in search of moebius…

The legendary comics illustrator Jean “Moebius” Giraud died this weekend.  His influence on the world of pop culture can’t be overstated.  Even if you’ve never seen any of his artwork in Métal Hurlant magazine (Heavy Metal in the States) or anywhere else, you’ve probably seen his graphic design work in such as films as Alien (the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo), Tron (concept artist), The Abyss (concept artist), and The Fifth Element (designer).  Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (my favorite science fiction film) is heavily indebted to Moebius as well: the crazily busy cityscape was inspired by the one from the classic story “The Long Tomorrow,” a collaboration between Moebius and American screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (who would later write Alien).

There’s a great little documentary about Moebius from a few years back, Moebius Redux: A Life in Pictures aka In Search of Moebius, that aired on the BBC and that I’ve included below.  Great stuff for anyone with even a passing interest in this stuff.

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heston

Charlton Heston is dead. At the time that Heston made The Omega Man in 1971 (featured in the clip above), the notorious conservative actor (who was still a card carrying member of the Democratic party at that point but a Nixon supporter) probably did feel like the last man on earth. Surrounded by counterculture Hollywood, a relic of the studio system and more a practitioner of a relentlessly old fashioned theatrical style than a Brando, Heston still loomed large over the decade of decline. It was a credit to his adaptation that he managed to survive in an industry that doesn’t always reward change.

I mourn his loss because as a youth growing up in the 1970s, he was my first real movie star idol, the first real impression I had of what an actor was. He also starred in one of my favorite films of all time, Planet of the Apes (and its sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes), and to a lesser degree The Omega Man. As with the Planet of the Apes films, I loved Omega Man as a kid, then went many years without seeing it, in which I romanticized and misremembered it. When I finally saw it again in my early twenties, I was disappointed. It was far more campy and shoddy than I remembered it being, and unlike Planet of the Apes, lacked wit or imaginative bravado. But in its own misshapen way, I’ve come around and now love Omega Man and watch it at least once a year. Heston’s post-Apes roles in the 1970s are remarkable for the sheer number of times he suffered beatings and death at the hands of apocalyptic maniacs. I enjoyed, and still do, the Heston of the Epics (The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, El Cid, The War Lord) or the Westerns (The Big Country, Major Dundee, Will Penny, Heston’s favorite role). And then there was his role as a Mexican cop in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, arguably the last of the original American film noir cycle. It takes awhile to adjust to Heston’s casting as Vargas, but without him in the lead the film with Welles at the helm would have probably never happened.

As the story goes, Universal Pictures wanted Heston to appear as the star of the picture. But when the actor heard that Welles was only attached to the film as an actor, Heston recommended him to direct as well. It was a gigantic risk for the studio considering that Welles was virtually blacklisted in Hollywood due to pressure from William Randolph Hearst, the FBI, and a series of box office disappointments leading up to his exile in Europe from 1947 to 1956 where Welles conjured up new avenues of magic–though hardly anything Hollywood would want to touch. There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s otherwise fine Ed Wood in which the “world’s worst director” meets America’s best in a dark lounge. Welles, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, remarks to Wood (Johnny Depp) that he’s just been saddled with Charlton Heston to play a Mexican at Universal. It’s a funny moment, but there’s no way the real Welles would have said it considering the actor had just given him the chance to direct in Tinseltown again.

Apocalypse Heston. Disaster-mode Chuck. The slightly paranoid, cynical, volcanic Heston from the 1970s: that was the actor for me. Clint Eastwood, another early movie star idol for me, was meaner, tougher, and cooler. But for me, Heston was the quintessential Hollywood action star: masculine, intelligent, versatile, and absurdly charismatic. His portrayals of larger than life heroes was always tinged with a humanity and vulnerability that I don’t think many of the action stars that followed, e.g. Stallone or Schwarzenegger, were ever able to match. He was also the consummate professional and a gentleman from all accounts. You don’t last in the business for as long as Heston did without mastering the art of good manners.

It’s sad that for many, younger, film fans, Heston will be remembered for his “hammy” acting or as president of the NRA, conservative activist (though I find it amusing that so many of his detractors conveniently ignore Heston’s liberal past and his civil rights involvement) , or as the elderly Alzheimer-afflicted scapegoat in Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine, where the intrepid filmmaker/gadfly bum rushes the ailing actor in his own home. I’m no apologist for Heston’s political beliefs. No doubt, I’d have more in common with Moore’s politics. But the scene is disgusting and a cheap shot. Regardless of personal beliefs, I know who I’d rather have dinner with.

