Wednesday, September 16, 2020

New Trailer for 'The Beatles: Get Back' Book

Like the Peter Jackson documentary with which it ties-in, the lush-looking Beatles: Get Back book has been pushed off to August 2021--August 27, to be specific. While it may be a little early to get super stirred up about the book's publication, a new trailer for it is now available. Check it out below (presumably, the photos on its pages will not come to life like the ones in the trailer do):

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Farewell, Diana Rigg

We Americans had Batman and Batgirl. The British had John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel. I won't argue over who was cooler, but both dynamic duos brought groovy-mod style, flash action, and buckets of irony to mid-sixties TV. Mrs. Peel was not Steed's first partner, but she's the one Avengers fans tend to remember most fondly, largely because of Diana Rigg's unforgettably bemused performance.

A discussion of Diana Rigg's career will likely begin with the pop-art ka-pow that first made her household name, but her career hardly hinged on The Avengers. She was Vincent Price's mustachioed co-conspirator in Theatre of Blood. She was the only woman to marry James Bond (if ever so briefly) in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. She was memorably miscast as plain-Jane Helena in the boffo 1968 adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She starred Paddy Chayefsky's bizarro medical-drama/monster movie The Hospital, cameoed in The Great Muppet Caper, hosted PBS's Mystery!, and proved she was still unimaginably cool when she played Lady Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones.

No matter the role, Diana Rigg always imbued it with her innate charm and the gravitas of a first-rate actor. Sadly, she died today of cancer at the age of 82. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Review: 3 Martin Denny Reissues

After New York-born pianist Martin Denny relocated to Honolulu, he became so enamored with the local sounds that he cooked up a new hybrid of laid-back jazz and Polynesian music that is now credited as a cornerstone influence of so-called “Tiki Culture”. The origins and execution of Denny’s music funk it up with a strong whiff of kitsch. He let percussionist August Colon loose to babble a wacky stream of birdcalls over the tunes. The covers of his albums pose white model Sandy Warner in tableaux and wigs intended to sell her as Polynesian or Asian. Song titles such as “Jungle Madness”, “Sake Rock”, and “Pagan Love Song”, as well as Denny’s signature term “exotica,” are sure to give modern audiences pause. Any song with a title referencing China or Japan inevitably begins with the bang of a gong. Yet, the beauty, innovation, and magnetic retro-appeal of Denny’s music are undeniable and on full display in a new vinyl reissue series from Jackpot Records.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Psychobabble's 200 Essential Horror Movies Addendum 9: The 2000s

In this penultimate installment, Psychobabbles 200 Essential Horror Movies receives five new recruits, each from the 2000s.

154. Ginger Snaps (2001- dir. John Fawcett) 

Ginger Snaps is not the first werewolf flick to equate puberty with lycanthropy, but it’s probably the first to acknowledge that girls can be little monsters too. Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) are sisters. Brigitte is the brooding one with the scraggly hair and bad posture. Ginger is the one who draws unwanted attention from her snarling, drooling male classmates. They both have standard-issue teenage bad attitudes, but it’s Ginger who’s the werewolf. In an interesting twist on the myth, her transformation is gradual over the course of the whole movie.

Karen Walton and director John Fawcett’s witty script uses Ginger’s supernatural condition to deal with a litter of teen topics: menstruation, immature sex, drugs, cutting, pubic hair, dog eating. With its grunge and goth fashions and too-cool nihilism, Ginger Snaps feels more like a nineties film than a twenty-first century one. It still smacked a nerve with contemporary horror fans and became a huge cult favorite and birthed a string of sequels.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Review: 'Fashion in the 1960s'

The 1960s were not always rich in substance (welcome to Gilligan’s Island!), but the decade’s style was often unimpeachable. Before frumpy hippie non-fashions took over toward the end of the sixties, sharp lines, vivid colors, eccentric materials, and wild op-art patterns defined the decade. The sixties were also very notable for making a place for men on the runway. It seems like we’ve been shut out of genuinely exciting fashions ever since.

