Monday, November 18, 2013

November's Night Out at the Movies!

It's an unseasonably warm evening in mid-November. Our monthly gathering starts at that charming restaurant, sampling the specials and flirting with the waiters, discussing our latest life changes and plans for the upcoming holidays.

And then, it's up to that shabby yet charming movie house up the street!

Tonight, we open with Segundo de Chomon's 1908 charmer "Les Ombres Chinoises," or "Chinese Shadows."

And then after that is the 1932 thriller "Out of Singapore."

After the show, we retire to the nearby cafe for a beverage and more conversation before we part ways for the night. As we go, we feel the chilly breezes begin to blow....

Friday, November 15, 2013

THE MONSTERS by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler

I picked this up at the local library after having heard of it here and there, and while it's not exactly of the genre I deal with, it takes a look at some prominent figures and works in it, and so is worth delving into.

This is, basically, a biography of Mary Shelley, focusing on her authorship of Frankenstein, and also looking into the lives of those around her during the famous "haunted summer." We get an enjoyable look into the life and writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and her marriage to William Godwin...radicals and revolutionaries both, they resisted marrying until a child comes along, and they eventually cave in to convention to be sure their child will be regarded as legitimate.

But Mary Wollstonecraft dies soon after giving birth, and young Mary grows up in an unsettled home. Eventually she meets young Percy Bysshe Shelley, the noble-born poet and radical who is inconveniently married, and the two run away together to Europe...accompanied by Mary's stepsister Clara (soon to be called Claire), who soon becomes Mary's rival for Percy's affections.

It's a hot mess, when you throw in Lord Byron and his neurotic and needy doctor, John Polidori, who has literary ambitions but not the talent to realize them. And all the bed-hopping going on, and turbulent relationships, between Mary and Percy, and Claire and Byron, and Claire and Percy, and...well...who knows who else. Mary craved a stable home life but Percy kept her moving from one place to another, never staying anywhere for long. And then there was the fateful summer of 1816, The Year Without A Summer (caused by historically low solar activity and a series of volcanic eruptions that threw a load of dust into the atmosphere that blocked the sun), a summer of failed crops and frequent storms and cold temperatures and food shortages and riots and typhus and death.

Of course, there's the whole well-known summer that resulted in Frankenstein, but there's also Mary's dead child, and Claire's child by Byron, Allegra, who dies young, and the suicides of Percy's wife and Mary's sister. Needy Polidori eventually self-destructs, Byron gets in over his head trying to be a Greek patriot, and Percy's fascination with the sea, and inability to swim, destroys him eventually.

The portraits of the personalities involved are compelling and realistic. Percy is restless, perhaps too self-absorbed, and is a model for Victor Frankenstein in many ways. Byron is immensely talented and immensely handsome, but also with serious body image issues that lead him to go to great lengths to disguise a malformed foot, and to always go on crash diets. John Polidori is blinded by optimism and a need for affirmation and reassurance; despite his own talents and striking good looks (he was quite dishy, even when next to Byron), he was always striving for something just beyond his grasp.

Like I said, dishy.
The tragedy of some of these characters' lives touches me; I came away really liking Mary and wishing she could have had better. She and Shelley were an ill-sorted couple, and although she seems to have loved him and devoted herself to his memory after his death, it sometimes seemed as if they would have been better off going their separate ways. Byron was compelling and yet often contemptible. Polidori is likable despite his pathos; he needed support and some good friends, even though he seems like he could have been a bottomless pit of emotional need.

But a fun part of this is the discussion of how not only had Mary given horror one of its most iconic characters, but also how Polidori had codified and defined the image of the vampire for generations to come. The Hooblers look at how Mary's life and circumstances may have shaped her writing of Frankenstein, and how her early politics and radicalism softened in later life...leading to a revision of her signature work that blunted some of its sharper edges.

It does have a few debits, including occasional conjectures not backed up by much documentation, and it ignores Mary's final work, a travelogue of Germany and Italy that included quite a bit of political and philosophical commentary that is now regarded by many as her second-best work. But I can forgive that given its focus on Frankenstein.

This is a quite enjoyable and informative peek into the lives of some influential people in the genre, and of a time of poetry and miniature portraits and long holidays by the lake and amateur scientific experimentation. If you're interested, get it and read it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

AYLMER VANCE: GHOST-SEER by Alice and Claude Askew

Wordsworth Editions has started a marvelous series of horror and mystery reprints, and I snapped a handful or two when I could, and am finally getting around to reading them now that I've getting settled in at the new place and adapting to a new normal.

Alice and Claude Askew were prolific writers of pulp fiction in the early part of the 20th century. A husband-and-wife team, they wrote a slew of works, and even had a few adapted for the stage and the silent screen. They were involved in support and relief for Serbians during WWI, operating in Serbia and Corfu. (For some reason I find Corfu impossibly exotic and enticing. I'll say it again. Corfu.) They died together in 1917 when a ship they were traveling on was sunk by a German torpedo.

