RIP: Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson (right) with Dario Argento
Keith Emerson (right) with Dario Argento

Keith Emerson – the keyboard genius and composer – has died. According to Rolling Stone, the 71-year-old musician was found at his home in Santa Monica, with a single gunshot wound in his head – an apparent suicide (though that has not been confirmed yet). Emerson was known mostly for his virtuoso keyboard work in the 1970s prog-rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but he also provided soundtrack music for such horror films as Dario Argento’s INFERNO, Lucio Fulci’s MURDER ROCK, Michele Soavi’s THE CHURCH, and Godzilla’s 2004 swansong, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Emerson was a flashy musician, who combined virtuoso technique worth of a concert pianist with outrageous stage antics (such as thumping his Hammond organ up and down to distort the sound, and using alligator clamps on the keyboard to create droning notes over which he could solo). Besides organ and piano, he was an early user of the Moog synthesizer, a monophonic instrument that could produce novel, electronic sounds, which Emerson used to create amazing solos and sonic landscapes, many with fantasy, science fiction, or mythological overtones, such as “The Three Fates” and “Tarkus,” an epic suite whose cover art suggested an epic battle between a manticore and a biomechanical armadillo-tank. His music combined rock and pop with classical and jazz influences. He frequently performed rock arrangements of classical pieces such as Holst’s Mars, Bringer of War (on the Emerson, Lake, and Powell album from 1986) and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a staple of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s live shows (including the throbbing and creepy “Hut of Baba Yaga,” inspired by a painting of a witch-like character from Slavic folklore).
Brain Salad Surger - artwork by Giger
Brain Salad Surger - artwork by Giger

Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1973 album Brain Salad Surger featured cover artwork by H.R. Giger, and climaxed with Karn Evil 9 – 3rd Impression, which featured an early use of a sequencer (a device to pre-program notes which can be played back at any speed), with lyrics suggesting a futuristic battle between humanity and artificial intelligence.
Emerson’s work on INFERNO – his debut as a soundtrack composer – features a quieter, moody approach, with melancholy piano chords over strings, but there are a some faster-paced cues with pulsing rhythms and/or ominous electronic sounds. The soundtrack album represents some of his finest, most subtle work. It is also remarkable for representing one of the few times that director Dario Argento used a complete score intact in one of his films, instead of cutting and pasting together bits and pieces: the music on the album and in the movie coincide almost identically (with one or two minor deviations).
Emerson’s later soundtrack work was not up to par with INFERNO. NIGHTHAWKS was adequate. MURDER ROCK has one or two interesting cues. His main theme for THE CHURCH was effective, but his contribution to that film was limited to a few cues, mixed in with contributions from Phillip Glass, Simon Boswell, and Fabio Pignatelli of Goblin.
Purchase at Amazon.com
Purchase at Amazon.com

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS was another patch-job, stitched together from Emerson’s contributions, along with music by Daisuke Yano and Nobuhiko Morino. Fortunately, Emerson’s distinctive contribution shines through, particularly his glistening fanfare for the main title theme, which features Emeron’s trademark keyboard sound, emulating brassy orchestra.
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s back catalog remains easily available. Emerson’s soundtrack albums may be out of print or hard to find, but the tracks were assembled into the album Keith Emerson at the Movies, which is available on CD through Amazon and via streaming through Spotify.

Laserblast: The Paramount Vault – Science Fiction & Horror on YouTube

i-married-a-monster-from-outer-space-everett
Parmount Pictures recently created a new YouTube channel, The Paramount Vault, which streams free films from the studio’s library. Along with clips from classic titles, there are approximately 150 full length movies. Of course, these are not premium titles but lower end stuff for which services such as Netflix might not be inclined to pay licensing fees. However, there are some horror and science fiction films that might be of interest to cult movie enthusiasts and completists: THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, THE SPACE CHILDREN, CONQUEST OF SPACE, THE DEADLY BEES, CRACK IN THE WORLD, BENEATH, THE SENDER, etc.
The Paramount Vault divides its titles into playlists. You can find science fiction films here and horror films here.
Films worth checking out include I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (an tense little thriller despite the title); THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (a gore-filled sequel to the cult original); IN DREAMS (Neil Jordan’s psychic thriller); and SHANKS (an oddity starring mime Marcel Marceau). And of course fans of ’80s cheese from Cannon Films should get a kick out of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.
Note: The Paramount Vault YouTube channel is not to be confused with the Paramount Pictures YouTube channel. The former is a library of archival titles; the latter offers trailer and promotional videos for Paramount’s upcoming releases.

PETER CUSHING: A Tribute to Christopher Lee

The ninth issue of Cinefantastique featured a career article devoted to Christopher Lee, way back in the fall of 1973. Peter Cushing wrote this heartfelt introduction for his good friend, although they were only to make three more films together. Luckily Ted Newsome brought them together one last time for his documentary on Hammer films, Flesh and Blood, shortly before Mr. Cushing died in 1994.
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee sharing a joke on the set of THE GORGON
In May 1972 Christopher Lee and I made a psychological thriller entitled Nothing But the Night. It was our 18th film together, a partnership spanning some fifteen years. It was fitting that this “Coming of Age Anniversary” should be celebrated by the first film under his own banner—Charlemagne Productions, Ltd.
One of the greatest compliments any actor can be paid is to hear people say, “It all looks so easy.” It is not.
To reach this stage in his career and maintain his position and enormous popularity has cost him much in hard work, dogged determination, resolution and sheer drive, sometimes in the face of ruthless competition and misunderstandings, apart from facing and learning all the technical difficulties presented in the art of film acting—yet still making it look “all too easy.” The art which conceals art.
Of commanding stature (some 6 foot, 4 inches tall), he uses his physical presence to great advantage, moving with grace and authority. Some are awed when first meeting him in person, but they would do well to know that beneath this outward aloofness and dignity lies a very human being: sensitive, warm, and oft times suffering from nerves which he goes to great lengths to conceal.
Among his accomplishment—perhaps unknown to his public—he is a Greek scholar, he possesses a magnificent bass singing voice, a wonderful knack for impersonation, has command of at least six languages, is an expert swordsman and a superb amateur golfer. Couple all this with a delicious sense of humor and wit—plus a deep personal kindness—then you will be getting somewhat closer to the real personality of this truly remarkable man.
He holds strong views about the business in general and, in particular about the misuse of the word “horror” as applied to some of his films, rightly preferring the more subtle and correct term “fantasy,” for that, indeed, is what they are.
Unstintingly, Christopher gives his public one hundred percent of himself and his talent, but full use has not yet been made of his range. Knowing him as I do, it will not remain hidden under a bushel forever.
I am privileged to count him as a dear friend as well as a valued and respected professional colleague.
PETER CUSHING
Whitstable, 1973