The sixties were so aesthetically rich that Daniel Milford-Cottam’s Fashion in the 1960s could never be called the definitive word on its topic. At 55 pages, the book is shorter than most magazines. It still manages to be a historically adequate and graphically electrifying introduction to the era of plastic macs, paper shifts, and Twiggy.

Milford-Cottam doesn’t just focus on the most audacious trends— the ones that might instantly conjure stereotypical images of the decade but were less visible in the real world. He deals with the more conservative work of Belinda Bellville and Coco Chanel in addition to the Mary Quant, Emilio Pucci, and John Bates designs that really made the sixties swing.

Milford-Cottam also discusses how style influenced pop culture, and since London was the mid-sixties fashion hub, the author focuses on things like Ready, Steady, Go and The Avengers. The mods and The Beatles are at the forefront of his concluding chapter on men’s fashion, which will make any aesthete salivate for a time when guys’ options were not limited to baggy T-shirts and sweatpants. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: 'Alien Invasions! The History of Aliens in Popular Culture'

Because it isn’t very likely that aliens from other worlds have ever visited Earth, they can be imagined in any number of ways. Are they tentacled, bulbous-brained beasts? Are they green-skinned seductresses in brass bikinis and weird headgear? Are they friendly little, big-eyed chaps who just want to go (and phone) home? Are they hostile? Neutral? Are they super advanced or super primitive? Are they from distant galaxies or our very own moon?

Because aliens can be imagined in any number of ways, they have been ripe for interpretation in popular culture for as long as popular culture has existed. They have symbolized humans’ deepest fears of and desires for otherness. They also tend to look cool, so a colorfully illustrated book such as Alien Invasions! The History of Aliens in Popular Culture is the right way to boil down decades of UFOs and BEMs.

Editor/writer Michael Stein draws together four other fellows to help him discuss various aspects of the mythology from alien appearances in literature to pulp novels to pulp comics to A-movies to B-movies to TV to porno. Because this is such a juicy topic, the 35-or-so full-text pages can’t do much more than provide a general introduction to Weird Science comics, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells, E.T., The X-Files, the infamous Roswell incident, and the many, many, many other pop artifacts of alien-invasion lore. The writing is entertaining but a bit too fleet-footed, and because all of the writers are men, it lacks perspective, especially since pulp sci-fi glories in so many sexist tropes.

Visually, I have no complaints about Alien Invasions! The History of Aliens in Popular Culture. Since most pages are dedicated to full-color repros of wacky movie posters, pulp novel and comics covers, movie and TV stills, and fine art, I’m guessing the book’s main purpose is to invade your eyes with dazzling images, and it certainly gets that jobs done.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Review: 'Planet Wax: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Soundtracks on Vinyl'

There have been a lot of compilations of album cover art, and they’re usually good for a flip-through but lack focus and insight. Planet Wax: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Soundtracks on Vinyl is in a whole other universe. Collecting the covers of sci-fi and fantasy soundtracks, Aaron Lupton and Jeff Szpirglas’s new book has a specific focus and is atypically enlightening.

Don’t be fooled by the way the art dominates the pages of this coffee-table book. You’ll still learn quite a bit about the music’s production and quality from writers with a strong musical vocabulary. They even went to the trouble of fleshing out their insights by conducting interviews with the likes of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan-director Nicholas Meyer, Clash of the Titans-composer Laurence Rosenthal, Limahl of NeverEnding Story (and Kajagoogoo) fame, and Michele Gruska, who provided the voice of Sy Snootles in the unspoiled edition of Return of the Jedi, among others.

Lupton and Jeff Szpirglas are less interested in the images that overwhelm their pages, but that’s okay since the album covers are mostly square movie posters rather than unique pieces of art (there is the odd exception, such as a faux advert that is way too groovy to be wasted on the soundtrack of The Monster Squad). Of course, since sci-fi and fantasy are so visually imaginative, these are some of the best movie posters ever created. Robert McCall’s work for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Roger Kastel’s for The Empire Strikes Back, and Robert McGinnis’s for Barbarella remain endlessly engrossing, particularly when presented in a package as appealing as Planet Wax.
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