General


INTO THE DARKNESS: Investigating Film Noir.          




   The course runs concurrently with the Turner Classic Movies “Summer of Darkness” programming event—airing 24 hours of films noir every Friday in June and July. This is the deepest catalog of film noir every presented by TCM (and perhaps any network), and provides an unprecedented opportunity for those interested in learning more to watch over 100 classic movies as they investigate “The Case of Film Noir.”

   For more information, click here.

   Thanks and a tip of the hat to Michael Shonk for passing the info along.

INTRODUCTION: The following discussion between Michael Shonk and Randy Cox has been taking place mostly in secret, as a series of comments following a review, of all things, a sci-fi movie called The Monolith Monsters. The discourse changed, as it sometimes does, into a conversation about TV viewing in the past and carrying over into the future.

I thought the exchange interesting and even important enough to rescue from a comments section already several days old and in an out of the way place where no one would be likely to come across it. Please read and enjoy, and feel free to respond on your own, if you wish.

michael Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 1:16 pm e

Randy, I am sure Steve doesn’t mind us using this place to have a virtual email exchange:)

I remember back in the 70s when I memorized the TV schedule and made sure to watch every show at least once.

Now I rarely watch TV series on TV. I find my favorites and buy season pass at iTunes. Many of the new series offer the premiere episode for free there so I pay less and less attention to what is on TV tonight. At the moment I am considering either Netflix or Hulu to add to Acorn for streaming TV series so I can watch whatever I want to watch depending on my mood.

There is some great stuff on TV today no matter what your taste. I buy season passes for BLACKLIST, JUSTIFIED, PERSON OF INTEREST (speaking of comic books), and SHERLOCK (whenever its on). I watch regularly ARCHER, DOCTOR WHO, and VENTURE BROTHERS (whenever it is on). Acorn gives me a better and more up to date British fix than PBS and BBC America. YouTube offers me the past. I just finished watch season one of MR ROSE and now am watching ADAM ADAMANT. My TV offers me sports and the El Rey network.

TV has never been better…I just don’t watch much of it on my TV.

Randy Cox Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 4:29 pm e

Michael,

While I still watch some TV shows on TV I have found that I am able to enjoy them more fully on DVD. The lack of commercial breaks helps me to concentrate on the story.

michael Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 6:39 pm e

I have DVDs as well, heck I have three DVD players, one with a VCR. I did have to adjust to the lack of commercial breaks, especially if the show aired on the Big 4. Shows that air on commercials networks are written differently from movies or those on networks such as HBO. Every commercial break demands a mini climax and tease to hook you and get you to stay and wait for the show to return. Even without the breaks on the DVD the story still has them. The TV shows on networks with no commercials can tell a story with a pace and structure that increases the drama rather that make artificial stops to keep the audience from straying. It is one of the seldom mentioned and lesser reason shows such as GAMES OF THRONES work better on HBO and suffers if copied by any major commercial network.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 9:48 am e

I have also discovered that I can fall asleep just as easily in front of a DVD story as a TV show.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 6:30 pm e

Michael, I’ve been working my way through the 1966-71 Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows via Netflix. I guess you certainly can’t call it a decent story and the acting is only so-so. Steve was once tempted by a deal for getting the entire series in one chunk. If he succumbed we haven’t heard about it.

I watch a few episodes and then take a break.

michael Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 10:10 pm e

I remember DARK SHADOWS. i grew up in a neighborhood of about a dozen and a half kids my age. One summer we would all run inside to watch DARK SHADOWS. Then school demanded our time again and I never saw another DARK SHADOWS.

Binge viewing, watching multiple episodes of the same TV series, is nothing new. We did it with VCRs and once holiday TV marathons (such as Thanksgiving of TWILIGHT ZONE) became popular. But it seems so easier on streaming. It really gives you the feel and rhythm of the series that you miss waiting a week or more between episodes.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 10:58 pm e

I was really a fan of Dark Shadows in its day, but I could only see it during vacations and breaks from the college where I worked. One of the first episodes I saw was the one that introduced Barnabas Collins and I also remember the very last episode where they lampooned the show with the final voiceover that said that investigation proved this was no werewolf after all, but just a wild animal.

I saw a few episodes when it was syndicated and I remember seeing a few of the VHS copies of episodes and thinking that to collect those was madness because there were more than 1,200 episodes. Then came DVDs and I came upon a collection of the very first episodes before Barnabas Collins and bought it thinking it might be fun to see how it all began.