The Brave New World of INSURGENT

Theo James as Tobias or "Four" and Shailene Woodley as Tris.
Insurgent, the second chapter in Summit Entertainment’s Divergent series, arrives over a year after the first film, but takes place only three days after the climatic battle that ended Divergent, where the heroine, Tris seemed to be heading with her boyfriend Tobias Eaton or “Four” towards the walled “outlands” of a futuristic Chicago, that has been divided into five factions. However, as Insurgent opens, we find that Tris and Tobias are now living in hiding among the Amity faction, led by the kindly Octavia Spencer.
Since I had forgotten much of what took place in Divergent, here is some background on the basic premise of the series, which no doubt will also be helpful for first time viewers:
In a Chicago of the future, survivors have been divided into five factions based on their abilities, temperaments and personal preferences. As the books author Veronica Roth explains, members of “Abnegation believe in selflessness, Candor believe in honesty, Dauntless are into bravery, Erudite value intelligence, and Amity value kindness, peacefulness and friendship. A person in the faction system believes that to be Faction less means to be without community, to be disenfranchised and on your own, and a failure in the most essential way. But, to someone who is Faction less, it means freedom.”
Insurgent gets off to a bang when Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the power crazed head of the Erudite faction has her soldiers ruthlessly search for Tris, and quickly discovers her in the commune like Amity faction. Jeanine also discovers a pentagonal shaped box that Tris’s parents had hidden away, with each side bearing the seal of one of the five factions. Apparently it contains an important message that may well determine the future direction of this dystopian society, but it can only be unlocked by a divergent person, who possesses qualities of each of the factions.
The good news, is that, unlike the second film in The Hunger Games series, Insurgent is not merely a thinly veiled remake of the first movie, but branches off in quite a different direction, as we explore the distinct world of the other factions in depth, as well as those who are “Faction less,” who turn out to be led by Tobias’ own mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts). But can Evelyn be trusted, or is she just as power crazed as Jeanine is?
We also delve into a surrealistic dream world, more on the order of Inception, as Tris has to endure five separate dream-style tests in order to successfully unlock the secret of the box. Indeed, with her close cropped hair, and also facing a series of seemingly desperate battles, Tris becomes a sort of Joan of Arc figure, who like Joan, willingly surrenders herself to Jeanine, where she will have to undergo a trial by dream ordeal. Shailene Woodley also tends to recall the young Jean Seberg, who of course, was first brought to stardom in Otto Preminger’s film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.
Interestingly enough, with it’s future society ruled mostly by very strong women characters, Insurgent also recalls the future utopia portrayed in John Boorman’s Zardoz, where the society is also made up of very separate and distinct factions, in a world sealed off from the outside. In fact, in one of Tris’s dream ordeals, she must overcome a surrealistic building on fire, where her mother is entrapped, that is flying through the skies over Chicago, much like Sean Connery had to endure, to enter the sealed off vortex in Zardoz.
Robert Schwentke takes over the directorial reigns from Neil Burger on Insurgent and gives the film a suitable fast pacing, with two brisk opening action sequences, which unfortunately are just a bit too overloaded to be believable, but then he settles things down, allowing the story to focus a bit more on the characters, as well as the action, which makes for a more pleasing blend, as Mr. Schwentke did so nicely with The Time Traveler’s Wife. The film also benefit’s greatly from it’s top-notch cast, with most of it’s young actors having gone on to important starring roles in other films after appearing in Divergent, and now being more familiar, bring a certain gravitas to their roles, as well as a few twists, especially in the characters played by Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort.

Bringing back the dead in THE LAZARUS EFFECT

Olivia Wilde, Evan Peters and Mark Duplass star in Relativity Media's "The Lazarus Effect".

THE LAZARUS EFFECT is quite an effective little horror chiller, that benefits greatly by treating it’s subject–a group of scientists exploring the possibility of bringing the dead back to life–with deadly seriousness. The movie follows two romantically involved researchers, Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who are operating with a grant from a Berkeley University, where they experiment with bringing recently deceased animals back to life. Just as they succeed in bringing a dog back to life–like the hapless Dr. Frankenstein–their project is halted in it’s tracks. Not by angry villagers, but by a biotech company, who seize all their research materials for there own corporate use.
What makes the film especially fascinating, is that it delves into metaphysical discussions about what actually may happen after death, with Frank taking a more scientific and atheistic point of view, vs. Zoe who brings a more traditional theological bent to their conjectures.
It’s also what attracted director David Gelb to the project, who said, “I loved the idea of really exploring the concept of being brought back to life. What would you experience while you were gone? How would you be different when you came back? And what might you potentially bring back with you? The young scientists in our film set out to give patients and loved ones hope, but they discover that there can be horrible consequences to playing with the power of life. As events begin to unfold, the story takes a sharp turn into becoming an absolutely terrifying thrill ride where you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know who the next character to disappear is going to be, and the scares are pretty intense.”
Indeed, it takes nearly half way into the film before we get any inkling about who might suddenly die, so they can conveniently be brought back to life. Of course, it won’t be a shock if you’ve seen the poster or the trailer (and I had not), so for me, it did add a bit more suspense to the first 30 minutes of the picture, while the basic premise is being developed.
Like any good FRANKENSTEIN movie, the subject of life after death is one of endless fascination, which is also the basis for movies like BRAINSTORM and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. In fact, rather strangely, the same weekend THE LAZARUS EFFECT opens, director John Boorman also talked about the subject when he was in San Francisco for the opening of his own delightful new picture, QUEEN AND COUNTRY.
When asked if QUEEN AND CONTRY might be his last film Mr. Boorman replied, “Yes, you saw the little signal in the last shot of the film. The camera stops. That was my little signal. I’m 82, so it’s high time I stopped. It’s high time I died, actually. I don’t want to be still working at 104!”
However, when pressed, Mr. Boorman admitted he does have a script he still would like to make, also about life after death. “It’s called HALFWAY HOUSE,” explained Boorman, “and there are some people who are encouraging me to do it. It’s about a man whose wife commits suicide and he has a recurring dream in which he visits a kind of clearing house where people go after they die. They are given a video of their entire life, and before they can move on, they must edit it down to three hours of highlights! If I live long enough and I’m strong enough, maybe I will make it.”

