Category Archives: Documentaries

DVD Review: THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES!

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There’s an early moment in Jason V Brock’s documentary about Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) that sums it up well for science fiction’s journey to legitimacy. Dan O’Bannon, the writer/director for “Alien” and “Return of the Living Dead,” recounts an episode in his childhood. He is running off to school when his mother admonishes him to be sure he’s not carrying any science fiction with him! Oh boy, what a memory. It goes to show how people looked upon science fiction as something subversive. And they’re right. There is that quality and, of course, that’s something to embrace and celebrate. Back in the early days, as science fiction was coming into its own in pulp fiction and beyond, there came along an individual who would prove to be a perfect spokesperson for the genre, Forrest J Ackerman. “The Ackermonster Chronicles!” faithfully presents to you a vivid picture of a world, a people, an art form, and a person who led the way.

Nothing gets lost in shuffle here. One seemingly disjointed thing connects with another. The elegant and the unsavory lay down together. Science fiction had, some say still has, a bad rap for having too close an association with pop culture and hanging out with other genres like, God forbid, horror. But we’ve come such a long way. In fact, today, we really have a much better perspective. We, at least the more enlightened amongst us, can see so-called literary fiction as a genre, like any other, and not something so up on high. Yes, we value excellence. The problem used to be that any other genre was spat upon and kicked to the curb by the elite literary chieftains. Not so much today as we find countless combinations and recombinations among all genres. And, anyway, great work will ultimately transcend any label you attach to it. The thing is, you need to be open to anything and the work of people like Forrest J Ackerman have helped make that possible.

So, who was Forrest J Ackerman and what did he accomplish? Ackerman provided a way for the general public, especially a younger generation, to tap into a vital art form that had been getting short shrift elsewhere. We’re talking about a huge world, a whole universe, of creativity. Ackerman did the heavy lifting to create a more level playing field. He collected, he documented, he distributed, he promoted, he displayed, he shared. As the founder of the magazine, “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” he opened the flood gates to all manner of fandom and scholarship devoted to a huge facet of culture. This involved monsters, aliens from space, bloody horror, and science fiction. It was a determinedly do-it-yourself gung-ho approach as well as a tempered and highly sophisticated endeavor. He was the literary agent for numerous big name talents including Ray Bradbury, A. E. van Vogt, and Charles Beaumont. The Ackerman archives compromise 200 complete collections of magazines, 50,000 books, and countless one-of-a-kind items. For over 30 years, his home served as a museum open to the public for free. He coined the term, “sci-fi.” He co-created, with Trina Robbins, the legendary character, Vampirella. To sum it up, he was a one-man gateway.

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What Jason V Brock does with this documentary is let all the significant players on the scene simply talk and let you in. This is essential viewing for students of pop culture, science fiction, and art-making in general. This film will prove most useful to any aspiring writer, especially those down a primrose path to a university Creative Writing program. Wipe away any elitist inclinations you may have. Things are not as they might seem. Those things that go bump in the night may prove to save your life.

You can get your copy of “The Ackermonster Chronicles” by visiting our friends at JaSunni Productions right here. And, as of this writing, I have more to share with you about the multi-talented Jason V Brock. We’ll get to that in the weeks ahead. For now, if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area this particular weekend (Sunday, March 22), then go check out the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show. You’ll find Jason V Brock there along with a number of other highly talented individuals. Visit the show’s website right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Famous Monsters, Forrest J Ackerman, Horror, Jason V. Brock, JaSunni Productions, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Interview: Jason V Brock and the World of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Jason V. Brock

Jason V Brock

Jason V Brock is an author, artist, and filmmaker who finds himself in a very interesting place in pop culture. For starters, he has created two well-regarded documentaries that focus on two very different men, both great contributors to science fiction, horror, movies, television, and the arts in general. One is Charles Beaumont. The other is Forrest J Ackerman. We chat about them and the creative process. How do you create art? One rule of thumb: Do it yourself! We begin with a look back at Brock’s childhood and how he, a child of the ’80s, grew up with the DIY ethos. In Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where Brock cut his teeth on comics, retro cinema, vintage LPs, pulp fiction, and Playboy. Brock began working at his local comic book shop at the age of 13. His dad was a writer and graphic designer. It sounds like an idyllic way to grow up, right out of a Ray Bradbury story.