At some point I came to my senses and realized that to get all of the dvds would be expensive and (as my brother said) I might not want to watch them more than once. So I started subscribing to Netflix. Each disc has 10 episodes and that’s enough. I need frequent breaks because I lose track of the story, even with the aid of good episode guide.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:48 am e

Michael,
I should probably add that I turned 30 when Dark Shadows began so there was none of this “running home from school to watch” that I read about so much. I started watching mainly because one of the actresses was from my state of Minnesota and would be mentioned in the entertainment column of one of the Twin Cities newspapers. I tried one episode and was not impressed, but the one I tried sometime later that ended with a hand reaching out of a coffin to grip Willie by the neck was memorable!

You mentioned SHERLOCK in number 32. The Brits don’t beat a good thing to death and there have been only 3 series with 3 episodes each. (I think another series is planned.) It’s fun to see how they will twist elements from the original stories to fit the 21st century.

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 2:42 pm e

Much has been made about the difference between the e-book and print, but in reality it has not changed the basic way we read a book – words, sentences, chapters, etc.

The digital world has changed how we watch TV. And more is coming. From days of limited choices to a possible future that will offer us an unlimited number choices much like books do, from days when you had to adjust your schedule to fit your TV watching to days when you can watch nearly any TV series from any year whenever you fell like it. From small black and white only pictures to 60inch TV screens with Ultra HD 4K (and beyond). TV entertainment itself has changed from Ad agency run TV shows to independently made shows airing on YouTube.

The future of publishing has settled in and while the e-book will become an increasing popular format, print will survive.

It is the future of the visual medium, TV and film that are in chaos. How will viewers enjoy the visual programs of the future remains unknown.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 7:45 pm e

And what will be the next new thing?

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:33 pm e

Too many possibilities to be sure. Mobile and streaming seems to be where the money is heading.

A la carte cable will fail. One the political clout of the huge multi-corporations that own the networks (such as Comcast) will slow the process until the companies will be able to find a profit with that system or control its replacement system (most likely streaming which is cheaper). Two, why spend money for one network if you only watch one program? Logically the next step for cable providers if it wishes to survive is find a way to offer programs not networks in its packages.

The networks were created as a distributor of programming. It is a function not necessary anymore. This is why the corporations that own the networks (and CBS) are involved in cable networks and their own production studios. And why they, especially CBS, are interested in their own streaming services.

What will probably happen is the content providers will drop the middle man and sell directly to the viewer. Watch what happens to HBO Go and the CBS streaming that will start soon. It could be an early sign of the future demise of cable.

Free TV future is really hard to predict. The broadband its on is worth a fortune. Politically, it would be unwise for free TV to vanish – the poor and those who don’t want to pay for TV would be upset as well as the rich powerful people who own and run your local TV station. I see free TV following the example of free radio with nearly all live programming.

Who would have guessed what the cellphone did to the land phone?

The discussions I have read see the future home with a large 60 inch+ TV screen in the home’s living room. It will be connected to a box such as Apple TV which will connect you to all your mobile devices including video games and the single desktop computer you have in your bedroom. You will attach a sound system such as Bose for theatre like sound.

Programs will stream into the main TV or your mobile devices. Pictures will become more and more lifelike but will still try to keep the feel of film. Film will be like LP, where a small but supportive group keeps the format alive.

Movie theaters will survive, people will always need a place to go, but it needs to find some solutions to the major problems it faces. It needs to find a way to make a profit while lowering costs to the moviegoer, not only for the ticket but the popcorn and drinks as well.

There will be fewer theaters and bigger ones. The movie house needs to return to being an event (see today’s IMAX) and because of that the studios will continue to focus on the huge blockbusters and send its smaller movie stories to the local household via TV and streaming.

The technology can do all of this and more if the big money and politicians let it.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:48 pm e

It’s still a bit of a case of 99 channels and nothing’s on.

Regarding landline phones, I called on someone at his apartment complex and pushed the buttons beside his name at the door to tell him I was there and heard the voice tell me the number was not in service. I say down and waited and he soon came out to tell me the device didn’t work because he doesn’t have a landline phone.

I was watching the special features on a DVD and all the behind the scenes stuff. PBS makes specials out of this sort of thing to promote the new seasons and raise money. Sometimes the interviewees pat themselves on the back a little too much, but they certainly wouldn’t bad mouth their bread and butter.

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 10:32 pm e

Randy, looking for something to watch in this possible TV future will offer more choices than a library has books. I have heard people tell me there is nothing to read, so you could be right.

