Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Silence, Part 1: The Freshman (1925)

When a silent film catches the attention (and heart) of a modern viewer (in this case, me), it's a special little phenomenon - sort of like time travel. And while culture certainly changes over time, "good" is "good," regardless of your perspective. So when I see a silent movie I like, or don't have anything else to talk about, I'll review it in this "Silence" series.

Since I'm not a fan (at all) of college comedies or football, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed Harold Lloyd's 1925 film The Freshman. It was my first experience with Lloyd, and I'll have to watch more of his films, but I'm almost ready to call him the equal or superior of Charlie Chaplin when it comes to clever physical comedy.

The hapless Lloyd (whose character has the name Harold Lamb, who was a prolific writer of historical action fiction at the time) arrives at Tate University, desperately wanting to be popular. He mimics the behavior of "The College Hero," from a favorite film of his, and takes the name Speedy. A prankster gets the whole university in on a joke - they treat Lloyd as if he is the popular fellow he wants to be, but make fun of him behind his back. The naive and gentle-spirited Lloyd is, of course, oblivious. While courting his landlady's daughter (who likes him for who he is), he tries out for the football team. He fails miserably, but does manage to get a job as the tackling dummy, then the water boy. The joke is exposed during the Fall Frolic dance, when Lloyd shows up with an ill-tailored suit that keeps falling apart. The tailor is on hand to make surreptitious repairs during the dance, resulting in some of the best physical comedy I've ever seen. Eventually, Lloyd gets incensed when the prankster gets too friendly with the hatcheck girl - the landlady's daughter.

In revenge, the prankster tells Lloyd he's been the subject of a huge joke, and that everyone actually thinks he's (what we would today call) a big nerd. The hatcheck girl tells him to be himself, and cheers him  up a bit. But he's still determined to prove himself to everyone. He gets his chance in the Big Game against another university, whose footballers are so tough, they knock out almost everyone on the team. Lloyd, the water boy, finally gets his chance. He rallies the team and leads them on to victory - not through any athletic prowess, but in a series of tightly shot, well-choreographed, and clever tricks that win the day. In the end, he gets the popularity he wanted by being himself, and he gets the girl.

This set the template for about a thousand other college movies that followed, and remained one of Harold Lloyd's top films. Lloyd himself has a ton of charisma, and I'll have to check out more of his movies.

In a final note only Colin Lee Campbell will get - check out the "college beanie" in the top photo...

Monday, November 24, 2014

While everyone else was doing LSD...

...some young men of the 1960s were gaming. Although, to be fair, for all I know, they could also have been doing LSD (which, I'd imagine, would really make the battle come to life). Here's an interesting newspaper photo published almost 50 years ago in the April 17, 1966 issue of the picture supplement to The Minneapolis Tribune:

I found this on the always-interesting but rarely updated Grognardia, by way of the Vintage Wargaming blog. I'd seen this photo before as it's included in Jon Peterson's must-read Playing at the World, but the color really makes it pop. If you look at the caption, you'll see that the fellow reaching over to move his troops at the very end of the table is a young Dave Arneson.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Foreigners Want Our Women!

I've been perusing old issues of Fight Comics published in the 1940s, and I'm left with only one reasonable conclusion. Foreigners - particularly Asians - enjoy tying up and menacing American girls. If you don't believe me, take a look!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Forsaken Lyonesse

Goeffrey McKinney used the obscure the old Ambroise Bierce story Carcosa as the basis for a truly unique and horrific setting for fantasy roleplaying games. I came across this scan from an old copy of Weird Tales, the classic fantasy/horror pulp. It would be fun to create a game setting out of it:

I'd never heard of the author, R. Jere Black, Jr., but it seems he was a rather interesting fellow. I'm also impressed with the art included here. A little research reveals it to be Hugh Rankin, who illustrated many of the early Robert E. Howard stories, and who created some of the first images of Conan.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tonight, I Hunt

Note: Here's a new short story. I hope you like it. 

I am O-Bo. I am what the God made me. I am the largest and strongest of all those who dwell in the highlands. Tonight, I hunt.

Mother says to be careful when I hunt. She used to bring me my food, but now I must hunt, for her bones creak and her skin sags. Her fangs have fallen out. She will not hunt, but must lie upon her bed of bright stones. She will soon be gone and stand before the God and it will ask her if she has reaped a good harvest of flesh, and if she has not, she will be cast out of the Hunting Grounds, and be no more. So will it be with me, should I fail the hunger inside me—because the God put it there, and it is my entire purpose.

I creep into the darkness and it hides me, but the Night Face shines above, so that I may see by its dim light. The God put the Night Face there for such as I, who hate the Day Face and must go abroad by night. The God pushes aside the brambly hedges as I pass. I seek the lair of the monsters, who are fat and fleshy. I do not wish to enter their lair, only to spy upon it and catch one or two if they stray from their shelter. They will be good eating, and I will bring one to Mother, though she says her time has come to face the God and she will not eat it.

The lair of the monsters is far below the rocky land where Mother and I live. At the hedge-edge that rings the hill-country I see the hateful orange lights of the monsters' flames. They forge their bright claws in hot fires. These claws they hold in great esteem. I have hidden outside their flimsy wooden gates and watched. Silver water turns to sharp claws, and the monsters hammer the claws until they are long and terrible. Sometimes the monster with the red robe speaks foul words to the sword, while another punches queer signs into the still-shining claw as it cools. Mother says those claws are to be feared. The monsters put evil spirits into such claws. The spirits enter the monsters who wield the claws. The monsters are thus emboldened to hunt our kind, for they hate the God and everything it has made.

