Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Keep watching the skies!"

Nikki, Captain Hendry, and The Thing From Another World!

This is it- this is my favorite movie. Ever.

I know, it's hardly the first movie you'd think of when it comes to me and movies. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, those are the movies that leap to mind. And don't get me wrong, they're great movies, and I consider them some of my favorites...

But they're not The Thing From Another World. I discovered this gem back in grade school. Our school library used to have a pretty impressive selection of books about movies, especially classic sci-fi and horror (I'm guessing, since this was the early 80's, they figured the classic monsters were a safe alternative from the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees... if only they knew!). There were a series of books I really loved, about all the classic monsters, written by a man named Ian Thorne (yes, I remember that, 27 years later). They would tell the story of the main movie, then go on to describe other movies with similar themes. Books like this are the direct reason why I love the Universal Monsters. And, naturally, The Thing From Another World.

There was just something about the description that hooked me: a group of scientists and soldiers, trapped at the top of the world, must fight to survive against an alien terror. How cool is that? The photos I saw looked great, as well: fire, axes, electricity, all were used against The Thing. The Thing itself looked like another classic Universal Monster (even though it was released by RKO Pictures): nasty-looking, with wicked clawed hands and that super-developed brain, he looked like he could outthink you as well as tear you apart. It just SOUNDED awesome.

Sadly, I had to wait another 5 years before I'd ever see The Thing in motion. By that time, we had cable, and TBS was showing all kinds of movies. Most of their programming consisted of classic movies, black and white features you nowadays only catch on AMC or Turner Classic. But, lo and behold, what should I come across one Sunday, but The Thing From Another World. What would it be like? Would it be as great as I imagined? Would it look silly, these moving pictures showing how poor special effects were back then, the dialogue show how painfully poorly scripted most horror movies were back then? What if it sucked?

It most definitely did NOT suck. I was amazed, from the start. The dialogue was rapid-fire, actors speaking over each other, dishing out lines like they were old friends, the jokes were fast and funny, delivered like they were in an Oscar-worthy movie, not a 'B' movie. The story itself was just as I'd imagined- filled with tension, wit, and decent scares for the day. The actors were fantastic- they looked like they were having a great time with the filming, and that shone through in the performances. The Thing itself was great- like the best monsters, he shows up without warning, strikes fast, and leaves them scared for their lives. Even the music was freaky- in a good way. I also learned that Thermite is the cause, and solution, of all men's problems. By God, this was a good movie.

Thankfully, TBS played their movies more than once a day, so for the next showing, I had the VCR ready to go. And oh yes, it was taped. Over the following years, I would put the tape in, and let it play. When it finished, I rewound it, and played it again. And again. And again. I'd fall asleep to it, and wake up to it. Those were good times.

As the years passed, I would go on to learn more about the movie, and the people behind it. I learned that it was based on a short story, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, and immediately tracked it down (reprinted in a great paperback, Between Time and Terror, a wonderful compilation of sci-fi stories with a distinct horror aspect to them; one of the best anthologies I've read). It was like night and day, the differences between the two stories, but I didn't care; I ended up loving both. I learned that John Carpenter's 1982 movie was a remake, and fell in love with that one, as well- though it was nothing like the original. But I loved them both, as well. As my understanding and appreciation of film grew, I learned why it was so good- the man behind it, Howard Hawks, was one of the great filmmakers of his day, responsible for some of the best movies of the 30's through the 60's. I began to also appreciate the story itself- like all good sci-fi, it was a reflection of its time, filtered through a glass darkly. A great allegory for the Cold War, there's still insight to be gained from the movie. And the dialogue- oh, the dialogue is still a joy to hear. I still pick up new things, after all this time. Not to mention, as I got older, I could better appreciate the dynamic of the relationship between Nikki and Captain Hendry. She was definitely NOT a stereotypical damsel in distress. The stunts were just crazy, I could see- they set a stuntman on fire, in a closed room, with the actors present- then thrown on Kerosene! Now THAT'S bad-ass! So much goodness. About 5 years ago, when the movie finally came out on DVD, I figured that was it; it didn't get any better than that.

I was wrong.

