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How Carrie Fisher Became Princess Leia

Carrie Fisher, best known for for her iconic role as Princess Leia in the  Star Wars saga, has died. Below is an excerpt from Star Wars FAQ (Mark Clark) and how Carrie was chosen for the role.

Casting Call

Even before George Lucas had completed his Star Wars screenplay he was faced with finding actors to portray his still-evolving characters. Auditions began in late August 1975, while Lucas was finishing the fourth draft of the script. While not quite as excruciating a process as writing the films (see Chapter 4), casting soon became another protracted ordeal – both Lucas and for the actors under consideration for major roles.

00122914fcLucas wanted to hire young, unknown performers for the picture’s leading roles, as he had for American Graffiti. This was in part a cost-containment strategy, but he also believed that actors not already associated with other characters would be more effective in the fantasy context of Star Wars. It was one thing to ask viewers to accept Wookiees, lightsabers, and the Force, but something else again to ask viewers to accept someone like, say, Ron Howard as Luke Skywalker. To assist with the talent search, Lucas again relied on casting director Fred Roos, who had served marvelously on Graffiti. At the beginning of the process, Lucas, Roos, and several assistants worked twelve hour days, seeing as many as 250 actors per day. After three grueling weeks of this, to save time and money, Lucas joined forces with another young director, Brian De Palma, who was looking for a group of young unknowns to star in his film Carrie (1976). Lucas and De Palma took the unusual step of hosting joint auditions. Hundreds more actors were invited to come in and try out for both films. Lucas’ demeanor during the process was so low-key that some of the would-be cast member mistook him for De Palma’s assistant.

Nevertheless Lucas had definite ideas about what he wanted and placed a premium on chemistry between his leads. During callbacks (without De Palma), he screen-tested actors as ensembles to see how various would-be Leias, Lukes, and Hanes worked in concert with one another. Early on, Lucas wanted to hire legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune to play Ben Kenobi, but Mifune declined. “If I’d gotten Mifune, I would’ve used a Japanese princess, and then I would have probably cast a black Han Solo,” said Lucas in J. W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars. One of the trios in contention for the leading roles featured newcomer Will Seltzer as Luke, former Penthouse centerfold Terri Nunn as Leia, and a young Christopher Walken as Han.

Jodie Foster was given serious consideration as Princess Leia. She was screen-tested, but not hired because she was only thirteen years old at the time, and casting a minor would introduce restrictions on the shooting schedule. (De Palma declined to cast her in Carrie for the same reason.) Other performers in the running for major roles included John Travolta, Am Irving (both eventually hired for Carrie), Nick Nole, Tommy Lee Jones, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (later “Boom Boom” Washington on Welcome Back Kotter) – a potential Hans Solo. Ultimately, of course, Lucas settled on Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carri Fisher for leads; a pair of distinguished British actors for key supporting parts; and four performers with specialized talents (and physiques) for the remainder of the primary cast.

None of their lives would ever be the same.

Carrie Fisher 

Roos also suggested that Lucas consider Carrie Fisher for the role of Princess Leia. Fisher, born October 21, 1956, in Beverly Hills, was Hollywood royalty herself – the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. Her parents divorced when Fisher was two (Eddie left Debbie to marry Elizabeth Taylor). Fisher appeared alongside her mother in the promotional short “A Visit with Debbie Reynolds” (1959) and in the TV movie Debbie Reynolds and the Sound of Children (1969). Beginning at age twelve, she worked in her mother’s Las Vegas revue, and at sixteen she and her mother appeared together in the Broadway revival of the musical Irene (1972). Prior to Star Wars, Fisher had made just a single screen appearance, but it was an unforgettable one – as Lorna, a precocious teenager who beds Warren Beatty (minutes before her mother does the same) in director Hal Ashby’s sex farce Shampoo (1975). Lucas liked that Fisher could believably play a bossy, intimidating, character yet still seem warm and likable. Despite concerns over the actress’ weight, he cast her as Leia, paying her $750 per week. With Star Wars, Fisher would finally step out of her mother’s shadow.

Star Wars FAQ tells a story as thrilling and action-packed as the movies themselves, with bold characters facing apparently insurmountable odds, full of frantic chases, narrow escapes, daring victories, and tragic setbacks, culminating in an unlikely triumph that changed the course of the galaxy – or at least of Hollywood.

Graham Greene on Knight Without Armour

Graham Greene, author of The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews, & Film Stories, shared his Knight Without Armour review with On Channel. Check out an excerpt below.

