Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Anniversary 2001, RIP Arthur C. Clarke

I came late to sci-fi, and even now I'd have to say at best I'm a casual fan. Growing up, I was always into darker things, with room for the fantastic. Particularly in the fiction I read. It was much later in life that I came to read Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. With Clarke's recent passing, and the 40th anniversary of the film, I decided to revisit the monolith, and picked up a book that's been sitting on my shelf for the last several years anyway, The Lost Worlds of 2001.

This book is to 2001 what a bonus disc is for a special edition DVD. It delves behind the scenes into the evolution of the novel and film, including excised chapters and alternate events. Clarke details his working relationship with Stanley Kubrick on what was a very unique project. If you're not aware, the movie was not based on an existing novel, nor was the novel an adaptation of the screenplay. The two were developed hand in hand, in a symbiotic back and forth format between Clarke and Kubrick.

The starting point for the story is the regularly reprinted short story, "The Sentinel", included within. It basically represents the portion of the story of the monolith on the moon, a marker left by an advanced alien race that would be triggered only if man made the one small leap into his larger universe.

Of particular interest to me were a few chapters of an earlier draft of the book, focusing on the Dawn of Man sequence. At one point, the plan was to actually have an alien visitor interacting with the ape-men. Despite having access to a fine make-up artist in Stuart Freeborn, I do think it was a wise decision NOT to pursue this path in the film, as I can't imagine any sort of alien design that would not have taken the viewer out of the moment. That said, it is very interesting to read these chapters, told from the alien (Clindar's) perspective.

Additional unseen chapters detail the life of the astronauts on Earth before heading to Jupiter, and a number of alternate events that befell a larger group of astronauts in the original concept. The final chapters of the book provide an alternate series of events that occurred once Bowman was through the Star Gate. The first of these reintroduce us to Clindar. The sequences, which attempt to describe both the aliens and their civilization – would definitely not have worked onscreen, and they don’t hold up very well in the novel format, either.

All in all, the book offers an interesting insight into the development of the film and novel. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to read alternate chapters of a book. If you’re a fan of the film (and novel), The Lost Worlds of 2001 is definitely worth tracking down.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A final chat with The Omega Man

