Saturday, April 24, 2010

American Anime Pioneer Carl Macek R.I.P.

Carl Macek, the man who  produced Robotech and later as part of Streamline Productions brought such anime as Lensmen, Wicked City, and the original, dubbed version of Akira to America, passed on April 17 at the age of 58. The cause was a heart attack.

Carl Macek was born on October 12, 1951 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended California State University at Fullerton, the University of California at Irvine, and Chapman College in Orange California. While at California State University in Fullerton he served as a librarian, which would lead him to a career as a writer in the field of pop culture. He wrote several articles and  he was co-editor of McGill’s Survey of the Cinema and in 1979 Film Noir—An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. It was in 1979 that he first worked with anime, as a producer on the American version of Rupan sensei: Kariosutoro no shiro (Lupin the Third The Castle of Cagliostro). In 1983 he served as a producer on the English version of Golgo 13. He was also a publicist for The Creature Wasn't Nice.

It was in 1985 that Carl Macek served as a producer, story editor, and writer on the series Robotech. Robotech took material from three distinct, unrelated, Japanese animated series (Chōjikū Yōsai Makurosu "Super  Dimension Fortress Macross," Chōjikū Kidan Sazan "Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross," and Kikō Sōseiki Mosupīda, "Genesis Climber MOSPEADA") and blended them into a continuous storyline that spanned three generations. The series was produced by Harmony Gold in conjunction with Tatsunoko Production. At the time Harmony Gold's reasoning for combining the three different series was that it was necessary to create the number of episodes for the series to be shown daily in American syndication. Regardless, the series proved popular, resulting in several failed attempts at sequel series and movies.

In 1988 Carl Macek was a writer on the American animated series C.O.P.S. It was that same year that he co-founded Streamline Pictures with Jerry Beck. Over the years Streamline Pictures would release dubbed versions of such anime as Vampire Hunter D, Robotto Kãnibaru (Robot Carnival), Yōjū Toshi (Wicked City), Kuraingu Furiiman (Crying Freeman), and the original dubbed version of Akira. Streamline Pictures lasted until 2002.

Carl Macek also adapted Casshan to English and wrote the screenplays for Heavy Metal 2000 and Lady Death. He also wrote the book The Art of Heavy Metal (published in 1981) and the novel War Eagles, based on an idea for a movie by Merian C. Cooper of King Kong fame. 

Over the years Carl Macek has had his share of detractors. Although popular, Robotech was controversial among anime fans for taking three different Japanese series and combining into one. As part of Streamline Pictures, Macek met with controversy again as Streamline only released anime dubbed in English rather than in the original Japanese with subtitles. Indeed, I must confess that I prefer to watch anime with subtitles over anime that has been dubbed. And while I was a Robotech fan in its day, part of me wonders how well known Macross might be in the United States now if it had only been released in something close to its original form.

That having been said, while I can see the points of Macek's detractors, I think they ignore the fact that over all Carl Macek did an enormous service to anime fans in the United States. After the first wave of anime series (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer) in the Sixties ended, very little in the way of anime was to be seen in the United States throughout the Seventies and into the early Eighties. What few anime series did air in the United States during that time were hardly successful, not to mention few and far between. This changed in the mid-Eighties when Voltron (another American series created out of two different anime shows) debuted in 1984 and Robotech followed it a few months later. While Voltron attained some level of popular, it would be Robotech that would put anime back on the map in the United States. It became the most successful anime series since Speed Racer.

As part of Streamline Pictures, Carl Macek also did a great service for anime fans. Streamline Pictures was one of the first companies to bring anime movies to the United States, even if they were dubbed. It opened the way for other companies which would import anime to the United States, many of which was not dubbed (or at least was available in both dubbed and subtitled versions). To a large degree Streamline Pictures was responsible for the acceptance anime would finally find in the American mainstream. In many respects, if it had not been for Carl Macek, Spirited Away might not have won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Movie and Howl's Moving Castle might not have been nominated for the 2005 Oscar. Quite simply, Carl Macek paved the way for anime's general acceptance among American audiences. And for anime fans, that can only be a good thing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Late, Great Peter Steele

(WARNING If you are a bit uncomfortable with content that is rated at least PG-13, you might want to pass this blog entry by....)

