Monday, December 16, 2013

Lee Van Cleef

On my favourite podcast,, I just heard that Grindhouse has released a deluxe, extra-laden disc of the The Big Gundown, one of the greatest films that Lee Van Cleef ever starred in. What better time for me to display my recent Van Cleef ceramic sculpture (with hat it becomes a kind of jar.)

Whether Lee Van Cleef remains in our memory as the stoic bounty hunter in the Leone westerns, or the more surprisingly faceted gunman in Sollima's Big Gundown, we must concur-- the actor had a face made for the spaghetti western genre. Or maybe it's the other way around…perhaps the genre was made by his face!

His hawk nose embodied a hunter. His steely squint…pity the prey on the receiving end!  He was a sculpture in flesh and bone, topped off with sweat beads.

Yet, unlike certain actors, who are at best when silent, the guy could act with words. They matched his looks, sometimes wry, sometimes reptilian. He could handle horses too, important for a western actor.

His presence is indelible, making him one of those actors who hasn't seemed to have died so long ago. But he has been gone nearly a quarter century, dying in 1989. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tor Johnson

ceramic 10cm high
signed, numbered, dated by Roman Scott, 2013

Tor Johnson (1903-1971) was a Swedish actor chiefly known for his roles as lumbering types in auteur-directed films. Alas, not Ingmar Bergman, but Ed Wood B-movies.

A former wrestler, he was a big man who looked fierce when he wanted to. However, most accounts have it that he was of a sweet disposition, easy to work with. Rudolph Grey's excellent biography of Ed Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy, has some good anecdotes about Tor. But it's hard to find any compelling biographical info from the Internet at this time (such a common problem we encounter when researching pre-digital folk.)
One meme that has gathered steam over the last decades is that Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst film ever made. I disagree; such an entertaining film could never be judged as very bad. I will put forth a more reasonable candidate for worst film ever, in which Tor Johnson also starred: The Beast of Yucca Flats, by Coleman Francis. This film is execrable. The plot, acting, photography and editing are dreadful. And yet, even in this atrocity of boredom, Tor Johnson has a presence, something that sticks with you. He is perhaps an example of biological sculpture, a bodily form interesting outside of drama's requirements.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ernest Borgnine


earthenware toothpick cup
9cm high
inscribed: Cabbie, No.2, Roman Scott 2013

Ernest Borgine (ne' Ermes Borgnino) may be my favorite of all character actors. Certainly a scene-stealer, he needn't have had first billing to remain emblazoned in the mind. For instance, his portrayal of  Cabbie in John Carpenter's Escape from New York is equally strong as the morose Kurt Russells' Snake Plissken, or Lee Van Cleef's reptilian police commissioner. In this film Borgnine even had the last word, posthumously. Dying only last year, immortal Ernest is gone, but certainly not forgotten!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Carlos Allende, the most mysterious man

Carlos Allende was an enigmatic man who wittingly or unwittingly propelled the bizarre whispers of the Philadelphia Experiment into a wider public knowledge some decades ago. I had vaguely heard of him, due to my interest in conspiracy theories and the paranormal, but just now became enthralled after reading Berlitz's book about the Philadelphia Experiment.

The more Allende tried to disappear, the more he was hunted. The Navy published a book of his strange marginalia, or gloss-writing in a copy of Morris Jessup's UFO book. He seemed to be an unhinged outsider--but apparently the U.S. Navy was concerned about too many connections he drew to their advanced scientific projects.

Obviously I had to google him, to see what his fate had been. He died in Greeley, Colorado, in the summer of 1986. Allende had written about Albert Einstein's work on the Unified Field Theory, speculating that the physics had been applied by the Navy. (The Phili-Experiment was supposed to have been concerned with invisibility fields and teleportation.)

I can't really get my head around Unified Field Theory (unifying electromagnetism, gravity, and space-time), but I am struck with space intersecting with time. In the mid 80s I saw a fair amount of Greeley, the unprepossessing town where Allende lied low in his final years. In those years I attended the University of Denver, and often took the Greyhound bus to my grandparents in Laramie, Wyoming, spending some weekends. The bus would almost always be waiting or passing through dusty, frozen Greeley in the wee hours. The town was a transit point, a naked lightbulb lonely train whistle night town, a place in between, a netherworld passed through.  I was always happy to arrive at my destination, to drink buttermilk and hear a gentle tick of a clock on the bed stand.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Character Actors

Last month I bought Quinlan's Illustrated Directory of Film Character Actors at a used bookstore up in Oslo. It has proved a delight, inspiring this drawing. I won't mention who these guys are--I hope film buffs (especially B movie lovers) will recognize some of their mugs. I will hint that two are in the land of the living, both 74 years old now.

Quinlan's has a British style of clinical mercilessness, which makes for an entertaining read.  He has a knack for hyphenated adjectives, honing in subtly on particular qualities that a said actor displays in his specific roles. "fair-haired, blue-eyed actor...with carved lips, Frankenstein Eyebrows..."; or "Tall, spare, permanently-wizened, beak-nosed, small-eyed, bald, parrot-like..."

Though arranged alphabetically, the book is designed for thumbing through, with good photos of thousands of actors. It's a different mentality than we seem to have landed in recently, what with the IMDB, which requires that one knows the name of the actor first off, before researching. I do love web surfing, but it's also nice to have good reference books like this on hand. The book seems to be out of print, another internet casualty.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Doctor

Yesterday one of the extremely old memories of childhood bubbled up in my head in the form of a bobble head doctor. I tend to think of my grandparent's basement a lot, the repository for so many memories. Not only my own memories, but those of the atomic culture of the time, c. 1960. 

The basement, where my father and uncle had lived, and whose rooms full of artifacts were preserved (unlike my own childhood rooms, which shifted during several moves my family undertook), was a sacred repository of mystery and imagination. Especially as a very young kid certain objects were not just fascinating, but downright terrifying.

Such was this thing, found in shadowy, neglected nooks in the ever-dim light of the sweet limestone- smelling space. (For a sound background, put in a David Lynch hum, a thudding breathing from the old gas furnace, supplying the ambient sound.) This little doctor doll was an object of horror, inexplicable, with it's malevolent head flopping and jiggling, as if suffering a neurological disease. The shaking, living quality would always be there, no matter how long you averted your gaze, hoping it to stop the next time you were unfortunate to look at the thing. Better yet would have been, to have the thing be gone entirely.

And so it was. Who removed it? It was not just hidden (as a cloth hid the bear head, which scared my brother.) The doctor never popped up again. He may have been simply thrown out by a concerned parent or grandparent. 

And so the doctor doll was consigned to the dustbin of memory--until I searched for it on Ebay. Sure enough, that was it, all right. I found that it was made by a company called St. Pierre and Patterson. Google as I may, I find no information about this cryptic, forgotten concern. They certainly had talent and wherewithal. I newly have a respect for anyone in the ceramics field, since I make slip molds myself. Many of their other figurines have this same style of grotesque humor (judging from others on offer on Ebay.)

My imagination runs wild... I imagine a Haitian folk artist being discovered by a declasse Anglo somewhere in the deep south. St. Pierre has a raw energy, while Patterson (wearing seersucker) has a salesman's gift, and some knowledge of the porcelain trade.  They land in Texas after a year or two, when the post War boom years really start simmering... Large fans whir overhead as Mexicans paint the wooden plaques and airbrush the finishing coats of underglaze...