Aug 23, 2014

THE FEEJEE MERMAID

Mermaids had been presented at shows for centuries. These were often dugongs or people afflicted with sirenomelia. During the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, the remains of mermaids were a staple of cabinets of curiosities. However the exhibit which created the Fiji mermaid concept was popularized by P. T. Barnum, but has since been copied many times in other attractions, including the collection of Robert Ripley. The original exhibit was shown around the United States, but was lost in the 1860s when Barnum's museum caught fire. The exhibit has since been acquired by Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and is currently housed in the museum's attic storage area. 
The Fiji mermaid came into Barnum's possession via his Boston counterpart Moses Kimball, who brought it down to Barnum in late spring of 1842. On June 18, Barnum and Kimball entered into a written agreement to exploit this "curiosity supposed to be a mermaid." Kimball would remain the creature's sole owner and Barnum would lease it for $12.50 a week. Barnum christened his artifact "The Feejee Mermaid." In Barnum's exhibit, the creature was allegedly caught in 1842 by a "Dr. J. Griffin." Griffin was actually Levi Lyman, one of Barnum's close associates.

Aug 22, 2014

THAT'S SOME WORM

This giant (4-foot-long) killer worm was discovered in an aquarium (Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium) in the UK. They found Barry, the giant killer worm, when they were trying to find out what was eating the prize fish and attacking the coral. Experts say that this worm can permanently numb a human with its sting.

Aug 21, 2014

BLU-RAY REVIEW: MAN HUNT (TWILIGHT TIME)


The exploration of Nazi atrocities is still a popular film device today, used from the very high-brow to the very low. Most recently, Tarantino used the hook for his take on Inglourious Basterds, a film that both highlighted the utter despicabability of the Nazi party as well as satisfied our very animal desires to see scores of them completely decimated before a tall screen of a maniacally laughing Frenchwoman, all while we, the audience, freely held up our middle fingers to the pages of history. Much how those stupid kids on twitter who expressed surprise when Titanic was re-released in theaters that the events in that film, ya know, actually happened, I'd be terrified to think how many people saw Brad Pitt's band of bastards shredding Hitler apart with an MP4 and assumed that's how it really went down. This kind of creative license is not exclusive to Tarantino alone - the further time progresses away from the events of World War II, the more like a very bad dream it all becomes, and the more fantastic filmmakers like to be with their imaginations.

Fritz Lang's 1941 film Man Hunt is a wildly different beast than all the films about the Nazi party and World War II that would soon wind through the viewfinder...because it was made during the height of the conflict. The atrocities occurring across Europe during this time weren't just a chapter in a history book or a very long and detailed page on Wikipedia. It was still ongoing; 1940s audiences were in theaters watching actors play Nazis, Nazi-hunters, and the highest of the German ranks. One year after Osama bin Laden received all those well-deserved bullets into his person, audiences were in theaters watching Zero Dark Thirty and thinking, "Boy, we didn't waste any time on making this into a film, did we?" Same goes for United 93, which would follow five years after one of the most awful events in U.S. history.

Too bad Man Hunt did that already - sixty years prior, and even four years before Adolf Hitler would take his life in a bunker beneath Berlin - presenting a film about an almost-assassin who nearly claimed the life of that very same dictator. It was a film made about the very conflict that was still years away from seeing a resolution - one that could have easily ended very differently and quite literally changed the course of the entire world.


The Film:
Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) is a British big-game hunter on holiday in Bavaria, who happens upon the big man himself - Adolf Hitler - standing outside Berghof, his private residence and a Nazi headquarters in the Bavarian Alps. Thorndike, having gotten the dictator in his sights, pulls a trigger on his empty rifle and throws off an unseen sportsmanlike wave, then considers a moment before loading a live round. A Nazi soldier happens to spot Thorndike and intervenes before he can get a shot off. Taken into custody but escaping soon after, following a botched staged death, Thorndike flees across Bavaria with a swarm of Nazis pursuing him and soon crosses paths with Jerry, a cockney-accented pistol of a dame who soon falls head-over-heels for the would-be assassin. Some of the most persistent Nazis in history continue to pursue Thorndike, intent on getting him to sign a written confession stating that he was working on behalf of the government in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. A handsome, refined, and well-spoken Brit versus a gaggle of bumbling Nazis - guess who wins!

