Watch it now: Embrace of the Serpent

Recently, a friend heartily recommended that I watch a film called Embrace of the Serpent after discussing one of my favorites, Aguirre the Wrath of God, written, directed, and produced by Werner Herzog. Both of the titles mentioned above present a strikingly similar plot in the same geographic location: the Amazonian jungle. Aguirre and Embrace follow the all-too-familiar conquest and exploitation trajectory of indigenous peoples and their pristine, resource-rich, and sacred environment. 

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In Aguirre, the goal of the conquistadors is the city of El Dorado; in Embrace, the goal of the barons is rubber. In Embrace, directed by Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra, the only signs of the brutal rubber plantations are villages burned to the ground, only a few remaining indigenous groups (mostly the ones who do not resist the rubber barons), a strong distrustful and traumatic relationship between the natives and the whites, and scarred trees dripping out white, violent rubber. In one of the most gut-wrenching and gruesome scenes of the film shows the protagonist and hero of the story, Karamakate known by all tribes as “The World Mover,” along with another native named Manduca and the German botanist Theo Von Martius walk up on a rubber extraction area. The trees all have the telling marks of rubber extraction with buckets beneath them to catch the unrefined liquid. Manduca, full of rage and heartbreak from watching the bloody rampage in the Amazon over the past few years, runs screaming and cursing and thrashing through each bucket of unrefined rubber. Hearing the commotion, a native man runs up to the site. His is missing a foot and a leg from amputation and torture from the plantation owners. His eye has recently been gouged. He frantically hops about on his amputated limbs picking up buckets and desperately tries to scoop up the rubber that has been poured onto the leafy forest floor. The man then kneels in front of Manduca (the travel aide and companion of Theo Von Martius) and begs him to shoot him. He pulls the barrel of the gun right up to his forehead. Manduca, with resolve, says he will shoot the man to save him from more torture from the rubber barons. Manduca fires, only to see that the gun was not properly loaded or misfired. They leave the man still kneeling, pleading for his death.

 

The film switches back and forth from past to present. Karamakate is in both space-times.Karamakate is young when a gravely ill Theo Von Martius and Manduca land their canoe on his isolated patch of land. Karamakate lives in complete isolation–his tribe and village were wiped out because they fought the rubber barons. He is distrusting of all white men, for in his experience, they only bring guns, violence, and death. Karamakate is a healer. Known throughout the Amazonian villages as “The World Mover,” his powers are not a secret–even to botanist Theo Von Martius. The German scholar concerns himself with gathering and recording plants, recipes, stories, myths, art, and other dwindling cultural institutions unique to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

When Manduca first introduces Theo Von Martius to Karamakate, Karamakate staunchly denies any part in helping the sick white man. Then, Karamakate explodes in anger, lunging at the sick German’s neck, which is adorned with a necklace particular to Karamakate’s clan. Karamakate screams “Where did you get this?” Theo Von Martius answers that he got it from a tribe that is now existing up the river. Karamakate promises the man that he will help him find the sacred plant “yakruna” if he takes him to his villagers. The three men, Manduca, Karamakate, and Theo Von Martius set out on the river to find Karamakate’s people. Throughout their travel, they come upon a Spanish mission for children, villages full of people welcoming a familiar Von Martius, and villages smoldering, bloody, leveled. Von Martius, somewhere along the journey, becomes a subject that needs protecting by only Karamakate. Karamakate administers healing but temporary substances to the ailing Von Martius.
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The film then switches to an older Karamakate painting glyphs on the side of a rock. He is thigh deep in the river when a snake comes swimming past him. He senses something just like his younger self did in the beginning of the film as Manduca and Martius eddy out and approach him. This time, many years later, the white man is alone. He claims that he, too, is looking for the sacred yakruna plant. He explains to Karamakate that his illness is that he cannot, nor has ever, dreamed. The old Karamakate realizes that, in his interactions with this scientist from the United States, that in his old age and years of isolation, he has forgotten many of the recipes and traditions of his life. The American figure obviously has been taught how to make medicinal substances out of coca leaves and many other plants of the Amazon. Karamakate sees the American scientist, Evan, as a dream coming to fruition. The dream he refers to is his journey decades earlier with Von Martius. The old Karamakate has forgotten many things. He tells Evan that it is Evan who will lead the way to the yakruna plant, not the other way around. Evan is dumbfounded. They embark on their quest. They come across the same Spanish mission from Karamakate’s earlier journey. He and Evan get out of their boat and approach the mission to find an Apocalypse Now scene: a Brazilian man has assumed the figure of Jesus on the cross. His followers, now grown, were once the young children that young Karamakate, Von Martius, and Manduca encounter during the first journey of the film. The scene is delirious, unsettling, and full of Catholic imagery. There are signs throughout the mission that praises the priests who kidnapped the Amazonian children from their parents and villages. The signage claims that the priests brought God to savage cannibals. The scene escalates into a moment driven even further by a psychosis ailing the men who were taken as boys from their villages. Young Karamakate snuck away to teach the children the mythology of their culture–the tinctures and medicines and origins and uses for it all. But what he taught them was not enough. Their lack of mythology led them down a path of complete discord. Now, the children saved from savagery and cannibalism, are worshipping a figure whose flesh is consumed for communion. The effects of Catholic missions, money hungry rubber barons, conquistadors, etc., are felt strongly in this cathartic scene that see Karamakate and Evan escape the village while they mill around in complete hysteria after drinking a hallucinogenic substance mixed by Karamakate. Narrowly escaping the debauchery, Evan and Karamakate continue their journey down the river. To find out what happens, you must watch this gem!

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This description has no spoilers, for the meaning of this film is in every quiet moment, every pan-out, every crackle of a fire, bend in the river. The story is about cultural syncretism. It’s about protecting knowledge, but also not hindering anyone from it. It’s about remembering the actions of our ancestors–conquered or conquerors. It’s about defending what’s sacred, but destroying it when it’s threatened. It’s about the cycle of life and death–not fearing death and not taking each breath for granted.

Watch this beautiful film. The cast is just as diverse as the plants in the Amazon. The story as timeless as the Milky Way (part of the myth of the Great Serpent). The connection between humans as ancient as our first guttural grunts in communication.

I will leave you with director Ciro Guerra’s explanation of the origin of this title from an interview with Cineaste:

Cineaste: Does your film’s title refer to “the serpent” as a metaphor for time or of the Amazon? And why an “embrace”?

Ciro Guerra: In Amazonian mythology, extraterrestrial beings descended from the Milky Way, journeying to the earth on a gigantic anaconda snake. They landed in the ocean and traveled into the Amazon, stopping at communities where people existed, leaving these pilots behind who would explain to each community the rules of how to live on earth: how to harvest, fish, and hunt. Then they regrouped and went back to the Milky Way, leaving behind the anaconda, which became the river. The wrinkled skin of the serpent became the waterfalls.

They also left behind a few presents, including coca, the sacred plant; tobacco, which is also another kind of sacred plant; and yagé, the equivalent of ayahuasca, which is what you use to communicate with them in case you have a question or a doubt about how to exist in the world. When you use yagé, the serpent descends again from the Milky Way and embraces you. That embrace takes you to faraway places; to the beginning where life doesn’t even exist; to a place where you can see the world in a different way. I hope that’s what the film means to the audience.

 

 

Repeat Viewings

Recently I saw on Facebook someone asking folks to talk about movies they’ve seen 5 or more times.  There is something to be said for a movie that makes you want to pick it up and watch again (and again) even though there are no real surprises left to be viewed. Although, I guess the best movies, like the best books, have enough depth and layers that a viewer might pick up something never seen before, or that went by fast enough not to significantly register on the first watching.

One of the first movies I ended up seeing five or more times was Young Frankenstein.

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The movie features the recently deceased Gene Wilder as the eponymous hero.  Gene’s character is the grandson of the infamous creator of the Monster, a patchwork creature put together from dead bodies and rejuvenated/revived/brought to life by the original “mad scientist.”  Filmed in black and white and featuring Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Peter Boyle, Gene Hackman, and many other excellent actors, it was directed by Mel Brooks (who also co-wrote the script).  This comedy is filled with hilarious ad-libs and many quotable lines, but it was somewhat accidental that I ended up watching it as many times as I did.  After the initial viewing, it just kept on popping up where I was in situations available to watch it again, and since I enjoyed the movie greatly, that’s just what I did.

A second movie I watched repeatedly was one I was far more deliberate about in my viewing.  That movie is probably the top of my list of favorite movies – Casablanca.

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Now I have to really rein myself in when speaking about this classic title – for example, I wrote a college paper exclusively on the recurring aerodrome beacon motif that director Michael Curtiz uses to such good effect in the film  (I know, pretty geeky).  Set in the early days of WWII, before the U.S.A. entered the fray, it has a complex plot that is ultimately very satisfying, but what makes the film so enticing are the actors (both the leads and the other 22 speaking parts), the cinematography, and the writing (again, lots of quotable lines).  Watch it if you’ve never seen it – you will agree (I believe) with why it is at the top of so many “greatest of all time” film listings.

Interestingly enough, those first two films were done in black and white; the former for effect and the latter due to its age (1942).  The next movie(s) I’m going to reference were noted for their state-of-the-art special effects – the Star Wars trilogy (the original 3 movies, now referred to as IV, V, and VI).

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I first heard of these when I saw a paperback at a drugstore where the back cover said “soon to be a major motion picture.”

