Tuesday, November 04, 2014


I think commenting is working now. Fire away.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Clive Barker's Director's cut of Nightbreed (1990/2014)

Memory, as they say, and assay, is a strange and curious thing: it has a plasticity that somehow still conveys the truth of something while generously protecting the mind from the horrors and chaos of an uncaring universe, the human condition reduced to its essentials. Any literature aspiring to greatness is going to explore our peculiar predicament of being sentient in what appears to be a mindless cosmos; Clive Barker's additions to the canon, Blakean in their imagery & themes, invoking love (an expression of divinity) alongside corruption (the material world), are what high art is made of. (And as with the highest forms, he takes some of his prima materia from the lower depths.)  

From sex, to politics, and religion, it's all about bodies and who controls them, but some of this is about remembering.

I was twenty-two when I saw Nightbreed at the theater in 1990 and had come wondering what the hell it was about since 20th Century Fox insisted that it be marketed as a slasher. 

When you're that young, you frankly don't know shit, yet paradoxically believe you know everything, you're molten, outside, unassimilated into society at that point--therefore, "dangerous." Obviously, I've changed a lot since then: now I know how little I know and knew then. At that time, romantic love meant everything to me, now, not so much, yet, life being circular, you tend to come back around to things. Experience leavens  base innocence. Barker had a very ambitious agenda indeed when he attempted to foist his non-Manichean monster movie onto an unsuspecting American public used to a more black and white storytelling; what you had was a collision of "mindsets" (his term for it) about fictional monsters being fodder for militarized "heroes." In 1990, no one wanted to try to the understand the other whether they were human or a fictional monster. That should be a reminder that there are no others ultimately, and that the monsters we've conjured in storytelling are often mirrors of ourselves to get beyond that screen. 

Context being everything, this all came to a head on the eve of the first Gulf War when the public was being whipped into another cycle (see?) of hating the other; additionally, the movie was released just weeks after the illegal invasion of Panama. The Soviet Union was busy collapsing; German reunification occurred just three days before its release, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after twenty-seven years, less than a week earlier. Old habits tend to continue on anyway, anachronistically.

The timing was bad on all fronts for Barker who was nobly spitting into the cultural trade winds with his film version of his 1988 novel Cabal: unfortunately, the suits at Morgan Creek wanted something more like Hellraiser, the idea of the monsters in a horror movie (really, a fantasy with elements of horror) being the good guys didn't sit well with them, and they rejected it as out of hand and demanded Barker make extensive cuts and reshoots. What it did was to place the psychotic psychiatrist character played by legendary cult director David Cronenberg more at the center of the story; they also demanded that there be more of an emphasis on the menacing qualities of the nightbreed. Not only did they miss the point of most classic monster movies, they just wouldn't listen to Barker, and so, what went out into the world was a confused fusion of his and their ideas. The good side is, they weren't able to remove the sympathy for the breed, outsiders all, but they did incredible harm to the love story between main characters Boone and Lori with all their meddling. A movie that cost $10 million--and a bargain for Morgan Creek at that--made less than nine, and that was that, it bombed, having an afterlife on cable and home video. Part of Barker's legend as a prodigy was that the total cost of Hellraiser had been under $1 million USD. 

Say what you want, but he made an epic with his second film, and that's where the money people come in, and serendipitously perhaps, the themes in the original story material got underlined in real life. The failure haunted Barker for years.

The more jaded among us might see one reading the movie as a parable of the modern world crashing into the author's anachronistic fantasy world with sadly predictable results. Occasionally, the universe smiles and throws something unpredictable out there: a small but fundamental victory for the underdog. You could write an entire book on the themes in Nightbreed, from the content of the script, to the theatrical & final cuts, and the politics of the actual making (or, really, unmaking) of the movie itself. Nothing happens in a vacuum.   In the end, the breed are history's losers, and conversely, winners, like the heretics of the world religions and every other kind of social rebel that ever lived under a repressive order. You cannot kill the truth. But in 1990, history seemed settled, that seemed to be that, the show was over, and there are very few second chances with motion pictures. Did I mention that homophobia was actually worse than it is today?