I smell the carcass just before I smell the wolves that surround it. I stomp heavily as I follow the scent, to frighten the wolves away. They too venerate the God and it has put fear of my kind into them. I hear them scatter through the brush, seeking prey closer to the monster lair in the valley below. There the monsters gather large pens of wild creatures, which they bend to their will to do their work, or which they fatten for the slaughter, spoiling the meat with their small flames.

The carcass lies twisted beneath an ancient oak. It is a monster, encased in hard gray skin. It is folded back upon itself. Did it climb the tree? Did the oak throw it out? It is easy to crack the skin and scoop out the meat inside. It has been here for days and the mung is suckable. I enjoy this before I grind through the pungent flesh and snap tiny bones with my teeth.

Then I notice the bright, hard claw that lies upright behind a clump of thick bushes. Its point pierces the ground. I do not think it was put here by design, but dropped by the monster when the oak ousted it from its perch. The handle catches a ray from the Night Face and for a moment, gleams like the bright stones of Mother's bed. I have fangs in my mouth. They are sharp. I have small black claws on my digits. They are sharper still. But the monster-claw, long and gleaming, bound by its handle of gold, is even sharper. This much is clear from the way the rays of the Night Face play across its surface. There, I see the monster-signs hammered into the claw. If its spirit makes a monster more powerful, if its spirit hates the God that made me, I will take this thing and break it upon my knee.

I reach and grasp it. It is small and awkward in my big hands. Perhaps I should not snap or shatter it. Perhaps I could use it. If the monsters make such things to slay such as I, then how much more so would it slay them? I can eat my fill, and Mother too, and perhaps she will rise from her bed of bright stones. Perhaps all will be as it once was, in the days when the God was pleased and all was right with the land, before the monsters came with their sun-flames and sharp claws, to rip up the trees, to tear the soil, and to fill the night with their blasphemies against all that the God has made.

Now, I can feel that the claw is less awkward in my hand, as if it has grown to fit it. Or does my hand shrink? Do I shrink? Do the rays of the Night Face grow darker? Mother? Where is O-Bo?

I am Varakian, slayer of monsters. I am what this blade makes me. Tonight, I hunt. It is my entire purpose. With this sword, forged under the auspices of the Priest of the New God, inscribed with the Words of Power, I seek out the lair of the ogre queen, who legend says lies upon a couch of jewels. I shall slay her, thus ridding the valley of her evil. Men say she is guarded by a hideous son, a repugnant thing, a monster. And yet, the New God speaks clearly to me, and I understand, without knowing or caring why, that as long as I hold this spirit-forged blade, I have nothing to fear from the ogre-queen's son.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: Buckaroo Banzai

The full title, of course, is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. I hadn't seen this cult classic in years. Like, many years. I think I may have been about 12 years old. For some reason, on impulse, I obtained and viewed this movie recently, while my son and I enjoyed the best plate of homemade sausage hash I have ever made. I was struck by two things: Peter Weller didn't always look like Skeletor, and I'm pretty sure the characters were inspired by Doc Savage and his group of stalwart aides.

Like Doc, Buckaroo is a master of brain surgery. Like Doc, he is an inventor and physicist on the cutting edge of modern technology (well beyond it, actually). Like Doc, he is an accomplished musician (Doc is a violinist and composer, while Buckaroo fronts a rock'n'roll band--Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Caveliers). Like Doc, Buckaroo has a group of fiercely loyal buddies, all of whom are inferior to him but whose help he nevertheless needs. Furthermore, they've all got colorful nicknames. Where Doc has Monk, Ham, Long Tom, Johnny, and Renny, Buckaroo has Rawhide, Perfect Tommy, New Jersey, Pinky, and Reno. Luckily for him, these cronies stand in as his backup band, fighting force, and support team.

The movie itself was directed by W.D. Richter, who has never quite achieved Hollywood greatness. In fact, Buckaroo Banzai was such a dismal failure, financially, that the production company that made it broke up. Richter, of course, would go on to at least One Awesome Thing - he co-wrote my favorite comedy/action movie, the unadulterated classic Big Trouble in Little China.

The best thing about this film - which has its ups and downs on almost every other front - is the cast. Peter Weller - despite not looking even remotely half-Japanese - plays the lead. John Lithgow hams it up as the arch-villain, ably supported by an incredible trio of character actors: Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and the lesser-known Dan Hedaya (Blood Simple) and Vincent Schiavelli (Amadeus, Better Off Dead). Among Buckaroo's team is a young Jeff Goldblum, who does his usual stretch of an acting job playing a character that is exactly like Jeff Goldblum, and the underrated Clancy Brown (Highlander, the voice of Mr. Crabbs on Spongebob Squarepants, and the voice of Lex Luther in Justice League Unlimited). Carl Lumbly, who plays an alien, also did a voice on Justice League - Martian Manhunter. And finally, if you ever forgot how hot Ellen Barkin was (and still is), check out her role as the ridiculously named "Penny Pretty," Buckaroo's suicidal love interest.

The movie is odd. It's strangely edited and often feels disjointed. But it has a compelling quality that kept me watching. It's worth another look, and I will say that the effects hold up rather well over the years. Jon Lithgow's performance is so over-the-top that it rivals that of Jeffrey Jones in the similarly odd Howard the Duck - but that's another entry. Doc Savage fans can tell me whether they think they see any parallels between Doc and Buckaroo.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Second Editions from Pharaoh

Pharaoh Publishing USA has released second editions of Conley Stone McAnally's Wilson Bay: Tales From an Eskimo Village and its sequel, Jump, Alaska: Tales From the Interior. Read all about 'em right here!

Monday, November 10, 2014


The news is a bit late, but on October 25, 2014, I married Jenny Vochatzer - er, McAnally. She's beautiful and funny, hard-working and generous, responsible and intelligent. I love her. Here are some pictures.