Black and white is better

For some reason, I was thinking about how much better for movies black and white is as a visual medium. Because of this tweet. I can’t believe I remembered:

I had a wonderful high school teacher who showed us THE GRAPES OF WRATH on 16mm. One student complained that it was B&W and he said “You can’t shoot the dust bowl in color.”

Said tweeter is Brian Fulton.

Black and white adds a dedicated layer of artifice to the film. You have to engage with it; you had to engage with it back in the twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and early sixties as well. The world is not monochrome. The brain has to fill things in.

I’ve been primed to thinking about how people watch film after overhearing some people at movie night talking about how Titanic is pre-CGI because CGI wasn’t good enough yet. Or thinking about how they’re building Millennium Falcon sets again instead of just shooting on green screen. The great CGI revolution of the nineties and aughts has developed into something else. It’s a tool and one entirely concerned with creating any artifice. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

Artifice is still there, of course; it should be embraced not avoided.

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A 23rd Century Odyssey Today!

Last fall, I started watching movie serials and writing about them for The Stop Button. Each chapter, then a post about the serial as a whole. There are a dozen movie serials I’ve always wanted to see–Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel–not to mention stuff like Judex and The Vampires. I tried doing posts about The Vampires a few years ago and it didn’t work out (meaning I didn’t stay with it). Because it’s hard to make a determination based on a single serial chapter, even with my short subject rating system of "Not" through "Highly" recommended.

Plus I’d since gone back and rewritten my Superman Sum Up post, based on all the constraints and outlining systems I developed for the John Carpenter Sum Up posts. I expanded the Superman post to include Mole-Men, Man of Steel, and Dawn of Justice. Really neat thing about the Sum Up system? Very easy to make additions. Thank goodness for generalized conclusion paragraphs.

So I figured I’d eventually add the two Superman serials to the Sum Up post, but wanted to actually be familiar with movie serials before getting to them.

I also sort of decided, as I got to my penultimate pre-fortieth birthday, I needed to stop putting off things I wanted to watch. I’d been meaning to watch Flash Gordon since 2000, Captain Marvel since 2003.

The serials watching has been uneven to be sure. Most are not, shock of shocks, particularly good. To be fair, it’s not like most modern action movies are particularly good either. With the serials there are some positive outliers and some surprise disappointments (Superman, for instance).

Deciding to finally get around to watching serials led to finally getting around to reading Love and Rockets this year. I’d read the Locas and Palomar collections, but I started Love and Rockets with the original collections, the ones with the full issues. Not just the Locas and Palomar material; I wanted to read the series in that format. Or as close as possible. Issues easier than original collections.

This decision to stop putting off comic reading led me to finally get around to the eighties Star Trek comics. As a kid, I had the Star Trek III movie adaptation, but nothing else. I was always sort of aware of the DC comic, I just never read it.

So I finally read it. All fifty-six issues. Plus the three annuals. I didn’t read the two movie adaptations though. Before reading the DC series, I read the Marvel series (skipping the first three issues, The Motion Picture adaptation). I was thinking about doing Comics Fondle Sum Ups, since there’s something unsatisfying about the issue-by-issue posts on really good comics. I thought the Star Trek comics would help me figure out the outline and constraint system for it, so I didn’t do individual posts. I just read through.

And decided there really isn’t any point to even a cursory analysis of eighties Star Trek comics. I’ve formed some solid opinions, like Martin Pasko write the "best" Marvel comics, but only when edited by Louise Simonson. And Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson were the best artists on the book. Janson’s inks make anything better. Insert Frank Miller joke here.

But they weren’t good comics. They weren’t good "Star Trek." Sometimes they were very bad "Star Trek," actually.

The DC series had three main writers–Mike W. Barr, Len Wein, Peter David. Of the three, David is the best writer, technically speaking. He’s a little too dry, however. Barr had some enthusiasm. Wein was really bad. Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran did the art on almost all of the issues. While competent–certainly far more competent than some of the artists on the Marvel series–they often got lazy.

It’s also a licensed comic, there’s only so much one should expect. David’s dry, considered writing, for instance, is too much. Even if he did want to hook Sulu up with the cat girl from the "Animated Series." Barr heavily leveraged original series episode content. The DC series was also edited–I think–by someone involved with the Pocket Books series.

But Star Trek: The Eighties Comics don’t need a lot of examination, not as comics or as "Star Trek" licensed product. Unless you want to look at Barr’s casual sexism; he does not write Uhura well in particular. And you could also compare how the Marvel book, despite only being allowed to use material from The Motion Picture, still managed to do character issues on more franchise-created female characters. Barr only did it with the original DC creations.

There are a lot better comics to look at for eighties sexism. Lois Lane, for instance. She’s had a long history of better and worse characterization (usually worse) by her male writers. With the "Star Trek" stuff, the conversation is limited. Character development in licensed comics is–by definite–dreadful. It is cool to see Cockrum and Janson make the original crew look like their original series selves only a little older in The Motion Picture adaptation though. The pajama costumes look a lot better illustrated as well.