00314187Knight Without Armour

by Graham Greene

One had thought it was good-bye to M. Feyder when he entered the gates of the Denham studios: one began to write the obituary of the director of Thérèse Raquin and La Kermesse Héroïque. The news that Mr. (‘Hungarian’) Biro and Mr. (‘Naughty’) Wimperis were responsible for the scenario and dialogue: the sight of Miss Dietrich floodlit before well-advertised crowds at first nights: a New York premiere—followed by months of silence: rumours of gigantic expenditure—some put it over £300,000: all prepared us for the traditional Denham mouse.

But—astonishingly—a first-class thriller has emerged, beautifully directed, with spare and convincing dialogue and a nearly watertight scenario (only marred by a bath and a bathe in the Naughty Wimperis vein). The story, of course, is melodrama, but melodrama of the most engaging kind, the heroic wish-fulfillment dream of adolescence all the world over—rescues, escapes, discarnate embraces. A young Englishman, who translated novels for a Russian publisher in pre-war St. Petersburg is ordered by the police to leave the country because of an indiscreet magazine-article. Instead he joins the British Secret Service, takes on with beard and passport a Revolutionary personality and is condemned to Siberia after a bomb outrage of which, naturally, he is innocent. From this point his second personality has complete control: as an Englishman he is dead. War is followed by Revolution and he becomes automatically and will-lessly a hero of the New Russia, a Commissar. He is entrusted with the job of taking an important prisoner, a Countess, to Petrograd. He lets her escape, she is recaptured, he saves her again: White prisoners fall to Red machine-guns and Red prisoners to White and White to Red again, a kaleidoscope of murder: we get the impression, so difficult to convey on the screen, of almost interminable time and almost illimitable distance, of an escape along the huge corridors of a prison an Asiatic empire wide. Mr. Robert Donat as the stubbornly chivalrous Englishman deserves more than the passing tribute we accord to a director’s dummy. Mr. Donat is the best film actor—at any rate in star parts—we possess: he is convincing, his voice has a pleasant roughness, and his range is far greater than that of his chief rival for film honours, Mr. Laurence Olivier. Mr. Olivier’s burnt-out features, his breaking voice requires the emotional situation all the time; he wants all Blackfriars to rant in: he must have his drowned Ophelia, his skull and sword-play. Mr. Donat is sensible, authentic, slow; emotion when it comes has the effect of surprise, like plebeian poetry.

Read the entire excerpt here.

Baseball On The Big Screen

Tom DeMichael’s book, Baseball FAQ All That’s Left to Know About America’s Pastime, is a lot more than just a lot of stats and records. It’s about baseball in every way imaginable — on TV, the Movies,  its history, and more! Tom De Michael talks about Baseball’s integration with Hollywood in a chapter he titled, “Baseball at the Movies.” Read an excerpt of the chapter below, and get your copy today!

00131156The love affair between Hollywood and the game of baseball has been long, torrid, and very public. Even pioneer inventor Thomas Edison made the game a subject of his early filming efforts, shooting less than a minute of a Newark team playing an unidentified opponent in 1896.

Called The Ball Game, it was the precursor to Edison’s silent version of Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” poem filmed in 1899. Titled Casey at the Bat or the Fate of a “Rotten” Umpire, it was a dramatization of the verse, shot on the inventor’s New Jersey lawn. It would be the first of at least seven versions of the story, including two feature-length films in 1916 and 1927, and five short films.

The growing popularity of cinema ran parallel to the growth of baseball in the early 1900s. Shorts like 1909’s His Last Game and 1912’s The Ball Player and the Bandit—both just twelve minutes each—combined baseball with the Wild West. Before long, it wasn’t unusual to see many baseball stars appearing on the big screen, acting as . . . well, acting as ballplayers.

Pitchers Chief Bender and Jack Coombs showed up in a 1911 comedy short, The Baseball
Bug, while Frank “Home Run” Baker starred in a 1914 short, curiously titled Home Run Baker’s Double. Pitching great Christy Mathewson appeared in Love and Baseball and Matty’s Decision, in 1914 and 1915, respectively.

Ty Cobb got in the act, starring in Somewhere in Georgia in 1916. Based on a not-so-original story by sportswriter Grantland Rice, the film features Cobb as a ball-playing bank clerk (years later he probably owned the bank). Discovered by a scout for the Detroit Tigers, the bank clerk leaves his sweetheart—the banker’s daughter—behind to play ball and steal bases, while a sneaky coworker tries to steal his girl. When Cobb is kidnapped
by thugs hired by the competing cashier, the Georgia Peach beats the bejesus out of
them, then arrives at the big game in time to win it, and his girl. Cobb made a cozy $25,000 for the two-week project.

