductive arms of Death, to surrender to the dark accompanied by the lullaby of one's own fading pulse, like the heroine of F.W. Murnau's pirated adaptation, Nosferatu (1922). Distant drums, and the rest is silence. The sublime aspect of horror depends upon the desirability of the deadly thing, and the Count exudes an exotic sensuality that few readers can resist. Lugosi's burning eyed Count in the 1931 film immortalized a certain idea of the vampire even as it left itself open to endless parody and subversion. Christopher Lee's undead anti-hero in Horror of Dracula (1958) had more bite, as it were, and a long, lean figure that better suggested his sinister romantic power.

I have seen quite a few vampire films over the years, some good and some bad, and my favorites tend to be those that best understand the Gothic sublime, that union of beauty and horror that evokes both terror and awe in the viewer as well as the characters. I loved The Lost Boys (1987) as a teen, and it still has a wonderfully evocative subtext for the adult viewer. It's not the best vampire movie ever, but it does have its charms. Near Dark (1987) came out the same year and is certainly the smarter of the two pictures, although it never became as well known as the glossier Joel Schumacher film. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) is probably my favorite "modern" vampire film; Willem Dafoe is just a scream as Max Schreck, and it's such a fantastic revision of the making of Murnau's original film. Max's speech about how Stoker's novel made him sad is one of those movie moments you never forget, and the movie's wicked humor is brilliantly played.

There are plenty of other vampire films lurking out there in the dark, waiting for you to stumble across them and succumb to their dark charms: Let the Right One In (2008), Dracula's Daughter (1936), Isle of the Dead (1945), The Hunger (1985), and Innocent Blood (1992) come to mind. The gender reversals are especially interesting.

The LEGO photos, by the way, have kept me busy this weekend. I stalk IMDB looking for good photographs to recreate in miniature. I had been thinking about doing something along these lines for a long time, but Alex Eylar's recent LEGO movie photos of the Best Picture contenders inspired me to quit thinking and get busy building.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gothic Thoughts, continued

Between the Laird Cregar films and The Castle of Otranto I am still much concerned with the Gothic mood. Today I stole a little time from my other pursuits to put together a few LEGO vignettes illustrating two Gothic set-ups, one Victorian and one more in line with Walpole's medieval nightmare.

Two major themes of the traditional Gothic are pursuit and claustrophobia; people are always being chased by something and usually end up trapped someplace with whatever it was rapidly closing in. We see this in a lot of the early Gothic novels, although the castle chase sequence in Charlotte Smith's Emmeline, The Orphan of the Castle readily comes to mind. The Gothic damsel is sometimes chased by monsters and sometimes by men, although the two types of pursuers often turn out to be the same thing. My princess flees a skeletal menace as she passes down a narrow castle staircase; I wanted to emphasize how little space she has in which to escape and the sense of her eventual doom being more or less inevitable. I have no idea what the skeleton thinks he will actually DO with her once he catches her, but I imagine that his cold, bony fingers will curl about her delicate throat and throttle her, probably in some dark corner of this dismal, haunted tower. If she's lucky she'll turn out to be a Radcliffian heroine and that lurching skeleton is really just a trick of the light or a fever dream brought on by trauma too overwhelming for her delicate sensibility.

Victorian Gothic can be so much more lurid and evocative about the sexual nature of its inhuman horrors. Although technically historical, the Jack the Ripper story makes a perfect example. The Lodger got me thinking about Jack and his frequent film outings. Again we get the idea of pursuit, although the open space of a London street is no more secure than the narrow tower stairs. A deserted street, shrouded in fog, seems equally enclosed, as if the fog cuts the space off from the rest of the world. Years ago I went on a Jack the Ripper tour in the heart of London; we walked through Whitechapel and stood at the scenes of the murders. It was a thrilling adventure and well worth the money we paid for it. I thought about replacing Jack with Dracula just to demonstrate the variations on the theme, but Jack looked so much more interesting there under the streetlight, holding his sharp knife. The streetlight, by the way, is built on a post designed by Brick Forge, and I think it turned out rather well.

I like the black and white idea of Victorian Gothic, especially since I have been watching films from the 1930s and 40s lately, but color has its uses, too, especially in the lurid horrors of Hammer and Roger Corman. Here's what the Ripper street scene looks like in the Hammer style.  You can see the yellow lamps and the red and gold of the girl's gown much better here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Laird Cregar

Character actors always attract my attention, but lately I have been especially interested in Laird Cregar, who appeared in pictures for only five years before his death ended a very promising career that might have given Vincent Price a run for his money. Like Price, Cregar excelled at playing villains, particularly Gothic madmen, but unlike Price he was a 300 pound gay man who yearned to be a romantic lead. His effort to transform himself into something that the studio heads at Fox would take seriously ultimately killed him, which is all the more tragic because he was so very talented and charismatic.