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Speaking of stories,there are so many stories to cover just in Brock’s documentary on Beaumont. Take the case of the short story, “The Crooked Man,” by Charles Beaumont. It is a classic today that was highly controversial for the time, circa 1955. It imagined a society where homosexuality was predominant while hetrosexuality was outlawed. The story was bought by Esquire but subsequently was not published. It turned out to also be too hot for the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But when Playboy published it in 1955, then that same story became okay, more than okay. Charles Beaumont sold his first science fiction story, “The Devil You Say,” to Amazing Stories in 1950. By 1954, he had written the first work of fiction, the landmark work, “Dark Country,” to appear in Playboy in 1954. This kicked off over a decade of Beaumont stories in Playboy. Writing for movies and televison soon followed including some of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” All this, and so much more, before his life was cut short at 38 by a mysterious illness.

And, that gives you some sense of what to expect in Brock’s “Charles Beaumont: Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man.” You can find that documentary as well as Brock’s documentary on Famous Monsters of Filmland’s former editor, Forrest J Ackerman (Uncle Forry), “The AckerMonster Chronicles!” right here.

We also chat about Brock’s work in editing and writing his own stories. This led us to discussing a unique pairing of talents. In the course of working on the Beaumont documentary, Brock got to know one of the members of the Southern California Writer’s Group, William F. Nolan. They struck up a solid friendship. When Nolan was at a turning point on where he wanted to live next, it was a reasonable choice for him to move a bit further north from Bend, Oregon to Brock’s neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington. It turned out to be a natural fit and Brock and his wife, Sunni, could not be happier to share meals but not only that. Bill Nolan became family and you look out for family.

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Among Brock’s impressive editorial work, there’s the recent anthology, from 2014, “A Darke Phantastique.” This is a 730-page lushly illustrated collection of some of the best dark horror fiction around with more than fifty stories, poems, and one teleplay. This includes Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Case of the Four-Acre Haunt”; Paul Kane’s “Michael the Monster”; William F. Nolan’s “The Last Witch”; Nathaniel Lee’s “The Wisest Stone and the Zoo”; Derek Künsken’s “The Buddha Circus”; E.E. King’s “Three Fables”; Jason Maurer’s “In Your Dark: Differing Strategies in Subhuman Integration Through Monster Academies” and S.T. Joshi’s “You’ll Reach There in Time.” “A Darke Phantastique” is published by Cicatrix Press and you can find it here.

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And another recent anthology, out this year, is “Disorders of Magnitude.” This is a 336-page overview of the genres of horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. It will prove useful to anyone who wants a better understanding of the roots of one of today’s dominant forms of entertainment and art. Included in this collection are essays, reviews, and interviews. Brock studies such dynamic figures as H. P. Lovecraft, Forrest J Ackerman, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, and William F. Nolan. This collection also includes filmmakers Roger Corman, George Romero, and Dan O’Bannon, and such fantasy artists as H. R. Giger. “Disorders of Magnitude” is published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. You can find it as Amazon right here.

You can listen to our conversation by clicking the link below. For anyone interested in writing, filmmaking, and creativity in general, there’s something here for you. Enjoy.

And be sure to visit Jason and Sunni Brock at JaSunni Productions to find out more about their products and services right here.

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Filed under Charles Beaumont, Documentaries, Forrest J Ackerman, George Clayton Johnson, Interviews, Jason V. Brock, Rod Serling, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone, William F. Nolan

Movie Review: ‘Root Hog or Die: A Film About John Porcellino and King-Cat Comics’

Roothog-or-Die-John-Porcellino

We learn a lot from Dan Stafford’s documentary on cartoonist John Porcellino. “Root Hog or Die” provides us with some basic truths that resonate as we explore the life of someone both unique and, by his own account, just an average guy trying to make a life. The whole point here is to embrace the average. As Porcellino states at one point, he’s concerned to see an erosion of “the middle ground, when a person can live without an elaborate ambition and yet not be sleeping by some dumpster.”

