We’ve come to a classic of the horror genre: Frankenstein (1931), starring Boris Karloff as the monster – who is not, as it happens, named Frankenstein. That’s the doctor’s name, here played by Colin Clive. The monster is just the monster, or more technically, Frankenstein’s monster. Based, as anyone really should know, on the novel by Mary Shelley, and rather loosely at that, the story follows Dr. Frankenstein as he labors to create life from death, stitching together parts and then zapping the creation with juice from lightning. Having created this life, he finds that his creation is not what he anticipated: the monster is violent, nonverbal, and incapable of being human in the sense we know it. After the monster kills Frankenstein’s assistant, he and another doctor devise a plan to rid the world of it. The monster escapes, roaming about the countryside as the two doctors work to capture and destroy it. Under the steady directorial hand of James Whale, the film is terrific at creating the ominous aura that permeates the movie, lending it a creepiness that still stands up all these decades later. Karloff is brilliant as the monster, even able to convey a smidgen of a sympathetic character under the iconic makeup and in contrast to the raw, soulless nature of the creation brought to life by Frankenstein. Everyone should see it at least once. On a scale of 5, this classic rates a 5.
Up next on our movie tour: The Body Snatcher (1945) starring Boris Karloff. The film also has Bela Lugosi in a lesser role, and this film would mark the last time the two worked together. The movie references Burke, Hare, and Knox, actual historical figures who engaged in murders to provide cadavers for medical study, and is very loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of the same name, which is based on those foul deeds. There’s an element of that here as well, as Karloff plays Gray, a bad driver who dabbles on the side in “resurrections” – i.e., grave robbing to provide cadavers to Dr. MacFarlane so he can teach his students about anatomy. Gray and MacFarlane are two sides of the same self-loathing, with MacFarlane wanting to be free of Gray, but Gray telling him he never will be. The film is as much a psychological tussle between the two as it is a telling of the difficulties that medical schools had in getting enough cadavers to teach future doctors their trade. The final fight scene between Gray and MacFarlane really does represent everything that both binds the men together and demonstrate their equivalent hatred of one another, each knowing the other could not survive without the other half. Karloff is superb at inhabiting his Gray with a malevolence that comes through whether he speaks or not, but also shows a deadpan humor that may be overlooked. Lugosi is such a minor presence and clearly is sleepwalking through his few scenes, which is a shame . On a scale of 5, I’d rate this one a 3.5.
And we continue with Halloween 2012 Moviepalooza with White Zombie (1932) starring Bela Lugosi. This is evil Lugosi, as “Murder” Legendre, and really he doesn’t have to act very much, just do a quasi Dracula act, complete with the piercing stare and Transylvania-like accent. Short version: Beaumont is in love with Madeline, who is set to marry Neil at Beaumont’s sugar plantation in Haiti. The plantation is worked by zombified locals, and in one rather amusing scene, one zombie stumbles into the cane crusher and gets chewed up therein. Beaumont wants to kidnap Madeline and then force her to love him, but Legendre has a better idea, and Madeline winds up zombified, then spirited away by Beaumont. He realizes she now has no soul and isn’t nearly as much fun or energetic as she used to be, and wants Legendre to turn her back. Instead, he slips Beaumont some zombie powder. Meanwhile, Neil has found his way to the castle to get Madeline, who somehow wakes up for a moment from zombie-ness. A plague of zombies arrives and surrounds them on a cliff, and another character punches Legendre, thus distracting the zombies, and off they go like lemmings over the edge. As Madeline wakes up fully, Legendre tries to escape, but zombie Beaumont bearhugs him and goes over the edge. Neil and Madeline embrace, and the end credits roll. This is another of the pre Night of the Living Dead movies, and while it isn’t a completely horrible movie, it’s one that most people these days would not be able to sit through from start to finish. On a scale of 5, I’d give this one a 2.
Next up in our Moviepalooza: The Devil Bat (1941), starring Bela Lugosi. Where to begin? I suppose at the beginning: Lugosi plays Dr. Carruthers, some kind of fragrance genius who invents a killer (ha!) fragrance for a company and then accepts $5000 for his part instead of a share in the company, which becomes very successful. Convinced that the generic company owners screwed him, he develops an aftershave that attracts the giant devil bats he’s grown by zapping regular bats with lost of electricity. And them in true evil mad scientist fashion, he starts offing the guys he thinks have wronged him, by getting them to try the aftershave and then loosing his devil bat on them. A reporter and his photog sidekick show up to report on and solve the murders. Routine stuff follows and eventually Carruthers is suspected of and held to the murders. It isn’t a very good movie, and although the bat effects are not as atrocious as, say, the spaceships in Plan 9 from Outer Space, this probably would not have scared any adult back then (and possibly not even many children). It’s a straightforward telling, without any real twists to speak of, and is suitable for killing (ha!) some time waiting for the real classics to show up on the screen as dusk begins to fall on this spooky night. On a scale of 5, I’d give this a 1.
