Rats in the Walls


Lovecraft gets an n-word pass hehe silly comics


Sound, Sometimes

I am not going to go as far as to say that sound was a mistake. Because silent films were never really silent. If you’re watching cheap copies and free prints of Archive.org you’re either getting no sound or–worse–crappy public domain piano pieces looped again and again over action it doesn’t match. The difference between that and films where they have a new or restored score or–even better–good live accompaniment is a world apart.

Silent movies tend to get a bad rap. The acting is too exaggerated, there’s not really cinematography, and so on. Silents suffer from the fact that they were the dawn of film making. Techniques hadn’t been perfected. Technology didn’t allow for much if any camera movement. Some silents are amazing simply because of being able to see the innovation occurring. (See Buster Keaton’s The Playhouse.)

In Hollywood The Jazz Singer (1927) changed everything and movies quickly transitioned into talkies. Only oddballs like Charlie Chaplin had to have their fingers pried off the format. What this means is that the silent era never made it to mature film making. It stayed rough and experimental because sound took over and art moved on.

This wasn’t the case everywhere. Japan held on to the silent format for much longer. Because, being Japan, they did it differently. Movies were accompanied by a benshi, a sort of narrator who explained the plot and spoke lines for the characters

I’ve only seen a few Japanese silents so far and the first one I ever came across was amazing. Dragnet Girl (1933) is a film by Yaugiro Ozu, whom Wikipedia claims is “widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential directors.” Whether or not that’s true, Dragnet Girl is an excellent film and showcases the difference that changing techniques and camera technology can make. It’s still a silent through and through but it also looks like a movie from the Thirties and not the Twenties, which can be a little odd when your brain is programmed to expect certain type of thing and this isn’t it. The sad thing is that one can’t really experience the film as it’s intended. Benshi might be found at film festivals occasionally but those of us watching at home will never get but a piece of what these films are supposed to be.

There’s no real reason that silents couldn’t still be made today–and have been occasionally like The Artist (2011)–except that people have been taught to hate them. I met someone not that long ago who started, rather at random, to spew his dislike of silents when discussing his enjoyment of “old” films. As people say that silent acting was exaggerated and stupid, so there are people who say the same of acting in the Fifties. Styles and technologies moved on but silents were more than just a technological necessity. They were an art form in of themselves.

Color Was a Mistake

Welcome to the Punch 2013The main thing I remember about Welcome to the Punch (2013) besides the incoherent message about guns is that it was blue. Extremely pointlessly blue all the time. This is a symptom of movies which try to be arty. They think it’s clever to give the film a one or two color palate.

Color in film has been around a long, long time. Some early films were actually hand colored but various color processes like Technicolor date back to the very early 1900s. Early technicolor films like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) appreciated that they had something more to work with. The older films had a tendency to use vibrant and contrasting colors. The black and white of Kansas against the violent colors of Oz. The green of Robin Hood with the red of Sir Guy.

The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938

But then what happened? What did Hollywood do with color? Well, not much and that’s the problem. In most movies, color is just there. There’s absolutely nothing special about. It’s not used artistically at all. And when it is, we get stupid uses like Welcome to the Punch and its pointless blue filter.

Like the Hayes’ Code’s restrictions on content forcing filmmakers to be more creative, black and white’s limitations forced a very creative use of light and shadow. Not every B&W film is a masterpiece but even B films frequently had beautiful chiaroscuro lighting used to great effect. You’ll notice also the early color films held over some conventions especially in the use of shadows, something that almost never appears in film today.  The lessons learned with B&W were forgotten and laziness sets in.

Color was a mistake. Black and white is beautiful.

Richard Basehart in He Walked By Night

The Actor’s Voice

After starting my stab at reading as many stories as possible which were mentioned in Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, I discovered that I greatly prefer listening to short stories than reading them.  The problem then becomes finding decent recordings.  There’s a few talented people on Youtube putting out their own versions, a few putting up professionally recorded versions, and about a million who have taken crummy LibriVox recording and chopped off the “this is a LibriVox recording…” and stuck it on their channel with their branding attached.

Some LibriVox recordings are very good.  A lot are not.  If I want LibriVox, I’ll go to LibriVox.

Best of all floating around among the professional recordings are ones done by actors of the bygone era.  Roddy McDowall, David McCallum, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee reading stories from Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Lord Dunsany, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Graveyard Grinder

I do not hate Graveyard Keeper but there is a lot to complain about. Graveyard Keeper is in some ways similar to Stardew Valley. Only instead of being a farmer, you’re a graveyard keeper obviously. You bury bodies in your graveyard. Or well, you’re supposed to bury bodies in your graveyard but you aren’t because you’re too busy becoming the video game equivalent to a horder.

This is the whole game: you collect resources and make stuff. There’s some sort of main quest about “getting home” or some nonsense which is quickly forgotten in the more important quest to grind your way into making better stuff making stations and collecting the needed items to… do stuff with them?

