Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Original Doctor Who: Who is Dr. Who?

The following biography of our favorite Doctor was originally published in the 1966 Doctor Who Annual, which can itself be found as a bonus on The Web Planet DVD. It's an interesting glimpse into how little was known of the Last of the Time Lords back in the beginning... even that he was a Time Lord hailing from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation Kasterborous.

Reading this, it is astonishing to consider still how little we know about the early years of the Doctor, verging on 50 years since. Some apocryphal sources tell of genetic looms and Gallifrey's ancestral houses, but otherwise we have caught only glimpses. We know that the Doctor, whose college nickname was Theta Sigma, fled his planet with a Type-40 TARDIS he barely knew how to operate, though he did so to mask his mission to hide the mysterious Hand of Omega. The Eighth Doctor was somehow under the false impression that he was half-human. The Tenth Doctor recalls how he was always trying to be old, grumpy and important like the young always do, and that when he peered into the temporal Vortex as a child, he fled in terror.

We still know so little about him, about Susan, about why they fled, about how long he lived on Gallifrey, about anything really. In a way, it's almost for the best. We're always left craving adventures of the First Doctor, but it's nice to simply imagine what his very first adventures must have been, what were behind those tantalizing pictures on the viewscreen or snippets of dialogue that suggested at alien worlds and World War I Zeppelins. It's also nice to think that he isn't really all that special, no reincarnation of Gallifrey's greatest reformers or anything like that. Rather, just that he's a genius underachiever, a rogue and a renegade only so far removed from the likes of the Master, the Rani and the Monk, who made off and made good, rising to greatness through guile, wit and being just clever enough.

Who is Dr. Who?

After Sir Isaac Newton came Dr. Albert Einstein. After Einstein came Dr. Who. His is the master-mind that spans all spatial infinity and all temporal eternity in his strange small ship, the Tardis.

No one knows where he came from. He is human in shape and speech and manner. He appears to be old and feeble and at the same time young and strong and active, as though the normal processes of ageing had passed him by.

Inclined to be absent-minded and forgetful, he is also very subject to fits of impatience whenever his will is thwarted and whenever his ideas are doubted, He likes his own way all the time and can sulk like any baby when he doesn't get it. He is, after all, a citizen of all Space and all Time and that must make a man feel there's nothing much he doesn't know.

He is mostly very gentle and kind-hearted and he has the utmost respect for life of any kind, small and feeble or monstrous and mighty. He has seen more specimens of living creatures than any other person in the history of all the worlds and his heart is big enough to respect every one of the countless forms life has taken in all the ages and all the worlds.

A planet in our galaxy would seem to have been his original home, but he has journeyed so many millions of miles and covered so many millions of years back into the Past and forward into the Future, that perhaps even the good doctor himself does not much remember his origins.

To us on Earth, the good ship Tardis appears to be an ordinary, homely blue police telephone-box with its familiar flashing top light. But when the great door is opened, it is seen that in the Tardis our ideas of dimensions of length, breadth and thickness, of inches, and feet and yards, must be forgotten. The interior of the Tardis does not exist in our normal world of size. The small square box contains a great space-ship-laboratory, equipped with all the marvellous electronic instruments and engines with which it materialises itself wherever its pilot commands, passing, like a ghost, through all material objects which happen to be in actual existence at any spot in space or moment in time, through which its strange 'voyages' take it. It can travel to any corner of the Universe, no matter how unthinkably remote, to any time-sphere in the remotest Past or the unimaginably distant Future. It travels instantaneously and a journey of a million miles or a million years is accomplished in a micro-second.

The Tardis holds within itself many marvellous inventions which would be scientific miracles in many of the spheres Dr. Who has visited. To him, they are commonplace tools and instruments, methods of doing what he wants to do.

Headlong he passes, in his Tardis, through all of Space and all of Time. Where is he going? What is his objective? What goal draws him on through the endless spheres, the millions of ages? No one knows. Perhaps he himself has long forgotten, so distant, in our years, is the time when he first set out on his odyssey. Are his voyages haphazard and merely satisfying the urge to travel everywhere and see everything, or is he seeking something definite? Again, no one knows.

