Sunday, May 11, 2014

Poor Old Leo G. Carroll

Poor old Leo G. Carroll, I remember my mother saying.  She mentioned this when I talked about the classic 1955 horror movie, Tarantula.  I had just seen a bit of it during an exciting film extravaganza in the gymnasium of my school in Pocatello Idaho, 1972. (I reckon it was an 8 mm silent, but an amazing thing for a second grader in that innocent era, long before VCR, cable TV, etc.)

The little snippet of a memory I have of my mother saying poor old Leo G. Carroll has stuck in my mind all these years because, perhaps even as a young boy, I thought it an unusual remark. He was an actor in the film, playing a man with a horrifying disfigurement--it wasn't a documentary.

All these years later, having seen the film again ( and loving it just as much), I have a clue as to the context of my mom's remark.  I have just read on Wikipedia that he died in 1972 (living to a ripe age of 85.) It could well be that mom had read his obituary recently in the paper, and this flavoured her memory of him.

In any case his role is stunning in the film. His metamorphosis from a crotchety geezer into a gruesomely distorted, asymmetrical acromegelic is scary. I love the scene when he is lecturing his young graduate student intern, who notices something odd in his face. The make-up job is subtle, the success of the scene due more to the actor's qualities.

The whole film is good, one of the very best of the big bug movies. This is largely due to the human interest of a parallel, human monster. The big spider in the desert is excellent, shucking cattle and humans like the best cattle mutilation theories, but the strange tragedy that befalls the the scientist is equally compelling.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Al Feldstein

Al Feldstein, last of the E.C. Giants, has fallen

Earlier this year I had the pleasure to pore over a recently published book, Feldstein by Grant Geissman It's a monograph of the master artist, writer  and editor, a book with the perfect ratio of mouth-watering art and well-researched biographical info.

The young Al Feldstein (right) with publisher William Gaines during their E.C. years (early 1950s)

Part of the pleasure of the book was the awesome feeling of  I'm reading about this genius in the year 2014, and THE GUY IS ACTUALLY STILL ALIVE! All the other titans of the era are gone, often decades gone. I'm glad that I was able to read the book with this feeling, which suddenly ended yesterday, when I turned the pages of the NY Times,  to find his obituary starring at me. At least the article is a substantial one.

 Feldstein was the editor of Mad Magazine during its most influential years. South Park, The Onion, The Simpsons-- almost any type of humour we know of now owes itself to the Mad mentality. Mad was a collaborative effort, but Feldstein propelled it into its huge circulation, which influenced at least one generation directly, and indirectly influences us all henceforth.

As Mad editor Al Feldstein has wide cultural significance, and all the world needs to acknowledge his import. But for the more narrow group of comic book geeks (of which I am certainly a member) he will  also be remembered as a founding member of E.C. comics, the high watermark of the art form.