Merry Christmas! Happy Winter Solstice, and all the other seasonal holidays, including the Aztec festival of Atemoztli, the Coming Down of Waters, in honor of the Tláloques (the Rain God's assistants), and holy mountains: Popocatépetl, Ixtacchiuatl, Mt. Tláloc, and Matlalcueye.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Merry Christmas! Happy Winter Solstice, and all the other seasonal holidays, including the Aztec festival of Atemoztli, the Coming Down of Waters, in honor of the Tláloques (the Rain God's assistants), and holy mountains: Popocatépetl, Ixtacchiuatl, Mt. Tláloc, and Matlalcueye.
I saved the weirdest Christmas selection for last, the 1925 silent Maciste in Hell. Yes, we're going to Hell for Christmas! And it's gonna be fun!
Maciste is a character created by Italian filmmakers as a stand-in for Hercules. His advantage over Hercules is that he isn't tied to any particular time period, so (depending on the movie) he can be in the Ice Age, ancient Greece, Arabian Knights-land, Mongol-ruled Asia, mole-men menaced Africa, or even helping out the facists during World War One. He's got incredible strength because he's supposed to be related to Hercules. The dubbed American versions of the Maciste films from the Fifties and Sixties were called the “Sons of Hercules” series.
He's the hero of some of the strangest movies ever made – and Maciste in Hell is one of the most bizarre of the batch.
It's hard to say what time period it takes place in. The clothing in the Earthbound scenes could be from the twentieth, or an earlier century. This is also one of the few movies where Maciste wears a shirt.
The plot has lost a few things in translation. The reason a devil wants to bring Maciste to Hell is tied up with Maciste's girl cousin who was wronged by a nobleman – and oh yeah, she has a child but no husband. Maciste beats up the nobleman and his powdered-wig-wearing minions.
The devil sent to Earth turns his attention to Maciste, finally transporting him to Hell with some special effects that are like old woodcuts come to life. Primitive, but they still tickle the brain through the optic nerve.
Wild imagery -- and what's with the Jesus-looking guy nailed to the ground in crucifixion position? There is also television in Hell. And a dragon that serves as “Hell's airplane.”
Then it becomes Dante's Inferno with muscles and a sex drive. Any mortal man is permitted to come to Hell, hang out and see the sight for three days, and go home, as long as he doesn't kiss a devil woman. This would make for an interesting vacation, except that the devil women are hot babes in skimpy outfits who throw themselves at Maciste, and of course, the infernal liplock happens.
This transforms Maciste into a devil, and damns him to . . . you know.
When King Pluto, who rules this Hell asks, “Who kissed you?” Maciste points to the devil who brought him from Earth, and says, “HE!” And all the devils laugh at their compatriot.
The humiliated devil then leads a spectacular cast-of-thousands revolt against King Pluto. Fortunately, Maciste in his devil form is stronger than ever. In an amazing fight scene involving hordes of stuntmen, he quashes the rebellion. The leader of the revolt is nailed to the ground, just like the Jesus-looking guy.
King Pluto is so grateful that he makes Maciste human again, and lets him walk toward the gates of Hell.
But this is not the end! The devil woman who kissed Maciste ambushes him, and chains him to a boulder from where he can see the way out. Then she kisses him again, demonizing and damning him.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Maciste's cousin has gotten married, and is celebrating Christmas, has her son say his prayers, he blesses Maciste – who becomes human and joins the party! Seems a child's Christmas prayer can free a damned soul.
Ho-ho-ho -- Merry Christmas.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
We return to our look at weird Christmas movies with one that is more Christmas-oriented, and that most people would consider more conventional. After all, it stars the beloved comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, is based on an operetta by Victor Herbert, and features all kinds of old fashioned things from bygone eras. How could it help but be traditional?
But it is the traditional elements that make the1934 March of the Wooden Soldiers (AKA Babes in Toyland) one of weirdest movies of all time. These traditions go way, way back, down to the Winter celebration's pre-Christian, pagan roots. Come to think of it, Jesus Christ isn't even mentioned.
