Monday, January 18, 2016

Maybe We Don't Belong Out There: A Review of "I Am the Doorway"

First published in the March 1971 issue of Cavalier, “I Am the Doorway” later appeared in the 1978 collection Night Shift, and was used as fodder for the memorable cover to the paperback edition.
  
  

images stolen from http://toomuchhorrorfiction.blogspot.com/2012/04/night-shift-by-stephen-king-1979-signet.html
  
Remember when book covers didn’t typically suck?  Boy, those days are over.
  
I’ll be examining the Night Shift version today; I tried to find a copy of the Cavalier version for the photos, er, um, I mean to see if there were any notable differences between the two.  I struck out in that regard.
  
  
 

In any case, “I Am the Doorway” is a strong early entry from King.  It’s a short and relatively simple story: a former astronaut, years after his final mission, grows a bunch of alien eyes on his hands.  They begin slowly exerting control over his body and mind, and cause him to commit a couple of murders.  That’s about it.  Not much there.  There doesn’t need to be; this is effective stuff, and King does a lot with what he has.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 5: 2006-2015)

A quick note you will all appreciate: earlier tonight, I listened to a podcast featuring an appearance Williams made on Classical FM in August of 2012.  He discusses his father for a bit, including mentioning Williams Sr. having been a prominent musician in his own right, having drummed in (among other outfits) the Raymond Scott Quintette, and played on film scores, radio broadcasts, albums, etc.

What interests us is this (and I now quote Williams from the Classical FM interview):

He was a drummer, and he was something of a character, I guess you could say.  He comes from Bangor, Maine, and he came down from Maine in the middle 1920s to study music at the New England Conservatory with George Lawrence Stone, who your elder generation of percussionists will remember.

Huh.  Bangor, Maine . . . seems like I've I've heard of that town somewhere.

I'd listened to that interview before, around the time it happened; so I guess in the technical sense, I knew about this mild King/Williams connection, but I'd utterly forgotten it by the time I listened again.  I had myself a good chuckle when I heard Williams say "Bangor," and knew I had my entry point for the final post in this series.

*****

As we discussed last time, 2005 marked the end of an era.  It wasn't evident for years afterward; it has only been in retrospect that we know of the era's passing.  And, to be fair, things could still change.  For now, though, it appears that the quadruple-play of 2005 (Revenge of the Sith followed by War of the Worlds that summer, then a holiday season consisting of Memoirs of a Geisha followed by Munich) marked the end of Williams' career as a full-time film composer.

Since then, he has returned to the scoring stage for a mere half-dozen movies, most of which have been comparatively low-key affairs.  Instead, he has focused most of his efforts on producing new concert-hall works.




So if you're a Williams fan, should that depress you?  Have we been deprived of something?

Read on and let's find out.  (And, in case you missed them, here are links to the first four parts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 4: 1987-2005)

Before we move into the bulk of the post, let me offer a quick justification for why I've chosen the specific years I'm covering here.

Part one covered the period during which I would argue Williams was finding himself as an artist.  Part two covered a transitional period, during which he'd found his mature voice and was in the process of finding just the right vehicle to properly express it.  Part three covered the years during which he first found that precisely-right vehicle, and then (amazingly) kept finding it again and again and again.

In that third part, I argued that the years 1975-1986 were a period of nearly unparalleled excellence from Williams, not only in relation to his own career but in relation to most artists' careers.  If that's the case, then it would be natural for you to assume that the reason why I broke off in 1986 last time and we are picking up with 1987 this time is because there was a drop in quality.

And there was, I guess.  But as steps down go, this one doesn't take you very far.  After all, if you look at what Williams accomplished in that '75-'86 period, you have to agree that there was simply no way for him to continue to work at that incredible level.  I'd argue he didn't.  But he worked at a remarkably high level nonetheless, and did so for the better part of two decades.

I wanted to split this section into two separate eras, but I could really see where to do it.  What we've got here is a sustained run of excellence, with occasional flights into brilliance.  I guess you could be disappointed by that if you only use '75-'86 as your measuring stick.  If you do, you're nuts, and I pity you.  There is a TON of great music from '87-'05, so strap in and let's get to it.




  

Let's begin with:


1987 -- New England Time Capsule



  
New England Time Capsule is a short film that was shown in the Omnimax theatre at Boston's Museum of Science.  Williams wrote a piece called "A Hymn to New England" for the short film, but did not record it himself (it was arranged and adapted by someone else for the film accompaniment).
  
He finally did so in 2002, however; here's that version.
  
It's a nice piece of Americana that wouldn't sound out of place in a Spielberg movie.
  