Frederick County, Maryland, has a nice little theater- year 'round, they have musical programs, dance troupes, plays, and movies pass through. Every Fall, they show some classic horror movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, all have played there. Well, about 3 years ago, when I was living there-

You know where this is going, right?

-they were showing The Thing From Another World.

So, I sent out an email to all my friends (more like a flyer- I take this thing seriously), letting them know of this momentous occasion. Two of them rose to the challenge: Dave and Thad. I reserved my tickets, and eagerly awaited the day. I would finally see it as it was meant to be seen: ON THE BIG SCREEN.

At last, the day was upon me. Dave and Thad showed up at my apartment, and we made our way to downtown Frederick. I picked up our tickets-holy crap! It says The Thing on the tickets!!!- we picked up some popcorn, and went in to the auditorium. The lights went down, I got goosebumps (seriously, I did) and I spent the next 87 minutes on the edge of my seat. We all went out after for some mediocre food and good beer, talked about the movie (the guys pointed out, when the military barricaded a door, The Thing outsmarted them- because the door pulled open. All these years, and I never noticed.), talked about life in general, and we all left the restaurant, and that's how one of the happiest days of my life went. All because of a 1950's sci-fi movie.

So there you go, the story of my favorite movie of all time. Others will come along, better movies, smarter movies, funnier movies... but The Thing From Another World will always be my favorite.

-oh, one last thing. earlier this year, when I was up visiting with my folks, Dad and I were sitting around talking about old movies we liked. It was late, I think I'd just gotten in from Maryland, and he had on TCM- I'm pretty sure it was Creature From the Black Lagoon, but I could be wrong. Anyway, we were talking classics, and I mentioned The Thing, and told him how it was my favorite movie ever.

"Did you know, I saw that in Korea?" he said. "That was a great movie."

25 years after I first discovered what would become my favorite movie, I learn my Dad loved it too. That pleased me immensely then, and it makes me even happier now.


Thanks for reading. And Happy Halloween!


Okay, one last thing- this makes my 150th official blog post! I honestly can't believe I made it this long. Thank you to everyone who's been stopping by to visit and read, and extra thanks to those of you who leave comments or email me with your thoughts- getting that feedback really makes my day, and I appreciate it all. Fingers crossed, next stop, 200!

Music: "The Thing From Another World- Main Title" - Dimitri Tiomkin

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"I know I'm human..."

R.J. MacReady, from The Thing.

The Thing is both a remake and an adaptation that, while veering far from the original movie, adheres much more closely to the original source material (but still veers readily from that, as well). Tense, claustrophobic, terrifying, and flat out disgusting, The Thing is one of the most effective horror movies of all time. A critical and financial bomb at the box office, it has since gone on to become one of the most well-regarded genre works of the '80's, and holds up amazingly well still. Its themes of distrust and alienation (no pun) are perhaps more relevant than ever. After all, when your very neighbor could be The Thing, who do you trust?

Based on "Who Goes There?", a short story by legendary editor/writer John W. Campbell, the movie takes place at a remote scientific outpost in Antarctica. A bizarre attack on the outpost leads the men to the slow realization that they are not alone. Among them is a terror unlike any they've encountered... and it can look like anyone. The Thing is just a truly scary movie, in the best sense of the word. Don't watch it with the lights out.

I couldn't even tell you when I was first introduced to this movie. Probably back in the mid to late 80's, when it was playing on Saturdays on WPGH. Of course, since it was broadcast television, I was spared the full impact of the movie (friggin' gross!) until sometime later, most likely HBO. The science fiction aspect of it was certainly a draw, as well as it being a horror movie. I know it scared me every time I watched it. It was a Kurt Russell/John Carpenter movie, so it had that going for it as well (see Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China for further proof of greatness). I just loved how, when so many movies were about flash and action and simple, happy resolutions, this movie took the road less traveled. This is one of my favorite movies, and I can't recommend it enough. For more on this movie, please check out Outpost 31.

Tomorrow: The Other Thing.

Music: "A Warm Place" - Nine Inch Nails

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In the Blood

Dracula, of a sort.

