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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

January 31, 2012

FILM REVIEW

The Last Voyage (1960)


“This is one guy I'm gonna help aboard personally!”

This line is uttered by Cliff Henderson (Robert Stack) as he helps Hank Lawson (Woody Strode) clamber aboard the last lifeboat after an ageing luxury liner, SS Claridon, en route to Japan, goes under.

Lawson, a black man, has just spent a better part of the 91-minute Oscar-nominated film helping Henderson rescue his wife, Laurie (Dorothy Malone), from the wreckage of their cabin which is hit by a huge explosion in the boiler room. Lawson, a tall, bare and muscular handyman in the engine room, could have abandoned the sinking liner with the rest of his mates but decides to stay back and help Henderson extricate his wife from the debris. He also ensures the safety of their four-year old daughter by putting her on board one of the fleeing lifeboats.
 

Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone in an emotional moment.

The Last Voyage, written and directed by Andrew L. Stone, moves at a slow pace and the long wait – till Laurie is rescued just as the ship goes down completely – is agonising for the viewer. Will she or won’t she make it? You’re relieved that she makes it in the end, with plenty of help from Second Engineer Walsh (Edmond O’Brien) towards the end. At one point, as her devoted husband Cliff runs around frantically for help, Laurie contemplates slashing her wrist with a shard of glass lying nearby so that at least her distraught husband can save himself. She decides against killing herself because she knows losing hope is half the battle lost.

The film is realistic for its portrayal of a huge ship in distress, the scramble for survival among its hundreds of passengers, a captain (George Sanders) who refuses to believe his ship is sinking, and the respect that he, as Captain Robert Adams, commands among his junior and senior officers. For me, the defining feature of The Last Voyage is the portrayal of racial equality among men as they come together in a desperate bid for survival. 

Woody Strode, Robert Stack and Edmond O'Brien in The Last Voyage. 

Hank Lawson, with a smile on his face and a kerchief around his neck, is endearing throughout the movie as he refuses to ditch Cliff Henderson and save his own life, because he knows it could have been his wife trapped down there. 


For more Overlooked/Forgotten films this Tuesday, visit Todd Mason’s exciting blog.

January 29, 2012

BOOK REVIEW

Dr. Death by Jonathan Kellerman (2000)

When I decide to read a new series by a new author, I usually like to start with the first book. You get a feel of the primary character, especially if it’s a spy or a detective, and you get to walk alongside the writer as he or she refines the character with each new book. In the absence of a first book and in my haste to read the author, I pick up any within the series that might come my way. And so it was that I happened to read Dr. Death (2000) by Jonathan Kellerman instead of When the Bough Breaks (1985) and found myself fourteen books ahead. 

So what was American psychologist Alex Delaware like in the last fifteen years? Which were some of his most challenging and rewarding cases? Did he ever fail? How many times was he shot at? Was he married before Kellerman brought him to life? How many times has he been arrested?

Dr. Death doesn’t tell me much but I’m guessing Delaware hasn’t changed a lot in all the years that he has been assisting LAPD detective Milo Sturgis solve murder mysteries. What I can infer is that Delaware is a quiet man who likes to listen more and talk less. But then, that’s what psychologists do. I know his friend Sturgis is a gay, with a live-in partner, which has no bearing on the case. Delaware is also a kind-hearted man who refuses to compromise the interests of his patients even if they might be connected to the murder. He has a rare curiosity that enables him to dig, and dig deep. He lives with his girlfriend, Robin Castagna, a sculptor, who seldom questions him about his work. They are a happy couple, perhaps because they give each other time and space, and spend a lot of time together, eating, watching movies and making love. They have a bulldog.

This is what I have discovered so far about Delaware as he teams up with Sturgis to investigate the brutal murder of Eldon Mate, or Dr. Death, a story which Kellerman seems to have loosely fashioned on the late American pathologist and euthanasia activist Jack Kevorkian who died in June 2011. He doesn’t say so anywhere.

Kevorkian, who was called Dr. Death in real life, once said, “Dying is not a crime” which Eldon Mate apparently concurs with as he helps others commit suicide in Dr. Death. Till one day, someone decides to use his own death machine against him, in a rental van and off a remote stretch of the road in the Hollywood Hills area. His gruesome and wound-infested body is discovered by a dog belonging to a young couple on their morning walk; the man more than willing to talk, the woman reticent and withdrawn. 