I first noticed Cregar in Heaven Can Wait (1943), a brilliant Ernst Lubitsch picture that features several of my favorite character actors, including Eugene Pallette and Marjorie Main. Now, I love Marjorie Main because she reminds me of my grandmother, and I'll watch just about any movie she's in, but Heaven Can Wait makes one of those magical chocolate/peanut butter combinations by pairing her with Pallette. Matching that duo for the viewer's attention in a film that actually stars Don Ameche and the glorious Gene Tierney takes real talent, and Cregar's part is really quite small, but he plays no less a figure than the Devil himself. It's hard to believe that he was only 30 years old when that picture came out, but during his brief career he generally played characters who were much older than himself.

 Cregar got my attention again in The Black Swan (1942), an Errol Flynn swashbuckler in which Cregar plays Henry Morgan (you know, the one they named the rum for). He makes a perfect pirate, and he's just hysterical in the later parts of the film. It's a fun movie all the way through, especially if you like old-fashioned pirate romps, which I certainly do, but Cregar is a real highlight. I think, had he lived, that he probably would have tackled other historical characters with great success; he would have made a fabulous Henry VIII, for example, and perhaps he would have matured into roles like some of those played by Charles Laughton, who was also a large actor and who played that king particularly well in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).

I was surprised to find Cregar yet again in Charley's Aunt (1941), a Jack Benny comedy based on the wildly successful stage comedy. Cregar has the dubious honor of making love to Benny's character on the assumption that Benny is actually a rich widow. Although he plays the father of another character, he was actually several years younger than the performer (James Ellison) playing his son! I don't know that Charley's Aunt is much watched these days, but it's a fantastic comedy, and it ought to be better known.

This week I watched two of Cregar's most important films, The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945). The two movies have a lot in common, largely because the second was meant to repeat whatever had made a success of the first, but the most startling difference is Cregar himself. He lost 100 pounds between the two shoots because he wanted his character in Hangover Square to show his potential as a leading man type, and he really does have a compelling face at the lighter weight, especially in the love scenes with Linda Darnell. Watching the two movies together makes for a really useful exercise in understanding Cregar as an actor. Both of his characters are crazed killers, but he invests so much personality and humanity into them, each in markedly different ways.

I'm planning to watch as many of Cregar's other films as possible over the next few months, especially Blood and Sand (1941), I Wake up Screaming (1941), and This Gun for Hire (1942). He has become like Marjorie Main and Eugene Pallette in that his performance in a character role justifies seeing a picture I wouldn't otherwise bother to watch. He's really that good.

Monday, February 7, 2011

From The Castle of Otranto to Scooby Doo

So I am having something of a Gothic week already, having read The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (again) and watched two Laird Cregar thrillers, The Lodger and Hangover Square. These things are all Gothic in different ways, the films in the latter sense of the term, the novel as the point of origin for that term being applied to literature/narrative in the first place. I can't read Otranto these days without taking the long view of Gothic; it's quite a feat that Walpole accomplished with one wacky little book.

The plot of Walpole's story involves a bunch of attractive youths (Theodore, Isabella, and Matilda) running around a spooky castle and trying to thwart the grandiose criminal schemes of an older bad guy (Manfred, who also happens to be Matilda's dad). Ghostly paintings come to life, skeletons utter dire warnings, and giant people parts appear and disappear all over the place. There's a curse, naturally, and a lot of scenes involving dark passages, mistaken identity, and secret doors. The only things missing are the stoner dude and the dog, and the whole thing would work great as an episode of Scooby Doo, which is, of course, actually authentic Gothic in the sense that it basically follows the plot directives of Walpole's immediate heir, Ann Radcliffe. Radcliffe always explained away the apparent supernatural at the ends of her novels ("...and the Creepy Creature is really just Old Man McGrumpus!"), but Walpole goes for the full supernatural effect as well as an impressive body count. Still, he's setting up the conventions that later Gothic texts of various kinds, from The Mysteries of Udolpho and Jane Eyre to Dark Shadows and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are going to employ, albeit in sometimes altered and even ironic forms.

Of the numerous interesting places where the 18th century, the Gothic tradition, and popular culture intersect, my favorite is still Val Lewton's 1946 film, Bedlam, which stars Boris Karloff as the keeper of the infamous 18th century madhouse. I'd suggest reading The Castle of Otranto if you really want to get what the whole Gothic thing is about, but for movie buffs the Lewton picture sums it up quite well. The picture shows Anna Lee as the film's heroine, who finds herself falsely imprisoned in the sinister asylum. It's a perfect snapshot of the Gothic idea.

Good grief, not another blog!

It's obvious to me that the internet is already sufficiently overrun with personal blogs, but when has that stopped anyone else? Having far too many thoughts on a variety of odd subjects, I intend to jot them down here for the amusement of my friends and the occasional curious student. If anyone beyond that expected audience happens to pop by, then welcome. Hopefully you will find something that entertains you during your stay.