Peter Steele, the leader, lead vocalist, bassist, and lead songwriter of the Gothic metal band Type O Negative, passed on Wednesday, April 14, 2010. The cause was heart failure. He was 48 years old.

Peter Steele was born Petrus T. Ratajczyk in Brooklyn on January 4, 1962. Prior to forming Type O Negative, Mr. Steele was employed by the New York City Parks Department. In 1979 he became a founding member of the heavy metal band Fallout alongside future Type O Negative member Josh Silver. Fallout only released one single ("Rock Hard/Batteries Not Included"). Fallout evolved into the heavy metal band Carnivore, which consisted of Mr. Steele on bass guitar and vocals, Louie Beato on drums, and Keith Alexander on lead guitar. Carnivore released two albums before breaking up in 1987.

It was not long after the break up of Carnivore that Peter Steele formed a band with drummer Sal Abruscato, keyboardist Josh Silver, and guitarist Kenny Hickey. Initially calling themselves "Repulsion," they renamed themselves "Subzero." After realising that name was taken, they renamed themselves "Type O Negative." As Type O Negative they released a demo, which came to the attention of Road Racer Records (now Roadrunner Records), who signed them. In 1991 they released their debut album, Slow Deep and Hard. That first album blended elements of thrash metal, industrial music, and New Wave with Gothic themes. For their second album Roadrunner Records insisted that Type O Negative fulfil a contractual obligation to record a live album. Instead the band simply re-recorded Slow Deep and Hard,  along with covers of Jii Hendrix's "Hey, Joe (redone as "Hey, Pete)" and Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," and dubbed in crowd noises, even going so far as to create a fake fight with the non-existent audience. While Roadrunner was not happy with Type O Negative's joke, they released  the fake live album,  entitled The Origin of the Faeces, in 1992 anyway.

It would be with Type O Negative's second original album that the band finally achieved success. Bloody Kisses featured  the cult songs "Christian Woman," which dealt with sexuality and religion,  and "Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All), which parodied Goth stereotypes. Another well known cut from Bloody Kisses was a Gothic metal rendition of Seals and Croft's "Summer Breeze."  The album was the first in which Type O Negative really came into their own, characterised as it was by Gothic imagery and rather dry, but very black humour. It became Roadrunner's first album to go gold and then its first to go platinum. On the heels of the success of Bloody Kisses, Mr. Steele posed for Playgirl,  a decision he later regretted.

Bloody Kisses was followed by October Rust in 1996. The album featured Type O Negative's Gothic remake of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," as well as the cult songs "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend,"  "Love You To Death" and "Green Man." The album did not do as well as its predecessor, peaking at #42 on the Billboard albums chart, but went gold. It was also around this time that Type O Negative became involved in a bit of controversy, after Mr. Steele confessed on The Howard Stern Show to having murder-suicide fantasies and even admiring Kurt Cobain for having taken his own life. It was in the wake of the release of October Rust that several of Peter Steele's family members died. In his grief he began drinking heavily. The result of this was the album World Coming Down, an album which dealt with death, addiction, and self loathing. Strangely enough, the album ended with a medley of The Beatles songs "Day Tripper," "If I Needed You," and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." In 2000 a "greatest hits" album was released, entitled The Least Worst of Type O Negative.

It was in 2003 that Life is Killing Me was released. The album was much lighter than World Coming Down, even featuring music from the TV show The Munsters and a cover of "Angry Inch" from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as well as the humorous "I Like Goils." The songs on the album were also much shorter, "...A Dish Best Served Coldly" being the longest, clocking in at seven minutes and two seconds. It was following the release of Life is Killing Me that Peter Steele served a short time in prison for possession of narcotics. Afterwards he went into drug rehabilitation. It was at this time that Roadrunner Records released The Best of Type O Negative in 2006 without the band's permission. Unhappy that the label would released a compilation album without their permission and receiving a better offer from SPV Records, Type O Negative left Roadrunner for SPV.

It was in 2007 that the band released Dead Again, their final album. The album featured the epic ballad of lost love "September Sun," the comedic "Halloween in Heaven," and the Black Sabbath influenced title track. The album did very well , reaching #27 on the Billboard album chart.