Thereafter, the story moves along at an even pace as Kellerman introduces one suspect after another that the detective and the psychologist can only suspect and do little about.

There’s Richard Doss, a shrewd businessman who buys rundown properties cheap, turns them around, and makes his fortunes. After years of a seemingly perfect marriage, his wife, Joanna, falls sick but the doctors are unable to diagnose the cause though you suspect its chronic depression. She eventually turns to Dr. Death who helps put her out of misery. Doss might have avenged his wife’s assisted killing.

Eric, his brilliant albeit disturbed, son has reason to murder Eldon Mate because he leaves university abruptly to care for his ailing mother.

Another prime suspect is Dr. Death’s own son, a psychological mess, whom he abandoned as a child. His wife, who brings up their son, turns up after Mate’s death to find out if there’s anything for her in his will.

Retired FBI agent Leimart Fusco is a suspect because he has been trying, for several years, to hunt down a serial killer who had killed his daughter and was responsible for numerous other murders. You can’t help wondering who he is after: the serial killer or Mate’s murderer. Might they be one and the same person?

Even Mate’s absconding lawyer Ray Haiselden is a suspect. 

Kellerman ties all these suspects into one big knot and leaves it for the reader to untie, which is easier said than done. You don’t suspect the identity of the real killer until nearly the end but, by then, the author has you in knots too. Alex Delaware looks at things, like hidden clues, for instance, with a keen academic eye which finally helps him snare his prey. Dr. Death is a good psychological thriller but it’s not racy like your regular whodunit and the pace picks up much, much later. But it’s worth reading.

January 28, 2012

Long live King Kong!

 
Much before King Kong was made into a film on at least three occasions – the 1976 version starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, in my opinion, being more enchanting and engrossing than the 1933 and 2005 versions – English crime writer Edgar Wallace created the giant gorilla in a short story he co-wrote with Draycott Montagu Dell. Their story first appeared in Cinema Weekly in October 1933.

Interestingly, the first version of King Kong was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack based on a story idea by Cooper and Wallace.

King Kong has lost none of its cinematic influence after scores of movies about beasts and monsters that followed the first version – originally titled The Beast: The Birth of Kong – over the past eighty years. King Kong still sounds better.

The movies spawned many comic-books with the 1968-published Gold Key cover of the mighty King Kong battling puny airplanes atop the Empire State Building being the most striking of all.

January 27, 2012

Stamp of a Writer: Samuel L. Clemens (MARK TWAIN)

"I have been an author for 20 years and an ass for 55."

"Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

"I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience."

"We write frankly and fearlessly but then we "modify" before we print."

"You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by."

"Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it."

"If you invent two or three people and turn them loose in your manuscript, something is bound to happen to them — you can't help it; and then it will take you the rest of the book to get them out of the natural consequences of that occurrence, and so first thing you know, there's your book all finished up and never cost you an idea."

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.

"I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a 
person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice." 

"An author values a compliment even when it comes from a source of doubtful competency."


"There is only one brief, solitary law for letter-writing, and yet you either do not know that law, or else you are so stupid that you never think of it. It is very easy and simple: Write only about things and people your correspondent takes a living interest in."

"Nothing in the world affords a newspaper reporter so much satisfaction as gathering up the details of a bloody and mysterious murder, and writing them up with aggravated circumstantiality."

"Classic — a book which people praise and don't read."


January 25, 2012

Ten most popular male-female duets

Some of my favourite songs are popular duets sung by male and female vocalists. Here are ten famous duets that I have been listening to for many years. They are in no particular order because I like them all. If I have missed any obvious duos and their duets, such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, which I haven't included here, don't hesitate to belt them out. 


1. Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now by Grace Slick and Paul Kantner 
This hit song was a part of Jefferson Starship’s album No Protection and was also the soundtrack of Mannequin starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall. Both song and film were released in 1987. The song has a terrific beat and effective lyrics.

