Couldn’t resist, had to post this one too!
I just had to post the entire set of pages from this Basil Wolverton comic! I love the way he presents the moral dilemmas of the characters, reduced as they are to a state of savage kill or be killed state of existence, all because of a mad scientist with a grudge against the press.
Cast into the netherworld, the hero of the strip is immediately faced with the dilemma common to westerns: cooperate with the struggling community; or strike out on his own. He goes it alone, and he even escapes. But in the end, he is tormented by his ties to the community he left behind.
Basil Wolverton on the Human Condition.
Here he encounters a Flower Woman for the first time…
And here he learns the secrets of their life cycle, of which he, for an all too brief idyll, will be a part…
I have to think his style, the languid eroticism, the fluid line, owes something to Tiepolo: I saw this drawing at the Morgan a few weeks ago.
Of course, there’s this too. I, The Jury, a Mike Hammer film/novel. Kris Kool is a lot nicer guy than Mike, though.
That’s Peggie Castle about to get plugged. Her legs are featured in 99 River Street to good effect. How would I know about this stuff without the Film Noir Foundation?
Fritz Lang, who made that fabulous Ur-noir, M, made Metropolis (1927) as well, but until the last few years, it was never seen in its original form. The restored version, including lost footage retrieved from a full print found in Argentina, is available on Netflix, and it is glorious. A sci-fi fairy tale with ominous Art Deco sets and art production, a full-on tale from the Germanic medieval Apocalyptic tradition, and an Expressionist masterpiece, it awakens in me a deep understanding of the older name for movies, motion pictures. The images, each one, are fabulous, and they are given life through the technology of cinema.
Lang expressed distaste for his masterpiece later in his life. He felt that it was politically naïve and simplistic. His feelings may have had something to do with the fact that his collaborator on the work, his then-wife, Thea von Harbou, went on to embrace the Nazis, leading to their divorce soon after, and to his exile to Hollywood where he made several excellent film noirs, including Human Desire, Scarlett Street, The Big Heat. It’s hard for me to watch this film and not think about the conflagration to come to Germany, and Europe, ten years later.
The melodramatic plot concerns Joh Fredersen, The Master of Metropolis, the city that he built on the backs of his workers. The city is a brilliant aerial extravaganza: the workers live underground in dismal blocks of flats that look like the work of a dropout from the Bauhaus architecture school. His magnificent brain produces the ideas and directives that keep the city humming, and his every word, utterance, and gesture is attended to with slavish awe by his subordinates.
The children of the rich frolic in pleasure domes at the top of the city towers that look like something out of Hieronymous Bosch, if he had gone to Hollywood. Maria, a teacher from the worker’s world, brings some of her charges up on a field trip. One wonders what were the guards who let her in thinking? That begins the ruin of all of them.
Freder, The Master’s son, is transfixed by the sight of Maria, and decides he must go down to the depths of the worker’s city to find her. She is regarded as a spiritual leader by the workers, and restrains their violent tendencies, telling them that a Mediator will come, to join together the Head (The Master) and the The Hands (the Workers.) The allusions and similarities to New and Old Testament language and imagery are deliberate and consistent.
Freder is appalled by what he finds underground. He witnesses an explosion at the main machine that kills many workers, and he has a vision of the infernal engine as a Moloch devouring the people. From then on, he refers to his father’s city as The Tower of Babel.
He goes in search of other knowledge, and comes upon a man killing himself with the effort of manning his post. He is part of a crude feedback mechanism, and he must manually move the arms of the machine to point to the lights on the outer circle as they blink. They change often, and he is worn out with keeping up, but if he does not, disaster will ensue: He looks like a man crucified. Freder relieves him and takes his place and his worker’s clothes. He sends the man up to the city and to wait for him at a friend’s apartment, but the worker ends up spending his type at the city’s casino, a decadent fleshpot. So much for the virtuous proles!
In another part of the city, in the only building that retains a pre-modern appearance, a tall, ancient mansion, lives Rotwang, the mad scientist- inventor. It is obvious from his artificial hand that Dr. Strangelove owes something to this movie, as do so many others!