It wouldn’t be long before the Bambino himself—Babe Ruth—brought his broad face
and big personality to the screen. With only one season under his (then-slim) belt with
the Yankees, Ruth starred in a seventy-one-minute 1920 feature called Headin’ Home. Once more, the story was not complex. A simple country boy named Babe (what a stretch . . .) doesn’t play baseball very well, until he blasts a long homer one day against the local team. Branded as a traitor to his town, he moves to New York and becomes a Yankee. With a return to his hometown, Babe is now a hero.

BaseballFAQmovieRuth’s cinematic career continued as his success with the real Yankees grew. He starred in two comedy features in 1927 and 1928, Babe Comes Home and Speedy. The Babe also showed up in half a dozen shorts in the 1930s, making his final film appearance as himself in 1942’s Pride of the Yankees.

Early feature films focusing on the game included The Pinch Hitter in 1917, The Busher in 1919, and Slide, Kelly, Slide in 1927. The Great Stoneface, Buster Keaton, went out for baseball in 1927’s College and performed a masterful baseball pantomime in 1928’s The Cameraman. A real fan of the game, he was known to assemble pickup ball games with the film crew whenever there was a break in the shooting.

In the early 1930s, comic Joe E. Brown—he with the loving-cup ears and saucer-sized mouth—a former semipro ballplayer who passed on an offer to play with the Yankees, made three baseball films: Fireman, Save My Child in 1932, Elmer the Great in 1933, and Alibi Ike in 1935. In all three films, Brown was a simple man with a passion for baseball. As an interesting afterfact, Brown’s son eventually became the general manager with the
Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ever since then, dozens and dozens of films with a baseball theme have captured the attention (and, more often than not, the admission price) of millions of moviegoers.
Some of the cinema stands out more than others, just like the ballplayers portrayed on the screen.

For many fans of the game, certain scenes and certain quotes remain, long after the projector has been shut down and the stale popcorn is tossed in the bin. For me, two particular moments stand out, both from films to be addressed in just a few paragraphs.

A key exchange in A League of Their Own, between manager Jimmy Dugan and star player Dottie Hinson, reaches far beyond the game of baseball. The catcher has decided to quit because, as she puts it, “It just got too hard.” Jimmy replies with a corny but still very true observation: “It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard . . . is what makes it great.” Trite? Yes. Sappy? Yes. But a challenge to always reach higher? Yes.

In The Natural, slugger Roy Hobbs—confined to a hospital bed with his childhood sweetheart Iris Gaines at his side—reminisces about his life. Very simply, he pauses and quietly says, “God, I love baseball.” Truer words were never spoken, even if they’re just on film.

Why IS Shakespeare so daunting?

The author of the book, The Shakespeare Audition, Laura Wayth has explained why some of us find Shakespeare so overwhelming. Is it the old English? The accent? Believe it or not it’s something else entirely. Read below for to find out why Laura Wayth thinks Shakespeare shouldn’t make you scared but excited.

00141820I kind of hate calling him “The Bard,” don’t you? But that’s what people often call Shakespeare. In medieval Gaelic and British culture, a bard was a professional poet employed by a patron (be it a monarch or nobleman) to write. Shakespeare is called The Bard because many people consider him the greatest poet that ever lived. And the idea that Shakespeare is first and foremost a poet is important for us to think about.

You see, the thing that probably makes you afraid of Shakespeare is the very thing that makes Shakespeare easy and fun. Shakespeare is poetry.

Although Shakespeare wrote prose, the majority of his work is in verse, aka poetry. Poetry has a specific shape and structure. Poetry has some rules governing the way it’s created. Once you learn those rules and that structure, Shakespeare begins to make perfect, exquisite sense! The rules that shape the creation of poetry give the actor a kind of roadmap to follow. Learn how to read the map, and the road to Shakespeare-land rolls out before you and your performance springs to life. Once you understand the form, you unlock the key to actor fun and freedom. I’m going to give you an idea of how to do this in a little while.

But first, let’s talk a little more about this dreaded P word—poetry. It sounds so formal, doesn’t it? It seems like something reserved for Valentine’s Day, or something archaic, ancient, and separate from our own experience. It seems fancy and formal and not how we express our truth. The biggest complaint I get from students who are new to Shakespeare when
they speak his words goes something like this: “But I just don’t feel like I’m being honest.” This is the single biggest problem actors have in approaching Shakespeare—they just don’t feel truthful speaking his words. And being truthful, after all, is the thing we actors value the most. To not feel truthful on stage is to feel fake, fraudulent, disconnected, self-conscious, and downright get-me-off-the-stage wrong.

