Thursday, January 4, 2024

Movie ruminations and my favorite first-time watches of 2023

One of my earliest movie memories — and, yes, I know that Memory can be a Trickster, shuffling real or imagined things all around the brain's chronology for all sorts of reasons — is watching a reel from 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein projected onto the wall of my grandmother's living room at her house in Rose Valley, circa 1974. Fittingly, she also had those Ancient Greek comedy and tragedy masks (Thalia and Melpomene) on the walls of that room. As a preschooler, I found them fascinating and a little scary. That's what I remember, anyway: The projected moving image of a screaming Elsa Lanchester flickering against the wall, partially illuminating those eyeless, mouthless masks.

What a ways we've come in watching movies in the comfort of our homes in the past half-century. Now we can watch Barbie or Oppenheimer at home on our 55-inch high-definition televisions, just months after they were in movie theaters. (And how long will movie theaters last?) 

I didn't watch Barbie or Oppenheimer in 2023. In fact, I didn't watch nearly as many movies, old or new, as I was hoping to last year. My final count for the year was around 70. I could blame the cats, but there's never just one reason. 

Still, I was fortunate to see a lot of great stuff! And, as I did for 2022, I've compiled a list of my 20 favorite "first-time watches" of 2023:

  • Black Cat Mansion (1958, Nobuo Nakagawa)
  • Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974, Brian Clemens)
  • Dead of Night (1945,  Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)
  • Deep Red (1975, Dario Argento)
  • The Fifth Horseman Is Fear (1965, Zbyněk Brynych)
  • Game Night (2018, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein) 
  • Ghostwatch (1992, Lesley Manning)
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001, Takashi Miike) 
  • The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)
  • Lonesome (1928, Paul Fejös)
  • Marjoe (1972, Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan)
  • Midareru [English: Yearning] (1964, Mikio Naruse)
  • No One Will Save You (2023, Brian Duffield)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino)
  • Prey (2022, Dan Trachtenberg)
  • The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008, Charlie Kaufman)
  • Tabi no Omosa [English: Journey Into Solitude] (1972, Kōichi Saitō)
  • Where Chimneys Are Seen (1953, Heinosuke Gosho)
  • The Wind (1928, Victor Sjöström)

As it was in 2022, it's an eclectic list. Japanese films take up a quarter of the slots. There are some flat-out cinema classics that I didn't get to until I was 52. Better late than never! 

There are a lot of horror films here. Ashar and I watch a lot of horror films, and I'm glad some of them made it into my Top 20. Others had no shot (Sorry, Scary Movie 4. Actually, I'm not sorry. I'd like that 90 minutes back.). Other stuff was just perfectly fun, like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Spooks Run Wild (1941), Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) and even the baffling Uncle Was a Vampire (1959), in which Christopher Lee's sense of having fun was contagious enough for all of us. 

Here are Ashar's thoughts on horror films from an Oct. 31, 2023, post he made on Instagram:
"Halloween is my fav time of year. I love the atmosphere of Halloween where things get spooky and you can see people who go all out into decorating their houses and you can go to haunted attractions and watch scary movies.

"Personally I tend to celebrate Halloween all year every year. I will watch horror movies even when it isn’t Halloween because I’m a big horror fan. I truly enjoy horror movies. I love the feeling of uneasiness and dread and anxiety and the way they can get your heart racing and just keep you on edge. Something about that is really unsettling but at the same time appealing. It’s hard to explain but if you are a horror fan you probably understand.

"Horror as a topic is vast but it’s really interesting to think about. It’s interesting to try and understand or learn about what makes horror so great and see how it has involved over the years. It raises interesting questions and points you may not have thought about before. It can make you feel uneasy and make you check every dark corner in your house at night because you just have this feeling that something could be watching you.

"This Halloween I just decided to watch a ton of horror movies and I kicked that off with watching The Amityville Horror (2005) starring @vancityreynolds last night into this morning and let me tell you that movie is really good and Ryan is an incredible actor. He does a fantastic job playing George Lutz.

"I didn’t really have a costume planned this year but I realised that I could dress up as Ryan’s portrayal of George Lutz like he is in the first picture. It’s not exactly the same but it’s my take on it and I honestly couldn’t be happier since I got to incorporate my hero into my fav time of year.

"Stay Spooky and have a Happy Halloween"
My movie goals for 2024 are to watch more movies; watch horror movies with Ashar (and also introduce him to great stuff from other genres); get to more of the classics I've never seen; chill out with some Shaw Brothers flicks; make it through more of the Varda and Bergman sets; rewatch my favorite Ozus; find some super-bizarre stuff; finally catch Barbie and Oppenheimer (but especially The Holdovers); have a Vincent Price marathon; watch more old documentaries and .... well, I could just keep going and going. Happy film-watching in 2024!
Lillian Gish in The Wind.

Monday, January 1, 2024

From the readers: Sasquatches, Yetis, Star Trek and more

Happy New Year! Papergreat has made it to 2024! It's a good day for a roundup of reader comments from the fourth quarter of 2023. Thanks for all of your feedback!

Examining "The Abominable Snowman" from all sides in 1977: Tom from Garage Sale Finds writes: "As a kid, I devoured any books on Bigfoot/ASM. I'd check them out from our library and order them from Scholastic. I somehow missed this book. The book whose cover traumatized me was Strange Abominable Snowmen by Warren Smith (pictured at right)." 