2. Phantom of the Opera by Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford
Of all the broadway and movie versions, the 2004-film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler is, unarguably, the best. Listen to it today, if you haven’t yet. It’s powerful and magical and, to use a cliché, it will take your breath away.

3. Almost Paradise by Ann Wilson and Mike Reno
This love theme from Footloose by Wilson, vocalist for the Heart band, and Reno, lead singer of rock band Loverboy, starts off slowly before the tempo rises. It’s a soft number that’ll stay with you long after you listen to it.
 


4. (I've had) The Time of My Life by Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley
If you’ve seen Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, then you’ve heard this song. It won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group, an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. What more do you want?

5. Summer Wine by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
The world discovered Lee Hazlewood’s baritone voice in 1967, the year he and Nancy Sinatra made this song famous. I discovered Hazlewood in 2010. Along with the Wild West Summer Wine, I also recommend Some Velvet Morning, one of many popular duets they sang.
 


6. Up Where We Belong by Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker
When I first heard this lovely number, some years ago, I didn’t know it was from An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982. I found that out this evening! Warnes and Cocker sing this number with a lot of depth and feeling.

7. Somethin' Stupid by Nancy and Frank Sinatra
The best father-daughter duet I’ve ever heard. It sits on the famous crooner’s album The World We Knew.

8. Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie
I have been hearing this original soundtrack but haven’t seen the film, namely Franco Zeffirelli's Endless Love starring Brooke Shields. Billboard has labelled it the “greatest song duet of all time” – it’s really nice, but I won't say it's the greatest.


9. Beauty and the Beast by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson
Beauty and the Beast is the first of four of the greatest Disney films I’ve ever seen – the others are The Jungle Book, The Lion King and Bambi. The movie is a classic, so is this song.

 
10. You're the One That I Want by Olivia Newton and John Travolta
While this song from the 1978 musical-hit Grease is quite catchy, it faces stiff competition from the many songs in Grease 2, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield, released in 1982.


January 24, 2012

FILM REVIEW

(Return to) The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Which is your favourite kung fu movie? No prizes for guessing which mine is. It's always been Enter the Dragon which Bruce Lee never saw in the theatre — he died three weeks before the film was premiered in 1973. His death, at 32, wasn't just premature, it was profoundly tragic. There are quite a few unforgettable moments in the film — Lee's fair play, inimitable catcalls, unblinking eyes, lightning reaction, flying kick, amazing skill with nunchakus, duel in the Hall of Mirrors, and even one liners. In one scene, as Lee prepares to fight O'Harra (Robert Wall) and avenge his sister's death, O'Harra shows off by flinging a board in the air and smashing it with his fist. A grim-faced Lee retorts, "Boards don't hit back."

 
However, this post, which is offered as a part of Tuesday's Overlooked/Forgotten Films at Todd Mason's blog, is not about Enter the Dragon or the spate of martial arts flicks that followed, most notably, Drunken Master (1978), Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978), Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979), and Snake in the Monkey's Shadow (1979). It's about two other kung fu movies, the first of which is considered the greatest martial arts film ever made — The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and Return to the 36th Chamber (1980) — directed by Chia-Liang Liu.

Last week, I watched both these films after a gap of nearly three decades. I remember, the first time I saw it I was awestruck by The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and the gruelling training that San Te (Chia Hui Liu) goes through. He might as well be training to become a Navy SEAL.

A still from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

San Te, wounded in an uprising against the brutal Manchu government, approaches the fortress-like Shaolin Temple and begs to be trained so that he can go back and avenge the deaths of his family and friends. The temple of peace-loving Buddhist monks run by a kind abbot is initially reluctant to accept him because he doesn't belong to their fold. Later, however, he is allowed to enter the monastery and trained in its famed martial arts technique. San Te trains long and hard and often fails, only to rise and excel in each department, and quickly make his way past the other disciples to reach the 35th chamber. After completing his training, San Te goes home to help his people bring down the oppressive regime. Mission accomplished, he returns to the Shaolin Temple where he opens the 36th chamber to train ordinary people in martial arts.

If director Chia-Liang Liu romanticises The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, he lends a comic touch to Return to the 36th Chamber which is not a sequel though it might seem like one.