Sure, Santa Claus does a cameo, but in this context he's closer to what Phyllis Siefker wrote about in Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicolas, Spanning 50,000 Years -- a book you need to read to know what's really going on with these December rituals.
It takes place in Toyland, a town populated by characters out of Mother Goose, though some have been tweaked in peculiar ways. The Three Little Pigs are similar to those in 1933 Disney cartoon. The Mouse (who ran up the clock) looks like a caricature of Mickey, though his body looks like a premonition of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth's Rat Fink. He also throws bricks at the Cat (and the fiddle), like Ignatz in the comic strip Krazy Kat. It's hard to tell if it's homage, corporate sniping, or early pop culture referencing.
And Toyland has frightening medieval aspects: The stocks and dunking stool are used as public punishment/entertainment, overseen by hooded “executioners.” If that isn't enough, offenders are banished to Bogeyland.
After a same-sex wedding to fool the villian, Bo Peep and Tom Tom the Piper's Son get banished to Bogeyland, after which there's an odd quiet scene with transparent gnomes and the Sandman -- and then things really get wild.
Bogeyland turns out to be the subterranean home – with stalagmites, alligators, bats, spider webs, and built-in stairs -- of the “Bogeys,” classic half-animal Wild Men with fright wigs, horns, animalistic masks, claws, and furry suits with visible zippers and grass loin cloths, in the tradition of characters who scare children in festivals and rituals around the world.
Led by the villain, the Bogeys attack Toyland -- and (for a children's Christmas movie) All Holy Hell breaks loose. A horde of Bogeys flood the streets, knocking down doors, grabbing women . . . and children.
Fortunately, Toyland has its defenses. The Mouse drops bombs from a miniature airship – foreshadowing the underground comic book Mickey Mouse Meets the Air Pirates. Laurel and Hardy send out the wooden soldiers, who like an army of robots, defeat the invading horde, snatching Bo Peep from the arms of a Bogey. One wooden soldier even fights on with a little girl clinging to him after his head has been knocked off. Technology saves the day, as the wooden soldiers march from the fairy tale into science fiction.
It's wild holiday entertainment!
Monday, December 13, 2010
There's also a story by my wonderful wife Emily Devenport, and contributions by some of the wildest minds on the planet, all running amok in the free-fire zone we call the "near future."
Sunday, December 12, 2010
This time, Chicanonautica on La Bloga investigates the Virgin of Guadalupe, in honor of her December 12 holiday, finds a UFO connection, and as usual, more stuff that makes for extras over here at Mondo Ernesto.
A few days before my posting, La Bloga reproduced a poster from the National Hispanic Cultural Center that translated her actual name, Tlecuahtlacupeuh (she spoke Nahuatl, not Spanish), as “She Who Comes Flying From the Region of Light Like an Eagle on Fire.” Talk about strange lights in the sky!
In Passport to Magonia, Jacques Vallee, siting the research of Helen Behrens and Ethel Cook Eliot, suggests the the Virgin called herself Tetlcoatlcaxopeuh, “Stone Serpent Trodden On.”
Ah, the complications of transcultural transliteration!
I also noticed two Mexican actors who appear in La Virgen Morena (1942) who deserve to be mentioned:
Abel Salazar, who plays Temoc, Last King of the Aztecs, went on to produce, direct, and act in many films. These included a lot of deranged horror films that were dubbed into English, and blew peoples minds when they appeared as part of Saturday afternoon monster movie programs in the U.S. of A. He starred in Brainiac (AKA El Barón del Terror) that influenced Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
Alfonso Bedoya is famous, or rather infamous, for his part in the 1948 Humphrey Bogart/John Houston classic, Treasure of Sierra Madre. His portrayal of the bandit Gold Hat offended Chicano activists back in the Sixties, and for years the film was banned for the airwaves of Los Angeles. As for me, “We don't need no stinkin' badges,” has always sounded like words to live by.
And getting back to UFOs, here's a musical tale the suggests what really may be going on with the Drug War:
OVNI, being Spanish for UFO, as in Objeto Volador No Indentificado.
Keep watching the skies!
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
The President's Analyst doesn't have as much Christmas in it, but give it some time. Once we get there, it'll be worth it.