However, a lot of us out here felt that something was missing from the theatrical cut, as evinced in the opening titles of that showed scenes which were cut. (Some still are, but now we're fortunate enough to have access to the outtakes in pristine condition.) Beginning with some of Barker's public statements and various rumors over the last twenty-four years, considerable force has been gaining for a new cut. I direct the reader to search out the story of the "Cabal cut" which made a final reconstruction of Barker's original vision possible, a convoluted tale in itself. After years of searching, an announcement was made last year that the lost film elements had finally been found in a storage warehouse in Dayton, Ohio. What was once the detritus of a lost vision had become a global cause via Internet outreach and public showings of the Cabal cut. By 2013, the stage was set and cinematic history was about to be rewritten, and that's a rare occasion. Shout Factory! has made good on that promise and beyond. Its message of universal love is central, but I believe the restoration is also about fixing a work of LGBT filmmaking that advocates the same message of acceptance as Richard Oswald's Different from the Others (Anders als die Andern, 1919), the first pro-gay movie in cinematic history. Both movies were damaged for ideological reasons.

If Barker's Cabal and Nightbreed remind us of anyone in literature, it's Arthur Machen. Machen was a Welsh Catholic who, ironically enough, had an intense fear of forbidden sex, a kind of ritual  sex he was made aware of by fellow occultist and American expatriate A. E. Waite, co-author of what is still the most popular version of the Tarot. To be a Catholic in Britain at that time was considered a little eccentric. After Cornelius Agrippa, Waite was also the first to systematically catalog and study the Western inner tradition and was a sworn enemy of Aleister Crowley. When it comes to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, there's plenty of subversive sexuality, inside and outside of the magic circles. I'm not suggesting that Barker based Nightbreed on the politics of esoteric lodges, no, albeit a lodge of that sort could be considered a "cabal" of another kind. Here, we really could go on forever, because that's how the occult works, it's a rabbit hole. Similarly, the Gnostics and other religious minorities and sects were once smeared as sexual deviants; the pagan has been equated with homosexuality; accused witches were blamed for male impotency, and so on. Being different can be dangerous in human society.

The reason I mention Machen is that he wrote similarly weird tales that dealt with shunned races who fled underground from human society. That sounds just like the tale of any human outsider. But is it really metaphor when faced with the incredible fact that everyone who isn't African has a percentage of Neanderthal coursing through their veins? And not so long ago, the bones of "Hobbits" ("homo floresiensis") have been found in caves on an Indonesian island, suggesting that the human story and what constitutes human beings is plastic, always changing, and open to wide interpretation and revision, if not correction. The results of some of that pondering have been catastrophic, such as in the application of eugenics philosophy to social problems, first, in North America, and not much later, Shark Island and in Nazi Germany. Artistic truth can be funny in the way that it naturally draws our attention to these truths of the human experience. A lot of what happens in Nightbreed in its final cut has a lot to do with the first half of the 20th century and the legacy of a long history of genocide.

Machen wrote most of his incredible weird tales about "little people" (and worse) living underground--"where the monsters live." 
"This folk," I translated to myself, "dwells in remote and secret places, and celebrates foul mysteries on savage hills. Nothing they have in common with men save the face, and the customs of humanity are wholly strange to them; and they hate the sun. They hiss rather than speak; their voices are harsh, and not to be heard without fear. ... But as I idly scanned the paragraph, a flash of thought passed through me with the violence of an electric shock: what if the obscure and horrible race of the hills still survived, still remained haunting wild places and barren hills, and now and then repeating the evil of Gothic legend, unchanged and unchangeable as the Turanian Shelta, or the Basques of Spain? (from "The Black Seal," 1895)
The Basques have been found to have an unusual genetic connection to the Neanderthal. Who are the monsters, and who are the humans? Only action and love as will can tell us.

And now, my memory of Nightbreed is changed forever, and base metal has been transmuted to gold. Being human is to be in the process of remembering and forgetting. Nightbreed is about remembering where we've been.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

comments section

For some reason, comments are fucked up, having problem accessing them. I'm not ignoring you. If, for whatever reason (make it a logical one please), you want to vent your spleen: mtthwjanovic007@gmail.com .

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Dude, I just realized..." [insert conspiracy theory here]

If indeed you are sane, you need to reply immediately that, "I don't give a shit about your stupid fucking opinions, or your goddamned speculations based on a staggering ignorance of our history and human nature, fuck you very much." This won't stop them. 
Stupidity needs an airing and wants to parade itself: "No, really," says the asshole that flunked out of history and barely passed civics. "This is REALLY important, it's the truth!"