This slender volume of short stories (only 127 pages) is a very nice example of the early 20th century occult detective genre.Some are built around supernatural menaces, and a few are more mystical in their outlook. The first tale, "The Invader," is a tale of possession, but the next, "The Stranger," tells a story of a woman who is apparently beloved of a pagan god and eventually rejects an earthly suitor to join her true love. (In that respect it's reminiscent of the preachy Dr. Tavener stories by Dion Fortune, only less preachy.)

"Lady Green-Sleeves" is an occultist love story with no real detection. "The Fire Unquenchable" tells of a series of mysterious fires and poltergeist activity ties into a deceased poet's unfinished work. "The Vampire" is a fun variation, mixing vampirism with possession. "The Boy of Blackstock" revolves around a haunting and an unhappy marriage. "The Indissoluble Bond" is more mystical in exploring a girl's bond to a man who may be her destruction. "The Fear" is a more straightforward tale of a destructive haunting.

The stories do follow a progression; the narrator, Dexter, moves from being an acquaintance hearing some stories, to Vance's partner in detection. And there's a thread in these stories that distresses me...a few times, the solution to a haunting is the complete razing and destruction of an old manor or castle, something that would have M. R. James screaming in horror. It made me blanch, that's for sure.

This entertaining collection can be purchased by itself in paperback by the aforementioned Wordsworth Editions, but you can also get an electronic edition from Ash-Tree Press that contains two other collection of occult detection, Rose Champion de Crespigny's Norton Vyse stories, and Kate & Hesketh Prichard's Flaxman Low stories. Take your pick with these.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dust & Corruption Calendar for November 2013

November is cold, chilly, and often gray. But when the days are good, they're wonderful. Now that the clocks have changed, it's dark earlier and it's more convenient to spend time by the fireside. Or to go out and partake of some entertainment....

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

11/1-26: Horror '73. A series of horror films, all from 1973. Check out the schedule here. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD.

11/8 - Wassabasco's 9th Anniversary! The Wassabasco burlesque troupe celebrates their ninth anniversary with much bump and grind, and a list of guests too large to go into here. Doors 8pm, tix $20. The Bell House, 149 7th St, Brooklyn, NY.

11/8 - Burlesque Behind Bars: Bustin' Out! DC's own Valentine Candy Burlesque presents an evening of prison themed fun, with Rev. Valentine, Candy del Rio, Ellie Quinn, Kat De Lac, and Mab Just Mab. Doors at 9pm, tix $12 at the door, The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC.

11/8 - Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque! Thirsty Girl Productions presents this evening of burlesque, comedy, and magic. With The Maine Attraction, Rosie 151, Brewster, Broadway Brassy, Boo Boo Darling, and hosted by Albert Cadabra. Doors 9pm, tix $20. Two Boots Hudson Valley, 4604 Route 9G, Red Hook, NY.

11/8 - Brews and Burlesque! Richmond's own Those Freaking Weirdos troupe presents an evening of fun. Doors at 9pm, tix $10. Strangeways Brewing, 2277A Dabney Rd, Richmond, VA.

11/9 - The Maxie Ford Massacre! The Moxie Fords are Baltimore's new tap and comedy team, and this will be a horror-themed tap dance show. With Stanley Bothered and Jambi. Shows at 8pm and 10pm; tix $10. The Yellow Sign Theatre, 1726 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD.

11/15 - Chocolate Lounge! My lovely pal GiGi Holliday presents her monthly evening featuring burlesque artistes of color. Shows at 8:45 and 11pm; tix $12 adv/$15 and the door. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC.

11/16 - Gilded Lily Fall Sweep! Not exactly a performance, but a unique flea market sponsored by Baltimore's own burlesque troupe Gilded Lily, with handmade wares and secondhand finds. It's bound to be an experience. 12pm to 5pm. The Windup Space, 12 West North Ave, Baltimore, MD.

11/17 - Barbarellesque! A burlesque tribute to Barbarella. Yes, Barbarella. It's been waiting to be done. With Cherie Sweetbottom, Swami Yohmami, Maria Bella, Buster Britches, Sunny Sighed, Mr. Gorgeous, Kay Sera, Missy Aggravation, and a load of gorgeous go-go girls. Guaranteed to be one of those must-be-seen-to-be-believed evenings. Doors 7pm; tix $12 adv/$15 door, available here. The Windup Space, Baltimore, MD.

11/28 - Thanksgiving. Do whatever you usually do.

11/29 - Black Friday. Avoid the crowds, stay home, and read. Or go antiquing or used-book prowling. Go to a museum or a movie. Get together with your friends. Take a walk in the park. Just avoid the malls. Unless that's your thing, then at least be safe.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Phantom Ballad for November

It's a chilly day in early November, and we've been rambling through the new neighborhood, peeking in shops, strolling through the library, gazing at picturesque old houses and churches, and taking an amble through an old cemetery.

After dinner, we linger in a little cafe where some musicians are jamming, and one plays this old ballad...

These old ballads are interesting; there's always about a dozen different versions and someone claiming it's a true story somehow. Or else someone finding hidden meanings. "Sweet William" is about a ghost seeking release from an earthly commitment, and how it won't let him rest...I'm sure other versions get weird with occult meandering.

More comin', folks...stay tuned.