Happy Halloween! A Zombie Film Excerpt

Happy Halloween! As the new season of The Walking Dead is going strong, we’ve decided to celebrate by giving you an excerpt from The Zombie Film!

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One of the highest rated shows on television, cable or broadcast, The Walking Dead is adapted from the popular graphic novel of the same name and with the same set-up: Rick Grimes is a former cop who has been in a coma for several months after being shot while on duty. When he wakes, he discovers that the world has been taken over by zombies and that he seems to be the only person still alive. Returning home to discover his wife and son missing, he heads for Atlanta to search for his family.

By the end of its third year episodes, The Walking Dead had refocused on the same ironies Romero had suggested in 1968. The core group of survivors, with whom the audience had traveled through zombie land for two seasons, WDhas taken refuge in a prison guarded by implacable ghouls. It’s a bit larger than the farmhouse in Night of the
Living Dead but the emotional situation and the bickering amongst themselves is much the same. What’s more their main conflict is no longer with the “walkers” or “biters” but another, larger group of humans ensconced in a fortified town, who are more numerous, better armed, and lead by a sociopathic control freak that needs to kill them so that he can continue to rule his little world unchallenged. While that character may not yet have become Dennis Hopper’s Kaufman in Land of the Dead, he is getting close.

Zombie Apocalypse (2010), Zombie Apocalypse (the television movie), and Zombie Apocalypse: Redemption (both 2011) reflect and exploit the growing millennial anxiety around an increasingly dangerous world and the fascination with zombies on the Internet as well as in the news. All three rely heavily on the same low-budget rendering of a dystopic future, the zombie world established from Night of the Living Dead through 28 Days Later in which humans are outnumbered by zombies and in a continual state of anxiety and outright combat, much like the “war against terrorism.” In a period context, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012) hoped to coat tail on the success of the bigger-budgeted Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in the same year. Unfortunately neither met with either critical or financial success.

Even as a spate of ultra-low-budget projects over the last decade have infested the genre (and our Filmography) as thoroughly as the aimless hordes in The Walking Dead have overrun the Deep South, some filmmakers have found an alternative to the standard “don’t get bitten before you shoot those snarling zombies in the head” scenarios without needing a lot more money.

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Get to the choppa: A Modern Sci Fi Films FAQ excerpt

Thirty years ago, we saw Arnie take to the screen in his most iconic role as the Terminator! Modern Sci Fi Films FAQ (new from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books) includes a special synopsis of this classic robot action film. Don’t worry – we won’t include any spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet.

 

Robots and Robot Wannabes

Do You Worry About Rust?

The word “robot” is Czech in origin. Their word, “robota,” refers to drudgery, and, in general, a robot is a device designed to perform tasks usually done by a human (apparently, my time spent up to my elbows in dish soap would make me a “robot”).  As such, robots tend to appear in humanoid form, at least in the cinematic world.

The concept of a humanoid robot made sense in Hollywood, as the easiest way to portray one was to build a stiff metallic costume that could be worn by an actor or stunt man. That is, at least, until robots became reality in the 1960s and 1970s. Function overtook form, as the real robots of the world—such as the Stanford Cart—looked more like overloaded tea carts than mechanical men.

The miniaturization of technology took the “man-in-suit” out of the equation in many movies that featured robots. Still, actors Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker served robots C-3PO and R2-D2 well from inside their stuffy confines in the Star Wars epics. Ditto Peter Weller in RoboCop.

Stop-motion animation and computer-generated graphics made non- humanoid robots an alternative to men in suits. Take, for example, 1984’s The Terminator. Once stripped of its cyborg flesh, the T-800 skeleton was presented by way of a full-sized remote-controlled figure built by Stan Winston, as well as stop-motion animation by Doug Beswick, Gene Warren Jr., and the Fantasy II effects team.

The Terminator

Synopsis

  • 1984—American/Orion—108 min./color
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Original music: Brad Fiedel
  • Film editing: Mark Goldblatt
  • Art direction: George Costello

Cast

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator)
  • Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese)
  • Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor)
  • Paul Winfield (Lt. Traxler)
  • Lance Henriksen (Det. Hal Vukovich) 


In 2029, a raging conflict persists between an army of war machines and guerrilla soldiers. The machines send one of their own back to 1984 Los Angeles, where they intend on killing Sarah Connor. If they don’t, she will give birth to John Connor, who is the leader against the machines in the future war. This killing machine, a “terminator,”—Model T-800—is an incredibly sophisticated cyborg. It’s constructed of human tissue, with a high-tech hydraulic skeleton and a single mandate—to kill Sarah. It arrives in a flash of lightning and immediately clothes its nude body by killing a group of toughs and taking their clothes.