"No, really, I'm not fucking around--I don't value your opinion about anything."

Feed a cold, starve a fever dream. When you respond to a conspiracy nut, you're giving them oxygen. The same goes for political opponents. Let them suffocate alone, in silence.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Another old review of an important movie...

If you haven't seen it already, I recommend seeing Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. This one still gets a lot of hits: http://chickasawpicklesmell.blogspot.com/2010/01/imaginarium-of-dr-parnassus-2009-review.html

Still true...

You're never gonna see a dude, dudette, or anyone, walk into a party with a big bag of pot, and suddenly, yes, instantly, they all flock/sashay ostentatiously to that person/dude, dude(tte)s. Never. Unicorn time. Didn't happen, anywhere.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


A review of the director's cut is coming in a few days.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Seattle Socialist Sawant rips fellow city leaders for ‘brazen’ retreat with corporate execs

Seattle Socialist Sawant rips fellow city leaders for ‘brazen’ retreat with corporate execs
Postscript: I visited Seattle in 2002 and found it boring. You can have it. People pay shitloads of money to live there? They're stupid, and of course, boring. There's nothing especially exciting about the place. I' do heroin too if I lived there--if you want to call it that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Libertarian Senate candidate from Iowa dies in plane crash

Libertarian Senate candidate from Iowa dies in plane crash

Sears, RIP

Who woulda thunk that once a libertarian hedge fund manager took over at the venerable American chain, applying his dumbo dinosaur ideology to the place (important note: make all of your employees who formerly worked together to make a business a success turn on each other, crucial, really...) would destroy it rapidly? 

The genius just had to "loan" Sears $400 million to save face, and now, now, Sears has posted a "dinner ring" with a swastika on it. My grandfather is turning in his grave, right now.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hello, Ukraine...

I get a lot of hits from two nations: these here United States and the Ukraine. This started before I met a number of people from the Ukraine on Twitter and France is often a close third. I thank you all for your interest.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Arianna, my first play!

Ed.-I never liked this stupid asshole, never trusted her. Giving someone like her a second chance was always gonna be a mistake...


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Clive Barker's Nightbreed Director's cut

I was one of the first thousand to preorder it. I saw the movie back in 1990 and wasn't entirely pleased with it. Warners billed it as something like a slasher at the time, which is not. What Nightbreed was and now is again is the Citizen Kane of monster movies where the tables are turned--or that's what it was supposed to be, an epic tale, a metaphor for discrimination against LGBT people, and much more, a lost classic now found and restored to its former glory before the suits got their hands on it. 

A comparison is in order here: This is like the achievement of a full restoration of the first gay-positive movie ever made, Different from the Others (Anders als die Andern, 1919, starring Conrad Veidt, the somnambulist from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) or The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), it is historic.

I should receive the set by this weekend or early next week. A sprawling review and reflection on the new cut is coming. I'll also be doing a similar essay on Breaking Bad as a cultural and historical phenomenon in time now that the series has concluded and the dust has settled a bit. Expect the unexpected.
Postscript, 10.10.14: It's arrived! This is going to take some time to digest, but I should have my first observations up in about a week. The set is pretty amazing and the new artwork for the 3-BD set is better than the promotional art at the time. David Cronenberg should be pleased, he gets more screen time.

10.11.14: After watching the director's cut last night, I can say that we have a new classic.  What's most surprising is how what Barker intended most is a great, epic love story, a tale of universal love. Nightbreed has finally arrived to the audience it was intended for all along. There are so many things to say about it, and I will shortly. 

Audio and video quality are superb--it looks & sounds vastly better than its theatrical debut which is saying something. Yes, David Cronenberg has more screen time. I won't be printing any spoilers. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

From 2008: Some observations on the WM3

Ed.-I've written on this case several times and am always amazed at the comments my observations have generated. Have I been wrong about the case in the past? You bet, and so were many observers. Read the comments. Many of them are interesting, a few very illuminating. My deceased maternal grandparents were from Arkansas. I have some unique views on the place and its very backwards culture.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

From 2010: "Why Alex Jones Will Live Forever"


to my twitter pals...