The Following is an excerpt of an interview conducted with Charlton Heston on February 22, 2001 for a book I was working on with David Brown titled The Last Man on Film: Adaptations of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. © Copyright 2001 by David Brown and John David Scoleri.
IAL Archive: Is it true that Orson Welles introduced you to the novel I Am Legend on the set of Touch of Evil? Can you give us any insights as to his thoughts or impressions of the novel?
Charlton Heston: Its possible. I have no memory of it. He tended to focus very carefully on whatever he was doing. He may have mentioned it to me. I think if he had, I would have looked at a script. But I have no memory of it at all.
(editor's note: It is with great pleasure I can finally confirm the story with a second source:
IAL Archive: What are your thoughts on Matheson's novel?
CH: It was made, as I think you know. I forget who made it, but I remember
IAL Archive: Vincent Price - The Last Man on Earth.
CH: Last Man on Earth, thats it. And I saw that. I ran it. Its not really a good film. Vinnie was a wonderful actor and he did many horror films; that became his genre almost, but I don't think this one was successful. It really wasn't very well written, in my opinion. Then that was the only contact I had with the project until Walter Seltzer, with whom Ive done several films, ran across it. He said: Look, the Italian film is not a good one. Thats not Vinnie Prices fault. He [Seltzer] said: I think theres something in here. How difficult it was for him I don't know, but he obtained the rights to it. And then we cast it. And then we made the movie. It was an unusual movie and turned out to be an enormously successful one. I still get checks on it, which pleases me and pleases my accountants.
IAL Archive: Matheson's novel I Am Legend dealt with vampires.
CH: That was not in Omega Man.
IAL Archive: Right. Whose idea was it to change it to mutant zombies, and was a more faithful adaptation ever considered?
CH: No, because it seemed to us that we needed a new script. It is the same idea really. The remarkable thing about the movie is that its about the last man on Earth. And everybody, I think, has a kind of awareness of what it would be like to be the last man on Earth. Whether there are bad creatures around or not, thats another thing, but imagine if you woke up in the morning and there was your house, but there was nobody there, and you got in your car and drove around and everybody's gone. And your are, indeed, the last man on Earth. Its kind of a central idea in stories of this kind, I think. And we arrived at a good version of the script, which centered on that. For one thing, I was so proud of the fact in casting the girl now, this has nothing to do with the script that I chose obviously it was my choice Rosalind Cash. That was the first time a black actress had ever been given a leading role opposite a white leading man.
IAL Archive: Was the studio pretty nervous about this?
CH: No, they made no comment one way or the other. They were not idiots, I guess. And I am very proud of that. She was very good in the part. Unhappily, she did not have a long career. I never worked with her again, but I would have been happy to had a project come up.
IAL Archive: Were you familiar with Matheson's other works cause he was an established screenwriter and was he ever considered to write the screenplay for Omega Man?
CH: No, simply because we did not think the Italian version was a good one. It had good people like Vinnie Price, but we thought it was wise to go ahead with other people, which we did.
IAL Archive: What do you think of Omega Man after 30 years?
CH: I'm quite proud of it. I think its a good movie. I suppose, not least, because it continues to give me money. It was difficult to make well, not really difficult. I mean a lot of it was night shooting and thats always hard. It went very smoothly.
IAL Archive: I imagine it was probably pretty hard to get Los Angeles in such a deserted state.
CH: No, you just got to do a shoot on Sunday. Because then you can shoot down by the Waterworks or where ever you want to go; its easy to block off the traffic on Sundays. And all that stuff we did on Sundays. There wasn't that much of it, you know. But it worked very well. And I was pleased with everybody who worked on it and I'm proud of the film.
IAL Archive: Omega Man was made during the Manson trial. Matthias and his followers, referred to the Family, seem to have been inspired by Charles Manson and his family, act like a lot of the militant groups opposing the government during this era. Was this intentional, or did real-life events creep into the material?
CH: It might have been, but he [John Corrington] never said that to me. If he did, it was his idea, not mine, nor should it have been.
IAL Archive: John Corrington was a very interesting choice. He did not have an established track record as a screenwriter. Why was he chosen to write the script for Omega Man?
CH: He and his wife at the time - I have no idea what his later experience was. they were both hired, in my memory. He proved to be appropriate. You know, doing a screenplay is tough. Its very hard to do. You're using someone else's money, other peoples ideas. If you're the writer, you don't get to control that. But I was very pleased with what he did.
IAL Archive: There are definite Christ-like analogies in Omega Man. Neville's blood is mankind's salvation. Neville dying in the crucified position. At one point in the film, the little girl asks Neville Are you God? One of the films ironies is Neville's dual role as destroyer and savior. As part of the military-medical complex, he was a member of the brain trust that created the germ for martial purposes. Yet Neville is also salvation for the remainder of mankind for his blood contains antibodies derived from an experimental vaccine he developed and, in a moment of desperation, used on himself. He is both redeemer and redeemed. What are your thoughts on this aspect of the film?