BATMAN in the Media, Pt.2

BatmanMediaP2

As most readers will know, The Batman did come to television in the 1960’s and became a smash success, a pop-art phenomenon that would long outlast it’s short-lived network life in syndication. But the road to the show was a circuitous one.
The first attempt to bring Batman to the small screen was by Ed Graham Jr. (LINUS! THE LION HEARTED), who had optioned the TV rights to Batman from National Periodical Publications. He was planning a straight kid’s adventure show for Saturday mornings. It’s said CBS was interested in airing the proposed program, but no pilot was ever made. Perhaps this is because Graham’s previous outings as director or producer were all in animated cartoons and TV commercials, with no live-action credits that I’ve be able to identify. Without a track record, the network may have been unwilling to finance the show’s development. But Ed Graham would not be the only person to see potential in the caped crusader.

An Evening With Batman & Robin
An Evening With Batman & Robin

Starting around 1963-64, enterprising theater owners (notably in Chicago) began renting the Batman serials from Columbia for weekend showings, and to everyone’s surprise it began to catch on with college students, who found the old kiddie fodder ‘campy’ — humorous because it’s ridiculous, overdone, or just plain bad in an amusing way. These bookings were so successful that Columbia officially re-released the serials in 1965, with marathon viewings offered as AN EVENING WITH BATMAN AND ROBIN.
Reportedly, ABC network executive Yale Udoff saw the serial at the Playboy Mansion, and thought the idea of a Batman TV series for prime time might be a workable proposition. National’s (DC Comics) option with Ed Graham Productions must have been up, because ABC in partnership with 20th Century Fox were able to obtain the TV and film rights. (Said to be only $7,000.)
ABC originally wanted an action-adventure show, perhaps with a certain amount of coy self-awareness, as in NBC’s THE MAN FROM UNCLE. 20th Century Fox production executive William Self originally approached screenwriter (A NIGHT TO REMEMBER) and spy novelist (The Mask of Dimitrios) Eric Ambler to write a film that would launch a Batman TV series. Ambler passed, and ABC wanted the series to go to pilot quickly, so Self’s choice for producer William Dozier (ROD BROWN OF THE ROCKET RANGERS, THE LOSER) picked Lorenzo Semple Jr. (PRETTY POISON) to write the pilot script. Semple had previously written a modern update of Charlie Chan for Dozier called NUMBER ONE SON, which would have featured Dozier’s discovery — martial artist Bruce Lee. The network wasn’t ready for that idea. They weren’t quite ready for what Dozier and Semple had in mind, either.
William Dozier had obtained several issues of Batman and Detective Comics to read while flying from New York to Los Angeles. He was not happy with what he read, and worried. He felt that if he tried to make a serious adaptation of the comics it would flop, and he would become the laughingstock of Hollywood. The only way to save face would be to spoof the character, play up the straight-faced juvenile aspects as intentional high camp. The kiddies would love it, and the adults could laugh if they wanted. Lorenzo Semple agreed with the approach and signed on.
DC's NEW LOOK BATMAN
DC's NEW LOOK BATMAN

Batman in the comic books had become almost a mockery of his former self in the late 1950’s to early 60’s. The noir-ish crime stories had given way to more whimsical adventures, visits from space aliens and other pseudo-scientific plot devices, along with juvenile attempts at awkward soap opera with Batwoman and the first Batgirl attempting to interest the dynamic duo in romance.
By 1963, DC was considering canceling at least one of the Batman titles. Editor Julius Schwartz was given control of the books, with carte blanche to make changes. He brought in Carmine Infantino, who had redesigned the Flash into a modern superhero to update Batman’s look. The hero’s increasingly broad ( in more ways than one) cartoon appearance was abandoned, slimming him down and adding a yellow circle around the bat insignia on his chest as a symbol of his “New Look”. Stung by public sniggering about a homosexual context to the Bruce-Dick-Alfred living arrangements, they even took the odd choice of killing off Alfred Pennysworth, and had Dick Grayson’s quickly invented Aunt Harriet Cooper take his place as housekeeper. Sales began to pick up somewhat.
At some point in this process, former NFL football player Mike Henry was apparently up for the part of Batman, and it’s claimed that photos were taken of him in a Batman costume. Whether these were for the CBS or ABC proposals is unclear, nor is the there any certainty this actually happened. (In the late 70’s I was shown a picture purported to be of Henry as the character, but it looked to me like the work of an airbrush rather than a tailor.) Mike Henry would in any case be busy starring as another icon, Tarzan in three films — and did a creditable job.
Many actors were considered for the role by Fox and ABC, including western TV star Ty Hardin (BRONCO), but Dozier had set his sights on Adam West (William Anderson), a handsome actor with a flair for light comedy that he had seen spoofing James Bond (as Captain Q) in a series of Nestle’s Quick commercials. At ABC’s request, he also tested future WONDER WOMAN star Lionel Wagner and former child actor Peter Dyell (MR. NOVAK) as Robin. With West he tested gymnast-turned-fledging actor Burton Gervis as Robin. ABC went with the second pair, and Gervis soon changed his name to Burt Ward. It’s interesting to note that the acting and lighting of the screen tests is noticeably more subdued than what the series would feature.
Batman TV Screen Test
Batman TV Screen Test