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This novelization was pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but like a lot of science fiction books turned into movies, it engendered very low expectations.  I was amazed when the movie became such a great hit.  Now just to make it perfectly clear, I’m talking about Episode IV – A New Hope; Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back; and Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.  These movies redefined for me and a generation what science fiction movies were, and what one could expect from superior special effects. On top of that, it’s a classic coming of age, good vs. evil tale, just coincidentally set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away.  I will probably watch Episode VII five times eventually (so far I’ve only seen it twice), but I have no plans to re-watch the “prequel” trilogy. [BTW, copies of that paperback are now going for between $150-$300 on eBay, and no, you cannot borrow mine.]

Speaking of movies that were on the cutting edge of special effects, the next film was literally on that special effects boundary – the movie was begun in black and white, and part-way through it changed to color.  You might have guessed by that I’m referring to The Wizard of Oz.

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I first saw this when I was five years old, on broadcast television (the film was decades old at that time already).  Now I do not recommend this film for every five-year old – I had nightmares after watching this.  And while the Wicked Witch was terrifying to me, the nightmares involved the Flying Monkeys.  The thought of creatures that could swoop down from above and either destroy me (as they did the Scarecrow) or carry me off really freaked me out.  Still, the wonderful music, the drama of the tornado, the magic of Oz, and the overall quality of the film drew me back and I think I might have watched it at least once a year for the next five of six years. Look for the way the filmmakers took the “opportunity” of color movie-making and incorporated it into the plot as the story moves from Kansas to Oz (and back).

I’m returning to another classic black and white film for my final recommendation.  The story around my “repeat viewing” of this movie is two-fold: the first is that I genuinely like the movie and probably would have watched it multiple times completely on my own, but the second reason is that my friends Mark and Ginny used to throw an annual Christmas party at their house called “It’s a Wonderful Party.”  Yes, the movie is one you might very well be watching this very season – It’s a Wonderful Life.

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Now the party was very much like other Christmas parties for the most part:  food, beverages, party games, etc.  But the party always concluded with the playing of the movie as we all sat around and ate popcorn popped in bacon grease (one of Mark’s specialties – don’t ask, just try it if you have not). The film is officially defined as a “fantasy,” and was director Frank Capra’s personal favorite of all his films, and one he personally showed to his own family every Christmas. It tells the story of a good man who comes to believe it would have been better if he’d never been born, and the efforts of his guardian angel to show him otherwise by taking him to an alternate reality where his community suffered drastic changes due to his absence. The lead, James Stewart, also said this movie was his personal favorite of the films he acted in.  Heartwarming, with moments of deep emotion, it can still choke you up at Christmas time with its conclusion.

I might share other titles in the future – I’m sure these five titles are quite likely to match many others’ list of movies seen five or more times, and maybe next time I’ll share some films less likely to be common to a big number of readers of this blog.  Until then, Fontana Regional Library has all of these titles if you’d like to either watch them for the first time, or do some “repeat viewings” of your own!

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

with only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population (see ACLU infographic at the bottom of this bl0g).

Several weeks ago, the Jackson County Public Library hosted a screening of Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot for the 50 year anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery. Those who marched were demanding their right to vote. Those who marched were demanding that their fellow Americans had rights equal to theirs. It was when I watched this documentary produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center that I realized much of my understanding of America’s civil rights era was static–stuck in the 1960s. That didn’t last long. Selma:The Bridge to the Ballot began to bear striking similarities to the current social climate in which we all live now. I had become part of a truly frightening thing–history forgotten on the old dusty textbook pages–then that very same history is once again repeating itself–right under my nose. When history is treated like a cyclical, dynamic, and multidimensional entity, current events can be seen through a lens that is not only more holistic in understanding but also vital to our understanding of justice, freedom, and equality. Justice, freedom, and equality granted to all citizens of the United States…not just a few. So, I ask myself, are all citizens of the United States equal? They should be. But not even on paper are we all equal.

Consider the police shootings of black men, a nation that is arguably as divided now as in the times of the Civil War, and the sobering reminder that racism is still alive, well, and thriving in the land of the free. Michelle Alexander aims her eagle focus on the incarceration situation in the United States. She directly links mass incarceration and our prison booms to inherent, insidious racism that pervades various institutions that were set in place to protect its citizens.

Leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery, several oppressive institutions specifically in the south, were stifled, reformulated, and renamed in order to keep current with federal legislation such as Emancipation, Desegregation, Civil Rights, etc. In her book titled The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander takes the reader on a journey through the lives of Africans brought as slaves and indentured servants to the Americas, their fight for dignity, human and civil rights, their triumphs, their tragedies. She focuses her keen eye on the issue of mass incarceration of specifically black men (although she does acknowledge that the issue of mass incarceration is facing men and women, black and brown in this country).

Alexander starts her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by explaining social caste, the concept of race and how it began, white supremacy and how it justified and propelled the European slaughter and brutalization of American Indians and Africans (and later freed African American citizens). In the quote below, Alexander explains how both caste and class are understood and negotiated in the mind of America:

“We avoid talking about caste in our society because we are ashamed of our racial history. We also avoid talking about race. we even avoid talking about class. Conversations about class are resisted in part because there is a tendency to imagine that one’s class reflects upon one’s character. What is key to America’s understanding of class is the persistent belief–despite all evidence to the contrary–that anyone, with proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class. We recognize that mobility may be difficult, but the key to our collective self-image is the assumption that mobility is always possible, so failure to move up reflects on one’s character. By extension, the failure of a race or ethnic group to move up reflects very poorly on the group as a whole” (13).

In the quote above, Michelle Alexander gets down to the root of upward mobility in society and how it is possible for some and extremely difficult and unlikely for others. She explains that this misconception informs many people’s understanding of certain classes not as locked in and static, but somehow able to overcome the restrictions of class and caste. Below, she breaks down race in the United States much like she does class and caste:

“The concept of race is a relatively recent development. Only in the past few centuries, owing largely to European imperialism, have the world’s people been classified along racial lines. Here, in America, the idea of race emerged as a means of reconciling chattel slavery–as well as the extermination of American Indians–with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies.

“In the early colonial period, when settlements remained relatively small, indentured servitude was the dominant means of securing cheap labor. Under this system, whites and black struggled to survive against a common enemy, what historian Lerone Bennett Jr. describes as ‘the big planter apparatus and a social system that legalized terror against black and white bondsmen.’ Initially, blacks brought to this country were not all enslaved; many were treated as indentured servants. As plantation farming expanded, particularly tobacco and cotton farming, demand increased greatly for both labor and land” (23).

So now she explains why race is so important in our society–our country. Race is something that shaped our country for good or ill, and that’s why Alexander urges that we simply cannot live under the false understanding that we are, in fact, in a colorblind society. Simply by understanding that most black people are here because they were brought in chains as servants and slaves, many of them and their ancestors and their descendants (still) perishing under awful circumstances, one cannot assume that we all have equal opportunities in this society. Below, Alexander explains the dehumanization phenomenon that occurs when already slave-powered imperialism and demand upon land and labor meets indigenous populations:

“The demand for land was met by invading and conquering larger and larger swaths of territory. American Indians became a growing impediment to white European ‘progress,’ and during this period, the images of American Indians promoted in books, newspapers and magazines became increasingly negative. As sociologist Kelly Kilty and Eric Swank have observed, eliminating ‘savages’ is less of a moral problem than eliminating human beings, and therefore American Indians came to be understood as a lesser race–uncivilized savages–thus providing justification for the extermination of native peoples” (23).

She then explains the trajectory that imperialism, slavery, and racism takes on–ultimately leading to the ideology of white supremacy:

“The notion of white supremacy rationalized the enslavement of Africans, even as whites endeavored to form a new nation based on the ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Before democracy, chattel slavery in America is born” (25).

Emancipation was soon passed. The plantation economy was in shambles in the South. Poor whites began to see themselves better than their newly “freed” black neighbors, because, the few rights poor whites possessed were still much more. After the Emancipation, the economy was in shambles. Alexander explains: “Even among poor whites, the collapse of slavery was a bitter pill. In the antebellum South, the lowliest white person at least possessed his or her own skin–a badge of superiority over even the most skilled slave or prosperous free African American” (27).

But once Emancipation was enacted, the same story plays over again, just by a different name. Vague laws were created and vehemently enforced, creating an inmate population that led to “convict leasing,” a program that put convicted blacks on a bidding block for private bidders looking for labor:

“Once again, vagrancy laws and other laws defining activities such as ‘mischief’ and ‘insulting gestures’ as crimes were enforced vigorously against blacks. The aggressive enforcement of these criminal offenses opened up an enormous market for convict leasing in which prisoners were contracted out as laborers to the highest private bidder. Douglas Blackmon, in Slavery by Another Name, describes how tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested during this period, many of them hit with court costs and fines, which had to be worked off in order to secure their release” (31).

Through convict leasing programs, slavery was reborn–just under a different name. There were high death rates for the prisoners as well as no means to pay off debts. The private bidders who “bought” the laborers were even less invested in the laborers than slave owners were about their slaves, according to Alexander.