This was really just done as a very sketchy sketch. Basically, I was just trying for the arced lines rather than anything particularly accurate or intentional. It turned out alright for what it was meant to be, and I like the solid colors of it. This is probably my... third?... Dracula picture on here, and it's probably only appropriate that each one is radically different from the last, as the character of Dracula has been interpreted and reinterpreted in a nearly endless variety of fashions.

Dracula is probably not quite so readily recognizable as Frankenstein's Monster (thanks to the makeup, Frankie is pretty much one of a kind; unless you look just like Bela Lugosi (or Joe Flaherty), it'll take a second or two for someone to realize the evening suit makes you a vampire). However, Dracula as a literary character is second to none when it comes to a life beyond his origins, and world-wide recognition. I personally own more than 20 books featuring just the character of Dracula, each of them portraying some different version of him, sometimes incredibly different, sometimes very familiar. One of my favorite books ever, Anno Dracula, features a Dracula based directly on Stoker's novel, but also manages to create an entirely new mythos around the vampire. Tremendous reading for anyone, in my not so humble opinion.

Of course, the many facets of the literary Dracula are equaled or exceeded by those shown in the movies. Each actor who steps into the role brings something different to the character. And naturally, neither of these paths take into account the many, many different types and stories of vampires in general to appear in both media. The character's continued success probably stems from any number of reasons: the "dark romance", the supernatural, the underlying themes of the character (which seem to find new relevance through every age), even just the idea that living forever is pretty cool. There are as many different reasons for loving Dracula as there are interpretations of him. From a pop cultural point of view, Dracula will never die.

So that's the big three, insofar as the classic Universal Monsters go. Certainly, three of my favorites. Next up, a couple of pictures of two of my personal favorite movies... One is a remake of the other, both based on a single short story, both completely different in tone and character, and both tremendous movies.

Music: "Killing Moon" - Echo and the Bunnymen

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Prometheus Unchained

Frankenstein's Monster.

This one was REALLY sketchy, as you can tell. Again, from the 'loosey-goosey' sessions. I can draw pretty cartoony faces and heads, without a ton of problems, but when it comes to the bodies, I almost always end up drawing in the super-hero fashion- exaggerated, but realistically exaggerated. So this was an attempt to somewhat merge those two habits of mine; ultimately, I'd like to find a sketchy, cartoony, kinda realistic-looking style. I'm actually pretty pleased with how this came out- there's way too many lines in it for any kind of 'serious' drawing, but I liked where it went with stretching out the body's dimensions somewhat. I think it helps contribute to the distortions and imperfections of the Creature. I like the roughness of it, as well- since my natural style, such as it is, really tends towards lots of short, sharp lines (or 'scribbling', as it's also known).

Frankenstein (technically Frankenstein's Monster) is arguably the most recognized Monster in the world. Books have been written solely about his cultural impact on the global villagers. He's seen everywhere, from movies to cereal to insurance to god-only-knows-what. Everyone knows him. I find it funny that so many people feel like they know his story, yet so few people have read the novel, or even watched the movie (worlds apart, but both fantastic in their own ways). But, such is the power of pop culture that his story is so well known, folks feel like they've already seen it or read it. Too bad they mostly remember the Strickfadden generators and the shambling, arms-outstretched walk, rather than the cautionary tale it really was. Especially as it's becoming more and more relevant, almost 200 years after it was written.

Not saying you should go out and read it (definitely not for everyone, but still an easier read than Dracula for most), but it doesn't hurt to know the deeper themes behind the story- and those themes, even though seen through a Hollywood filter, shine through in the movies. (If you're only going to watch one, watch Bride of Frankenstein- it's the better of the original two).

Not sure what's coming up next- maybe something I'm working on now, or maybe something completely different.

See you Wednesday.

Music: "Frankenstein" - Edgar Winter

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When The Wolfsbane Blooms...

... And the Moon is Full and Bright.

It's that time of year again, Halloween is nearly upon us. So I'll be giving over some posts to the theme again this year, though nothing like last year. Sorry, things just aren't what they used to be. Maybe I'll get wordier to compensate. Sorry, things haven't changed THAT much.