Peter Steele was also a guest on The Jerry Springer Show. At the time of his death he had reportedly been sober for years. After being a self confessed atheist for many years, he confessed to being drawn to Roman Catholicism.

There can be no doubt that Peter Steele had more than his fair share of problems. He coped with alcoholism and other addictions, and even suffered from clinical depression at one point. When it came to Gothic metal, however, he was a true artist. He composed some of the most powerful songs in the genre, many of which are now considered classics. His songs could often be very, very dark, but at the same time tinged with a wry sense of humour. His lyrics were emotional, intelligent, and at times even poetic. If Type O Negative became the foremost band, short of Sisters of Mercy, in the Goth genre, it is largely because of Mr. Steele's talent as a composer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Actor James Aubrey R.I.P.

Actor James Aubrey, who played Ralph in Lord of the Flies (the one boy who maintains his wits while the others descended into savagery) passed on 8 April at the age of 62. The cause was pancreatitus.

James Aubrey was born James Aubrey Tregido in Klagenfurt, Austria on 28 August, 1947. His father was a career military man serving with the British army in Austria at the time. The family going wherever his father was assigned, Aubrey was educated in Jamaica, Germany, and Singapore. He was in Jamaica when director Peter Brook found him at a swimming pool and cast him as the lead in the movie Lord of the Flies. The movie was shot during the summer of 1961 and took a year to edit, being released in 1963. In that time he had appeared in the play Isle of Children at the Wilmington Playhouse. He would make his only appearance on Broadway in the play, reprising the role he originally played.

Aubrey trained at the Drama Centre in London. Afterwards he was a regular on the British stage. He played at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, the Royal Court Theatre, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Comedy Theatre, and the Old Vic. He toured with the the Cambridge Theatre Company and performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Beginning in the Seventies, Aubrey regularly appeared on television. His TV debut was a guest appearance on Z Cars in 1974. He was a regular on the series Bouquet of Barbed Wire and its sequel Another Bouquet. He guest starred on the series Return of the Saint, Murder, The Sweeney, and Minder. He appeared in the films Galileo, Home Before Midnight, and The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. In the Eighties he was a regular on Emmerdale Farm. He appeared in such series as Tales of the Unexpected, The Last Place on Earth, and Lovejoy. He appeared in the films  The Hunger, The American Way, Cry Freedom, and The Rift. From the Nineties into the Naughts he appeared in such shows as Inspector Morse, Causality, The Apocalpyse Watch, The Bill, Doctors, and Brief Encounters. He appeared in such films as Buddy's Song and Spy Game.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Film Editor Dede Allen R.I.P.

Dede Allen, who edited The Hustler and Bonnie and Clyde, passed on April 17 at the age of 86. She had suffered a stroke on April 14.

Dede Allen was born Dorothea Allen on in Cleveland on December 3, 1923. Her mother was the actress Dorothea S. Caruthers. Her father was a Union Carbide executive. Allen took an interest in entertainment while still young. Growing up she wanted to join the circus and she was already interested in film. She studied architecture, pottery, and weaving at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Eventually she took a job as a production runner at Columbia Pictures. By World War II she had a position in Columbia's special effects department and was editing industrial and commercials films. In 1948 she edited her first feature film, Because of Eve; however, it was not until 1958 that she began editing feature films on a regular basis, beginning with Terror From the Year 5000.

From the Sixties into the Seventies she edited several classic films. Among these were The Hustler, Bonnie and Clyde, Alice's Restaurant, Little Big Man, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Slap Shot. From the Eighties into the Naughts she edited such films as Reds, Henry and June, The Addams Family, and Wonder Boys. Her last film was Fireflies in the Garden. She was nominated for the Oscar for Best Editing three times, for Dog Day Afternoon, Reds, and Wonder Boys.

Undeniably Dede Allen was one of the greatest film editors of all time. On many of her films, most notably Bonnie and Clyde, she utilised a staccato style. As a result her movies seem to constantly be on the move. Although widely imitated today, this was ground breaking in the Sixties. That it is much more common today is a mark of Allen's influence.