Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Is It Dieselpunk?

For a long time I’ve worked under the assumption that for something to be considered ‘dieselpunk’ it had to have three elements: decodence, contemporary, and punk. ‘Decodence’ being defined as either a setting during the Jazz Age (1920s - 1940s) or the aesthetics/ feel of that era. ‘Contemporary’ means that it was created in a post-Jazz Age time period. Finally, the ‘punk’ element being either a twist on the era (some examples being alt history, science-fiction, horror, fantasy, musical, etc) or a counter-cultural spin (the anti-hero being one example).

Over the years these three elements have served us well. They’ve allowed for different ‘flavors’ of dieselpunk to be identified. At the same time, these elements set parameters so that not just anything could be considered dieselpunk.

Yet, I've been wondering how far we can push this three element criteria. Are there artistic productions that meet this criteria that would not be considered dieselpunk? Let me give you an example of my concern.

The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music was a stage musical that first premiered in 1959. It was composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Later, in 1965 The Sound of Music was adapted into a film produced and directed by Robert Wise, and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, with Richard Haydn and Eleanor Parker. The movie is now considered a classic. In 2001, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Both the stage musical and the movie are loosely based on the Von Trapp family. Set in 1939, the musical tells the story of Maria, who takes a job as governess to a large family while she decides whether to become a nun. She falls in love with the children and their widowed father, Captain von Trapp. He’s ordered to accept a commission in the German navy, but he opposes the Nazis. He and Maria decide to flee from Austria with the children.

Is It Dieselpunk?
The source of my doubts is using the word ‘punk’ in association with “The Sound of Music” just feels off to me. Certainly, it has the first two elements of dieselpunk. It has decodence in that they’re set in 1939. It’s contemporary in that no matter where one cuts off the Diesel Era, both were made post Jazz Age.

But is it really ‘punk’? Is simply being a musical enough to make it considered as such?

I’ll leave that to my readers to decide. If you have an opinion send me a message. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

A special thank you to John Wilson for bringing this to my attention.

The cable network Showtime announced back in November 2018 that it was developing a spin-off to its Steampunk series Penny Dreadful. Titled Penny Dreadful: Series of Angels more and more has been released about this new Dieselpunk series.

PD: COA is set in the same universe and timeline as the original but is relocated across the pond in Los Angeles of 1938. According to the official synopsis,

"When a murder shocks the city, Detective Tiago Vega is embroiled in an epic story that reflects the rich history of Los Angeles: from the building of the city's first freeways and its deep traditions of Mexican-American folklore, to the dangerous espionage actions of the Third Reich and the rise of radio evangelism. Before long, Tiago and his family are grappling with powerful forces that threaten to tear them apart."

PD: COA is created by John Logan who created the original Penny Dreadful for Showtime. Logan’s writing credentials are impressive. He’s a three-time Academy Award nominee for Gladiator, The Aviator, and the Dieselpunk film Hugo. In addition, he wrote the Bond films Skyfall and Spectre, as well as Alien: Covenant and The Last Samurai.

In addition to the supernatural PD: COA will also explore various class and racial issues. According to Logan,

"Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels will have a social consciousness and historical awareness that we chose not to explore in the...London storylines.

We will now be grappling with specific historical and real-world political, religious, social and racial issues. In 1938, Los Angeles was facing some hard questions about its future and its soul. Our characters must do the same. There are no easy answers. There are only powerful questions and arresting moral challenges. As always in the world of Penny Dreadful, there are no heroes or villains in this world, only protagonists and antagonists; complicated and conflicted characters living on the fulcrum of moral choice.”

The cast includes Natalie Dormer (Game Of Thrones) as Magda, a demon who can take on the appearance of anyone she chooses, Daniel Zovatto (It Follows, Lady Bird and Don't Breathe) as Detective Tiago Vega and Nathan Lane (Birdcage and The Producers) as Lewis Michener, who is described as “a veteran officer in the LAPD.

While Penny Dreadful: City of Angels will be going into production this year no broadcast date has been announced.

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