Summer surfing – Forrest J. Ackerman’s Museum of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy CD-ROM – includes information on other electronic information sources on motion pictures – Evaluation
Any sci-fi or horror aficionado worth his salt knows the name of Forrest J. Ackerman. The legend who shook hands with H.G. Wells, published Ray Bradbury’s first story, coined “sci-fi,” received 13-year-old Stephen King’s first fiction, and created Vampirella is now 80 years old and plans to be the George Burns of Science Fiction. At one time or another the buddy of Fritz Lang, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Isaac Asimov, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante, et al., he has enjoyed a fascinating life/career as fan, writer, collector, mentor, much-cameo’d movie extra (from Amazon Women on the Moon to King Kong), and host, since the early Fifties, of nearly weekly open [muses in the 18-room Ackermansion in Los Angeles. Inside that fabulous museum — “the Fort Knox of Science Fiction,” George (War of the Worlds) Pal called it — are something like 300,000 specimens: props and masks from classic sci-fi, fantasy, and horror movies; stills, books, magazines; original artwork by master illustrators of the genres; complete sets of science-fiction periodicals; and a plethora of other memorabilia.
Happily, Forrest J. Ackerman’s Museum of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy has come to CD-ROM — four CDs, in fact. The great man himself welcomes you into his virtual reality, looking like an elderly, plumper John Waters in horn-rimmed glasses, thinning hair combed straight back over his skull. Make no mistake: though the technology is totally up to date, the slightly demented, pack-rat, labor-of-love atmosphere of the Museum is generated by its lovably idiosyncratic curator. Ackerman as a nutty old Luke Skywalker provides the prologue to entering the Museum proper. And it’s a pleasure to listen to his memories of attending lectures by H.G. Wells, “first of civilized men”; lacking technical means to retain the writer’s remarks, Forry memorized them word for word, noting how strange it was that the brilliant thinker should speak in such small, high-pitched tones. And there’s a lovely shrine to Forry’s beloved wife, now deceased, where he unabashedly shares his affection for the woman who was also a fellow fan.
Enter the museum lobby and choose your poison: horror, sci-fi, fantasy. Wander halls lined with original paintings of Christopher Lee, Peter Lorre, and Bela Lugosi; horrific movie posters; and stunningly imaginative cover pages from sci-fi magazines dating from the Thirties. Click into “Heroes of Horror,” where film clips and beautiful stills feature the likes of Lon Chaney and Karloff. Trust me, the Museum displays a full complement of “Masks of Monsters” and “Monster Makeup,” from bug-eyed mutants to zombie aviators to a Forrenstein (!) monster to golems and lizard men. Elsewhere, you can view clips from the first Dr. Jekyll arid Mr. Hyde, Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or read the full text of Wells’s The Invisible Marl or Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” If your taste runs to vampires, the Museum provides an informative piece on Vampires in Literature arid Film, including IDS of seminal books and historical figures, and a very long list of silent and sound vampire movies, with credits.
In the Theater, run a birthday tribute to Forry that features Ray Bradbury and John Landis. Bradbury describes his poverty-stricken youth when Ackerman essentially acted as his patron by buying his stories, as well as books he didn’t want, and financing his forays into sci-fi fandom. Then Landis affectionately recalls Ackerman’s magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, describing it as “unique, powerful, life-changing.” By holding up to serious consideration filmmakers such as James Whale, technicians like Ray Harryhausen, and great writers Wells and Jules Verne, the magazine helped to bring sci-fi and horror movies into the mainstream. Landis says that Rick Baker had always planned to grow up to be a second Dr. Frankenstein, but after reading about the makeup genius in Famous Monsters, he chose to follow in Jack Pierce’s footsteps.
The Theater also offers clips from the hilariously tacky Republic serial Commando Cody, The Genie, a shameless shaggy-dog vanity short that stars a middle-aged Ackerman and Fritz Leiber; clips from Lugosi and Chaney vehicles, and more.
If you treasure sci-fi and horror artifcats, lore and trivia, you’ll have a real good time getting lost in this Museum. What’s so wonderful about Forry Ackerman is his enduring delight in the stuff that he loves, and his willingness to share that stuff with his friends and fellow fans. And dinosaur that he is, the Ackermonster deserves this kind of tribute: there are few of his unapologetically, joyously obsessive breed left. ($39.95, for PC, Macintosh, and Internet, from Marlin Software Development, 1-800-921-9581)
Boot magazine reports that an interactive adventure game tentatively titled Into the Fire is promised by Cortina Entertainment (www.cortina.com) around this time next year. Why should cinemaphiles be interested? Because this game-world promises to transport us on to the noirish turf of the hardboiled private eye as conceived by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett — here digitally rendered in gorgeous black and white and 3D. And guess who’s our hawkshaw avatar in a mystery that begins with murder in San Francisco and spreads across the Pacific to Shanghai? None other than Bogart himself, way-cool resplendent in trenchcoat, fedora, and drooping cigarette, his movie self and still images to be wrapped around a 3D wireframe. (Bogart’s son and daughter are supervising the game development.) Something called the Digital Backlot process is used to authentically actualize Alcatraz and entire city blocks of San Francisco and Shanghai, through which the gamester may roam at his or her own risk. Gaming action will include the use of brain and brawn, solving mysteries and defending against the usual suspects who prowl these mean streets. Cortina will open a special website– featuring an episodic prequel — around February 1998, four months before into the Fire is released.