I'm here, I'm not queer, but I accept everybody who's thoughtful. Let's talk, if you want. 

Postscript: And I might add: yes, there is comments moderation, but fire away, I tend to post 99% of everything that comes my way. Besides those asserting the DC Madam was murdered--I will not respond to them beyond occasionally refuting their ridiculous assertions--I'll be happy to answer any questions about the case and my book account on it.

And of course, if you want to put the word out there about this site, the case, and my book, you're welcome to. It will be greatly appreciated. The information on this blog and in the text serve the public interest.

Indiana trooper pulled over woman to ask if she’d accepted Jesus Christ as her savior: lawsuit

Indiana trooper pulled over woman to ask if she’d accepted Jesus Christ as her savior: lawsuit

Monday, October 06, 2014

and another thing...

After not doing so in any sustained sense, I'm going to start drawing again. I might post some results on here. Maybe. I'll be geeking out to horror movies for the rest of the month, among other things, besides taking my sweet niece Trick-or-Treating. The Autumn is my favorite season.

Additionally: Yes, it's banal, but we're taking things in for the winter. I have some celery to harvest, some eggplants, leeks, carrots, and brussel sprouts. Except for the first vegetable, most of these do well in the cold--at least for a time.

Additional cinema website coming

I've been thinking of doing this for a long time and now that time has come: a separate blog that will contain only observations and reviews of movies, the occasional doc-men-tar-y, animated work, & series. Beyond that, there are no rules, I'll do it at leisure and much of it will be my opinions on the state of the movie business. I haven't thought of a title yet, or even given it any thought, frankly, but I will in the next week. The standard American view is to assume that the industry is shielded from all of the problems we're all exposed to in mainstream economic life and somehow exists in its own space and time. It does not. 

Making motion picutres has always been a raging battle against art & commerce. As with everything else, that battle is essentially over with capital winning. The old Hollywood studio system was a separate and organic industry at one time; that time is long gone & ended with the general collapse of the labor movement and the decline of the working class. It was always about spectacle, but now power expresses itself more fully, spectacle being all that's left now. There can be no doubt that the movies were always a pallative--an opiate to calm the masses from making the natural connections about their predicament & revolting--and they still are, indeed, more than ever. It's never been a pure thing, but there was a time when you could still make relatively subversive (to power) statements. 

In the United States at least, most of that maverick spirit died with Sam Peckinpah, and by the late 1970s, nearly all the major studios were being bought up by conglomerates. That process was basically completed by the early 1990s with the death of Orion Pictures, the last genuine independent distributor left standing by that point. (One of their final releases was George Romero's The Dark Half.)

Don't get me wrong, the unions in the Hollywood system cut their own throats by a thousand cuts; but they're just as much victims. Right now, most of the computer animators are watching their own jobs evaporate to overseas labor pools. I'm sure that they never saw it coming. My question is, why?

Thursday, October 02, 2014


this site's most popular post ever...Mr. Smiley

Ed.-Iffin' you never heard of "Mr. Smiley," let me clue you in: it's some weird marijuana substitute that was once sold over the counter here and elsewhere across the US, mostly at shady gas stations.

I smoked it. It does produce intoxication. It's also very, very bad for you, and I don't recommend you try it. They only reason it didn't harm me is that I took two tokes, no more.

Without being too prolix: http://chickasawpicklesmell.blogspot.com/2010/05/mr-smiley-product-review.html

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

For Lazy Readers, from 2012: When Fixers Get Book Deals that Flop

Ed.-Not even that long after Deborah Jeane Palfrey's body had cooled, the very class of people (who had worked in the same office as the scum who ran her to her death), Allison Leotta, who left her job to write her "big book," penned a fictionalization of the DC Madam case. Regardless of what she'd probably say about the case, one would have to assume it would always be fiction. But, hey, these are flush times for the people who serve the people who serve power. Or are they? And regardless of what most of them will say, they're not protecting you, unless of course it's an unforeseen side-effect. Then, they'll take all the credit in the world for it at the DOJ.

I don't serve anybody's fucking agenda.

This, presumably, being the Land of Opportunity for professional fixers--the people who wipe the congressional asses of eternal children with impulse control problems for a living--Leotta scored what I would never want or accept: a book deal with the rapidly sinking (good) publishing powerhouse Simon & Schuster. 

