Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ageless Joy of Learning

Almost three weeks ago my friend Rose Ann Hunter, , and I got to teach at The Gathering in Wakefield, MA. I knew I would be surrounded by over a hundred avid spinners. My plan was to learn on the wheel Ann Banks had loaned me and quietly sit in their ranks but lack of organization precluded that happening. So I packed the wheel determined to bring it out on Saturday night after the workshops and find a kind teaching soul. Laura had tried to teach me at spa a few years ago but that was in a bar and before I gave myself permission to enjoy rather than fight the learning curve. I decided that I had to learn to spin after someone told me that the year her father died spinning was the only thing that helped calm her. That sure got my attention. I was definitely in search of a legal route to calmness that came without calories.
So, carrying the wheel I search for a friendly group to insert myself. Finding a small group with an empty chair I am welcomed in and introduce myself to Ellen Thesoulofpatience* on my left. Within a few hours I am sitting in the main room with who knows how many pro handspinners and enjoying , really enjoying myself. That woman was right! There is a centering, calming, meditative quality to holding a fluffy, colorful natural substance with no solid form or strength and feeling it transform in your fingers to yarn. Now, don't quote me, but I think Rumpelstiltskin was an unnecessary overachiever.
Blog On!
*not her real last name

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Better in Black and White, Part 3

Back with my ruminations on black and white "monster" movies. That's what we called them then, even though now some are considered Sci-Fi and some horror. Here are just a few of my favorites from the 50's and early 60's.

First, a movie that was made in the wonderful year of 1951, the year I was born. It's "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and starred Michael Rennie as a handsome, debonair yet saddened alien and Patricia Neal as the beautiful terrestrial who gently loved him. He came in peace; we answered with violence. This was a surprisingly leftist view in an era when movies consistently portrayed the scientists who begged for understanding of the unknown as misguided at best and criminally stupid at worst. (It was a long cultural way to Captain Jean Luc Picard.) It is also a really good movie, as you might be able to judge from the casting of the leads. Favorite quote: "Klaatu barada nicto."

Another film made in 1951 was more typical of the times. "The Thing" starred James Arness as a carrot-like alien found frozen in the Arctic by a US Air Force expedition. It's the scientist who wants to keep the Thing around for scientific examination, and he's meddling in things best left alone. He says, "There are no enemies in science, only phenomena to be studied." Of course, he's wrong. The carrot unthaws and goes on a killing rampage. This Thing is dealt with (later to become Marshall Dillon), but the military men fear that more murderous veggies are on their way to Earth. Famous quote: "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!" Paranoid, much?

In 1954, the year my wonderful sister Pat was born, we were graced with the 50's take on the King Kong myth. The poor "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was perfectly happy in his murky Amazonian swamp. Then those pesky American scientists disturbed him and that dumb Julie Adams riled him up with her slinky, one-piece, white bathing suit. Gillman's hormones went wild, the scientists had the weapons, and the beast was captured to be taken back to be displayed like a curiosity. This movie looks like it cost about as much as a '54 Nash Rambler. I swear when I saw it on Syracuse TV, I could see the zipper in the back of the Gillman's costume.

Next is a movie made in the same year my fabulous sister Sheila was born. I saw it years later on the Baron Daemon show when the Baron regaled central New York late Saturday nights. Dad watched it with me, and we laughed so hard we woke Mom up who had to shush us. The Giant Claw was an extraterrestrial buzzard composed (I almost wrote "composted") of antimatter. You can see in the photo the straggly feathers that looked as thought they had been pulled from some old lady's Sunday hat. The plot was the usual mishmash of brave military battling against the rampaging beast; it was the sight of the pitiful puppet that would set me off into helpless snorting. At the very end, our Boys in Air Force blue manage to shoot the thing down over New York Harbor and that last thing you see is a giant claw (what else) sinking into the pollution. It looked for all the world like it was waving bye-bye. Typical quote: "A bird. A bird as big as a Battleship!"

Before I go off to bed to dream of giant buzzards, rampaging carrots, and handsome aliens with English accents, I'd like to list a couple of honorable mention Vincent Price movies from this time period. There was the infamous Tingler, that was sort of gross on TV - some giant cockroach that crawled out of your spine when you were afraid and couldn't scream. Supposedly it was great in the theaters when it opened; the producer William Castle had the seats wired to vibrate or something and had uniformed nurses there in case you were overcome. Then there was The Fly - the 1950s version, NOT the overwrought Jeff Goldblum remake. An entire generation of schoolchildren grew up chanting "Help Me!" in falsetto because of the man who somehow got his head stuck on a fly's body. Don't you hate when that happens? You guesssed it - another scientist who had meddled with things best left alone.

And finally, there are Ed Wood's immortal epics, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Night of the Ghouls." I left them off my main list because I didn't see them until I was an adult. "Night of the Ghouls" wasn't even released until 1987, and trust me, if you enjoyed "Plan 9", "Night of the Ghouls" is even worse. My friend Eric got it on VHS and the first time I saw it, he had to stop the tape. When I heard the main character's name, Dr. Acula, I got an attack of the unstoppable giggles. I could only gasp, "That's so third grade." Dr. Acula is a fake psychic and his seances feature a couple of unique items flying through the air: a trumpet on visible wires, and the head of a black man with a flowerpot for a hat who keeps uttering, "Woaw woaw woaw." We never know why.