It didn't see it when first came out. I wanted to see ultra-cool James Coburn in another Derek Flint movie, saving the American Way of Life from absurd, comic book-style threats while surrounded by all the near-naked women my junior high school eyes could stand. What was this? Coburn running around looking uncool, with hippies?
By the time The President's Analyst came to television, I was in high school, the Seventies had begun, and the American Way of Life was seeing threats that even Derek Flint couldn't defeat. By then, I could identify with Dr. Sidney Schaefer, and his freaking out at the consequences of taking on a job too big for any one human being.
The film's basic plot could have been a standard secret agent movie -- but instead, it deconstructs the genre, going satirical beyond the jabs of the Flint movies, charging into sci-fi. It could be considered one of the few New Wave science fiction movies, and for my money, it out- does the entire French New Wave, except for Godard's Weekend. The ending can only be described as pre-cyberpunk.
It begins with a black man in a DIZZY GILLESPIE FOR PRESIDENT sweatshirt stabbing a white man on a New York street in broad daylight. Godfrey Cambridge then brilliantly performs a speech about the N-word. This was years before the blaxploitation craze.
After Sidney Schaefer accepts the presidential analyst job surrounded by modern art – the DVD I have doesn't have the Warholian underground movie sequence – he goes on a walk through New York to a bossa nova soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin, who also provided the rest of the fantastic score. Bits of “Joy to the World” and “Jingle Bells” are sampled. But this is not the mind-blowing Christmas connection. Not yet.
It's both funny and disturbing to see James Coburn blow his trademark cool. He escapes through the world of conspicuous consuming, gun-toting, white middle-class liberals, into hippieland. His roll in the tall grass with Snow White while spies from all over the world kill one another, and Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire sings about changes re-arranging his mind, captures the appeal of wanting to escape into a counterculture. And such dreams eventually come crashing down.
Once Schaefer is back in the hands of spies, it gets futuristic. The end of the Cold War through developments in telecommunications, and the East getting more capitalistic as the West gets more socialistic, is predicted. It seemed like far-out satire at the time.
In the days before cell phones and the Internet, when the phone company was monolith, computers were room-sized monsters, people like Marshall McLuhan said strange things about how it would all change how we all live. The President's Analyst offers an idea of where it could all go. Remember, it warned of the Cerebrum Communicator long before the word “nanotechnology” was coined.
And it all ends with a Christmas celebration, news of the president negotiating with the phone company while, through hidden cameras, a horde of androids watch as “Joy to the World” plays. Let Earth receive her King . . . buzz . . . click!
But I wonder if the younger generation wouldn't think that the Cerebrum Communicator isn't such a bad idea. Would they want it for Christmas if it was available? And who would they trust to inject it into their waiting carotid arteries?
Monday, December 6, 2010
We blasted through the Thanksgiving/Black Friday/CyberMonday weekend. The Season is upon us. Bad commercial Christmas music fouls the air. To make matters worse, you're going to need a blindfold and earplugs to avoid some of the most sickeningly sentimental movies of all time.
As a public service, my next few posts will about some alternative selections for Yuletide viewing that put a different spin on the Season of Joy.
Let's start with, I, the Jury, from 1953, based on the novel by Mickey Spillane, the first screen appearance of the immortal tough-guy private-eye, Mike Hammer, portrayed by Biff Elliot. And it was originally in 3D!
No, this is not a surrealistic non-sequitur, this version of I, the Jury is a Christmas movie!
It takes place on the days before the holiday. It opens with a closeup of a Christmas card, and traditional Christmas music, then there's gunshots -- and it goes stark, raving noir. Throughout the film, Christmas cards and music are used as transitions between scenes. The mayhem is punctuated by Christmas carols, which are interrupted by gunfire – a two-fisted, gun-toting celebration!
Sure, the heroin of the novel is replaced buy stolen jewelry (because in the early Fifties you couldn't mention such things on the Big Screen), but glorious, insane mayhem comes through:
In the opening scene a man's prosthetic arm is torn off. He fights for his life, thrashing at the camera that seems to have attacked him. The credits keep shooting out of his armpit – 3D, remember? Later Mike/Biff holds the arm, and explains that the man, an army buddy of his, “would give his right arm for a pal.”
