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by Sam Juliano

O, my luve’s like a red, red rose…..            -Robert Burns, 1794

The final years of the Georgian Age brought great industrial and technological advancements to England, but the rapid and unregulated growth came at a price.  Medical breakthroughs lagged fatally behind and social impoverishment was never so pronounced.  As one of the world’s most celebrated authors was to pen in one of his most famous works during the upcoming reign of Queen Victoria, It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.  The story of one of the era’s most underappreciated intellectual adventurers is one wrought in equal measure with sagacity and tribulation, revelation and dominion, and opulence and calamity.  That it was played out in the household of one of the most revered literary figures in history isn’t at all especially surprising, though the machinations that paved the way for it and the hybrid flowering that set the stage make it one of the most remarkable accounts for those fascinated by the beginnings of a technology that now has become a dominating force in our daily life.

Three picture books on the same subject have appeared in the last few years, with two of those releasing in 2016.  Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science  beautifully written by Diane Stanley, with illustrations by Jessie Hartland first appeared months ago, and it was followed recently by Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson.  In just over twelve months ago Laurie Wallmark and the wonderful illustrator April Chu collaborated on Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.  Ms. Robinson’s book is the only one of the three done by a single person and as such it is bolstered by a singular vision of how to connect the economically applied prose with the sumptuous art that places it squarely in the Caldecott equation.  Robinson is a first-rate artist who for this book has created Japanese watercolor on Arches paper, then in an intricate process the paintings were cut out and glued to achieve depth and 3D before finally being photographed. (more…)

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Danny and Jillian as Lurch and Uncle Fester in Cliffside Park High School play “Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family”

by Sam Juliano

Halloween is here, and any sorry sucker who is reading this post, and not planning their ghoulish garb for this evening deserves to be Count Dracula’s next victim.  Reinvent yourself.  Be the talk of the town.  And don’t go to sleep until you watch at least one Hammer horror and one of the Universal gems from the 30’s.  For those with a more acute taste for the extreme try an Argento.  For those with a Gothic hankering put in a Bava.  For true horrific greatness, we offer you Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, John Carpenter’s Halloween, and The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock.  For those who tilt towards pure cinema, we have Nosferatu, Eyes With A Face, Dead of Night (1945), Onibaba, The Haunting, Don’t Look Now.  Films like The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes and City of the Dead fit the bill too. Those desiring definitive horror lists can refer to stellar round-ups from Jamie Uhler and Roderick Heath.  This isn’t a time to hold back my friends!  Heck even Boris Karloff’s Thriller and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery would make your day complete.  But be careful when you go out trick or treating.  There are some crazies out there, and we all want your safe for next Halloween.  Oh, and by the way, put on a jacket over your costume.  Temperatures in the New York City metropolitan area are expected to hover around 50 degrees.

Lucille and the rest of the brood – or at least those not participating attended a Cliffside Park High School Halloween production of “Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family” on Saturday afternoon.  Our darling Jillian played Uncle Fester, our enterprising Danny impersonated Lurch, and Jeremy worked on the lighting.  We also attended a book lauching at the Stories Bookshop in Brooklyn for the new book in the “Witches of Benevento” series by John Behmelmans Marciano and Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall. (more…)