Thankfully, the book didn't go anywhere, so I hope she's saddled with all that debt I assume was in her standard contract under "recoupable losses," or whatever guarded language they & their attorneys hid it under. You see, the public, contrary to whatever they might say, hates the truth, so the lack of sales on her part was a little hard for me to fathom. However, being human, or facsimiles thereof, the American public will do anything they can to run away from stories with a bad ending--in Jeane's case, her death. This doesn't keep some of them from speculating about the case along flat-earther lines. How could it when our toxic culture produces concentrated radioactive irrationality as its greatest export?

When I found out about this stupid woman's piece of crap novel, I was outraged. Indeed, as in other cases, I found it important to counter her comments. So, as you can imagine, I posted comments online at some of the sites that were opening their doors to her (hey, don't they for everyone?) as though it were coordinated from the start since she wasn't giving away any secrets on endemic corruption anyway, just bullshit wrapped in...don't know, don't care.

And so, here's where it went: http://chickasawpicklesmell.blogspot.com/2012/06/former-ausa-allison-leotta-writes-novel.html

PS: There are no pictures in my book either, fuck you very much.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dumb cup of coffee™

It's National Coffee Day, and I don't care.

What's going on?

I've been writing again. For over a year after the completion of my first book, I took time off to rest and recuperate, it being a five year journey, and a solitary one at that. Some of what I've been working on is general research into future projects that are non-fiction, while others are short stories--most in early drafts, embryonic form--and one fictional screenplay that might end up being a short film of around ten minutes, one reel.

My feeling now is that I would prefer to work on fiction with some non-fiction essays and research on a few narrow topics. I'm not telling what they are right now for a variety of reasons. Pets, caring for my ailing mother, yardwork, work of all kinds, & helping my niece do homework. Life's pretty good right now. No one's fucking with that. Expectations require throwing money. In other words, serious enquiries only. I am very open to questions and comments about the DC Madam book. However, I know a waste of time when I see one and you'll be ignored if you ask impertinent ones or simply want to have some catharsis with me thanks to your bad childhood.
Speaking (more like writing-or "writhing") of that, as the world has become more hopelessly lost, I've become more obsessed with cinema, not really a surprise, but there it is. Because of that, I'm thinking of keeping this blog going but starting another one that's only about movies, therefore, it will have reviews and some commentary, observations, and whatnot, on the current state of cinema and where it's been.
Oddly, the hits to the blog have risen substantially while I've been fucking around on Twitter. Top three nations of readers are as follows, in order: USA, France, & the Ukraine, fancy that. Yes, the less you write, the more people want to read. Human beings are perverse like that.
And in the spirit of that thought, that's all you're getting for now.

DC Madam trial transcript links

Ed.-I posted these not long ago, it's just down the page a few posts, but to newer readers (?), this should make things easier: http://chickasawpicklesmell.blogspot.com/2012/12/dc-madam-trial-transcripts.html
 For reasons unknown, I was the first to post these online in their totality. Insofar as I can tell, no one else has followed suit. 

What libertarianism really is, at base

It doesn't get any closer to the truth than this: 
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted,
socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The
other, of course, involves orcs.  
 This was a quote from writer John Rogers, I couldn't have put it any better myself, and yes, I know idiots obsessed with both novels, right Greg?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Who are you?"

Why do people ask this? That's like asking someone to describe a color. Everything you would want to know is on this blog. Take a look around, read. I'm a writer, that's who I am. By this point, I've made it clear where I stand on most issues, political, cultural, and otherwise. Beyond my book Let the Dead Bury the Dead, most of the answers to your questions are here.

The rest you don't get to know because all men are islands and all the self-help gurus can't get their shit together either.

Postscript: I make no claims of perfection.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Recent Reflection on the DC Madam Case

Everyone has an opinion, even people who clearly don't know anything about the topic and weren't involved. This is typical of people the world over, but this obsession, then, with being "right" takes over, which is very Germanic, yet in its worst form, uniquely American. 

