Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to Watch Horror Movies

It is a complaint I have heard since childhood and, no doubts others have as well. Quite simply, that complaint is that "Such and such horror movie is not scary." As far as criticism goes, the complaint that a horror movie is not scary is a legitimate one. After all, the entire reason for horror movies is to frighten us, perhaps thereby reassuring us that our real life fears are not quite so, well, horrible. A horror movie that is not scary is then no better than a comedy that is not funny.

Sadly, the fact that horror movies must be scary place them at a rather large disadvantage when compared to other genres. For many other genres of film it is sufficient to have a good script, good direction, and a good cast. Horror movies must not only have these ingredients, must also have several scenes which are truly frightening too. Worse yet, because many horror movies deal with elements of the supernatural and even at times science fiction, horror movies often require a greater suspension of disbelief than other genres of film. And, unfortunately, it is in easing the viewer into suspending his or her disbelief that many horror movies fail.

Of course, in many cases I am not so sure that it is a particular horror movie is to blame when a particular viewer does not suspend his or her disbelief, resulting in the viewer not being frightened by the film. The plain fact is that often viewers actually do things that effectively prevent any given horror movie from scaring them. While many viewers go to watch a horror movie at a theatre or watch a horror movie at home on television with the intention of being scared, they either consciously or unconsciously undo any chance that they will actually be frightened.

Perhaps the worst and most common thing that prevent viewers from being scared by any given horror movie is simply entering the whole situation in the wrong mindset. Often times viewers will go to a horror movie at the cinema or watch one on television determined not to be scared. The viewer essentially creates an adversarial relationship with the film, daring the movie to scare him or her. This can be made all the worse if the viewer is watching a traditional supernatural horror movie or a science fiction horror movie and simply refuses to suspend disbelief. A refusal to suspend disbelief will effectively end any chances that a viewer will be frightened by a movie. After all, one cannot be frightened by Count Orlok or Frankenstein's Creature if he or she simply doesn't believe in them, even for a moment.

Fortunately, most horror movie aficiaonados are more than willing to suspend their disbelief for a movie. Even then, however, they might take courses of action that reduce the chance of being frightened by a horror movie. In his book Danse Macabre, Stephen King points out that people often go to see horror movies at the theatre in packs. I rather suspect that the same is often true when they watch horror movies on television. This effectively reduces the odds that one will be frightened simply because most human beings feel there is safety in numbers. It is much less likely on will be frightened by Freddy Krueger if one has six or seven of his or her friends at his side. We naturally take comfort and feel more secure when we have a number of our friends at our side. With this in mind, the odds of truly being scared by a horror movie increase when the number of friends accompany one to watch a horror movie in the theatre or who are watching a horror movie in a home decrease. One might not be scared if he or she is watching a horror movie with six or seven friends. He and she may well be frightened if he or she has only one, two, or no friends with him or her!

Of course, here I must point out that in many respects it is easier to be frightened by a horror movie in a theatre than it is in a home. While one is often  surrounded by a number of people at theatere, unless one takes a pack of his or her friends with him or her, most of those people are going to be strangers, from whom little to no comfort or sense of security can be derived. A cinema also has another advantage over watching horror movies at home. In a cinema the lights are not simply dimmed, but shut off, the only light coming from the movie screen and exit signs.Even if one was not scared of the dark as a child, darkness is still disconcerting to most human beings. After all, we cannot see as well in the dark, meaning that we cannot see any unseen threats either. I might add that in shutting off the lights, the cinema forces the viewer's attention on the screen, allowing for a greater suspension of disbelief. With regards to viewing horror movies at home, too often people watch them with every light turned on in the house. In the familiar surroundings of one's home, with every single light on, this greatly reduces the odds one will be frightened. The odds are even made even less if, when watching a horror movie in one's home with every single light on in the house, one has several of his or her friends there as well.

Given these factors, it would seem that it is best to watch a horror movie in a theatre with as few friends with one as possible. If watching a horror movie at home, then it is perhaps best to watch it with the lights turned off and with as few friends present as possible. Whether watching a horror movie in a cinema or at home, one must be willing to suspend his or her disbelief. Certainly there are going to be people who cannot do this, but then they would probably not be watching a horror movie anyway. I

Here I want to say that by no means do I want to place the blame on the viewer if he or she is not scared by any given horror movie. The plain fact is that in the history of horror movies there have been many that simply have not been frightening. This has been complicated by the fact that for the past forty years there have been many lazy filmmakers who depend too much on the gross out or violence and too little on genuine horror generated by atmosphere, suspense, and the fear of the unknown. I have seen the original Friday the 13th more than once and it has never frightened me, even when I watched it all alone in a darkened living room at home. The simple fact is that even as a horror movie it fails. On the other hand, I have seen Universal's classic The Black Cat (1934) many times. Despite having less violence and a lower body count, it scares me every time. Indeed, while a bad horror movie will fail to frighten even if one watches it alone and in the dark, a good horror movie can be frightening no matter what. By total coincidence, I saw Hellraiser (1987) with a pack of friends (this was by total coincidence--we all showed up at the cinema at the same time) and we were all still scared by the movie!