She goes on to explain that the harsh punishments for insignificant “crimes” resulted in the first of many prison booms in the U.S. The boom was mostly made up of young black males, resulting in what Alexander calls a new caste. An undercaste.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Populist party gained momentum when they began to try and unite people among class lines rather than racial ones. After the populist party gained much speed and support by insisting that poor whites and blacks unite and demand social justice together, conservatives and liberals alike were alarmed. Conservatives saw this boom for the populist party as a reason to drive a wedge between poor whites and blacks again:

“Segregation laws were proposed as part of a deliberate effort to drive a wedge between poor whites and African Americans. These discriminatory barriers were designed to encourage lower class whites to retain a sense of superiority over blacks, making it far less likely that they would sustain interracial political alliances aimed at toppling the white elite. The laws were, in effect, another racial bribe. As William Julius Wilson has noted, ‘as long as poor whites directed their hatred and frustration against the black competitor, the planters were relieved of class hostility directed against them’’’ (37).

“The general public generally traces the death of Jim Crow (era) to Brown v. Board of Education, although the institution was showing signs of weakness years before. By 1945, a growing number of whites in the North had concluded that the Jim Crow system would have to be modified, if not entirely overthrown. The consensus was due to a number of factors including the increased political power of the blacks due to migration to the North, and the growing membership and influence of the NAACP, particularly its highly successful legal campaign challenging Jim Crow laws in federal courts.

“Far more important in the view of many scholars, however, is the influence of WWII. The blatant contradiction between the country’s opposition to the crimes of the Third Reich against European Jews and the continued existence of a racial caste system in the United States was proving embarrassing, severely damaged the nation’s credibility as leader of the ‘free world.’ There was also increased concern that, without greater equality for African Americans, blacks would become susceptible to communist influence, given Russia’s commitment to both racial and economic equality. In Gunmar Myrdal’s highly influential book An American Dilemma, published in 1944, Myrdal made a passionate plea for integration based on the theory that the inherent contradiction between the ‘American Creed’ of freedom and equality and the treatment of African Americans was not only immoral and profoundly unjust, but was also against the economic and foreign interests of the U.S.” (38).

After the Civil Rights Movement garnered support and success with the help of JFK and LBJ, Alexander explains that this moment of triumph was short lived. Just like in the past, slavery by a new name was emerging: “With the success of the Civil Rights Movement and the launching of the Poor People’s Movement, it was apparent to all that a major disruption in the nation’s racial equilibrium had occurred. Yet as we shall see below, Negroes stood only a ‘brief moment in the sun.’ Conservative whites began, once again, to search for a new racial order that would conform to the needs and constraints of the time. This process took place with the understanding that whatever the new order would be, it would have to be formally race-neutral–it could not involve explicit or clearly intentional race discrimination. A similar phenomenon had followed slavery and Reconstruction, as white elites struggled to define a new racial order with the understanding that whatever the new order would be, it could not include slavery. Jim Crow eventually replaced slavery, but now it too had died, and it was unclear what might take its place. Barred by law from invoking race explicitly, those committed to racial hierarchy were forced to search for new means of achieving their goals according to the new rules of American democracy” (40).

It is here that Alexander explains what she means by “new Jim Crow.”

“For more than a decade–from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s–conservatives systematically and strategically linked opposition to civil rights legislation to calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime. Civil rights protests were frequently depicted as criminal rather than political in nature, and federal courts were accused of excessive ‘lenience’ toward lawlessness, thereby contributing to the spread of crime. In the words of then–vice president Richard Nixon, the increasing crime rate ‘can be traced directly to the spread of the corrosive doctrine that every citizen possesses an inherent right to decide for himself which laws to obey and when to disobey them.’ Some segregationists went further, insisting that integration causes crime, citing lower crime rates in Southern states as evidence that segregation was necessary.

“Some segregationists went further, insisting that integration causes crime citing lower crime rates in Southern states as evidence that segregation was necessary. Unfortunately, at the same time civil rights were being identified as a threat to law and order, the FBI was reporting fairly dramatic increases in the national crime rate. Beginning in the 1960s, crime rates rose in the United States for a period of about ten years. Reported street crime quadrupled and homicide rates nearly doubled. Despite significant controversy over the accuracy of crime statistics during this period (the FBI’s method of tracking crime was changing), sociologists and criminologists agree that crime did rise, in some categories quite sharply. The reasons for the crime wave are complex but can be explained in large part by the rise of the ‘baby boom’ generation–the spike in the number of young men in the fifteen-to-twenty-four age group, which historically has been responsible for most crimes. The surge of young men in the population was occurring at precisely the same time that unemployment rates for black men were rising sharply, but the economic and demographic factors contributing to rising crime were not explored in the media. Instead, crime reports were sensationalized and offered as further evidence of the breakdown in lawfulness, morality, and social stability in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement”  (40-41).

Throughout this book, as you can see, there are worlds of knowledge regarding our current social state. Below is an infographic by the ACLU explaining the mass incarceration age in America. Alexander explains how laws like “three strikes you’re out” and mandatory sentencing, racial profiling, and more has led to the new Jim Crow era. Black men experience much harsher sentencing for minor drug crimes compared to white men. This is not a political issue that divides us among party lines. This is a humanitarian issue that must be treated like any other Human Rights issue across the globe. massincarceration_20110617_0

If you want to help, donate to Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and more.

LD

The Omnicompetent Hero   

When British TV producer Jim Grant found himself “let go” from his position due to corporate restructuring, he read some mystery/thriller novels.  One thing that started to bother him was that each hero in the novels he was reading had some sort of flaw.  Deciding to write a novel himself because “they are the purest form of entertainment,” he also decided he’d had about enough of these “miserable and depressed” protagonists, and he would write about a hero without any such flaws.

Creating the pen name “Lee Child” for himself and creating the hero named Jack Reacher, that author became a huge success.  The Reacher novels now number twenty titles, with the 21st due out this November.  There has been one movie grossing $200 million worldwide, and the second movie about Reacher is slated to be released this October.

I came across Jack Reacher while playing “Genre Bingo” several years ago.  Since then, I’ve read every one of the 20 titles, and also seen the movie.

Reacher the character is smart, and his moral compass is unshakeable.  Moreover, he is absolutely the toughest physically.  Essentially, there is no criminal situation he cannot solve.

svzjbLee Child was not the first to create such a character.  Going back to Siegel and Shuster in the 30s with their Superman character, moving to Doc Savage, and continuing with such characters as James Bond in the films and Lara Croft in video games, I’ve dubbed such heroes “omnicompetent” – in other words, they do all things well.

However, Jack Reacher may be the biggest omnicompetent hero thriving in fiction right now.

What are Reacher’s strengths and attributes?

Physical strength: 6’5”, 250 lbs. of  muscle; hand to hand fighting ability – fights with brutality and a mix of moves from various martial arts learned in childhood and Military Police training; marksman – Reacher is one of the top long distance rifle shots in the entire world, and is proficient with virtually all firearms; inborn internal clock – always knows what time it is; mathematical ability – able to perform calculations in his head and does mathematics for fun; fearlessness – reacts to situations that would induce fear in others with aggression; language arts – fluent in English and French, passable in Spanish; musical knowledge and memory – can recall entire musical pieces note by note with the ability of an inborn MP3 player, has obscure blues musicians lives and histories memorized (and this figures into plotlines); and finally, detective ability – due to his background in the Military Police, Reacher has thorough knowledge of procedure and understands how to investigate mysteries.

After meeting this prodigy in print, it was disconcerting to many to have Tom Cruise play Reacher in the movies.  Lee Child, however, was fine with it, claiming that Cruise captured the essential element of the Jack Reacher character – he is a force of nature and unstoppable.

If any of this sounds appealing, please investigate the world of Jack Reacher (books, CD audiobooks, eAudio, eBooks, and movie), at Fontana Regional Library.

The Truth is Out There: 13 Documentary Films

We watch movies for many reasons.  To laugh and to cry, to be amazed and to see things blow up. Mainly we watch them to be entertained. But some films can do more than just entertain us. They can also educate us, and show us the world in new ways.

Documentary films have been around ever since the movie industry started.  The process has been refined throughout the decades, and today some documentaries can see widespread theatrical release.

Documentaries differ from other nonfiction films, such as travelogues for instance, in that they inject some type of drama or opinion into them.  And that is something important to remember.  A documentary filmmaker is telling a story, even though the story is true, and they bring their own opinions and biases into the equation.  It is good practice to do some research after (or perhaps even beforehand)  to make sure you get the full story and relevant facts. To help with that I will not only link you to these docs in the library catalog, but also to any companion books and websites. Sometimes there will be a follow up or update available.

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These lucky 13 documentaries come to you courtesy not just of me (and my wife) but also my wonderful coworkers here at the Macon County Public Library, Kristina and Erin.  They recommended many of these, and it is through their efforts that many of these films have been shown at the library.

Bag It (2010) DVD / Official movie website

“Paper or plastic” is not something we hear so much any more. These days it is just plastic. But should it be? That is what Jeb Berrier, the subject of this film, sets out to discover by deciding to stop using plastic grocery bags.  This decision is more profound than he thought it would be.

Coincidentally, I recently read a piece about plastic bags and what we know, and perhaps more importantly what we don’t know, about their effect on the environment.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) DVD / Official movie website

In November of 2001 Andrew Bagby was murdered. His girlfriend was the chief suspect, but before she could be arrested she fled to Canada. While awaiting extradition it was revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby’s son. Bagby’s longtime friend, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, decided to interview on film all of the friends and family members he could, so that this child (Zachary) would have something of his father while he grew up.

