For Aficianados Only: “The Creator of Doctor Strange Will Not See You Now”

Steve Ditko is old enough and has done enough for his chosen art form that he owes us nothing. On the other hand, although as a comix geek back in the 1970s I’d read about the acrimonious Ditko / Stan Lee creative breakup, I don’t remember hearing that Ditko was a full-metal Objectivist. Writers, as Joan Didion reminds us, are always selling someone out… so make your own judgement as to Abraham Reisman’s conclusions in his NYMag story. But Mr. Ditko does come off as a tragic example of the warning attributed to that Nietzsche fella about staring into the abyss:

For a recluse, Steve Ditko is surprisingly easy to locate. You won’t see him in public: Despite being one of the most important figures in comics history, the most recent published photograph of the 89-year-old was taken about 50 years ago. And though his name appears prominently as “co-creator” in the credits of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange — which has already grossed more than $490 million worldwide — he has never been on a red carpet, or appeared on TV or radio. But if you ask within the comics community, you can readily find the location and phone number of his Manhattan studio. The man’s around. It’s putting that contact information to good use that’s difficult.

Ditko hasn’t done an interview with a journalist since 1968, two years after he shocked comics fandom by leaving Marvel in a move for which he offered no explanation — even to his boss, Stan Lee, with whom he created Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, among other classic characters. What followed has been an idiosyncratic crusade that has consumed Ditko’s capacious imagination: the creation of spite-filled, didactic, and often baffling comics and essays that evangelize the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Ditko has long been principled in a way few popular artists are, and he changed the comics medium twice: first with his elegant, kinetic, at times psychedelic artwork; then by being the first high-profile creator to inject serious philosophical arguments into superhero comics. His influence is staggering, but his personal story is almost totally hidden. He remains one of pop culture’s most enigmatic figures…
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Weekend Movie Club: “The Haunting” (1963)

Via stalwart commentor Schroedinger’s Cat, your Halloween movie review from Mnemosyne, aka The Insufferable Movie Snob:

Every fan of The Haunting has at least one story about seeing it, and often more than one. Here’s one of mine:

Years ago, G (my now husband) and I went to see it on a triple bill at an old movie palace in downtown Los Angeles. The college kids sitting behind us mocked it at first: old-fashioned, black-and-white, Julie Harris’s oddball whispered voiceovers.

But then, as the film went on, they got quieter and quieter. Finally, about half an hour in, one of them turned to the other and whispered, “Is it just me, or is this movie kind of getting to you?” And then they shut up for the rest of the film.

That’s the kind of horror movie The Haunting is. It’s not a slam-bang special effects spectacle, or a gross-out endurance test. It sneaks up behind you and lays a cold hand on your neck, whispering to you, asking if you’re sure you know what that noise in the dark was that you just heard.

A quick technical note before we begin: when you see the film, make sure you get a letterboxed copy and not one of the older pan-and-scans. You will literally miss out on half the movie if you don’t get the full widescreen version.

Director Robert Wise got his start working for Val Lewton‘s B-movie unit at RKO in the 1940s, where Lewton produced (and usually wrote) subtle horror films that are still classics today: Cat People. I Walked With a Zombie. The Seventh Victim. One of my favorites is Wise’s third film as a director, The Body Snatcher, with Boris Karloff as an absolutely chilling remorseless killer. Wise’s films all show a great attention to sound, so it’s not surprising that he’s best known today for his two blockbuster musicals, West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

But Wise started as a horror guy with Lewton and, like his former colleague Jacques Tourneur, Wise decided to make a “Lewtonesque” horror film where the horror comes not from what the characters see, but from what they hear. In fact, you never see a single ghost in The Haunting. You hear them, the characters touch them, you see the physical effects of what they can do, but you never see one.

Except… it always seems like you’re about to see one just out of the corner of your eye, but the wandering camera never quite turns in the right direction. Watching it again, I noticed how the mirrors in the rooms are carefully placed so you can often see the actors in them, but only a part of them — their backs, their hands, their shoulders. Seeing the movement in the mirror distracts the viewer, drawing your attention (conscious or unconscious), and making you wonder if you’re finally going to see something. But you never do. I also noticed that the numerous potted palm trees placed in many of the rooms constantly sway in a slight breeze, again drawing the viewer’s attention and making us wonder just what is causing that motion.

As with most ghost stories, the outline of the plot doesn’t sound like much. The film opens with a sequence narrated by a man we will soon discover is Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), an anthropologist and psychic researcher who is trying to convince the current owner of Hill House to allow him to bring a team in to do experiments. He narrates the sequence of events at Hill House that gained it its awful reputation, barely able to conceal his glee at the possibility of being able to investigate a real haunted house. The director shows us three mysterious deaths at Hill House: a woman’s carriage crashing in the driveway, a woman falling down the stairs, a woman hanging herself in the library…

For the rest of Mnemosyne’s review, click over to SC’s blog…

Weekend Movie Club: Unfaithfully Yours

Courtesy of our own Schroedinger’s Cat, this weekend’s review by Mnemosyne, aka “The Insufferable Movie Snob”:

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I have a weakness for Hollywood iconoclasts, and Preston Sturges was one of the biggest iconoclasts of the old studio system. Like Ernst Lubitsch, Sturges was allowed to put themes and scenes into his films that few other directors or writers had the freedom to do; of Sturges’ The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), where Betty Hutton’s character is impregnated by a mystery man after a night of drunken revels and goes on to birth sextuplets, film critic James Agee famously said “the Hays office must have been raped in its sleep” to have allowed such risqué content.

