Friday, March 13, 2020

Not Just Another...

...pretty you recognize him?

You think you do...gotta be The Joker who first made his appearance as Batman's arch-nemesis in 1940, right?

Not quite...this is another one of those "guess who did it first?" things...and the answer to that is Conrad Veidt in the 1928 silent film, "The Man Who Laughs"...

...based on the novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1869.

Disfigured as a child, he grows up to be an unwilling clown with all the emotional angst that implies.

But fear not; in the end he finds true love - a departure from the Hugo novel, but in keeping with the silent movie melodrama theme of the times.

Appreciation for Veidt's performance has grown through the decades and is now seen as masterful.

Indeed, he communicates a world of pathos with his eyes in this film.

Gwynplaine - Veidt's character - was a good hearted soul...but that smile!

Can't blame Bob Kane for finding inspiration in Veidt's appearance when coming up with The Joker.

I love history, don't you?

Another pretty face in the crowd you may have seen...

...and a closer look...can you guess who it is?

If you said it's me, before I've had my first cup of coffee, you're close...

...but it's actually the great Lon Chaney wearing makeup of his own creation as The Phantom of The Opera (1925).

This one, based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux published in 1910, also has a happy ending...

...well, not for him...he ends up drowned in the river Seine...but Christine (the surprised looking lass behind the phantom) and her beau Raoul marry and honeymoon in Viroflay, France.

C'est bien!

A brilliant silent movie that made Louise Brooks a towering star...

...Pandora's Box from 1928, a German impressionist film.

Here's the German title:

Unlike the first two films, this does not have a happy ending, which makes perfect sense.

Germany in the 1920's was not a happy place...defeated in WWI, staggering under massive war reparation debt and crippled by hyperinflation, theirs was a nation in crisis.

During the dark days of the Weimar Republic, German arts on all levels tended to reflect that.

So in a sense, this film was the perfect vehicle for the talented but flawed Louise Brooks.

She was a tortured soul who had met with some success in Hollywood, but eventually fled the west coast for Europe.

There she found international fame, though it was short lived.

The quintessential flapper and known as "the girl in the black helmet" for her trademark dark bob haircut, she was an incredibly talented actress with a penchant for shooting herself in the foot.

By the early 1930's she'd been blacklisted and spiraled downward into poverty and alcoholism.

Her films were rediscovered in the 1950's and she enjoyed a temporary resurgence in popularity if not prosperity.

Unfortunately, like her doomed character in Pandora's Box, hers was not a happy ending.

Her art, however, lives on, and you should see this film to experience it.

Perhaps most compelling this week was the Swedish classic from 1921... Victor Sjostrom.

The title translates to "The Phantom Carriage"...
...and it's a morality tale as so many of these early movies were.

Unlike today's movie industry which is openly at war with Christianity, early filmmakers often explored humanity's relationship to God, and this one does so wonderfully well.

The basic story concerns a legend that whoever dies apart from God at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve must spend the next year serving at Death's behest as the Grim Reaper...
...traveling about, collecting lost souls as they depart from this life and enter the next.

The "in camera" special effects - no cgi bs here - are impressive for that era, as they had to rewind the exposed film and then hand crank it at exactly the same speed as they did before to layer the ghostly 2nd images on top of the original scenes.'s really quite effective and you will easily believe the spirits of the departed are rising from their earthly bodies.

This was a hundred years ago, folks...a reminder genius is present in every age, it's just expressed differently, within the framework of the culture and technology of the day.


And inspirational as well, judging from how many filmmakers in later generations copied these masters from the early years.

Ever see The Shining by Stanley Kubrick?

If so you remember a crazed Jack Nicholson chopping his way through a wooden door to get at his terrified wife and children.

You know who did it first?

Victor Sjostrom in's the side by side comparison of basically the same scene...silent film version on the left, Kubrick's version on the right:

In spite of the silent movie actor's eerie similarity to an enraged "Mike the My Pillow guy", imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, 60 years later.

Do yourself a favor and enjoy the original genius of some of these early Masters and marvel how there is in fact nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

COVID-19 continues to dominate the news, with panic and overreaction being the response du jour.

Since the world as we know it is obviously coming to a rapid end, might as well share a few memes...

commemorative jewelry to remember 2020

On a slightly more upbeat note, spring is busy working on making its grand entrance...

...and I've been able to swing my hickories in my backyard a few times over the past week...

And keeping with the golf motif... that's a tempting offer, and the best part is you don't look ridiculous at all outside in your boxers.

A sunrise on my way to work this week...


Here's a beautiful mid century modern ashtray I found on ebay last week...


And proving miracles do still happen, here's the box - clearly marked "fragile"... which it arrived after being carefully routed through the package smashing department... doubt due to it being clearly marked "fragile".


And that, my friends, brings us to the end of another rousin' edition of the Atomic Monster Cafe.

We trust you enjoyed a tasty meal of intelligent discourse with a nourishing side of conversational savories, served with a demitasse of intellectual espresso and a tall refreshing glass of emotional comfort.

If not, what the heck were you doing?

Staring at your phone the whole time again?

As Jed Clampett used to opine, pit-i-ful...jes' pitiful...

later, mcm fans...

* Crass Commercialism Corner *

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