Going into production on the pilot was a gamble for ABC and 20th Century Fox. Wanting to have a good looking show (and one that could be exploited as a movie), the decision was made to build a big Bat Cave set. Production designers Serge Krizman, Ed Graves and the rest of Jack Martin Smith’s staff proposed a massive, two-story structure, that essentially took up an entire soundstage. (Part of the atomic pile came from the recently wrapped OUR MAN FLINT. ) This and other space concerns at the busy Fox Studios led the company and Dozier’s Greenway Productions to make the series not on their own stages and facilities, but at Desilu’s Culver City Studio. This was the old RKO-Pathe/Selsnick International Studios, not their main facility on North Gower Street, next to Paramount.
KING KONG, GONE WITH THE WIND, and the first season of  THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN had been filmed there. The backlot (called Forty Acres) was where THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW filmed the Mayberry scenes — and both Desilu 1960’s adventure shows STAR TREK and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE  would often visit. The BATMAN crew would often use the same backlot, though certain episodes would use the Fox lot — and the regular location of Gotham City Hall, where Commissioner Gordon’s office was located was actually (a still-standing structure) on the Warner Brothers backlot. The choice of filming at a rental facility, while solving Fox’s immediate concerns, would later have repercussions.
BATMAN - Hi Diddle Riddle
BATMAN - Hi Diddle Riddle

Lorenzo Semple’s pilot episode was loosely based on “The Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler” which appeared in Batman #171 (May 1965),written by long-time DC writer Gardner Fox. Semple revised and fleshed out the story considerably, turning the short comic book tale into an hour-long TV series. Actor/impressionist Frank Gorshin (INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN) played the role of the manic and obsessive villain The Riddler, investing the part with great energy and a high pitched laugh inspired by Richard Widmark’s mad psycho killer’s giggle in KISS OF DEATH (1947). Jill St. John guest starred as Molly, a buxom red-head who with the aid of a rubber mask somehow becomes the spitting image of Robin the Boy Wonder.
The show comes off with great style, directed by Robert Butler who also directed the first pilot of STAR TREK. It was full of production value, including comic book-inspired superimposed ‘visual sound effects’ such as POW! BIFF!, etc. superimposed over the fight scenes. The cost of all this flashy, vividly colored action adventure was around a half a million dollars.
The first regular that had been cast was British character actor Alan Napier, to play the role of Alfred. Dozier thought killing the character off had been a mistake on DC’s part, and insisted on including him in the series. Subsequently, the comic books would contrive a science-fictional way of reviving the trusty butler. (Originally as a mutated monster out to destroy the dynamic duo.) The producer agreed with the idea of Aunt Harriet as a blance to the all-male home, and cast Madge Blake (THE REAL McCOYS). Neal Hamilton, with a career as both leads and character roles since the silent days, played the part of Commissioner Gordon. Stafford Repp, once a sound effects man, created the role of Police Chief O’Hara. His faux Irish accent reportedly irritated his irascible co-star Hamilton throughout the series.
Busy jazz and film composer Neal Hefti composed the soon to be famous BATMAN theme, a blues-influenced surf rock number for bass guitar, brass, percussion and vocals that helped set the tone and would win a Grammy.
George Barris proved a sleek black Batmobile, forced by the short time-frame allotted to convert the already existing Ford concept car the 1955 Lincoln Futura. The car, originally pearl white with a double-domed clear canopy, had been painted red for the 1959 comedy IT STARTED WITH A KISS. It was given a through make-over for the pilot, painted glossy black with added details and came off quite impressively on film, though it had be filmed under-cranked to safely exit the narrow Bronson Canyon mine tunnel that was used to depict the exterior of the Bat Cave — and to look as swift as the flame-thrower ‘atomic turbine’ that had been mounted on the back suggested.
The costumes for the caped crimefighters were a good attempt to translate the then-current look of the comic book characters. Costume designer Jan Kemp went to the trouble of matching the color of Batman’s leotards as printed; rather than just gray, they’re actually a subtle mauve, an artifact of how grays were generally achieved in the 4-color process. Unfortunately, the indigo blue material that covered the fiberglass shell of Batman’s cowl had a tendency to quickly turn purple under the stage lights. The cape would face similar problems, and would also be made shorter as the series progressed, so that it wouldn’t get stepped on or snagged in action scenes. The ‘face’ of the cowl was hand painted black, with accents for the nose and eyebrows in lighter blue. The Bat-insignia was a sticker that would be applied and removed daily. Though a printed item, the bat is actually not quite symmetrical. Unfortunately, Batman’s utility belt — made to appear functional — tended to make the in-shape Adam West look a bit thick-set. (Adding to the problem West’s stuntman Hubie Kerns, despite being quite athletic had a slight pot belly, which the belt accentuated noticeably.)
Robin’s costume was right out of the comics, though the cloth gloves in the pilot would be replaced with green leather ones in the series. The palm sides of Batman’s finned gauntlets would be refurbished with suede to avoid tearing.
Stuntmen Victor Paul and Hubie Kearns in the Batmobile.
Stuntmen Victor Paul and Hubie Kearns in the Batmobile.