In this film, released in 1980, Chao Jen-Cheh (Chia Hui Liu again) is hired by poor workers to reclaim their wages from the owner of a chemical factory where they are employed but ill treated. Jen-Cheh must pretend he is a Shaolin monk and kung fu expert but his impersonation, with a dose of slapstick, is soon exposed by the boss and his thugs. Filled with remorse, the well-meaning Jen-Cheh promises the workers that he will return only after he learns kung fu at Shaolin.

As in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Jen-Cheh tries to trick his way into the temple but with little success. He pleads with the kindly abbot who sees potential in the upstart and assigns him two tasks with a purpose only the monk knows.

A scene from Return to the 36th Chamber.

First, he must wash his soot-stained face at the well. In the absence of large wooden buckets, which are taken by the official pupils, he must tie one end of a rope to his waist and the other end to a rock which he must then lift and throw into the well and quickly try and wash himself when the water splashes over. Jen-Cheh masters the art of ‘drawing water’ with a rock after dozens of failed, albeit comic, attempts. He learns his first martial arts lesson. But he doesn't know it.

The second task is what makes this film worth seeing. The abbot orders Jen-Cheh to build a bamboo scaffolding all around the interior of the temple. As the young man goes to work on the scaffolding, he watches the pupils train under him. He begins to imitate their actions with little other than his bare hands and feet and bamboos and twine. Jen-Cheh takes a year to build the scaffolding — and train himself in martial arts of the Shaolin temple. But he doesn’t know it. When the abbot sees the scaffolding, he quietly tells Jen-Cheh to pull it down. Jen-Cheh can’t believe it, but the abbot knows that the young man is ready.

Jen-Cheh then returns to his hometown and takes on the factory owner and his thugs with a superb display of martial arts tactics (the start-stop-start-stop technique of fighting associated with most kung fu movies) which he learnt from the rooftops of Shaolin Temple. He even calls it rooftop kung fu.

Chia-Liang Liu, who directed the two Shaolin films and also directed himself in Mad Monkey Kung Fu, is average with comedy. The martial arts expert who brought comic timing to, well, martial arts films is Jackie Chan who acted in popular films like Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master. His brand of slapstick is permanently etched on kung fu movies.

January 23, 2012

The Rushdie-Winfrey Show

© Wikimedia Commons
Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie did not attend the Jaipur Literature Festival but his long shadow hovered over the largest literary event in Asia-Pacific on all five days. The annual festival, held at Diggi Palace in Jaipur, the capital of the northwestern state of Rajasthan (the Land of Kings) from January 20 through 24, was in the news for all the wrong reasons.

The controversial author was keen to attend the festival but backed out at the last minute because of a perceived threat to his life from the underworld and possibly Islamic radicals. The writer's decision not to attend the prestigious event came in the wake of an "advisory" from the central (federal) government which its counterpart in the state took up in earnest. It concerned a possible law-and-order situation arising out of protests that might have greeted Rushdie on arrival, possibly leading to more serious consequences for the writer.

The Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, whose party heads the coalition government in New Delhi, denied there was a conspiracy to keep the author away. His government's feeble excuse was that it hadn't written to Rushdie, one way or the other.

Yesterday, Rushdie, who has been in the eye of a literary storm since publishing The Satanic Verses—a book banned in India—twenty-four years ago, claimed that he was "lied to" on the plot to kill him, which, on the face of it, appears to have been a political ploy to appease the Muslim community and keep the vote-bank of the ruling Congress Party intact. This is not the first time.


The author of Midnight's Children, which won the Booker in 1981, showed his anger on Twitter: "I've investigated and believe that I was, indeed, lied to... Don't know who gave orders. I guess the same police who want to arrest Hari (Kunzru), Amitava (Ghosh), Jeet (Thayil) and Ruchir (Joshi). Disgusting."

The four writers, who were participating in the literature festival, were asked to leave after reading excerpts from The Satanic Verses, to show their solidarity with Rushdie. Several authors at the fest have now demanded lifting the ban on the book.

The controversy over Rushdie took the spotlight away from another high-profile visitor to the Jaipur Literature Festival—Oprah Winfrey—who was on a week-long trip to India in connection with her new TV channel, Oprah Winfrey Network.