Ceaselessly and restlessly he moves on, along the infinite strands of Energy that criss-cross all Space-Time. There is the deep and always unsatisfied curiosity of the scientist in him. There is the love of all life which fights against its surroundings.

Strange as his many adventures and experiences have been, how strange will be that time and place, no matter how far away or how distant in time, that point, in Infinity-Eternity when, at long last, Dr. Who will reach his final goal and find that for which he has been searching.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Year in Review 2008

Another year has gone by... Our first full year as a blog, including our first year anniversary in November. We've covered a lot of ground, and hopefully we'll still have enough material to keep going for a while yet! Before we move forward, however, here's a look back at some of our favorite posts from this past year.

We were absentee authors in January on account of our very own globetrotting extraordinary voyage to Madagascar via Paris. We recounted more of this once-in-a-lifetime trip here as well. Whilst in Paris and enjoying the sights, we picked up La Mécanique du Coeur by French rock group Dionysos.

We enjoyed our first "Scientific Romances in the Magic Kingdom" theme month, with more to come. Here at VEx, we're admitted and unabashed Disney fans... At least when it comes to Scientific Romances, theme parks, pirates and ghost stories! A lengthy exegesis on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was mandatory, but our "sleeper hit" was on The Disneyland Railroad. It was also time to launch our defense of Treasure Planet, which we think is vastly underrated.

Space pirates are a relatively new thing, however. We visited the pirates of the ocean waves, including concept art for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction's living and dead occupants. We also took a good long look at the source of the Davy Jones legend, and waxed philosophical over Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (with illustrations by Gustave Doré).

Our time-tripping adventures with the First Doctor Who continued with stories 2 and 3: The Daleks and Edge of Destruction. We also paid a visit aboard the TARDIS. More is right around the corner!

We went to the Land of the Rising Sun in May, where we reviewed a trio of Hayao Miyazaki's works: Howl's Moving Castle, Imaginary Flying Machines and Castle in the Sky. We also examined at the series Vision of Escaflowne, which proves that anything (in this case Fantasy) is made better by giant, steam-powered robots.

June was our celebration of paper moons and celestial spheres. We published three galleries of those fanciful paper moon fantasy photographs of the turn of the century (one, two, and three). We reviewed one of our favorite albums, Sara Brightman's La Luna, and one of our favorite movies, The Adventures of Mark Twain. Later in the year we were also privileged in seeing Sarah Brightman's Symphony Tour. We also introduced you to Charles Golightly and his amazing Steam Rocket.

The sunshine and good weather of July brought us out to the rodeo and Wild West Month. We looked at some of the earliest Westerns, like The Great Train Robbery, and some of the most recent, like Wild Wild West. Riding off with The Lone Ranger, we watched some of his 1960's cartoon, before heading off to the lost Valley of Gwangi where cowboys and Native Americans fought dinosaurs.

We gave in to populism by journalling the history of Steampunk through August, and revisited it briefly in October when Steampunk got all over MTV. Some of those sentiments necessitated a commentary by G.K. Chesterton on so-called ordinary people. However, if the paucity of activity on the main message boards, blogsearch and Google Trends is any indication, this "history" was only a few months shy of being a "retrospective". Somewhat related, we received a review copy of Ekaterina Sedia's Alchemy of Stone novel and published an exclusive story by her.

During that time we went off on vacation, travelling around North America to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the Grand Canyon and the Columbia Icefields. We recounted a bit more of that vacation in a guest post on Viewliner Ltd., and included video.

Pith helmets were donned in September for a trip into the deepest, darkest jungle. Mainly it was an orgy of 1930's and 40's adventure films, including Tarzan and his Mate (both of whom escaped), King Kong and his Son, King Solomon's Mines, and the Swiss Family Robinson. That then led us into a month long celebration of classic Universal Monsters horror through October. We ran afoul of Dracula, the Bride of Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, as well as the original Frankenstein and Mickey Mouse.