NOTE: Michael and Randy continued their conversation briefly in its old location, unaware I had diverted it over here:

Randy Cox Says:
March 14th, 2015 at 12:22 pm e

Lots of choices require much thought and decision, maybe more than we have time to decide. Shows will be available in so many venues just like movies. You used to have to wait for a movie to show up on TV so you could see it again, then wait until it would be available on VHS then DVD. I remember someone telling me the waiting time between versions would someday be non existent and the DVD would be released along with the film premiere (maybe on the way out of the theater). Have we reached the point where a TV show could be launched and canceled in the same breath?

michael Says:
March 14th, 2015 at 4:09 pm e

Randy, movies and TV programming will remain separate as long as there are movie houses. The economic system of the two is different.

But I am sure you remember the direct to video movies of the past. Those are not as successful as in the past. Why, I am not sure, it may be caused by the increase in piracy. Why buy a cheap rip-off of the current hit film in the theaters when you can download the hit film itself.

The time between films and released on DVD and streaming has shorten perhaps due to piracy.

TV shows today are available to download on iTunes a day or two after the episode aired. It is one of the reasons the networks have pushed Nielsen to find a way to count us computer TV viewers.

For example, I buy a season pass at iTunes for TV series I would have bought the DVD. I bought the season pass for PERSON OF INTEREST shortly before the season premiered. Every week a day or so after the newest episode aired I am emailed letting me know it is ready to watch. If I were to wait for the DVD I would have to wait months after the season had ended.

TV programs have been cancelled after one episode. One of the most famous was TURN-ON (February 5, 1969 ABC). Tim Conway was the host and has joked the series was cancelled midway through the first episode.

Today, the Big Four networks are trying the direct to series route for some. MICHAEL J FOX SHOW was the most famous where no pilot was done and a full season of episodes were ordered.

Now a few of those such as Fox’s HIEROGLYPHICS that received a full season order was cancelled during filming without ever reaching the air.

CRIME FICTION AND THE MYSTIQUE OF TRAINS
by David Vineyard


   A train is the ideal environment for a mystery or thriller. There is a closed society that is relatively isolated for long periods (certainly in earlier times) and short of leaping to their possible death there is no where for the suspects to go between stations.

   There are a variety of venues from private and semi-private compartments, sleeping cars, baggage cars, dining area, public cars and lounges to stage action in, and enough places to hide to make it both a challenge to find someone and difficult not to be seen. There are borders to be crossed, exotic cities to reach, dangerous and elegant trestles to cross …

   Then there is the romance of the machine. No other mode of transportation ever caught the publics imagination quite like a train. Add to that the original great train robbery by Charles Peace, Jesse and Frank James, the Orient Express, the Trans Siberian, the famous hijacked Confederate train in the Civil War, and other famous trains and it was a natural.

   Doyle used them frequently, Canon Whitechurch did a whole series with Thorpe Hazel, and so on. Half of Frank Packard’s output seemed to be set on or about trains. Graham Greene used them for The Orient Express, Ministry of Fear and Travels with My Aunt, and one figures in Ambler’s Background to Danger. Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming both used them more than once. There was the Rome, Paris-Lyon, Shanghai, Irish, and other Express trains and bestsellers like Dekobra’s The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars.

   I’m not sure there was ever another form of transportation as well suited to suspense, drama, melodrama, romance, mystery and adventure.

   Ships are too big, planes too small, the train though is the ideal size with limitless possibilities for mischief. Some like the Orient Express even lived up to the hype. It still had that exotic feel when I rode what was left of it in the seventies — it has been restored and runs its classic route since — but the cigar smoking gilded cherubs were still on the ceiling of the dining car.

   Then too, trains were an adventure you could actually experience. Few people could afford a passenger liner, few needed to fly, but anyone might make a journey on a train. We forget just how common train travel was, easily up into my early twenties even in this country.

   Few things are familiar and exotic, common and romantic, or mythic and down to earth, but trains are. If nothing else how many little boys, and some little girls, dreamed of adventure on those Lionel trains of our childhood?

Scroll down to MYSTERY BLOGS TO FOLLOW: Library Journal

Thanks to all who’ve contributed to M*F over the years, subscribed to the print version, or left comments. This blog would be nothing without you.

IGNORANCE MAY NOT BE BLISS EXACTLY,
BUT IT HAS ITS MOMENTS….
by Dan Stumpf


   Not a review per se but something I wanted to put out to the others here and see if it got any reaction. A College Professor once told me that the function of Innocence is to be destroyed. Well maybe, but I’m not sold on the notion.