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Documentaries, Drawn and Quarterly, Independent Comics, Indie, John Porecellino, King-Cat Comics and Stories, Movie Reviews, movies, Underground Comics

Review: ‘Unhung Hero’ Answers the Question: Does Size Matter?

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Patrick Moote is a talented young man who thought he had a big problem. He thought his penis was too small. So, he goes on a journey of self-discovery and we get to go along with him in the documentary, “Unhung Hero,” which releases on DVD and iTunes on December 10, 2013. Does size matter? On a logical level, of course not. But director Brian Spitz and actor/comedian Patrick Moote are on a quest to explore the deep insecurities we all face in a crass and overstimulated world glutted with porn and unrealistic expectations.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, mumblecore, Sex, Sexual Studies, Sexuality

Review: SUPERHEROES: A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE on PBS

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Superman, Fleischer Studios, 1941-1942

Superman, Fleischer Studios, 1941-1942

“When you strip everything away, what you’re looking at is a stranger in a strange land who doesn’t want to be isolated from the world,” says comic book writer Mark Waid, in summing up what a superhero is all about in a remarkable PBS series, “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.” Viewers will be able to watch all three episodes in one feature length presentation tonight, 8pm/7pm Central. Go to PBS for more details here. And, don’t forget, there are super treats after the show: you can purchase the DVD or Blu-ray, with plenty of bonus features, and you can purchase a gorgeous hardcover book companion with a treasure trove of additional material (review here).

Superhero comics are always up for a good fight, especially when it comes to survival of the fittest. As this comprehensive documentary makes clear, it didn’t take long before such early creations as Superman and Batman gained popularity. Once on top, it’s hard to see yourself anywhere else. And so the race was on to stay on top. However, comics aren’t a simple product that you can easily manipulate for maximum profit, or else that wasn’t exactly the plan. For example, when Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, a couple of lonely and poverty-stricken teenagers in Cleveland, created Superman in 1934, they weren’t thinking about demographics. No, they were thinking about heroics in the very best sense of the word. It is that kind of spirit that has made its way through this rather complex world of superhero comics. Yes, it is a business but it is also married to art. Sometimes it’s a happy marriage and sometimes not so much.

The thrust of this documentary, its inevitable center of gravity, spins around this odd mixture of commerce and creativity. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just sell funny books at a handsome profit and keep everyone happy? A win-win, right? But there are no clear-cut win-wins in life. As we progress from the early golden age, we get a greater sense of the challenges that lay ahead for superhero comics. In this documentary, the timeline is split into three: “Truth, Justice, and the American Way (1938-1958),” “Great Power, Great Responsibility (1959-1977),” and “A Hero Can Be Anyone (1978-Present).” This is tidy way of making sense of the evolution of the industry for general audiences. It loosely follows the comic book eras that collectors and fans acknowledge, based on the dominant artists, writers, and trends of the times: Golden (1938-1950), Silver (1956-1970), Bronze (1970-1985), and Modern (1986-Present). Given all the potential detours, this documentary sets a clear path. It tends to be upbeat but it is also honest. Creators are key to getting a product out to market but creators aren’t always appreciated or compensated accordingly.

"Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." by Jim Steranko, 1968

“Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” by Jim Steranko, Marvel Comics, 1968

A very good example of a creator forced to fight for his rights is Jim Steranko. There are plenty of others like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. For the purposes of this documentary, Steranko has been enlisted to represent the A-Team. Steranko proves an eloquent soul with killer chops as an artist and visionary. At just the time when the Pop Art movement was recontextualizing superhero comics, Steranko was using those very same artistic techniques to create groundbreaking comics that undoubtedly rose to the level of art. Without a stitch of dialogue, or captions, he created panel after panel of comics narrative. However, when it came time for payment, Marvel Comics wanted to hold back payment related to writing for any pages without actual text. Steranko had to resort to a macho man confrontation. Marvel Comics chose to pay in full. Ah, the giddy ’60s, a time when you could still threaten to use your fists to settle a dispute and get what you rightly deserved.