We celebrated our first anniversary in November with a celebrated essay on Scientific Romances. We also took a deep look into Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The French spirit carried over into our first Fairy Tale Month, which was devoted almost entirely to Sleeping Beauty.

Thank you once again for patronising our weblog. We hope you've enjoyed the past year and will continue on with us into the coming one!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

International Year of Astronomy 2009

"The International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) will be a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture, highlighted by the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The aim of the Year is to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme 'The Universe, Yours to Discover'. IYA2009 events and activities will promote a greater appreciation of the inspirational aspects of astronomy that embody an invaluable shared resource for all nations."

Click on the IYA2009 logo to visit the central site, and from there your national node and a listing of the activities going on in your area!

Friday, 26 December 2008

National Geographic's Top Ten Stories of 2008

The National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to "increase and diffuse geographic knowledge," the Society's mission is to inspire people to care about the planet.

Throughout its 120-year history, the Society has encouraged conservation of natural resources and raised public awareness of the importance of natural places, the plants and wildlife that inhabit them, and the environmental problems that threaten them. National Geographic's explorers, writers and photographers have traveled the Earth, sharing its amazing stories with each new generation. The Society has funded more than 9,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects around the globe, and grantees make exciting new discoveries every day in both traditional and emerging fields.

The globally renowned National Geographic Society has tabulated the top science and nature stories from 2008 based on those articles most viewed by readers. Click on the links below to catch up on what's new in the world!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Story of Christmas (1963)

Considering our previous coverage of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty, it seemed fitting for Christmas to feature this excerpt from the 1963 NBC special The Story of Christmas. In this sequence, Tenessee Ernie Ford introduces the hymn What Child is This? as animated by Sleeping Beauty designer Eyvind Earle.

Merry Christmas one and all!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Eyvind Earle's Sleeping Beauty

Besides the character designers like Marc Davis, the triumphant illustrator of Maleficent, probably no one did more to set the style of Disney's Sleeping Beauty than Eyvind Earle. Drawing from his fascination with the Middle Ages, he crafted a look for the film that beautifully combined the angularity of 1950's pop-art with the motifs of Mediaeval tapestry to create a visual background that is unique in the whole Disney canon.

To better appreciate this work, Michael Sporn has collected a series of captures from the bonus features of the Special Edition DVD release of the film. Below are a few favorite selections, many by Earle and some not, and the remainder can be seen here and here. He also goes into some of the history and controversy behind Earle's leadership on the project here.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty

Though not the first ballet version of La Belle au Bois Dormant, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's version is the most reknowned. Still smarting from the poor reception of Swan Lake, the young Russian composer was coerced into writing his Opus 66 for debut in St. Petersburg in 1890. He never lived to see it become the success that it did. Tchaikovsky passed away in 1893, but by the end of the next decade, Sleeping Beauty was already on its way to becoming one of the most influential ballets in history.

In the following vintage clip, a youthful Margot Fonteyn performs the "Grand adage à la rose". Like the Royal Ballet of which she was part, Sleeping Beauty would be one of Fonteyn's breakthrough performances. Over the course of her life, she laced her toe shoes as Aurora over 200 times. She would go on to retire in 1979 at the age of 60 as the prima ballerina assoluta of the Royal Ballet, an extremely, extremely rare distinction.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

The castle has always been the fixture at the heart of every one of Disney's "Magic Kingdom" parks around the world. It stood at the centre of the original Disneyland U.S.A., where it was dubbed the Sleeping Beauty Castle in honor of the feature film to be released four years later. The quaint scale of this castle has only ever been replicated at the more recent Hong Kong Disneyland... When Imagineers looked at their next feat in Walt Disney World, they opted for a far grander edifice based on the far more popular film Cinderella. This larger castle could go beyond the walk-through attraction of Anaheim's Sleeping Beauty Castle to incorporate a full service restaurant on the second floor and, now, a majestic Year of a Million Dreams suite for a lucky family to spend the night. The Cinderella Castle was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland, but with a now-defunct, effects-laden Mystery Tour attraction that pit guests against the dark forces of the Horned King and his Black Cauldron.

