Friday, November 15, 2019

The History of Time Travel

"If you think Hitler with an atomic bomb is bad, imagine Stalin with a time machine."

In 2014 The History of Time Travel was released, a fictional documentary about the creation of the world's first time machine, the government's Indiana Project, the men who created it, and the unintended ramifications it had on world events. Created by Ricky Kennedy, then a student filmmaker at the Stephen F. Austin State University, this independent film was brought to my attention from a friend who said, "If you love time travel movies, this is one you might find amusing." 

Presently streaming on Amazon Prime for free, this documentary is a novel approach by taking a few moments to clarify (and simplify) the various theories of time travel. From the multiverse theory to the paradox theory, every potential consequence of traveling through time is explored -- all of which are featured prominently through the documentary through show and tell. As questioned by author Kevin Ulrich in the documentary, "We experience time as we perceive it. But if time could be altered and was being altered, would we perceive that?" Apparently not so to the individuals who are portrayed in this documentary, adding to the fun.

What made this documentary unique is the execution -- as Dr. Richard Reenactor creates the breakthrough that allows him to travel through time, the repercussions are evident with subtle changes as the documentary progresses. The moon rock in the glass case is replaced with a historic newspaper, the scientific equations on the chalkboard have changed, and other unique twists and turns that are better left unrevealed for fear of spoilers. Basically, as time is being altered, so does the documentary itself. The History of Time Travel did not disappoint. If you have Amazon Prime, this 72 minute documentary comes recommended. Just keep your eyes and ears glued to the screen...


And as if the novel approach is not enough, the film even provides us with a moral: "The Indiana Project teaches us what is truly important about time, and that is making every second count."

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Return of BLOOD N' THUNDER Magazine

Between 2002 and 2016, BLOOD 'N' THUNDER was the premier journal for devotees of adventure, mystery and melodrama in American popular culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This award-winning magazine, written by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, eventually expanded its readership to include casual fans of vintage storytelling mediums: pulp fiction, motion pictures, and Old Time Radio drama.

BLOOD 'N' THUNDER, moribund for three years, has now returned in a new format but with the same excellence of writing and research. The articles and essays are scholarly without being dry or academic in nature; no publish-or-perish hackery here.

This revival issue (promoted as Volume Two, Number One) is now available on newsstands and Amazon.com and covers a variety of subjects, all related to pulp fiction. Most notably in the recent issue is recent archival digging from Brian Hochberg and David Kalb. David documents the history of the long-lost 1941-42 radio series featuring Street & Smith's The Avenger; he compares recently uncovered scripts to the novels from which they are adapted. 

David Saunders, whose father Norman was among the most prolific painters of lurid pulp covers, profiles the forgotten publisher J. Thomas Wood. Novelist and pop-culture historian Will Murray weighs in on pulp pulchritude—an appreciation of artists whose covers sported alluring women. Indefatigable researcher Rick Lai offers a detailed chronology of the Jimgrim saga, a multi-novel series penned by pulp-fiction giant Talbot Mundy. BLOOD 'N' THUNDER editor Ed Hulse celebrates the Zorro centennial (he first appeared in a 1919 issue of the legendary ALL-STORY WEEKLY) with a behind-the-scenes account of the making of Douglas Fairbanks' 1920 swashbuckling hit THE MARK OF ZORRO. Ed also supplies a look at HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS, a 1938 cliffhanger serial adapted from the popular imitation-Tarzan novels that appeared in the venerable pulp BLUE BOOK.

The second issue was released this week and should be available now.

You can also order a copy of the recent issue and all back issues from Murania Press at www.muraniapress.com

Friday, November 1, 2019

Amazon is Not Stealing Your Business

Full disclosure: I am not a full-time marketing consultant, nor do I claim to be an authority on the subject. But I read much through the years about marketing and business to know more than the average consumer. Twice in the past month local businesses closed doors and on the evening news, on both instances, the owners of said stores publicly claimed "Amazon killed our business" and "Amazon stole our customers." For the record, this statement is an opinion and not a fact. For the record, no one at Amazon phones customers to encourage them to stop buying from the competition. Fact: Many companies give customers a reason to stop shopping with them and instead go to Amazon. I see this all the time. Every day.

This is the book I wanted to buy and read.
I recently paid a visit to Barnes and Noble, that national chain responsible for selling books -- especially for the relatively smallest of percentage who do not have any other options to buy books because they are not on the Internet. 