But Zachary never did grow up, as he was killed by his mother in a homicide/suicide. The film then became a documentary of the tragedy and a look at the (successful) efforts of Zachary’s grandparents to change the Canadian legal system so that something like this could not happen again. A powerful and moving story.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) DVD / Official movie website / A book of Banksy art

Street artist Banksy is famously famous now. In this film he tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a man obsessed with documenting his life. When Guetta meets up with his cousin, a street artist known as Invader, he turns he attention to this particular form of art, and begins doing some himself. The movie also features Shepard Fairey, who is well known for his iconic Barack Obama piece, amongst other things.

What is fascinating about this film is that in the end you are not quite sure how much is real and how much is a put on. Plus some people will watch this and see art within art within art, and others won’t think any of it is art at all. Like all great documentaries do, this movie inspires conversation. And no, you do not get to see Banksy’s face in it.

A Banksy piece in New Orleans.
A Banksy piece in New Orleans.

Good Hair (2009) DVD

Chris Rock talks about hair. While that is probably a good enough description to get you interested, I will expand on it. What he does here is look at the world of African-American hairstyles, primarily those of women. And he does so through a variety of interviews (including an appearance by Maya Angelou). A great example of how a seemingly simple topic can be made into something more.

Grey Gardens (1975/2006) DVD / Official movie website

Let’s roll it back old school here. In the early 1970s a story surfaced about the two Edith Beale’s, aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (!), who were living in a run down old mansion.  “Run down” is probably too gentle a phrase here.  The place was overrun by fleas and raccoons and lacked most basic amenities. In the film we see the efforts made to help the mother and daughter renovate and save their residence. Quite a different look at what one might call “American aristocracy”.

The filmmakers did a follow up in 2006, The Beales of Grey Gardens, and that one is also on DVD. It is also the first documentary ever to be made into a Broadway musical, and it was also adapted into a 2009 TV movie for HBO.

The estate circa 2009
The estate circa 2009

A Man Named Pearl (2006) DVD

Plants can also be art, as shown in this film about North Carolina’s own Pearl Fryar. Son of a sharecropper, Fryar took a liking to topiary, and taught himself how to do it. And by “taught himself” I mean he became an amazing artist at it. His garden is in Bishopville, South Carolina, and is free to visit. that being said, art like this deserves support, so if you do visit please leave a donation.

Man On Wire (2008) DVDTo Reach the Clouds (Petit’s autobiography)

In 1974 Philippe Petit did something a little out of the ordinary. He walked on a high-wire between the Twin Towers in New York City. And he did it unauthorized, leading to his arrest. The doc has all the details, including a reenactment and interviews with some of the people involved.

The story inspired a very well received children’s book in 2003, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein, and is the basis for a new feature film, The Walk, out this fall, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed by Robert Zemeckis.

The Rape of Europa (2006) DVD / Book / Official movie website

World War II took a toll on many things, and one of those things was art. For years the Nazis collected and looted art from across Europe. This movie documents not just that but also the efforts of Allied forces to counter this, and looks at the actions, both good and bad, of art dealers all over the world. The recent feature film The Monuments Men loosely tells the same story.

Restrepo (2010) DVD

Sticking with the war theme, Restrepo is a film about the Afghanistan War, as documented by two journalists (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington) who were embedded with a platoon of the US Army. The title comes from the name of a combat medic in the platoon who is killed in action. This is not a light and happy film, as it shows what these soldiers went through over the course of a year fighting in one of the deadliest areas of that country. It is a meaningful film.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) DVD / Official movie website

Sixto Rodriguez was a succesful American musician. Not familiar with his music? Maybe that is because his success came chiefly in South Africa. Two fans from Cape Town decided to find out what had happened to Rodriguez, whom they knew little about except his music, and the result is this wonderful film.

Minor spoiler alert here: they do find Rodriguez, who was not dead as was rumored. After the documentary was released, the singer found a little more fame (and sales) both in the US and abroad.

The man himself, performing in 2014.
The man himself, performing in 2014.

Shakespeare Behind Bars (2005) DVD / Official movie website

Would you mind if I broke protocol and got up on my soapbox, just for a moment? I feel that our penal system is flawed, notably in that prisoners are dehumanized. Inmates are not adequately prepared to rejoin society, and that along with social stigma contributes to our high recidivism rates.

So I was already predisposed to like this film, and it did not disappoint. The Shakespeare Behind Bars program has been running for 20 years now, and it does just what the title says: prisoners put on an annual Shakespearean play for family members and fellow inmates. The film documents one such performance.

It is a little startling realizing that some of the participants have done horrific crimes, and some are not going to see the outside of prison again. But the core theme, and one that the SBB group stands behind, is of the innate goodness in humanity. Even though that is hard to see at times. The website has updates on the performers featured in the movie.

Trouble the Water (2008) DVD / Official movie website

Having spent much of my life in Florida, I am conversant with hurricanes. But Katrina was something different, which is what this film shows us. A mix of home video (including scenes from people trapped in an attic as flood waters rise), news footage, and more it is a compelling look at what the victims of the storm went through.

We get to see not only the weather itself but the lasting effects afterwards on people and places that maybe weren’t in the best shape before Mother Nature got nasty. It also features a killer soundtrack.

Waste Land (2010) DVD / Official movie website

Now if you are like me, whenever you make a trip to the dump or the recycling center and someone has left something of theirs out for the taking, you at least glance at it. I don’t think I have ever taken any of that stuff home, but it is like wired in us to at least take a quick look at it. So it is not surprising to know that some people do more than look. But in this film we are not seeing people who scavenge for their survival or scour for recyclables. We see people who do it for…art?

The largest land fill in the world is in Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro, and this is where our story takes us. A group of catadores there have turned some of what they find into art. Prized and auctionable art. It is quite a film, but don’t just take my word for it. Just look at this list of awards it received.

I don't think this is the right wasteland...
I don’t think this is the right wasteland…

Hopefully you will find some documentaries in this list that will teach, entertain, and maybe even inspire you. I have to go now. We have a new documentary on our DVR at home that needs watching. And please share your thoughts on these and recommend any good docs you know of in the comments below.

You can find a list of all the titles mentioned in the library catalog here:

https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=354159;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

9 Innings: Baseball Books, Movies, and More

Spring is upon us and that means baseball!  My earliest baseball memory is watching Mark Fidrych beat the Yankees on a tiny black and white tv, and I have been a fan ever since.  Now back in those youthful days we would buy packs of baseball cards for a quarter, scrounge for any sort of something that could be used as a ball, and make our own homemade jerseys.  To keep up with baseball you had to pore over the box scores in the morning paper and watch This Week in Baseball on the weekends.  You might get to watch two games on television, the Saturday Game of the Week and Monday Night Baseball (Al Michaels and Howard Cosell!)

Nowadays I can get any baseball statistics I could ever want (and many I didn’t even know existed) with a few clicks of the mouse.  I can watch multiple games every week.  Indeed, for a fee to the cable gods I can watch any game I want.  I can read countless blogs and opinion pieces, and I can get up-to-the-minute score and news updates on my Twitter feed.  I can play in a wide variety of fantasy baseball leagues and I can shop on eBay for every type of baseball memorabilia imaginable.

So which way is better?  The answer is neither.  Nostalgia is potent, of course, but I work in a library and I know the power of knowledge.  In that vein I offer to you a variety of baseball books, movies, and even ebooks for you to consider.  There is nothing quite like hearing the crack of the ball on the bat, and while you can’t play baseball in the library you can at least get something to help you get through those long, long commercial breaks.

first inning

 

The Natural by Bernard Malamud

This one could well have fit into my previous blog about movies based on books, as many people will remember the Robert Redford movie more than the original book.  A classic piece of baseball literature, the novel tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a supremely talented baseball phenom who is shot down, literally, by a femme fatale.  Fifteen years later, his legend largely forgotten, he makes a comeback.  Like the heroes of mythology he must overcome a series of obstacles in order to find that moment in the sun.

The movie, by the way, is a pretty decent adaptation, which is another topic I dealt with previously.  The story itself, or at least the shooting part of it, is based on an actual incident.

seventh

 

 

The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn

Perhaps the kings of baseball nostalgia are the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Beloved by their borough, they broke many hearts when the team relocated to Los Angeles.  In their New York heyday they often came up short in comparisons to the mighty Yankees, until that magical 1955 season when they finally won it all.  Kahn’s book uses that year as its central focus, but goes behind just being a recap of the year.  Besides setting the stage, he also tells us what happened to those fabled Boys of Summer as the years progressed.  I always appreciate nonfiction that reads as smoothly as fiction does, and this is one of those books.

second

 

Baseball, PBS Documentary by Ken Burns

Now if one really wants to know the history of baseball than this series, done by Ken Burns, is your answer.  Originally aired on PBS in 1994, the Emmy winning series covers baseball decade by decade, and is full of wonderful interviews of not just players by of fans as well.  Newer or casual fans will be enchanted by the mystique of America’s Pastime, while even grizzled veteran fans will learn new things.  There is also a companion book.

sixth

 

Free Baseball, by Sue Corbett

Since baseball is after all a game, albeit a game that had $9,000,000,000 in revenues in 2014, I thought I would include a kids book.  Felix, an eleven year old originally from Cuba, knows his father was a famous ball player there.  But eager to leave their past behind them his mother won’t tell him the details.  When the opportunity presents itself Felix hides on the bus of a minor league baseball team and pretends to be a batboy.  Why?  Because the team has a Cuban player, and Felix hopes that from him he can learn something of his father.  Well written and authentic, this book is aimed for grades 4-7, but will appeal to a wider range of readers as well.

eigth
I’ve been there! And the Cubs did win that day.