If one of your guiltiest pleasures is a soft spot for B (or C, D, and F) horror and/or sci-fi movies, then drift discreetly over to the weird website at www.bmonster.com. Here you will be invited to indulge your basest passions in the celebration of some of the cheesiest of Saturday matinee and drive-in flicks. But the bonus at this predictably obsessive-compulsive site is that the text is both fun and literate, whether in analyses of the comparative merits of “Beach Creature” movies and their typecast stars (Stunning Starlet, Lead Lothario, Athletic Support, Fitted with Fins) or Jean-Luc Godard’s “sci-fi noir” Alphaville or Val Lewton’s Seventh Victim or the no-budget Flesh Eaters (1964), “the only horror film … shot entirely on Long Island.” The takes on monster-movie stars — from perennial chunk John Agar (Tarantula, Mole People, etc.) to fine character actor Whit Bissell (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) — are useful and amusing, rather than just stupid and snarky, and filmographies abound. There’s also a hilarious sidebar of blurbs — “Hyperbolic Gems from the Brazen B Movie Posters of the Past” — that includes paradigms of the crassly corny come-on: “Filmed in fleshtone color and skinamascope!” “The only people who will not be sterilized with fear are those among you who are already dead!” “Touch the scream that crawls up the wall!” “See teenage girls thrust into the weird, pulsating cage of horror!” “Chained to the devil’s love lab!” — and many, many more.
A dauntingly all-encompassing e-zine for film and video professionals at home and on the go, CYphon’s the kind of lifestyle resource that can be relied upon for constantly up-dated information presented in a spare yet attractive, easy-to-travel format. Supplemental technical material, forums, and a section full of pertinent anecdotes and articles fill out this ambitious menu. You don’t have to be in the industry to enjoy and make good use of this site; anyone alive as well as those interested in film and video should be encouraged to bookmark CYphon: www.cyphon.com
A sample of CYphon’s riches: Under “Work” you can tap into data ranging from film festivals and awards to delivery/freight services, industry technology to trade associations, encyclopedias and dictionaries to film schools. Take a look at the interesting goodies that turn up under Encyclopedias and Dictionaries: Blender Web / Popspeak, an A-to-Z primer defining pop-culture references; BritSpeak; Ethnologue, a catalogue of all the spoken languages for 228 countries; Familiar Quotations; a French-English dictionary; Roget’s Thesaurus, etc. “What Life?” covers every category from animals to women’s interests, stopping for gay & lesbian interests and religion/spirituality along the way. Dial up your metropolis of choice under “City Life” to check what’s cookie’ in museums, movies, clubs, and restaurants, as well as how to get there and where to stay.
For most of us lay folk, one of CYphon’s best places is “What’s Current.” Here, one can cruise through books and reviews, movies and reviews, magazines, consumer info, stock exchange reports, newspapers, international news, weather, and the worlds of radio and TV. On the magazine stand, one finds Amp magazine, an off-beat e-zine with critical reviews of atypical music and film; an alphabetical list of e-zines; entertainment news network weeklies and zines on the net; Film Threat Online; Premiere; and Salon, an interactive magazine of books, art, and ideas marrying written communication with webpower — and plenty more.
Click on what’s current in movies and reviews, and some of what you’ll access is Cinemachine, the movie review search engine favorably reviewed here several issues ago; entertainment data, providing definitive box-office information and analysis; the Hong Kong Movies Homepage; the Independent Feature Project Homepage; the Virtual FilmFestival, an interactive cyberfest for independent film with reviews, chat, webcasts, marketplace, downloadable film clips, etc.; and most of the usual suspects — Mr. Showbiz, Cinemania, Film.com, Film Scouts, and the Internet Movie Database.
Don’t shy away from the Anecdotes and Articles section for fear of industry arcana or dry-as-dust essays. When last I visited, Lisa Reardon’s Bat Women showcased the female production professionals who crewed on Batman and Robin, and Tom Kenny’s Cruising with David Lynch down The Lost Highway analyzed the way Lynch integrates sound with his images.
Unless this guide falls off in keeping its information cutting-edge, CYphon should continue to be an excellent resource for hunters and gatherers in the fields of film and video.
Should you ever need to make–God forbid! — contact with a Star, there’s an interesting list at hollywoodu.com/star.htm: ranging from Cher to Bruce Willis, the compiler provides addresses, phone and fax numbers for agents, managers or production companies representing the movie aristocracy. Can’t vouch for the currency or even accuracy of this data, but might it not come in handy the next time you want to invite Madonna to speak at your PTA?
