There's an aesthetic in film known as "so bad it's good," and what that really means is that you've found something to make fun of. This was the central tenet of the show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and I'll state right here that I never could stand that mentality especially when the typical Vince Vaughn movie is far more bereft of originality than any given Ed Wood venture, not to mention sincerity.
Sincerity really is the key there. When it comes to bad, incompetent films, there are certainly ones that might be worthy of ridicule, but when you make that a sweeping response to creative efforts that may fall short of what is considered professional, you miss out on some revealing honesty that can, at times, be far more mesmerizing than slick entertainment.
For a filmmaker like Ed Wood and his equals in other mediums the work is born of a personal sincerity and the strange talent of being able to conceive of complicated, singular ideas without the means with which to express them. Guys like him try damn hard and come up with something perhaps not technically good, but by no means standard. That's not something to laugh at, that's something to be fascinated by. That's psychology.
Comic books have found their Ed Wood, a gentleman by the name of Fletcher Hanks who plied his trade for some time in American comic books around World War 2 and then disappeared from the annals of history. Not only did the creator drop off the face of the earth his comic stories almost didn't make it, either. Compiler Paul Karasik has provided the world with a treasury of outsider comics that are so original, so bizarre, so from their own place, that I don't think I have ever read anything quite like them or more fascinating.
The best way to get the work across is to just go through one of the plots, point by point. Stardust is "the Super Wizard," a man who has "vast knowledge of interplanetary science" that has "made him the most remarkable man that ever lived." Stardust uses these amazing powers for "crime-busting." This means he sits on his faraway planet watching crooks and goons plot bank robberies on his "simplified television unit" (we call the iPods). Stardust utilizes his "tubular special" to go to earth and stop the evil doers.
In one story, Stardust goes head to head against a "gigantic fifth column" that is "preparing for the total destruction of the American government." The leader resembles Dick Cheney and says things like "We must end democracy and civilization forever." Actually, that's a lot like the real Dick Cheney, isn't it? This guy's name is Yew Bee, though, whatever that means. Yew Bee's gang gets "traitor officers" to take over military craft on the coast, as well as airplanes and other weaponry, while they hide in their "secret bomb-proof room." Their forces head to New York City and Yew Bee gloats that the planes are "especially built to ruin New York."
Stardust, however, causes Yew Bee's weaponry to attack each other and crash land. He then turns into a giant flaming star that transforms a bunch of the gangsters into icicles that melt away others are turned into "monster rats" that are chased into the river by a panther that Stardust conjures out of the star. Yew Bee, however, is saved Stardust makes sure that while he retains his head, Yew Bee has a rat's body. He takes Yew Bee to the F.B.I., who hunts down other criminals. Stardust then warns the country with a message of "luminous dust" over the skies of New York City: "America beware of the Fifth Column."
This story is typical of Hanks' concern that spies are going to take over America Stardust adventures are filled with gangsters, terrorists, and spies who plan to not only take down the country, but civilization itself, and they will do so utilizing an array of villainous weapons; typhoid germs, poison gas, "hot-x fusing liquid," an atom smasher, "new shredding guns," time bombs and even an "anti-solar ray" which will "destroy the power of Earth's gravity" and send everyone flying into space, except for the crafty criminals who have chained themselves down.
Hanks reveals himself as a strict - and somewhat warped disciplinarian. In one adventure featuring Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle, the villain is "ensnared" by jungle grass and devoured by a giant spider. In another, Fantomah transforms the bad guy who, admittedly, had planned to "wreck civilization," proclaiming it a failure and demanding society "return to primitive living" into a caveman beset by bloodthirsty panthers.
Throughout the book, Hanks plays out his paranoid psychological issues through a series of facile superhero adventures, realized through clunky, surreal comic book depictions. Fellini has nothing on Hanks.
What makes this volume extra special is the concluding story, in which editor Paul Karasik crafts a short comic story about his search for Hanks and for his meeting with Hanks's son. Within this tale is only a glimpse at the mind that created these bizarre fantasies what answers that revealed lead to only more mysteries that will remain forever unsolved.
In reviewer's parlance, I am totally prepared to name this the book of the year. There is nothing quite like it and few things with as much depth hidden in such shallow territory. This is why I don't often feel like making fun of inept but sincere creations just because someone isn't particularly good at the method of expression they work in, it doesn't mean that what they are saying isn't fascinating. Hanks is fascinating and horrible and stupid and pathetic and magnetic and honest and his work should not be passed by.
