Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10

Horror Film Memories: I attended a William Castle festival at the Strand Theater on Market Street in San Francisco in the late Eighties that revived most of his famous gimmicks: "Emergo" for The House on Haunted Hill, 3-D for Thirteen Ghosts, the "Fright Break" and "Coward's Corner" for Homicidal. I don't recall if Mr. Sardonicus, with its "Punishment Poll," was part of the festival, or whether there were nurses and hearses for Macabre. I've looked for precise details online, but have only come across one reference to the festival, in a comments section at the website

The theater actually wired certain (not all) seats in the theater for The Tingler, and I experienced "the tingle." I was friendly with the folks involved and helped them out by sitting in a wired seat between shows to test the effect. Of course, with no other bodies to diffuse the electricity, it packed a wallop and I screamed and shot into the air. Castle would have been pleased! The original tingle effect apparently involved buzzers, not electric shocks, and I don't think any theater today would wire seats the way the Strand did (liability and all), so this was a unique experience.

Continuing yesterday's "job cuts" theme -- back to reality here -- the new issue of The Atlantic offers an excellent cover story on "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America." Not for the better, let me tell you:

My brief comment on Ushuaia, Argentina, the other day spurred a lively private discussion on extremely Southern cities, with one friend sending this link to photographs of Punta Arenas, Chile -- slightly north of Ushuaia, but a lovely city of about 150,000 inhabitants:

John Hickman, author of a history of Chile titled News from the End of the Earth, which I'm almost done reading, says that Punta Arenas and the surrounding area were largely settled by English, Scottish, German, and Yugoslav sheep farmers, artisans, and tradesmen, and that "the architecture is more like that of a European than a Latin American town."

John Coulthart at the excellent blog {feuilleton} wrote an appreciation of Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes a few years ago, which is newly timely in the light of the recent Robert Downey Jr. movie:

I do like Downey, so I'll probably see his take on Holmes at some point, but I can't say that the reviews made me all that eager. I can easily imagine what a contemporary, Guy Ritchie-directed Holmes film would be like, and I'm pretty sure that I'm not that far off in thinking it won't be to my taste. However, I am open to many Holmeses, and don't think that any portrayal of the master detective, even those as good as Brett's and Basil Rathbone's, can be considered "definitive." Robert Stephens is amazing in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and I just discovered that Leslie Howard's son Ronald Howard made an absolutely smashing Holmes in an obscure, recently-revived-on-DVD 1954-55 television series made in Paris with British actors for the American market (!). I still need to catch up with Arthur Wontner's Holmes of the 1931-1937 period, much prized by Sherlockian connoisseurs. The game will always be afoot.

Among notables born on this date are essayist Charles Lamb, soprano Leontyne Price, harmonica player Larry Adler, German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, singer Roberta Flack, New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock, film composer Jerry Goldsmith, cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, science fiction novelist Vernor Vinge, novelists Joseph Kessel (France) and Boris Pasternak (Russia), film directors John Farrow, Alexander Payne, and Michael Apted, children's author E.L. Konigsburg, and actors Judith Anderson, Jimmy Durante, and Laura Dern. Konigsburg is one of those novelists who tends to be underrated or unknown among adult readers because she published mainly on children's lists and gained her renown in that field. But good books are good books, and I cannot think of another author who ever came out of the gate as strongly as Konigsburg did in her debut year of 1967, with two phenomenal novels -- Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the first a Newbery Honor book and the second a Newbery Medal winner.