But let’s think of it another way. Poetry isn’t our normal, everyday kind of truth. Poetry is greater than that. It offers an uplifted, larger-scale truth connected to all of humanity and to the divine. It isn’t the way we speak—it’s bigger and more powerful. So let’s think of poetry like an even greater revelation of our thoughts and of ourselves. Let’s think of it like music.

A song or a piece of instrumental music can take us to a place that is emotionally poignant and full of energy, encapsulating human experience even better than ordinary speech could. Music contains images. It is dense with a kind of information that we can understand not only on an intellectual level, but viscerally. Music can communicate what speech alone cannot. A violin can sing what someone’s heart is feeling. A driving rhythm can capture all that is raw and primitive in our individual or collective experience. A soaring line can lift us up. A minor key can bring us to a down and dark place. Poetry does this. And poetry does this because poetry is a kind of music.

October is finally here!

As we enter the month of October, we over at Hal Leonard are excited for Halloween. As we count down the days until Halloween approaches, here is an excerpt of one of our spooky books, Haunted America FAQ!

00128461From the bright lights of New Orleans, the avid fan of Louisiana cemeteries could take no more dramatic turn than toward the swamp lights of Manchac, and the mass grave that was perforcedly dug here to bury the victims of the Great West Indies Storm of September 1915.

Or, at least, the storm is what the official story blamed. Local lore, however. insists that the weather was simply the weapon that finished them off. The real killer was Aunt Julia Brown, the elderly voodoo priestess who owned almost all of the property around the town of Frenier Beach, out on Lake Pontchartrain, and who appeared to begrudge every tenant she had.

“One day I’m gonna die,” she used to sing to herself, and to anyone who might be passing by as she sat out on her porch. “One day I’m gonna die, and I’m gonna take all of you with me.” So she could not have timed her funeral more perfectly than to coincide with the landfall of a Category Three hurricane that modern equipment would tell us moved northwest from the Gulf of Mexico at around 14 mph, with sustained winds near its center of 115 mph, and which crashed into Frenier Beach like an express train.

At exactly the same time as Aunt Julia’s funeral.

The old woman had certainly unnerved her fellow townspeople. But they had admired her as well, and the whole town was out to pay its final respects. The funeral service began at four, and that was precisely when the storm hit. Gathered around Aunt Julia’s coffin, mourners were scattered as the windows of her house blew in and the walls peeled away.

Then the winds snatched up the coffin and carried it into the bayou, along with everything else it could gather—livestock and the living included. Later, once the winds had died down and the waters finally started to recede, Aunt Julia’s body was found deep within the cypress swamp.

But they only found her body. Her casket had disappeared, and so had more or less everything else she had owned. The personal possessions that she kept around her house, the house in which she lived, most of the property that she had collected around Frenier Beach, and a lot of the people who lived in it.

Speaking of earthly riches and treasures, people always say that when you go, you cannot take it with you, and maybe that’s true. But Aunt Julia certainly put it someplace.

The bodies that could be found were buried in a mass grave in Manchac Swamp, floated across the lake on makeshift driftwood rafts, and for a century since then the swamp has howled with their restless, and so wronged spirits.

In 2009, A&E’s Extreme Paranormal investigative team even visited the grave site, and although they returned with little more than a prime-time half hour of jumbled voodoo, mini-cam entombment, and the kind of outrageous exaggerations that only reality TV can supply, still it was one of the most captivating shows of its ilk ever broadcast. They found nothing, but that didn’t mean that something wasn’t there.

Besides, the cemetery is just one of Manchac’s claims to fame because there’s reasons aplenty why the locals used to call the place “the swamp of the ghosts.”

Reasons like nearby Manchac Lighthouse, automated in 1941, decommissioned in 1987; derelict and barely accessible but, says legend, occupied to this day.

Reasons like the Blood Red Hanging Tree, an old-time instrument of local justice, whose strange fruit can still be seen hanging from its branches today.

Reasons like the Cajun rougarou that has stalked the swamp for centuries, and reasons like the ghostly highway that crosses the swamp where, until its deadly collapse in 1976, a modern road bridge once stood, although woe betide anyone who attempts trust to its tarmac today.

In fact, the only thing that Manchac Swamp has more of than ghosts and supernatural horrors is probably alligators. Which is maybe why not many people go there at night.

