Friday, September 02, 2005

Well, while I'm bumming you all out, here's a post I intended to post before the catastrophic events of this week -- somehow, still appropriate, though inconsequential by comparison...

One of the true Holy Grails of horror film buffs quietly surfaced about two years ago, and I personally recommend any of you even vaguely interested seek out that Grail immediately. Here's the scoop:

Alois Detlaff died last month -- what's one more death, you say, given the calamities of this week (Hurricane Katrina, the horrific Iraq panic and bridge collapse that killed one thousand, etc.)? Bear with me --

Tim Lucas, fearless Video Watchdog editor, sent this to me from an online source:

Police Find Cudahy Man Dead In His House
Alois Dettloff Owned Original 'Frankenstein'

POSTED: 11:48 am CDT July 28, 2005

CUDAHY, Wis. -- The badly decomposed body of a Cudahy man was found inside his home Tuesday morning. Police said he had been dead for about a month. Police found 84-year-old Alois Dettlaff lying in the living room of his home. The medical examiner said he died from natural causes.

Authorities said the man's daughter, who lives just down the street from him, called police concerned because she hadn't seen him in some time. Police said the man rarely went out and didn't like to deal with people so it wasn't unusual for him not to answer the phone or door. Neighbors said they're shocked about the news. "That's just such a terrible, lonely thing. I'm very sorry," neighbor Heather Dishinger said. Dettlaff owned the only known copy of Thomas Edison's 1910 version of the movie "Frankenstein." Experts consider this the first horror film ever made.


Sad story -- but before his lonely death, Alois Dettlaff had given his best shot to bringing his treasure, the only known surviving print of Edison's Frankenstein, to the public.

The DVD release of MOVIES FIRST MONSTERS: 1910 FRANKENSTEIN & 1922 NOSFERATU (A.D. Ventures) was sadly underreported by the genre press (only Scary Monsters, to my knowledge, played it up, giving it a cover and feature article, which alerted me to the release; I also found some online announcements and reviews, but it was still grossly underreported). It's an essential DVD purchase, and still highly affordable (online venues are still offering it for the $20 retail price Dettlaff established -- quick, snap it up!), though the film itself is a mere 12 minutes long.

I've written a full, in-depth review that will appear in the upcoming October issue of Video Watchdog, so I'm not going to say much here about the film itself. Suffice to say it's a gem that lives up to its historic stature as the first cinematic Frankenstein, and quite inventive for a 1910 production. There's an alchemical 'creation' sequence that uses a crude, organic form of articulated live-action puppet animation that will amuse the uninitiated (prior experience with silent cinema is recommended, and a passing acquiantence with the films of George Melies and other period fantasists will provide a richer context for viewing), but is quite enchanting and gruesome. It's sort of a reverse-motion precursor of the clay-animated demise of The Evil Dead and even some of Svankmajer's imagery, quite unlike any other movie Frankenstein ever made. True to its era and period, mirrors play a critical (and mystical) role, linking the film with early adaptations of Poe, key silent Russian horror film shorts (like the one on The Viy DVD, also highly recommended), the various silent Students of Prague, and its DVD co-feature Nosferatu.

Thanks to archivist and private collector Dettlaff and his family (together, A.D. Ventures), the 1910 FRANKENSTEIN was released on DVD in late 2002/early 2003 at a highly affordable $19.50 retail. The DVD did not score any mainstream distribution; LRS Marketing and various individual online and convention dealers offered the DVD for sale. After my acquisition of the DVD in March of 2004 (from a dealer at the Syracuse, NY CineFest), I found all postal queries to A.D. Ventures in Cudahy, Wisconsin remained unanswered (as did email and mail inquiries about Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr.’s companion book on the film, promoted in the DVD materials -- anyone know if it existed at all, or where I can get a copy?).

No doubt, Defflaff (who had reportedly refused all offers to purchase or license the print) hoped to earn some significent income from the DVD release, but alas, a self-manufactured, self-distributed DVD was less than a speck of plankton in the vast, Hollywood-studio dominated DVD ocean of 2003. Not one of the video industry trades mentioned it.

