This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.
If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?
They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.
I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.
The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.
Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.
While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.
If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.
This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.
Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.
This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.
We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.
We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.
Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.
In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.
Those filmmakers are (among others):
The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…
…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. 🙂
Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.
Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” 🙂 .
Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.
— to be continued —
MOVIE TRAILER AND UPCOMING MOVIE ROUND-UP
THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X- I gave this trailer a download. It’s a send up of 50s movies, especially of the drive-in, monster, teen angst variety. Not my beverage of choice. And it just wasn’t interesting at all. Save yourself the viewing time… avoid.
PACIFIC RIM- I keep watching this trailer, and I keep being impressed. “Today we are canceling the APOCALYPSE!!” Delivered as only Idris Elba can deliver it! This summer blockbuster hits screens in July. And I’ll definitely be in the crowd.
NOW YOU SEE ME- “First rule of magic, always be the smartest guy in the room.” A stellar cast, and an inventive and surprisingly original feeling trailer (no small feat for a film to seem original, given how many caper and heist films I’ve seen) makes this film one that I’m interested in seeing on the big screen when it hits on 31 May.
MAN OF STEEL- The latest full trailer is out and looks very good, though I have to be honest it doesn’t excite me the way the SUPERMAN RETURNS trailer of several years ago did. And I know it’s envogue these days to hate on that movie, but the young and foolish forget how well received that trailer and the movie initially was. That plane sequence alone having people cheering in the theaters. And while the pimply set in hindsight dismiss SUPERMAN RETURNS because of some pacing issues and I think some weaknesses with the casting, particularly the Lois character, it was, warts acknowledged, a good movie, with a great trailer. So far MAN OF STEEL merely has a good trailer, let’s hope that translates into a great movie. Being a fan of Zack Snyder (not so much Christopher Nolan) I’ll be in the theaters to find out.
THOR II- I’m watching the 1st trailer for this film and I’m not particularly gripped by the ‘story’ of the trailer, but I’m thinking how awesome it is that we can produce movies on this scale. Super-hero movies are possible due to CGI and advances of technology that can make a man swinging around and hitting things with a big hammer prop look awesome rather than stupid. That said,the absence of Branagh as director worries, as I couldn’t find anything close to an interesting story in the trailer. But it is just an early trailer, perhaps the movie has more depth to it than the trailer hints at. This one is a wait and see.
ELYSIUM- This scifi trailer is for a film by Neill Blomkamp ,the director of DISTRICT 9, and starring Matt Damon. That is strike 1 and strike 2. I disliked DISTRICT 9 for its pretty blatant Nigerian bashing, and am not a fan of Matt Damon. ELYSIUM is based on a great short film by Ricardo De Montreuil’s THE RAVEN, which sports a Black/Hispanic protagonist, almost a christ parable, taking the fight to the powers that be in a drone plane/terminator oppressed future, ELYSIUM seemingly takes everything edgy and original and challenging about THE RAVEN, and literally whitewashes it with a Dutch/South African director and a White savior in the form of Matt Damon. Compare the short film THE RAVEN (my review and a link to the film here) to the ELYSIUM trailer and I think it is clear which one is the far more interesting. ELYSIUM is a definite wait for DVD, if that, and is yet another glaring example of the bigotry and programmatic and exclusionary nature of Hollywood sanctioned films.
THE MAN OF TAI CHI- Keanuu Reeves is one of those actors like Nicolas Cage who takes a huge amount of crap from Western critics for his acting style, or perhaps more precisely utilizing the same style regardless of project. Whether that assessment oh his acting ability is true or false, in Asia Keannu Reeves is HUGE, again like the aforementioned Nicolas Cage. And that Pan-Asian popularity seemingly has to do with their looks (since their acting/voices are dubbed by Asian actors). Asians being a, seemingly, very homogeneous society like supporting their own, and both Reeves and Cage are of the necessary dark hair and build and perhaps presence to be adopted by Asian audiences. So it makes perfect sense that Reeves’ directorial debut should be geared to that part of the world market that has always embraced and made profitable his films. The trailer for THE MAN OF TAI CHI is out and it sports glimpses of impressive fight choreography. Whether there is a story to go with it remains to be seen, but it definitely interest me enough to look for it on DVD
Okay that’s all for this segment. Join us next time for more!
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to a mad tirade is a complete coincidence. 🙂
Quick update, we have the WEDNESDAYS WORDS installment scheduled for tomorrow, that’s going to be a rough one, to get out on time. And I want to get up the MONARCHS OF MAYHEM interview with Charles Saunders for Thursday, which will push part two of 15 FAVORITE PULP HEROES into the weekend. So yeah just check back this weekend for part II.