But the Terminator is not the only time traveler. Kyle Reese also arrives from the future, sent by John Connor to save Sarah. She is a young single girl who seems dependent on many people. Looking in a phone book, the Terminator finds three Sarah Connors listed. He seeks them out, coldly killing the first two. Going to Sarah’s apartment, the Terminator kills her roommate and room- mate’s boyfriend. 
Sarah is not home, and she is disturbed when she hears on the news that two Sarah Connors have been murdered. She becomes even more fearful when she observes Reese following her. She calls her apartment from a disco, but only gets her answering machine. Not realizing the Terminator is still there, she leaves a message telling her roommate where she is. She then calls police, and Lt. Traxler tells her to stay put. 
In the disco, the Terminator arrives and zeroes in on Sarah, but Reese saves her by firing a salvo of shotgun blasts into the cyborg. It doesn’t faze him, and he responds with fierce gunfire, killing dozens of innocent patrons. Sarah and Reese escape in the fray, but the Terminator takes off after them. They duck him in a car chase, where Reese lets Sarah in on the whole story.

 Read more from Modern Sci Fi Films FAQ here

Landscapes in Piano Repertoire

The Composer’s Landscape features eight insightful essays on the piano repertoire, each chapter focusing on a single composer: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, and Mendelssohn. In this book, Carol Montparker uses landscape as a metaphor for the score, whether it be a well-tended garden of Mozart or the thorny thickets on a Schumann page.  In her introduction, Montparker beautifully explains the reasoning behind her “landscape” metaphor.

A few words and metaphors will explain why I gave the series the name “the Composer’s landscape.” music is a language, and that language has a very broad spectrum. often referred to as “the universal language,” still it encompasses many styles, genres, and dialects. not only does each composer write in a unique language, but performing artists have to learn to “speak” and “sing” in these various tongues. Very often pianists find that they are fluent and conversant in many composers’ languages—but not all. Very few pianists play every composer equally convincingly. even if we are lucky enough to be born with talent, it usually has a territorial boundary, as my great teacher Leopold Mittman put it.

00124843To my eyes, a page from any score is a landscape, with its own contours and terrain, that is directly related to the language of that composer—a kind of visual depiction of the language. When a musician beholds a page from a Schumann score, it has an altogether different look from a page of Mozart; it can be as different as a jungle is from a well-tended garden, and an experienced musician can glance at a page and discern which composer wrote it, just from the appearance of the writing style.

Yes, there is the same system of notation: notes, clefs, phrase marks, dynamics, lines and spaces, and so on. But what gets much more com- plex is the “topography”: the shapes—the peaks and depths, the patches of bramble or thickets to plow through, the open plains to traverse, the circuitous routes of the melodic lines, the clotted harmonies, the busy thoroughfares where all the voices converge, the layers of their impor- tance, and the depth of meanings, stacked like the geological strata of a canyon, through which we must dig in order to get to the core of truth. We must, in essence, be explorers and, for me, the metaphor of landscape works so well that I could find endless parallels between the manuscript and any kind of geographical terrain.

Most concerts are eclectic and varied. This series proved to be a rare opportunity to present and examine one composer at a time and take note of the extraordinary and essential elements that distinguish one composer’s landscape from the next, and what the unique challenges are for the explorer-pianist.

Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen!

Leonard Cohen turns 80 years old today! In celebration, we chose a special excerpt from the new publication, Leonard Cohen: Everybody KnowsHere, American poet, teacher and DJ James Cushing shares his views on the conception of Cohen’s style.

“I have to insist that the first Cohen LP is one of the absolute best, most effective boy-girl make-out records of the very late sixties, totally equivalent to Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On from a few years later. As a radio DJ for over a third of a century, I still get lovers requesting cuts from those two albums.” – James Cushing, 2013

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By the summer of 1967, some of Cohen’s poetry collections had made their way to book and underground head shops in America, and hipper university professors assigned Beautiful Losers in modern literature classes. By early 1968, with Songs of Leonard Cohen, we could hear him sing some of his poems, like “Suzanne,” or lyrics that were crafted for songs.

Remember, he did not make this LP until he was thirty-three years old. Like Howlin’ Wolf, who first recorded at age forty-one, Leonard Cohen was not an adult offering supervision, but an adult giving us permission.

Willie Ruff’s bass provides a chamber-jazz aspect to the production of the album. Ruff, as one half of the Mitchell Ruff Duo [with Dwike Mitchell,] was used to the idea of crafting a whole presentation with very sparse instrumentation – bass and piano. The players must listen to each other’s every gesture and play together to serve the music. The first Cohen album exemplifies non-egocentric collaboration. The whole group creates a single organic sound, not a hierarchy with the singer being “backed up” by other musicians.