   I was discussing Out of the Past and a few other films yesterday, and reflecting on the value of Innocence: When I first watched Out, I knew nothing about film noir and so wasn’t prepared for the plot developments or the ending — which made them much more powerful.

   Nowadays you can’t get close to it without knowing in advance that it’s one of the essential noirs, and setting your expectations accordingly. Similarly, there;s something magical about being 15 and watching The Maltese Falcon or Angels with Dirty Faces, not knowing the endings. Or being 19, going to an all-night drive-in-movie triple feature and seeing Night of the Living Dead before it had such an awesome rep, when it was just another monster movie.

   In each case, my enjoyment of the film was keyed by not expecting, not knowing in advance… Doesn’t happen much anymore. These days I’m more likely to hear a film praised or a scene described or a book synopsized, and build up my expectations. By the time I saw The Searchers I’d heard so much about it, it couldn’t possibly live up to my mental hype; had to see it a few more times to really appreciate the film for what it was.

   So I’m just wondering if anyone here has similar memories of reading or watching something that turned out to be a classic, and if you can still recall that first youthful thrill of discovery.

   Or am I just getting into my dotage?

       A Ballade of Detection

Savants there be who joy to read
    Of lofty themes in words that glow;
Others prefer the poet’s screed
    Where liquid numbers softly flow.
    Others in Balzac interest show,
Or by Dumas are much impressed;
    Some seek grim novels of woe–
    I like Detective Stories best

To my mind nothing can exceed
    The tales of Edgar Allan Poe;
Of Anna Katharine Green I’ve need,
    Du Boisgobey, Gaboriau;
    I’ve Conan Doyle’s works all a-row
And Ottolengui and the rest;
    How other books seem tame and slow!
I like Detective Stories best.

The dim, elusive clues mislead.
    Hiding the mystery below;
To fearful pitch my mind is keyed,
    Opinion shuttles to and fro!
    Successive shocks I undergo
Ere the solution may be guessed;
    Arguments and discussions grow–
I like Detective Stories best.

          ENVOY:

Sherlock, thy subtle powers I know,
    Spirit , incarnate quest,
To thee the laurel wreath I throw—
    I like Detective Stories best.

            — Carolyn Wells

NOTE: Reprinted from The Bookman, March 1902. Thanks to Victor Berch for unearthing this poem and sending it along to be posted here.

THE SECOND GREAT PAPERBACK REVOLUTION:
E-Books and the Second Coming of the Pulps and The Paperbacks
by
David Vineyard

 

   It is common on this blog for myself, and others, to bemoan why so many of the great (and admittedly not so great) writers of the past are not represented in today’s book market. The lament usually goes something like this:

   They don’t write them like they used to, and all the great old books are lost, forgotten. You can’t find (choose the name of your choice) in print. The only books out there are dull and badly written in comparison. The new generation doesn’t know what it is missing …

   In the immortal words of Seinfeld: ‘Yada yada yada…’

   Well, I sorry to deny my fellow curmudgeonly collectors and readers one of our pet hobby horses, but our favorite lament is no longer true, and so untrue that the solution to the problem is not in some dusty musty smelling used bookstore, crowded book fair or busy convention where you have to cram a year’s worth of book hunting and buying into a few cramped hours, but no farther away than a fingers touch away and under $10 in cost.

   In the last 24 hours I have recreated some major elements of my lost collection, and the most it has cost me for a single volume has been $4, in many cases less than $1. Understand I’m not just talking about obscure or once famous writers from another age, though I’ve recovered my complete Charlie Chan, Philo Vance, Mr. Moto, Bulldog Drummond, Dr. Thorndyke, Father Brown, Sherlock Holmes, Raffles, and Tarzan collections — all for a grand total of $1.99 (the Tarzan); those have been around almost from the beginning, in public domain.

   No, I’m talking about a second paperback and pulp revolution equal to the first, and, like the first, in cheap readily accessible attractive and easily transportable editions. Oh, and I might add so far I haven’t spent a dime for the devices to read them, though I certainly plan to buy an inexpensive Kindle soon. Carrying a thousand books in a device smaller than a trade paperback gives a new meaning to the word ‘pocketbook.’

   More importantly, some of these writers haven’t been available at these prices since the 1980‘s.

   Who am I talking about?