ABC liked what they saw, and committed to 16 episodes. Of course, the show would have to be audience tested. The reaction nearly scuttled the series. The results supposedly were the worst of any program test in television history. William Dozier thought he knew why; the audience was confused — not getting the concept that the show was essentially a farce. He quickly did some narration with a preface explaining that the idea was to have fun, to ‘hiss the villains and cheer the heroes’ — along with an archly-announced middle cliff-hanger break. It’s rumored that a version with a laugh track was made and tested. Early footage (a network and affiliate promo reel) still exists, scored with stock music from Peter Gunn episodes, which was in the ballpark of what they had in mind. Eventually, well-known big band composer Nelson Riddle would score the show quoting the Nefti theme often, and coming up with distinct personal motifs for the major guest villains as the show progressed.
Ceasar Romero as the Joker
Ceasar Romero as the Joker

The show needed work, and initially there was time, as it wasn’t due to premiere until the Fall of 1966. However, ABC had a problem, several of its 1965 season shows were bombing and would be canceled. What was the solution? Launch a ‘second season’ in January of 1966. Batman would be one of the new programs, though the time slots available weren’t the most favorable. ABC figured that kids would be the primary audience, so the show couldn’t be on too late. In the 60’s most children were in bed by 9:00 PM. The answer? Well, the show was inspired by the cliff-hanger serials — instead of coming back after a mid-point break, turn the hour-long show into two half-hour shows at 7:30 on successive nights. Twice the bang for the buck. (There’s some evidence that ABC briefly considered cutting the episodes into 15 minute segments, but if so this never went past initial discussions.)
After a huge promotional campaign, Batman premiered on Wednesday January 12th, 1966. with the episode “Hi Diddle Riddle”. The second segment “Smack in the Middle” aired the next day. The show was an instant hit, with kids excited by the larger-than-life characters and action, and adults generally amused by the then relatively straight-faced spoofing.
BATMAN #73, Basis for the first Joker episode.
BATMAN #73, Basis for the first Joker episode.

Keeping with William Dozier’s plans, well-known actors were sought out to play the guest villain roles. Burgess Meredith would take the part of the top-hatted Penguin, developing his eccentric quacking from trying to suppress coughing from the cigarette smoke of the long holder the character sported. Caesar Romero, once typed as a latin lover, was so amused by the costume designed for the Joker that he cackled helplessly with glee. This became a signature for the role — and to add to the absurdity, rather than shave his trademark mustache, the make-up artists simply spread the clown white make-up over it.
Taking a comic book character originally named Mr. Zero, George Sanders would be the first of theer actors to take on the part of the villain re-named Mr. Freeze (with the supposed identity of a Dr. Shivel in his introductory episode).
TV actor Malachi Throne (IT TAKES A THIEF) would play the role of the always-masked False Face, but the use of name actors coupled with his question mark billing led to insistent speculation that it was really some big star unwilling to show his face — certainly an intended result.
After originally planning for the petite Suzanne Pleshette to take on the part of Catwoman, when she proved unavailable the producers went with the statuesque Julie Newmar, who relished the chance to do more comedy, and she became iconic in the role. New villains would be invented for the show, including King Tut (Victor Buono). Unlike most of the guest foes, who never have their comic book real names mentioned, Tut is given an in-joke secret identity; William Omaha McElroy. William Dozier’s middle name was McElroy, and he was born in Ohmaha, Nebraska.
The show was a huge hit, and a wave of Bat-Mania flooded the airwaves, record shops, toy stores, and even adult nightclubs.  Celebrities happily did window cameos on the show as West and Ward walked along a set built sideways, capes held up by wires. Shot with a camera on its side, it gave the illusion of the pair scaling a wall. Adam West in later years would remark that the 1960’s entertainment era might well be thought of as “The Three B’s:  The Beatles, James Bond,  and Batman.”

The Bat Climb -- Simple but effective.
The Bat Climb -- Simple but effective.

Buoyed by the success of the show, 20th Century Fox greenlit a feature film, BATMAN (1966) to be filmed during the series’ hiatus. Rather than Dozier’s Greenway Productions, the film was made by a new production company he created, Greenlawn Productions. This and (presumably other) legal reasons permitted the film to be released on video decades before the TV series would be. Adam West and Burt Ward negotiated nice salaries for the film, but their duties would extend to a great deal of traveling and promotion when it was released. (Up to this point, Ward was only making $350 an episode.)
1966 BATMAN Movie Poster
1966 BATMAN Movie Poster

Caesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin would reprise their TV roles, but Julie Newmar was unexpectedly unavailable for the film. She’d committed to another feature and the production had to scramble to find a replacement. (This is usually said to be McKENNA’S GOLD (1969), but that film didn’t shoot until 1967. I believe the film project Newmar did was the UK-shot Zero Mostel comedy  MONSIEUR LECOQ (1967).
It wasn’t until after production had commenced on BATMAN that the producers were able to bring in former Miss America Lee Meriwether (THE TIME TUNNEL) as the Catwoman. The replacement casting makes the idea that Batman/Bruce Wayne doesn’t recognize Catwoman as the romantic interest Russian reporter ‘Miss Kitka’ in the storyline somewhat easier to swallow. The only fanboy explanation for this — as in the series Batman had seen the feline villainess without her mask more or less regularly — is that the film must take place before the Catwoman episodes of the show. There also doesn’t seem to be any hint of the personal attraction the characters shared on the show, despite Wayne’s infatuation with her false assumed identity in the film. The original plan was for a feature to precede the series, perhaps this was a plot ‘hangover’.
The far-fetched sci-fi storyline by Lorenzo Semple Jr. involved the four villains kidnapping the security council of the United World Organization (read U.N.) by dehydrating them into colored powders, with the plan of reconstituting them only after spectacular ransom was paid.
Soon to be The Green Hornet, actor Van Williams did a voice cameo, using his rather good Lyndon Baines Johnson impression as the President. Direction by Leslie H. Martison is serviceable, as is Howard Schwartz’s photography. A number of scenes actually appear a bit less effective or atmospherically shot than comparable ones from the TV show. Running around in broad daylight on real locations seemed to emphasize the ridiculous nature of the material, as did the stronger embrace of outright comedy. The budget (in the area of $1.3 million) allowed for the building of the Batboat and Batcopter, stock footage of which soon would find itself nicely adding production value in the next season of the program.
The film was at best a moderate success in the United States, taking in approximately 3 million dollars, playing mostly kiddie matinees. Adults largely stayed away — why pay for something you could watch free on television? However, foreign box office and re-releases put the film well into profit. (About $7.5 million world-wide over the years.)
A Trio of Catwomen: Julie Newar, Lee Merriweather, Eartha Kitt
A Trio of Catwomen: Julie Newar, Lee Merriweather, Eartha Kitt