For Disneyland Paris, Imagineers opted to return to the theme of Sleeping Beauty: one of French fairy tale pioneer Charles Perrault's most beloved tales. This posed a unique challenge for the park's designers, however, as real castles dating from the Middle Ages to the Victorian Era are literally a short train ride away from Disneyland. Rather than try to imitate the castles that were themselves imitations of Europe's picturesque fortresses, they let their imaginations run wild in a true and surreal castle straight from fairyland.

The warped and flowing exterior may impress itself on guests as a work of art or an unsettling fever dream, but these soaring arches and dizzying spiral towers hide in their depths a wonderful array of attractions. There are the requisite shoppes - la Boutique du Château specializing in Christmas decor and Merlin l'Enchanteur featuring glasswares - but the second floor features a stunning improvement on the original walk-through. La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant retells the story of Sleeping Beauty in stained glass, tapestry, props and effects, all to the glorious melodies of Tchaikovsky's ballet. Meanwhile, a cave beneath the drawbridge or at the darkened recesses of Merlin l'Enchanteur is the bleak and dimly-lit home of the animatronic Maleficent the dragon, La Tanière du Dragon.

To fully appreciate this modern work of art in its full audio-visual-tactile scope, one of course must go to Disneyland Paris, where they can be fully embraced by this immersive fiction-made-real. However, in lieu of that, please enjoy this photographic tour.

The castle front, welcoming you in.

The grand foyer.

The gilt and bejeweled book introduces
you to the upstairs gallery.

The king and queen look on as Flora, Fauna
and Merryweather gift the infant princess...
Until a slighted Maleficent arrives with
her gift of a curse, prompting the firey
destruction of all spinning wheels in the realm.

Spinning wheels being incinerated in the fireplace.

A rampaging Maleficent is distraught over
Princess Aurora escaping her evil grasp...

But not for long... Tapestries show
Aurora with her forest friends and
under Maleficent's thrall.

Having pricked her finger on the spinning
wheel to the right, luminescent fairy dust
descends on her, sending her into deathlike sleep.

The royal guards, and all in
the castle join her.

But equipped with the Sword of Truth and
Shield of Virtue on the wall (and with
Maleficent's familiar Diablo petrified),
Prince Philip charges through ominous and
darkened corridors to destroy the wicked
Mistress of All Evil in dragon form.

Victorious, the prince awakens the
princess with true love's first kiss.

But what is this that still
lurks beneath the castle?

Leaving the castle...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

On the Queen's Service

No doubt many of you are familiar with Jess Nevins, the encyclopedicaly-endowed gentleman who brought us annotations for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic, The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, and the introduction to Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's Steampunk anthology. As a maven of Penny Dreadfuls and Pulp Fiction, he has taken it upon himself to publish lesser-known stories online. The current number is an eccentric English spy story involving swordplay, cannibals, Noah's Ark and all sorts of strange scenarios that should appeal to fans of Victorian adventure and Scientific Romance. It's just starting now, so it's a good time to get in on it.

Please visit On the Queen's Service!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Sarah Brightman: Symphony Tour (2008)

In conjunction with her latest album, Symphony, Sarah Brightman has been touring the world, including, thankfully, our neck of the woods. Unfortunately we missed out the last time she visited, during the Harem tour, and the mistake would not be repeated. Nor would we allow it to pass by without our best efforts at getting the best seats, landing us right beside the runway and able to take the kind of pictures you see through this review. As a fan of "The Angel of Music" it was quite thrilling.

To be sure, she sang the songs she was supposed to. Her backup band seemed to be enjoying themselves a great deal during the required selection from Phantom of the Opera, rocking out behind the mirrored filament onto which was projected a backdrop of organ pipes and flying, computer-generated gargoyles. The final set was introduced with Time to Say Goodbye, which has a wonderful habit of implanting in your mind for hours thereafter.

