Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Black History Month Cinema

With this being Black History Month in the US I’ve decided to list a few of the movies focusing on the black experience in America.

The Great Debaters (2007)
The Great Debaters is a 2007 American biographical drama film directed by and starring Denzel Washington. It is based on an article written about the Wiley College debate team by Tony Scherman for the spring 1997 issue of American Legacy. The film co-stars Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise, Nate Parker, Gina Ravera, Jermaine Williams and Jurnee Smollett. The screenplay is by Robert Eisele, with a story by Robert Eisele & Jeffrey Porro.

Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
Miracle at St. Anna is a 2008 American–Italian epic war film adapted by James McBride from his 2003 novel of the same name. Directed by Spike Lee, it stars Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino and Valentina Cervi. Set primarily in Italy during German-occupied Europe in World War II, the film tells the story of four Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division who seek refuge in a small Tuscan village, where they form a bond with the residents. The story is presented as a flashback, as one survivor, Hector Negron (Alonso), reflects upon his experiences in a frame story set in 1980s New York. Several real-life events that occurred during the war, such as the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre, are re-enacted.

Red Tails (2012)
Red Tails directed by Anthony Hemingway in his feature film directorial debut, and starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. The characters in the film are fictional, although based on real individuals of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The film was produced by Lucasfilm and released by 20th Century Fox.

42 (2013)
42 is a 2013 American biographical sports film written and directed by Brian Helgeland about the racial integration of American professional baseball by player Jackie Robinson, who wore jersey number 42 through his Major League career. The film stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, with Alan Tudyk, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, André Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, and Ryan Merriman appearing in supporting roles.

Bessie (2015)
Bessie is an HBO TV film about legendary American blues singer Bessie Smith, and focuses on her transformation as a struggling young singer into "The Empress of the Blues". The film is directed by Dee Rees, with a screenplay by Rees, Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois. Queen Latifah stars as Smith, and supporting roles are played by Michael Kenneth Williams as Smith's first husband Jack Gee, and Mo'Nique as Ma Rainey.

Race (2016)
Race is a 2016 biographical sports drama film about African-American athlete Jesse Owens, who won a record-breaking four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Directed by Stephen Hopkins and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, the film stars Stephan James as Owens, and co-stars Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt and Carice van Houten. It is a co-production of Canada, Germany and France. It was supported by the Owens family, the Jesse Owens Foundation, the Jesse Owens Trust and the Luminary Group. It won four Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Actor for James.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Carter G. Woodson: Father of Black History Month

In the United States, the month of February is nationally recognized as Black History Month. While the national recognition is only a little more than 40 years old, the roots of Black History Month go back to the Diesel Era.

The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week". This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.

Carter G. Woodson
From the event's initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation's public schools. The first Negro History Week was met with a lukewarm response, gaining the cooperation of the Departments of Education of the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the city school administrations of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Despite this far from universal acceptance, the event was regarded by Woodson as "one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association", and plans for a repeat of the event on an annual basis continued apace.

At the time of Negro History Week's launch, Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society:

If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.

By 1929, The Journal of Negro History was able to note that with only two exceptions, officials with the State Departments of Educations of "every state with considerable Negro population" had made the event known to that state's teachers and distributed official literature associated with the event". Churches also played a significant role in the distribution of literature in association with Negro History Week during this initial interval, with the mainstream and black press aiding in the publicity effort.

Negro History Week was met with an enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.

It became recognized nationally when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history".

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Secrets of Berlin

The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu was dieselpunk twenty years before the word “dieselpunk” was coined. Published in 1981 by Chaosium, Inc., which is one of the oldest existing publishers of role-playing games, Call of Cthulhu is based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.

Call of Cthulhu broke away from the standard D&D format through its use of the concept of Onion Skin, which Chaosium developed. The Onion Skin concept involves interlocking layers of information and nested clues that lead the player characters from a seemingly minor investigation of a missing person to discovering a horrifying apocalyptic conspiracy of global proportions.

From the beginning Call of Cthulhu won numerous awards. At its release in 1981 it won the Game Designer’s Guild “Select Award”. Then in 1982 it won the Origins Awards “Best Role-Playing Game”. Throughout the 1980s and 90s it continued to rack up numerous awards. Call of Cthulhu was ranked 1st in the 1996 reader poll Arcane magazine of the 50 most popular role-playing games of all time. It has since continue to win new awards as recently as 2003.