© Hindustan Times
The talk show host, who is very popular in India, spoke about her love of books and how it helped her to become one of the most influential women of our time. "Reading is what I do for pleasure, what I do to relax myself," she told the eager crowd. "My ideal day is to spend a day reading a great book, and knowing I have another one to read... At school, I turned in assignments a week early to get another book. The other kids hated me."

Winfrey has some nine million followers on Twitter but it didn't stop her from expressing concern over the damaging effects of computers and social networking on reading habits. "I feel that, because when I am on it (Twitter), I feel I could be reading a book right now."


The literature festival had its lighthearted moments too. Like, when The New Yorker editor David Remnick was about to answer a question, a cow somewhere behind him mooed, prompting the American journalist to joke, "I deserved that!" Later, he told The Times of India, "A cow behind the tent made loud noises whenever I was asked a question. I don't usually get cows — I get hecklers." He also thinks Barack Obama is the best President in his lifetime of 53 years. Find out why here.

If you want to read more about the Jaipur Literature Festival, click here.

January 21, 2012

#6 Ode to (Eternal) Peace

Sarojini Naidu (1879–1949), known as The Nightingale of India, was a well-known poet and writer and freedom fighter and social activist. She was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress.

Men say the world is full of fear and hate,
And all life's ripening harvest-fields await
The restless sickle of relentless fate.

But I, sweet Soul, rejoice that I was born,
When from the climbing terraces of corn
I watch the golden orioles of Thy morn.


What care I for the world's desire and pride,
Who know the silver wings that gleam and glide,
The homing pigeons of Thine eventide?

What care I for the world's loud weariness,
Who dream in twilight granaries Thou dost bless
With delicate sheaves of mellow silences?

Say, shall I heed dull presages of doom,
Or dread the rumoured loneliness and gloom,
The mute and mythic terror of the tomb?

For my glad heart is drunk and drenched with Thee,
O inmost wind of living ecstasy!
O intimate essence of eternity!


Book Cover: © www.penguinbooksindia.com

January 19, 2012

Rip Kirby, private detective

These are two vintage covers of Rip Kirby comic-books published under the Indrajal Comics label by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, publishers of The Times of India. Indrajal Comics stopped publication of Remington 'Rip' Kirby and other heroes like Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur (the brave), Flash Gordon, Buz Sawyer and Garth in late 1980. Kirby, the private detective created by Alex Raymond in 1946, wasn't as popular as Phantom, Mandrake and Bahadur but he had a small band of loyal
followers like this blogger.

The bespectacled and immaculately dressed private eye was largely known for investigating high-profile cases usually involving rich women and jewel heists. He carried a pistol but mostly used his fists and there was almost no violence in his comics. Kirby, who was ably supported by his faithful, albeit disconsolate, butler Desmond, was one of the earliest modern-day sleuths.


Now if I were making a movie on Rip Kirby, who would I cast in his role? It'd be Gregory Peck or Michael Caine.

Long out of print, Indrajal Comics today have considerable value, more so Rip Kirby whose titles weren't too many.


January 17, 2012

Back in time: Nestlé tells a story

First Nestlé logo
On January 15, I did a small post on how GE turned to comic-books in 1950s to rekindle interest in science and technology among students in America. Over the last hundred years, multinational companies have used comics as a potent tool to showcase and sell a multitude of products and merchandise on one hand and educate the community on the other. In fact, early logos and adverts of companies bore a close resemblance to illustrations in children's storybooks. Others looked like picture postcards and movie posters.

The Nestlé Company was established in 1866 by Henri Nestlé, a trained pharmacist, to "help combat the problem of infant mortality due to malnutrition." Nestlé — which means 'little nest' in German — understood the power of branding. When one of his agents suggested that the nest could be exchanged for the white cross of the Swiss flag, Nestlé's response was firm: "I regret that I cannot allow you to change my nest for a Swiss cross... I cannot have a different trademark in every country; anyone can make use of a cross, but no one else may use my coat of arms."

The 'little nest' hasn't changed in nearly 150 years. You can read more about it at Nestlé.








