Readercon, or Goodbye to an Old Friend

I ran into an old acquaintance a few days ago.  When the conversation ended, the other fellow said “Well, I’ll probably see you at Readercon, tho I don’t know why I’m going.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment.  Due to internal politics (I’m sure you could find the details elsewhere) the original committee resigned a few years back, and were replaced by those folks currently running the con.  I think I’ve met just about everybody on the new team, and they’re all very nice people.  But the convention they’re running is simply not interesting to me, or to a number of others I’ve spoken to.

I have an extra horse in this race, of course.  I am (somewhat by accident) one of the instigators and perpetual co-hosts of something called the Kirk Polland Memorial Bad Prose Competition.  Initially invented by one of the founders of Readercon (one Eric Van) this was a humorous panel we ran every Saturday night at the con (for maybe 25 years in a row).  The panel usually got quite silly, and and acted as a good counterpoint to the sometimes Very Literary Programming that ran during the day.  Co-hosting Kirk Polland was one of those things I looked forward to doing every summer, and both panelists and audience had a wonderful time.

The new Readercon regime immediately axed Kirk Polland (maybe three years ago?)  And their programming veered ever deeper into the very serious and academic, with all the humor that once informed these panels now long gone.

I was willing to go to Readercon this year, but I took a look at the panels they offered (if you’ve ever done this, you know the system they’ve set up is amazingly time-consuming).  I couldn’t find a single panel that interested me.  I spoke with another published SF writer a day or two ago, and found he had had the exact same reaction.

It’s a shame, really.  For a while there, I thought Readercon was the best SF convention in New England.  Now it feels more like some old friend you have lost touch with. You and your friend have different interests now.  Once you were so close, and now, somehow, you’ve turned into strangers.

I may stop by the hotel over the weekend to say hello to some old friends, but Readercon and I have gone our separate ways.

More Turner Mysteries, or What Else is New?

Turner Classics Friday Noir schedule serves up another bunch of classics and almost classics again this Friday. They start the schedule with THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and end it with THE THIRD MAN. You need to watch these if you haven’t. Trust me.

In the middle of the day Turner is showing the most film noiriest of film noirs, OUT OF THE PAST, with Robert Mitchum. This one has it all; dark streets, looming shadows, raincoats and plenty of lies. If you were only going to watch one film in this entire series, guys, this is the one.

In the prime time slot, Turner is showing one of my favorite films ever, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, starring Zachary Scott. (You may remember Scott from MILDRED PIERCE. He plays a weasel. He always plays a weasel.) Along for the ride are the great team of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The first time I watched this film, it took me to the halfway point to actually figure out who the protagonist was. And when i did realize (no spoilers here) I thought it was great. This is a mystery fan’s mystery, also well worth your time.

At the very end of the evening, when Turner always shows a more modern neo-noir, they’ve programmed one of the great visceral action films of all time, POINT BLANK, with Lee Marvin kicking serious butt.

The only movie in this Friday’s schedule that I haven’t seen is POSSESSED, a Joan Crawford vehicle where she goes mad, I tell you, mad! I’m probably going to skip DVRing this one, since I have a low tolerance for later Joan Crawford, but you mileage may vary.

Turner Cracks Up when it’s Cornered!

The third week of comments on TCM’s Summer of Darkness, where I actually realize how many zillions of movies I’ve managed to see.

A lot of the best stuff this time around is being shown during the day.  Besides well known classics like THE BIG SLEEP and GILDA, they’re showing one of the noirest of the noirs, THE KILLERS.  This is Burt Lancaster’s first film, playing “the Swede,” and is about as down and dirty as these films get.  Earlier in the day, they’re showing a couple of good two-fisted hero noirs, CORNERED (with Dick Powell as tough as he ever got) and CRACK-UP (with Pat O’Brien as a -wait for it- two fisted art critic!  I am not making this up.)

In prime time, Turner is showing two films with Ricardo Montalban in the lead.  The first one, MYSTERY STREET, used to be shown at the Brattle under its alternate title, MURDER AT HARVARD.  That’s right!  It’s a nifty little mystery that takes place in 1950s Cambridge, MA!  The second (and far better) film is BORDER INCIDENT, with Montalban as a border agent trying to get to the bottom of things before any more people get killed.  They still get killed anyway.

At the end of the night, Turner always finishes with a neo-noir from the seventies.  Tonight’s GET CARTER is a tough Michael Caine actioner that is worth your time.

The only (!) film on the schedule I haven’t seen is a Spencer Tracy vehicle called THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA.  Even tho the plot sounds like no great shakes,the cinematographer on the project is John Alton, who never met an alley he didn’t like (and could probably make Disneyland look creepy.)  So on the DVR it goes!

The Return of Noir. TCM week 2.

Once again (with the encouragement of a couple friends) I’m looking at tomorrow’s TCM schedule (that’s 6/12/15).  It’s the second Friday out of a whole summer’s worth of Fridays, when the channel is scheduling film noirs, the dark, dirty underside of postwar American filmmaking.

The day starts out with a number of classics.  THE GLASS KEY; LAURA; MURDER,MY SWEET.  These are all fine examples of detective movies sliding into noir terrirory.  The pick of the morning is MINISTRY OF FEAR, a truly paranoid movie directed by the great Frirz Lang, with overtones of Lang’s earlier Dr. Mabuse films.

Later in the day, you have perhaps the greatest of all woman-in-peril flicks crossing over into noir territory, MILDRED PIERCE, with Joan Crawford suffering magnificently.  And in the middle of the night, they’re showing NIGHTMARE ALLEY, the story of Tyrone Power’s ambitious Carny barker, who double-crosses everybody in sight to get ahead and leave the Carny behind.  Or does he?  This movie takes the noir to its darkest edge ever, actually dipping into horror territory.

The most interesting stuff, however, may be the noirs made by independent, second tier studios, who made up for their lack of budgets by pushing even farther into the dark underside of things.  The most famous of these are DETOUR, directed by the great Edgar Ulmer, and GUN CRAZY, about a young couple who really, really like guns (and just like a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, a gun can be -ahem- a lot more than a gun.)  This ids also the part of the day with a couple of flicks I haven’t seen, so I’ll be DVRing THE GANGSTER and TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.

Once again, into the darkness!

Down Those Dark Turner Streets

Just a quick note here for those who read my blog but perhaps don’t follow the schedule on Turner Classic Movies quite as obsessively as I do.  TCM generally does a big summer theme every year, and this time it’s one of my favorites — film noir.  Every Friday, starting June 5th, they’ll be showing 24 hours of dark, dark mysteries.  They begin the schedule with M, Fritz Lang’s stylistic forerunner to the 1940s noir, followed by Jean Renoir’s LA BETE HUMAINE, a shall we say thematic inspiration for the noirs that would follow.

Then they plunge into pure 1940s Hollywood.  The really famous stuff is here (THE MALTESE FALCON plays in the middle of Friday’s schedule.)  But I’m planning to highlight some lesser known flicks in these posts (which I’m planning to write every week.)  This week’s cool obscurity is THE STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, considered by many to be the first American film noir.  It stars Peter Lorre as a (wait for it) very sinister character, and is well worth your time.

I’ve already seen about 90% of the films on the Turner schedule (There is a reason I write a movie-based fantasy series.)  But Friday night they are showing NORA PRENTISS, one I’ve actually missed.. It stars a tough-as-nails Ann Sheridan, with a plot filled with (wait for it) deceit and double-crosses.  I’m going to catch the movie for sure this time around, and look forward to walking down those black-and-white streets filled with shadows every Friday this summer.