 

Bull Durham, directed by Ron Shelton

There are plenty of good baseball movies, but my favorite remains Bull Durham.  It has a great cast, and I like how it shows the flow of baseball.  One player is on the way up, another is on the way down, and the fans are always there.  I guess it is best described as a dramedy, but the baseball parts are very authentic.  Also, not a children’s movie.

Evil Empire and all that.
Evil Empire and all that.

The Yankee Years, by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci

There are many great baseball biographies and memoirs out there.  I chose this one because, well, the Yankees.  Joe Torre managed them for 12 years, and each year they went to the playoffs and they won four World Series in that time.  He managed other teams before and after that, and was also a heck of a player back in the day, but this book focuses on the era of his greatest successes, and gives you an inside look at one of the most storied franchises in all of sports.  Oh, and Verducci is no slouch either, being one of todays premier baseball writers.

Yes, that is me.
Yes, that is me.

The Complete Book of Collectible Baseball Cards, by Robert Lemke and others

Ah, baseball cards.  They no longer come with bubble gum, which is good since that low grade stuff did more harm than good.  But baseball cards are still very collectible, even if the investment opportunities aren’t what they once were.  Now, this book was published in 1985, so it is not much use as a current guide.  It does have a big nostalgia factor, however.  If you did ever collect cards back in the day it is fun to flip through and be reminded of some of those old cards.  It is also fun to see their predictions about which of those 80s cards and players were going to be big.

Incidentally, I sold my collection to a friend in 1990.  He turned around and traded all 12,000 of those cards to a dealer in exchange for two cards.  They were two good cards.

third

ebooks, by lots of people

All of our libraries have plenty of baseball books, plus some baseball movies, but also keep in mind that we have baseball ebooks too, through the library’s e-iNC site.  Just like with books you can search by author or title, or just do a search for baseball and see what strikes your reading fancy.  If you need any help with our ebooks you can visit our help page or call any of our libraries.

fourth

Youth Baseball Drills, by Peter Caliendo

The libraries also have a wide variety of instructional materials, like this nice new one.  Books on coaching, books on playing, books on softball, and books on rules and learning the game.  They come in a variety of styles and age ranges, so we are sure to have something that fits your needs.

buy-me-some-peanuts-and-cracker-jacks-ken-smith

Okay then!  This is just a sampling of the plethora of baseball materials you can get at the library.  If you need help finding anything, or would like reading recommendations you can ask any of our helpful staff, or drop me a line in the comments below.  Play ball!

All of the baseball titles mentioned in this blog can be found in our library catalog here:

https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=313320;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

The Book Isn’t Always Better

So I finally got around to reading Warm Bodies, well after my zombie blog, and also after I had seen the movie.  As I was reading it I noted how closely the movie had followed the book.  It really was a strong adaptation.  The biggest change, and no real spoiler here, is that in the movie the main character, R, was clearly a teen, while in the book his age is indeterminate but he seems to have been a twentysomething business man.

We have all heard, or said, the phrase “the book was better”, and quite often that is true.  It isn’t a rule, however, and especially in more recent times there have been a number of movies that have done a nice job of faithfully taking their source book to the big screen.  Even going back farther there are many fine examples of this, especially if you look at period pieces, such as  the many versions of Jane Eyre.

bookfilm

I also don’t think you can always get too mad at changes made in a movie.  Oftentimes the book is too long or too convoluted (looking at you, Stephen King) for a straight adaptation to film.  Some changes are made for very specific reasons, including just taking into account the differences between print and film.  Change isn’t always bad.  On the other hand some directors seem to think they know better than the author does.  City of Bones and Fifty Shades of Grey are recent examples where the author and the filmmakers clashed.  And I suppose we must take into consideration that movies are made to make money, not to maintain artistic integrity.

Okay then, let’s talk about some movie adaptations.  Most of these are ones I consider to be well done.  Your views may differ, and I’ll talk about a couple that maybe weren’t so good.

The Harry Potter series

HP

Books written by J. K. Rowling; movies directed by Chris Columbus (1&2), Alfonso Cuaron (3), Mike Newell (4), and David Yates (5-8)

When you look back, it was quite a feat to pull this off.  Taking a series of such popularity and living up to the demands of all those fans.  Some luck was involved here, in casting Harry, Ron, and Hermione as kids and having those actors pan out for the whole series.

These movies clearly show a dedication to the source material.  Most of the changes are those of omission, taking things out that they didn’t have space and time for in the films.  A friend of mine was quite disappointed that the house elf/S.P.E.W. angle was left out, but in the big picture that was a subplot that wasn’t a big factor in the end.  And it is a good example of the filmmakers working with the author, with a notable point being the background of Professor Dumbledore.

The Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit too, I suppose)

LOTR

Books by J. R. R. Tolkien; movies by Peter Jackson

Another example of a big challenge that worked out well.  Similar to the Potter series, most changes were by omission or for pacing reasons.  The most notable being the exclusion of Tom Bombadil from the first film.  I didn’t really have an issue with this as Bombadil can seem a little silly.  Others disagree.  One friend of mine was downright livid about it, but then again she did name one of her children after a character from the books.

The Hobbit movies are a different kettle of fish.  The book itself is shorter than any of the three LOTR books, but was still stretched out into three movies.  A lot of the material added makes sense.  A good example of this is Legolas, who doesn’t appear by name in the book, but the King of the Mirkwood Elves is his father, so he probably was around and about there somewhere.  But ultimately I think they went too far with it.  The overall result lacks cohesion and goes on for far too long.

One other note here is that all six of these movies have extended versions, so some of the scenes from the books you didn’t see in the theater do actually exist.

Let The Right One In

let-me-in-quad-570x427

Book by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson; US film directed by Matt Reeves.

I’ve talked about this startlingly good vampire book before, but I’m mentioning it again because it benefits by not one but two good movie versions.  A Swedish version was released in 2008, and was not only a good adaptation but a critical success as well.  Only two years later the US version was released.  Part of the impetus for the second version was the idea that not enough people had seen the first version, that the story deserved a wider range.

The US version has substantial changes.  The setting  moving from Sweden to New Mexico is a big one.  But the core story remains intact, and the whole feel of the original is there.  A young Chloe Grace Moretz plays the vampire here, and a shout out to the always excellent Richard Jenkins too, even though is character his pretty despicable.

Coraline

2007_01_28-coraline

Book by Neil Gaiman; movie directed by Henry Selick

Here is a good example of a major change made that makes sense.  In the book the lead character Coraline spends much of her time alone.  When director Selick set out to make his stop motion movie version, he saw this as a problem.  So instead of having Coraline narrate the movie he added in a new character by the name of Wybie specifically so that Coraline had someone to talk to.  Although this was a sensible change that did not alter the main plot of the story, some people did object, since we can’t ever have nice things.

The Hunger Games series

TheHungerGames_Book-Movie

Books by Suzanne Collins; movies directed by Gary Ross (1) and Francis Lawrence (2)

I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the first book was adapted to the screen.  In my mind it is one of the most faithful adaptations I have ever seen.  It was so well done that the haters (and there are always haters) had to resort to complaining about things such as poor Rue’s ethnicity, even though that wasn’t something changed for the movie.

The second and third movies deviate a little more, but not to any great degree.  Of course the fourth one is not out yet, so we shall see.  The third book was split into two movies, and while this made sense for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (759 pages) I don’t think it was needed for Mockingjay (390 pages).  This is what is known in the business as a cash grab.

Winter’s Bone

Winters-Bone

Book by Daniel Woodrell; movie directed by Debra Granik

I have a confession to make: sometimes I see the movie first.  I really enjoy being surprised by movies. I guess you can blame The Empire Strikes Back for that.  So on occasion I will wait until after I see the movie to read the book.  I did this with Let The Right One In, and I did it with Winter’s Bone, and was glad I did.  You see, I think the movie is better.  Don’t get me wrong, the book is good, but the movie version strips down and focuses the story in a good way.

Winter’s Bone is one of the lowest grossing films to be nominated for Best Picture, and it is a crime that more people didn’t see it.  It was Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout film role, and it also features a standout performance by John Hawkes.  If you haven’t seen it then we can’t be friends.

No Country for Old Men

No-Country-For-Old-Men

Book by Cormac McCarthy; movie directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Another film I saw before reading the book, even though that was accidental and not planned.  I decided to read it because I so thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I was amazed at how closely the movie had followed the book, at least up to a certain point.  The real strength of their filmmaking was casting actors who could make the characters in the story come to life so vividly.

True Grit

True_Grit_Poster

Book by Charles Portis; movie directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Another solid Coen brothers adaptation.  The book was filmed previously, in 1969, and starred John Wayne (in his only Academy Award winning role).  A lot of people like to compare the two films, but the Coen’s were really doing another adaptation of the book, not a remake of the movie.  And reading the book you will see that much of the dialogue in the film comes straight from the pages of the book.

I really like how they can move the story from the book onto the screen, not change any thing of significance, and still really make it their own.  Much like No Country for Old Men the casting is superb.  One thing I have learned about the Coen films is that they are about the journey.  Often times, notably for True Grit, the ending is quiet and even anticlimactic.  You don’t watch their movies to see how they end, but to enjoy the ride throughout.