As expected, you can tell when you first walk in that they want the customer in and out as quick as possible by having the hottest titles displayed right at the front, with discounted (and damaged) books closer to the check-out line. Worse, half the books I looked at were out of date. One book focused on the future of marketing on the Internet and mentioned Yahoo would become the biggest (and only) search engine, Apple would file bankruptcy if they continued to sell smartphones and not stick with computers, and My Space was supposedly the latest trend. After checking the copyright page I discovered the book was published in 2006 and revised in 2010. Why on earth was that book still being offered for sale in Barnes and Noble? At that point I started browsing the books on that same shelf and discovered half of the books were seriously out of date!

Skimming through the pages of multiple books and spot-checking bullet points to determine whether it was a book I wanted to read, excitedly I found one. At the check-out register, however, I was shocked to discover that they would not price match Amazon. The book retailed $24 and Amazon had the book for $12. "We do price match our own website," the cashier told me. Barnes and Noble's price on their website was $21. I asked why they would not price match the competition and it was explained to me, "That is corporate policy." This might explain why there were only four customers in the entire store at the time. (The coffee shop next door had more customers.) Do not get me wrong. If the book was $14 or $15 at Barnes and Noble, I would have paid for it solely for the convenience.

When I was in the publishing business, I used to sell books to Barnes and Noble. Twenty years ago it was a different market. For every book Barnes and Noble sold, Amazon sold ten. A few years later the numbers had changed. For every book Barnes and Noble sold, Amazon sold a hundred. At present count, I never sold a book to Barnes and Noble in the last twelve years. Today, Amazon buys books by the case, shipped to their warehouses. Seriously, Amazon is truly the 400-pound gorilla in the industry.

Where am I going with all this? Stay with me...

Twenty years ago I religiously visited Borders Books in Towson, Maryland, every Saturday morning to get a cup of hot tea and relax with a book. Their employees were always eager to help assist. I romantically loved the atmosphere. Borders Books truly was my "third place." And for a couple hours once a week I was able to self-educate with whatever subject matter I wanted to read and learn that had my interest at the time. I spent untold amounts of money on books with Borders and even today I have no regrets. [sigh...] How I long for those days again... 

For the record, I had three hours to kill while my car was being worked on and decided to revisit my youth by walking over to Barnes and Noble to buy a book and sit down on a sofa to relax and read. That was the recent trip I referenced above and the same visit to their store that they surprised me with their price-match policy.

What puzzles me is why corporate executives at Barnes and Noble will not price match the competition. I agree that Amazon has low overhead and huge purchasing power, while Barnes and Noble has overhead to deal with such as employee labor and lease agreements. True, Barnes and Noble has a website but they are clearly operating a 20th century business model in the 21st century. It remains a mystery why, at this late date, a company dependent on retail sales has yet to even price match Amazon just to retain repeat customers. One of these days an executive at Barnes and Noble will do what those two local shops cried foul on the evening news, and claim Amazon stole their customers, putting them out of business. But shed no tears for the book store that will one day (probably sooner than later) close doors or sell out to another company.

As for today's scenario, I returned the book to its proper place on the shelf and consulted my iPad (which I happened to have at the time) to purchase the Kindle version of that same book from Amazon for $11.

As you can see by the photo below, I am now sitting here in Barnes and Noble (having never stepped out of the physical four walls of their store), relaxing with that cup of hot Earl Grey tea, reading a book I bought from Amazon (their competition), using Amazon's Kindle app. 





Friday, October 25, 2019

Scripts from the Crypt

Those of you familiar with the old Magic Image script reprints, which oftentimes reprinted early drafts of film scripts for Universal Studios horror movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man, which included lengthy production history of the movies, you will be pleased to know that while the publishing company ceased over a decade ago, similar efforts have been in production courtesy of Tom Weaver and Bear Manor Media. Now known under the byline "Scripts from the Crypt," a series of books have been published (and continue to be published) to provide a similar service. Avoiding repetition of the prior Universal Studios offerings, Tom has been devoting his time preserving the more obscure and lesser known gems of vintage horror/science fiction.

"The series was born after the number of times I stood in front of my file cabinets of monster stuff -- clippings, photos, scripts, arranged alphabetically by title -- and I kinda idly wondered what will happen to it all after I am gone. Not that I am overly concerned, my files do not contain a lot of one-of-a-kind stuff. But then I realized, 'Oh yes they do. I've got a bunch of scripts of indie movies that might be the only copy in the world.' So I thought I could give them to a New York library or a university, they they would probably end up in the basement for fifty years and then get thrown away. Maybe a California library or university? Nah, the Big One would hit and the collection would all be at the bottom of the ocean. The only things in my collection that I figured would die with me were those scripts."