Ultimately, to sum things up, we must give horror movies a chance to frighten us. It is true that many times, even when the circumstances, we will not be scared by movies. Such films as Friday the 13th (1980), Anaconda (1997), and Dracula (1930---and, yes, I know I will take flake for that one) simply aren't enough to frighten anyone.  On the hand, truly great horror films , such as Peeping Tom (1960), The Descent (2005), and Frankenstein (1930) can be truly frightening. We just have to given them a chance.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs Passes On

Bohemian, Beat poet, and founder of The Fugs, Tuli Kupferberg passed yesterday at the age of 86.

Tufi Kupferberg was born Naphtali Kupferberg on September 28, 1923 in New York City. He grew up on the Lower East Side of that city. As a teenager he became a fan of jazz and political activist for the left. He graduated from Brooklyn  College in 1944, then took a job as a medical librarian. Mr. Kupferberg had planned to become a physician, but instead began writing poetry and articles for such publications as The Village Voice. Mr. Kupferbeg gained some prominence among the Beat crowd (although he preferred the term "Bohemian"), to the point that it is believed that he is the man "who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge" in Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl." Although Mr. Kupferberg had jumped off a bridge, it was not the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead it was the Manhattan Bridge in a suicide attempt in 1945. In 1959 Mr. Kupferberg founded the short lived magazine Birth. It ran for only three issues, but featured works by Allen Ginsberg and Diane Di Prima.

In 1959 Tufi Kupferberg published his first books. That year he published Beating; Children's Writings; Children as Authors: A Big Bibliography (with Sylvia Topp);  Snow Job: Poems 1946-1959; and Selected Fruits &  Nuts. In all he would write nearly 50 books. He also published the magazine Swing and, from 1961 to 1964, the magazine Yeah. It was in 1964 that Paul Kupferberg and fellow poet Ed Sanders formed The Fugs. Mr. Kupferberg named the band after a euphemism for the F-word from Norman Mailer's novel The Naked and the Dead. The membership of The Fugs would change greatly over the years, although Messrs. Kupferberg and Sanders remained with them throughout their history. From 1964 to 1980 The Fugs released sixteen albums.

The Fugs were largely a satirical band. Much of their material was scatological in nature, it often dealt with sex, and it often took politically controversial stands such as protests against war. Because of their subject matter (not to mention their name), The Fugs never received a good deal of airplay and never really found mainstream success. Indeed, their controversial nature resulted in them being thrown off  one major label.

In addition to his work with The Fugs, Mr. Kupferberg also performed with Revolting Theatre and The Fuxxons, as well as releasing two solo album in 1966 and 1989. He continued writing, including his best known book 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft in 1966.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of The Fugs' music or Mr. Kupferberg's writing, there can be no doubt that he was an innovator and a provocateur.  Well before many other bands, The Fugs dealt with controversial topics and were far more political than even most bands in the Sixties. Mr. Kupferberg himself also had a good deal of talent, drawing upon his own Jewish and Eastern European background in both his songs and his poetry. He was definitely one of the most creative minds to come out of the Beat Movement.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Comic Book Writer Harvey Pekar Passes On

Harvey Pekar, creator and writer of the underground comic book American Splendour, passed yesterday at the age of 70. The cause has yet to be determined, but Mr. Pekar was in poor health. A few years ago he had lymphoma and currently he had prostate cancer. He also had high blood pressure.

Harvey Pekar was born in on October 8, 1939, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. It was in 1962, when Robert Crumb was working for American Greetings in Cleveland, that Mr. Pekar met the soon to be famous underground comic book artist. The two shared a love of jazz music, beginning a life long friendship.

Harvey Pekar was intrigued by Robert Crumb's comic strips, which avoided the traditional adventure format and costumed characters of the time. Mr. Pekar concluded that one could do as much with the comic book format as one could with film. It would be many years before Mr. Pekar would launch his comic book. Eventually he showed Robert Crumb some comic book stories he had written, illustrated with stick figures. Impressed, Mr. Crumb offered to illustrate Mr. Pekar's story and it appeared, under the title "Crazy Ed," in Mr. Crumb's People's Comics in 1972. The first issue of American Splendour appeared in 1976. Unlike other comic books of the time, American Splendour was an autobiographical look at Mr. Pekar and friends and co-workers' lives, viewed through a lens of humour. Stories focused on such everyday concerns as money, health problems, and other concerns. Over the years it was illustrated by artists ranging from Drew Friedman to Rick Geary. Seventeen issues were published between 1976 and 1993, most often self published. In 1994 Dark Horse Comics began publishing American Splendour. In 2006 DC Comics published an Amerian Splendour mini-series under their Vertigo imprint and another in 2008.