The second season saw a number of changes. William Dozier left most decisions up to producers Howie Horowitz and William D’Angelo, while Semple — who’d been serving closely as a story/script consultant — contributed far less frequently. Stories by writers such as Stanley Ralph Ross and Charles Hoffman would venture even more deeply into comedy and farce. Per episode budgets went down, seen with slightly less elaborate sets, somewhat scaled down fight scenes, and more obviously with the money saving expedient of replacing the costly animated overlays with quick cut-aways to solid art cards with rapid lens zooms and color shifts.
Julie Newmar reprised her role as Catwoman, Meredith and Romero returned, but Frank Gorshin’s Riddler did not appear in the second season, apparently due to a salary dispute. John Astin (THE ADDAMS FAMILY) donned the green tights for one two-parter and Maurice Evans (PLANET OF THE APES) received a re-written Riddler script as The Puzzler — a minor Superman villain. Batman co-creator Bill Finger (and writing partner Charles Sinclair [THE GREEN SLIME]) brought in Green Arrow nemesis The Clock King (Walter Slezak) — though mixed with Finger’s earlier creation The Clock, and not quite like either iteration in the BATMAN episodes. Many more villains invented for the show appeared in the second season, allowing guest roles for actors as diverse as Vincent Price, Van Johnson, Cliff Robertson, Michael Rennie, and even Liberace.
To try to save THE GREEN HORNET series, the titular crimefighter and Bruce Lee’s Kato appeared, to no avail. The Hornet would fly no more, and The Batman was soon to get his wings clipped, though not as drastically.
Detective Comics #359 January 1967 Cover Date
Detective Comics #359 January 1967 Cover Date

Though ratings were still good, they were not as spectacular as they had been. Batman was an expensive show, and the Wednesday show was consistently weaker in its audience draw. Women and girls were less interested than males. It was time to shake things up a bit.
Dozier had been conferring with the DC editors regarding female interest, and Julius Schwartz, Carmine Infantino and Gardner Fox came up with a new Batgirl (Betty Kane had been Bat-Girl, niece and partner of the Kathy Kane Bat-Woman of the `50’s.) This updated version would be Barbara Gordon, the previously unknown librarian daughter of Commissioner Gordon.
Former Miss America (1959) Mary Ann Mobely was the first actress considered for the role. (She was the first April Dancer on THE MAN FROM UNCLE in a backdoor pilot episode, when THE GIRL FROM UNCLE went to series Stephanie Powers got the part, instead.) Yvonne Craig, a dancer and film actress (two Elvis Presely musicals IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR [1963] and KISSIN’ COUSINS [1964]) was chosen to portray Batgirl in a presentation film for ABC.
The network approved the actress and the concept, so much so that they briefly considered giving her a solo lead-in series. Craig was given a vivid purple and yellow version of the comic book character’s somewhat more subdued costume, featuring a mask with sharply angled points on the cheekbones in the non-broadcast short. These left red  marks on her face, so they would be eliminated when the character was added to the show.
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl

The try-out film had suggested a teasing romantic relationship between Batman and Batgirl, this would be largely ignored in the third season. There wouldn’t really be time in the once-a-week 30 minute format. There was also about half the money, since the costs weren’t being spread over two episodes.
As the third season progressed, new weekly settings for hide-outs and other script locations gradually disappeared, with black ‘limbo’ sets filled with simple props, often two-dimensional brightly painted cut-outs similar to pop-art stage dressings taking the place of more realistic designs. 20th Century Fox was known for such cost-saving shortcuts on Irwin Allen’s science fiction adventure shows (LOST IN SPACE, TIME TUNNEL, et al), though those shows benefited from having accrued a good supply of technical-looking set pieces that were available to fill up space. BATMAN would beg and borrow some of these assets.
Nelson Riddle left most of the third season scoring to his associate Billy May, a jazz trumpeter turned composer/arranger who had also scored THE GREEN HORNET series. He wrote a brassy Batgirl theme to give the character a sense of edgy action, although the producers limited the motor-cycle-riding heroine to relatively lady-like kicks rather than trading punches with evil-doers.
Frank Gorshin would return for a single appearance as the Riddler, but Julie Newmar was unavailable (actually filming MCKENNA’S GOLD this time), so the producers brought in singer/dancer Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. Choosing a black actress was a bit of a daring move in 1967, but the show defused the characters’ former sexual tension. With a great purr, Kitt was a fiercer feline adversary, more interested killing Batman than kissing him. The over-all attraction to the Caped Crusader was winding down.
However, BATMAN very nearly went to a fourth season. ABC was willing to renew the series, with several caveats. To 20th Century Fox’s complaints of insufficient budget to cover production costs, the network had some ideas to further streamline the show. Madge Blake, already ailing and only appearing in two third season episodes would not be in the new season. To save time and money, Chief O’Hara was considered unneccesary. Most surprisingly, the network felt that they could dispense with Burt Ward’s Robin, and that Batman and Batgirl would become the new dynamic duo. William Dozier and Adam West both protested the elimination of Stafford Repp’s and Ward’s roles. 20th Century Fox wasn’t happy with the idea of essentially financing a portion of the show out of their own pocket. The studio felt they probably had enough episodes to go into syndication. Not getting the response they wanted, ABC cancelled the show.
What to do about the huge Batcave set filling up that rental stage at Desilu Culver? Hold it for a couple of weeks while Fox offered the series to the other networks, just in case. NBC had evidenced some interest. Weeks passed without firm results, and the Batcave set was bulldozed.
The next week, NBC contacted Fox Television to say that they’d pick up the series, and even restore it to it’s twice-weekly format. But the main set was gone. How much to rebuild it? At least a half million bucks, maybe more because some of the re-purposed set-pieces such as the atomic pile had been destroyed. NBC didn’t care to pick up that tab.
However, this seemingly effective death-trap did not kill off the show’s career on TV.
20th Century Fox was right, the series 120 episodes were perfect for local syndication, and even ‘stripped’ daily, kids would not tire of the series for decades.
The Titantic Trio at work as the series' end nears.
The Titantic Trio at work as the series' end nears.