The standout performance, however, came from an unreleased song. Following the intermission, one of the dancers ran on stage in the unmistakable garb of Alice in Wonderland. As a creeping, tinkling music played, the White Rabbit - dressed in the Mall-Goth fashion of plaid bondage trousers and a black hoodie - emerged from a trapdoor in the stage, followed by the Mad Hatter. Together they played flamingo croquet with the White Rabbit's head while Red Riding Hood and the army of playing cards came out. As the music became more elaborate, the dancers descended to clear the way for Brightman, peddling a bicycle through a moving forest projected onto the filament. She was herself fitted out in a red vinyl hood and her bike sported a basket with a red and white kerchief, out of which one expected Toto to peek any minute.

The accompanying song is difficult to describe except to say that it falls well within the tropes of fairy tale Gothic music. Sinister melodies played out against the chime of Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, to which Brightman added an ominously innocent "la la la LA lalaLA lalaLA lalalalala." Betwixt the most chilling rendition of the Russian's refrain since Swan Lake introduced Bela Lugosi to the world, Brightman delivered lyrics in the fashion one would only expect from a Cleopatra Records album of the 1990's.

Some interviews and reviews have cited Symphony as Brightman's "Gothic" theme album. Personally this would seem to stretch the boundaries of her theme albums, as Symphony far more closely resembles the operatic ensembles of something like Eden. Her "Red Riding Hood" song, however, fits the bill perfectly and was one of several fairy tale references in the course of the concert. Earlier on, several songs of her more regular repertoire were performed atop a set recalling the Princess and the Pea.

If it may be said, Brightman appears to be entering a somewhat "darker" phase of her career. Of course, it may be difficult to gauge that considering how The Phantom of the Opera was her breakthrough. Nevertheless, one can see it emerge with her "Gothic" album and her appearance in the film Repo! The Genetic Opera (which is, for all intents and purposes, the Rocky Horror Picture Show for the modern age, trading out Disco Era sexual decadence and showtunes for Biopunk apocalypticism and Industrial music). The motifs of the Symphony tour certainly fit well with the kind of stylish fairy tales that Tim Burton is given to making lately, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the upcoming Alice in Wonderland.

Only two songs from La Luna were performed, much to our chagrin. Admittedly, if we had our choice of concerts, it would have been the one for our favorite album of hers'. To her benefit, she has since overcome the distractingly awkward dancing she exhibited during that tour. A few songs from Harem slipped in as well, in addition to a Christmas set from her Winter Symphony EP. The oft-mentioned mirrored filament allowed for a few occasions of interesting, three-dimensional computer-generated environments, such as the "Red Riding Hood" sequence and a medley of a forest growing around Brightman while she sang What a Wonderful World. All-in-all, it was well worth seeing, especially from our vantage point.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle

Since the very first images of Walt Disney's Disneyland television series flickered across monochrome screens in 1954, the Sleeping Beauty Castle has stood as the icon not only of the series and the park for which it was named, but of all things Disney. In the process, it has likely become one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

Standing overtop the original geographic centre of the park (notable by a gold surveyor's spike driven into the floor of its archway), Sleeping Beauty Castle's gates mark the entrance to Fantasyland. The working drawbridge has only been raised twice: once at Disneyland's opening ceremonies and again at the opening of the rennovated Fantasyland in 1983. Both times it was lowered to the excitement of children who rushed into the mediaeval courtyard where the adventures of Peter Pan above Neverland and Snow White in the dwarves' mine unfolded before them.

The diminutive castle, standing only 77' high, was based primarily on King Ludwig II's Bavarian dream castles. The echoes of Schloss Neuschwanstein can be seen in its spires, though moreso in her descendants, the Cinderella Castles of Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. It is fitting in its own way, as Neuschwanstein was itself a romantic recollection of fairy tales, a theme park of its own built as a crown jewel of the late 19th century Gothic Revival. Walt Disney brought it into the 20th century in his own theme park.