At the same time, this quiet and revealing record lands in the middle of the psychedelic world, in post – “Summer of Love” culture. Members of the Kaleidoscope perform on several tracks. So we have psychedelic roots-based folk-rockers joining with a jazz master to enhance the intimate vision Cohen was seeking. Or the vision that found him.

The Art and Science of Sound Recording – The Book

More than simply the book of the award-winning DVD set,  Art & Science of Sound Recording, the Book takes legendary engineer, producer, and artist Alan Parsons’ approaches to sound recording to the next level. In book form, Parsons has the space to include more technical background information, more detailed diagrams, plus a complete set of course notes on each of the 24 topics, from “The Brief History of Recording” to the now-classic “Dealing with Disasters.” Get a taste for what Parsons is all about in the excerpt below!

Hello there!
 Is this hello for the very first time, or have you got the video series as well? If the former, we also produced a video series entitled Alan Parsons’ Art & Science of Sound Recording, and this book is both based upon and an extension of territory we covered in the videos. We hope you will find one to be a good companion to the other. Alan Parsons’ Art & 00333735Science of Sound Recording—The Book is a complete rewrite and reappraisal of the original video version. Because it is a book and not an audio-visual experience, we’ve been able to examine all of the topics in greater detail. With the videos we strove to keep you visually and aurally entertained. Now, you can be reading this at home, or in a busy Starbucks, or on a plane . . . you can read one page at a sitting, or one chapter, or just dive in here and there using the index or the glossary. Ingest the words, look at the pictures and diagrams, and if something is not clear first time around, well, read it again. It’ll make sense eventually; promise.
 The great thing about a book is that you can go at your own pace. Plus it’s the ultimate in nonlinear formatting. You can flip from here to page 145 in less than a heartbeat. Eat your heart out, modern media! (Readers of the ebook version possibly have the best of all worlds, of course.)

For the book, we have kept the same basic tone as the video. We hope it is both intriguing for the new- comer to recording and interesting to the seasoned professional. We’ve dug a little deeper into all aspects of recording technology. Chapter 1, “A Brief History of Recording,” may still be a relatively brief version, but it’s now not quite so “on a pinhead.”

A question that often cropped up on the video series was, “How do I use the videos? What order should I view them in?” Sensing potential for the same line of enquiry here, here’s what we recommend you do.

This book does have a logical flow of chapters. First we look at how sound is created and how it behaves, before moving onto the different sources, components, and equipment involved in making and reproducing sound recordings. With these pieces of the puzzle in play, we then look at all the processes involved in manipulating sound recordings, such as EQ, reverbs, delays, compression, and so on. Then we look at how the various types of sound sources respond to the various processes and how they are best applied for particular sonic needs.

The rubber truly hits the road when human beings are tossed into the mix and we actually have to record real live musicians sitting there right in front of us. We look at drummers, guitarists, bass players, singers, choirs, keyboard players . . . all of whom can have very different mindsets, roles, temperaments, and functionalities.

Finally, even though the word “mix” is now more of a formality than the “performance” process it used to be in the days of analog technology, the mix is still the point where decisions and choices have to be made. And that, in itself, is an art and a science.

So if you can, read this book from here . . . right through to the end—at least once.

Learning anything—especially something as nuanced as sound recording—is a journey, and that journey is half the fun. You can fly from Paris to Istanbul, or you could take in the delights of Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade, and Sofia along the way by traveling on the Orient Express—same destination, but a very different experience.

As with the Orient Express, a top-to-toe read of this book will introduce you to topics you may not fully appreciate the first time around. But you can always come back to Venice and look at its sights and virtues. Although we will try not to dazzle you with clever-sounding words and concepts, important messages can be missed if you speed by too quickly.

Finally, a great debt of gratitude is owed to the many engineers, producers, and artists we interviewed for the video series, whose words of wisdom are included here. Music is so often best when it’s a team sport, and although there are actually some incontrovertibly bad ideas (e.g., don’t try recording a kick drum with a ribbon mic), sound recording is definitely NOT a place for closed minds.

Experimentation—within some context of tried and tested sound practices—should always be on the menu.

You’re in good company. So enjoy your journey.

Happy Birthday, Pierce Brosnan!

A very Happy Birthday to one of our favorite Bonds! To celebrate, check out this excerpt from James Bond FAQ that describes how Brosnan rose to Bond-dom:

 

00314951Pierce Brosnan was well known as the title character of private investigator Remington Steele, from the NBC-TV show of the same name. But that notoriety nearly cost him the role of James Bond.

