The Urbane Cheapskate

Leaving Your Cash Reserves Undisturbed Since 2013

A READ

From time to time, I’ll post links to stuff you can read or watch at no charge, gratis, and without disturbing the intricate aerodynamic byplay of moths in your wallet area.

Philip Wylie’s pulp SF novel Gladiator (1930) is sometimes billed as the precursor to the superhero genre, in particularly the antecedent to Superman in the comics.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who created Superman a few years later – and are still credited thus all these years later on Superman product, including the most recent movie – never acknowledged any debt that I’m aware of. However the proximity in years and concept – in terms of the “super powers” of the lead character in the novel and the original Superman being virtually identical – while not conclusive, may well be indicative. Adding in the fact that Siegel and Shuster were among the nascent fandom group around science fiction then (they wrote/drew for early ‘zines) it’s not a stretch that they would have been aware of Wylie’s book.

Anyway, the Wylie novel – unlike the early Superman strips/comic books, clearly written with an adult audience in mind – is decades ahead of its time in that the “first superhero work” is also what would later, in the 70s and in particular the 80s, have been termed a “revisionist” superhero piece, which is a neat trick if you can manage it.

It’s ultimately a pretty dark reflection on the concept of an individual of preternatural, or supernatural, abilities, inserted into a semblance of the real world.

Undoubtedly some aspects of the values depicted (as in between the wars, US style) within the book have dated, and some of the prose is a little bit elbows-and-thumbs, but it really holds up pretty strongly on a page-turner basis, and conceptually, in terms of the ways it develops  both its main gimmick and philosophical premises, it more than holds the interest – it’s popular storytelling (and nothing wrong with that) but it validates the use of its bizarre (superheroic) premise.

You can download it and check it out for free from here, in a variety of formats.

A faithful remake of it right now would definitely fit with the trend in megaplex superhero movies and would stand out (a lot) more than most of them.

As you can see on the “Gladiator” Wikipedia page, it’s been adapted at least twice (with acknowledgement, anyway) to comics by mainstream superhero publishers; and, astoundingly, also once as a formula Joe. E Brown comedy in the late 1930s, around the time Superman first appeared in the comic books. *

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A WATCH

As nothing more than the kind of coincidence that happens to folks poking their noses into odd corners of popular or mass culture, or even your official high-faluting Litterachure, recently I happen to have stuck my oar into a number of works concerning themselves with the nature of individual identity, in each case, as rendered hypothetically via science-fiction type premise, and presented via that dangerously addictive, “spoonful of sugar” type method of telling a story with it. (This practice clearly must be stopped. But just let me read a few more chapters. (For younger people, just translate this to “Just let me finish a few more levels of GTA, COD, POQ” or whatever the relevant initials of today are.)
I’m going to write something linking these various movies and prose stories soon (-ish) for up here, but in the interim, here’s an astonishingly obscure movie you can catch up with for free on the Interweb. It’s a somewhat slow and very talky, but suprisingly serious (boy – do I know how to sell a picture) and, for movies, detailed piece of genuinely pissophilofollicle science-fiction called Creation of the Humanoids, dating from the early 1960s.  Before every E!gg just down the pike from idiotville starting yammering about “sci-fi” (a mass media styling DETESTED by the science-fiction fans and writers of yore, incidentally, who preferred “SF” back in the day), this would have been a rare motion picture example of what used to be termed “hard science fiction”. Even though the main issues within are treatments of philosophical themes, an unusual amount of attention is paid to scientific, logistical and technical considerations, i.e. even if some of it, necessarily, is so much bilge-water, it’s carefully considered bilge-water.
It’s like a long, colour episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, only without Rod Serling, and probably longer than you’re thinking. Visually, they do well on what must have been a pretty low budget. For movies, the premise and handling of it are decades ahead of the time. For megaplex audiences right now – bombarded and visually sandblasted into extreme sophistication re succession of images, basics of movie storytelling and rapid juxtaposition of those and other techniques, but rendered virtually unable to follow less familiar character types, or any significant degree of ambiguity, or a genuine complexity of motivations and storylines (as opposed to a “whole bunch of stuff happening” but all of it being along regular megaplex hero v villain lines – Creation of the Humanoids would just be too hard. It’s static for lengthy periods and viewer investment in it is entirely predicated on thinking through the arguments and perspectives of various characters (and re the elemental nature of humanity, yet!) and filtering those through one’s own beliefs or thoughts on the subject. That is, one screening and they’d probably pull down the entire cinema complex in the ensuing riots and follow up by destroying the attached shopping centre. Anyway, if you’ve got some time to kill and reckon you can restrain yourself from slashing the seats and torching the joint, given that you’re quite possibly watching it from home, you can see the whole of the thunderously obscure Creation of the Humanoids right here. ** Even by comparison to King Kong, they could bill this as one of the movies’ most unusual love stories, and never have a single solitary writ from any “truth in advertising” board to worry about.
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[Joe E. Brown was a cornball comic – probably even then – who had a run of popularity in the 1930s. His two main claims to fame are a ridiculously wide, or large, mouth – for wrestling fans there is no small facial resemblance to perennial WWE mainstay John Cena – and delivering the pay-off line at the conclusion of Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot, a movie endlessly confused with being one of comedy’s all-time greatest. Personally, I don’t think it’s even one of Billy Wilder’s all-time greatest (try Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole/The Big Carnival – those are the same picture – The Lost Weekend) nor his funniest (candidates include Stalag 17 and Kiss Me Stupid, but not The Fortune Cookie, as interesting as it is, re strangely contemporary subject matter and general ingenuity. In fact, it’s probably everything but funny.)

But Joe E. Brown, whose starring movies are presumably even more excruciating to watch now than those of contemporaries like Eddie Cantor and Wheeler & Woolsey, does just fine on his big closing line in Some Like It Hot.]

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** [Despite what it says there, it’s not in Russian, and there are no Russian subtitles. It’s just the original US movie, in such shape as survives and such quality as YouCube can manage anyway. Print is no doubt several thousand of your Earth miles from HD quality, but it’s quite watchable enough to be going on with.]

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