Sunday, December 26, 2010

ExKin Anniversary: Five Years, What a Surprise!

As of today The Exploding Kinetoscope, bane of the film blogosphere, is five years old! Over the course of this half-decade we have had many adventures, you (theoretical reader) and I (me), from the Curse of Dwindling Posting Schedules/Readership to being Tweeted by Roger J. Ebert. I have fulfilled my destiny by being cited as a something-or-other in the Wikipedia article on esteemed pornography director Alex de Rezny, and IMDb boards still regularly link that essay on The Shining to demonstrate the dangers of crackpot over-analysis. This being the end of the year, most adherents of the Gregorian calendar are looking forward, which means it is time for us to look back for a moment.

The piece I really want to share here every year is my first "published" film criticism, a review of Billy Crystal's 1992 tour-de-Billy-Crystal Mr. Saturday Night, written for my junior high school newspaper. Alas, having searched for this important document for years, I seem to have destroyed all copies in my possession in a fit of late adolescent embarrassment. Suffice to say this notice in the South East Junior High Little Hawk was likely the most glowing write-up ever given Mr. Saturday Night, sole complaint being that the film's old age makeup effects were stellar but "everyone's faces look too tight and shiny." This phrase still echoes around my head, usually while witnessing the glossiest of studio spectacle pictures, be it summer action tentpole or holiday awards season prestige product: Tight! Shiny! Or: Too tight and shiny. Anyhow, this document being unavailable, I did unearth a gem from the archives, presented below.

Back in the times, it was fashionable for young people to have web-logs on the LiveJournal platform, likely due to the air of exclusivity lent by its invite-only requirements and the clubby atmosphere of its social networking elements. I did set up house there for a time, but became puzzled at my readership's lack of interest when I would enthuse about sundry European horror pictures and mid-century monster movies. A funny and mean lady of my acquaintanceship at the time laid out the straight facts: "Nobody has anything to say about movies they haven't seen." Oh, well, that makes good sense, I thought, and set about the business of setting up this joint which is not so strictly face-to-face-pals-only — i.e., a proper blog. This story demonstrates the importance of having funny, mean girls in one's life. It also reminds me to value any readers who feel compelled to comment. My sole blogging resolution for 2011 is to be more present and attentive to the comments sections.

Like any teenager who worries over his garage band's logo before writing any songs, casting about for the perfect blog title consumed many hours. I will cop to being preoccupied with presentation over content, but from a corporate-speak "branding" perspective, title, look, feel are important after all. You don't want a blog title that you will be sick of in six months. When choosing a title — I still remember this process, I swear — I tried to stick to the dicta that it should, be sort of short, evoke our topic ("the movies and T.V.") in some way, and not be too cute, punning or insidery. It should have at least one "interesting" word in it, a certain poetic ring and mystery. Overtones of sex and death are plusses. Basically it should sound kind of rock n' roll.

My first choice title was The Bloodshot Eye, which I still think is pretty good. It's simple, mildly unpleasant, and completely true. Sadly, it was already taken. Fair warning: all that happens for the rest of this ramble is that I talk about titles I didn't use.

Reproduced below is the actual scrawled list generated while brainstorming potential blog titles. Unfortunately it is undated, but it is on Standard Federal Bank (Michigan?) notepad, and has the phone number of someone called Maria on the reverse in someone else's handwriting. I assume this was scrap paper in the office of some job I have forgotten and was ignoring while making the list. Don't strain your eyes, I will decipher and annotate the list for you. And please don't judge too harshly: this is mostly storm and very little brain. It's all for charity, folks.

4 Feet Off the Ground — The tale goes that industrialist Leland Stanford (yes, that Stanford) commissioned Eadweard Muybridge to create his first photographic sequences of a animals in motion in order to settle the matter of whether a galloping horse does, indeed, simultaneously lift all its hooves from the ground. A: Yes, they do, and also this is how horses invented the motion picture. While the reference is pleasingly oblique and in secondary meaning sounds elated, it is just this side of too oblique.

The Circuit Theater — The main thing about the crossed-off ones is that they suck. This one is, I think, an acceptable pun (circuit like a computer! Computers have circuits, right?), but oh, come on.

The Continuity Sheet — Maybe the idea here was that this blog would be a thing people would check regularly for some purpose? Crossed off immediately.

The Establishing Shot — Many of my terrible, rejected ideas were later put to good use by actual websites who don't seem to know they are terrible.

How is Cinema? — The kind of excellently bad idea one has to write down for the pleasure of X-ing out. BUT I still think about this one, pointlessly mashing-up Bazin and the kind of casual, everyday moviegoer conversation that begins "You saw Movie X this weekend? How was it?" This question, understood in the vernacular as innocently intended invitation to voice one's opinion of Movie X, also has the feel of deep/meaningless question that sets aglaze the eyes of the very stoned: how is it? How is it? Woah.