Source: www.sparehed.com
FILM REVIEW

Peter Benchley's Jaws and The Deep

 
“Smile, you son of a BITCH!”

In case you forgot who said those words, it was Amity Island police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) after he shoots at a scuba tank and blows up Jaws.


I saw Jaws a few years after it was released in 1975 but I didn't know it was directed by Steven Spielberg. In fact, I didn't even know who Spielberg was back then. I saw the movie on a cousin's VCR and it was only much later I realised that you don't watch a film like Jaws on video. You need Jaws to come after you on 70 mm, quietly and stealthily, and drag you under. I had taken the bite right out of the flesh-eating monster's mouth.

So then, I came to know of Spielberg only after E.T. (1982) and by then I'd also seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). This was a period when I used to watch lots of films without bothering to find out who the directors were. I was barely getting acquainted with the actors.

I'm not going to review Jaws the film, which, thirty-seven years later, continues to hold its own, as a cult film and the biggest grosser before Star Wars (1977) came along. For me, Jaws is not about an ugly great white shark attacking unsuspecting beach-goers in the resort town of Amity Island. It's the scary music by John Williams that presages the coming of the killer fish. You know something horrible is going to happen to people who know absolutely nothing about it, and there's no way you can warn them off. Mute the volume and Jaws is like a toy fish in a bathtub. Spielberg and Williams knew how to jangle our nerves.

Apart from the music, the other highlight of the film is the sombre performance by Roy Scheider who wages a lone battle against Jaws, the seafaring shark, and Mayor Lawrence ‘Larry’ Vaughan (Murray Hamilton), the land shark. Vaughan refuses to close down the beach so the town council can reap profits during the holiday season. It's left to the police chief to hunt down Jaws with the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw).

The film has its tense moments, like the time when Hooper goes underwater in a cage which is destroyed by the shark or when the half-crazed Quint, a former shark survivor, stops Brody from calling the coast guard for help or when the shark hunter slides down the deck of the half-submerged boat and straight into the open jaws of the great white. In the end, the brave police chief blows the monster out of the water.

Jaws was based on a novel by American writer Peter Benchley who wrote two other thrillers set in and around the high seas and which were made into films—The Deep (1977) and The Island (1980). I read all three books a very long time ago though I've only seen Jaws and The Deep.

 
The Deep, directed by Peter Yates, is a suspense film that did well at the box office but wasn't quite as successful as Jaws. Unlike the latter, I can recollect almost nothing about this film, except that it has a lot of underwater scenes. I also remember being scared out of my skin when Gail Berke (Jacqueline Bisset) screams when she suddenly spots a hideous face in the window in the dead of night.

To refresh my memory, I read about The Deep on the internet: it's an action-packed adventure film about a young vacationing couple, Gail Berke and David Sanders (Nick Nolte), who discover artifacts, including a mysterious ampule of amber-coloured liquid and a medallion, while scuba diving near shipwrecks off the shark-infested coast of Bermuda. That little discovery sets them on a dangerous course against evil treasure hunters who'll stop at nothing to get the ampule.

A few observations to round up: Jaws and The Deep are shot on high seas or under water; Robert Shaw and man-eating sharks are in both the films; Peter Benchley and Roy Scheider died in 2006 and 2008; Eli Wallach acts as Adam Coffin, the only survivor of a sunken ship, in The Deep; and if I didn't know Steven Spielberg in Jaws, I didn't know Nick Nolte in The Deep either. I met him five years later in 48 Hrs.


This post is offered as part of Tuesday's Overlooked/Forgotten Films over at Todd Mason's blog at http://socialistjazz.blogspot.com


Copyright for film posters: Universal Pictures for Jaws and Columbia Pictures for The Deep

January 16, 2012

WISDOM FROM BOOKS & COMICS

Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence

© Appleton, NY
Ah, good conversation — there's nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.

I shan't be lonely now. I WAS lonely; I WAS afraid. But the emptiness and the darkness are gone; when I turn back into myself now I'm like a child going at night into a room where there's always a light.

An unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.

He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty.

...he arrived late at the office, perceived that his doing so made no difference whatever to any one, and was filled with sudden exasperation at the elaborate futility of his life.