But to give you pulp fans something in the interim, I bring you… The War on the Public! A mad, slightly quixotic rant (for those of you who’ve never seen me rant before… run away. The water is deep here, and in the words of Alan Moore, “the idea of a God… a real idea.” :)) :
CONDE NAST vs BLACK MASK – This is an oldie but an interesting read nevertheless about the first significant volleys in the war to eradicate public domain.
Here are some additional public domain links:
Public domain, public domain, public domain. Why is it disappearing? And Why should you care?
Well the first question is simple, it’s disappearing because people with money can make it disappear. It’s disappearing because of greed.
‘But’, you say, ‘there have always been rich people. and there have always been greedy people, so why is it disappearing now?’
Well it is disappearing now, because business has made such inroads into having the ear of our senate and house, and our courts, that the people who previously were elected to represent the citizens, are instead representing corporations.
The second question, “Why should you care?” I can’t answer that for you, I can only tell you why I care.
Now as a creative person and a writer, and as a friend of writers, I believe in copyright. I think it’s a great thing. But I also believe in Public Domain, and I think that is an equally great thing.
And I think before big business stepped in with their “more, more, more” mindset we had a perfectly workable compromise.
When I was coming up, public domain was very simple, after 50 years, a concept went into public domain
It became the property of the people. Of we, the people.
The writer doesn’t stop being the creator, he is still the creator, his or her name is still on the work. It’s just that after fifty years, his creation can be used by others.
The idea being that if an idea or concept has survived for 50 years that a/ it’s enough time for the creator to profit, sans competition, from the creation and 2/if people are still talking about a character or an idea 50 years later it has become part of the cultural conversation. It has become like an urban legend or a myth or a tale of Grendel and Beowulf, something that transcends the teller. Something that is part and parcel of a larger conversation and the basis for new creations.
(And notice I said people, Public domain is about insuring people, creators get compensated in their lifetime, it is not about ensuring the perpetual unending market share for an undying corporation. Why are companies, that don’t even have the welfare of this country at heart, given the right to lobby our representatives like citizens?
Companies that I can assure you don’t pay the percentage of tax that I do. I’d love to see Disney and Exxon and Shell paying 20% of their income a year in taxes. This nation would not have a deficit.
Corporations shouldn’t in a civilized world, have more rights than citizens. They don’t care about creators, they don’t care about this nation or any nation, they care about themselves. Which is fine if they are not drafting the laws for an entire nation, but they are, so their lack of concern for what is best for anyone besides them… becomes a problem.
A corporation without a sense of cultural and social responsibility… is a mob, to be watched, to be feared, and ultimately to be put down.)
That’s how culture and art works. New things building upon the old. And old ideas being re-imagined into the new. But the coming of the 21st century saw greedy companies rather than earn customers through the new, instead adopt a policy of profit through protection rackets, through intimidation.
So you get corporations lobbying for aggressive changes in the laws of copyright and trademark and patents. And suddenly public domain is an enemy for corporations to avoid and destroy at all cost, instead of what it should be, a necessary part of making old ideas the birth ground for the new.
Art doesn’t get made in a vacuum, it’s part of a continuing conversation. And we are made better for that open resource, for Universal Studios being able to do their version of Frankenstein or Dracula, and for Hammer Studios to be able to do their version, and for any writer or indie filmmaker to be able to do their version.
Without having to clear the usage of Mary Shelly’s concepts with Disney, or Bram Stoker’s concepts with Time Warner, anyone can do a Frankenstein children’s book, or produce a Dracula song or stuffed animal. And that’s wonderful, and cute, and beautiful, and healthy. So it’s about creativity, but it’s also about healthy commerce, and true free enterprise. Companies that want to generate wealth in a country, rather than just taking wealth out. And by Wealth I mean more than money, I mean the ability of people to be able to produce and own products of cultural recognition and interest, without having to pay tribute and protection money… to monopolies.
It’s especially galling to hear from these pompous companies, when the characters they are looking to lock down are, in many cases, popular inspite of them.
Who has kept the Shadow and Doc Sampson and even Spider characters viable? It wasn’t the bloody companies. The pulps and old time radio shows exist not because of the companies, that couldn’t erase the tapes and dispose of the pulps fast enough, it was the bloody collectors. These insane, lovely human beings, who threw together out of their own pocket, these things called conventions, at a time when a company’s initial response was, “Why are they talking about that lame, dead crap, come see my latest Disco Ball action figure! Look at the nerds still talking about the Shadow and Doc Sambo, or whatever his name is! Hey Nerds, the 1930s called they want their hero back! Ha! Ha! Ha!!”