Checking the Gate — Awful, but cementing the idea that the title ought to sound like a location, event or object, more than an action. More than a little mundane, inappropriately associated with film production which little concerns us here, and later used as a blog title by an animal trainer.

Road Show Exhibition — A bit too prestigious/pretentious sounding, while curiously lacking any phonaesthetic loveliness.

Two-Reeler — Nicely antiquated, maybe, but not particularly pretty or cool enough to justify that it has nothing to do with most of the eventual content here.

The March of Time — Not wanting to invoke a specific film, let alone a radio/newsreel series, pushed this one off the list. But I get it: there's an odd push-pull between current events and old timeyness in the reference, and the phrase has always had a delectable fatalistic ring about it.

The Latham Loop — Clearly grasping here, but in defense I was searching film history for a nice found phrase, not straining for obscurity. Another crappy one later used by someone else.

Black Maria Cocktail Party — This, I maintain, is completely rad, and was very, very close to being the name of this space. The words still lurk somewhere in the code of this blog, I believe. It's got everything, really: early cinema, attractive juxtaposition, and booze.

The Exploding KinetoscopeExploding Plastic Inevitable is turn of nonsense phrase and all-time greatest name of anything contender that I've never been able to get over since first hearing it. It's a word-string that I turn over in my head all the time, and I was kind of doomed to rip it off. Anyway, the final pick has two Good Words, classy birth-of-cinema ambiance, overtones of violence and spectacle, and sounds maybe a little sleazy. In our masthead, it is coupled with Official Blog Slogan "Film: The Deadliest Art," an irresistibly dumb, ominous, ultimately meaningless inversion of Arthur Knight's formerly popular book The Liveliest Art (1957), which never hurt anyone, but I am punk rock like that.

Laterna Magika — A heavy contender, utilizing the X-Files foreign language titling trick and looking cool in the process. I believe I simply mis-/wishfully-spelled "Magica," so it's nothing to do with the Prague theater I just read about on Wikipedia. Alas, Kenneth Anger and Ingmar Bergman got here first, thus this was nixed.

Tachistoscope Popcorn Experiment — Would that this were not quite so clunky, because it is so much down the right track, you know? The urban-legendary incident to which it refers is a long-time fascination of mine, as it is creepy, paranoid, and a total lie that lives on as casually accepted fact. It is vaguely film-related without really having anything to do with film, and it has a "scope" and an X in it. I call dibs on this phrase forever.

The House Reel — Mainly rejected for problems of boringness and corniness.

The Flower of Gower Gulch — Firstly, this is a song that Porky Pig sings in "Drip-Aong Daffy". Secondly, that song is a sorta-inside joking reference to the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Gower Street, where in beautiful times long gone, cowboy-type bit players would hang out, and screen-ready Western extras could be scooped up by the truckload. I was, at the time this blog began, living about a block from this historic location, now the site of a not-particularly-charming strip mall, Denny's and Rite-Aid. Time marches on!

Academy Ratio — Boring, and additionally too strongly suggests that this might be an Old Time Movies ONLY blog, which it is surely not. As a side note, my understanding of aspect ratios is basic, functional or slightly-above-average, depending on the room, so why bait for trouble like that? Also, it sounds snooty and doesn't go POP.

This is Cinerama! — Appealing for its exclamation point, but too specific by a mile. Again, later put into use by other blog-minded parties.

Poverty Row Babylon — ... and here is the second choice, the only one that in retrospect I sometimes wish I'd used instead. The historical Poverty Row was not a specific location proper, but several of the studios were located in roughly the same area. As it happens, the hellhole apartment where I lived back then was in proximity to some of those places, and in the meantime I have only moved closer to the heart of the Row as it were. It is important to me that I walk past the Monogram Pictures facilities all the time, a sight that never fails to send a chill down my spine. Those are the kinds of reasons that I really, actually love Los Angeles, and am increasingly disinterested in ever living anywhere else. So associating the dinge-romance of Poverty Row with the horror-glitz of Hollywood Babylon and therefore also with Kenneth Anger (and by proxy an interest in occult studies that I try to keep out of this blog), Intolerance, my actual neighborhood, etc. I reckon it only lost the race because it is sort of a parody title. Nobody steal it, because I'm gonna use it for something.

The Hanging Gardens of Poverty Row — This is, like, the same thing but unnecessarily wordy, obtuse and cute, though it's kind of pretty.