Few know it, but this dumbo mining camp of a nation was founded on a conspiracy theory, a pervasive form of mental illness in the modern world to explain things simply: that the Vatican was working to enslave Protestants in the Colonies through the throne of King George III. It didn't matter that there was no truth to it, many believed, and it was part of motivating a normally apathetic mob into action (it still didn't work on everybody, just the incredibly stupid ancestors of the Tea Party movement). People believe what they want.

Unless you've actually written a thesis in your life and you can back up your statements, I don't care. You have to make me care by making real effort. I will not debate idiots. There it is.

C'est la vie

You have to laugh when things begin to happen--constructive ones, nothing weird, now--without any effort: writing, creating, and even traffic to your website. It seems the less you do these days, the more happens, and that makes a lot of sense in an era where there's to much coming at you, so, you look for your own "port in the storm." People need some kind of a niche that makes some kind of sense in a chaotic and confusing world, God knows.

This makes all the sense in the world, and in that spirit, without much effort, my site traffic has tripled (not a BIG deal, mind you) without any effort and me neglecting this blog for about a year to finally catch my breath--what little there is of it. What's always interesting are the "whys." Everyone wants to know why. I'm no exception.

I've written on a wide variety of topics: the DC Madam (which went on far longer than I would have imagined), geopolitics, history (a lifelong interest), art (ditto), cinema (a more recent obsession), tidbits of high weirdness, and simply put, my observations on any number of subjects. I make no claims of being a scholar of them, but there it is: I have many interests, too many. What you find when you write about certain topics is that they have a tendency to come looking for you eventually. The Internet is like that. These things don't happen when you simply write a letter and post it.

And so, as America careens over yet another cliff of its own making, I believe some, a tiny percentage of this site, will assist in making a little sense of the mess we're going to be in very soon. I don't claim to have the keys to the crapper like everyone else, but I do have my own unique insights into the nature of things in human society. I'll be writing a little more frequently here. However, don't expect anything. ;0)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Noah Isenberg's Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (2014) review

Professor Strowski:  Now I am here, to bring you home.

Dr. Erich Vornoff:  Home? I have no home. Hunted, despised, living like an animal! The jungle is my home. ...

-Bela Lugosi, from Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, 1955

The American films (and even a few that weren't) of Edgar G. Ulmer are deeply rooted in the immigrant experience, that irresolvable tug between assimilation and preserving one's identity and traditions. Author Noah Isenberg has illuminated this and many other key elements that combined to create a unique voice in cinema in his biography Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (University of California Press, 2014) and drawn the best roadmap (with a few detours, pun intended) so far into the many mysteries of that voice. As anyone familiar with biographies knows, things have a way of keeping their secrets. But the author's extraordinary and unprecedented interrogation of Ulmer's vast body of work provides incredible insight and corroboration into his life, and he marshals his information from every conceivable direction in a way that would probably make his subject very proud if not a little bemused.

The essentially itinerant director's professional life began not too many years after becoming a refugee with the internal collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1916, beginning as it has for many talented emigres fleeing social and political chaos, a process that continues into today. Like so many, Ulmer came to America with great aspirations and a hopefulness that with retrospect now probably seems naive; his first stop was typical for so many immigrants, and where one might think: New York City, during the early 1920s, working on the design of a Max Reinhardt stage production, a first for almost everyone involved. It wasn't long before the young and bright-eyed Austrian had headed to Hollywood, where, like most of America and its many claims to exceptionalism, success is a coldly loaded word. What better, tragic frission could an artist steeped in German Expressionism with its play of light and shadow want? Not a lot of it was going to end on a happy note, and neither do most of films of this underappreciated king of Poverty Row filmmaking who created such classics as the Laemmle era Universal horror The Black Cat (1934), the Poverty row classics such as Blubeard (1944, starring John Carradine), the legendary noir Detour (1945), and the captivating & shimmering noirish moral parable of Ruthless (1948, co-starring the suave and inimitable Ulmer co-conspirator Louis Hayward).

This is all fine and well--but, who was Edgar G. Ulmer, really? It's like asking who Charles Foster Kane, Dr. Mabuse or Jesus of Nazareth was. Luckily, we have more clues on hand, albeit often, as in the rest of life, flawed ones...