🙂 (I just made myself chuckle)
Unfortunately much to businesses’ amazement, this old stuff, due to the passion of fans, actually had staying power. And if anyone has been to a movie theater in the last couple decades, monetary value.
However, as I’ve said before, it was the people, the collectors, the very obsessive types who corporations seek to criminalize today as filesharers, infringers, etc.,, that have saved and preserved much of the culture we now are able to still enjoy, that without them would have been lost.
I love the Old time Shadow radio shows, along with many other radio shows. Those shows, those great pieces of not just entertainment, but of art and culture and history largely exist, not because of Conde-Nast, or insert corporation here… those shows exist because rabid collectors, copied them off the air, made copies, and shared them down the years.
Same with the pulps. Same with silent movies, and sound movies, and film noir.
In the absence of companies finding a monetary value for something they destroy it. They erase over the tape of Doctor Who, they throw out the audio tapes of the Shadow, they burn original artwork of cartoonists.
Why? Because the number crunchers at companies, are not the creative people, they weren’t then and they aren’t now. They make decisions based solely on dollars and cents, and that tunnel vision is always flawed when dealing with work that is also about the imagination of man.
An ‘only Dollars and cents’ mentality will let what is quirky, and manic, and fun, and childish, and challenging in this world die. So these gentle angels of our nature survive because of people who love them. People like the owner of BLACK MASK. Rather than suing that man, Conde-Nast should have got down on their knees and thanked him.
Because he and his kind, collectors preserve these things, when Conde-Nast could not see financial gain to them. But in the wake of renewed interest from Hollywood at the end of the 20th century, and the gangbusters showing of comic and pulp related properties, suddenly everybody wants to sweep in and be the owner of old things made new.
Here’s the thing about public domain. It doesn’t stop you from making money if you have a good idea and a good product. So you don’t need to take Doc Savage or Shadow or Spider out of public domain, to do a book, or a movie, or a audio drama or a cartoon.
No one is stopping you. Build it and they will come. I don’t need to buy Spider Books or Shadow Books, however I do so all the time, when I see a great packaged product. However, if you’re a morally bankrupt company, that has no intention of putting out an attractive product, I can see how competition may not be for you. And you try to sue yourself into business rather than earning business.
And that is where we are at with these companies. They are so petty and greedy for every single penny, it is sickening.
Those…. bloodsuckers!! (Sorry, couldn’t resist! 🙂 )
Disney’s one of the biggest companies in the world, they can throw around 200 million dollar movies, like you and I throw around nickles, and yet they are afraid to death if a grade school kid creates and passes out her mickey mouse comic.
You can not have it both ways. You can not want something to be culturally iconic and generational, yet remain proprietary and exclusionary. No. We are creatures raised to spread stories over an open flame and for that story to travel from person to person, being changed by each person, owned by each person, passed on by each person, and becoming changed and new and different with each telling.
If you look at all the martial arts, they are pretty much the same art, changed over time, and over region. And we as a culture are better and stronger and richer for that migration, that cross pollination, that cross ownership… we are better for having silat, kung-fu, aikido, hapkido, capoeira, savate, kenpo, krav maga, systema… etc., we are better for free association, no fences, open source, public domain.
We have always been better for it. But now in the last few decades, fences are being put up by a few gatekeepers, on everything. And that cannot stand.
It is an unsupportable policy/mindset, utter control of the culture, art, and interactions of a mass of people by a few outside those people. There is a name for that, and it has always been the same name.
Because if you think that it is a nightmare and an outrage just getting rights to a song to use in your film or project or play, imagine wanting to do your short film of Poe’s TELL TALE HEART, and being told you have to get that approved through Disney, and if they approve you, fees start at $500000.
You wouldn’t have a filmmaker like Roger Corman, if the copyright and trademark environment of today was in existence yesterday. And then you lose all his Poe films, you lose all his collaborations with Vincent Price, you lose his part in the ascension of creators like Nicholson and Howard and Coppola. And who knows what we all lose for loss of those mad, creative cranked out Gothic films.
All that because one man was allowed to follow his muse without crippling interference or exorbitant costs imposed by ‘rights’ holders. How many possible Cormans are we killing, in multiple fields, today? Killing them because we are allowing dinosaurs to sit on our shared cultural conversation and art like a dragon sitting on eggs.