CH: I think that is a fair comment. You've expressed it more fully and interestingly than Ive heard it done before, but the idea of the Christ image was undeniable; there was no question of that. I think it was important to do what I think we did, which was to make the point, but not make a great deal of it.
IAL Archive: You mention in your autobiography that the studio was made nervous enough by the Christ comparisons to insist that one scene was cut from the film (the little girl making a secret offering to Neville.
CH: I thought that scene was a great scene. I loved that scene.
IAL Archive: So, you don't think the studio was right in cutting that scene?
CH: No, I don't. Its their movie; they're paying for it. Theres no point getting into an argument about it. But I thought the little girl on the bicycle, with the little things to be left where he would find them, was very good.
IAL Archive: Do you think that these underlying themes, that fans have picked up on, that has contributed to its cult appeal?
CH: How would they pick up on it because its not in the movie?
IAL Archive: I don't mean the little girl scene, but the other Christ-like analogies that did remain in the film.
CH: Well, thats undeniable, that I fell as if on a cross is clear, and I thought that was one of the best parts of the movie. Its an ideal ending. My character has to die, but he is leaving the possibility for the future of mankind, which is precisely the Christ figure. And I lay in the pool, spread eagle, as though on a cross was all part of it. I thought that was a good idea. I think it was filmed well. I think its a good part of the film.
IAL Archive: That's one problem I have with the script of the remake of Omega Man. They allow Neville to live at the end.
CH: Well, thats ridiculous.
IAL Archive: Otherwise its a pretty decent script, but they want to give it a Hollywood Happy Ending.
CH: Well, Hollywood movies don't always have happy endings. There are many that don't.
IAL Archive: Right. But Neville died in the novel, in Last Man on Earth and in Omega Man. Studios shy away from killing off the hero. I think it weakens this particular story, allowing Neville to live.
CH: Well, I'm sorry to hear that.
IAL Archive: Yes, I am, too. You worked with Anthony Zerbe on Will Penny: was the casting of him as Matthias your decision?
CH: Yes. Well, not my decision, my choice. I made several films with Walter Seltzer, who was the producer, and we both agreed that Tony would be ideal, and he was.
IAL Archive: He certainly made a memorable villain.
CH: And hes also very plausible in the first scenes in the beginning where hes the TV commentator.
IAL Archive: Your characterization of Neville is one of your strongest. How did you go about preparing for the role?
CH: Theres nothing to prepare, you just have to do the guy. Throughout my career, most of the men Ive played have been formidable authority figures. Presidents, Kings.
IAL Archive: Police detectives.
CH: Where?
IAL Archive: You played a detective in Soylent Green and in Two-Minute Warning.
CH: Oh, yeah. Almost every part Ive played has been a kind of formidable authority figure: Cardinal Richelieu, you mentioned the guy in Soylent Green, Neville, Moses, if you like.
IAL Archive: In Matheson's novel, Neville becomes a sort of boogey man to the vampires, stalking and slaying them while they sleep.
CH: So do I in Omega Man.
IAL Archive: Yes
CH: I go stalking through empty apartment buildings and hotels to find some sleeping vampire and then kill him. You remember that, don't you?
IAL Archive: Oh, yes.
CH: Well thats obviously an element we did use from the novel.
IAL Archive: The obvious move for Neville would be to leave the city. Why do you think he remains?
CH: Well, if I were the last man on Earth, really the last man on Earth, where everybody's dead but me, first I would go over to the art museum and bring back a Rembrandt or two, as Neville does; you don't notice it much in the film, but it counted for me. He can do what he wants. He doesn't have to change his clothes. He just goes into a store and picks up a new set of pants and a shirt. Whatever he wants. And theres plenty of gas, so he doesn't have to worry about gas prices. And we do that, too. I think that was part of what we were trying for, to present to an audience what it would be like to be the last man on Earth.
IAL Archive: Neville also talks to himself and plays chess against himself.
CH: Of course, who else is there to talk to?
IAL Archive: Was the film trying to suggest that Neville was losing some of his faculties?
CH: No.
IAL Archive: He hears the phones ringing and there really are no phones.
CH: If I were truly the last man on Earth, I would talk to myself. Ive been out in the woods, hunting and things. Theres no one else to talk to, so you talk to yourself. Why not? In Neville's case, there is no one else to talk to. Thats part of the beginning of the film. When he finds that there is actually someone else alive, that changes the direction of his behavior.
IAL Archive: Its interesting that you mentioned Neville hoarding art. I know that, in your political beliefs, you are a conservative. It has been said that Matthias and his followers represent the counter culture movement, trying to bring down the establishment with their burning of art, banning of weapons, and Neville is trying to maintain his culture. You know, the barbarians are at the gate.
CH: The guys are idiots. They don't know anything. Would you give up a Rembrandt, a Pollock?
IAL Archive: When Matthias and the Family get into Neville's home, they proceed to destroy the art.
CH: Of course they do.
IAL Archive: Given the conservative outlook, this would seem to be in contrast the sentiment evoked from the footage from Woodstock utilized in Omega Man. What were you trying to convey with the specific scenes you chose?
CH: Well, they weren't specific scenes, they were scenes of Woodstock. Those are scenes of live people.
IAL Archive: Right, but I meant those particular shots you chose to use in the film.