There's also a kiss that results in the longest, thickest saliva string in the history of motion pictures. Imagine what it must have been like in the third dimension!
Unfortunately, there are no trailers or clips from this film available. But to get a feel for it, here's some of Spillane's prose set to some funky animation:
And here's Duke Ellington doing the tune that Spillane always considered to be Mike Hammer's proper theme song, “Harlem Nocturne” composed by Earle Hagen in 1939.
And if you think this has been outrageous, wait until you see what's coming!
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Some folks like stories that are easy to follow. Not me. I prefer to jump on a story's back, give it a taste of my spurs, hang on for dear life, and see where the hell it takes me. If it's a wild ride, I'm happy.
“Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs” was a wild ride from the git-go, and that was just writing it.
It started out totally different -- shorter, in a different genre, with another title: “Atomic Grass.”
I even wrote it like a true professional, with a specific market in mind: Murdaland: Crime Fiction for the 21st Century. No sci-fi here. I was out to write noir for the new millennium! A few years earlier I heard a security expert joke about the easiest way to smuggle plutonium into the country was to hide it inside a bale of marijuana. And I was collecting bits and pieces about the border situation. Throw in some post-modern Chicanos, and there it was – a new kinda noir!
Unfortunately, Murdaland folded before they could even get around to rejecting “Atomic Grass.”
Undaunted, I sent it to other classy markets – even The New Yorker. But soon there were no more markets.
Instead of getting depressed, I noticed that there are a lot science fiction markets these days, and I was finding it easier to sell to them. I got the fiendish idea of sci-fizing the story. Besides, I had gathered more bits and pieces about the border conflict, had some ideas about the singularity issue -- and then there was Victor Theremin.
I created Victor in a story called “Human Sacrifice for Fun and Profit” that can still be purchased in James Palmer's Voices for the Cure anthology. Then I sold “Hindenburg's Vimana Joyride” to Jetse de Vries' DayBreak Magazine. It was a case of a character taking on a life of his own. He also acts as catalyst for my imagination. I plugged him into “Atomic Grass” and – KERBLAMMO!
Also, by this time I had given up on commercial considerations. Writing for The Market failed for me. Besides, The Market was changing with new technology and social configurations. The Market didn't know what it wanted.
On the other hand, I was curious about what kind of wild ride I could get.
And what a ride it was! I generated the line, “radiation is groovy, kill the pigs,” which screamed to be the title. And the border war gave me more bits and pieces.
I also developed my idea of creating mad scientists as gonzo heroes for our age – when I was a kid watching monster movies, I identified with the guys who made the monsters. I know scientists, they tend to go mad, but not that way they do in the movies. I try to encourage their madness. It just might save the world.
And yes, Edgar Rice Harrison is a tribute to Paul Riddell, though don't expect any more resemblance between the two of them than there is between Victor Theremin and me. After all, this is fiction, and the whole point is for it to come to life, wreak havoc on the environment, and provide a wild ride.
And I've managed to publish it! Thanks to the Rick Novy and the folks at M-Brane Press, you can get it in 2020 Visions through Amazon.That means that the ride has just begun. Hang on, it's going to be wild!
Sunday, November 28, 2010
And one of my other favorite versions of the Mexican Conquest from Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain:
The theme song from another revolution that has never gone out of style:
Thursday, November 18, 2010
“Getting your dad's pickup? Great cover story for investigating the mystery missle!”
That Victor Theremin! What a kidder! Always pitting a paranoid spin on things. Actually, this road trip was planned long before the mystery missile launch. Honest.
So after watching some bullfight and riot videos, I put on my Homeland Security . . . Fighting Terrorism Since 1492 T-shirt, and off we went, down I-10, past the wooden cut-out of a giant baby, where the zombie cacti flexed their gnarlitude. Stephen King provided a literary soundtrack. We ate commercial burritos that stayed together when you ate them in the car – no edible fallout. The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station was either raising steam or kicking up dust into the afternoon air, toward mountains that looks like they belonged to a lost world with pterodactyls nesting at their peaks.