At www.film100.com, see how your rankings match up with an unsigned list of the 100 most influential people in the history of the movies, with descriptions of each person’s accomplishments and timelines available for the clicking. Hint: Roger Corman makes it. Michael Eisner doesn’t. Ted Turner is there, but then so is Yakima Canutt. Go figure.
Who knew that Absolut Vodka was running an online experimental animation festival called Absolut Panushka? Sip it at www.absolutvodka.com.
Drop into www.afionline.org/cinema where the American Film Institute is showing silent movies, accompanied by music. Previous attractions have included Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink, Buster Keaton’s s The Boat, and a 1927 Walt Disney live-action/cartoon called Alice the Whaler. It’s primitive, but fun.
It’s been widely reported that no less a personage than Roger Ebert enjoys Girls on Film, a zine devoted to Chicks, Flicks and Politicks (www.girlsonfilm.com): “I’m not sure who they are or why they are, but they are good writers and funny.” And it’s true — this irreverent, yet smart quartet of New York women (Clare, Dre, Lise, and Sibyl) are like a draught of aquavit when You’re just about done in by online hot air. The girls just want to have fun, but they understand that being entertained doesn’t have to require a lobotomy — even though they do tout that tiresome mantra about “everyone’s a critic, and everyone’s opinion is equally as important.” (Drop that “as” for starters.)
The site provides folksily incisive movie reviews. On The Designated Mourner, Clare writes “this movie is scan because, although timeless and placeless, it describes today’s society in frightening terms. it has a self-proclaimed `low-brow’ as its narrator, and even though I saw that this man was a monster in so many ways, I still identified with him….” It’s also Clare who breezily suggests that one should “Catch this flick [Breaking the Waves] if you can … no matter what your ideas are about the tradition of foreign films, Bergman, religion, or sex. it’s the best psycho-sexual metaphysical love story fairy tale I’ve seen this year.” You’ve got to love the author of a line like that.
“Kitty’s Litter” piles up nuggets of movie gossip, and unless I’m hopelessly out of the loop, what I read last time I visited seemed delightfully fresh. It’s just kind of scary to anticipate Abel Ferrara making a movie of a William Gibson story, but what should I make of the deep-dish revelation-rumor that Michael Cimino is now introducing himself as a woman, and comes to Directors’ Guild meetings in full drag, calling himself Michelle? Surely it cannot be!
When last at Girls on Film, I printed out Clare’s highly idiosyncratic list of 144 Damn Good Movies (some better than others). Her categories included HEAVY, HEAVY (barely anything good happens to anyone): La Haine, Once Were Warriors, VIETNAM: Dogfight, The Deer Hunter; SEMI-HEAVY (pretty serious drama): Chinatown, The Color Purple, Miller’s Crossing, To Kill a Mockingbird; DRAMACOMEDY: Stranger Than Paradise, Crimes and Misdemeanors; INSPIRATIONAL: Wings of Desire; COMEDY/ROMANCE: The Graduate True Romance; ACTION/SCI-FI/SUSPENSE: Hitchcock movies, especially Marnie and Vertigo, plus The Eye of the Needle, Klute, Seconds; DOCUMENTARY: Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, When We Were Kings; VINTAGE: The Philadelphia Story, Casablanca. This last category featured some of the weakest choices in the whole list, but never mind — most of the recommendations in 144 Damn Good Movies did my classic-loving heart good.
Guest writer Aimee served up her “spooky” take on the “mommy-centered” realm of Lifetime, Television for Women. Unhappy with brain-dead gameshows, too many newspaper-headline movies (Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story), Martha Stewart’s handmade horror shows, and how-to-chain-yourself-to-the food-processor programs, Aimee lauds Lifetime’s support of women’s athletics but sneers at its unrisky support of breast cancer research. “I feel like Lifetime is without a voice, a soul, any kind of driving passion,” she concludes. Those are, of course, precisely the elements that make Girls on Film the place to go.
Frames nominee for Beavis and Butthead Award: Online drivel from largely self-styled film “reviewers” is fast reaching the point of deluge — giving the lie to the old saw that “anyone can do it.” Anyone does do it in the ultra-democratic webworld, where slums of self-congratulatory dumbness and smartass “wit” far outnumber oases of intelligence. To, er, wit:
“Breaking the Waves (firstname.lastname@example.org) Lars Von Trier makes another Lars Von Trier movie. Except this one’s a little different. The technical side of the film is still overbearing (whereas before it was part of the style); here it is distracting and even a little revolting (NYPD Blue, Homicide, or The Kingdom style, known very technically as `The Camera Shakes’). A lot of critics like the movie and make references to `miracles’ and `God,’ etc. I simply don’t agree. I just like the porno-cheese.
“Recommendation: Don’t see it, unless you love film for film’s sake.”
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