James Dean’s Final Hours

Today is the 60th anniversary of the death of James Dean, the focal point of Keith Elliott Greenberg’s book, Too Fast to Live, Too Young To Die.  In his book, Greenberg pieces together the puzzle of Dean’s final day and its everlasting impact.  Here is an excerpt:

00122929Ever since his toddler years, Jimmy had a keen talent for both observing the world and interpreting it for what was primarily a small but receptive audience. If his grandfather Charles crossed his legs, Jimmy imitated the gesture. If Charles then stretched his legs, Jimmy did it too. “It was more than just mocking Charlie’s gestures,” Emma said. “Even then, Jimmy
seemed able to be another person.”

And people wanted to watch Jimmy perform. “From the time I can remember him, he was cute, and he was always the center of attention, wherever he went,” Joan Peacock told CNN.

There was also a depth that separated Jimmy from his contemporaries. “Jimmy had a little something up here that the other boys don’t have,” Traster said, motioning at his temple. The nursery owner remembered Jimmy as a teen, becoming sullen and taking off on his motorcycle—Traster pronounced it “motor-sicle”—to the family property, where he’d “medidate” in private.

By Traster’s estimation, the young man “derived a certain amount of comfort” from being on the land that defined his ancestors. “He had the spirituality the average kid didn’t seem to have.”

In February 1955, Jimmy had returned to the farm with Dennis Stock, a photographer for Life magazine, working on a photo essay that would be entitled “Moody New Star.” East of Eden was already generating excitement, and—while he wasn’t yet a household name—the comparisons to Brando had begun. It was the public’s opportunity to see Dean not only in the place that shaped him, but also with the people who loved him in a way that his fans never could. The depth of the relationship between Markie and the actor he considered a brother was particularly evident. In one photo, Jimmy is waiting for the school bus with his younger cousin. In another, Markie looks over Jimmy’s shoulder as he reads. In a third, the two pay a solemn visit to Cal Dean’s grave.

Markie never forgot any of it. “That was kind of a special visit,” he says. “When Jimmy would go to town or something, he’d want to know if I wanted to go along. That’s why I’m in so many of the pictures. And, of course, even when I look at those pictures now, it brings back all those memories.”

Because of Dean’s death on the highway, people would later focus on the picture of Dean pushing his little cousin in a miniature race car, as well as the image of the pair playing with toy racers on the floor.

Jimmy’s grandfather Charles Dean also loved fast cars, purchasing his first vehicle in 1911 and disrupting the order of Fairmount by rocketing down the road at a then-blistering thirty-five miles per hour. Jimmy was a child when he began driving a tractor but quickly graduated to motorized bikes. Recounted Emma, “His motorcycles got larger and larger.”

Over the years, Jimmy owned an Italian Lancia scooter, English cycle, Harley, 500cc Norton, Indian 500, and British Triumph T-110—with “Dean’s Dilemma” painted on the side—in addition to a number of cars. But recently, he’d made his fastest and most expensive purchase: a Porsche 550 Spyder, a two-seat race car, possessing neither a windshield nor a roof, and capable of going as fast as 150 miles per hour. Costing in the neighborhood of $7,000, it would have been an extravagant choice, had Dean’s agent not just arranged a new deal securing the actor $100,000 for every future film.

Not since the Czech Whizzer had Dean been so exhilarated over a ride. Jimmy had been driving the 550 Spyder—one of only ninety the manufacturer produced—all over Hollywood, regularly stopping at his favorite restaurant, the Villa Capri, so friends could gawk at it. It was particularly thrilling to have his relatives, Marcus Sr. and Ortense, and another aunt and uncle, Charles Nolan and Mildred Dean, in town to view this material symbol of their nephew’s success. On Saturday, Jimmy was
scheduled to race the Porsche about three hours north, in Salinas, and he asked his relatives to watch him from the stands. Marcus and Ortense couldn’t make it; they’d been away long enough and were driving home to see Markie, Joan, and the rest of the family. Charles Nolan and his wife expressed interest in attending the race, and Jimmy had their tickets in his pocket as he made his way up the winding highway to the track. But, at the last moment, the couple decided to drive to Mexico instead.

Even so, Jimmy was overjoyed to be steering the Porsche around the curves of Route 466. Observers would later theorize that the twenty-fouryear- old star was simply infatuated with the race car’s power. He’d named it the “Little Bastard,” a proclamation, some thought, about the way Jimmy perceived himself. But, below his snarling facade, Dean’s sensitivity
allowed him to appreciate the Spyder as a work of automotive brilliance, renowned for its aerodynamic design, lightweight aluminum chassis, and air-cooled engine that could expand and contract as the temperature changed.

