Monday, June 8, 2015

"SLOGGERS": THE HISTORY OF FANZINES, STEVE VERTLIEB, AND THE MEN WHO SAVED THE MOVIES by CEJ

    
CINEMACABRE's Steve Vertlieb & FAMOUS MONSTER's "Forry" Ackerman
 
A long time ago, in a land not that far away - during an infinitely more primitive time before high speed social media, video journals, TMZ, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD and DISH NATION, if a film fan wanted to know more (and maybe even own just a teeny weeny bit - in the way of behind the scenes stills and / or trivia) of their favorite movie, well, ... the "fanzine" was the be-all and end-all king. Generally considered the first two such publications, both PHOTOPLAY (edited by James R. Quirk - not to be confused with that Starship Captain guy) and MOTION PICTURE STORY, bowed in 1911, and within their first few issues were pulling in staggering circulation totals in excess of 200,000 per month.
    Essentially covering the broad spectrum of film news - from behind-the-scenes insider production stories to good 'ol fashioned star gazing (regular contributors to PHOTOPLAY included Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell), the fanzine became more specialized ("niched" if you will) during the 1950s with the arrival of two of what would come to be considered the "grandaddy's" of the medium, CONFIDENTIAL - that citadel of gossip, scandal and expose' journalism launched in December 1952, and the more family friendly FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND - established in 1958.




    Launched by publisher James Warren (EERIE, CREEPY, VAMPIRELLA) and edited by Forrest J (“Uncle Forry”) Ackerman, FAMOUS MONSTERS would go on to become the quintessential genre fan magazine, over the years inspiring young sci fi (a phrase Forrie himself claims to have coined, by the way) and horror aficionados such as Peter Jackson, John Landis, George Lucas, Richard Edlund, Steven Spielberg and Stephen Sommers to ultimately become film makers as adults.  While also inspiring the late 1970s - 80s rise of similarly themed genre publications such as STARLOG, FANGORIA, VIDEO WATCHDOG and the revised CINEFANTASTIQUE, FAMOUS MONSTERS' high-flyin’ heyday surely was the ten year span between the mid 1950s - 1960s, when many of the aforementioned future directors, film techs and others (born in the mid 1940s) were in their teen years, and enjoying many of the films discussed in the pages of the magazine on television.

    During the late 1960s genre films (and even once popular genre themed television such as LOST IN SPACE and THE OUTER LIMITS) fell out of public favor in lieu of the increasingly more popular and cynical "youth culture" cinematic craze - embodied by films such as EASY RIDER, THE GRADUATE and GOODBYE COLUMBUS, and the hard edged socio-politically aware cinema of the 70s - represented by titles such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION, SHAFT, NETWORK and DOG DAY AFTERNOON. 


Steve Vertlieb with dear friend, Ray Harryhausen (1920 - 2013)
    
During this time even the once legendary Ray Harryhausen (creator of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.) saw his lovingly realized dinosaurs-in-the-old-west Willis O'Brien homage, VALLEY OF GWANGI, discarded and dumped by its own studio, then buried into the purgatory-ish filmic distribution world of the grade "B" second run drive-in movie circuit. It wasn't until Lucas' STAR WARS and Richard Donner's SUPERMAN (1977 and 1978 respectively) reignited the fantasy film box office, that the genre fanzine, as well as the films they covered, would once again prove popular and profitable endeavors.
    Those who have been following the production progress of our STEVE VERTLIEB: THE MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES documentary over the last two years know a theme which originally quietly arose in the background, then over time asserted itself to the fore, is the question of "What Constitutes Film Archivism?".  Is it, as some attest, preserving for posterity only physical memorabilia such as the original 1933 KING KONG puppet armature, the “granny” dress of Norman Bates mother, or one of the aerodynamically slick pod cars from LOGAN'S RUN? Or is it also preserving for future generations of film fans and filmmakers-to-come the memories, stories and firsthand recollections of those legends of fantastic cinema and literature; and how and why they came to create those classics in the first place?  Those classics which continue to enthrall audiences, and now also serve as an endless franchise catalog – a box office “Well Of The Souls” if you will, for studio producers.



FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND - RAY HARRYHAUSEN ISSUE (#21 / 1963)

    In an era where, film-wise, “everything old is new again”, and where schools, students and online cinema “historians” go gaga over the latest Scorcese / Tarantino references to classic genre films (you know Scorcese’s SHUTTER ISLAND is his homage to the films of Val Letwton, right?), it’s a heartbreaking reality of passing time that the list of surviving members of that elite cadre, who created this rich cinematic and literary history, is diminishing every year. Think about it, within the last seven alone we've lost not only "Uncle Forry" Ackerman and Ray Harryhausen, but Ray Bradbury (THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, FAHRENHEIT 451, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES), Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND, BID TIME RETURN, DUEL, STAR TREK, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), ALIEN / NECRONOMICON artist H.R. Giger and many more.

    During that high-and-dry period between the mid 1960s and 70s, before the post STAR WARS resurgent popularity (and profitability) of the genre film and fanzine, a small group of men would "carry the Olympic Torch" if you will, keeping it burning through the cold, and often at the expense of personal financial ruin and professional ridicule as they, from their own pockets, lovingly funded, wrote and distributed a handful of genre themed publications (many of them originally mimeographed – some of you “under 30-ers” will have to Google that word) which many would disparage as being indicative of an irresponsible sense of arrested development. At times lambasted and (no exaggeration, we get into this in our film) disowned by their own families, these "old men who refused to grown up and face the real world", would in the long run prove to be true heroes of filmic archivism - their work and preservation of the letters, technical drawings and first hand "how it came to be" recollections of some of the most revered names in genre history, now considered a "Lost Ark" treasure trove which, if they'd kowtowed to popular opinion at the time, and “grown up”, would now be lost forever.


Everything old is new again - literally: (top L&R) Howard Hawks' HATARI (1962) /
Steven Spielberg's THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)
    
One of the most respected of these (until now) unsung “Olympic Torch bearers” is the titular subject of our film - Steve Vertlieb. In the late 1960s he, along with George Stover (those of you familiar with the films of John Waters will recognize that name as part of the cult director's stable of performers) and the late John Parnum, in various capacities supervising the creation, editing and publication of the fanzines BLACK ORACLE and CINEMACABRE. Becoming more than fanzines, ORACLE and CINEMACABRE offered such learned, in depth and perceptive articles by these men and others, as to garner (in Steve's case alone) the respect, admiration, and in many cases personal years-long friendships, with such legendary filmic figures as Peter Cushing, Miklos Rozsa, Jerry Goldsmith, Richard Matheson, Buster Crabbe, Veronica Carlson, Philippe Mora, Vincent Price, Paul Clemens and Robert Bloch. Then, in more recent years, the veneration and friendship of composers Lee Holdridge (tv's MOONLIGHTING, SPLASH, INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS) and Mark McKenzie (THE GREATEST GIFT, THE ULTIMATE MIRACLE, STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE), writer / director Nicholas Meyer (THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, TIME AFTER TIME, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) and many more.

    It’s been an, at times, tough slog for Mr. Vertlieb and the others. In Steve's case alone, while now respected by many, his desire back then to "save" the movies - as in preserving those letters, technical drawings, photos, memorabilia and personal stories for posterity (this at a time when the definition of success was the Gordon Gekko-like religion of a huge payday by any means necessary), would come at great personal cost, including the loss of his own marriage and career, near bankruptcy, and deep emotional depression. But amazingly and maybe even (for those with active imaginations and / or souls which just refuse to “roll over and play dead”) magically, those films – many with their near spiritual / Utopian-inspired messages and subtext, would in-turn reciprocate the favor and "save" Steve during those dark times; both he and those revered classics waiting patiently until now finally enjoying a 21st century Renaissance of sorts. Those films serving as the inspirational basis for current blockbusters such as JURASSIC WORLD, and Steve enjoying a personal "franchise reboot" of his own with, among other recent developments, a new life love in the luminous Rochelle Trust, as well as feature length documentary being filmed about his long, colorful, and ultimately inspiring life and times.


