Archive for Charles Fort

Pg. 17, #7

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2020 by dcairns


The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.


‘It’s in the cellar under the dining-room,’ he went on, so overcome by his worries now that he forgot to be pompous. ‘It’s mine — mine. I discovered it when I was a child, all by myself. The cellar stairway is so steep that my aunt and uncle forbade my using it, but I’d heard someone say there was a world down there. I found out later they meant an old-fashioned globe of the world, but at the time I thought they were referring to the world itself. One day when no one was there I started down in secret, but I stumbled and fell. When I opened my eyes, I discovered the Aleph.’


We see, from the start, the very strong inclination of science to deny, as much as it can, external relations of this earth.



More and more madly poured the shrieking, moaning night wind into the gulf of the inner earth. I dropped prone again and clutched vainly at the floor for fear of being swept bodily through the open gate into the phosphorescent abyss. Such fury I had not expected, and as I grew aware of an actual slipping of my form toward the abyss I was beset by a thousand new terrors of apprehension and imagination.


“I have seen Niagara thunder over her gorge in the noblest frenzy ever beheld by man,” rhapsodized Frederick Starr in a piece for the Chicago Tribune in 1909, recovered for us now by Stanley Kauffmann and Bruce Henstell in their fine anthology, American Film Criticism: “I have watched an English railroad train draw into a station, take on its passengers, and then chug away with its stubby little engine through the Yorkshire Dells [sic], past old Norman Abbeys [sic] silhouetted against the skyline, while a cluster of century-aged cottages loomed up in the valley below . . . . I have looked upon weird dances and outlandish frolics in every quarter of the globe, and I didn’t have to leave Chicago for a moment.”


Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven different books. I belatedly recalled an entire forgotten bookcase, and rushed to avail myself of it. Of course, apart from stimulating your brains to assemble strange narratives with sparking connections, and get you wondering about what comes next, these offerings can also serve as inspiration for your purchases — if you respond favourably to a prose style, you can seek out the excerpted volume and roll around in it. See below for details.

Flaming Carrot Comics #1, by Bob Burden; The Picture of Dorian Gray, preface, by Oscar Wilde; The Aleph And Other Stories 1933-1969, title story, by Jorge Luis Borges; The Book of the Damned, by Charles Fort; Tales Designed to Thrizzle #3, by Michael Kupperman (looks like a front cover but is a panel from page 17): The Whisperer in Darkness, by HP Lovecraft, from the story Dagon; The Silent Clowns, by Walter Kerr.

Always Reading Books, Sir

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2017 by dcairns

Marvelous Mary alerted us to the Christian Aid book fair and, swallowing my disapproval of anything with the word “Christian” in it, we went along. Last year I got a super-rare book of Gerald Kersh short stories (get into Kersh — a must!) and Ray Milland’s autobiography and a number of other things still lying unread. It was time to enlarge that pile.

(Milland’s book tells us of his screen near-debut in Scotland. He was cast in a small role, shipped north, and spent a week in a hotel looking at the rain hitting the windows. Never made it in front of a camera. Got paid. Went back south. Pretty good training for the movies.)

This time I got no film books (film & TV section was a depressing load of TV spin-offs) but the stuff I came back with has several filmic connections and also would form a pretty good plan of the inside of my head ~

Three Men and a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome

The Complete Books of Charles Fort

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, Len Deighton

Bill the Conqueror, PG Wodehouse

I Chose Caviar, Art Buchwald

The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol.2, Ben Bova, ed.

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, Michael Cox & R.A. Gilbert, eds

Random passages. You’re welcome to try to assign them to their source tomes. I was going to colour-code them so you could at least tell where one ended and the next began, but then it seemed more entertaining not to.

Mr. Mankowitz pulled me to one side. “Do you know why all those fellows are standing around Miss Lollobrigida?”


“Because there is a rumour that if a virgin flea bites Miss Lollobrigida, and then bites another person, that person will inherit the Colosseum in Rome.”

“Is that the truth?”

“Yes, but it has to be a virgin flea. There was one flea that bit Miss Lollobrigida and then went out of his head and started to bite other fleas. We had to kill him.”

The founder and proprietor of the Mammoth Publishing Company, that vast concern which supplies half–the more fat-headed half–of England with its reading matter, hung up the receiver.

I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word-padlocks, once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a certain word, which the dealer confides to you.

Descartes tells us that monkeys could speak if they wished to, but that they prefer to keep silent so that they won’t be made to work.

The desk-telephone emitted a discrete buzzing sound, as if it shrank from raising its voice in the presence of such a man.

“Telephone for Mr. Palmer. Calling Mr. Palmer. Send Mr. Palmer to the telephone.” The operator’s words lacked the usual artificial exactness, and were only a nervous sing-song. It was getting her, and she wasn’t bothered by excess imagination, normally. “Mr. Palmer is wanted on the telephone.”

“Smell that air,” said Major Mann.

I sniffed. “I can’t smell anything,” I said.

“That’s what I mean,” said Mann. He scratched himself and grinned. “Great, isn’t it?”

Early next day he took Mr. Greathead’s body out of the bath, wrapped a thick towel round the head and neck, carried it down to the dairy and laid it out on the slab. And there he cut it up into seventeen pieces.