CH: Oh, it didn't matter, just footage from Woodstock. Its all the same. Its people, real people. That wasn't my idea, but it was a great idea. Who can he turn to for some kind of connection with human beings? Woodstock, because there was a lot of footage about it. And he finds out how to get into a movie theater and how to run it. And he probably does it, I felt, every two or three weeks. He would go over there - who's to stop him - he can do what he wants. And what he wants to do is have some feeling of humanity. I was not a fan of Woodstock, I promise you, but in his place I would probably say, Yeah, those are people; real people. We were a real people.
IAL Archive: In your autobiography, you wrote: We got OM down to where we want it. I think the cuts good now. Later, you mention that they cut it deeply since you last saw it. Can you elaborate on some of the changes that were made?
CH: Well, you mentioned one already, the thing with the girl on the bicycle, which would have been a marvelous idea. People who run studios get to make those choices, its their money, and I was sorry that they cut that, but I don't recall them cutting much else.
IAL Archive: There's a scene listed as the woman in the cemetery crypt, where Rosalind Cash's character was supposed to come across a mutant with a dead baby.
CH: We didn't shoot it.
IAL Archive: I see. The actress name appears in the final credits.
CH: Well, they might have shot it, but it wasn't in the movie.
IAL Archive: Of course, I thought this might be the cuts you were referring to in your autobiography.
CH: That kind of thing, of course. But that kind of thing is normal. The guys who have the money get to make the choices.
IAL Archive: Planet of the Apes, Omega Man and Soylent Green all have some things in common. They all were loosely based on novels, they are all set in dystopian futures and they all have a common theme-a lone man struggling against terrible odds
CH: Thats my part. I play it all the time.
IAL Archive: Thats what draws you to the material then?
CH: Oh, sure. Let me give you an example of what I am trying to say. When Arnold was doing - what the hell was the name of that movie where I was the head of the CIA?
IAL Archive: True Lies.
CH: True Lies. Very good film, I thought. The Director
IAL Archive: James Cameron.
CH: Yeah, Jim Cameron. He sent me the script. He said Could I come over and talk to you about it. I said, I think thats a great idea. And we had coffee. I said: Why do you want me to play this part? He said I need someone in that role who could plausibly intimidate Arnold. He didn't mean the real Arnold, you understand, but the character. And I said, Thats the kind of part I play all the time. Presidents and tyrants and kings - martyrs and so on. Those are the guys I do. I said: You bet your ass I can intimidate Arnold. I'm not saying that there was any confrontation about it, but we both understood that he was supposed to be afraid of me in the role. And it was fine. I enjoyed it enormously.
IAL Archive: In regards to the remake of Omega Man, the script is not faithful to Matheson's novel either. Do you think that there are problems, inherent to the novel, which prevent a faithful adaptation from ever being mounted?
CH: Well, the difference between a novel and a film is a thousand miles. Its a very different undertaking. And anyone who takes a novel and Ive done films based on novels - The Four Musketeers is a great example.
IAL Archive: Dumas.
CH: Yes, but you do the best you can. A film is a different medium. You're not attacking the original work if you change it.
IAL Archive: Oh, no, I agree. I know Matheson was ambivalent, at least, towards Omega Man. He didn't really dislike it. But he said it was such a total remove from his novel that he couldn't really form an opinion on it, negative or otherwise. As a stand-alone project, I agree with you. I think Omega Man is such an unusual and memorable film, it would be a shame not to have it.
CH: Thats exactly how I feel. I understand well, of course, every writer - Ernest Hemingway for god sakes hated For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Hemingway is the greatest American writer of the century, I think. But, of course, you change it; its a different medium. And writers are always pissed off about this. Well, they should be, but they're not the ones that make the film. If the movie turns out to be a lousy film, then they were right. If the movie turns out to be a good film, then they were wrongthey should shut up.
IAL Archive: Speaking of varying from novels, the secret of Soylent Green was a plot development that was totally absent from Harry Harrison's novel Make Room! Make Room!, which has been viewed by some to overshadow the books other messages about population explosion and society's attempt to deal with the consequences. Why was such a drastic change made in the plot?
CH: I think its a very good film. Its a better film than Omega Man.
IAL Archive: It is definitely another film of your that has achieved cult status.
CH: They are unusual films.
IAL Archive: They certainly are, but they have struck a chord with filmgoers.
CH: I think thats fair. Certainly, Soylent Green is - you can argue - a better film than Omega Man.
IAL Archive: It is definitely more meaningful, message wise.
CH: For one thing, it has Eddie Robinson. You don't get Eddie Robinson in every film. As you probably know, it was his last film.
IAL Archive: And it really had beautiful music.
CH: Stunning and just wonderful. And Eddie was dying at the time. We wanted him originally for Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes. He said: Look, my hearts gone to hell. He did a makeup test. He said: I cant handle that makeup, its too tough. And he was right. It was a good film, a very good film, of course. Then when he did the character in Soylent Green, he was marvelous in it! That last scene with him is just stunning.
IAL Archive: Thank you for taking time to do this interview. I know fans of Omega Man will be anxious to hear what you have to say.
CH: Your welcome. Its part of the job. I'm just glad the film is still significant.
The entire transcript of this interview is available online at The I Am Legend Archive.