World War Z

world-war-z-wallpaper

Book by Max Brooks; movie directed by Marc Forster

I wouldn’t say that the movie is a bad adaptation, more that it isn’t really an adaptation at all.  The majority of the movie does not appear in the book.  Even the zombies are different, as in the book they are classic Romero style shamblers while in the movie they are runners.  Does this mean the movie is bad?  Not at all.  It is a rousing zombie action flick.  It just isn’t the book.

Troy

Troy

Book (sort of) by Homer; movie directed by Wolfgang Peterson

Okay, I get it, The Iliad was written 2500+ years ago.  You are free to adapt it any way you please.  But should you?  In the movie the gods are taken out.  The characters still pay attention to them, but no deities actually appear on the battlefield.  Fair enough.  But some of the other changes…the final disposition of a number of characters is changed, namely in who kills who and when.  And I wonder why would you do this?  It doesn’t make the story any stronger for those who aren’t familiar with it, and for those who do know their mythology it only makes them mad.  It really takes you out of the movie experience when you keep going “wait, that’s not how it happened!”  Of course it could have been worse, as Peterson considered removing Helen from the movie.  You know, the person who was the whole reason for the Trojan War.  He did end up keeping her, and cast a then largely unknown Diane Kruger in the role.

The Mist

the_mist1

Novella by Stephen King; movie directed by Frank Darabont

Most of King’s work doesn’t translate well to the big screen.  Just the way it is.  I think it is telling that some of the better movies based on his works (The Shawshank Redemption; Stand By Me) are based on shorter works, or are heavily altered (The Shining).  The Mist is of the former ilk, and indeed Darabont did both Shawshank and The Mist.

The movie is a pretty fair adaptation, but the real reason I mention it is because it has a pretty dramatically different ending.  In the novella the ending is pretty ambiguous, while in the film you get a shocker of a definitive ending.  (PS, I saw The Mist twice in the theater, because of reasons, and I have never been in a quieter room of people.  That movie gets tense).  Neither ending is necessarily better than the other.  Both are effective in their own ways.

And Others

As I went about writing this I realized that there were more of these than I had realized.  I think the title holds up.  The book isn’t always better, and sometimes the book and movie are each good in their own ways.

8625205_orig

I asked some other movie buffs what adaptations they thought were good.  My mafia expert insists that The Godfather is better than the book, and really, you don’t want to argue with her.  Jaws does a nice job of stripping non-essential subplots out, making for movie that rises above.

Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club, The Princess Bride, The English Patient, The Remains of the Day, The End of the Affair, and many more.  Interestingly, more than one person mentioned The Shining.  I think both the book and movie are excellent, but I myself never thought it was a faithful adaptation.

What are some of your choices for best book-to-movie adaptations?

A list of the titles mentioned in this blog can be found here:

https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=212656;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

 

 

They Ate My Brain: 15 Top Zombie Reads

By Chris

Zombies!  They just won’t go away, both in the stories featuring them and in popular culture.  Now we could engage in a long discussion as to why zombies strike a chord with us, how they reach a primal part of our psyche, how an unrelenting, implacable, remorseless enemy that cannot be reasoned with is so terrifying, and so on.  But instead I am just going to give you a top 15 countdown of good zombie reads.

Whether you like your zombies slow or fast, created by government scientists or plants or space viruses, mindless or intelligent or what have you, there should be something you find…palatable…in this list.

#15  Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber

I really like this cover.
I really like this cover.

What better way to kick off our zombie list than with Star Wars.  I’ll let that sink in for a moment.  Set about a year prior to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it tells the tale of poor souls trapped on an Imperial prison barge that is overrun with zombies.  The chief medical officer leads the survivors on a desperate mission for escape with the help of a certain scoundrel and his furry companion, a pair well known to all Star Wars fans.

The prequel to Death Troopers, Red Harvest, is set 3500+(!) years earlier.  It feels a little more zombieish to me, but the Star Wars setting in that one will be less familiar to most readers.

Death Troopers  /  Red Harvest

#14  The Living Dead, edited by John Joseph Adams

Not exactly living.
Not exactly living.

This is an anthology of zombie stories featuring some top echelon authors, including Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman.  As with many anthologies the stories vary in quality and style, but most are well worth the read.  The opener, “This Year’s Class Picture”, by Dan Simmons, is perhaps the best.

The second volume I haven’t gotten to read yet, but seeing how it features stories from several authors that appear on this very list I will surely get to it soon.

The Living Dead  /  The Living Dead 2

#13  Cell, by Stephen King

Are you going to answer that?
Are you going to answer that?

An interesting thing about zombies is that they are more varied in books and movies than we realize.  In this particular case people are driven into a zombie-like madness from using their (no real spoiler here considering the title) cell phones.  Those who avoid being afflicted have to fight for survival versus more than one type of threat in a world rapidly disintegrating.

This may not be King’s best work, but is still a good read.  And it is notably shorter than many of his other books, so it is a pretty quick read as well.

Cell  /  Large Print  /  CD Audiobook

 

#12  Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Devil's Wake Cover
Give the Devil his due.

Barnes and Due, both accomplished writers on their own (and also married to each other) collaborate on this solid zombie tale.  A group of teens must use all their wits to cross zombie filled territory to reach the promise of a safe haven.

While the zombies at first seem to be pretty standard, virus-infected biting killers, they turn out to be something more. To find out exactly what the zombies are you’ll need to read all the books in the series.

Devil’s Wake  /  Domino Falls

 

#11  Allison Hewitt is Trapped, by Madeleine Roux

All bookstores should have axes handy.
All bookstores should have axes handy.

When the zombie outbreak occurs Allison Hewitt finds herself trapped in a bookstore.  Not the worst place to start the end of days, I suppose.  Allison and her fellow survivors make a good go of living in the shop, but must soon venture out into the world, facing not only zombies but the evil that lurks in humans as well.

If you like Allison’s story you can followup with Sadie Walker is Stranded, Roux’s second zombie book.

Allison Hewitt is Trapped  /  Sadie Walker is Stranded

 

#10  Rise Again, by Ben Tripp

Jaywalkers.
Jaywalkers.

A small town sheriff, still recovering from her tour in Iraq, finds herself right in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.  She has to fight to protect her people (from both zombie and human predators), she has to protect herself, and she has to find her kid sister, who is out there somewhere.  Personally I felt that after a pretty good opening this book lost its way in the middle, but the ending makes it worth the read.

In fact the clever and chilling ending has me eager to read the sequel.

Rise Again  /  CD Audiobook  /  Rise Again: Below Zero

#9  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austin

You can never go wrong with the classics.
You can never go wrong with the classics.

Where do we start with this one?  How about with the fact that besides zombies we also get ninjas?  Grahame-Smith (who also brought us Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) took Austin’s book and added segments to it, which is where the zombies come in.  Turning the Bennet’s into proficient zombie killers, while keeping the original plot intact, is quite an amazing feat.  The concept is original, and the writing is sharp.

There is both a prequel and a sequel, written by Steve Hockensmith, but I haven’t read them yet.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  /  CD Audiobook  /  Ebook  /  Graphic Novel  /  Prequel  /  Sequel 

 

#8  Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Unicorns have brains too.
Unicorns have brains too.

The second anthology on my list, and one quite different from the first.  In this one Black’s Team Zombie stories alternate with Larbalestier’s Team Unicorn ones.  They write an intro for each story, and in the end the reader decides whether zombies or unicorns are better.  Choose a side!

The book features stories from some of the best Young Adult writers in the business, including Scott Westerfeld, Meg Cabot, and Garth Nix.  Some top notch writing here, stories that made me want to read more.  And I must say that I think Team Zombie scores a decisive victory here.

Zombies vs. Unicorns  /  CD Audiobook

#7  The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Get back to nature.
Get back to nature.

What a great title!  Teen Mary lives in a secluded village in the forest, fenced on all sides to keep the zombies out.  Of course things are not all as they seem, and Mary’s curiosity and questioning leads to danger.

One of the things I liked here is that the story is set a couple of hundred years after the zombie apocalypse.  It gives the story a very different perspective.  The two sequels take us out of the forest and into “civilization”.  A related story appears in Zombies vs. Unicorns

The Forest of Hands and Teeth  /  CD Audiobook  /  The Dead-Tossed Waves  /  The Dark and Hollow Places

#6  Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, by S.G. Browne

Love can be rotten.
Love can be rotten.

Told by the point of view of Andy the zombie, Breathers shows the zombie side of things.  Still self aware, Andy falls in love with a zombie girl, and fights against his urges to eat the living, which his parents (who are letting him stay in the basement) appreciate.

While billed as a rom-zom-com, the story stays true to the zombie genre and has its fair share of dark parts.

Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament

 

#5  Feed, by Mira Grant

We are both predator and prey.
We are both predator and prey.

Appropriately, the heroine of Feed, Georgia Mason, is a blogger.  Society is for the most part holding together and keeping the zombies at bay.  The chronicles of Mason and her news team catch the attention of senator embarking on a presidential campaign, and they are drawn into a world of political intrigue.  Plus zombies.

The first installment of the Newsflesh trilogy, Feed has all the elements of a socio-political thriller as well as satisfying zombie action.  And while Grant may not have quite the same knack of predicting future technology that such luminaries as Heinlein, Bradbury, and Gibson did, she does give us an idea of how our current social media habits may evolve in the very near future.