And the Star Trek comics, particularly the DC ones, did have older protagonist than most comic books. Kirk wasn’t the perpetual twenty-nine. Though everyone did pretend Chekhov was really young. I think even Peter David. But by the time of the DC series, Chekhov would’ve been in his forties.

Last thing about Star Trek–I really didn’t start Summing Up again just to talk about not good comics I don’t want to write about on Comics Fondle, I swear–but the Marvel series has a "23rd century odyssey today" tagline. The DC series has it at least once.

It reminded me how Nicholas Meyer had to say "in the 23rd century" at the beginning of Khan to give his dad some kind of reference point. It got me thinking how "Trek"’s mainstream acceptance and recognition was still super-low in the eighties. It took cable (and some home video).

So maybe licensed comics are an interesting relic if you’re looking at how a property has developed over the years. But only if it’s okay the licensed matter doesn’t affect the property’s development in any way.

What Kind of Year Has It Been

I've been having a creative crisis lately. I don’t have any projects except the two blogs, The Stop Button and Comics Fondle. Having finished my four post Eleanor Parker career retrospect and watching a lot fewer movies–even though I’m programming a weekly movie night now–I’m not sure where I want to go with Stop Button. Comics Fondle, as always, is chugging along. But it’s going through some changes too. And while I’m definitely not stopping with my Love and Rockets readthrough, I had hoped the posts about each issue would be different. Snootier actually. As well as a more creative gesture, a weekly one.

The lack of snooty creative outlet is fine; I’m still reading through Love and Rockets. It’s amazing and wonderful and gorgeous. Things one definitely needs in 2018. But it does mean no weekly creative outlet, snooty or not.

When I started Summing Up over a year and a half ago, I had been thinking about a more colloquial blogging project for at least a year. I had been waiting for micro.blog to launch. In the year since I last posted on Summing Up, micro.blog launched. And I made a micro.blog. It was called a.micro.blog. But as it turns out, I don’t think I wanted a micro blog. It sounded cool. And I did write with some pretty intense word constraints on the two blogs for years–150 words for Comics Fondle and 250 for Stop Button; I can do micro.

Like I said, turns out I didn’t really want to do micro. So yesterday, after renewing my micro.blog subscription a couple weeks ago, I cancelled it. No more micro blogging for me. Out of vague courtesy, I went to check out new WordPress themes, thinking maybe I could start up Summing Up again.

Only to discover it had been 364 days since I “closed” the blog.

I fell off on Summing Up for a few reasons. Blogging about Somerset Maugham books when every day had become dreadful–there’s no other word for it, we live in dreadful times–didn’t seem a particularly salient project.

And I stopped reading Maugham. He’s good, sometimes great, but he’s not good enough to spend a year reading.

A year later, lots has happened. The world has gotten worse. It’s been revealed as worse, but it’s also gotten worse. Bill Cosby got convicted, which is great, but, you know, ICE. Ben Carson running HUD. Every daily shitty thing with the U.S. government; they’re still doing all the regular shitty things–drone strikes–but they’re never news. The United States has become a melodramatic reality show where if you don’t pay attention, your soul has probably already suffocated from the sand. And if you do pay attention… well, you wish you could suffocate in the sand. Except ignoring reality is what got the world to this shitty point and this is a moment. Every day is a moment not to look away, to reason through, to power on. Because otherwise what’s the point. What kind of monster wants to take advantage of their privilege in 2018. It’s inevitably going to happen, because it’s passive too, but one needs to stay vigilant.

At least if you’re white and cishet. Especially if you’re also male.

We are, by and large, astoundingly awful. Sexual predators putting themselves on pedestals for outing other sexual predators. And then the incels. Fuck them.

(And, wow–does USA Today have more editorial reality than the New York Times these days? I’m assuming yes.)

It’s a bad time. It’s been a bad year. I’ve had some good in real life, I’ve had some bad in real life. Some of that real life bad is hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles, ready to drop and crush me with all I want to avoid. I can’t right now. I need to give it time before I confront it; frankly, just like I’m avoiding Woody Allen. He’s out until he dies. I can wait.

But the bad has gotten normal. “This is not normal” is a fail, y’all. John Oliver starts his show every week with an administration recap. It’s a regular feature of his show. It’s normal.

Also, koalas are in danger of extinction. The world is shit. And if you’re over a certain age, in a certain income bracket, with a certain level of education, especially if you’re a white person, especially if you’re a white man, it’s our fault. Because it’d be easy to say it was inevitably going to be this bad, but it wasn’t. The technological advances of the last twenty years needed to be taken seriously.

But people didn’t. The United States got pwned on hacking by Russia. American exceptionalism turned out to be an even bigger joke than originally anticipated.

So it’s been a bad year. And I’ve acclimated. And I want to more write again. Finally. So Summing Up. Again.