Whatever his original distribution deal, Defflaff aka AD Ventures severed relations with LRS Marketing by last spring. The site designated on the DVD's own sleeve and interior booklet has since read:

August 19, 2004 - We are no longer offering the 1910 Frankenstein Film. LRS Marketing is no longer working with A.D. Ventures on the distribution of this film. No additional information is available at this time. We thank you for your interest and patience. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Less than a year later, the insular man who saved Edison’s Frankenstein died alone, and the fate of the singular print itself that he had protected most of his life is unknown at the time.

You’d be wise to snap the DVD up while it remains available.

We thank you, Alois Dettlaff; you deserved better.

May you rest in peace.

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Marj and I gathered clothes, blankets, and non-perishable foods and I ran them down to the Brattleboro location where the Red Cross is welcoming aid. I donated money, too, but it's not enough, never enough. I missed a blood drive yesterday that I just found out about last night -- will attend the next, whereever, whenever.

I'm in contact with folks in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, hoping to organize some kind (any kind) of fund-raising effort to help them deal with the refugees already moving by the thousands into their area.

My wife and I are talking to my parents in Florida, hoping to relocate them soon; they've lived in Florida since selling the Colbyville, VT family store in the fall of 1976, but since last summer I've heard fear, real fear in my father's voice for the first time. The storms that come arrive with greater and greater ferocity and velocity, and for the first time in my adult life I'm hearing fear in my father's voice.

For about four years now, I've kept my eyes and ears open to the seams opening in the fabric of our lives. It's all around us in New England: A barely-reported TB outbreak in a homeless shelter in Maine that could have become an epidemic, had an experienced hospice worker not recognized the coughs of vulnerable old men sleeping on mats six inches apart as something other than an elder alchy's hack. The apparent vacationers in our nearby parks who are actually families living nomadically season to season, finding jobs where they can and staying until the snow flies or the parts shut down, whichever happens first; working parents without homes, raising children without roots. A woman in Connecticut arrested for leaving her children in a rental storage unit while she went to work -- only to discover that was their "home," she lived there, too, as it was all they could afford, though she had a job. A sheriff retiring from duty in a small community in Maine because of the pandemic of crime, violence, and heroin addiction among the town's populace, as heroin was the only affordable pain reliever among its once-vital working class left without health care of any kind.

The vulnerable, the left behind -- and most of us a mere paycheck or two away, a mortgage payment or two, from the same, really. We know it, don't we?

I have been listening to people arguing in all sorts of venues -- personal and public -- that it is unfair to 'politicize' the current catastrophe in the Gulf Area.

But it is political. Katrina has laid the seams wide open, and we are shaking in the spectacle of societal breakdown, a breakdown that was prepped with the care most gardeners give to their most beloved plants.

Since the Reagan Administration, we have seen a redirected contract to supposedly 'downsize' government. As this political steamroller gained momentum, those in power concentrated wealth for themselves and corporate powers in ways almost inconceivable to previous generations. The privatization and/or elimination of interwoven social infrastructures that were conceived and executed in the wake of previous generation's disasters -- the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the horrendous natural storms and disasters of the late 1920s thru the 1940s, WW2 programs streamlined for all levels of society (including veterans), the anti-poverty welfare programs of the '60s, ecological programs and laws instituted in the 1970s (remember when Lake Erie was declared dead? When the Cuyahoga River caught fire?), etc. -- has culminated with gruesome inevitability in the present nightmare in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mississipi, and the Gulf region.

Katrina alone brought the immediate devastation; but too much of what has followed has been our own doing, the doing (and undoing) of our leaders, elected and unelected (hello, Karl Rove). Katrina ravaged offshore platforms and key refineries, but decades of blissful ignorance and indulgence catering to automotive industry greed and the stupidity of consumers in love with gas-guzzlers has fed the current sky-rocketing gas prices as surely as Katrina's shrieking winds. The first President Bush once roused cheers when he proclaimed, "The American way of life is not for sale!" But we let our leaders sell it, sell ourselves, down the river long ago.