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moonlight

by Sam Juliano

The just-concluded Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown will always be the one project in the site’s history that will leave the most aching afterthought – it was after all staged during the most tragic period in the site’s tenure, and its maturation last Spring was one wrought with controversy and ever-changing parameters.  In the end, it turned out to be remarkably successful, though as always legitimate questions could be raised about the numerical placements of a number of films, as well as the actual inclusions and omissions.  Where this project really took flight was in the actually essays themselves.  The writing was unceasingly first-rate – exhaustive, scholarly, eloquent and displaying an astonishing array of genre knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm.  The Australian film writer extraordinaire Roderick Heath copped poll position honors for his countdown-leading ten essays, all spectacularly exhaustive and executed in his inimitable dense, scholarly, high-octane style .  Heath is a horror-science fiction specialist, so focusing on this front for nearly four months produced some of the most spectacular essays one could hope to lay eyes on.  His capstone pieces on Metropolis and Solaris from this moment forward must be seen as definitive.  And yet, Mr. Heath was not remotely the only contributor who brought this blood, sweat and tears project to glorious fruition with top-drawer reviews.  Robert Hornak, Stephen Mullen, Duane Porter,  John Greco, John Grant, Lee Price, Brandie Ashe, Adam Ferenz, J. D. Lafrance, Sachin Gandhi, Aaron West, Pat Perry, Pierre de Plume, Jamie Uhler,  Jaimie Grijalba, Marilyn Ferdinand, Anuk Bavkist, David Schleicher, Ed Howard, Pedro Silva, Christianne Benedict and of course our beloved Allan Fish (with seven re-publishings) brought all kinds of definitive expertise to their subjects, and a number of their individual posts could well be considered among the very best of this entire venture.  Bob Clark, Joel Bocko and Jamie Uhler collaborated on a series of sensational podcasts that brought further appreciation to the genre, and provided discussions that could well be referenced many years forward.  And then of course…….there is…..Dean Treadway.  This amazing film lover and superlative writer wrote several essays, but it was his grand finale – a staggering 12,000 word essay on the film that finished in the Number 1 position – 2001: A Space Odyssey that moved mountains.  It was one of the greatest of all film presentations and a fitting capper to this grand four month journey.  The 2001 essay also drew the most comments in the countdown with a whopping total of 45, but this was rather fitting.

Many thanks to John Grant, Jamie Uhler,  Jon Warner, Duane Porter, Tony d’Ambra, Frank Gallo, Peter M., Adam Ferenz, Robert Hornak, Tim McCoy,  Aaron West, John Greco,  J. D. Lafrance,  Maurizio Roca, Joel Bocko, Bob Clark, Pat Perry, Dean Treadway, Marilyn Ferdinand, Celeste Fenster and Ricky Chinigo especially for their prolific daily contributions to the daily comment sections for the countdown which allowed for some fabulous threads, gloriously contentious or of the pat on the back variety.  Page views throughout the project were uniformly solid, if not quite spectacular.  I have to say that Jon Warner is an amazing guy.  He took a pass on writing essays this time around due to uncertainty with his full grasp of this particular genre, but that did not stop him from placing comments on the vast majority of the post, much as he has for each and every countdown.  Thank you my friend!

The countdown is dedicated to Allan Fish, our incomparable friend who taught all of us what it meant to live and breathe something we were passionate about and never to approach anything half hearted.  He will continue to inspire us all to the end of our own days. (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      The films of Jim Jarmusch tend to entail bemusingly limited figures harboring what they believe to be a passport to the fabulous. Many of the interactions pertain to travel in the public domain, where protagonists make their moves in face of people they are meeting for the first time and are unlikely to ever see again.

Having mined within such structures three amazing veins of contemporary concerns and whimsy, in the fourth vehicle, Night on Earth (1991), he felt it was time to convene an array of urban regulars giving an account of themselves in that quintessential sounding board, a taxi on a long run.Attentive to the varied and rich disturbances such a site can reveal, our guide has put into play a series of 5 cabs in 5 modern cities, shaking things up on the same shift. (A first of many caveats as to the many revelations is that whereas the customers may blurt out self-disclosures in the rather unfamiliar venue as something they seldom run with, the complement of drivers may not infrequently tend to let those on the paying end hear about pet concerns distilled by solitary and stressful lives. A second alert catalyzing the front-seat/ back-seat dramas is the graphic design framework of an atlas showing many lands, many cultures, as coming to close-ups introducing, in turn, each region of the specific sagas, along with itemization of the correct time from one of five identical clocks arrayed on a wall.)

Added to the zoom from the general to the particular, the city itself is represented as a flashing light bringing to mind old radio-show movies (this first centre being LA, after all) as well as ushering in the far from old verbal magic of this cinematic windfall. Before loaded words hit the fan, however, there is the first driver, Corky, a young LA woman trying to derive enjoyment from smoking and chewing gum at the same time, with a couple of stoners in the back seat and power chords on her tape deck. Also on display, at the Executive Terminal of LAX, where the brain-dead rock stars were to be shipped out to thrill the nation, is incoming nation-thriller, Victoria Snelling, checking in by phone to the film studio for which, in her capacity of casting agent, she has found (would the term promiscuously be apt?) 10 hitherto middling young lovelies, one of which headed for silver screen sublimity. Victoria is not simply promiscuous for the sake of impressing her studio bosses but she is ballistically promiscuous on hitching her Grace Kelly-blonde, white (and black)-tailored, middle-age presence to Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), whereby the actressGeena Rowlands’ Victoria becomes stalked by Angie Dickinson’s promiscuous Kate (another Grace Kelly-blonde in a white suit that doesn’t stay white very long). This leaves Winona Ryder’s cabby, Corky, having the very tough act of Nancy Allen’s hooker, Liz, to follow, inasmuch as the latter traces to the inspirational better-half of Giuliana (played by super-tailored, super-blonde, super-cool, Monica Vitti, in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964). (more…)