Man Hunt is one of several anti-Nazi films made by director Fritz Lang, self-described as a "Jewish liberal," following his abrupt escape from Germany during the Nazi reign. Known as a pathological liar, or at the very least an over-exaggerator, Lang used to claim that members of the Nazi party had repeatedly attempted to solicit him to create the kinds of pro-war propaganda films for which Joseph Goebbels would become infamous. It was during this courting period where Lang allegedly escaped to America, where he continued his career as a director, only now with a newborn anti-Nazi sensibility. 


Picture & Sound:
Often when I watch black and white films remastered on high definition formats, I am struck at how awesomely gorgeous they have the capability of looking. It's not just important that blacks look deep and smooth simply because of the original film stock, but because of the genre. Film noir lives and dies by its blacks and shadows, and Man Hunt, though a lesser celebrated title of the movement, is no different. Lang was not only still embracing the very popular film noir aspects of the time period, but he was even wise enough to move beyond the ideas of merely presenting shadows, darkness, and light, and displaying them in ways that, if done today, would be considered parody. And maybe that's what he was already going for. This is especially relevant during Thorndike's interrogation scene, in which his inquisitor's shadow is thrown high on the wall behind him, achieving almost surreal heights - the easiest way to explain that, yes, Thorndike is in the company of monsters. Only when the door is thrown open and a doctor enters is when those high shadows are chased away by the sudden while light, and they achieve normal dimensions. And poor Thorndike only ever appears as a shadow during this scene - his face is never shown, and his helpless begging responses to the questions lobbed at him escape from his shadow's mouth quivering across the carpet. At this moment, he's been reduced to an intangible, dimensionless shape splashed across the feet of towering golems brought to quasi-life by their master to carry out his bidding. It was essential, then, that the remaster preserve Lang's original intention, and I'm sure he would more than approve of the final picture. 

The audio is obviously quite muted, being that this is a sixty+-year-old film, but dialogue is crisp and clear, much of it sounding like it were recorded yesterday. Certain sound designs are iffy - the scene of Thorndike making it to a nearby harbor will have you patting your pockets thinking your phone is vibrating before you realize it's the sound of the foghorn coming from your television - but it's a matter of the original source material, and not a fault of the blu-ray's presentation.

Supplements:
Included on this blu-ray release are a feature entitled Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt, and a theatrical trailer. 

Overall:
There are lots of reasons to pick up this beautiful new edition from Twilight Time. It's perhaps the most peculiarly entertaining of Fritz Lang's American filmography - at times it feels like a screwball romance sandwiched between Nazi espionage. Its plot is both engaging and actually quite conceptually gutsy considering the political climate at the time in which it was made. Lastly, it's just a solid film that contains  healthy doses of mystery, thrills, unapologetic patriotism, romance (gross!), and quirky humor. Think Hitchcock, but with more balls. 

Buy this and many other limited edition titles directly from Screen Archives!

Aug 20, 2014

THE DEVILS ARE ANGELS

"The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they're not punishing you. They're freeing your soul. So, if you're frightened of dying and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth."

Aug 19, 2014

PRESERVED

This indigenous Mexican woman’s memory is literally preserved, as she – following her death in 1860 – was stuffed and put on display the very way she had been while alive. Also born with hypertrichosis, her features were more characteristic of a gorilla than a dog; her nose and ears were especially large, her face was covered with hair, and she had a double pair of teeth which pronounced her mouth as such. She had a husband named Theodor Lent – who had originally purchased her and taught her to be a performer – and eventually a child of the same affliction, who died after three days. She died five days after that (complications from birth), and her exploitative husband had both her and the baby mummified and placed in a glass cabinet. Lent went on to marry another woman with a similar condition, and was later admitted to a mental hospital.
 

Aug 18, 2014

CLOWNS


WINE SNAKE

A Chinese woman, surnamed Liu, in Shuangcheng, Heilongjiang Province, needed hospital treatment after being bitten on the hand by a snake that jumped out of a bottle of wine.

Ms. Liu bought a live snake and preserved it in wine to cure her rheumatism. However, the snake was still alive after spending three months in an alcohol-filled bottle.

Alcohols containing preserved snakes boasting medicinal properties are common in China. When Ms. Liu opened the bottle to add more spirits, the snake attacked her. She received treatment for inflammation.

A similar case involving a serpent resurrection occurred in 2009 when a Hubei Province resident, surnamed Zhang, was bit two months after he attempted a similar brew. Zhang was not severely injured, unlike a villager from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in April 2001 who died a day after being bitten from a preserved wine snake.