"Green Lantern/Green Arrow," by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, DC Comics, 1971

“Green Lantern/Green Arrow,” by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, DC Comics, 1971

While all of us that follow comics are more than a little familiar with how superhero comics have shifted to a more mature audience, despite its apparent roots as entertainment for kids, what this documentary helps put into perspective are the factors that led to that shift. To the credit of Marvel Comics and DC Comics, commerce and creativity can and do meet in interesting ways. One shining example is at a point in the culture when drug use had reached alarming levels. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, at DC Comics, were keen to do a story that spoke to the dangers of drug use. But, at the time, the Comics Authority, a holdover from another era that still policed comics, did not allow any mention of drugs. Stan Lee, at Marvel Comics, also wanted to tackle the topic–and he did in a landmark Spider-Man story. It was a game changer and bust the doors open wide. No more Comics Authority. A new relevance for comics. In time, this new freedom would lead to further experimentation, and bring forth another player into the business, Image Comics.

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It is to the credit of filmmaker Michael Kantor for tuning in as well as he did to his subject. You can think of this documentary as on par with a Ken Burns documentary. In other words, it’s a stellar job that digs deep and rewards the viewer with greater insight. Be sure to tune in tonight, same Bat time, same Bat channel, on your local PBS station. Go to PBS for more details here.

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Filed under Comics, DC Comics, Documentaries, Image Comics, Marvel Comics, PBS, Superheroes

Movie Review: CARTOON COLLEGE

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Cartoon-College-Josh-Melrod-Tara-Wray-2013

One of the most endearing things you’ll see in the documentary, “Cartoon College,” a 2012 film by Josh Melrod and Tara Wray, is Lynda Barry’s declaration of love for anyone who is a cartoonist. Lynda Barry is an interesting case in point. Her style is “outsider” raw while, at the same time, highly sophisticated. It won’t be mistaken for Rembrandt but it’s not supposed to be. Lynda Barry’s comics are authentic, entertaining, and thought-provoking. But can you teach someone how to become another Lynda Barry?

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Filed under Art, Comics, Comix, Documentaries, Independent Comics, James Sturm, Lynda Barry, The Center for Cartoon Studies

Devolver Digital Films To Distribute Doc on Couchsurfing, ONE COUCH AT A TIME

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There’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of couchsurfing. It’s actually a pretty old concept used by college students, tourists, and all sorts of artists and bohemians. You stay on a friend’s couch temporarily, maybe a day or so. And then, depending on your plans, you move on to another couch. It’s that free-spirited act of sharing that has evolved over time. Consider the Occupy movement and all the questions it has helped raise. We have reason to question plenty, don’t we? We are forced to even question things that seem so fundamental. Can we continue as we’re going in our capitalist society? That’s something we’ll talk more about. For now, let’s consider couchsurfing and sharing in general. That’s what filmmaker Alexandra Liss does in her new documentary, ONE COUCH AT A TIME, which is being distributed by Devolver Digital Films.

ONE COUCH AT AT TIME is an eye-opening documentary that will take you places you may have not fully considered. I look forward to viewing this in full. It already speaks to me on many levels. I am a firm believer in sharing what you have, seeking out help when you need it, and not being bashful of making new connections with your fellow human beings. My graphic novel, ALICE IN NEW YORK, is about the wonders and magic that are possible when you put your trust in the right places and allow yourself to have an adventure. Interestingly enough, that book will be published thanks to crowdfunding. There’s really no limit to what you can do and this documentary helps to demonstrate that.

Press release follows:

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Filed under Crowdfunding, Documentaries, Sharing Movement, Travel

‘Gahan Wilson: Born Dead Still Weird’ Campaign Kicks Off August 18, 2013

Gahan-Wilson-Born-Dead-Still-Weird-2013

“We’re going all the way!” says filmmaker Steven-Charles Jaffe about his fundraising campaign in support of his documentary on master cartoonist Gahan Wilson, “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.”

Beginning on Sunday, August 18, 2013, at noon PST, fundraising for the documentary resumes after the Kickstarter effort.