Spending the afternoon talking film with writer / dir. Nicholas Meyer (THE DAY AFTER / STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) and writer / dir. Frank Capra
(IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT / IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) 
    
For those who have been following and supporting our film's progress, we thank you. Admittedly at times there may seem to be long stretches of "no updates", but rest assured production ever continues. As those who've ever been involved in any kind of independent filmic endeavor can attest, sometimes there are long stretches of apparent nothing-ness going on while the foundation is being poured, leveled and solidified for the next all important phase. And in our case, part of that "foundation laying" sometimes falls under the very un-sexy and uninteresting-to-most category of the financing of said vision. Some of you will get this analogy.  And for those who don’t, … well, consider yourself at present very lucky. It’s kind of like being a homeowner who doesn't have unlimited pockets, and who must renovate his / her house over a much longer period of time than the person who just say calls in a contractor, then puts it all “on the card”.

    The not-necessarily-financially-flush, but oh so dedicated, home owner will save up a few paychecks in order to do a Saturday at Lowes; then they’ll spend the next week completing one or two household renovations. In another month (or two or three) they save up enough to do it again, and again and again. The important thing however is to keep moving. This is what we've always referred to as the "pick and shovel work" aspect of things, or what others might think of as the "boring" part. Such is the life of a truly independent film project.  And hey, sorry to burst the bubbles of those who dream of completely financing via crowdfunding, then hitting all the major festivals and scoring a massive distribution deal. While yes, it does now and then happen, for many a (shall we call ‘em) “blue collar” film maker, the non-sexy “slogging one day at a time” method is often the manner in which these things sometimes progress.


Film scores by Steve's beloved friend & mentor Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995) include
BEN-HUR (1959), SPELLBOUND (1945) and THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)
    
Interestingly, timing-wise, Steve has recently been the subject of two lushly realized (what else?) contemporary fanzine publications. In the latest edition of Gary and Susan Svelha's near coffee-table-book-like MAD ABOUT MOVIES (#9 / Nov. 2014), Steve recounts his childhood fascination with TV's legendary series ROUTE 66, and how (after learning the production crew and stars were coming to his hometown of Philadelphia, PA to film) this fascination lead he and his brother, Erwin, to cut school, visit the crew at a local hotel, then ultimately receive an invitation by series star George Maharis to witness the episode's climactic shoot atop the dizzying heights of the city's Benjamin Franklin Bridge. In our MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES documentary we pay homage to both that December 1961 ROUTE 66 episode, "The Thin White Line", and how it lead to young Steve's desire for a career in film journalism, by shooting adult Steve (on a particularly brisk and windy morning) retracing those childhood steps up the pedestrian walkway of the same Benjamin Franklin Bridge, he recalling and recounting that influential day.



ROUTE 66; "The Thin White Line" (1961) / MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVES (2014)
    
Then just weeks ago, Richard Klemensen's much acclaimed LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS MAGAZINE (now amazingly entering its 42nd year as an actual printed periodical - WOW!), not only featured Steve, George Stover and others in its tribute to the art form of the fanzine, but also dedicated the entire issue to our beloved “Man Who ‘Saved’ The Movies”.

    And, as if that wasn’t enough (and talk about synchronicity), we also recently received an invitation to preview our film, in a polished work-in-progress version, at this upcoming August’s REEL EAST FILM FESTIVAL, to be held in Oaklyn, N.J.  Just last year the much talked about feature length documentary, THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN, debuted at Reel East in a similar “work-in-progress” state.  And one of our all time favorite writer / directors, John Sayles’, screened his GO FOR SISTERS there.  So, needless to say, we’re rather excited.  As such the next month and a half will be spent picking up a bit more "guerilla style" footage, then spending endless hours at the editing desk in preparation. As mentioned in one of our earlier postings, in this biz (that of independent film making) one has to be willing to live by the adage, "How do you eat an entire elephant? ... One bite a time".

    Is it a helluva slog? You bet!  But if Steve Vertlieb, John Parnum, George Stover and the others could save the movies for us, it’s the very least we can do in return to honor them, wouldn't you say?

Documentary Trailer
STEVE VERTLIEB: THE MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES



CEJ (6/8/15)

* Go on location during the filming of MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES via our exciting production blogs @
http://gullcottageonline.com/ManWhoSavedProdBlog2.html

* View film excerpts, raw footage and more on our MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES
YouTube Channel @