Pierce Brendan Brosnan was born in County Meath, Ireland, on May 16, 1953. He was an only child to mother May and dad Thomas, a carpenter who walked out on the family after only a few years. May moved to London to seek work as a nurse, leaving Pierce to move among relatives, friends, and even a Christian Brothers mission. In a 1997 interview in Cigar Aficionado magazine, Brosnan admitted, “It wasn’t all bleak . . . you learn how to create your own happiness.” When May remarried, eleven-year-old Pierce joined the couple in London. One day, stepdad William took the boy to the cinema to see a film called Goldfinger. Young Pierce was very impressed, realizing “James Bond was very cool.”

Brosnan attended school to be a commercial artist and landed an apprentice job in a small South London studio at the age of eighteen. But he had become enamored with movies and, at the urging of a coworker, joined up with a local theater workshop. Soon, they had formed the Oval House Theater Company, and Pierce quit his art job. He waited tables, cleaned houses, anything that allowed him to be free to act in the evenings. Brosnan attended drama school, acting in repertory theater and London West End productions like The Red Devil Battery Sign by Tennessee Williams. The playwright had personally selected Brosnan for the lead role.

British theater led to appearances on British TV by 1980. His wife, actress Cassandra Harris, landed a supporting role in the 1981 Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. Brosnan would amuse Harris by offering his impression of 007 when he would drive her home from the studio. (Perhaps a view of things to come for Brosnan. Tragically, Harris would succumb to ovarian cancer in 1991.) A successful 1981 ABC-TV miniseries, The Manions of America, led to Brosnan’s casting in NBC-TVs Remington Steele in 1982. The detective show ended up being in the top twenty-five TV ratings, but was canceled after four seasons as those numbers waned. Broccoli recalled Brosnan from the For Your Eyes Only days, and he tested for the role of Bond for the upcoming The Living Daylights. Pleased with the results, producers named Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond.

Apparently, NBC read the trade papers that day, and, realizing the ratings boost having the “next James Bond” would give the network, they immediately renewed Brosnan’s contract as Remington Steele—effectively blocking his chances to play Bond. Ironically, the series would only air six episodes before getting the ax once more, but the damage was done. The Living Daylights would shoot with Timothy Dalton as 007.

Brosnan was understandably upset, but continued to work on TV and in films, including hits like Lawnmower Man in 1992 and Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993. When the 007 legal snafus were cleared up in 1994, it became apparent that Pierce Brosnan would be Bond in GoldenEye (over suggestions that included Mel Gibson and Ralph Fiennes), and it wouldn’t be enough to rescue the world—this time, he was expected to rescue the character from oblivion.

So, with that small task at hand, it was Pierce Brosnan who brought Bond into the twenty-first century. It was Pierce Brosnan who had to come to terms with a new boss—still M, but this time, a female (gasp!). It was Pierce Brosnan who, with his four Bond films, brought nearly $1.5 billion to box offices worldwide. In his four turns as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan brought the suave and calm demeanor to the character that one would expect from an experienced performer. In 1995, he told Big Screen magazine, “The way I see James Bond is as a man with a passion to get the job done . . . This film is . . . not a cure for cancer, it’s supposed to be fantasy.” Film critics like Roger Ebert praised his portrayal of 007, offering that Brosnan was “somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete, than the [other] Bonds.” High praise indeed.

No matter, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to (get ready, here it comes . . .) “reboot” the role of Bond once more in 2005, just as Brosnan was in negotiations for a fifth whirl as 007. In a 2005 interview for Premiere magazine, he said, “It would have been sweet to go back for a fifth . . . It would have been wonderful to go out there for one last game and pass the baton.” Less poetically, he added, “it f . . . ing sucks.”

Indeed. But bad luck for Brosnan meant good fortune for the next actor to don the shoulder holster and cock the Walther PPK (or Walther P99, as the case may have been). Once again, Broccoli and Wilson considered hundreds of actors to play 007 (the list this time around included Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Jason Statham, Gerard Butler, Colin Firth, Colin Farrell, Clive Owen, Colin Clive . . . no, wait—he played Dr. Frankenstein years ago). After a search that took most of the remaining months in 2005, the winner was: Blond, James Blond.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Armageddon Films FAQ

After watching the trailer, we are more excited than ever for the July premier of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes! Here is what Armageddon Films FAQ author Dal Sherman had to say about the 1968 original film (as well as its many sequels): 

 

Planet of the Apes (1968)

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The Planet of the Apes series of five films (1968–1973), not to mention its various sequels, certainly have a place in any bookabout apocalyptic futures. It’s also a very downbeat run of films, seeing the rise of a new order with the apes that is in every way just as prejudiced and mad as the humans before them—plus, the world gets blown up at least twice. Even the fifth and final movie, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which spends much of the film trying to suggest an alternate “happy” ending for the world in the future, can’t quite escape from the prede- termined insanity of hate and war in its final scene.