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Speaking of L.A. history, glamor and dilapidation, I have spruced up the ol' blog code and look for the first time in several years, aiming for less oppressive and more handmade feel. The Exploding Kinetoscope of 2011: Tight! Shiny! Rising up to the right there is my fairly caricatured depiction of the awe-inspiring Los Angeles Theater. This historic treasure has been nicely preserved, but due to the general rottenness of downtown L.A. is not used for regular film screenings.

Aaaand speaking of regular usage, I know posting around here is spotty in comparison with every other blog in the universe. You know, I do try to strive for quality over quantity (present navel-gazing excepted), so for those who stick with ExKin anyway, y'all are a quality audience, regardless of quantity.

And with that, I've gone on plenty long, so to all readers who have crossed this blog's path in the last five years, whether supporters or dissenters, friends or gawkers, I thank you kindly, and invite you to drop by anytime during the next five. There's usually coffee on.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Arguments for the Extermination of the Human Race

Also for your consideration:
-Hollowing out your eye sockets with your own fingers so that this image can never again cross your field of vision.
-Purchasing Shrek DVD and home shrink-wrapping equipment, defecating in Shrek case, resealing Shrek package, returning to store.
-Hijacking an M1A2 Abrams tank, decimating DreamWorks Animation studios (1000 Flower Street, Glendale, CA 91201). Those choosing this "consideration," please be sure not to miss their backup facilities in Redwood City (1800 Seaport Boulevard, Redwood City, CA 94063). You may need separate tanks for this task, so be sure to recruit a friend.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

TINY TOO Art Show Announcement / Wallet-Size Kaiju

The TINY TOO SHOW exhibition at Gallery Meltdown showcases eensey-scale work (three inches or smaller) from some thirty-plus artists. Yours truly will also be in the show, and as per usual, the peripheral reason to mention this here is that my pieces are movie-culture-related. As the show is a one-night-only, cash-and-carry affair, the bulk of the art is available for perusal and purchase in the preview catalogue <— linked right here. Among these little gems is something for every budget, and as they take up less wall space than a commemorative $2 bill, make excellent holiday gifts. Direct purchase inquiries to Gallery Meltdown staff, at the links above/below, in person or by phone.

The TINY TOO SHOW goes up on December 11, 2010 from 6 P.M. to 9 P.M., in the gallery space of Meltdown Comics, 7522 W. Sunset Blvd., 90046. Those peculiar persons for whom Wednesday is not synonymous with "New Comics Day" often ask "Where on Sunset is that? I've never seen that," and the answer is "West Hollywood, somewhere between the In-N-Out and that Griddle Cafe place that cooks Oreos into pancakes."

So below are photographs of my tiny paintings, which depict beloved monstrous creatures from Japanese tokusatsu media. That is, they're all guys in rubber kaiju suits. Each of these oh-so-ironically mini-kaiju are acrylic on 2"x2" MDF. As disclaimer, in person these are considerably more lustrous, not so washed out, and appear less "blotchy" and more "pointillist," as digital scanner or camera simply cannot convey the miniature-ness on hand. Anyway, do consider that you're seeing these rascals at nearly twice their actual size, which completely undoes any in-person effects, but is fun anyway. Away, then!

Anguirus — 1968
Front of the pack, but the most modern design of the bunch, Godzilla's first giant monster foe appears in approximation of his Destroy All Monsters! design. Anguirus' 1968 incarnation was selected over his First Appearance look in Godzilla Raids Again (née Gigantis, the Fire Monster, 1955) because 1) I love Destroy All Monsters!, 2) the film is in color, which avoids having to paint in monochrome or inventing a color scheme for the beast (the original suit is rumored to have been painted in hues of red and blue!), and 3) later appearances do not try to mask that the design forces the suit performer to crawl around on hands and knees. There is, in my opinion, something charming and a little magical about bent-knee kaiju, a necessary acquiescence to the anatomical reality of the actor, a silent signifier of the Real World that could break the illusion but that is, instead, gradually absorbed as a genre convention. Blessed are the knee-crawlers.