Feed  /  Deadline  /  Blackout

#4  The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman

Walking is healthy, right?
Walking is healthy, right?

In 2003 Image Comics published The Walking Dead #1, and black and white comic book written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore (Charlie Adland took over the art after issue #6).  It kind of became a big thing.

The Walking Dead tells the story of a group of survivors facing one crisis after another.  Food, supplies, and shelter are a constant concern, as are bad people and of course the zombies.  The comic (which is still an ongoing series, with over 130 issues so far) spawned a hit tv series, and Kirkman has written Walking Dead novels as well.

One warning about this series: it is unrelentingly grim.  No real comic relief, just one tragedy after another.

The Walking Dead Book 1  /  Season 1 DVD  /  The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor

#3  The Reapers are the Angels, by Alden Bell

Define "angels".
Define “angels”.

A Southern Gothic zombie novel?  Yes, please!  While the protagonist here is 15 year old Temple, this is not a Young Adult book nor a light read.  All that Temple knows is zombies, having been born after the outbreak.  She travels through the south, interacting with both the good and the bad survivors, trying to find her place in the world.

It is these interactions that make up the backbone of this terrific book.  The zombies are always there, but the people are what we focus on.  And Temple finds that there are consequences to her actions.

The Reapers are the Angels

#2  Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

I don't even want to think about Zone Two.
I don’t even want to think about Zone Two.

I don’t think anyone expected Pulitzer-nominated Whitehead to write a zombie book, but he did.  And it is good.  In the aftermath of the zombie plague “Mark Spitz” is working on a clean up crew in New York City, eliminating remaining zombies and disposing of bodies.  As he works he ruminates on the past, giving us flashbacks of what happened at the beginning, how he survived, and how he came to be called “Mark Spitz”.  And of course the zombie plague isn’t as over as we think.

Zone One is as much literary fiction as it is a zombie book, and is not a casual read.  Definitely not for everyone.  But for those of us it does work for, it works very well.

Zone One  /  Large Print  /  Ebook

#1  World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks

The book is better.
The book is better.

Well, no one should be surprised at this.  It is, to me, the acme of zombie fiction.  Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) first wrote the Zombie Survival Guide, a book that described zombies and the ways to defeat them in great detail.  This led to WWZ.

World War Z is told in vignettes, as related to an unnamed United Nations agent some 20 years after the war.  The vignettes, presented as interviews, fill in the details of the zombie war, from the start of the outbreak, to humanity being pushed to the brink, to the ruthless and startling tactics used to fight back, and finally on to triumph and the clean up.

Some of these stories are better than others, of course, but the scope of the book is breathtaking.  From the Kansas woman, now in an asylum, who as a toddler was a lone survivor and can still recall the events in harrowing detail, to the military disaster at Yonkers, to the decisions of the worlds leaders, World War Z leaves no part of the war untouched.

World War Z  /  CD Audiobook  /  Ebook  /  DVD  /  The Zombie Survival Guide

And so that is my Top 15 zombies reads countdown.  But it is just my countdown, and is subject to change (Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion, is sitting on my shelf at home waiting.  Let’s hope it makes the cut).  For fun I took a look at how these books are rated by Goodreads users:

#15)  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

#14)  Zone One

#13)  Cell

#12)  The Forest of Hands and Teeth

#11)  Death Troopers

#10)  Devil’s Wake

#9)    Zombies vs. Unicorns

#8)    Allison Hewitt is Trapped

#7)    Breathers

#6)    The Living Dead

#5)    Rise Again

#4)    Feed

#3)    The Reapers are the Angels

#2)    World War Z

#1)    The Walking Dead

Hmm.  Some pretty close, and some not.  Please share your thoughts on my list, and let me know what other zombie titles need to go on my reading list.  Also, do you think we should have a zombie movie list as well?

Here is a list of all the titles mentioned in this blog:  https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=28267;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

 

CRIME NOIR

By Stephen

 A while ago, I read a  mystery, The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black, featuring Philip Marlowe  Raymond Chandler’s favorite private eye.  Black is not the first contemporary author to use Chandler’s character.  Before his death, Robert B. Parker, wrote a sequel to The Big Sleep.  Parker also finished Chandler’s “Poodle Springs.” Private detectives, who wander between the law and the underworld, accepted by neither, are generally the main characters in noir mystery novels and films.  “Oh, I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache, the Boston Blackie kind, then I could solve some mysteries too.,” sings Jimmy Buffett.

Boston Blackie, Sam Spade, Thin Man (AKA Nick Charles) are just few of the heroes, or anti-heroes if you prefer.   But noir books and film didn’t all had private detectives as the main characters.  James M. Cain’s short story “Double Indemnity,” featuring an insurance salesman who helps a woman, a ‘femme fatale,’ murder her husband by making appear an accident so she can cash in on the double indemnity clause on his insurance policy.  Likewise, “The Postman Always Rings Twice, ” features a woman who wants get rid of her husband and cons a man into helping her commit the crime.

Early noir short stories, novellas, and novels was originally written for publishing in the pulp magazines as “Phantom Detective.”   Noir authors who wrote for pulp magazines included Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett among others.

Dave Robicheaux, a modern creation of James Lee Burke, is a retired policemen who makes his home in the bayous of Louisiana, where crime is  around every slough, and eventually leads Dave back to New Orleans, where he used to enforce the law.   Burke’s Robicheaux novels have an atmosphere as dark as the 1930s and 1940s noir tales.  I suppose one could argue the Louisiana swamps have a greater sense of evil  than sunny California.

New Orleans was also the location of Ezlia Kazan’s picture, “Panic in the Streets,” a 1950  release. Richard Widmark stars as U. S. Public Health Officer charged finding a fugitive stricken with bubonic plague before he infects the city. The plot adds a new dimension to noir genre.   The film was filmed on location, making New Orleans a character in the film in its own right.

Mickey Spillane introduced his character, Mike Hammer in “I the Jury,” in 1947.  I seem to remember the paperback version being passed around when I was in the the eighth or ninth grade.    I remember it had a salacious cover that would interest junior high boys.   Spillane would go on to write over a dozen Hammer novels, including some finished by a friend after Spillane died in 2006.

“Spenser for Hire” was the tv version of Robert B. Parker‘s Spenser novels.  Spenser, private detective who has frequent run-ins with the Boston underworld on the one hand and the Boston police on the other.   Spenser’s sidekick Hawk, played menacingly by Avery Brooks on the tv series, is there when he needs extra muscle.  Some readers think Spenser is a direct descendant of  Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

Walter Mosley is another modern writer whose main character is of the hard-boiled variety.  Easy Rawlins is a black veteran, living in Watts section of Los Angeles.  Mosley’s hero is a novice detective, who lives his life from the forties into the mid-sixties.    In the later books he has the respect of the LAPD, who turns to him to solve some politically charged cases.

Kinsey Millhone, a creation of Sue Grafton, is another California based private detective.  The  main character of Grafton’s alphabet novels, is a female version of the hard-boiled detective.   Kinsey’s stories are set in the late seventies and eighties, so she doesn’t have access to more modern crime solving techniques such the internet or cell phones.   Like the private detectives of the forties and fifties, she brushes shoulders with people who live on the edge of polite society.

Dan Simmons reaches back to  the time of Charles Dickens in his novel, “Drood.”   Dickens’  friend Wilkie  Collins narratives his fellow writer’s search to find a mysterious man he encountered after the train he was riding in wrecked. The two men’s search takes them to the dark demi world of London’s slums, including the infamous  opium dens.  The reader slowly realizes that Collins and Dickens are drug addicts and begins to doubt the reliability of the former’s narrative.

In 1997, The Library of America published a two volume set of American noir writing  entitled  “Crime Novels:  American Noir of the 1930s & 4os”  and “Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s.”   These two volumes are a good place to start if you are not familiar with the genre.   NovelList+ on NCLive is another resource to explore the noir genre.

Sources:

 http://www.thrillingdetective.com/eyes.html

An Enigma Inside a Question Inside a Book

Some events capture the imagination and become legends, with fanciful (and often incorrect) anecdotes. Unsolved mysteries, disappearances, murders…society loves a good story, and there’s something about an unsolved case that seems to keep us hooked.

Mysteries are so beloved that some events considered “unsolved” are actually…solved. Or maybe sort of solved. such as the case with the Missing Roanoke colony or the Marie Celeste.  The truth can be stranger than fiction, and facts won’t keep us away from a good story.  Is that contradictory?  Perhaps, but it seems fitting for this collection of real life mysteries.

Jack The Ripper

Chris:  It has been 125 years and the Jack the Ripper killings still fascinate so many of us.  The murders themselves were brutal and gruesome enough to bring notoriety to the case, but with the added features of letters from the killer sent to the papers and a high profile investigation featuring early criminal profiling, this became the first example of media frenzy over a crime.

An unsavory letter
An unsavory letter

And now so many years later Jack the Ripper still draws interest.  The case remains unsolved, and likely will remain unsolved, though not for lack of trying by a wide assortment of people.  Even Sherlock Holmes gave it a shot.  The murders have inspired and/or been referenced by over a dozen films, as well as books, songs, video games, comics, and about anything else you can think of.

From hell : being a melodrama in sixteen parts

Portrait of a killer : Jack the Ripper– case closed 

Ripper Street

 

JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theory

Christina:  Catastrophic, tragic events will inevitably make people quite emotional, especially if questions remain unanswered years after the fact. The JFK assassination (which we mentioned in a previous blog) is still raw for those who lived through it, and it has served as a point of interest to conspiracy theorists and probably always will.