   John D. MacDonald, Dan J. Marlowe, William Campbell Gault, Ross McDonald, Peter Rabe, Wade Miller (the complete Max Thursday for .99 each), Frank Kane, Brett Halliday, Mickey Spillane, Donald Hamilton, Stephen Marlowe, Ed Lacy, Henry Kane: and from the pulps, Nebel, Chandler, Hammett, Paul Cain (for free), Carroll John Daly, Robert Leslie Bellem, not to mention Doc Savage, the Spider, the Avenger, the Black Bat, even Nick Carter, Frank Merriwell, and the Rover Boys …

   Almost all those books are under $10, most under $5 and many under $1. Some are even free.

   Granted, you don’t have the pleasure of an actual book in your hands, and it takes a bit of time to adjust to reading in this format (arguably the Kindle, Nook, etc are closer to actually reading a book), but many of the complaints I’ve heard lodged against e-books here echo what was said of the pulps and paperbacks as well. E-books will never replace the feel of a book, certainly not a leather bound or quatro buckram edition with its scent and heft, but frankly I had less than 100 such books in my extensive collection and few of them were worth what I paid for them. E-books won’t appreciate in value either, but they are here, available, and no doubt will develop their own following.

   To quote James Joyce, I’m not trying to convert you or pervert myself, but I am trying to point out that this is far and away the most important revolution in books since the paperback was born. When I began collecting it took me years to accumulate books by John Buchan, Sapper, Dornford Yates, Louis Joseph Vance, Maurice Leblanc, Talbot Mundy, Edgar Wallace, Rohmer, Van Dine, and others. Now all it takes is a few keystrokes and a WiFi or DSL connection. I could, with a little effort, and under $500 dollars, download my entire collection of over forty years worth close to $100,000, in less than eighteen hours — and that only because of sheer volume.

   I don’t ask that you adapt to the e-book, or even read one, but don’t complain about expensive limited reprint editions or the scarcity of this material. Everyday more volumes are being added and new generations of readers are discovering these writers, people, I might add, who would not have purchased them from a paperback kiosk and certainly not in limited overpriced editions. Most of these books have reviews by people who read and enjoyed them and don’t know there ever was a paperback revolution.

   I currently reside in a small town, a small and spectacularly illiterate community, where the only source of books are a high school library and the Dollar General, and neither updates its stacks often or carries much more than women’s soft core porn, vampire and ‘romantic suspense’ novels. A treasure is a remaindered Preston and Childs or Cussler. Once a month, if I’m lucky, I get to a Hastings. For now that’s it. But, at my fingertips I have access to books from around the world in countless languages and libraries as important as Oxford’s Boedelian and Harvard.

   Like the first paperback revolution this includes an entire new world of original e-books, many better than you could hope, or no worse than what you find on the mass market book stands at Wal-Mart, and numerous sources of free books. I can also, for far less than the near $30 they cost on the stands, purchase the latest bestseller. You can even purchase an e-book “safe” for $20 to protect your collection — more than I can say for actual books.

   Then too, those of us who have been married should welcome the end of those long forbearing stares when our collection threatens to over run the house having already driven the cat and both cars out of the garage and threatening to cause the ceiling to collapse by their sheer weight in the attic…

   Books and collecting have always evolved. Don’t be the guy complaining because some German named Gutenberg put all those monks copying books out of business. This is not a fad, it’s a revolution, and standing in the way of one has never been a good idea.

   How could any of us complain about our favorite writers being in print and finding new and enthusiastic readers? Because digital editions take up no actual physical space (a Kindle can hold 10,000 books and will only get more powerful), and cost virtually nothing to reprint, the possibilities are endless.

   Most of us converted without pain from 16 mm to VHS to DVD, to Blu-Ray. This is the same thing, only here when a format goes kaput you don’t have to replace everything you own in Beta, you download a free converter and soon it’s all back. Granted Kindle won’t play on Nook and so on, but you can get a free app to read any format or get a free Calibre converter for extinct formats like Microsoft Readers LIT that take up little space on your PC and require no tech savvy to use.

   For those of us born in the shadow of the first paperback revolution this one is even bigger, and likely more fundamental culturally. You don’t have to embrace it, but recognize what it means. Book collecting will never be the same again. This is the most important thing to happen to books since Gutenberg, I have no idea where it is going, but if it keeps my favorites from the past available I say it’s going in the right direction.

   Somehow I don’t think Erle Stanley Gardner or Mickey Spillane would be the least bothered by having their work bring in money in another format — I can promise you Alexandre Dumas, the most business savvy author who ever lived (despite losing everything numerous times) wouldn’t mind at all.

   Collectors, and I include myself, need to dismount our high horses before we fall off of them.

   Oh brave new world that has such formats in it.

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