I wasn't familiar with that Warren Smith book. In fact, I wasn't familiar with Warren Smith at all, which is kind of bonkers. His list of books is quite the amazing rabbit hole of cryptozoology and the paranormal titles from the heyday of the 1960s and 1970s. Just some of his titles: Strange Women of the Occult, Strange Powers of the Mind, Strange Hexes, Myth and Mystery of Atlantis, The Hidden Secrets of the Hollow Earth, Secrets of the Loch Ness Monster, UFO Trek and Let's Face Facts About Flying Saucers. I'll be keeping an eye out for some of these!

Lamenting what we'll never know about Phyllis J. Stalnaker Harris: Unfortunately, I had to shut down commenting on this post, because some commenters were getting nasty toward each other and some were being disrespectful of Phyllis' memory. That's not in the spirit of this blog at all. Most of the old comments are still up. One of the final (anonymous) comments was: "You have no right to surmise what her life was like. Unfortunately, the authorities gave her a label and they didn’t even really know anything about her. ... She may have been a nice person and was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

New edition of Ruth Manning-Sanders' "A Book of Witches":  Anonymous asks: "Does it have all of the great original illustrations? I've seen reviews of some of the other reprints of Ruth Manning-Sanders that have omitted the illustrations, and the illustrations are so amazing!"

Yes indeed! The 2020 reprint edition of A Book of Witches by MAB Media features the original Robin Jacques illustrations. Follow MAB Media on Facebook for more info on upcoming reprints.

Unfortunate apparel of 1980: The official Star Trek duty jacket: EJD1984 writes: "I had the T-shirt!! Have spent years trying to find a picture of it to prove I'm not going senile. I believe I picked it up at a 1980 Star Trek convention when I was 15 years old. Thank You SO MUCH for posting this!" 

The elementary school in the City Behind the Fence: Carolyn writes: "I went to Cedar Hill for a brief time in 1972 when we lived in Oak Ridge. We were only there for three months, but I have such great memories of that place!"

The Lost Corners of Paul Crockett: Those who have been following this post and the tale surrounding the Manson Family may be interested in a new video link that was shared in the comments. 

Someone asked "Any links to these comments that Paul Watkins allegedly made about Paul Crockett?" In response, Anonymous posted a link to a YouTube video titled "Paul Watkins Manson Family Self Recorded Conversation 1988 to a Fan."  

Update on an amazing house in Coudersport, Pennsylvania: Anonymous writes: "When I worked for Farm Credit, one of our branches was in Coudersport. I can't believe I didn't spot this."

Take a ride with Edwards Motor Transit Co.: Butch Joyner writes: "My dad drove for Edwards for over 40 years. It was a family business, we were all close. I remember vividly Bill, Bob and Wes. I have some lasting stories of this 4-year-old boy and my dealings with Wes. Hope this finds you well, Wesley! To the good times!" 

Postcard for Haag's Hotel in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania:
  Anonymous writes: "In 2007 I took my daughter to Roadside America, which she totally enjoyed. We then had lunch at Haags Hotel, which was very historical and we both enjoyed. Sad to hear it closed."

Indeed, neither the hotel nor Roadside America is in business anymore. Very sad.

Receipt and more tucked away inside 1967 sci-fi paperback: Anonymous writes: "Ross Music was at Eastland and Northland malls and closed both stores in the mid-1980s, as the owner was retiring. I worked at the Eastland location and have very fond memories of the owner Irving, and Melissa Press Downey, the manager, and my co-worker Jimmy Grindstaff."

Coupons from the E.H. Koester Bakery Co.: This early Papergreat post drew a lot of great comments and memories a decade ago. A new one from Anonymous: "My father's first job was at E.H. Koester Bakery Co. I have his pay stubs from 1949."

Board for Parker Brothers' 1936 version of the game Finance: Anonymous asks: "What is the value of this game?" 

Looking through eBay, there are many listings for pieces and/or replacement boards for Finance. All of those are relatively inexpensive. As far as the complete (or near-complete) game, I see some listings for 1950s editions of the game that are as low $25 to $30 (price plus shipping). Some near-complete versions of the 1936 edition (including the box) are as low as $34. So it's definitely attainable for collectors.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

"I'm Going to Build a Supermarket One of These Days"

I love this little children's book!

  • Title: I'm Going to Build a Supermarket One of These Days
  • Authors: Helen Baten and Barbara von Molnar, adapted by Bill Martin Jr. (1916-2004).
  • Illustrator: William Papas (1927-2000). Credited in the book solely as "Papas." He was previously mentioned in this 2016 post about Damian and the Dragon.
  • Publisher: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
  • Year: 1970
  • Pages: 32
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Plot: The short book is basically a Dr. Seuss-like fantasy about what a grocery store would be like if it were run by children. Papas' pictures are a delight. The store would be called "Land of Milk & Honey." Everything would be free, and only children would be permitted inside. (There's an illustration in which adults are protesting outside, one with a sign stating "We Want Equal Rights.") The fantasy supermarket is filled with roller-skaters, elephants, kangaroos and a merry-go-round. There are impromptu baseball games and all sorts of treats, like cotton candy, ice cream and coconut cakes. Kids who don't want to shop can watch movies underneath the checkout counters. (Why checkout counters are needed when everything is free is not explained.) 
  • Reviews: There's almost nothing online about this book from a half-century ago, so I'm glad this post is serving in a small way to preserve it. There is one nice review on Goodreads, in which Sharla states, "This is one of my all-time favorite books from when I was young." She further notes that there were two audio cassette versions, one that was a straight readthrough and one that's a musical sing-a-long version! 
Here are some more of Papas' wonderful illustrations...