Coming in 2019 there will be a new Call of Cthulhu supplement called “Secrets of Berlin”, which is set during the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. According to the staff of Chaosium this new supplement has already been play tested by Berliners and native German speakers. The cover art is by Loic Muzy and the lead author is David Larkins. The PDF of Secrets of Berlin is scheduled for March of 2019 while the hard copy is scheduled for June of 2019.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Viktor/ Viktoria

1982 saw the release of the gender-bending movie Victor/ Victoria. Produced by Blake Edward, the plot was about a struggling female soprano finding work playing a male who performed as a female impersonator. However, the 1982 movie wasn’t the first filming of Victor/ Victoria. For that we need to go back to Germany in the tumultuous year of 1933.

Viktor und Viktoria was a German musical comedy released in December of 1933. It was written and directed by Reinhold Schünzel and produced by Alfred Zeisler. It starred Starring Renate Müller, Hermann Thimig, Hilde Hildebrand, and Anton Walbrook. Like the Blake Edward’s movie, the plot also involved a woman pretending to be a female impersonator.

At the same time that the German Viktor/ Viktoria was being filmed there was a French-language version being filmed titled George and Georgette starring Meg Lemonnier and a French cast. Later, in 1935 Michael Balcon produced an English language version titled First a Girl, which was directed by Victor Saville and starred Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale.

Over the years Viktor/ Viktoria was remade several more times. Not only was there Edward’s 1982 version but there was also the 1957 version of Victor and Victoria in West Germany. Later, in 1975 a remake titled My Girlfriend, the Transvestite was filmed in Argentina. The most recent incarnation appeared in 1995 when Edward’s version of Victor/Victoria was made into a Broadway musical.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Happy Holidays - 2018

To All of My Readers,
2018 was an amazing year and 2019 promises to be even better. I would like to wish all of my readers a safe and happy holiday season.

See you next year,
Boss Larry

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Dieselpunk Archie

Archie Comics was born in the Diesel Era. The initial Archie characters were created in 1941 by publisher John L. Goldwater and artist Bob Montana, in collaboration with writer Vic Bloom. They first appeared in Pep Comics #22 (cover-dated Dec. 1941). Starting with issue #114, the title was shortened to simply Archie.

In the last few years, Archie has started to take on several dieselpunk themes. One is found in the horror theme variant Afterlife with Archie and the other is Archie 1941.

Afterlife with Archie was published by Archie Comics beginning in 2013, depicting a zombie apocalypse that begins in the town of Riverdale in an alternative reality. The series takes a distinct dieselpunk theme when a Lovecraft element is introduced in Issue #8.

Archie 1941 is a five-issue miniseries that imagines how life in a United States on the verge of wartime would impact Archie’s pals and gals. The series was co-written by Mark Waid — writer on the regular Archie series, which goes on hiatus with July’s No. 32 — and Brian Augustyn, with art by Peter Krause. (Special thanks to John Pyka at The Dieselpunk Podcast Facebook page for bringing this to my attention.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dieselpunk Entertainment

This is a great time to be a dieselpunk. It seems that the number of productions, big and small screen, grow all the time. Following are three that are either available now or will be soon.

The Man In the High Castle Season 3

Those with an Amazon Prime membership already know that the third season to the dieselpunk series The Man in The High Castle was uploaded October 5, 2018. The series The Man in the High Castle is loosely based on the dieselpunk novel of the same name by Philip K Dick. Starring Rufus Sewell (Dark City), Rupert Evans, Alexa Davalos, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.

Season 4 of The Man in the High Castle was confirmed back in July of 2018.

The Crimes of Grindelwald

In this sequel to the dieselpunk movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the chase is on to thwart Grindelwald's plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings. Directed by David Yates and screenplay by J. K Rolling. Starring Jude Law (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), Johnny Depp, Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, and Alison Sudol.

The Crimes of Grindelwald was released in the US on November 16, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns

In this sequel to the 1964 classic, the mysterious Mary Poppins returns to Depression-era London to visit Jane and her brother Michael, now a father of three, and helps them rediscover the joy they knew as children. It’s directed by Rob Marshall who also directed the dieselpunk classic Chicago. It stars Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth and has a cameo by Dick Van Dyke.

Mary Poppins Returns will be released in the US on December 19th, 2018.