With understanding that when someone passes away, a library burns, Tom Weaver began pulling out the film scripts and organizing a project that has grown into a monster (no pun intended). "I thought the series should start with a bang so the first one became Robert Clarke's The Hideous Sun Demon, because I had two scripts for that movie. One was an early draft that was nothing like the eventual movie, and the second script that is like the movie. I thought that those two scripts, with a lot of stills and bonus material, it might be a fun project. So I went the extra mile on that one and filled it with a lot of still nobody had ever seen, and a production history of the movie. I went out and interviewed several behind-the-scenes personnel I otherwise would never have talked to and I got one of the female leads, Nan Peterson, to write something for it. Gary D. Rhodes wrote a piece about the movie's Texas world premiere and even transcribed an interview that Robert Clarke and Nan Peterson did in front of the drive-in audience that evening. The book became a behemoth."

The book sold so well that it became the first in an on-going series of books reprinting film scripts not available anywhere else. Tom Weaver, however, is not the only author who has become victim of the "cleaning the files" syndrome. Many authors who were responsible for dozens of books over the last three or four decades have, over the past few years, found either the well running dry or a necessity to clean out the house. Decades of research will always accumulate in filing cabinets and banker boxes, leading to an excess of material that puts good folks like Tom into a situation: how to get the information out publicly and avoid a trip to the dumpster. Many libraries have established a reputation for burying their donations -- not enough interns and little (if any) budget to accommodate. Collections tend to gather dust for lengthy periods of time until they are finally processed for scholarly access. Thanks to Bear Manor Media, who ensured a reasonable price to cover the cost of printing and production, Tom's project has reached its ninth volume. And there appears to be no signs of stopping.

The second book was one of Tom Weaver's favorites, The Indestructible Man. "The production history was interesting because the movie mysteriously went in and out of production, and the first ending they shot was mostly junked. I was never able to solve the mystery of why so much of it had to be re-shot. The people I'd interviewed over the years only remember that was what happened. I even found out that the movie might have been inspired by a true story." The third book, Bride of the Gorilla, gave Tom an excuse to write about the history of Realart Pictures, and Greg Mank an opportunity to write about Lon Chaney, Jr.'s career.

Gary D. Rhodes jumped back on board with Bride of the Monster, then provide some lost scripts of his own: a pair of scripts that Ed Wood wrote for Bela Lugosi that never went into production. That became Ed Wood and the Lost Lugosi Screenplays, reprinting "The Vampire's Tomb" and "The Ghoul Goes West." Fans of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Bride of the Monster will enjoy that book, which also contains some background material about these films that never existed.

One afternoon Tom Weaver's phone rang and he found himself talking to a woman who explained that her father was the producer of a short-lived TV production known as The Veil, which starred Boris Karloff. Only 12 half-hour episodes were produced but never telecast. She explained that her father had since passed away but she had a bunch of scripts from the series. Naturally, this formed another book of scripts and during an archeological digging Tom found someone who had scripts for The Veil that were never filmed. 

Among the highlights is a book reprinting a script for The Brute Man, the final film starring Rondo Hatton. He made the Universal backlot his personal prey ground and attained B-movie stardom at the very end of his life playing The Creeper, a character that appeared in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death (1944), House of Horrors (1946) and The Brute Man (1946). Physically deformed, he found himself employed at the studios as a hideous-looking murderer and has since gained stardom with an annual award named after him. Besides production and theatrical release information about Hatton's last film, and a wonderful tribute by George Chastain on other "brute men" in the movies, there is an 80-page Rondo Hatton biography that will knock your socks off.

At the last two conventions I attended, I could not help but observe how people passed these volumes by without a second glance. For the very few that paused to smell the roses and looked closely, flipping through the pages and reading the back covers, it was obvious that they were both surprised and pleased. It is my hope that this blog post helps a number of people avoid overlooking these treasures (and if you are reading this, you now know about them). You can find all of the "Scripts from the Crypt" books on Amazon.com and at BearManorMedia.com, but keep an eye out for additional volumes as they get published. These are the type of books that keep fans of classic horror and science-fiction movies looking forward to year after year.