There’s a back story here: Frederson’s wife, Hel, is dead, but it seems that both Master and Madman loved her. The inventor maintains a shrine to her memory that Frederson contemplates when he pays a visit to his main technological adviser and mentor. (These images are from restored footage, and they are grainy, and cropped differently.)
Rotwang reveals that he has been developing a mechanical man to reincarnate Hel, and Frederson is horrified, but intrigued.
Knowing that his workers are being roused to rebellion by Maria, he commands Rotwang to fashion her in the image of Maria, and send her among the workers to sow chaos and discord. Instead of Maria’s message of peace and reconciliation, the mechanical-Maria will preach insurrection and violence. Joh Frederson will have a perfect excuse for retaliating brutally and teaching the proles their proper place.
Rotwang kidnaps Maria and uses her in his deranged experiment…
…which ends up being rather successful.
The transformed Maria is presented to Frederson, and he sets his awful plan in motion, not knowing that his son is in love with the real woman, and is living among the workers. The guys on the top just don’t know what’s going down…
Freder sees his father with the false Maria and is stunned and horrified. He swoons, and is put to bed, where he has an extended vision along the lines of Revelation, ending with his cry, “Death come to the city!” I have created an animated GIF of his vision, below, that you can click to activate.
Meanwhile, the false Maria carries out her mission of evil among the workers.
Talk about a femme fatale!
Roused by her calls to violence, the workers storm the engine rooms, and overcome the foreman, who occupies a rather difficult position in the class hierarchy. He is a worker, but he is at the top of the class, a sort of craft-union type, and he knows the mob is wreaking destruction on itself! He shuts the gates to hold off the mob, but The Master, with his own long game in play, orders him to raise them. He obeys, the engines are smashed, the pumps stop, and the workers city begins to flood.
The workers do an infernal dance around the smoldering ruin of the main engine, but the foreman breaks the spell, demanding of them, “Where are your children?” Indeed, they gave no thought to them as they went on their rampage, and the foreman makes clear to them their utter dependence on the machines that they have smashed. Luddite he ain’t.
The real Maria comes to the rescue, herding the children left behind to the alarm station where she is ringing the bell.
Meanwhile, the false Maria declares, “Let’s watch the city go to the devil!!” an parties with the city élite.
Like Hugo’s novel Notre dame de Paris, the center of the city, even of the godless machine-metropolis, is the cathedral. It symbolizes the mediating heart between head and hands. And as in that novel, a climactic struggle between Good and Evil takes place on the roof as Freder fights with Rotwang.
Down in the square, the foreman leads the action, roping the false Maria to a stake for burning in the good old fashioned way.
With purifying flame comes the revelation of her true nature.
Finally, Freder emerges with Maria and his father, and mediates an uneasy reconciliation between the foreman, speaking for the masses, and his father. Happy ending for ruler and ruled!
I watched another old science-fiction flick from my youth, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), and found it pretty good. And just as I remembered it. As science fiction goes, it is hackneyed, but as a fable in the Frankenstein mode, to which it refers, it is lively and entertaining. The story is simple: Forbin builds a super computer to run the missile defense of the USA with the support of the Kennedyesque president; machine is turned on and notices immediately the existence of another similar machine. Ooops, another CIA intelligence failure – the USSR has its own about to go online.
The machines do a memory-meld, and take over the world, for the good of man, with the threat of nuclear detonation as the stick to beat humanity into doing what is in its best interest. Along the way, the machine orders the execution of people who try to sabotage its plans, most memorably, Forbin’s Russian colleague, with whom he plots in a supposedly secret Roman meeting.
The images that stayed with me through all these years are two: At a nuclear missile silo, the CIA director calmly lights a cigarette as men frantically run around, pointlessly, seconds before the warhead is exploded as punishment for sabotage attempts; Forbin and his pretty assistant in bed, in a ruse that poses them as lovers, secretly passing information on their plots to derail the machine. Even as a kid, I knew that this was just to spice up the flick: the machine wouldn’t have been so dumb.