Friday, April 4, 2008


#1: The Killing Machine (August 1973)

When his entire family is murdered by the Mafia, millionaire John Rocetti becomes the one-man killing machine known as Johnny Rock. Armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, Rock drives a wedge between two Mob families, systematically eliminating key figures in each gang. Along the way, he meets up with Iris Toscano, widow of former mob figure Dominick Toscano, who desires to mete out the same justice on the scum who took her husband’s life. The two vigilantes manage to rack up an impressive number of Italian corpses on their way to the big finale, a showdown with the biggest Dons in the syndicate.

Granted, THE KILLING MACHINE is not the most original of concepts, but it never gets boring and chugs right along to its anti-climax (we’re promised by Iris and Johnny that their work can never be truly finished as long as there remains Italo-scum in the free world. Leisure Books, to my knowledge, never adapted to the 20th Century oddity known as proofreading and THE KILLING MACHINE is no exception. Commas are dropped into sentences randomly and rapidly. THE KILLING MACHINE is rough, but it gets the job done.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Start-Ups Rise From the Tomb!!!

Years ago, during the heyday of bare*bones, I would come up with ideas for articles I’d like to write. What usually happened was: 1/ I’d pick a series of books to plunge into, 2/ I’d read some of them, 3/ I’d write about some of them, 4/ I’d burn out on them, 5/and the piece would get shelved. I’ve got dozens of “start-ups” with no home.

‘Til now.

I’ll be popping some of these ont the b*b website now and then. Please feel free to comment (both of you!). Now and then, I wonder if any of these things should be finished.

The following is the start-up of an overview of the BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT title. B:LOTDK showcased “early Batman adventures” written in a “contemporary style” (all quotes mine). The title lasted 214 issues.

The first arc, “Shaman” (Dennis O’Neil/Ed Hannigan/John Beatty) is the umpteenth revisionist Batman origin story. This time, Bruce Wayne is tracking a vicious killer through the raging snows of Northern Alaska when his guide is murdered and Wayne is left for dead. An ancient shaman rescues the millionaire and nurses him back to health.

The Shaman relates the ancient myth of the Bat and the Raven, thus planting the seed of the Batman in Wayne’s mind. As in all the other origin stories, the capper to Wayne’s transformation is the bat flying through his study window.