graveyard keeper

The (evil, obviously) Inquisitor, for instance, wants you to get him 10 flyers. First you’ve got to unlock “writing” (5 red points, 5 blue) and build a desk in the church basement. The desk takes 8 “filch” and 8 nails. To make the flyers you need 1 clean paper and 1 pen and ink for 5 flyers. If you found a ruined book, you can turn it into clean paper by going down to the river and digging up some sand. Pen and ink is not so easy. Feathers have to be bought. You need 3 of those and 1 ink. For the ink you need 1 black paint, 1 conical flasks, and 1 water. Water comes out of the well. Conical flasks take 2 glass each to make. Glass takes 2 river sand and 1 water. Oh, snap! You’ll have to upgrade your furnace before you can make conical flasks. You’ll need to unlock advanced smelting first which takes 50 red points, 20 green, and 10 blue. Upgrading your current furnace takes 6 stone, 2 complex iron parts (made from 1 simple iron part and 1 iron ingot), and 2 pigskin paper (made from either 1 skin or 5 batwing at the church workbench which you’ll need to make too). Now all you need is the black paint: 1 graphite powder and 1 water. Graphite powder needs graphite which is made at the upgraded furnace with 5 coal. But first you need some coal which can only be mined at the top of the map. In order to reach that, you have to clear the blockages in the road which takes 10 wooden wedges, 2 planks, and 4 simple iron parts. Once you’ve got the graphite, you need to turn it into powder. That takes an alchemy mill–got to unlock alchemy first–2 polished bricks of stone, 6 wooden planks, and 4 simple iron parts… ah, but you don’t have the technology for polished bricks yet, do you?

Some of these items you can also purchase rather than crafting but the game provides you with few opportunities to make money. Merchants are scattered about the map, some only appearing on certain days of the week, and most will not buy even half of the items you can create.

You spend a ridiculous amount of time walking from place to place either to get resources or go from one crafting station to another.  There is one fast travel item you can get but it has a cool down period meaning you can travel to one place but will have to walk all the way back.  You also spend a ridiculous amount of time sleeping because you run out of energy constantly.

By the time you’re done either trying to earn the money to purchase parts or made them all, then you have to remember what the hell you were doing with them. At the point I am at in the game, I cannot remember what I was supposed to do with the main quest. It just turned into a mad crafting fit in order to unlock and build as much as possible.  Getting zombies helps with collecting resources but not that much as getting the zombies themselves and crafting their work stations only adds more to do.  The crafting system needs to be half as complicated: half the number of items, half the number of resources, and half the space between them.

When you throw on top of this a negative portrayal of religion and lackluster character interactions and dialog, you get a game that’s not worth the money they’re charging for it.  As a morbid version of something like Stardew Valley, Graveyard Keeper had some interesting ideas but it doesn’t deliver on them.

The Case of the Ersatz Orientals

There was an interesting bought of movies during the 1930s and beyond which featured Asian detectives.  A lot of these are now decried as being racist because… the main characters were not played by Asians and they had stereotypical accents and blah blah blah stupid stuff.

There was Warner Oland as Charlie Chan, Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong, and Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto.

Mr Moto Peter Lorre

Gee, I wonder what happened to that steward who disappeared…

Why did Hollywood insist on casting occidentals instead of orientals?  Who knows?  There are plenty of cases in movies and TV shows where white actors did crummy jobs playing Asians when clearly the production company had access to all the Asians they needed (the original Hawaii 5-0 for example).  None of these detectives, however, were like John Wayne playing Genghis Khan.  One does not look at Mr. Moto and think “that’s an Austrian pretending to be Japanese”; one is much more likely to think “Peter Lorre is funny looking and Mr. Moto is awesome because he totally just murdered that guy.”

It sure was awful racist of Hollywood to write Asian characters who were usually the smartest guy in the room (and in Mr. Moto’s case the deadliest).  Especially in the case of Charlie Chan, the stereotypical accent is actually a nice touch.  Rather than implying that all Asians can’t speak English properly, it’s very clear that Chan is an immigrant because his giant pile of children have no accents and all talk like they’re from California.  If immigrants from China are all supposed to speak English perfectly, somebody needs to say something to the people running the Chinese restaurant I usually go to because I had a heck of a conversation last time I went to get take out–and by conversation I mean it was mostly pointing at things on the menu and smiling and nodding at each other because that poor girl had no idea what I was saying.

The weird thing is… Hollywood knew that they were being racist and unrealistic.  There’s a side character in Something to Sing About, a 1937 musical staring James Cagney.  Cagney’s character has gotten his big break in Hollywood and ends up with a Japanese manservant who speaks in an exaggerated accent (played by Philip Ahn who was also in one of the Mr. Moto movies).  It turns out, however, that the guy speaks English perfectly.  His previous employer demanded that he talk like that to fit the stereotype.

But being shoved into the slot of the stereotypical Asian character wasn’t only an Asian problem.  Warner Oland, who was actually Swedish, began to be type cast because of his success as Charlie Chan.  The few non-Chan entries on his IMDB page during the last couple years of his life have names like “General Yu” and “Lun Sing.”  Oland’s replacement, Sidney Toler, also got stuck playing pretty much nothing but Chan.  (I have actually never seen any of Toler’s 22 Chan films but have heard that the quality declined with his tenure.)

Would these heroes be better if played by real Asians?  Maybe.  But does it really matter?  Unlike the “white-washing” people complain about nowadays, where Hollywood doesn’t bother pretending the character is whatever ethnicity they’re supposed to be, these characters were portrayed as Asian and in a positive light no matter what people claim nowadays.

Lothar, the Creeper

Inspector Lestrade tried to insist a lot of things were coincidences in The Pearl of Death (1944) but this looks a little too similar to be a coincidence:

The Rocketeer 1991 Lothar Tiny Ron

The Pearl of Death 1944 Rondo Hatton Sherlock Holmes

Even though “the Creeper” dies in The Pearl of Death, actor Rondo Hatton went on to play him or similar character in his last two movies, becoming something of a b-horror movie icon after his death.  In addition to stealing his looks, Lothar from The Rocketeer also kills in the same way that the Creeper did.

Imitation is, as they say, the sincerest form of flattery.