True, comic-book devotees would revile the show, even if those who had been kids when the show debuted might harbor some nostalgia for the series. This nostalgia would grow after BATMAN was no longer found daily on local stations. It would have seemed perfect for release on video, but there were major problems involved.
National Periodical Publications/DC had been sold to Kinney National (originally a parking garage concern) in 1967. By 1969 they would buy up Warner Brothers/Seven Arts studio and holdings. (Bob Kane profited by this, as the new Warner Communications wanted to own all the characters free and clear. He walked away with millions, ultimately. ) By the time the video revolution came about, Warner Bros. (Time-Warner) who owned Batman, and Fox Television who co-owned the series with Greenway Productions were at loggerheads. Neither corporate entities wanted the other to be able to release and profit by the show. William Dozier, and then more complicatedly his heirs wanted whatever profit they felt they were due, and all guarded their interests fiercely.
Ultimately, an accord was reached, and now in November of 2014 the show is finally coming to video with DVDs and Blu-rays, complete with special features with Adam West, Burt Ward, and others.  A decades-long cliffhanger has been at long last resolved.
But what of Batman’s fate in film and television? The 60’s TV series had cast a light on the Dark Knight, bringing him into widespread public notice, far more so than comic books, newspaper strips and serials ever had.  However, his three years in the limelight would also  throw a long shadow, keeping the character squarely pegged as kiddie fodder by Hollywood for nearly twenty years. Yet he would return, and once again a kind of Bat-Mania would sweep the entertainment world.

Daily Grindhouse picks Top 10 CFQ covers

Cinefantastique-dead-zoneWhat are the ten best cover images ever published by Cinefantastique magazine? Daily Grindhouse weighs in on that question here, offering a Top Ten plus a few runners-up. Take a look at the whole list; it’s a fun trip down memory lane. I especially like the artwork for LOGAN’S RUN and THE BLACK HOLE (regardless of the quality of the movies), and the Daily Grindhouse pick for #1 – THE DEAD ZONE – is pretty damn good.
However, it’s in the nature of these lists that one must quibble with some of the entries (I think the KRULL cover is way too cartoony, and A BOY AND HIS DOG is far too murky). Also, I think several good covers were overlooked, so I am including them below. This is not a complete collection, just a sampling. I’m sure there are many others I have forgotten, which is why I liked the Daily Grindhouse list: it reminded me of several good ones I had not thought of in years.

CFQ 20,000 Leagues
This painting just perfectly captures the mood of Walt Disney's film version of Jules Verne's novel.

CFQ Dark Shadows
I like the way that two generations of the DARK SHADOWS franchise are encapsulated in this image

CFQ Star Trek 20th anniversary
Something about this composite image perfectly conveys the sense of looking back on the original STAR TREK series as a whole - much better than selecting an image from a specific episode.

CFQ Alien
A nice closeup of the H.R. Giger painting that inspired the look of the titular ALIEN.

CFQ Psycho
Hitchcock himself replaces Janet Leigh in the famous PSYCHO shower scene - a witty joke that the master himself would probably have enjoyed.

CFQ Jurassic Park
A nice artist rendering that sums up the gist of JURASSIC PARK: dinosaurs, genetics, and Spielberg.

Review of Deep Purple Music Video: "Vincent Price"