Many of the original pledgers are now renewing their pledges on the official “Born Dead, Still Weird” website which you can visit here.

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Gahan-Wilson-The-New-Yorker

From the “Born Dead, Still Weird” site:

We have launched this new funding website for our ACADEMY AWARD® campaign to enable all of you awesome supporters to renew your pledges and receive your rewards.

Please browse through our rewards and choose one or more. Note: some previously listed rewards have changed, so take a look and choose one or more. There is also the option to make a pledge without a reward. You can purchase using Paypal or credit card.

The reasons we need your help remain the same. We’re in a tough race to get the documentary submitted to the Academy® so we must reach our goal of $26,000 by Monday September 16.

Thanks again for your continued enthusiasm and support. We will do this!

Sincerely,

Steven

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Filed under cartoon, Cartooning, Cartoonists, Cartoons, Comics, Documentaries, Gahan Wilson, Illustration, Kickstarter, Playboy, Steven-Charles Jaffe, The New Yorker

DVD Review: ‘Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead’

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FAT, SICK, AND NEARLY DEAD, a documentary about what happens when a rich guy discovers he’s gone to the buffet way too often and put his life at risk, came out in 2010 and I totally missed it. In 2010, I also missed PASSION PLAY, starring Bill Murray and Megan Fox so, of the two, I’d be more inclined to catch up on that one. But there was something about this documentary that seemed like an offbeat take on Morgan Spurlock’s SUPER SIZE ME that I couldn’t resist. This is a person who has the means to indulge in a quest. The question is whether or not you should come along.
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Filed under Documentaries, Filmmaking, Food, Health

Interview: FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY: Brad Bernstein, director and writer; Rick Cikowski, lead editor and lead animator

"Doctor Strangelove"  Movie Poster. Artwork by Tomi Ungerer.

“Doctor Strangelove” Movie Poster. Artwork by Tomi Ungerer.

FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY is a masterfully created documentary that will hit you on many levels. It is eligible for an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and deserves that level of recognition for being so careful to detail with its subject, artist Tomi Ungerer.

I had the honor of speaking with both Brad Bernstein, the film’s director and writer, and Rick Cikowski, the film’s lead editor and lead animator. Both men expressed their love for Tomi Ungerer and provide insight into the making of this impressive documentary, distributed by First Run Features.

For me, I can appreciate what happened to Tomi Ungerer when I look at the iconic poster he created for “Doctor Strangelove.” That poster, much like his “Black Power, White Power” poster are forever part of one’s psyche. And yet, in America, Ungerer’s work in children’s books is not widely known today. That work is just as powerful and was just as well known in its day, as anything else he has created. Thanks to Phaidon, we have many of his great works being reprinted in the United States. But, for decades, it was as if he’d been wiped out of memory in America. How could that be? That is a big part of the fascinating story that unfolds in this documentary.

Tomi Ungerer is a great talent and, for a man who has had a lifelong battle with fear, he is a most courageous man. For someone who grew up under the horror of the Nazis, and went on to conquer the world of illustration in its heydey in New York City, that alone is remarkable. But going that far out, wasn’t far enough for Ungerer.

“Far Out Isn’t Far Enough” brings together a seamless narrative boiling down numerous hours of interviews with Tomi Ungerer, Jules Feiffer, the late great Maurice Sendak, as well as other notable figures like art director and critic Steven Heller. Throughout the film you are treated to very deftly purposed animation that strikes the right cord, whether humorous or somber.

As Brad Bernstein explains, the initial attraction to Tomi Ungerer was his spirited expressions like, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough.” That really says it all. Ungerer is a man who speaks his mind and does it quite well. His life and work are a testament to a strong will and this documentary honors that spirit very well.

You can listen to the interview with Brad Bernstein and Rick Cikowski by clicking the link below:

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And, as the say, tell your friends and spread the word about this documentary. You can visit the official site here and also follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Children's Books, Design, Documentaries, Erotica, Illustration, movies, pop culture, Protest, Social Commentary, Tomi Ungerer