Unfaithfully Yours is a bit like that — it has scenes that you won’t see in any other Hollywood film of the era, because no one else would have been allowed to film those scenes. Was Sturges a drinking buddy of Joe Breen’s? Did his writing seem innocuous on the page but play very differently in front of the cameras? Did his bosses tell Breen to lay off because Sturges was making pots of money for them? Nobody knows, but we’re all happy he managed it.

I filed this under “dark comedies” because, make no mistake, this film is dark. Hot-tempered conductor Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison) becomes convinced that his much younger wife (Linda Darnell) is cheating on him and, during a concert, he imagines three different scenarios for how he’s going to handle the situation, only to have each of them go hilariously awry when he tries to put them into practice in real life.

Harrison gets a lot of praise for his acting in this film but to me Darnell has the more difficult role. She plays the real Daphne — a doting but confused young wife who doesn’t understand why her ardent husband is suddenly rejecting her — plus three additional adulterous versions that Harrison’s character conjures up in his head during his fantasies. Darnell is able to play these distinct characters with panache and make all of them believable while never letting the audience lose sight of what Daphne is really like. It’s a bravura performance…

Click over for the rest of Mnem’s review.

Wednesday Night No-Politics Open Thread


Since we are weenie lie-brul SJWs here: a safe space, for you!

What’s on the non-political agenda for the evening?

Weekend Movie Dispatch: Queen

From stalwart commentors Schrodinger’s Cat and Mnemosyne:

When we first meet Rani (Queen) her wedding preparations are in full swing. It’s day of the mehendi (henna) ceremony, a day before the actual wedding. Rani is full of verve and spirit and has a family that dotes on her and she is getting married to Vijay. A perennially popular name for a Hindi movie hero. What can possibly go wrong?

Plenty, we soon find out. When the London-returned Vijay makes his first appearance, we find that he is no prize. He wants to call off the wedding because he considers Rani gauche and no longer cool enough for his fancy self. We see Rani crumple before our very eyes, her freshly applied mehendi flaking off as she nervously clutches her phone. As she returns home crestfallen with her chaperone and younger brother Chintu, hugging herself, clutching her sweater, you just want to give her a hug.

Pay close attention to both the mehendi and the ugly sweater (her security blanket) she is wearing, they are a guide to Rani’s evolution throughout the movie…

Click over for the rest of SC‘s review!

And from Mnemosyne, aka The Insufferable Movie Snob — “Movie Club Poll: Dark Comedies“. Should she review Unfaithfully Yours (the 1948 version), To Be or Not to Be (1942), or Young Frankenstein? Click over to view trailers, or to vote in her poll.

(Note from AnneLaurie: Apologies to Schrodinger’s Cat, Mnemosyne & the Weekend Movie Club fans for not posting this sooner, but things were a little busy. Hopefully next week’s post will appear on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.)

Biff! Zapp! Pow!

Good evening good citizens. There has been a request for a lighthearted open thread. And what could be more lighthearted than the trailer for the upcoming animated movie based on the Batman 66 TV show? Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar reprise their original roles. So be sure to tune in: same Bat time, same Bat station!

Weekend Movie Review — Vote Early Vote Often

Between the FYWP/Firefox issue and various political happenings, last weekend’s inaugural Weekend Movie Club kinda got short shrift. Tireless commentors Schroedinger’s Cat and Mnemosyne will be doing a movie review every weekend, posted to SC’s blog and cross-posted here. Here’s your chance to vote for the next review:

I grew up watching Hindi movies and more importantly listening to Hindi movie numbers. I must have heard and watched many more songs than the movies themselves. Growing up I used to turn up my nose at most of the offerings that came out of the movie industry which is now popularly known as Bollywood. There was a dichotomy between commercial cinema and art cinema and there very few popular Hindi movies that didn’t insult your intelligence or so it seemed to me. For twenty odd years, the new Hindi movies that I must have watched could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Now that I am at a distance from both my childhood and Bollywood, I think I may have judged those movies harshly. Hollywood can be pretty formulaic too. They have different formulas, that’s all. Since last year I have been rediscovering Indian cinema, particularly Hindi movies, mainly through their music. Through my YouTube meanderings, I have stumbled across many gems. The list of movies that I want to see keeps growing by the day. Either I have become more forgiving or the movies have gotten better. For example, there are many more movies with female protagonists which don’t have a love story as their focus, than the Hindi cinema of yore or even present day Hollywood. Here is a list of three movies with strong female leads…

Clink on the link to watch the trailers and vote for Queen, Neerja, or Jai Gangaajal. (Or, I assume, to suggest other movies for the Two Movie Kittehs to review.)