Were the ghosts of Jack Kerouac and Hunter Thompson riding in the back seats? Or was this just what traveling always does to my brain?
The lost world mountains gained a Martian majesty. The car-crushed coyotes made the road into a sacrificial altar that held our civilization together under a sky that was a complex web of expanding, disintegrating con trails -- as it usually is over Arizona. Lots of flying objects in this this sky, even if you can't identify them all -- like that lone blimp, hovering over a small town in the middle of nowhere, as we enter the smoggy haze that meant we were approaching California.
They waved us through the agricultural stop, but the Tejanos before us had their cooler examined. You never know if someone may be trying to smuggle some Madagascar man-eating tree seeds into the Golden State.
We stopped for cool drinks in Chiriaco, next to the General Patton Museum that had a lot of tanks (and a larger-than-life statue of the General and his faithful dog). Next door was a lovely outdoor shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. That, the post office, motel, convenience store, and gas station made Chiriaco quite the oasis.
As we switched our soundtrack to the music of Raymond Scott, the high desert mountains merged with the clouds in the sun-blasted haze. Spectacular grey storm clouds filled the sky. If there were any unidentified flying objects, they were invisible in a sky transformed into an upside-down ocean of molten gold as we drove into the setting sun. Almost all the windmills of the wind farm along I-10 spun like mad.
At Mom's house, I used the wrong remote and knocked her flatscreen in the living room offline. Or could it have been some sinister agency trying to cut us off from vital information?
The little set in the kitchen worked. I read Spinrad's Mexica while hearing about people trapped on a crippled luxury liner, along with predictions of cold, windy weather and the discovery of still another species of self- cloning reptiles.
The sky was clear and blue. And there was no traffic noise. UFO influence? No, it was Veteran's Day. I had completely forgotten about the holiday. The L.A. Freeway boogie/rumble was called off. Dad was a veteran. I dedicated the quiet to him.
I went from Spinrad's Mexica to Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Moon Maid -- from one adventure in a bizarre world to another. After all, that's what life is? Isn't it?
I drove the pickup all the way pack to Phoenix, playing radio roulette. I let oldies time warp my brain as I drove across the SoCal of my youth into the desert of my current life. A ranchera station played a mix of traditional songs and narcocorridos. When “Cucurrucucu” came on I recalled the funerals of my grandmother and father and cried shamelessly.
The only flying objects were black, had feathers, and somehow could fight against the powerful winds.
Later, a lone helicopter hovered over mountains that were painted beyond psychedelic by the setting sun.
Victor grilled me before I had a chance to decompress:
“Learn anything about the missile?”
“So now that ya got a pickup, what are you going to pick up in it?”
“I don't know.”
For now, I drive my pickup, with my phantom co-pilot, and feel stronger than I have ever been.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Instead of getting depressing with more political stuff, I've decide to to do some fun extras – videos of Lalo Guerrero, the Original Chicano:
First, a parody of the Ballad of Davy Crockett, the irony being that Crockett was an immigrant to Mexico, who refused to obey local laws.
Next a look a the recent past:
And a possible future:
Finally, a blast from the past, hoping for better times in the future:
Monday, November 8, 2010
Here's a special guest blog by my good friend and colleague, Victor Theremin.– Ernesto
It's about time I got a chance to have my say about all this! First, don't believe anything that Ernest Hogan writes about me! The guy's a freaking mythomaniac. Leave him alone for few seconds and he starts confabulating. No need for drugs or anything – it's pure, nonstop brain dysfunction.
Especially right now, what with the election, his selling that story to Analog, and the fact that “Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs” is about to see print -- that twisted gray matter of his is blazing with a firestorm that has him sitting around with a weird smirk on his face as he watches videos of bullfights and riots. It'll probably just get worse when 2020 Visions (edited by Rick Novy) comes out on November 15th. Who know's what vile literary abominations will result from this . . .