1987 -- The Witches of Eastwick


  
  
Do people remember The Witches of Eastwick?  Seems like that might be a "no," and if so, that's a shame; it's a George Miller movie, it's got a terrific performance from Jack Nicholson, it's got a trio of excellent leading ladies (Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon), and it's based on a John Updike novel.  Not to mention the Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography!
  

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 3: 1975-1986)

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd we're back!

*****
  
If I were grading the periods of John Williams' career, I'd say that the span of time covered in the first section of my tour is a Bronze Age, and that the years covered in the second part are an Early Silver Age (a Late Silver Age will follow later).


Williams and Steven Spielberg, with a grumpy-looking Brian DePalma in the background

  
Today's post indisputably represents a Golden Age (as will the next).  By virtually any standard, these years represent an astonishing artistic achievement.
  
Read on and find out all about it.




1975 -- The Eiger Sanction







To one degree or another, I've been a film-music fan (and a John Williams fan) since roughly the time of 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.  As with many of my hobbies, the film-music obsession tends to ebb and flow over time, and it was at its peak during the late nineties.  During that time, it was not at all uncommon for me to go to a local record store that sold used CDs and buy more or less whatever film soundtracks they had that I did not already own.  On other days, I might even drive to one or two good stores in Birmingham and comb through their new CDs, and I was always on the lookout for any soundtracks I'd never seen before.

By that point, I obviously knew full and well who John Williams was, and I already had a pretty good collection of his work.  Not comprehensive, by any means; but I owned most of the soundtracks for the movies of his that I'd seen.  Once the film-music bug hit me at addiction-level strength, I began buying even the stuff from movies I'd never seen.

The score that prompted that was The Eiger Sanction.  I bought that one because I was in the mood to buy something, and that's what was available; and because I figured if it was by John Williams it might be worth a spin.  So I took it home, listened to it, and fell in love with it.  And from there, I decided to buy ANY Williams score I saw . . . and then, any James Horner score I saw . . . and then, any Jerry Goldsmith score I saw.  I had similar experiences with both of them, and eventually, this led to me buying basically any score by anybody.

If that sounds a bit like the story of a junkie looking to replicate an especially fine high, you're probably not wrong to notice the similarities.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 2: 1968-1974)

By 1968, John Williams was already a veteran in Hollywood, having spent the better part of two decades scoring movies and television shows.  He was an Oscar nominee and an Emmy winner, which is a pretty good thing to say about yourself.

Comparatively, though, he'd accomplished nothing compared to what would come later.




We'll get to that, but first, let's return to our overview (part one of which can be found here) with a look at the span of years I am defining as his second major phase.  We begin with:


1968 -- Land of the Giants





For the 1968-1969 television season, Williams teamed up with Irwin Allen again on Land of the Giants, contributing the theme music and the score for the pilot episode, "The Crash."  I'd say this is arguably Williams' best television work for Allen.


1968 -- "Symphony No. 1" and "Sinfonietta for Wind Ensemble"


1968 was also a notable year for Williams in the concert hall.  He premiered his "Symphony No. 1" as well as a Sinfonietta For Wood Ensemble.  The former has never been released, so far as I can tell, and Williams has never had much of anything good to say about it.  I'd like to hear it someday, though, and judge for myself.




The sinfonietta was released -- in 1970 or 1972; I've seen both years cited -- on an album of music from the Eastman Wind Ensemble under the direction of  Donald Hunsberger.  I do not believe this has ever been reissued on CD, but I do have a version of the sinfonietta on a bootleg.  The sound isn't great, but it's good enough; a judgment I'd also apply to the sinfonietta itself.


1968 -- Heidi





If you're a casual John Williams fan, the odds are pretty good that you've never heard any of the scores I've mentioned so far; and you've probably never even heard of a great many of the films and television shows.  There's no shame in that.

If you're a more hardcore Williams fan, then you've probably got at least some familiarity with his pre-seventies music, and if that's the case, then the odds are good that you've found yourself wondering something: when did John Williams really become John Williams?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 1: 1956-1967)

Today, we will take a break from the wide world of Stephen King and indulge in a not-so-cursory overview of the works of composer John Williams.  Why would we do such a thing?  For no better reason than that I am a massive Williams fan and I felt like writing about his work.  Simple!  For those of you who feel this blog's attentions should remain focused on Stephen King, I apologize and offer you the ability to ignore the next few days.

The overview is in five parts, and the entire thing is already written, so I'll be publishing one part every day or so for the next week.