The final track on Deep Purple’s latest album, Now What?!, features a title that immediately endeared it to Cinefantastique: “Vincent Price.” That’s right: the late, great “Merchant of Menace” – the actor who portrayed Dr. Phibes, Prince Prospero, Roderick Usher, the Invisible Man, and many other memorable villains – is the subject of a hard rock song by the band that brought us “Smoke on the Water,” “Perfect Strangers,” and “Hush.”
The connection between Vincent Price and rock music may not seem obvious, but back in 1975, Price appeared opposite shock-rocker Alice Cooper in a made-for-television special; Price’s voice was also prominently heard on the accompanying soundtrack album, Welcome to My Nightmare. (This was several years before Price did similar service on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”) Perhaps not coincidentally, the man who produced Welcome to My Nightmare, Bob Ezrin, also produced Now What?!, and he shares a writing credit on the song with the members of the band: Don Airey on keyboards, Ian Gillan on vocals, Roger Glover on bass, Steve Morse on guitar, and Ian Paice on drums.
Vincent_Price_CD_coverThere is a certain Cooper-esque tinge to the song’s tongue-in-cheek approach to old horror, but to be fair, Ezrin is not the only one with a past connection to Price. The actor narrated bassist Roger Glover’s concept album The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, a live performance of which was staged and videotaped in 1975.
Whatever threads led to the creation of this song, by a group more well known for singing about a burning recording studio, the result is a delight that evokes the horror genre without descending into Halloween novelty territory (“The Monster Mash” – this definitely is not!). The music is a clever mix of thundering tones from the organ, a dramatic chord progression for synthesized choir, and the sort of heavy rock riffs on guitar and bass that are Deep Purple’s signature. Think Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” with the underlying disco beat replaced by something that really rocks.
The lyrics are a bit confused, attributing to Price rolls and actions he never performed on screen; however, this becomes part of the song’s charm, capturing the nostalgic joy of sneaking out of bed, after mom and dad were asleep, to watch monsters movies on late-night TV – the various films mixing together in jumbled montage of childhood memory, until scenes from one film seemed to have been mentally edited into some other title.
Ian Gillan’s vocals are as strong as ever; Glover and Pace lay down the rhythm just like in the good old days – strong and steady, but with enough variation to keep it lively. Don Airey does an eerie job of evoking the keyboard work of the late John Lord (who died last year), and Steve Morse fills in perfectly for former guitarist Ritchie Blackmore; the crunch of the rhythm guitar, in particular, is a perfect match for Blackmore’s classic work, as is the synchronized guitar solo, which alternates between drawling expressiveness and virtuoso speed. In fact, if it weren’t for the credit sheet, a listener might be easily fooled into thinking this was the classic Deep Purple lineup at work.
As someone who co-wrote the Cinefantastique double issue devoted to Price’s career as a horror star, I was thrilled to see Deep Purple show an interest, and was even gladder to see the band felt strongly enough about the track to release it as the second single from the album, on June 7. (The first single, “Hell to Pay,” came out in March, a month before the full Now What?! album was released.) Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the music video.
Like the song, the video seems a bit confused about exactly what Price did and didn’t do as a monster. Most of the vid is in black-and-white, which is okay (Price did more than a few black-and-white thrillers), but the video is also presented as a silent film with subtitles. I guess we can forgive this to some extent (it allows the dialogue to be read instead of heard, which would have interfered with the singing), but it completely places the video in the wrong era.
Price’s career was solely in the sound era, and his greatest achievements in the horror genre were color films: HOUSE OF WAX, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. We get no clips from any of his films (not even the ones in the public domain); instead, we get a couple of teens wandering through a fun house, where someone wearing a tuxedo and a moustache impersonates Price – badly.
We get imagery pulled from classic 1930s horror films from Universal Pictures: creepy catacombs, a mummy, a knock-off of the Frankenstein monster, and the Price characters seems to be a vampire (he dissolves in sunlight).
At least that has something to do with the horror genre, if not with Price himself. Unfortunately, the video panders to the lowest common denominator, throwing in a pole-dancing vixen in a nun’s habit. I’m sure someone was having his private fantasy fulfilled the day that scene was shot, but couldn’t he have waited for a more appropriate venue?
What we don’t get, sadly, is much of anything to do with any of Price’s films, except for a brief bit at the end, with the band members frozen into mannequin figures, suggesting the victims from HOUSE OF WAX. Too bad they didn’t get Tim Burton to direct the whole thing in stop-motion, a la his wonderful short subject, “Vincent.” The visual potential t in combining this song with imagery from Price’s films is immense beyond imagining. It is all to easy to imagine some amateur editor – a true enthusiast for the actor’s work – putting together a far more satisfying tribute to Vincent Price.

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Cybersurfing: Was Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion more real than CGI?

Ray_Harryhausen_Clash
Ray Harryhausen animates the Kraken model for CLASH OF THE TITANS (1980).

In an article at Boingboing.net. author Ethan Gilsdorf muses on the recent passing of special effects artist Ray Harryhausen, an event which inevitably symbolizes the demise of old-fashioned analog special effects: miniatures, models, and most especially the Harryhausen style of stop-motion puppetry that brought imaginative creatures to life for decades. While acknowledging that digital effects offer their own brand of artistry, Gilsdorf believes these effects lack heft, gravity, and presence.
Gilsdorf’s point is a bit vague in terms of defining realism and its cinematic value. On the one hand, Harryhausen used puppets with texture – palpable objects that could be touched, lending a greater sense of reality – and this makes his stop-motion monsters superior to today’s artificially created computer-generated effects. On the other hand, today’s computer-generated creations are feeding audience appetite for ever greater realism and becoming so convincing that they will soon be indistinguishable from images that were actually photographed – and this makes them somehow inferior.
So, which is more real, and which is best? Though the answer to the former question is unclear, Gilsdorf’s enthusiasm for stop-motion comes through.
Like many people who address this topic, Gilsdorf has a view of modern effects that is tainted by (an acknowledged) nostalgia for older techniques. For him, the death of Harryhausen represents the death of “real” special effects and of the “real” in fantasy films. “Times have changed,” he insists. “And not necessarily for the better.”
Perhaps, but not necessarily for the worst, either. Today’s computer-generated effects may be overused, but they have solved numerous problems that plagued older movies; in particular, CGI has freed the camera from its lock-down, proscenium arch look that often identified effects in Harryhausen films. Today, filmmakers can create effects-laden sequences that fit seemlessly into the live-action, the camera style virtually identical.
The problem, I think, is that the over-abundance of effects leads to a certain carelessness – not in technical matters but in artistic ones. What “effect” – emotional, intellectual, whatever – is supposed to be accomplished by each special “effect” in the movie? When filmmakers were limited by time, money, and technology, they had to make sure that their special effects paid off with emotional effects. Even JURASSIC PARK, the film that spelled the death-knell for stop-motion (switching from that technique to computers during pre-production) was somewhat old-school in this regard, making fairly economical in its use of movie magic, so that each dinosaur shot really seemed to matter.
Harryhausen animates a snake woman.
Harryhausen animates a snake woman.

I, too, miss the demise of stop-motion as a special effects technique, along with models and miniatures; I believe there are stylistic reasons why those techniques are superior in some situations. However, the same holds true for computer-generated imagery, which gave us, for example, the Balrog in LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING  – one of the most convincing movie monsters ever depicted.
Fortunately, stop-motion lives on in films such as PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE. Hopefully, it will continue to enchant film-goers for at least a few more years.