Doc Savage is public domain. Superman is Public domain as much as Robin Hood. Batman is public domain. The Shadow is public domain. Fifty years is a good run for exclusive rights to profits. None of this nonsense about renewal of copyrights, or trademark used to get around expired copyright.
[And speaking of trade-mark. MARVEL and DC have ‘jointly’ trade-marked the term ‘Super-Hero”. What is that about? So tomorrow do you trade mark the term ‘hero’ or ‘myth’ or god’? Do you trademark the term God? Who is at the trademark office just handing out the rights to every word in the dictionary to the highest bidder?
They haven’t begun invoking it yet, their ‘super-hero’ trademark, largely because I think they are waiting for some of the smaller comic companies to fold up shop, and don’t want a challenge to come up when their hand isn’t strong enough. But Like Microsoft, make no mistake, they will give it away for free today, to set themselves up to own the market share and charge you through the teeth tomorrow.
All you small comic-book companies need to come together and publish one big omnibus anthology called ‘Best Super-hero Tales’ or something, and get that trademark challenged and thrown out today. Now while the challenging is good. and all the old creators they are waiting to die before they can bring evidence, are still around. Because if you don’t, mark my words, ten years from now anyone who wants to use the term ‘Super-hero’, in the title to anything, will have to pay for the pleasure.]
I’m not saying companies can’t continue to sell and market their items past the 50 year mark, but what I am saying is that everyone else can produce their take on that idea as well.
(Quick aside here… A word on this copyright extended to 70 years after a writer’s death nonsense. Who the heck does that benefit, if not the money grubbing corporations? Did someone just say ‘the family’?
This isn’t about your family, fool! 🙂
Your family can make money, sell books, shoot movies, whether or not your book is in the public domain. We all know, the rights to a writer’s work ends up snatched up by the publisher. And with only about half a dozen conglomerates owning all the book publishing divisions as it is, that’s a troubling proposed consolidation of intellectual property.
See, what we’re talking about is every work after 1923 [that is the date today, tomorrow they might push it back to works in copyright being only stuff before 1823], all the accumulated wisdom, and hopes, and dreams, and pathos, and joy, and horror, and striving, and yes fighting against oppression of millions upon millions of writers, being owned, with this continued push toward extermination of public domain, the wealth of the world… owned by half a dozen oligarchies. What greater betrayal could there be? To any writer, to every writer. To have the work of the most imaginative, and moral people (which is what on a whole, I find writers to be), owned by people bereft of either imagination or morality.
And to that plan, of mad, sick twisted companies, their dream of a world devoid of public ownership, I say the only thing I can say, the only thing a life-time of loving books has taught me to say to such over-arching presumption and tyranny. I say… no. )
Public domain can work for all
Disney will still have Mickey Mouse, but if Tarantino or Seth Green or anyone wants to do a Mickey Mouse movie, they can. I’m not saying DC/Time Warner can’t still make Batman or Hulk comics or movies, but I’m saying past 50 years from date of creation, so can everyone else. How about a Batman movie by Werner Herzog or a Superman tv series by the Hughes Brothers?
Both those ideas just made me chuckle.
I can’t say you won’t get your share of train wrecks with such freedom, but you’ll also get get your share of wonders. You’ll get Baz Luhrmann’s Shadow next door to Branagh’s Doc Savage. And we are made richer when we can build on the culture we grew up in, rather than this new corporate policy of paying tribute to entrenched monopolies, Disney’s Culture or Time Warner’s culture.
This is very much a land grab, but not land rights this time, not water rights, not airwave rights (which they recently removed from Americans), this is about dreams… being fenced off.
We are on a perilous path. When I think of how much we have lost in the 6 years since Conde Nast sued BLACK MASK out of existence, it gives me pause. Because it is very much a culture where only the few will own anything, that we are pushing toward.
Not software, not hardware, not books, not houses, not music, not comics, not land, not our airwaves, perhaps not even our food or our air, do we get to own. Where everything we interact with is rented to us, is timed, our reactions to it… judged, to insure they are in acceptable non-infringing levels.
That is the end of culture my friends.
Fiction you say?
Yes… Fiction, I say.
Want to learn more?
Want to fight? You? Want to fight? After all I told ya Boy, ya want to fight the dragons of the world?! Swing at windmills like your uncle HT?!!
Aye, you bring a tear to an old man’s eyes. Aye, if I had five more like ya, I could ride into hell and put out all the fires! 🙂
Well get ya some education first boyo, read the following takes on public domain:
It’s a start.
CR Fight Article – Yet another Brit! Where the hell are the Americans working to repeal copyright extension! Hold on, I’m still looking.