Today's picture, like a couple to follow, actually precede the idea for the Halloween postings this year. This, like the other recent postings, began as a drawing exercise, something to loosen up those drawing muscles. This one, however, I did in pen. Pen is an interesting drawing tool for an unrepentant sketcher like myself. There's no erasing, and at least with these pens, virtually no line variation. So it forces me to be much more... choosy about what I'm drawing, in terms of line choice. But since I wanted to be loose with the drawing, it ends up being a fine balance. Or, I sketch the hell out of the lines and hope something recognizable comes out of the whole mess. I actually did this while on the phone with a friend, which may explain why it turned out relatively well- by not concentrating on the drawing, I didn't overthink it.

As you can probably/hopefully see, this is the wolfman. No particular version in mind here, though it's not hard to see Chaney's influence (the buckle is also a direct homage to the original Wolf Man movie). I was thinking of a more traditional wolfman, rather than An American Werewolf in London style, or even the greyhound-like Lupin from the third Harry Potter movie (to which my friends rejoice...). Marvel Comic's "The Beast" must have interjected himself into the drawing at some point, hence the much bulkier figure. And, as I can't directly recall what Victorian-era clothing (referencing the upcoming Wolf Man remake), I just made something up. Like usual. Then, to mess with the whole thing, I inverted the coloring. Not sure why, as it's not a true inversion, but it lends a certain look to it that I like. So that's that.

The Wolf Man is one of my earliest 'favorite' monster movies. It was also my sister's favorite (and I think still is), and is well-known amongst the general public. The look of the Wolf Man himself, along with those of Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula, is completely iconic. Unlike those two movies, however, The Wolf Man had no literary background, and so is one of the first "original" movie monsters to stand the test of time. The story is a mish-mash of different legends and myths from around the world. The movie itself is a mish-mash, much like the creation of the movie's mythology: it's an interesting, if not always agreeable, juxtaposition of (then) modern-day America with Old-World Europe, modern sensibilities with long-standing tradition, even science and superstition. One of the visual cues that let's you know you're watching a Universal Monsters movie is that the town it takes place in has modern conveniences, not to mention cars, but is populated with villagers right out of the 18th century. Rather than pin themselves down to one era, Universal went for a 'timeless' country, and ended up with a crazy-looking retro-modern-historic town.

The Wolf Man is a great movie of its time, in my opinion. As a straight-up scarefest, obviously it doesn't hold up against today's storytelling. But in its day, it was something to see. Its oblique references to "the beast in us all", particularly men when around women, is certainly a timeless theme worth revisiting. Plus, it gave the world one of the best quotes from a movie:

Even a man who is pure in Heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
And the moon is full and bright.

Interestingly, The Wolf Man is the only of the "big three" monsters to not feature a direct sequel. Dracula had a sequel called Dracula's Daughter, and Frankenstein begat a number of sequels. The next time The Wolf Man appeared on screen was in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, but that's more of a mash-up than direct sequel (though there's a thin ongoing story with poor Larry Talbot; much like David Banner from The Hulk TV series, he wandered around looking for a cure to his problem). As a co-star of the monster movies, Wolf Man appeared a number of times in various "House Of" movies... and met Abbott and Costello.

Here Endeth the Lesson.

Music: "Woke Up This Morning" - Alabama Three

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not Quite Fork Art

Just a quick update- it's late, and I'm tired.

A picture of some doodling while waiting for lunch to arrive on our way back from Chincoteague. Not my typical doodle, but nice enough for all that.

Music: "Happy Birthday" - The Beatles

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Walking on the Moon

Or at least, walking on the beach.

Here's but one of many pictures I took on this past weekend's annual trip to Chincoteague. Taken with my phone, no less. When I bought it, the first thing I asked the clerk was "which phones have the best camera?" This one is surprisingly good, with an actual physical zoom and focus.

I was walking on the beach, since that's something to do on the beach that doesn't involve lying in the sand. I thought it would be cool to take some pictures, and thought of my footprints in the sand. Of course, it made me think of that poem/greeting card saying about how God will carry you, which is why you only see one set of prints. Made me laugh, so I took the picture.

Well, as I was looking at the picture tonight, I saw there was a second set of prints.

And they were walking away from me...