 Ulmer's a name which crops up constantly in writing on cinema, especially in cult and noir circles, but how many would know of his design and preparatory work for F.W. Murnau on the classic Sunrise (1927) and Tabu (1931)? I had only an inkling, if that, and had only read musings that the filmmaker had worked on a few Expressionist movies, but they were only vague allusions to the fact that he was one of the few keeping Murnau's memory and technique alive in the Hollywood system. He had popped back and forth between Hollywood and Europe as early as 1929 when he co-directed the proto-verite classic People on Sunday (or the German title: Menschen am Sonntag, 1930), along with Robert Siodmak, from a treatment that had been co-written by the great Austrian director Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann, all of whom would go on to direct noir classics in America...or at least that's how some of the stories go. Untangling the legends and myths from the facts took Isenberg over a decade; his subject was often the worst source of information, as it were. There are reasons for this that have a lot to do with filmmaking and the kind of people who become motion picture directors: they're storytellers as well as notorious bullshitters, which is often how they get their vision onto the screen in the first place, they lie to achieve it, they're tricksters. 

Anyone familiar with Fritz Lang's stories about his own life and career will be recognize Ulmer's propensity to lie about himself and to exaggerate his experiences and accomplishments (including participation in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari & Metropolis). Lang himself simply made things up to tell a better story; so too did Ulmer, and so many other directors over the years. Not all of this was intentional and shows that for many of them the creative process is never over. This bleed of one's life and work shows so clearly in Ulmer's filmmaking. Additionally, directors are usually intuitive psychologists and master manipulators, again, for aforementioned reasons. It takes a lot of effort to put your signature to a movie effectively and for it to retain your vision and style. Therefore, to do it in less than a week of shooting time, which was typical for Ulmer due to economic restrictions--low budgets--and end up with something somewhat coherent and even memorable is something short of a miracle. Ulmer was able to repeat this miracle many times over. This also means that he produced a lot a bad work out of sheer necessity. Even in those circumstances, he was able to imprint most of his movies with memorable themes and moments that contained not only some of his greatest dreams and aspirations, but those of audiences of his era, and ours.

Long relegated to the margins, Ulmer's body of work has been championed by everyone from the Cahiers du Cinema crowd, the leading theorist-directors of the French New Wave, to contemporary hipster movie buffs, and of course, academia. Isenberg shows us the availability of many of these movies and draws us another path to them, again, with no discernible detours. Thanks in part to the Internet, and like such luminaries in other mediums like H. P. Lovecraft, Ulmer is probably more known and popular today than he was when he was alive. My own Ulmer collection has grown in leaps and bounds as of late and announcements of new restorations of his work have been growing periodically over the last few decades, often to great acclaim.

I first came upon Ulmer's work as the Hollywood cult director of Black Cat (because of its stars Bela Lugois & Boris Karloff and the fact that it was--loosely--"based on Poe"), which is maybe the most unique horror film in the horror canon, never mind Universal's. Isenberg notes ably that the movie went on to inspire The Rocky Horror Picture Show for its own high camp value, which is impossible to debate as the movie revels in its perversity, it's simply true--artistic truth. What first strikes the virginal viewer of Black Cat is the familiar use of Expressionist technique; this of course is obvious, but we shouldn't think this was done by someone who had fled a Hitlerean Europe. Ulmer, as stated earlier, was already installed in the American movie system. A fateful decision of running off with the married wife of a cousin of the Laemmles appears to be the deciding factor that relegated him to Poverty Row, he was blacklisted, even after the regime at Universal changed in 1936 to a man named Rogers after its bankruptcy. Not even hits like Black Cat & The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) could save the Laemmle-run studio from cost overruns during the Great Depression.

 Well before the rise of NSDAP & Hitler, talent like Ulmer, Murnau, Joe May (née Mandle, another Austrian), the Hungarian Paul Fejos, Josef von Sternberg (a child of immigrants), even Bela Lugosi, were already working in Hollywood and were "refugees" after Nazi Germany became a reality. They were a different kind of emigre talent, some of whom never quite felt at home in America, or anywhere, and many of them had emerged from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the aftermath of WWI. Movies aren't made in a vacuum.

Again: who was Edgar G. Ulmer? We're never going to know entirely, but thanks to studies like this, we can get an idea. Without excessive sentimentality, Noah Isenberg has advanced our knowledge of this great, dark prince of the cinema through a study of his films that delivers to us many answers and many more questions about an often tortured life at the margins. Ulmer has finally come home.