Erosion is as devastating a natural process as storms, and its effects can be longer lasting. What we are seeing today is the devastating effects of a major storm colliding with the cumulative effects of social and political erosion.

I have been listening all morning to pundits saying it's wrong to politicize this matter, insisting "those" debates once again be postponed -- as they were after 9/11, after we entered Afghanistan, after we attacked and invaded Iraq.

But the debates, these debates, can be postponed and derailed no longer.

Katrina hit the fan, and the very government powers and individuals who shamelessly fear-mongered and plundered the last election on a sham platform of national security and the American people's safety have failed in the very arena they defined as their turf.

Willful deconstruction of The New Deal and social programs that elevated the US to the nation we once believed ourselves to be didn't bring Katrina to our shores -- but it did erode the levvies and leave them neglected and vulnerable. Willful diversion of national, financial, and human resources away from American soil and genuine human needs and safety to pursue unnecessary wars in countries that had nothing to do with 9/11 has led to the woeful lack of timely federal response to a disaster on our own soil that echoes the horrors of the Asian tsunamis of last year. Eroded national environmental policies (revised at the end of the first Bush administration) that blithely redefined wetlands and salt marshes (that once provided some natural cushions from the effects of storms and hurricanes) into areas for urban development fueled this, too: we now reap what speculative development and "business as usual" has sown (note, too, the series of administrations -- including both Bush tenures -- that seem to think science can be reshaped, redefined, ignored and/or reconfigured to suit their moral, political, and fiscal agendas; we can no longer afford to disregard what the rest of the planet accepts as science, particularly as it relates to global weather and warming).

Aggravated by a grossly misdirected 'pre-emptive' foreign policy that has squandered a trillion dollars, thousands of lives, and hundreds of thousands of our military and National Guard personel, state and regional authorities and organizations have been powerless to rush aid to those in immediate need -- the approximately 70% of the New Orleans population who were, we now know, living at or below the poverty level.

The vulnerable.

They didn't have health care before, and they sure don't have it now. The consequences will be terrible to behold. Five days after Katrina descended, we still see, hear, read news of two hospitals that are only half-a-mile from National Guard outposts and remain stranded, unattended to, and increasingly desperate. We and the world watch with horror at our own inability to respond, to provide the most fundamental of needs (water, shelter, food) for those left behind.

Left behind...

This morning, I heard an exasperated ten-year-veteran reporter (who continues to cover storm-stricking Gulf areas where he is still the first outside person stranded and destitute survivors have seen) respond to the question whether he had seen conditions like this in the Third World.

"This is the Third World!"

The shock waves are global, and will continue to be global.

But regionally, the shock waves have faces, arms, legs, names, children, and once had homes.

I shudder to think what news follows. We have not yet heard the worst: if the hospitals have become such dangerously isolated hellholes, what of the nursing homes, the asylums, the prisons?

As the thousands who are homeless seek shelter, water, food, the necessities of life, there will be ripples we try not to think about -- but must, as they are part of the new reality that is America. Let me follow just one ripple: Looting will not remain centralized to the most immediately stricken regions, as desperation, hunger, need assert themselves in the implacable uncaring country we have allowed ourselves to become.

(I hasten to add, I do not mean "implacable and uncaring" as individuals, but as a country, as a society, as a political entity; as those who can barely afford their own rent or mortgage lovingly take in those without homes, how will they make ends meet, and for how long? Are there any functional social support systems left in place??).

When the authorities respond to looting in the same manner they responded to 9/11 -- with violence, as if "looting," like "terrorism," were a localized foe rather than a reaction to repression, destitution, and neglect that becomes malicious when nurtured for so long with such bravado, arrogance, and lack of the basest human empathy -- the lack of health care to all but those who can afford it will also take a toll. (Can those in power have forgotten, really forgotten, that viruses observe no class barriers? Unlike the 30+% who were able to afford to leave New Orleans before Katrina struck with her full force, you can't outrun disease.)

And that's just one ripple -- the mind reels.

As we drink this week's horrors in, as best we can, and respond, as best we can, frail and vulnerable beings that we are, we must also remind ourselves:

This is just the beginning.