My next blog is going to be about the greatest black and white monster movie ever made. And I will brook no arguments on my choice. (Hint, hint.)

- Maureen

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Black and White will be back after this Brief Interruption

I have been happily gathering information for my next post about black and white movies - this one about monster movies of the 50's. What a shock! Some of the movies I wanted to discuss, such as The Blob, were actually color movies. Was my memory so faulty?

No. It's because we had only black and white TV at 613 Parry St. until 1965. While the movies may have been in color, I saw them in black and white. So now I'm researching my list of movies to find out which were originally b+w and which color.

So who among you knows what the above graphic is and under what conditions would you have seen it?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thank You, Veterans

Omaha Beach, Normandy Invasion, June 1944

Thank you today to our veterans. Thanks to the farmers and tradesmen who faced down the redcoats in Lexington and Concord on that April morning. Thanks to the 1st Minnesota Regiment that lost 215 of its 262 men in one charge at Gettysburg. Thanks to the doughboys of Word War I, who thought they had fought the war to end all wars - if only that were true. Thanks to Ted Williams, not only a Red Sox immortal, but a real hero of Korea. Thanks to all the men and women of my generation who went to Vietnam; sadly, the ones I knew then came back asking "Why?" Thanks to the Gulf War vets who suffered not just the adversities of war, but the haunting souvenir of mysterious illness. Thanks to the veterans and current service men and women of Afghanistan and Iraq. You deserve so much better than you have been given.

And finally, thanks to all the men and women who served for our country in World War II. A special remembrance to John J. McMahon, my late father, who was a Chief Gunner's Mate in the US Navy. He was at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

- Maureen

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Better in Black and White. Part 2

I am Maureen and I approved this message.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Better in Black and White. Part 1

Last night (Halloween), my sister Peggy and I watched a show about what one network considered to be the 100 scariest movies ever made. The list was heavy on slasher films which I find more disgusting than scary. My friends and I grew up watching black and white classics on two of the Syracuse TV stations. Channel 3 had Monster Movie Matinee on Saturday afternoons and Channel 9 had Baron Daemon, a really hokey vampire, late Saturday night. My dad and I didn't agree about much, but we did watch Baron Daemon together - sometimes in enjoyment of the craft of a classic film and sometimes laughing at the camp of a "Godzilla Meets Mothra" type movie.

One of the beauties of the Internet is that we can all make our own lists. So here is the first half of my list of favorite black and white horror movies.

The Classics

Dracula - 1931. Yes, the effects are far the other side of primitive. No, we don't consider Lugosi a particularly handsome man today. But the story of Dracula created an archetype of horror film and fiction; while this movie doesn't follow Bram Stoker's novel too closely, it does tell the story simply and chillingly. To me, every color version since has seemed an unnecessary attempt to tart up a story of night terror. Doesn't every kid fear what might come at them in the dark? Favorite quote: "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make. "

Frankenstein - 1931. Oh, those atmospheric sets in that creepy castle laboratory (pronounced lah-BORE-ah-toree). The make-up and costuming on the monster were magnificent. What really makes this movie for me are two things. First, Boris Karloff's ability to communicate the pathos and terror of that monster from underneath all that makeup. Second, a theme that Mary Shelley wrote about in the early 19th century resonated even more clearly in the 20th: man taking to himself powers that should be left only to God. From that theme, how many mad scientists in monster movies have we had? Favorite quote: "It's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!"

The Mummy - 1932. It's Karloff again, as the immortal Im-Ho Tep (yeah, the Mummy). I found him particulary creepy because I could just imagine the odor of centuries drifting off him while he was pursuing the modern girl who was his reincarnated love. And his wrinkled skin - guy could have used a good moisturizer. Generations of American kids learned that you don't desecrate ancient tombs, so this movie has that going for it. Favorite quote: "Death... eternal punishment for anyone who opens this casket. In the name of Amon-Ra the king of the gods."

The Invisible Man - 1933. To a kid in a strict home who went to a strict Catholic school, the thought of being invisible was most enticing. You could do ANYTHING and get away with it! Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Take that, Sister Anna! But I digress. As the Invisible Man, Claude Rains (mostly by voice alone) showed how that experience could drive a man insane. Favorite quote: "I meddled in things that man must leave alone."

King Kong - 1933. Poor Kong. Kidnapped from his home environment on Skull Island (No Greenpeace then!), hounded to death; as a kid, I rooted for him - not the humans. He was a tragic hero who never learned to avoid trashy bleached blondes. Favorite quote: "It was beauty killed the beast."

Bride of Frankenstein - 1935. Poor Elsa Lanchester. Worst hair day ever. Favorite quote: "Alone: bad. Friend: good! "

The Wolf Man - 1941. Just at the end of the classic horror movie era. Lon Chaney, Jr. touchingly portrayed the tragic Larry Talbot, unwilling werewolf, haunted by what he had become. Oooh, the terrors of that spooky forest. Favorite quote: "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."

The rest of the 1940's didn't see too much of this genre. The real horrors were happening in the war. But then, in the 1950's, people regained their tastes for monsters. Some critics have said it was a response to the atom bomb. Who knows? All I know is, the 50's gave us some real camp classics. But that's a story for my next blog.

- Maureen