EFF– Ah, here’s the beloved Yanks! Over there! Over there! And the Yanks are coming! The Yanks are coming! Over there! WHAT??? Don’t you guys watch James Cagney musicals?!!
We’ll begin this with a definition of pulp, pulp heroes, and pulp writing, then get into my list of favorite pulp characters and pulp runs.
The perceived definition of a pulp character tends to be a character that takes place in the 20s to 40s, in an America besieged by the spectre of War, and consists of slam-bam action, and a colorful larger than life hero and outlandish villains.
It’s with the cementing of pulp heroes to a specific milieu, a specific time, that I take issue with that definition. Characters such as THE SHADOW and DOC SAVAGE and the AVENGER were pulp sensations AT THE TIME OF THEIR PUBLICATION because they spoke to present fears and issues, in colorful imaginative ways.
But now the nostalgia bunch wants to calcify the definition of pulp adventure to a particular time frame or particular writers. I don’t think pulp heroes need to be set 80 or a 100 years in the past, that’s not what Marcel Allain, Norvell Page or Walter Gibson or Paul Ernst (writing as Kenneth Robeson) or any of the pulp writers we idolize today, were doing.
Now I’m not saying ignore the pulp heroes of yesterday, or not set new pulp stories in the 20s or 30s if you want. But what I am saying is… you’re largely missing the point of what the pulp writers were really doing. They were putting these heroes in a world that really needed them, the present world.
I am saying the pulp fiction of Warren Murphy’s REMO WILLIAMS or Marc Olden’s BLACK SAMURAI or Don Pendleton’s MAC BOLDEN are far truer representations of pulp fiction, pulp heroes, than today’s current writers who are making nostalgic re-workings of 1920s, 1930, and 1940s stories.
Again I have no problem with modern writers setting stories in that time frame, I quite enjoy and have championed many of them, but there seems to be this faulty conclusion in the minds of modern writers and readers that setting them in a specific past time frame, makes it pulp. No. Nothing could be further from the truth. Setting it in that time frame makes it a pastiche.
If Gibson or Page or Allain were writing today their heroes would be set in today, and their horror and villains… expressions of timely concerns. Allain’s FANTOMAS or Gibson’s SHADOW would be hanging the president of Exxon or Shell out of a window, saying “You want to explain those gas prices to me now?”
That’s why I love books like BLACK SAMURAI and THE DESTROYER because they are the pulp aesthetic continued, and have original things to say and original menaces to say it to, rather than simply the tendency to nostalgia, and aping dead writers.
When pulp heroes of yesterday fought nazis and gangsters, that wasn’t simply kitschy entertainment, that took some balls. Because gangsters were very much real things, and Nazis a very real threat, and nobody wanted to touch these topics. The way no one today wants to deal with topics of Guantanamo Bay, or Middle Eastern massacres, or corporate over-lobbying of representatives.
Pulp fiction of the 10s (the wonderful, and horrifying Fantamos),20s and 30s and 40s… was timely and controversial. Pulp fiction (and pulp heroes) was about giving the common man a hero who could stand up against the evils of the day, be those evils foreign or domestic. That is pulp fiction, not this nostalgic, safe, hermetically sealed, removed from any relevance of today, pastiches that people want to sanctify.
True pulp fiction, is a fantastic, white-knuckled, adrenalin inducing and entertaining tirade against the evils of its time. Sometimes in-dispute evil.
People forget there was a portion of America, the loud vocal right wing that were pro-hitler and pro the nazis, right up to and even after Pearl Harbor. So for these books to come out in the 1930s with Nazi Villains took balls. It was controversial. They got their share of grief from the Rush Limbaugh’s of the day.
So when people say “Well, true pulp fiction/pulp heroes needs to be set in the 20s to the 40s”, to that I say “only if you’re living in the 20s to the 40s”. True pulp heroes are an answer… an answer to the truths and the lies of your nightly news.
So while it’s wonderful we have this resurgence of so many writers doing pastiches in the pulp vein, it’s unfortunate so few modern writers are actually doing real pulp novels ala Warren Murphy or the late Marc Olden or even the late Ian Flaming.
So few current writers are doing books with great, even salacious covers, breakneck speed, thrilling action, and larger than life protagonists in conflict with outlandish villains, set in a present/timely context. That is the definition of true pulp fiction, and true pulp heroes… and what we are in dire need… of more of.
-to be continued-
Part II will bring you the list of 15 favorite pulp heroes. Your jaw will drop!!! 🙂
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