Years later, it turns out that Wayne has inadvertently funded an expedition that pirates the Shaman’s ancient relics and treasures. Now, as the Batman, Wayne seeks to make things right by going after the bad guys who ruined an ancient tribe for quick bucks and power.

The first thing apparent after reading the story is that Denny O’ Neil must have been really tired of writing Batman origin stories. Despite the fact that the cover hypes the first issue of LEGENDS as the “First New ‘Solo’ Batman Book Since 1940,” did we really need yet another reworking of the old warhorse? Ostensibly, this adventure happens between events first depicted in the early issues of DETECTIVE COMICS. Differentiating between the two Waynes, one of the 1940s and one from the present day, can be confusing and downright irritating at times. I’m well aware that DC (as well as Marvel and most other comic lines) plays with elapsed time, but if these stories fit between the old stories, then perhaps they should have been set in those days, timelines be damned. This is a problem that occurs throughout the LEGENDS run moreso than the other Batman titles simply because LEGENDS was conceived as a title showcasing “lost moments in Bat-history.”

Denny O’Neil’s story lacks anything remotely resembling excitement (half the story, it seems, is set in the back of Wayne’s limo as Bruce and Alfred cruise for trouble on the mean streets of Gotham and trade droll quips) or continuity (the killer Wayne is tracking in the first chapter all but disappears until the climax of the arc where he’s revealed to be the obligatory “misunderstood creature”). Gone is the deep introspective dialogue found in O’Neil’s classic GREEN ARROW/ GREEN LANTERN run of the 1960s, replaced by missives such as “We in trouble! I din’ buy no hassle with no Bat Man! I’m tippin’ (sic)!

Ed Hannigan’s pencils are dreadful. At times it’s hard to tell Bruce Wayne from Alfred. Wayne himself seems to change body size from page to page. One character appears with a receding hairline in one panel and what seems to be a mohawk in the next. Not a good start to what was hyped as an event.

Acclaimed writer Grant Morrison and equally acclaimed artist Klaus Janson couldn’t do much better with the second arc, “Gothic.” What could best be described as a cross between NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FAUST, “Gothic” presents yet another seamy chapter heretofore unknown to Bat-fans: Bruce Wayne attended a boys’ school and barely avoided being molested and murdered by the school’s dean, Mr. Winchester. When local mob bosses catch wind of the atrocities, they chop Winchester into little pieces and dump him in the river. Now, “many years later” Mr. Winchester reappears as Mr. Whisper (his origin relates how he made a deal with the devil three hundred years before), offing the mob bosses one by one and vowing to finish the job he never completed on “little Brucie.”

Though the familiar story elements and inconsistent art weaken the story, there is a wickedly sadistic vein that runs throughout the arc that made me stop and reread lines at times. In the opening chapter, a captive drugrunner, tortured by the mob, begs for the life of his wife and daughter. “Forget them. Your wife and kid are working for us now.” chortles a thug gleefully, “Movie stars. You understand.” Too bad the entire story isn’t that powerful. Alfred continues his sarcastic and unrealistic (in the same way that Arnold Schwartzenneger’s one-liners are unrealistic) exchanges with Bruce Wayne (at one point, Batman remarks to Alfred “Tonight I met the man who’s been murdering Gotham’s gang bosses. It was my old school headmaster, Mr. Winchester. To which the butler replies: “What an interesting education you must have had.”). What we’re left with is a Batman who exclaims “My God” several times and a supernatural second-rate Joker. The foremost impression I’m left with after reading the first two arcs is that if Alfred were my butler, I’d have put him six feet under by now.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Strange Friends indeed...

Rising from the ashes of the beloved (if erratic) print digest (that itself rose from the ashes of The Scream Factory magazine), we'd like to welcome you to the bare•bones e-zine. We look forward to offering the same irreverent reviews and commentary you've come to expect from us.

Please leave comments, let us know how we're doing, berate us, whatever. Love us or hate us, just be thankful this keeps us off the streets.

Your hosts, the bare•bones crypt and vault keepers -

Peter Enfantino & John Scoleri

And yes - it is a coincidence that we launched on April Fool's Day, thank you very much.