749px-JFK_limousine

So much has been discussed about the possibility of a government cover-up and the potential use of multiple assassins that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Luckily, there are tons of books written about the subject (and of the Kennedy family itself), so anyone interested in learning more has quite a bit of material to go through.

Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Case closed : Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of JFK

Who killed John F. Kennedy : a parody for grownups

The killing of a president : the complete photographic record of the JFK Assassination, the conspiracy and the cover-up

 

Roanoke

Chris: The Lost Colony of Roanoke was one of the first mysteries that engaged me as a child.  In the 1580s an English colony was founded on Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina.  The colony experienced a variety of problems.  Governor White returned to England for supplies, leaving behind 115 colonists, including baby Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World.

Various delays meant White was not able to return until three years later.  When he got back to Roanoke he found it deserted, with the only viable clue the word “Croatoan” carved into a fence post.  He was unable to conduct a search of nearby Croatoan Island at the time, and the English never managed to mount a true search expedition.

Where are Sam and Dean when you need them?
Where are Sam and Dean when you need them?

The ultimate fate of the colonists is unknown.  There are many theories, the most plausible being that the colonists integrated into the native population.  Research continues into the disappearance to this day, including a DNA project that is attempting to prove the integration theory.

Explorations, descriptions, and attempted settlements of Carolina, 1584-1590

A kingdom strange : the brief and tragic history of the lost colony of Roanoke

Roanoke : the lost colony

 

Judge Crater

Christina:  On August 6, 1930, Judge Crater stepped out of a restaurant, went into a taxi, and was never seen or heard from again. His mistress, wife, and friends had no idea what had happened to him, and while shady business deals certainly led to speculation that he was murdered, no one has ever truly cracked the case. Crater had moved money around and destroyed business documents before he disappeared, but according to friends and witnesses, he was in a good mood on the night he went missing and he had plans for the future. He’s been dubbed “the missingest man in New York” and his disappearance made for fodder in popular culture for decades. In fact, Stephen King lends an explanation for the judge’s disappearance in the short story “The Reaper’s Image”, but of course it’s a rather…bizarre one.

Have you seen this man?
Have you seen this man?

Vanishing point : the disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York he left behind 

The man who never returned

 

The Bermuda Triangle

Chris:  In 1974 Charles Berlitz’s book The Bermuda Triangle was released.  He didn’t coin the term, but he brought into the mainstream.  I got this book from the library as a child and was instantly smitten by the mystery of disappearing ships and planes.

Yup, that is a triangle alright!
Yup, that’s a triangle alright!

The largest non-combat loss of life in the US Navy occurred when the USS Cyclops vanished in 1918.  Flight 19, a Navy training flight in 1945 in which five torpedo bombers vanished is one of the more famous cases.  One of the search planes disappeared looking for them.  There are many other accounts of disappearances.

So what is happening?  Aliens?  Atlantis?  Something else?  Or maybe nothing at all?  Well, things are clearly happening.  Boats and planes have and do still disappear, and we get confirmation bias.  But they don’t disappear at a rate higher than anywhere else in the world.  In other words, there are some neat (and tragic) stories, but they are just stories.  Nothing to see here, folks.

The fog : a never before published theory of the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon 

Without a trace

The Triangle

 

Jimmy Hoffa

Christina:  “Where’s Jimmy Hoffa buried?” is one of the biggest mysteries of the twentieth century. Growing up in New Jersey, I’d hear a lot of jokes about where he might be buried (Giants stadium was a popular guess). Officially, no one knows what happened to Jimmy Hoffa or where his remains are, although it’s safe to assume that the Mob got to him. The notorious Mafia assassin Richard Kuklinski (aka “The Iceman”) confessed in an autobiography that he was behind Hoffa’s murder and handling of his remains. With no evidence, however, people still speculate and probably always will.

The search continues.
The search continues.

The Ice man : confessions of a mafia contract killer

Hoffa : the real story 

“I heard you paint houses” : Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran and the inside story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the last ride of Jimmy Hoffa

 

The Voynich Manuscript

Chris:  The Voynich Manuscript is a mystery that I only heard about a few years back.  Dated to the early 15th century, it came to modern attention in 1912 when Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer, purchased it.  Voynich uncovered evidence that points towards Roger Bacon once owning the book.

The manuscript is about 240 vellum pages, containing text and a variety of illustrations.  What makes this interesting is that it is written in an unknown language.  Additionally, many of the illustrations are of unidentified plants.

Many professionals (and amateurs) have taken a crack at deciphering the tome, including military code breakers and modern cryptographers with sophisticated computer programs.  To date no one has come close to translating it.  The “word” patterns don’t seem to fit that of a constructed language.

I think it says to give all your money to the nice librarians.
I think it says to give all your money to the nice librarians.

The first thought that comes to mind then is hoax.  If so it would be a hoax of astounding complexity, especially for the time that is believed to have been written.  Perhaps a cipher is needed to translate it, or it is a code.  A recent theory is that it is a long dead Mexican dialect, and that the plants drawn within are not European, leading to confusion.  This theory hasn’t proven to be any more viable than the rest, and at this point the best answer to the Voynich Manuscript is: we haven’t got a clue what it is.

The friar and the cipher : Roger Bacon and the unsolved mystery of the most unusual manuscript in the world 

The book of God and physics : a novel of the Voynich 

 

The Zodiac Killer

Christina:  What makes it so terrifying to know that a serial killer hasn’t been identified in decades is the idea that he will strike again. The public is safe from Charles Manson, David Berkowitz, and countless others, but what about the Zodiac Killer? To this day, the murderer remains unidentified.

Like the Ripper, the Zodiac Killer sent letters to the police, taunting them with confessions and threats of further violence. What makes the case fascinating, however, is the killer’s use of a cipher and his manipulation of the media as well as the police department.

Not quite as sophisticated as the Voynich manuscript.
Not quite as sophisticated as the Voynich manuscript.

Recently Gary L. Stewart released a book titled “The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father… and finding the Zodiac Killer” claiming that he has evidence that his biological father was the notorious serial killer. The police are looking into it, and maybe we’ll finally see this case solved soon.

The most dangerous animal of all : searching for my father … and finding the Zodiac Killer 

Zodiac unmasked : the identity of America’s most elusive serial killer revealed

Zodiac 

 

Marie Celeste

Chris:  Ah, ghost ships!  From the Flying Dutchman to the Black Pearl, literature and film is filled with them.  But there are many, many examples of real life ghost ships, abandoned vessels found with their crews gone missing.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the Mary Celeste (fictionally called the Marie Celeste by Arthur Conan Doyle and others).

They were in for more than a three hour cruise.
They were in for more than a three hour cruise.

The Mary Celeste departed Staten Island in 1872, bound for Genoa, Italy.  Almost a month later she was discovered some 600 miles off the coast of Portugal.  All ten people on board (including the captain’s wife and young daughter) were missing.  She was still perfectly seaworthy.  Her lifeboat was missing, as were most of the ship’s papers and navigational equipment.  Food supplies were still abundant, and many of the crew’s valuables were still on board.

An inquiry failed to discover what had befallen the crew.  There were no signs of piracy or foul play, and no trace of the crew was ever found.  The ship herself was put back into service, and lived an unhappy life before finally burning and sinking in 1885 in a failed insurance fraud scheme.

So what happened to the crew?  No one knows for sure, and again there are many theories, but the leading one is that alcohol is to blame.  A drunken revelry gone awry?  Hardly.  There were 1701 barrels of alcohol in the cargo hold of the Mary Celeste.  Nine of those were found to be empty, and those nine were made of red oak, which is more porous than the white oak normally used.  The thought here is that those barrels leaked, and the resultant fumes caused the crew, fearing an explosion, to evacuate to the lifeboat while the ship was aired out.  Something went wrong and the line connecting the lifeboat to the Mary Celeste failed, and the crew was unable to regain the ship, condemned to a slow death on the high seas.  We’ll never know for sure, and there are some flaws in this theory, but it seems it is the best answer we will ever get.

Ghost ship : the mysterious true story of the Mary Celeste and her missing crew 

The ghost of the Mary Celeste

 

The Lindbergh Baby

Christina:  You’d be hard-pressed to find a story quite as tragic as the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the Lindbergh Baby in 1932. While his parents and their friends had a party downstairs, someone abducted 18-month old Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. using a ladder to get to his nursery on the second floor. A frantic search ensued, but tragically, the baby’s body was found two months later.

Lindbergh_baby_poster

While Bruno Richard Hauptmann was found guilty and was subsequently executed for the crime, some doubts still linger as to whether he was truly the culprit. Another strange aspect of the case is that various people have claimed to be the deceased toddler, insisting that the body found was not in fact that of the Lindbergh baby.

The trial

Kidnap : the story of the Lindbergh case

The airman and the carpenter : the Lindbergh kidnapping and the framing of Richard Hauptmann

Lindbergh : the crime

The Lindbergh baby kidnapping in American history

 

Ten mysteries from the pages of history.  We only gave you a brief glimpse into them.  You’ll have to do your own investigating to find out more.  Tell us what you uncover, and let us know what other mysteries you would like us to explore!

 

See all of the books and DVDs mentioned in this blog in our library ctalog here:  https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=26674;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

(Edited 12/5/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)