Saturday, September 24, 2022

Alien: The High School Play (2019).

 Please see the following video for all the relevant background material.

 Further elaboration and trivia, courtesy of Adam Savage, can be found in the video below:

And now, our feature presentation.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Firestarter (2022).

I can remember the first time I encountered Stephen King.  Guess I'm just one of those dummies with all the luck.  He was right there from the very beginning, in a sense.  My childhood must be out of the norm.  Because it consists of a series of well preserved memories that were easy to stick in the mind.  A lot of it is helped by the fact that these were movie images.  It also maybe doesn't hurt that these flickering pictures were drawn from what some would consider the cream of the cinematic crop.  I can recall Lawrence of Arabia wandering through an endless desert.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conducting both orchestra and audience as if he held the universe in the palm of his hand.  For a time, at least, he might have come near to just that.  Then there's a wild-haired Christopher Loyd and Michael J. Fox conducting a wacky science experiment with time on the face of a giant clock tower.  One of the strongest images turns out to be a group of kids in jeans and t-shirts perched on the edge of a set of railway tracks, looking out into the wilderness, trying to get a good, long look at the terrain ahead, before deciding to plunge headlong into it.  That last snapshot of memory came from a film with the simple, yet somehow grand title of Stand By Me.  It's a good film, with an equally brilliant soundtrack.  The irony is it took a while to realize it had anything to do with the work and writing of Stephen King.

So in that sense, I knew something of King's fiction, before I ever knew anything about the writer himself.  In retrospect, I think that just might have been the best introduction to the man and his stories any potential fan could ask for.  Stand By Me is one of those films that you look at for the first time, all unknowing, and see it as one sort of a film.  The kind of thing you might expect to find tossed off the cuff by the likes of John Hughes, or something like it.  Then, when you learn about King, and and go back and watch the movie again, it becomes something else, while also still managing to keep all the other elements you remember from when you were a kid.  It turns the film into a movie of layers.  It becomes a story with a higher sense of sophistication that belies its deliberately rough hewn quality.  In fact, it's this quality that can sometimes fool the audience, and single it out as its own little masterclass in storytelling.  When I first saw the movie, for instance, I was thinking the setting couldn't be in the 1950s.  I was thinking this was all taking place not far from my own backyard.  That's how good it is.

Let it stand as a testament to the achievement of King's writing.  Like I say, though.  While it might have been my first introduction to King's work.  It was quite a while before I learned to associate the film as having anything to do with King himself.  That seems to be an amusing recurrence with films like this.  The same goes for The Shawshank Redemption.  It's a tell on the cloud of prejudice that artists like King or Steven Spielberg may continue to exist under for some time.  After all these years, critics continue to harbor the idea that anything the majority of the audience likes just isn't worth considering as valid.  In recent years, it's gotten worse when it comes to a recent spate of pop cultural controversies that shall remain unexplored here.  The funny thing is I never seemed to have any such problems with all those old, 80s popcorn flicks, or ancient popular novels.  To me, all that matters is whether the final product was entertaining, whether or not it qualifies as "pulp fiction".  In that sense, when I finally picked up my first copy of a King book, it didn't take much time before I realized we were going to get along splendidly.  The writing itself was on a level of sophistication that I believe is genuine.  It's just that "Book People" insist on giving him a hard wrap, and a bad reputation to go along with it.

None of this mattered to me growing up, as I was beginning to gain slow familiarity with King's writings.  Far as I was concerned, there was nothing to suggest there was anything illegitimate about getting to know the work of a "popular author".  For me, this was a slow, gradual process, amounting  to a sort of informal word of mouth.  I'd be watching TV, minding my own business, and then suddenly a commercial for one of his books (such as Gerald's Game, or Needful Things) would appear for an instant, and then be gone in a flash.  I've got to give each of those hoary old bits of self promotion credit.  They did their job well.  They didn't just deliver the message they had to sell.  Whoever made them was smart to know you had to do it with just the right amount of style fitting for the works they had to peddle.  The results are these amusing, a little corny, though sometime just a bit creepy snapshots of 80s to 90s era nostalgia.  They've become glimpses into a world long gone, and yet it's this same reality which King was able to make his own.  It was all enough to get the attention of one ten year old boy who was otherwise engrossed in the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  It let you know that there was this dark, yet somehow interesting vista out there waiting to be explored.  Perhaps it also didn't hurt that long before I knew who King was, I'd developed a healthy interest in the Horror genre by then.

It was Saturday Morning Cartoons who taught me what ghosts and monsters were, including the likes of the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man.  The punchline is I even owe my interest in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe to a Steven Spielberg produced animated series.  So in other words, TV is one of the influences that taught me how to have fun being scared.  The important thing to note is that all of this happened before I ever had a chance to know just who Stephen King was.  The perfect irony being that he was kinda-sorta always there, as a looming background presence that began to come into clearer focus as those early, impressionable years went on.  From seeing him advertised on TV, I soon wound up noticing his titles lining the shelves of various bookstores I'd happen to frequent.  From there, I moved onto the reading the plot synopsis written down in the front flap covers surrounding each book.  The ones that I recall picking up and examining at this early stage of my developing fandom were Wizard and Glass (a Dark Tower novel), along with The Green Mile and Bag of Bones.  The first tentative baby steps into King's secondary world on paper came from purchasing a copy of a comic book adaptation of Creepshow.  It looked and read as both gnarly and undeniably cool at the same time.

The next big step was to pick up a copy of Cycle of the Werewolf.  I'd read interesting things about in a small booklet known as The Films of Stephen King, and so I decided to see if it was all as cracked up to be.  Turns out it all seemed true.  There were some parts that were still difficult for me to read at such an early age, yet I remember being fascinated by it at the same time.  In retrospect, that little novelette might very have been the gateway text, any all-important piece of writing that can help make the prospective reader a fan for life.  What I know for certain is that it left me wanting more.  And I began to cast about for any of his books that would allow my reading of this writer to go further up and further in.  The book that managed to make me a King reader for life is not something even his many fans would cite as an example of his best writing.  However, I think I'm just about out of apologies for this one.  While the case for the defense may stay a going concern, I can't find any reason to be ashamed that it was Dreamcatcher which catapulted me into the Gothic heights of King's fictionThat book remains what it is for me to this day.  I'm still willing to call one of his most underappreciated works.

It's also the text that made me realize I was dealing with a genuine talent.  It's the one that allowed me to go on and pour through works like Misery, Salem's Lot, and The Shining.  My experience with all of this has allowed me to come away with the conviction that what we're dealing here is a man who deserves to be regarded as perhaps the premiere writer of Gothic fiction.  This goes not just for American, yet also English or Western Literature in the modern age.  What I do know for sure is that somewhere down the line, you might just see future scholars make an attempt at annotated additions of his best work, similar to the attention that J.R.R. Tolkien and Bram Stoker have received lately.  While it's a generally accepted idea that King has now cemented himself a place up there with the likes of Shelley and Lovecraft, the work I have to focus in on today is a bit more ironic.  It's something that formed a building block in my growing King fandom, and yet my relationship to it today is somewhat distanced, and a bit more up in the air in terms of its overall quality.  I don't know if that sounds like a comedown after all this build-up.  All I know for sure is that I hope you'll join in with me now, as I take the time to examine an adaptation of Firestarter, and what kind of work it amounts to in King's canon.