Moviepalooza continues: The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price. This film, like Omega Man and I am Legend after it, is based on the story “I am Legend” by Richard Matheson, and (in my opinion) is vastly superior to both of those later films. This movie does have its drawbacks, of course: it is compressed from the story itself, and the zombie vampires are more zombie than vampire – George Romero credits this film as part of the inspiration for his “Night of the Living Dead” masterpiece – and the middle part is a bit muddled. Still, Price as Robert Morgan, the eponymous last man, gives a credible performance. The first third of the movie shows Morgan going about his daily routine as he has every day for three years since a plague wiped out the world’s population. The plague first sickens, then kills people, and then reanimates them as zombie vampires, shuffling around at night, looking to feast. Morgan goes out during the day when the vampires are sleeping, staking them through the heart and tossing them into a burning pit. The middle of the film is flashback material, showing his wife and child dying, and is the weakest link. The last of the film shows Morgan’s realization that at least some of the people he’s been staking are actually partially immune, rebuilding a world of sorts in which he is the ultimate monster. The ending I’ll save, as this really is a film you should watch. No one does creepy quite as well as Price, but he’s the Good Guy here instead of the baddie. Well worth the time to watch. On a scale of 5, this one rates a 4.
Next up on Halloween 2012 Moviepalooza: Dementia 13, an ultra low-budget affair directed by none other than Francis (Ford) Coppolla. This is a real B-grade horror flick: homicidal axe-wielder at an Irish castle. The newest entry to the Haloran clan (Louise) is married to one of the Haloran brothers, and will only inherit any of Mother Haloran’s fortune if her husband survives his mother. Alas, on a late night rowboat outing, he suffers a heart attack, and Louise tosses him into the pond, claiming that he’s been called back out of town. The Haloran sister drowned years ago in the pond, and once hubby’s body is in the drink, people start getting their heads whacked off by someone with an axe. It’s a very weird, moody film, with glimpses of what will make Coppolla great later, but it is not a very good film in any aspect. Fun fact: the film is in the public domain and can be downloaded and watched for free if you’re into creepy black and white slasher flick precursors with jangly soundtracks. On a scale of 5, I’d give it a 1.5.
One of the best things about Halloween is the wall to wall oldie horror flicks on TMC. First up: Repulsion, with Catherine Deneuve playing a young woman with obvious mental issues that everyone around her blithely ignores. It’s a Roman Polanski film – the first one of his films that most English-speaking audiences had seen. Deneuve’s character slowly goes completely batshiat insane after her sister leaves her alone in favor of a vacation with her (married) lover. A young man who meets Deneuve’s character and, for whatever reason, thinks he’s attracted to her despite her almost zombified state, should have rethought that after he tracks her down and is bludgeoned to death by her while she’s suffering from hallucinations. There’s other blood and gore as well, but the movie is so slowly paced that it can be hard to sit through to the end. If you’re not a fan of Polanski in general or of psychological thrillers specifically, you probably won’t like this one. If you don’t mind the slow buildup of story and emotion that is the hallmark of almost any Polanski film, and can watch someone’s slow descent into a more hellish existence than she already inhabits, it isn’t a bad way to pass some time. On a scale of 5, I’d give it a 3.5.
I’ve watched Colony several times now. The synopsis as given by the filmmakers says “Colony documents a time of unprecedented crisis in the world of the honeybee through the eyes of both veteran beekeeper, David Mendes, and Lance and Victor Seppi, two young brothers getting into beekeeping when most are getting out. As Mendes tries to save the nation’s collapsing hives, the Seppi’s try to keep their business alive amidst a collapsing economy.”
This may be the documentary they wanted to make, but it doesn’t actually seem to be the one they did make.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is touched on in the film, but as one person (Randy Oliver) puts it, sometimes things like this are cyclical and happen for no particular reason other than it just does. Maybe it is systemic pesticides, maybe it is disease, maybe it is the stress that bees face due to the migratory nature of commercial pollination, maybe it is some combination of these and other factors, or maybe it’s something else altogether, but the film itself takes no particular stance on it, nor does it offer any steps that any individual could take to help. Dave Mendes is featured, talking to groups about pesticides, trying to get people together to do something (in the film, what this may be isn’t entirely clear). Outside of the film, anyone interested in bees at all knows that Mendes is all over the place talking about the need for research and so forth, but this isn’t really touched on in the film. There are some shots of a congressional hearing talking about money for research, but nothing more than one might get in a summary story from CNN or the like.