White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet (Drawn and Quarterly)
When it comes to picture books, industrialism just isn't cool anymore environmental concerns have taken over.
There was a time, however, when the archetypes of industry were scattered throughout children's books just take a look at the landscape as viewed by Scuffy the Tugboat in the old Golden Book of the same title. Steamshovels, factories, lighthouses made to feel small next to sprawling bridges that heralded in the engineering triumphs of the new age of man all these things were routinely celebrated in picture books of old.
Revisiting that territory is Pascal Blanchet's "White Rapids." Blanchet, a Quebecois cartoonist, has fashioned a stylistically impressive tale of the communities raised and destroyed by the movements of industry. There is no animated, sentient heavy equipment here instead, a dam, power plant and workers' community built on the St. Maurice River, making mankind's stamp on the wilderness in a haughty attempt to tame it for our comfort. It does not go as expected but rather than a disaster, mankind's failure is a whimper and a retreat.
Blanchet's artwork is gloriously retro, but stylized with a smart hindsight that straddles affection with a knowing glance. He can tread the same territory as any other illustrator who depicts the pre-1960s world of commercial style and suburban socialization, but the breathtaking moments here are reserved for the trappings of big business the retro-futuristic control room at the dam, the tunnel and township maps, boardrooms, train bridges, skyscrapers all as exotic in their presentation as the wilds of Canada. This frontier, however, is tamed by outdoorsmen brandishing the latest gear, by housewives and block parties, by modern products flying off the grocery store shelves, of that old chestnut of a word that we don't think about anymore because it's no longer a novelty, progress.
Blanchet's work is a paean to progress as nostalgia, a time when industry was a code for mankind moving forward, an era when the future was an exciting fad for people to buy into. The ultimate lesson is that we dream big and build big, but the mammoths of our ambitions are actually as delicate as the nature we trample over in our fury to move ever onward.
Visit www.drawnandquarter ly.com.
"Filles Fragiles: Pop Gems from French Mademoiselles" (Essen-tial Dance Music)
French pop music has long been one of the best kept secrets from American charts. While we have focused on England for our foreign shore beats, it's France that has been getting the rest of the world moving. It's no wonder, considering the talent that gathered in that modest-sized country, including magnetic singers like Francoise Hardy and France Gall, and song craftsman Serge Gainsbourg, who has done his part, both seedy and serious, to further the bevy of female talent that comes out of that country.
On "Filles Fragiles," Dutch dee-jay and blogger Guuzbourg has put his considerable expertise on the genre to give the world a collection of off-the-beaten-path songs that will add spice to anyone's collection of French pop or help propel the curiosity into a maddeningly delightful compulsion to get more.
The tracks are from a variety of eras and it paints a picture of accessible pop music mixed with a natural level of invention to each track and an attitude that can be best described as a cross between overly-dramatic and totally blasé, always accompanied by a catchy tune and inventive turns in arrangement and performance.
Genres abound and the collection hands in an excellent survey of what the French have to offer in this day and age. There's plenty of the French pop girl breeziness that has become legendary, starting with the lush opening lilt of Marina Celeste's electronic ballad "Le Temps Élastique" and moving all the way to the mannered and classical performance by Guy Chambers & Sophie Hunter. Alfa Rococo's "Les Jours De Pluie" is pure Latin-tinged driving music, while Salvatore Adamo and Olivia Ruiz's "Ce George(S)" delves into a raunchy early Jazz territory.
There are plenty of nods to French pop roots without becoming slavish Souvenir's "Le Paradis C'est Toi" is flirty, cool funk; Lula's "Merveilleux" is an intoxicatingly giddy slice of '60s pop; Emilie Simon's is a bit of electronic r and b "Jane B." is a glorious tribute to the iconic Jane Birkin, mimicking her style and adding a frenetic, 21st century psychedelia to the package.
Decades after Gainsbourg tested the pop waters and broke ground without alienating the past, Guuzbourg is here to remind everyone that the thread continues. France proves that pop music doesn't have to be boosted by a pandering, facile stupidity.
Visit www.myspace.com/filles fragiles.