Kanegon — 1966
The most esoteric of this cluster is Kanegon, who appeared in the Ultra Q episode "Kanegon's Cocoon". Despite having featured in one TV show more than forty years ago, the coin-purse-headed, non-giant kaiju is a readily recognizable icon in his homeland, and is steadily reproduced in vinyl and resin of all size and color. The excellent Ultra Q has sadly never been exported to America, but is available on nice, ultra-pricey Japanese DVD from the usual sources for such things. Naturally it's never been dubbed or subtitled, but you don't entirely need a translation, particularly for this kid-logic fable about the dangers of money lust. Briefly, greedy boy Kaneo finds a pod full of coins, is sucked inside, and wakes up as a Kanegon, which must eat cold hard cash to survive. With some familial resemblance to "The Metamorphosis" and Carl Barks comics, the episode finally goes full-on weirdo in the dénouement, where Kanegon somehow blasts off into space, Kaneo parachutes back to earth, and finds that his parents have turned to Kanegons, too. Anyway, the episode contains several indelible images, including the desperate creature crouched curbside before a dropped safe box and shoveling coins into his maw, as well as one of the more hair-raising stunts I've ever seen, when the suited Kanegon actor falls from a moving bulldozer and into the path of the blade. But vague morals about greed and alien ass-rockets aside, I suspect the episode endures because of a single lyrical shot of the lonesome Kanegon sitting on a quarry hillside at sunset, gazing into the distance.

As re: the painting, I cop to having backed off on the backlighting and dusky shadows of this scene, in exchange for a clearer look at this classic monster suit. Relatively trustworthy color documentation exists, but I chose to depict the scene in Ultra Q-accurate black and white.

Mothra — 1964
Mothra comes at the suggestion of the lady of the house. Good thinking, since girls like Mothra, and a request I'm glad to fulfill because she lets me keep dozens of vinyl monsters in the living room. Besides a hindwing reduction and proboscis redesign after her 1961 debut, I don't believe that Shōwa Mothra underwent drastic changes in look. Like everyone else, I try to keep up on these things, but claim no expertise.

The scene in the little picture above comes from her '64 appearance in Mothra vs. Godzilla (Godzilla vs. the Thing, for the elderly), as the aging Mothra takes refuge in her sacred cave on Infant Island and rests up for one final, self-sacrificing battle. Mothra has, the Infant Islanders say, chosen to defend Japan against Godzilla, though her life cycle is ending and human greed has endangered her massive, beached egg. There is a quiet majesty to this scene that seems intrinsically Japanese — being, as it is, about natural cycles and personal sacrifice for the good of society. Overhead light streams into the dark cave and rims the beast's gently flapping wings, a melancholy wash of mono no aware clarity and beauty all the more unexpected for being in a tale of giant monsters amok.

This is among the most moving and delicate scenes in a Godzilla picture — if not top of the list — and one of the many elements that recommends Mothra vs. Godzilla as a particularly fine installment.

I've cheated the angle of Mothra's wings, and fudged the interior of the cave, for more dramatic (and square) staging. Do forgive me. And finally, inevitably...

Godzilla — 1964
Speaking of Mothra vs. Godzilla and its excellent qualities, the street-level story is funny and compelling. Theme park developers claim ownership of Mothra's egg, the working class fishermen who discovered it demand compensation, career politicians try to put positive spin on disasters, and newspapermen have honest-to-God ideological discussions about the degree to which journalists should shape public opinion. That's just a random sample of this idea-rich masterpiece, and Mothra vs. Godzilla is exactly the counterattack to keep in your arsenal when some chucklehead tells you that a Giant Fighting Creatures movie mustn't/needn't/can't/shouldn't aspire to be anything but stupid, loud, cinematically incompetent, etc. You will need this weaponry in the near future, likely in battle with the Transformers franchise.

Back to the point, MvG also sports one of the very best Godzilla suits, affectionately shorthanded by enthusiasts as Mosugoji, and pretty much the hands-down fan favorite Shōwa suit. Personally, I can't help but feel the most affection for the Soshingeki-Goji of Destroy All Monsters! through Godzilla vs. Gigan/ on Monster Island, and there's something abominably creepy about the King Kong vs. Godzilla suit, but in the end, I cave to popular opinion on this one.

As for the King of Monsters half of the equation, Godzilla is depicted as an irredeemable asshole in the film, is given one of the all-time, any-movie greatest entrance scenes, a delightfully ignoble comeuppance at the end, and...

In the above scene, Godzilla slips and smashes into Nagoya Castle, then takes out his rage on the landmark: the coolest Godzilla design lays into one of the Tsuburaya Dept.'s most spectacular miniatures. Ironically/hilariously, restoration of the historic building had just been completed five years prior. So, obviously, that's a good, excruciatingly laborious thing to commemorate in a two inch painting. I can only add that I was a little bummed that to fit both the beautiful creature and castle the scale is such that one can't quite make out the golden dolphins atop the building.

* * * * *
Finally, for those who read this far and actually, y'know, live in Los Angeles... In grand Bandai collecting tradition, there will be one additional Show Exclusive painting. That is, not available via Internet or phone order, and not available after the show, but available only on December 11 at Gallery Meltdown!

P.S., the painting will be of Guiron from Gamera vs. Guiron. Because his head is a knife.