The rest of the film focuses on the Seppis, a religious family running a commercial operation in California. Most of that focus is not on the effects on CCD on their operation – although there are some points where they do talk about dead hives – but on their negotiating attempts with almond farmers to get a certain price point per hive for almond season. While this holds some interest for people really interested in beekeeping, I imagine this would be fairly boring overall. Quick summary: almond farmers pay migratory beekeepers a price per hive to have bees to pollinate the short flowering season in the fields. With hundreds of thousands of acres of almonds in California, as you might guess this involves a lot of money in the end: with an estimated 1.4 million hives required to pollinate, do the math at even a hundred dollars per hive.
And this business side, I think, is where people like me begin to really think about what’s going on in this film. Before I get into that, though, I have to point out one of the most irritating moments about this film, which involves one of the Seppi sisters talking about the hive. While holding a frame covered with bees, she points out the queen, and says, “They’re somewhat of a matriarchal system.” No, they are a matriarchal system. That’s what it means when the female of the species is in charge, making the decisions, and doing the work. She mentions the queen lays all the eggs and the workers do the nursing, cleaning, and foraging, and says, “But they wouldn’t be there without the male.” After pausing, she gives a little smirk to the camera, and spouts this gem: “You have to remind feminists that.”
OK, which feminists would that be? The ones who never got out of sixth grade biology and know nothing about reproduction? Or the ones uninterested in the submissive woman line touted by certain religious sects – the women (and men!) who happen to be the ones who fight for equal rights for women, and in the past managed to get women not to be counted as chattel, to be able to go to school and receive an education, to be able to work in the same fields as men, and got the right to vote? Those feminists? None of those I know think men are unnecessary or think that complete separatist living is the way to go – those types, like the people who seem to think feminism is a dirty word or that women should just give up their own dreams to accede to what someone else thinks they should do are, fortunately, fringe and rare.
On to the business side. The son who appears to be the primary force of the beekeeping business, says they had 1200 hives (and they want to “bless” farmers with their bees). During the film, the discussions with farmers talk about pricing between $140 and $170 per hive for pollination. For convenience, let’s just say a thousand hives. That’s a lot of money either way. At one point, though, the mother says that the parents are pumping in $20,000 above what the business makes to keep it afloat. Ignoring all the other income (the dad works as a teacher, apparently, and the family may have almonds of their own), as a businessperson myself I have a hard time understanding why it isn’t possible for them to run this business and live on $150,000 a year, even after expenses knock out part of that gross income, especially when they’ve had a few years of managing the business under their belts. Now, I don’t know anything about their accounting or their books or their expenses, but if you’re in the hole that much each year, perhaps you need to take some business classes or exit the field, because something is not right.
In the end, this was a rather unsatisfying documentary, and likely to be not something terribly interesting except to those of us who keep bees (or will be keeping bees).
No, it does not involve brainless or rude clients this time.
The other day, I sat down and watched some documentaries, mostly (of course) related to food and the production of it, one after another.
We Feed the World – Subtitled. About the production o food in various countries and the lives of people who create it.
Our Daily Bread – No dialogue. Images of production and processing of foods from tomatoes to beef, and the people working on the lines or in the fields (or, in some cases, in what amount to hazmat suits, spraying down the vegetables).
The World According to Monsanto – This is, as you would imagine, about Monsanto, the giant conglomerate that controls a lot of how food is produced. The format is a little cheesy, with segments starting off with Google searches, but the information is sound. And a little scary.
The Future of Food – Primarily about GMO (genetically modified) and GE (genetically engineered) foods, and the companies that want to control food from the seed to the supermarket.
Food, Inc. – An overall look at how a handful of major corporations control about 80% of the food that is produced and the conditions under which livestock is raised and processed. There is also a segment on organic foods, and ironically, some of the more well known organic outfits are owned or are subsidiaries of giant multinational companies, something many people don’t know. There is also a segment on Monsanto’s “farm police” who go around to farmers and accuse them of infringing on Monsanto’s patents just because their GE crops cross pollinated into another field. I have to admit, this sort of thing as seen in various of these movies really did make me angry – and it’s why that while I hold a number of stocks in my portfolio, Monsanto will never, ever be one of those.
Watching all of these back to back is enough to get angry and disgusted, but also enough to boost up the motivation to grow some things on your own if at possible. And really, it is possible: you don’t need acres of land like I have (even though it will take years more of work for me to rehab the soil to make it viable, leaving me to grow in frames for the time being), and you don’t even need a huge back yard to do it. From people growing tomatoes in pots on their balconies to people who have built a couple of frames in their tiny back yards, it is possible to supplement or replace the often tasteless things you can buy at the store. And it will be something where you know exactly how it was grown, how it was handled, and who grew it. Because you grew it yourself. Anyone who has plucked a ripe tomato off a plant and eaten it while standing in the sunshine breathing in the green smell of plants and the gritty earth knows the difference. I highly recommend that everyone give it a try.