The Star Wars Battlefront Beta is coming to PS4 in early October!

As most of you may have heard, the Star Wars Battlefront (Beta) is set to come out in early October for PS4 users. Star Wars video games have certainly come a long way since the first licensed video game was released in 1982. In his new book, Star Wars FAQ, Mark Clark talks about the first ever video game that Star Wars licensed and how these video games slowly, but surely, gained popularity. Read about it below!

00122914Custom, homemade Star Wars computer games have been around as long as Star Wars fans have owned home computers. But the first licensed, Lucasfilm-authorized electric game was Parker Brothers’ Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1982), created for the Atari 2600 system. A year later, a version was issued for Mattel’s Intellivision platform. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was a simplistic, scrolling shooter game with primitive graphics. The player flew a snowspeeder and attacked AT-AT walkers, as seen in the Hoth snow battle from the film. The player won the game by destroying five walkers; if the Walkers reached Echo Base and destroyed it, the player lost.

Although sales of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back were not spectacular, the game performed well enough to encourage the development of more product. Parker Brothers issued Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle and Return of the Jedi: Jedi Arena in 1983. In Death Star Battle, produced for the Atari 5200 and Atari XE platforms, players piloted the Millennium Falcon through a squadron of TIE fighters to destroy the second Death Star. In Jedi Arena, made for the Atari 2600 only, players battle one another with lightsabers. A third game, Return of the Jedi: Ewok Adventure, was prototyped but never released.

The first Star Wars arcade game, produced by Atari and simply named Star Wars, also appeared in 1983. This was a sophisticated (by early 1980s standards) first-person shooter/flight simulator featuring color 3-D vector graphics. The player relived the climax of Star Wars, taking part in the assault on the Death Star from within the cockpit of an X-Wing fighter. Successful players cleared three levels—overcoming an initial engagement with TIE fighters; then destroying turret guns on the surface of the space station; and finally zooming through a trench and firing a torpedo into the exhaust port to destroy the Death Star. Players continued to be harassed by TIE fighters throughout the second and third levels. The game featured sound effects and snippets of dialogue from the film—including the voices of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, and Sir Alec Guinness. Star Wars was sold as a stand-up console and in a deluxe, sit-down cockpit version. In either configuration, it was a massive hit and remained in production for five years. It became a fixture at many arcades in the United States and the United Kingdom, and fans set video game endurance records (authenticated by the Guinness Book of World Records) playing it.

Parker Brothers released a scaled-down home version in 1984 for Atari and Coleco game systems, and the Commodore 64 computer. In 1987 and ’88, it was reconfigured for nine more game systems and reissued. Readers of the website Killer List of Video Games, an online community of video game enthusiasts and preservationists, voted Star Wars the fourth-best coin-operated video game of all time (trailing only Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Galaga). Atari introduced a second Star Wars arcade game, Return of the Jedi, in 1984. It featured more lifelike raster graphics and included four levels, some replicating the speeder bike chase scene and others the climactic Death Star battle. A home version was also produced. The true follow-up to the Star Wars arcade game was Atari’s The Empire Strikes Back, released in 1985. It was another 3-D vector graphics first-person shooter/flyer based, like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, on the Hoth AT-AT/snowspeeder battle. Neither of Atari’s sequels proved as popular as the original Star Wars arcade game.

Japanese game maker Namco released an adventure game titled simply Star Wars in 1987, created for Nintendo’s early Famicom console. The designers of this game seemed completely unconcerned with fidelity to the source material. In it, Luke Skywalker pilots the Falcon to various planets to rescue Ben Kenobi, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the droids. Each planet is protected by a different Darth Vader, some of which transform into various creatures (a shark, a scorpion, a Wampa, and a dinosaur). Luke has black hair and Chewbacca speaks English. A year later, Mastertronic released a computer game, Droids: Escape from Aaron, based on the Star Wars: Droids cartoon. This was an adventure game in which Threepio and Artoo escape from the clutches of the Hutt-like Fromm criminal gang. The events depicted in the game did not derive from the TV show but were in keeping with the continuity of the program.

During the 1980s, Lucasfilm simply sold Star Wars licenses to various game manufacturers and wasn’t always able to exert quality control over the end product. Fed up with the scattershot quality of these games, George Lucas revamped his Lucasfilm Games division to form LucasArts, which designed and manufactured games in-house. Initially, LucasArts partnered with Atari to produce games based on Labyrinth (1986) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Later, on its own, LucasArts created original adventure games such as the long-running Monkey Island series (1990–2011) for various game systems and computer platforms. Perhaps waiting until Lucas was certain LucasArts had hit its stride, the company didn’t release a Star Wars game until 1993, but it was worth the wait. Star Wars: X-Wing—a combination flight simulator and adventure game, with players battling imperial forces in a trusty rebel fighter—was a smash, spawning multiple expansion packs, collector’s editions, and sequels.