Below are two more favorite clips from his dystopian science fiction period: the finales of Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, the latter an aesthetic predecessor to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner. You can also go here, here, and here for some rather wonderful and eloquent pieces on this true colossus of Hollywood.

and it’s a battered old suitcase…

kissmescream.jpg

Living abroad, basically out of a backpack, prevents one from maintaining the lifestyle of a pack rat. Before splitting from Portland for European lands, my comrade in mischief and I sold off hundreds of books to Powell’s Books. And what they wouldn’t take, we gave away. Although we started packing and getting rid of items a month in advance, the pressure to clear out our cluttered yet pleasantly comfortable apartment was cranked up pretty high those last two weeks. So plenty of books and VHS tapes went to neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers. What we chose to keep–still a good, solid library–got packed up and is supposedly safe and sound in some climate controlled wonderland waiting for us to return one day. My DVDs all went to a friend for safe keeping. No doubt they will be put to good use.

But some of my discs managed to escape being orphaned and are currently accompanying me on my journeys. In the past, when I had traveled “close to the ground,” the thought of having immediate access to films was absurd. And though I would occasionally dream of having films at my disposal, the idea was completely within the realm of science fiction. In the early 1990s, during my first lengthy trip to Europe, I was basically living in a cave. No, seriously. Well, it was a small, unheated one room flat with stone walls and only a wood stove to heat the place. I craved movies, but I craved heat even more. The last time that I was overseas for an extended period of time was 1996, DVDs were still a year away from entering the forum of mainstream acceptability, and therefore the idea of packing a bunch of them with me was ridiculous. I might as well have had access to a jet pack.

Not that I would want to take a traveling case of discs with me anyhow. Traveling, at least the way I’ve always done it, has been about surrendering the comforts of home, relinquishing the familiar, and attempting to reconnect with the alleyways of life.

Anyway, books were more transportable.

Things are different now. Because of work, I have to have access to films, or at least access to the machine that can bring them to life: a laptop. So I brought some with me and it ended up being a perfect opportunity to test out the “desert island” theory of film watching. You’re on a desert island and you can only bring twenty-five films. What films do you bring?

I stowed away a fair bit. Films that would inspire, would sharpen the intellectual batteries, would amuse, would withstand the repeat factor, and would continue to charge the imagination when nothing else would. There was also “homework” to consider, so a few of those ended up with me as well, though most of the required viewing is still back in Oregon awaiting orders to re-enlist for duty.

So what did make the cut? Obvious favorites, to be sure: Seven Samurai, Blade Runner (in all its permutations), Goodbye, Dragon Inn, Le Samurai, Heart of Glass, The Conformist, Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon, Suspiria, the Sergio Leone westerns, Bad Timing, The Thin Red Line, The Searchers and some other Ford/Wayne westerns, The Wild Bunch, a whole lot of Mario Bava and other European horror films from the 1960s, Barry Lyndon, some Godard, some Truffaut, a couple of Japanese horror films, a couple of samurai films, all of the Val Lewton films, and Lifeforce. Yes, Lifeforce, the craptacular 1985 Tobe Hooper movie. I also tossed in Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise because I’ve never seen it (an embarrassing admission) and what better time to watch it than when abroad and more likely to have a little time to spare for a 190 minute masterpiece. I’d received the Criterion Collection disc for a review that never panned out and was always waiting for that appropriate rainy day. Well, it took a few years and me having to leave my abode to do it, but I plan on watching it soon.

When planning my exile, I’d expected to watch plenty of films. I purchased a good, compact traveling case and stuffed it with digital goodies. Much to my surprise, my old ways have sort of kicked in again. I haven’t watched much. The first month we were too much on the go, getting acclimated to traveling again. But this last month we’ve been stationary, so we managed to watch The Devil’s Backbone, The Wicker Man (the original 1973 Robin Hardy film not the LaBute/Cage carnival of guffaws) and a couple of nights ago I settled into the Lewton/Robson film The Ghost Ship. More about that last one in a near-future post.

This new, more accommodating style of traveling is weird. I’m not complaining, mind you. But it’s still weird to have the luxury of being seemingly so far from “home,” so far from the familiar and yet be so connected. It’s not exactly like I’m in some mountain retreat at the moment, so I’m not too worked up about it. But it does make me wonder that if I was on a real desert island, I think watching a movie would be the last thing on my “to-do” list.