I listen to all of my Williams music every couple of years, and when I started that process late last summer, I thought it might be fun to write a bit about it.  "A bit" swelled into quite a lot, but when you're dealing with a career and a body of work the size of Williams', it's hard to prevent that.  Given that I'd decided to write about the process, it made no sense to me not to make it available to read on one of my blogs; and this one was the natural choice.  Again, apologies for violating the purity of the mission statement here; I think we'll all be better for it in the end, though.

And now, maestro, if you would...!



  
For those of you who may not be aware of who Williams is, here is a tidbit clue you in: he is a multiple Oscar-winner whose filmography includes the scores to films like Star Wars (all seven movies to date in the main series), Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone (as well as its first two sequels), Schindler's List, and so forth.  He's kind of a big deal, and while I don't have quite comprehensive enough a knowledge of Hollywood history to state this with certainty, I feel fairly sure that of all the people to work in the film industry -- in any capacity -- he has had one of the most impressive careers.
  
Indeed, his greatest similarity to Stephen King is that both could be described by the following statement: he has been working for decades, has been very prolific during that time, and has maintained a very high level of quality during that run.  There are other film composers who worked for just as long, and there are other film composers who have been just as good.  There are NO other film composers who have been that good for that long.  A few come close (and fans of both Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone will insist that I am flat-out wrong); but none quite get there, in my opinion.
  
You could apply a similar standard of measurement to King among novelists, of course.  That sentence may read like a vain attempt on my part to connect this post to the subject of the blog overall, and that's a fair assessment.  But I'm intrigued by the fact that I seem to be drawn in my fandom to artists whose careers span half a decade or more and whose canon is voluminous enough that working one's way through it is a dauntingly lengthy task.  One cannot simply read one's way through all of Stephen King; that is a commitment one does not take lightly.
  
Listening one's way through John Williams is more manageable, but by no means is it a quick journey.  And why would you want it to be?  There is much treasure to find along the way, and it seems to me like it would be worth this blog's time to try to describe the path one would take on such a journey.  So settle in; even at a full sprint, this is going to take a while.
  
A note before the starting gun: I will by no means be covering every single work that Williams has written.  I'll cover most of them, and all of the major ones; but finding a comprehensive list is virtually impossible (especially given how much television work Williams did during the fifties and sixties), and a great deal of the music is unavailable to me.  My collection is fairly good, though, so what we'll do is mostly restrict ourselves to my understanding of and experience of Williams' career.
  
Sound good?  Let's go!



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Considering H.P. Lovecraft, Part 4

Today, we're going to talk about pastiches and homages, in the form of looking at several volumes of Lovecraftian anthologies I've got.  I've read none of them, but dadgummit, I want to!  I thought that they were worth mentioning, though, even if I can't tell you a whole heck of a lot about them.
  
My plan is to merely post images of them, along with lists of the contents.  Then, as I slowly make my way through the books over the course of the next few months (or, more likely, years), I'll update this post with mini-reviews.  So if you want to stay informed of that, subscribe to the comments; I'll leave a comment each time an update is made.
  
I may or may not end the post with a consideration of Lovecraft film adaptations.  I haven't decided yet; I might end up slitting that off into a separate post.  We'll see!
  
First up:
  
  


  
  
We'll proceed in chronological order by release date, beginning with this 1990 collection.
  

Friday, January 8, 2016

We Both Have To: A Review of "The Blue Air Compressor"

It’s been a while since the last of these entries in my ongoing examination of Stephen King’s short stories.  Sorry about that!  I wish I could say it was never going to happen again, but I’d be almost willing to guarantee that it will.  I promise to do my best to increase my output; that ought to be doable, at least.
  
In any case, we now resume, with a look at the obscure 1971/1981 short story “The Blue Air Compressor.”
  
  
Image stolen from http://www.akyle.f2s.com/pre_carrie.html, which appears to be a hell of a collection.

   
The story was first published in the January 1971 issue of Onan, a University of Maine literary publication.  A revised version appeared in the July 1981 issue of Heavy Metal, but King opted not include it in his next collection (Skeleton Crew), and has continually decided against collection or republication ever since.
  
  

  
I can’t say that I blame him, because it’s not much of a story.  The odds are quite good that you’ve never read it; the percentage of King fans who have cannot be more than a fractional fraction.  If you are determined to do so, I suspect that a copy of the Heavy Metal version can be had for relatively cheap.  It didn’t cost me much when I went looking for a copy a decade ago, and I doubt things have changed that much since.  (As of this writing, Amazon has copies starting a bit above $13.)  Whether it has or whether it hasn’t, that’s going to be your only good way of finding the story, and it’s the version of the story I will be examining today.