More than twenty more Star Wars video games were issued prior to the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, including Star Wars: TIE Fighter (the first game set from the perspective of the Empire) in 1994, Star Wars: DarkForces in 1995, Shadows of the Empire in 1996 (part of a multimedia event, see previous chapter), and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998), all of which proved very successful. Star Wars games have remained the primary focus of LucasArts since the mid-1990s.

In more recent years, the company has expanded into the realms of realtime strategy, role-playing (RPG), and, finally, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) with Star Wars Galaxies (2003), Star Wars: Clone War Adventures (2010), and Star Wars: The Old Republic (2012). LucasArts spent a then-record $200 million developing The Old Republic, a pay-to-play download that allows players to interact together online. The game collected one million subscribers within three days of its launch. All three Star Wars MMORPG releases were multimedia events, with novel, comic book, and toy tie-ins.

Wes Craven passes away at 76

Wes Craven, the most successful director of the Horror genre, has passed away.  The man who created A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise was 76.  John Kenneth Muir’s profile of  Craven from his book Horror Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens, and More is below. In addition, Muir paid tribute to the director yesterday on his own blog, Reflections on Film and Television.

Horror_2.3_director3cravenBefore becoming one of the horror genre’s most successful directors, Wes Craven taught English at Westminster College and philosophy at Clarkson University. After becoming an editor for Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th) in New York City, Craven wrote and directed his first horror film, The Last House on the Left (1972), a nihilistic remake of Ingmar Bergman’s spiritual film The Virgin Spring (1960).

Craven continued in a “savage cinema” vein with a follow-up film about “white bread” Americans battling desperate desert cannibals in The Hills Have Eyes (1977) before retooling his movie aesthetic and becoming the godfather of “rubber reality” (see Chapter 21). In films of this type, a highly charismatic and usually highly verbal serial killer is able to manipulate the bounds of reality itself to trap and murder his victims. Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) saw Freddy Krueger lording it over teens in the dreamworld, while Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) involved hallucinatory visions and dreams from the world of Haitian voodoo. In Shocker (1989), Craven imagined Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), a serial killer who could move deftly through different channels on the television landscape.

In 1994, Craven reinvented himself again and became the guru of “meta” or postmodern horror. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) was the seventh entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but importantly it reintroduced Freddy as a “real-life” ancient demon. The characters in the film, including Heather Langenkamp (playing herself), came to the Pirandello-esque conclusion that they were not merely real people, but also characters in an ongoing script called life.

Craven perfected his “meta” approach to film in the self-referential Scream series, written by Kevin Williamson which involved a serial killer called Ghostface who knew all the clichés and conventions of the horror film. Similarly, Scream 2 (1997) involved a killer obsessed with sequels, Scream 3 (2000) trilogies, and Scream 4 (2011) remakes and reboots.


Happy Birthday to Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson!

Today, Ian Anderson turns 68 years old! To celebrate the life and career of the man who brought the flute to rock and roll, here is an excerpt from Prog Rock FAQ: All Thats Left to Know About Rock’s Most Progressive Music, published last fall by Backbeat Books, in which author Will Romano writes about Anderson, Jethro Tull, and their album, Aqualung.


00118349We know that the Tull head honcho himself has said that Aqualung is not a concept record; in fact, Ian Anderson has long maintained that it was the public’s interpretation, or misinterpretation, of the origins of this record that inspired him to write the concept album spoof Thick as a Brick. So, why the debate and discussion about whether Aqualung is a concept record? For one thing, there are still lingering doubts as to whether we should be taking Anderson’s word for it, or making up our minds. Anderson has said that the making of Aqualung was the first time he undertook a conscious effort to write material with serious subject matters, a fact that seemingly has offered conspiracy theorists plenty of fodder for the rumor mill.

The character of Aqualung was based on a photograph of a homeless man, taken by Anderson’s first wife, Jenny, who had been studying photography at the time, and her description of the man. These observations were incorporated into the opening song, “Aqualung.” “The mixture of guilt and compassion, embarrassment and sadness, all of these things are slightly more feminine emotions,” Anderson told me. They found their way into this record, anyway; one that’s dirty, heavy, complicated, mean, and, at times, bordering on sexually perverse (i.e., “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Mother Goose,” the latter being a combination of absurd humor and double entendre).