In 1994 Mr. Pekar published Our Cancer Year, chronicling his experiences with lymphoma. In 2005 Vertigo published The Quitter, which chronicled Mr. Pekar's early life. He also wrote Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story (2006), Macedonia (2006), The Beats (2009), and Studs Terkel Working (2009),. In 2003 a film adaptation of American Splendour was released, starring Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar.

In the late Eighties Harvey Pekar was a regular guest on Late Night with David Letterman. He would be banned for several years from the show, after criticising General Electric and stating point blank that Mr. Letterman was a shill for GE.

There can be no doubt that Harvey Pekar was one of the most revolutionary comic book writers of the 20th Century. After all, he did not write about superheroes or sci-fi adventurers, but about the life of the middle class, often with humour and often with a sardonic wit. His stories dealt with anxiety and depression in a way that few comic book stories ever had before. Despite his image as a somewhat irascible fellow, those who met Mr. Pekar or had the pleasure of knowing him also said that he was in real life a very nice fellow. Indeed, he was known for his support of young comic book creators. Although it was irregularly published and often drove Mr. Pekar into debt, American Splendour was an innovative title that long ago earned Harvey Pekar a place in comic book history.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Songwriter Harvey Fuqua Passes On

Harvey Fuqua, songwriter and founder of The Moonglows, passed on July 6, 2010 at the age of 80. The cause was a heart attack.

Harvey Fuqua was born on July 27, 1920 in Louisville, Kentucky. His uncle was Charlie Fuqua of The Inkspots. Because of this, Mr. Fuqua was exposed to music very early in life. As a child he spent a good deal of time singing on street corners with friends. Mr. Fuqua served in the United States Army, and following his demobilisation, he formed  a scat style group called The Crazy Sounds. The Crazy Sounds came to the attention of legendary disc jockey Alan Freed in 1952. Mr. Freed became their manager and changed the name of the group to The Moonglows.

The Moonglows would release one single on Mr. Freed's own record label, Champagne, before signing with Chance Records. Experiencing little success with Chance, The Moonglows signed with Chess Records in 1954. That same year their single "Sincerely" hit #1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The Moonglows would chart several hits on the R&B chart, including "Most of All," "When I'm with You," "In My Diary, "We Go Together" and "Please Send Me Someone to Love."

It was in 1959 that Harvey Fuqua reshaped The Moonglows. Having seen a young group out of Washington D.C. called The Marquees (including a young Marvin Gaye), Mr. Fuqua took them under his wing and made them the new Moonglows. Under the name Harvey and The Moonglows, the group had a hit with "Ten Commandments of Love." It was in 1960 that Mr.Fuqua disbanded The Moonglows, and he and Marvin Gaye moved to Detroit to work at Anna Records with Gwen Gordy, Barry Gordy's sister. There he produced records for Lamount Dozier, The Spinners, Johnny Bristol, and others. He also formed his own labels, Tri-Phi and Harvey, in 1961. Eventually tiring of running these companies, Mr. Fuqua sold them to Motown. With him he brought Johnny Bristol, The Spinners, Junior Walker and the All Stars, Shorty Long, and, most importantly, Marvin Gaye.

At Motown Harvey Fuqua worked as the head of artist development. He co-wrote The Supremes' "Someday We'll Be Together," and produced songs for a wide range of the label's artists. In 1969 Mr. Fuqua left MoTown to sign a production deal with RCA. At RCA he produced such artists as The Nitelighters, New Birth, and Sylvester. In the Eighties Harvey Fuqua would leave RCA to once more work with Marvin Gaye, producing the album Midnight Love. In 2000 Mr. Fuqua formed the label Resurging Artists.  He also released a solo album.

Harvey Fuqua was the founder and leader of one of the seminal doo wop groups,  The Moonglows. Their first hit, "Sincerely," co-written by Mr. Fuqua and Alan Freed, went onto become a standard which has been recorded several times over. Mr. Fuqua was important in the history of Motown records, as it was through Anna Records that he and Gwen Gordy distributed the first Motown single, "Money (That's What I Want)" by Barrett Strong. He also brought many artists to Motown, including the legendary Marvin Gaye. As a songwriter he was responsible for many Motown hits. As a producer he played a role in creating the Motown sound. Quite simply, Harvey Fuqua was central to the history of R&B music.