What's the use? You gave me my first glimpse of a real life, and at the same moment you asked me to go on with a sham one. It's beyond human enduring — that's all.

It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country... Do you suppose Christopher Columbus would have taken all that trouble just to go to the Opera with the Selfridge Merrys?

We can't behave like people in novels, though, can we?


You'll find earlier literary wisdom here:

Jean-Paul Sartre

Daniel Defoe

Thomas Hardy

January 15, 2012

When GE turned to comic-books


While, globally, corporate social responsibility came to be implemented by multinational corporations since the 1960s, US giant General Electric used a unique form of CSR long before it officially became a part of corporate culture: GE published comics to get students interested in science in a fun and colourful way. Here's what GE has to say:


It’s become a vexing cliché to bemoan the lack of student interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). “A national crisis has been identified in the area of global technological competitiveness,” warned a recent study by Purdue University. “Will our science and high technology sectors have the talented STEM graduates prepared to compete and be leaders in tomorrow’s world?


In response to this STEM crisis, the White House has launched the Educate to Innovate campaign. There is also the National STEM Video Game Challenge, where kids learn STEM skills by designing games. GE has some experience experimenting with play and fun in an effort to attract young minds to science and engineering. 


In the 1950s, comic books were as popular with kids as video games are today, and just as decried by parents. “Teachers, parents and lawmakers were bitter about newsstand comics in 1945,” General Electric Review wrote in September 1953. “But in the public relations field, although were all aware of the adult fear that comic books were producing a crop of juvenile delinquents, we couldn’t escape the conclusion that the medium had attractive possibilities for mass communications.

 
Intrigued by the possibilities, GE started printing comics “on mammoth presses on newsprint stock in quantities of 500,000 to 3,000,000.” The titles: Adventures In Jet Power, Adventures Inside the Atom, and Land of Plenty, A Story of Freedom and Power.

 
According to GE Review, the “drawings were shown to several vice presidents and managers” before publication. “And the results of these previews were indeed stimulating because the eight members of management who saw the colourful boards had so much fun looking, reading, and commenting that they not only gave their final approval to the project, but also suggested many themes for future series.”


Photos: www.gereports.com

January 14, 2012

Short Story: Sundance Western Comic-Book

Death of a Ghost Town

Death of a Ghost Town—No.60W of Sundance Western: Illustrated World Library Series published by World Distributors (Manchester) Ltd, UK—is the story of an abandoned town called Richville in California. Set in 1880 at the time of the gold rush, the town, a typical cluster of wooden structures, is deserted except for a lone bandit and gold digger called Welton who is desperately searching for old Orson’s gold stashed in one of the houses.

About half-a-day’s journey from Richville, a stagecoach is making its way to an unknown destination when three masked men on horseback ambush it and kidnap one of the occupants, a young boy. The gun toting men bring the boy to Richville, which they’d heard of before, and lock him up in one of the houses and leave on an errand.

It’s clear at the outset that the gangsters have mistaken the young lad for a rich man’s son and kidnapped him with the intention of claiming ransom from his father. Now the boy’s father, a poor man, works for the rich man whose son they were actually supposed to abduct. But the hoodlums don’t know this.

The gold digger, who is no paragon of virtue, watches quietly from a distance. He knows what the men are up to and, in their brief absence, hatches a plot to whisk the boy away and claim the ransom for himself. “This is another way of making a bit of cash without working hard for it,” he thinks to himself.

The bandit rescues the boy who instantly realises that he is in the clutches of just another rotten scoundrel, but there’s no escape. The bearded man tells the boy, “I’m not one of the same breed as those three rogues. I said right away when I saw you in their hands: ‘I will help him. This poor kid’.” The young lad is far from reassured.


Even as the two set out toward the bandit’s horse, the gangsters return, forcing the two to hide in one of the other houses. Not aware of the gold digger’s presence, the men think that the boy has escaped and is hiding somewhere nearby. The men call out to the boy and when he fails to appear, one of them, who looks to be the gang leader, begins to set the houses on fire — “The one way to make him come out quick. You’ll see!”