To read more about Jethro Tull and other progressive rock bands, you can buy the book here.

Bill Wyman’s Vox Amplifier

Contest Slide 770x420

Guitar Player and Rolling Stones Gear have teamed up to give you a chance to Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones! Now you can own some of the major brands of equipment the Rolling Stones played including Fender, Martin, Framus, Zemaitis, Gretsch, and Vox in this exciting new sweepstakes! They are also giving away the new book Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost. Now you have a chance to win this top-notch Vox amp! Read this excerpt from the book about how the band used to worship these amps!

Solid Senders

Bill Wyman officially joined the group on January 5. Apparently, Mick, Keith, and Brian had finally decided that Bill was in after what could best be described as a trial period. Bill explained: “They didn’t like me, but I had a good amplifier, and they were badly in need of amplifiers at that time! So, they kept me on. Later, when they were going to get rid of me, I think I clicked or something and I stayed. I must have just fitted in.” Ian Stewart later commented, “There is a certain amount of truth that Bill was taken on for his equipment, but Bill was very good.”

VoxAmpThe group immediately incorporated Bill’s amplifiers into the backline. While the Watkins Westminster, a 10-watt amp
that came with an 8-inch speaker,
two inputs, a volume control, and a
tone control that also acted as an on-
off switch, was a nice addition, the 
real prize was Bill’s Vox AC-30.

Keith, more impressed by this 
particular amp than he was with 
Bill, later commented: “Bill had
 amplifiers! Bill came fully equipped.
 A Vox AC-30 amplifier, which was 
beyond our means to possess. Built by Jennings in Dartford. We used to worship it. We used to look at it and get on our knees. To have an amplifier was crucial. First off, I just wanted to separate Bill from his amplifier. But that was before he started playing with Charlie.” Watkins, later WEM (Watkins Electric Music), was a London-based company started by Charlie Watkins that specialized in amplification.

The Vox AC-30 was considered the best and loudest guitar amplifier on the market in England at the time. Bill’s AC-30 was tan or beige, commonly referred to as “fawn-colored.” The official model name for the amp was the Vox AC-30/6 Twin Normal; “6” meaning six inputs, “Twin” meaning two speakers, and “Normal” meaning the guitar rather than bass version. The AC-30 was equipped with four EL84 power tubes, five pre-amp tubes, and a single GZ34 rectifier tube. Jim Elyea’s definitive book Vox Amplifiers The JMI Years states that: “Bill’s original ‘fawn’ AC-30 was built in approximately February 1962 and was purchased from the Art Nash Music Shop. Bill’s is a Normal model with a brownish copper panel with no Top Boost circuit. The two original leather handles have been replaced with newer Vox SBU handles. The amp is equipped with a pair of Celestion Blue T.530 12-inch speakers and has a sticker inside the amp indicating that the amp was serviced by Alan Pyne.”

The Vox factory was located in Dartford, where Mick and Keith
grew up, and the primary Vox amplifier showroom was the Jennings
 music shop on Charing Cross Road in central London. Jennings Musical
 Industries was established by Tom Jennings in 1958. In 1962, the
 operation further expanded its horizons with the introduction of Vox 
guitars The company’s Vox amplifiers were devised by JMI’s chief design
engineer, Dick Denney.. Denney, who was also the creator of the AC-30,
started the Vox amplifier line with a 15-watt unit. He then reasoned that
what musicians really needed was a twin-speaker amp with six inputs.
Denney remembered Tom Jennings’s reaction to the concept: “He said to
me, ‘Well, you do what you like Dick, but if it doesn’t work, your head’s
on the chopping block.’ As it turned out, the AC-30 became the jewel in
 Vox’s crown; it’s what put Vox on the map. I made the amp so that it
sounded good to me. It was old technology, and I think old technology
still prevails.” One of the design oddities of the AC-30 was the situation of its control panel at the back of the top of the cabinet. Denney explained that his fellow guitarists at the time often sat behind their amplifiers, which projected a reverb-type effect into the hall from the front and a “dry” sound from the open back. Wyman’s Vox AC-30 amplifier cost £105, about $300 then, the equivalent of about £1,340 ($1,870) today.

On January 14, 1963, Tony Chapman was fired at the end of a gig at the Flamingo Jazz Club in Soho, London. The January 14, 1963, entry in Keith’s diary reads simply, “Tony Sacked!” Bill Wyman remembered: “Tony was told that his services were no longer required. He was furious and said, ‘Come on, Bill, let’s go and start a new band.’ I told him I was staying with the Stones, and Tony just upped and left.”