Anyway, that's about it this time around. I have some sketches that need scanning and cleaning up, not to mention all the other pictures that need work on. I just connected my computer to my TV, so everything looks MUCH BIGGER now- so hopefully less squinting as I work on the pictures one pixel at a time. But we'll see.

Cheers for now!

Music: "Be" - Neil Diamond

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Crimebuster

I'm back.

So, here's the second part of my attempt to 'loosen up' my drawing. At this point, Sean had seen what I was doing/not doing, and told me to really loosen the drawing- to not try to hit the image right away, but to just let the pencil draw what it will, and find the shape in it- like a cloud(Sounds very Zen, I know). This time, I actually took to heart what he'd said, and so I think the results came out much better. After trying for more of the same with the first cloak, I really just let myself start drawing with the second... and ended up drawing a cross between Nite Owl and, in my opinion, myself. First, Nite Owl is a character from The Most Influential Graphic Novel of All Time, aka Watchmen, and second, it's a pudgy guy with glasses. Combine the two, and that's what you get. I'm really pleased with how he turned out, especially since I didn't know it was him until I was partway through. Somehow, I think I managed to capture a fair bit of emotion in him, through his pose and posture. Anyway, it was cool. Finished with a quick sketch of some superwoman-type and a REALLY vague sketch of a face from a DVD case. There's definitely more to come from this loosy-goosy style, to be sure.

The weekend was excellent, as always. Delightful company, wonderful weather (hey! No hurricanes!), fantastic food, unexpected and awesome conversations, and kids- who can ask for more? I also got to draw, if only a little bit. Which is fine, as I wasn't in the mood for much drawing. Also got to take plenty of pictures with the new phone, some of which I'll post here soon. There's probably some commentary to be had on the weekend in general, but we'll see what happens. I will say, that I was very fortunate to be able to get caught up with some good friends who I haven't seen since leaving- it did my heart good to see them, and made the mad dash to get down to MD by Wednesday night more than worth it. If only I could drive down there every other Thursday... Anyway, it was great to be there, and I can't wait to visit again.

Okay, so there was a little commentary on the weekend. Sorry.

More to come!

Music: "Tonight and the Rest of My Life" - Nina Gordon

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Holding Pattern

Sorry, no post today, I've been busy busy busy gathering all my things together for the annual Chincoteague Trip- our Tenth Anniversary! I'll be back... Wednesday with a report. Along with actual art. No, really.
Have a good weekend- I know I will!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cloaking Devices

I try too hard.

No, seriously. Not with most things in my life, but with drawing, I tend to try too hard to get something perfect the first time. And when it is inevitably not perfect, I get frustrated to no end. Part of the problem is that I tend to like art styles not natural to me (cartoony, clean lines, etc.). Part of the problem is I just don't spend enough time on fundamentals of drawing, like anatomy and composition. And part of it is I don't take the time to loosen up, letting the picture find its way out, as it were.

Luckily, I've got friends.

Sean and I were sitting around a couple weeks ago. He was drawing some insanely accurate and realistic picture of a real person, and I was... not. I was just staring at the paper, waiting for inspiration to strike. No doing. Sean saw my impression of 'polar bear in a snow storm', and offered to give me an idea of something to draw.


Um, okay. Reading comic books, it's easy to imagine the uses and poses for cloaks (or capes, as we in the know call them). I did try for a little variety, with not just the super pose, but also some other types and/or styles. It came out alright, but something still wasn't working. I was trying too hard. Sean and I had been discussing how he needed to loosen up his style, to get more comfortable with sketching- letting the picture find its way out, so to speak (which is crazy, if you've ever seen Sean draw- his so-called 'sketches' would be hours of work for me). So, we talked a little more, and I went back at it.

This isn't that one.

Still, it was the first I'd drawn in a while, and I like the shapes of the comic-book guy (as opposed to the shape of the Comic Book Guy, which is mostly pear-shaped), and the wizard-type. Meh. first time in a while I'd actually just sketched in general. I'll post later results... well, later.

This weekend, with luck, will produce some more sketchery. I'm headed home tomorrow, and plan on drawing with the Brothers Weaver while watching some scary movies. Good times, folks.

That is all.

Music: "Nights in White Satin" - The Moody Blues