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By Dean Treadway

Well, we’re finally here.  This conclusion, with Stanley Kubrick’s monumental film landing at the #1 spot in WITD’s countdown of the greatest science fiction films ever made, should come as no surprise to anyone. As is likely for many others, 2001: A Space Odyssey has long been my favorite film. I first saw it at Atlanta’s Rhodes Theater early in 1977, at age ten (though I suspect I caught a glimpse of it as a younger child while visiting a drive-in with my parents). Its eloquent, overwhelming vision transformed me immensely, leading me into a life of film study, filmmaking, and film writing. After seeing it literally a hundred times (at least 60 of them on the big screen, often projected on 70mm film, though, alas, I’ve never seen the Cinerama version), I unquestionably consider 2001 the best film that has ever been made, or ever will be made in any genre, but especially in the realm of science fiction. It is resolutely successful in dramatizing the history of mankind from ape to superhuman. No other movie could complete such a feat without being compared to this looming progenitor. 

In 1998, I was commissioned by a television network to write a then-popular pop-up commentary on the film. The editors there knew I treasured Kubrick’s work and had studied 2001 closely, so they considered me the perfect person to do this. I was honored for the opportunity, but never got to see the pop-up version. I have always had the nagging feeling they didn’t have room for all the work I provided so here, now, is the complete set of notes I composed for them. This is the first time they are being seen in their entirety, and in this updated edit. They’re meant to be read along with the movie. If I had the equipment, I would have recorded this as an audio commentary, but I will have to save that for another day.

2001: A Space Odyssey begins with an overture–music meant to be played as the audience is filing into the theater. This was a common feature of the larger-scoped movies of the ’50s and ’60s, though it’s a practice that generally fell out of favor by the 1970s. This overture is not meant to be projected on-screen (unless there are closed curtains obscuring it), but these days, overtures are a thing of the past and, more often than not, filmgoers seeing 2001 on the big screen are now treated to a two-minute opening sequence of blackness, scored by the eclectic music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Many are certainly confused by this, but somehow, this meditative rest, punctuated by Ligeti’s screeching score, does put one in the mood for what’s about to be witnessed.  

The famed MGM logo of Leo the Lion was modernized in 1965 by the studio’s creative consultancy, NYC’s Lipincott. The newly sleek Leo, white against a blue background, was placed before three films: Grand Prix (66), 2001, and The Subject Was Roses (68). MGM’s Logan’s Run (76) utilized it at the end of its closing credits, and then it was retired in favor of the more familiar, roaring Leo. It lived on, though, as the logo for MGM Records and the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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The short opening sequence helped pioneer movies without a full credits sequence at their fore. The 2001 theme, Also Sprach Zarathustra, was composed by Richard Strauss as an 1896 tone poem inspired by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher who composed a book of the same name. Nietzsche’s work examining the transformation of Man into Superman would similarly inspire 2001‘s maker, Stanley Kubrick (though, perhaps not so ironically, the book includes the controversial quote “God is dead”). This commanding piece’s inclusion in 2001 would forever seal the music’s meaning and strength in ways Strauss could’ve never foreseen.

The opening scene—the emergence of the Sun over the Moon and then the planet Earth—was animated with the use of photographic transparencies delicately handled, with an arc light standing in as the Sun. It remains among the boldest of all movie openings. (more…)

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cat-coverby Sam Juliano

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view  until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

-Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

In the end it all comes down to perception.  That is both the crux of the matter in Brendan Wenzel’s  fabulously inventive They All Saw A Cat and the opportunity for its creator to put himself “in the shoes of the animal, and then make a piece of artwork representing how I imagine they might see a cat.”  Wenzel himself in a recent interview responded with that quote when explaining his strategy with a book that has taken the children’s book world by storm, and has endlessly delighted classroom teachers who were gifted a a literature unit complete with drawing enrichment.  But taken on its own terms this is a remarkable fusion of text and illustrations that not only is scientifically thought provoking but but an exceedingly sublime work that was created without playing favorites to any particular negotiating process.  Indeed as revealed on the book last (copyright) page “the illustrations in this book were rendered in almost everything imaginable, including colored pencil, oil pastels, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, Magic Marker, good old number 2 pencils, and even an iBook.”  To bring such a seemingly undisciplined artistic melting pot to such unified heights is perhaps the most incredible achievement in They All Saw A Cat as the readers young and old alike are treated to a new adventure on every turn of the page.