While terrible things do happen, and there are certainly ramifications for the characters once they ”arrive” after these events, the first film opens with the biggest “you’ve slept through it” moment in cinema history, namely because it’s supposed to be a mystery until the final moments of the movie. That mystery I already spoiled for you at the beginning of this book, but the reason behind it has not been discussed. At the beginning of Planet of the Apes, we have Charlton Heston as Taylor, an astronaut on a spaceship traveling away from Earth in 1972. Upon wondering what the future will be like and foreshadowing the daylights out of the whole “will the world be a better place?” thing, Taylor goes into hibernation with the other three astronauts. He awakens in 3978 with the ship having crash-landed in a lake and rapidly taking on water. Taylor and two of the others (the lone female astronaut died previously in the journey due to a malfunction with her hibernation chamber) escape the sinking ship and head to land. There they ponder where they are and what they will find on the planet that they assume to be in the correct trajectory for their ship, somewhere in the constellation of Orion.

They eventually meet up with mute and rather mindless human scavengers just as they are attacked by humanlike apes on horseback. One of the astronauts dies at the scene, another is eventually seen to have been lobotomized, and Taylor is shot in the throat and thrown in with the other humans in Ape City. (This brings to mind—are there other cities full of apes? Is this it? If not, how did they get away with calling their city Ape City? Do the other ape communities wince a bit at that? “Oh, why can’t we have a nice name like Ape City instead of being Monkeytown?” And, really, isn’t this a bit pretentious? We don’t see a lot of Human Village or Mankind Junction locations on the map, after all. Maybe a few Peckerwoods. But this is a huge digression. Sorry.)

After various adventures in the city, with Taylor trying to communicate with the apes and attempting to plead his case to those in charge, he finally breaks out and travels into the “forbidden zone.” What he finds is the Statue of Liberty and the realization that somehow the spaceship had returned the crew to Earth in 3978. Taylor makes the (as we later discover) correct assumption that mankind destroyed itself, resulting in the mute, simple-minded humans still left on the planet.

The reveal of the Statue of Liberty is the big shocker of the movie—the one discussed in the introduction that left the audience stunned in disbelief. Up to this point, the audience could center their reactions on the idea that the movie is essentially a metaphor of man’s inhumanity to those not like themselves (only with juxtaposition of apes being man and man being animals). Yet throughout the plot are sprinkled moments where there’s an underlying mystery to resolve: how did this world come into being? Taylor’s jump into the future allows for the surprise ending and could only be done if—up to that point—we have no awareness that this is Earth in the future instead of some unnamed planet in the constellation of Orion.

As it stands, the original novel by Pierre Boulle, La planète des singes (1963) isn’t even set on Earth—the protagonist lands on an ape-dominated, Earthlike planet, although in a final twist the protagonist returns to Earth to find it now run by apes as well (an element Tim Burton would return to in his 2001 adapta- tion). For this reason, and others in the novel, there is no mystery as to why apes are the dominant species; it is merely there for purposes of satire dressed in elements of science-fantasy. Thus, although the novel deals with the elements of the protagonist being hurled into the future and finding a strange new world waiting for him, there is no sense of some type of world-ending menace having hit Earth (or the Earth equivalent). It is only with the Heston movie that the point is driven home that Taylor missed the death of his world and has returned to see the results.

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A postapocalyptic Earth that we are not to recognize as such wasn’t new to cinema by 1968. Roger Corman’s Teenage Cave Man with Robert Vaughn (looking anything but a teenager or a caveman, even in his loincloth) had covered the same “shock ending” ten years before Heston and crew. The film also draws itself from the age-old science fiction plot of the battle-scarred lone male and female survivors of a nuclear war finding each other and becoming Adam and Eve (commonly referred to as a “Shaggy God” story, as per writer Brian W. Aldiss). Elements of this can be seen in episodes of The Twilight Zone as well, such as the episodes “Two” (featuring Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery as two enemies who must come together after the end of the world), “Probe 7, Over and Out” (which ends with nuclear war survivors becoming Adam and Eve), and even Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun” (featuring a group of people leaving a doomed planet to find Earth), just to name one program. Perhaps it is no wonder that Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling would cowrite the script to Planet of the Apes—its final twist makes the movie one long Twilight Zone episode.