They will probably bear a certain resemblance to “Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs,” which is the most outrageous atrocity committed in the name of science fiction that I've ever read. Worse, Ernest wrote me into the story, making me look like an even crazier nutjob than he is! And his depiction of our friend, Edgar Rice Harrison, can only be described as criminal – once people read it, I don't know how Eddie will be able to continue his legitimate research into the possibility that seeds of the man-eating tree of Madagascar have been smuggled into the United States.
Radioactive marijuana, neurotic artificial intelligences, multimedia countercultural art/crime events, and Chicano characters that are the polar opposite of proper role models . . . How does he think he can get away with this? I have spy cam video of camouflaged dacoits with blowguns in the trees around his compound – who knows what those darts are dipped in? And how could he smile like that during these troubled times?
Don't get me wrong. You should buy and read 2020 Visions. It has a wonderful story by Ernest's lovely wife, Emily (why she ever married him, I don't know) ,and other insightful speculations of the near-future by David Lee Summers, Jack Mangan, David Boop, Gareth L. Powell, David Gerrold, and others. It's the sort of science fiction we need, and haven't seen enough of lately.
But you probably shouldn't read “Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs” – as if anybody would want to read anything with a ridiculous title like that anyway. It you do find your eyeballs snagged by that despicable construction of words, don't believe it – especially the stuff about me.
Just keep repeating to yourself: It's only fiction . . . it's only fiction . . . it's only fiction . . .
I would report Ernest to the authorities, if there were any that I recognized or trusted.
Victor Theremin has been compared to Kilgore Trout and Raoul Duke. The world awaits his novel Let 'em Suck Supernovas!, but he keeps running around the world getting into trouble instead of finishing it.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Stop the presses! (Yeah, I know, we don't have presses – I just love the image on huge, clunky mechanical monsters being forced into a clattering, catastrophic halt.)
My story, “Death and Dancing in New Las Vegas” has just been accepted by Analog. You bet your finest python-skin vaquero botas, I'll be keeping you posted as to when and where you'll be able to buy and read it.
This new story is a sequel to “The Rise and Fall of Paco Cohen and the Mariachis of Mars.” It was in the April 2001 issue of Analog. If you missed it, you can listen to my podcast of it at the Theme and Variations site.
“Death and Dancing in New Las Vegas” features Paco Cohen, years later, when both he and Mars are changing. Got a feeling there's a few more Paco stories in me, clawing their way out. Then, there's the matter of Paco's daughter, Xé-Xé . . . This universe has taken on a life of it's own.
I'm getting to be an old timer at Analog. Back in April of 2000, they published Obsidian Harvest, a novella I wrote with Rick Cook, that was reprinted in Gardner Dozois' 18th Year's Best Science Fiction. It's a hard-boiled detective yarn in a world of Aztecs and dinosaurs.
It feels good to to have contributed to a publication that goes back to the early pulp days, when it was called Astounding Stories of Super Science. You can read a lot of that wonderful old stuff online or as ePub files from Gutenberg.
Meanwhile, there's more exciting news coming, so stay tuned (as they used to say back in the analog television days).
Sunday, October 31, 2010
“Come with us now to a land where unspeakable monsters roam, and terror is the order of the day. You have sixty seconds to prepare yourself . . .” Then they would cut to a commercial.
That's how Chiller on KTTV Channel 11 in L.A. would begin. What diabolical genius came up with that? Once it was followed by a horror movie based on a Carlos Fuentes novel.
The issue of chupacabra, the Anglicization versus the the proper Spanish chupacabras came up. Google prefers the no “s” version, so that's why I'm going with it.
I do a lot of my recomboculturalizationizing -- so here, I'm giving a nod to tradition, first with José Guadalupe Posada:
Then there's the matter of La Catrina, the skeletal lady in the feathered hat, created by Posada. Later Diego Rivera gave her the skeletal Quetzalcoatl boa:
Lately she stands in for La Lloroña, the preColumbian goddesses, and the new manifestation, Santa Muerte:
And what's Día de los Muertos without ofrendas?
But here's a new tradition of the megaofrenda:
Who knows where it will lead?
I'll leave you with an example of what happens when Mexican tradition gets covered in layers of American-style exploitation: