Friday, September 02, 2022

Genre Films on Turner Classic Movies: September 2022

The following movies, shorts, serials, and cartoons are scheduled for broadcast on Turner Classic Movies in September, according to TCM’s Web site. All times listed are Pacific Time. Please check your local listings before tuning in.


Sept. 1—1 a.m.: The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980), 7:30 a.m.: Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Sept. 2—11 p.m.: Day of the Dead (1985)

Sept. 3—1 a.m.: I Was a Teenage Zombie (1987), 5 a.m.: MGM Cartoons—The Mad Maestro (1939), 6:30 a.m.: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe—The Pool of Peril (1940), 7 a.m.: Popeye—Ancient Fistory (1953), 7:08 a.m.: Tarzan Triumphs (1943)

Sept. 4—10:30 a.m.: Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Sept. 6—5 a.m.: House of Wax (1953), 6:45 a.m.: Hands of a Stranger (1962), 5:30 p.m.: Dead of Night (1945), 7:30 p.m.: Magic (1978), 9:30 p.m.: Shanks (1974)

Sept. 9—1:30 a.m.: The Return of Dr. X (1939)

Sept. 10—5 a.m.: MGM Cartoons—One Droopy Knight (1957), 6:30 a.m.: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe—The Death Mist (1940), 7 a.m.: Popeye—Floor Flusher (1953), 7:08 a.m.: Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)

Sept. 13—3:15 a.m.: Spook Chasers (1957), 4:30 a.m.: Night of Dark Shadows (1971), 9 a.m.: The Canterville Ghost (1944), 12 p.m.: The Haunting (1963), 2 p.m.: The Smiling Ghost (1941), 5 p.m.: The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), 6:45 p.m.: Thunderbirds Are Go (1968), 8:30 p.m.: Thunderbird 6 (1968), 10:15 p.m.: Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Sept. 14—1:15 a.m.: The Great Rupert (1950)

Sept. 15—4:30 a.m.: Doctor X (1932), 6 a.m.: The Most Dangerous Game (1932), 7:15 a.m.: King Kong (1933), 9:15 a.m.: Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), 10:45 a.m.: The Vampire Bat (1933)

Sept. 16—11:45 p.m.: Puppet Master (1989)

Sept. 17—1:30 a.m.: The Devil-Doll (1936), 5 a.m.: MGM Cartoons—The Prospecting Bear (1941), 6:30 a.m.: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe—Stark Treachery (1940), 7 a.m.: Popeye—Shaving Muggs (1953), 7:08 a.m.: Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)

Sept. 19—11:15 a.m.: Dead Men Walk (1943)

Sept. 20—1:15 a.m.: The Next Voice You Hear (1950), 5 a.m.: More Than a Miracle (1967), 9:15 a.m.: Ghosts—Italian Style (1969)

Sept. 21—5 a.m.: The Lodger (1927), 6:50 p.m.: Cabin in the Sky (1943)

Sept. 22—3 a.m.: Bomba the Jungle Boy—African Treasure (1952), 5:30 a.m.: Bomba the Jungle Boy—The Lion Hunters (1951)

Sept. 23—11:30 p.m.: The Beast Must Die (1974)

Sept. 24—1:15 a.m.: House on Haunted Hill (1958), 5 a.m.: MGM Cartoons—Seal Skinners (1939), 6:30 a.m.: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe—Doom of the Dictator (1940), 7 a.m.: Popeye—Baby Wants a Battle (1953), 7:08 a.m.: Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), 5 p.m.: It Came from Outer Space (1953), 6:30 p.m.: When Worlds Collide (1951)

Sept. 28—8:45 a.m.: Two Hearts in Wax Time (1935)

Sept. 29—8 a.m.: Haxan (1922), 11 a.m.: The Phantom Carriage (1921), 1 p.m.: The Lodger (1927), 3:30 p.m.: Grandma’s Boy (1922), 5:30 p.m.: Before Mickey Mouse: A History of American Animation (1982), 6:45 p.m.: Century of Animation Showcase: 1922 (2022)


You might also be interested in the movies screened by Svengoolie on MeTV. Airing Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. CT), September’s features include Frogs, It Came from Outer Space, House of Dracula, and Gargoyles. Also airing at 11 a.m. CT Saturdays on the CW 26, Svengoolie is featuring Killer Shrews, Frogs, It Came from Outer Space, and House of Dracula. For an excellent article about Svengoolie, be sure to check out Captain Flashback #44. (https://tinyurl.com/h8wfpt9a) He also recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal. (https://tinyurl.com/yk448rft)

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A Historical Artifact: "What Is Dungeons and Dragons?" by John Butterfield, Philip Parker, and David Honigmann

What Is Dungeons and Dragons? by John Butterfield, Philip Parker, and David Honigmann (Warner, 1984)

This 1984 mass-market paperback was a delightful find, as well as a charming—if slightly befuddling—read. Originally published in England two years prior, the book was written by three teenagers attending the boarding school Eton College. At the time of its initial publication, the authors had been playing Dungeons & Dragons for five years and had started the “Strat. Soc.”—a school club—to play the game with other students and friends. What a windfall this book project must have been to such students—even if they didn’t make a bunch of money on the book deal. Certainly a bit of egoboo for such young writers.

The book actually answers the question of its title on the cover: “A fantastic game of magic and sorcery! The fastest growing game in the Western World!” And Warner Books considered the book a game book rather than a broader pop culture title, promoting additional books in the end pages, including Games for the Superintelligent, The New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary, and M.A.S.H. Trivia: The Unofficial Quiz Book. Dungeons & Dragons, while in a growth phase, was not yet the cultural force it remains today.

Inside the pages of the book, the authors divided writing duties by section, “[r]ather than write every word by committee.” The book is organized in chapters that concentrate on an orientation to role-playing games, character generation, dungeon design, adventures, the Dungeon Master, figures and other accessories (including magazines and modules), computers, and other role-playing games and genres—offering a helpful snapshot of the early days of role-playing games. That said, the book largely draws on the then-available Basic and Expert sets of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as its foundation, appropriate given the book’s title.

Examples of gameplay are offered in prose, and one section pairs a narrative telling of gameplay with a description of the game mechanics behind the scenes on facing pages. A sample character sheet is included, as well as a playable mini-module, “The Shrine of Kollchap,” which I hope to DM for a group some day, perhaps using Old School Essentials, if not one of the original systems. (Additional characters might be able to be recreated given details and statistics sprinkled throughout the text.)

I was particularly interested in the survey of the early-1980s role-playing game industry. The book nods to the game’s emergence from miniature wargaming and mentions fantasy miniatures rules such as TSR’s Swords and Spells and tabletop games including Asgard’s Reaper and Skytrex’s Middle Earth. The use of miniatures—and a comparison of different scales—is also addressed. Additional role-playing games of the time include Aftermath, Boot Hill, Bunnies and Burrows, Chivalry and Sorcery, DragonQuest, Empire of the Petal Throne, En Garde!, The Fantasy Trip, Gamma World, Gangster!, Metamorphosis Alpha, The Morrow Project, RuneQuest, Skull and Crossbones, Space Opera, Starships and Spacemen, Superhero 2044, Top Secret, Traveller, Tunnels and Trolls, Universe, Villains and Vigilantes, and others—as well as adjacent board games. At the time, the authors estimated that there were more than 50 role-playing systems available.

When discussing modules available for DM use, the book touches on TSR’s modules, as well as those offered by Judges Guild, such as Caverns of Thracia, Mines of Custalcon, and Survival of the Fittest. The authors also focus on available magazines, showing a clear preference for White Dwarf while mentioning Dragon as “[p]rinted in America … [and] more expensive than White Dwarf.” Additional magazines mentioned include Military Modelling (which incorporated Battle), Ares (the house magazine for DragonQuest), The Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society, Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Tunnels and Trolls), and Different Worlds (RuneQuest). 

Their treatment of fanzines is relatively dismissive, while citing British fanzines The Beholder, DragonLords, and The Stormlord as the best of the bunch. The authors suggest that fanzine fiction is generally bad and that with fanzines, “you have to take the rough with the smooth, and there is usually a lot of rough. … Fewer publications might improve quality, because all the good articles would tend to accumulate in the remaining fanzines.” Resonating with the discussion of fiction in magazines and fanzines, the book ends with a Bibliography of recommended fantasy literature and adjacent genres—similar to Gary Gygax’s Appendix N.

The book was a very fun read, particularly as a historical artifact of interest to this long-time role-playing game enthusiast. (I’ve been playing since 1983, so I started playing about when this book came out; I was a little younger than the authors.) But its existence intrigues me. I’m not sure why someone would have bought this book then—instead of one of the existing games on the market, perhaps even D&D itself. Throughout the book, the authors discuss prices, even comparing prices, and at $2.95, the book was less expensive than the D&D Basic Set or the AD&D Players Handbook—but you could play neither game, nor any of the others mentioned, after reading it.

It was an opportunistic title, capitalizing on growing public attention toward the game—and role-playing games in general—similar to third-party Rubiks Cube or how to play Pokemon books. I’m also curious why a British book had to be reprinted in the United States—rather than turning to an author or authors closer to home. Role-playing game-oriented amateur press association Alarums and Excursions launched in 1975 and The Wild Hunt was founded in 1979, so there was already a culture of writing about role-playing games in the States. Meanwhile, the fanzine The Oracle started publication in 1982. The book’s origin in the United Kingdom isn’t problematic—mostly evident in the authors’ preference for White Dwarf and its neglect of American fanzines entirely—but the importation is a curiosity.

I wonder if the authors are still around—and if they still huck dice.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Acoustic Trip Hop: Ui, "Lifelike"

Ui, Lifelike (Southern, 1998)

Among the other post-rock bands that hit my radar and tickled my fancy in the mid-1990s, I didn’t listen to Ui as much as I did Tortoise and Trans Am, and perhaps even less than Gastr del Sol, Isotope 217 and the adjacent Chicago Underground Orchestra (or duo or trio or quartet, depending). Hailing from the Midwest, much of my attention was Chicago-centric, so it surprised me to learn that Ui was based in New York City—even if they signed to the Chicago-based label Southern after a show at the Lounge Ax. You can’t get much more Chicago than that! (Trans Am was based in Maryland, so Chicago—even though it was a center for post-rock—did not hold sole claim to the sound.)



In some ways, Ui’s music falls squarely near the center of post-rock, in that it’s instrumental music and utilized traditional rock instrumentation with electronics while eschewing rock song structures or elements. Ui expands on that a little bit with its focus on the bass rather than the guitar (occasionally reminding me of Morphine)—the band features two bassists—and the use of other instruments, including keyboards and horns.


In fact, with only three members—Wilbo Wright on basses, keyboards, and cello; Clem Waldmann on drums and percussion; and Sasha Frere-Jones on basses, guitar, keyboards, auxiliary percussion, sampling, and sequencing—Ui obtains a relatively full sound on Lifelike, its second and penultimate album. (Its final album would come but four years later.) The pieces incorporating horns—with eight United Kingdom- and United States-based players credited in the liner notes—sound even more full, incorporating jazz and subtle classical sensibilities.


The resulting sound skews closer to electronica and dub than other post-rock acts, as represented by the penultimate track on the compact disc, “Acer Rubrum.” It’s as though Medeski Martin & Wood studied with Kenneth Gaburo or Eugene Chadbourne led the Beastie Boys for The In Sound from Way Out! Call it acoustic trip hop even though it's not acoustic. Subtly funky and groove-oriented, the band stops shy of jamming, with pieces on the CD ranging between two and five minutes in length. Part of me, however, would like some of the songs to last longer, as though Stereolab were part of the Washington, D.C., go-go scene. Perhaps, even, forever.