The following guidebook was made available to patrons of Disneyland in 1957, prefiguring the premiere of the film Sleeping Beauty and contemporaneous with the debut of the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through exhibit that occupied the central icon of the Magic Kingdom. The cover, Walt Disney's own introduction and a page-long promotion for the film are presented here, as well as thumbnails linking to the centre fold-out, which featured a poster of the film's "Once Upon a Dream" sequence on one side and concept art from the walk-through exhibit on the other.

The original exhibit based on this concept art was lowly regarded as too abstract at the time and was eventually changed for a series of dioramas using small maquettes. The walk-through was closed in 2001, but thanks to the successful remodelling of Injun Joe's Cave on Tom Sawyer Island as the piratical "Dead Man's Grotto" the walk-through was restored with a suite of new effects. A virtual version of the original attraction can be found on the Platinum Edition home video release of Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

But I deal here with what ethic and philosophy come from being fed on fairy tales. If I were describing them in detail I could note many noble and healthy principles that arise from them. There is the chivalrous lesson of “Jack the Giant Killer”; that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as such. For the rebel is older than all the kingdoms, and the Jacobin has more tradition than the Jacobite. There is the lesson of “Cinderella,” which is the same as that of the Magnificat—EXALTAVIT HUMILES. There is the great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast”; that a thing must be loved BEFORE it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the “Sleeping Beauty,” which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep. But I am not concerned with any of the separate statutes of elfand, but with the whole spirit of its law, which I learnt before I could speak, and shall retain when I cannot write. I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.

This insight by that great Victorian prophet of wonder and fairyland, G.K. Chesterton, is full of tangents that could easily fill a weblog... and very well might! Those will come one-by-one, however, and we will begin with perhaps our favorite of all fairy tales: Sleeping Beauty.

What Chesterton points to in Sleeping Beauty is a powerful Christian metaphor, an allegory of the human condition and of human salvation buried amidst the dragons and fairies and noble daring. There is much more to recommend Sleeping Beauty as well, from the words of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm to the engravings of Gustave Dore to the music and choreography of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. All of these came together wonderfully in Disney's 16th animated feature, which while not their highest achievement in animation, is certainly notable for the Mediaeval tapestry-inspired design (as well as having perhaps the most excellently conceived and executed villain in the entire canon).

In terms of deeper meanings, what is latent in previous versions comes right to the fore in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Some of the indicators are painfully obvious, such as the Sword of Truth and Shield of Virtue gifted to Prince Philip, which is a muddled reference to Saint Paul's admonition to don the "whole armor of God" in Ephesians 6:13-17. Maleficent graduates from Carbosse's status as simply a vindictive fairy to being the Mistress of All Evil who proudly commands all the powers of Hell.

On the one hand, Aurora can be decried as more of a plot device than an actual character. On the other, she is a poetic metaphor for the whole human race. We are uniquely gifted in all of Creation, and there is no need to apologise for whatever anthropocentrism that exultation may imply. That we are even able to debate whether or not we are like every other lifeform indicates that we are, in fact, not. Aurora is given beauty and song, which we have, and more... We are sentient, aware of self and of God. Unfortunately, we are also aware of our own impending, inexorable descent into death.

That we begin dying the moment we're born is a depressing thought, but nonetheless true. Our period of blissful ignorance of that fact is all-too short, and once aware, we spend a good portion of our time, money and effort trying to hold off the spectre for as long as possible. Our efforts, however, are like so many burning spinning wheels. No matter what we do, our fingers have an inevitable date with a spindle.

But perhaps that is not the end... Perhaps there is hope yet that death can be softened to sleep. The wish of that last fairy was not enough to reverse the suffering and separation of death, but it could transform it into something else. In that something else was the chance of death's reversal.

There is a condition on this hope, though. It would not come of Aurora, since she was asleep and lost to a state of dreaming nothingness. Nor could it come so much from anybody else. In her wake, the whole kingdom and all its people - from kings to serfs - passed away into sleep. There is no power in and of the world that can reverse death's deadly sting. There is, in fact, only one power that can overcome it: Love.