‘The cat’ walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws provides the book’s entry point.  First to see the cat is the child, and the love for a pet is evident from the tail cuddled around the legs, the feline’s big-eyed smile and the cozy rug they stand on.  This is immediately contrasted in the next double-page spread where a none too happy dog sees a cat as all limbs – wiry, a face dominated by two rectangular eyes and a huge bell that enhances the noise for the already disgruntled canine.  The dog seems poised to pounce.  When the fox sees the cat, the equation is all about the prospects for the next meal.  Hence in the eyes of this predator the cat is plump and seemingly an easy target.  After another refrain reiterating the cat’s modus operandi, we see the cat as a blurry mass under the water where a small fish sixes up the cat in exaggerated terms where the size rivals some of the biggest fish in the lake or ocean.  The eyes are prodigious, the oversized whiskers lending some degree of definition to a blurry mass.  When a mouse sees a cat the fire truck red image is one of a ferocious monster with big teeth, fiery eyes and imposing claws.  This is not a look the mouse wants to partake of for very long as this cat’s temperament matches that of a jungle cougar moving in for the kill. (more…)

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Andre Techine’s quietly powerful gay-themed drama “Quand on a 17 ANS” is his best film since “Wild Reeds” in 1994 and a strong contender for the Best Film of 2016.

by Sam Juliano

Last week’s miss for the Monday Morning Diary was the first such rare instance since my two week trip to the United Kingdom in August of 2013 when my family spent two weeks with Allan and his mum.  The winding down of the long running Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown and some Caldecott Medal Contender review commitments convinced me for this one time to combine the activities into a single week.  Therefore my round-up constitutes what I managed to negotiate in the prior two week period.  Speaking of the countdown, it really has caught fire as it nears the finish line (this coming Wednesday in fact) and some of the most spectacular reviews that have ever published at the site have appeared in the person of some glorious scholarship.  It is hard to believe we are nearly done, but it will be a project always remembered for the tenacity of its participants and the unconscionable darkness that hovered over it with the passing of our beloved friend and film mentor about half way through.  Because of that incomparable grief and battle with depression it was an unprecedented challenge to move forward.  Thoughts of cancellation nearly came to pass, but after discussion with Jamie Uhler it was deemed a better idea to divert to the subject out dear friend lived his life for, thus this countdown is devoted to Allan Fish, whose reviews were seen more times in the Top 100 than any other writer aside from Roderick Heath.  Mr. Heath of course has moved mountains with numerous staggering essays that redefine the capabilities of the form.  But a number of other writers have penned brilliant pieces and I will discuss those in the countdown round-up next week.  The Sunday posting of J. D. Lafrance’s Blade Runner represents another case of stupendous scholarship, and earlier this week Duane Porter wrote up a storm for his La Jetee review as did Robert Hornak and John Greco respectively for Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Aaron West last week wrote an achingly beautiful review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it goes on and on.  And then there is Allan who needs no further commendation.  I also want to thank the childrens’ book fans for their amazing support by way of comments and page views for the fourth annual Caldecott series.  As soon as the Science-Fiction countdown ends I will be devoting quite a bit of time towards resuming the series, though I also would like to post some horror film reviews  from some of our staff as we move closer towards Halloween.

It does seem pretty clear that the Republican nominee for President will be going down to resounding defeat, not that anyone is at all surprised.   But the past weeks on that front have been as bizarre as have maligned any election.  Ha, only in the US!  Yes right now it does look like a Chicago – Cleveland World Series (Geez, if Jamie were a baseball fan who might he be rooting for?  He grew up in Cleveland, where his family still lives, but he’s been a Chicago resident for a number of years now)  I do not count out the Toronto Blue Jays just yet, but they have to turn it around fast.  Jim and Valerie Clark are two of the team’s biggest fans, and I’ll be thinking of you both as the series winds down.  This is the second year in a row the Jays have been knocking at the door. (more…)

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