Highlights of the record include the cascading guitar lines in “Blood in the Air,” the trumpet entrance several minutes into “Undersided,” the multi-layered groove and steady decay and degradation of “Digame” (the piece just falls apart at the end), “Green of the Melon” in its entirety, and “The Fortunate One Knows No Anxiety”’s loosely tuned persistent progress.


Even though I bought this CD upon its release, I didn’t make the connection between the Sasha Frere-Jones of the band Ui and the Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker and other writing until this week. Previously contributing to such diverse periodicals as Ego Trip, Jessica Hopper’s Hit It or Quit It, and The Wire, Frere-Jones joined the staff of The New Yorker in 2004—following the release of Ui’s final album, Answers, in 2003. He continued working for the magazine until 2015.


These days, you can still find Frere-Jones’s writing in The New Yorker sometimes, as well as in 4Columns, Artforum, Observer, and other outlets. Ui might no longer be performing, but his writing remains relevant and thought provoking. Meanwhile, Wright continues to perform; sells, transports, and plants trees; teaches music lessons; and hosts a radio show on Princeton’s radio station, WPRB-FM, every Tuesday from 12-3 p.m. ET. (WNUR-FM alumnus Jon Solomon also hosts a show there.) Waldmann, also a member of the Loser’s Lounge, went on to record and perform with the Blue Man Group, and more recently recorded with George Faulkner of the Rabies. (Incidentally, in the early days of the Blue Man Group’s Boston outpost, I ushered for a performance so I could see them for free; it was awesome then—I can only imagine what it’s like now that they’re owned by Cirque du Soleil.)


This album was kind of a sleeper when it first came out. Even slumbering for almost 25 years, Lifelike remains worth listening to—and pleasantly surprising throughout. I should’ve paid more attention to Ui when they were still around. Because then I might have listened to this record more over the intervening years.


Song of the Day: Nu Genea, "Bar Mediterraneo"

Daily Headlines for Aug. 5, 2022

Op-Ed: The progressive prosecutor movement has limits. Public defenders can do more

Gun Trafficking Surges Across State Lines: One Pistol’s 1,200-Mile Journey to a Boston Homicide
More firearms are being brought illegally from states with loose gun laws into states with tighter restrictions

My mother was killed by a white supremacist. Now we need advocacy, not sympathy.
We all deserve to live in a society where we can gather in houses of worship, wear our articles of faith – and simply exist without fear of being targeted.

Latina woman says Redondo Beach police targeted her for having dog on pier

Federal Officials Charge Four Officers in Breonna Taylor Raid
The police in Louisville, Ky., fatally shot Ms. Taylor during a nighttime raid on her apartment. Prosecutors said officers had lied in order to obtain a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home.

Feds charge 4 Louisville police officers in Breonna Taylor shooting

U.S. Charges Four Current, Former Louisville Officers in Breonna Taylor’s Killing
Taylor was asleep at home with her boyfriend when police burst into apartment

Five U.S. senators re-introduce "College Athletes Bill of Rights" focused on compensation, Title IX compliance

Why Marilyn Monroe’s sudden death still evokes mystery, questions 60 years later

Having Trouble Flying With Your Dog? Charter a Private Jet for Princess
With air travel strained, strangers band together to fly their pets in style; ‘I wouldn’t consider any other way of flying our little girl’

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Yearning to Be Heard: Kenneth Gaburo, "Five Works for Voices, Instruments, and Electronics"

Kenneth Gaburo, Five Works for Voices, Instruments, and Electronics (New World, 2002)


The tray card for this compact disc is labeled “File Under: Classical/Contemporary: Gaburo, Kenneth.” That might have been helpful in some record stores. Is Gaburo’s work classical music? (Yes.) Electronic music? (Yes.) Something entirely other? (Oh, gods, yes.)


The five pieces on this CD were recorded between 1956 and 1974. According to Warren Burt’s expansive and insightful liner notes in the booklet, Gaburo was not that involved in the “more establishment new-music scenes of the day, such as in New York.” In fact, despite his importance for and influence on later experimental composers (Gaburo associated with Harry Partch and Pauline Oliveros), he became increasingly alienated from his largely academic environment—he taught at the University of Illinois and the University of California, San Diego—and eventually turned to freelance work and semi-desert life before returning to a teaching post at the University of Iowa. There, he led the gloriously interdisciplinary and perplexing Seminar for Cognitive Studies, dying in Iowa City in 1993.