His two accomplices are not convinced this ploy will work and as they argue, an interesting story is unfolding inside, where the boy tells his so-called benefactor that if they ever leave the place alive his father would surely reward him. “But my father is poor!” he says, to Welton’s disbelief. “What did you say?”

As the gangsters continue to squabble outside, the boy realises why he has been kidnapped. “Ah! Now I’ve got it. They thought they were kidnapping the boss’s son who should have made the trip. They mistook me to be the boss’s son!”

By now the house in which they are hiding is also torched and as the flames begin to lick at the dilapidated wooden structure, Welton orders the boy out so that he can escape by the back door. But the boy refuses to leave the bandit to whom he says, “They would kill you if they saw that you tried to save me. I’ll stay with you. Let’s try and find a way for both of us to escape.”

Welton is stunned and even as he tries to make sense out of the boy’s words, the ceiling collapses, but he is pulled to safety by the young lad. What happens next is equally bewildering for the bandit who discovers the hidden gold under the debris.

Outside, the gangsters are caught in a gunfight and eventually part ways and leave town.

As the fire spreads rapidly and destroys all the houses in the ghost town, Richville, for the first time, sees “a gesture of generosity and affection” which isn’t lost on Welton who takes the boy home.


Photo: Scanned cover of my copy of the western comic-book.

You can read my review of two short stories by Anton Chekhov at http://chesscomicsandcrosswords.blogspot.com/2012/01/short-stories-anton-chekhov-lottery.html

January 12, 2012

Asterix and the potion of magic

Nothing's fair in love and war or, for that matter, in comics. Now I have been reading Asterix, my favourite comic-book, for more than three decades. Yet, during all these years, I have never given much thought to the obvious flaws in the Goscinny-Uderzo creation. And there are quite a few.

For instance, in Asterix in Britain, the brave Gaulish warrior and his pigtailed friend Obelix cross over into Roman-occupied Britain with a barrel of magic potion to help a small village fight against the might of Caesar's Rome. Now this village has been successfully defending itself against the Romans without the aid of the potion. All that the Britons, as indomitable as the Gauls, drink is hot water, with a drop of milk, till Asterix introduces them to tea with some herbs that Druid Getafix gave him before he left home.

Now hot water with a spot of milk is no match for the druid’s powerful concoction and yet that is all the magic the Britons have to stave off the invading Romans. My point is if one little village of Britons can defeat the Romans without any magic potion, why can’t the village of Gauls, as we know it, do likewise?

On the rare occasion when the Gauls are without their magic potion, they turn to Obelix to guard the village because he fell into the cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby and it had a permanent effect on him. No one among the Britons fell into a cauldron of hot water and even if someone did, the poor man would have been scalded for life. 


Asterix comics are replete with examples of brave and ordinary people who fight the Romans with little other than the clothes on their back. For example, the Corsicans in Asterix in Corsica stare down their Roman opponents while the Helvetians in Asterix in Switzerland scare the hell out of the tin-hat soldiers by blowing into their alpine horns. No magic potion in both cases. It goes to the credit of the Gauls that they are willing to share the potion with anyone who’s up against the Romans. 


See what I mean. If it weren’t for the magic potion, there would be no village of indomitable Gauls and no bashing of Romans and no menhir-delivery man either. Then again, Asterix wouldn’t have been half as funny without the magic potion.

Copyright for images: Hodder Dargaud

January 11, 2012

Memorable musical movies

One of the things I like about blogging is that you can blog about anything you like, and that includes both exciting and mundane stuff. You can post a serious article or a light piece depending on what suits you best. Over the past two years this blog has veered towards the latter mainly because I have the patience but not the time to write thought-provoking and debate-inducing stories. Of course, I could post a well-researched piece every few days rather than write nonsense every single day (Asterix and Obelix agree with me – look at them go!) But then, I like to post something daily, even if it’s hackneyed stuff, because it keeps the momentum going (I don’t know where) and because, hopefully, it will attract more traffic (I don’t see how).

That’s enough baiting and fishing for the day (or night in my case). I’ll leave you with more of the banal (in terms of post treatment) — this time a film reel of some of the most memorable musical films ever. I’ve seen them all, in no particular order. Like I said I don’t have the time to write about each of them separately unless I do one or two a week. Now if only I’d the patience…