Rossen was shouting for us to keep quiet. “Have we got enough blood on the set?” he asked the make-up department.

They said there was enough blood.

“Okay, give Alexander a large wound in the leg.”

I lifted my spear to protect him, but somehow the make-up man fought his way through and splashed blood all over Burton’s thigh.

They built forts, or already had forts, on hilltops.

Something poured electricity upon them.

The stones of these forts exist to this day, vitrified, or melted and turned to glass.

The Thing on the floor shrieked, flailed out blindly with tentacles that writhed and withered in the bubbling wrath of the blow-torch.

It was said of demons that they could make large and bulky creatures like the camel, but were incapable of creating anything delicate or frail, and Rabbi Eliezer denied them the ability to produce anything smaller than a barley grain.

A city in the sky of Liverpool. The apparition is said to have been a mirage of the city of Edinburgh. This “identification” seems to have been the product of suggestion: at the time a panorama of Edinburgh was upon exhibition in Liverpool.

I walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.


Undying, my ass

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2008 by dcairns

In answer to the previous post:

“When the stars are bright,

On a frosty night,

Beware the bane,

In the rocky lane.”

Words that are still as true today as they were in 1942. So ~

We watched THE UNDYING MONSTER and (spoiler alert), the monster dies at the end. We felt so cheated.

BUT! This is John Brahm, and therefore of great pith and moment. As I was saying earlier, the visual intelligence of a great filmmaker does not necessarily equate to what regular folks would call intelligence in the handling of abstract ideas, and so we have a film where imagery and music and movement are always interesting –Brahm creates tense shots by cramming people together, shoving them to the extreme edges of the frame, moving the camera like a frightened character, as well as taking full advantage of the spooky lighting of Lucien THE KILLING Ballard and the atmospheric sets — while the story and dialogue are semi-stupid.

I say “semi”, because there’s a pretty good story gimmick at play in THE U.M. To discuss it, I have to get into real spoiler territory, so this is for those who have seen the film already, or for those who never want to see it or don’t care (in which case, why are they reading?). The rest of you, leave the room until I’m done.

Irresistably reminiscent of Scooby Doo, no?

Brahm’s crepuscular creepshow details the curse of the Hammonds, an upper-crust English family whose men, since medieval times, have been plagued by spookiness issues: if they venture out in frosty weather, they are liable to be killed by a savage monster, or else be attacked, go mad, and kill themselves. Clearly a total drag. This monster is said to originate from a secret room within Hammond Hall, and the monster has clearly been around for generations (ergo, “undying”).

What’s ultimately revealed (monster spoiler) is that the latest victim of the curse, Oliver Hammond, is in fact a LYCANTHROPE, suffering from a nervous affliction that makes him believe he turns into a wolf-man (even though he doesn’t KNOW he believes he turns into a wolf-man, not until he actually does it. It’s complicated.) and suffered his injuries after freaking out and killing his nurse and spaniel. There’s no immortal monster, just a series of afflicted individuals, since the condition is inherited by the male offspring.

In a beautifully bizarre moment, the transforming face of the wolfman is SUPERIMPOSED onto the actor’s shoulders, bobbing about as if not quite attached.

That part of it is quite smart, I think. What’s verging on the subnormal is that the guy clearly DOES turn into a werewolf, mit die fur und die fangs, and the forensic team heroes (C.S.I. Edwardian England! 4F American guy and strangely tactless, loud woman) actually gather a sample of fur which dematerialises before their very eyes. And yet still they cling to the hypothesis about it all being in the fellow’s mind. It’s either screwy writing or a clever satire on scientific scepticism and its refusal to accept those awkward facts (like Charles Fort’s “damned data”) not fitting its materialistic world-view. Hard to be sure.

What’s not in doubt is the cunning of Brahm’s storytelling, even if he does commit the cardinal sin of putting the camera in the fireplace at one point (the infamous “Santa Claus shot”).

OK, people who were hiding from spoilers, YOU CAN COME BACK IN NOW!

Amusingly, the film is co-written by Lillie Hayward, who also wrote Disney’s THE SHAGGY DOG, a rather different lycanthropic entertainment.

(The semi-intelligence of the story may be down to two writers adapting one novel, by Jessie Douglas Kerruish. In the book, the C.S.I. assistant actually has a lead role, and she isn’t a scientist, she’s an occult investigator called Miss Luna Bartendale. She sounds SUPER!)

Instead of Luna we get quirky feminine interest via Heather Thatcher as the aforementioned loud forensics assistant Cornelia Christopher. It’s not clear WHY anybody would employ her as a forensics assistant: she’s loudly superstitious, loudly maladroit (preparing toffee in a dish previously used for hydrophobia culture), and loudly tactless, comparing an innocent witness to a hanged murderess, before assuring her that “We will solve the murder.” “But there’s been no murder!” protests the befuddled girl. “No murder?” cries Cornelia, affronted. “Well what am *I* doing here?”

It’s a fair question. I think she’s providing a taste of authentic humanity, in all its strutting foolishness, amid the swathes of genre stereotypes. Clearly Cornelia should star in her own series of paranormal crime films, getting in the way and generally pissing everybody off. CORNY TALES, anyone?