Gaburo composed for instruments, voices, electronics, multimedia, and theater—in the 1950s onward. These early examples of contemporary classical or new music incorporating electronics drew on the resources and research facilities of the academic institutions for which he worked.


The first piece on the CD, “Antiphony IV (Poised),” was recorded in 1967. Featuring a setting of piccolo, bass trombone, double-bass, and voice on tape, the piece showcases members of the University of Illinois Contemporary Chamber Players. The instruments provide an environment for Barbara Dalheim's left-channel vocals, which recite a very brief poem by Virginia Hommel, vocalizing  only the phonemes, the smallest unit of speech, rather than word, phrase (or foot), line, or stanza. The composition effectively stages and deconstructs the presentation of the poem, illegible to human understanding but still extant. I can hardly believe the piece is nine minutes and 34 seconds in length; every time I’ve listened to it, it’s over before I know it. A piece to fall into.


The second piece, 1956’s “String Quartet in One Movement” features the Walden String Quartet performing the most straightforward neoclassical composition on the recording. More traditional listeners of classical music might find this composition more accessible than the others offered here—but still challenging.


1970’s “Mouth-Piece: Sextet for Solo Trumpet,” is performed by Jack Logan. In the piece, Logan strives to play six contrapuntal—independently melodic—lines at the same time with some semblance of equality. Meanwhile, the performer is not playing the trumpet in the usual manner. Instead, he is vocalizing, speaking, and sounding through and with—sometimes against—the trumpet. Brass instrument as voicebox, if you will. The trumpet filters each phoneme vocalized as Logan speaks and sings a poem written by Gaburo. During live performances, the performer was accompanied by three projections: the score, written using non-standard notation; each word being vocalized by way of phonemes as the piece proceeds; and the poem as a whole to represent the entirety of the piece. The result, perhaps even more unintelligible than “Antiphony IV (Poised),” is riveting, surprising, occasionally funny—but never silly. This is serious play. And at not quite six minutes in length, it also seems much too short.


“Antiphony III (Pearl-white moments),” then, is my favorite of the selections. Recorded in 1962, the piece was composed for 16 voices and electronics. Performed by the New Music Choral Ensemble, the piece presents another poem written by Hommel, with the 16 voices vocalizing each word of the poem in order, sometimes out of order, as some voices are presented on tape and others altered electronically. As the piece progresses, non-vocal electronic sounds come into play, as well. Even though the words are spoken, whispered, barked, and sighed, the piece does not result in a comprehensible poem as such. This time, the piece utilizes words as musical notes, voice and breathing body as instrument, and electronic tape as instrument—resulting in a wondrous, compelling, and almost hypnotic music of yearning to be heard, if not understood. Parts of the 16-plus minute piece reminded me of Noh theater without the dance—the presentation of the incomprehensible poem as a whole providing the drama.


The final piece, “The Flow of (u),” was recorded in 1974 and is a setting for three voices. The basic idea of the piece is “one note sung by three singers for twenty-three minutes.” And the result is similar to the Noh-like fugue instilled by “Antiphony III (Pearl-white moments).” Pure sound, almost a drone element, as the three singers—here, Elinor Barron, Philip Larson, and Linda Vickerman—attempt to stay in tune, alternate breathing without breaking the tonal quality of the piece, and navigate the psycho-acoustic elements that come into play. Even while striving to stay in tune, adjacent sounds vibrate, and occasionally one hears overtones or sounds that might not even be there. This is definitely a piece to listen to with headphones, as well as with room sound. It is decidedly minimal music, but maximal at the same time given its need for stamina, dedication, and concentration, even as a listener. (Admittedly, the first time I listened to it with headphones, I drifted off. This time, listening again as I write, I


entered


another state

of


being

.

)