Enter Prince Philip, the Son of the King, to whom is betrothed the Bride who neither recognized him nor knew him. Himself bound under the power of death by Maleficent and her spear-wielding demons, Philip was freed and the tomb... well, the dungeon... was empty. Upon slaying that rebellious Dragon who commands all the powers of Hell, the Son reaches the Bride and awakens her with the kiss of True Love. Are we speaking here of the Brothers Grimm or the Book of Revelation?

The extent to which any of this is intentional is pure speculation. It is known that Walt Disney was a deeply religious man in his own fashion, without adherence to any particular credo. Whether it was slipped in by a gifted scriptwriter or merely concepts floating around in the zeitgeist, Sleeping Beauty is nevertheless a beautifully artistic, melodic parable of humanity's tragedy and God's Love.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Farewell Uncle Forry

It is with some sadness that we send our condolences out to family, friends and admirers of Forrest J Ackerman, who passed away on December 4th at the age of ripe age 92. Uncle Forry - one amongst many alias including 4E, FJA and Dr. Ackula - is perhaps most famous for his stint as editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the iconic magazine that reared at least two generations on the classics of Horror, Fantasy and Sci-Fi film. It should also be noted that he coined the term "Sci-Fi," in addition to being the first person to ever wear a costume to a Sci-Fi convention. Not content to be merely a fan, he was also a literary agent (including Ed Wood amongst his clients), frequent movie guest star, creator of Vampirella and all-round "Poor Man's Vincent Price." Born in 1916, his introduction to the genre came with the 1922 film One Glorious Day and he preserved this lifelong love by accumulating what was once the world's largest collection of genre film paraphernalia. This collection, housed in his "Ackermansion," had to be split up in his latter years as his health began failing. He was preceded by his beloved wife Wendayne and survived by legions of fans, filmmakers, and his closest friends, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.

Myself (far right) and friends
with Uncle Forry, May 2006.

Though I never grew up on Famous Monsters of Filmland, I did come to know FJA when I grew into an appreciation for the Horror and Science Fiction films of the Golden Age. It was hard to get very far into anything from the original era of Universal Studios Monsters to their 1960's hipster revival without learning about, and from, Forrest J Ackerman. Never was there a more vivid storyteller and ambassador for classic genre film. Reading about him in magazines like Wonder and hearing him in documentaries like Don Glut's Dinosaur Movies, Forry became a latter day patron saint. In particular, he had some of incredible stories about seeing the original, 1925 version of The Lost World, my favorite movie.

It was researching that film which brought us to visit 4E in May of 2006 while on vacation in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he sold all of the memorabilia and original stop-motion models related to The Lost World that he once held in the Ackermansion. However, he was still very gracious in showing us around his bungalow-sized Acker Mini-Mansion. Regaling us with stories, we saw such artifacts as Lon Chaney's hat from London After Midnight and his make-up kit, the original masks from the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy, one of Bela Lugosi's Dracula capes, a gift coffin-table from Ogre of Skinny Puppy, and more. We could tell these were stories that he told a hundred times, a thousand times, over, but he told them with as much zeal and affection as if it were the first. Afterwards, we were very pleased to treat him to lunch at his favorite local restaurant where we reenacted scenes from Frankenstein and Dracula over homemade pie.

Though he did not manage to reach his goal of 100 years, being the "George Burns of Science Fiction," he did lead a full and wonderful life. It is sad to know he is gone but good to know that he departed for the great convention in the sky with peace and good humour.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Gustave Doré's La Belle au Bois Dormant

Immediately prior to his groundbreaking, iconic work on the Bible, The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Gustave Doré illustrated the works of his fellow French fairy-teller Charles Perrault. Given that it is our favorite of the fairy tales, here we present Doré's engravings for his La Belle au Bois Dormant, Sleeping Beauty.

The princess pricks her finger on a spindle.

The castle is consumed by the forest.

A century later, a prince finds the castle.

All the knights and retainers have fallen asleep as well.

Cobwebs have taken over the dining hall.

The prince finds the slumbering princess.