The film has a lot of nice touches, such as the T-shirts with the Colossus Project logo that kids wear, even as the machine is announcing its enslavement of the world population – Hey! it looks cool! I also enjoyed the scene in which the CIA head tries to explain how they missed the Russian project: Guess it wasn’t a slam-dunk.
I wonder if the executives at Googol know about this film?
Ray Bradbury died at 91 this week. Seems like he was eternal.
I read a lot of his stories as a kid, and I have revisited some of them since. I am no fan of Sci-Fi, believing that most of it consists of plots with a single idea, more or less intriguing and clever, worked out with a style that is usually unremarkable, at best. Bradbury’s writing rarely got above its pulp origins, which is to say it was crude, heavy-handed, often hokey, and calculated to produce a single effect. Sort of like Poe, without the inspired weirdness.
But Bradbury had imagination, and at his best, his stories got a hook into you with their strangeness and sometimes eerie familiarity with real life. He was, as well, a pop-poet of the Cold War nightmare of nuclear annihilation, something that seemed very near and real for thirty or forty years, back then.
I can’t remember the name of one story that has stayed with me: a tale of men living on a planet where the nights are very short, and the sun shines with an intensity that kills in minutes those who don’t seek the shade in time. People live in cliff side caves, but off in the distance, a metallic object can be seen glinting. The humans have short lives, moving through birth, maturity, and death in months, as do all life forms on the hostile planet. We realize that these are descendants of space travellers who crashed on the planet ages ago, and who have evolved in accord with the stresses of the environment. The ship, with its complete protection from the rays of the killing sun, is just too far away to reach at a sprint in the time available before the sun rises to its deadly noon. Until one determined fellow comes along, who just can’t shake his curiosity…
I figure that in Huxley’s Brave New World,I would rank as a Beta-minus, on the scale from Epsilon-minus up to Alpha-plus. Not on the basis of my intelligence, mind you, but on examination of my status in society and the nature of Huxley’s dystopia. Hmm…maybe I should exit for 1984.
It has been eighty years since Huxley’s satire was published, and it remains fresh and entertaining, and sharp, precisely because it was written as a satire, and not an attempt at ‘science-fiction’, which hardly existed as a genre in that day. Of course, he was remarkably prescient on some points, genetic engineering, before genetics was even developed in its modern form, for example, but that’s a small thing next to his wicked skewering of industrial-consumerist-ideology and religion. The people of his future world worship Henry Ford, swear by him, “By Ford!”, and display ‘T’ pendants (for the Model T, that is) everywhere, conveniently similar to the ancient Christian cross.
Huxley gets in a sly observation about the literary history of cults and religions, the way that popular culture and orthodoxy twist and mold the facts of history, when he remarks on Ford and Freud. Freud too, is revered in the new world, but his name is unknown. His ideas are assumed to have been those of Henry Ford – how could two such moral and mental giants have existed? Scholars, exegetes, and philosophers have simply determined that Ford, when he spoke of matters psychological, chose to speak under the name of Freud. The prophets have their ways.
The book is marvelously funny, and the device of having Mr. Savage, a visitor from the ‘uncivilized regions’, speak constantly in Shakespearean verse, a result of his compulsive reading of the only book he has ever seen, is wonderful. Sometimes, I feel exactly the same way when I read The Bard, i.e., that the glorious quality of his words is somehow an ironic comment on, and critique of the world I live in. It also provides a frame on which Huxley can hang his implied and explicit speculations about culture, civilization, and politics – always the weakest point in any of his books.
Despite his brilliance and originality, Huxley always seems to me to be tip-toeing through the muck of modern culture: shocked and appalled by it, and so concerned that it not dirty his clothes. How paltry all this is, he is thinking all the time. Oh dear, nobody has time for real culture, but these…ordinary people…are so interesting at times, their pastimes and songs, and whatnot… For me, his work’s appeal is limited by the fact that it is that of a man who never quite shakes off the upper-class twit aspect of his social background.