The Superversive in Film: Flash Gordon

The zeitgeist that the original Star Wars created in the late 1970s pushed a lot of studios and production companies to grab every possible property comparable and get a movie out the door. In 1980 this got us a feature film version of one of the classics of Pulp SF: Flash Gordon.

My father took me to see this film in one of the few remaining neighborhood single-screen theaters at the time,
and we both had a good time. Since then it’s become one of those films I enjoy watching from time to time, and as I get older I appreciate the earnest and sincere quality of its Romanticism and heroism (especially as the rest of society goes increasingly insane and dyscivic).

Yes, it’s campy. That’s its charm, and because of that camp approach its sincerity and earnestness gets a pass by a lot of hipsters and other wanna-bee cool kids. The storytelling is solid, and the performances played straight- thanks to the timely intervention early on of Max von Sydow taking the cast aside and advising them to do just that if they wanted to have a career after they wrapped. (They did. It works. It really works. Save for the lead, they did- some for decades thereafter.)

You’re in for a great time with this film, and the soundtrack by Queen nails the mood perfectly. (Get the soundtrack.) Flash does his best John Carter impression, Dale her best Dejah Thoris, and every major character is someone you love to love (or hate). Boredom is not an issue here, and neither is the way that the heroes succeed because of their moral qualities (and the villains fail accordingly). This is one of the most blatantly Pulp and Superversive films I’ve yet written about here, and if you want to see that old-school style presented in all its glory then this film delivers. Recommended. You should have a copy in your media library.

But wait, there’s more.

If you like the film, chances are also good that you’ll like the animated series put out at that time. It came out the year before (1979), and ran for one season; the techniques Filmation used for this series would go on to become their signature style and be employed for He-Man, She-Ra, Blackstar, and Bravestar. The presentation of Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and the rest of the cast is no less Pulp or Superversive but the differences are enough to make it engaging and it is very entertaining.

There are other, older film adaptations, which are also fun, but eventually you should go back to the original comic strips. Now collected in coffee-table sized volumes, the 1980 film’s roots in the original material becomes clear once you feast your eyes on them. Alex Raymond–the creator–made a character no less a classic than Edgar Rice Burroughs or E.E. Smith did. Action, romance, heroism, adventure- everything that the film is the distilled essence of you get the full measure of here. Start here and read every volume thereafter. You’ll not be disappointed.

I’ll let Queen play this out.

The Superversive in Film: The Last Starfighter

We return once more to that period between the late ’70s and mid ’80s when that last flourish of old-school pulp sensibility arose in the form of feature films out of Hollywood done by then-rising names in the business. This time, it’s The Last Starfighter, another Space Opera made possible due to the success of Star Wars.

This film, like Tron, falls into that “Boy’s Own Adventure” style of adventure where our hero–although an adult–still speaks and acts like the boys this film is intended to entertain. That means the film’s style of presentation is in harmony with that audience also: earnest, sincere, and uncomplicated- but not simple.

The reason this is superversive is that this film’s story, as with many stories aimed at boys, is about the necessity of accepting responsibility- not just for yourself, but on behalf of those depending upon you. For an emerging generation of boys, soon to become men, this learning how to face difficult and dangerous realities even when you would rather run because if you don’t no one else will.

A careful review of the story’s narrative shows this to be the case. The critical events that make our hero into the titular character comes about due to succumbing to that very fear and running from the responsibility that his previous actions–qualifying as a Starfighter gunner–put upon him. Today some would cry about this being unfair,
or unjust. That doesn’t matter; it’s a job that men need to do, like it or not, because not doing it means far, far worse for everyone- man, woman, and child. Stories like this are necessary for boys, because this reality is their future as men in one form or another.

Which brings up another, understated but no less critical point: at no point does our hero get dumped on for taking up his burden and doing his duty. The others that benefit by his actions appreciate what he risked for their sake, and it is this acknowledgement that completes the superversive elements of this story. No one wants to risk life and limb for ingrates, and no society so ungrateful benefits from such deeds for long as it subverts that fundamental institution of any healthy society and culture. The audience of the day rewarded this handsomely, making it one of the latter day classics with lasting influence. It still holds up today. Recommended.

Review: A Pius Man by Declan Finn

A Pius Man has gotten a bit of an update and has been re-released by Silver Empire Press this month. It’s available in print and ebook on Amazon.com.

I thought the book was an great story back when I first reviewed it. It is amazing how some minor edits turned this great story into a “Wow! I’ve got to read this again” story. In fact, when I was checking back at scenes in the book while working on this review, I found myself getting lost in the pages again.

Re-reading books for fun is not something I normally do, because once I’ve read a book, I move on to the next one. I can’t help it with this one. I’m looking forward to re-reading A Pius Legacy.

—–

A murder at the Vatican sets in motion the wildest story you’ll ever read.

Dr. David Garrity uncovers a secret about Pope Pius XII’s actions during WWII, which gets him killed. An odd alliance forms between the head of Vatican security, an ex-stuntman, an American Secret Service agent, a member of Mossad, a spy and Pope Pius XIII, in order to find out who murdered him and why.

Set in Vatican City, the story is a mix of nonstop action and fascinating political intrigue that not only keeps you glued to the book, but it also corrects some of the falsehoods that have persisted about Pope Pius XII since his reign as pope.

Unlike Dan Brown’s novels which set off my BS meter on the facts, A Pius Man appears well researched. With Declan’s background, I’m not at all surprised that it’s historically accurate. The best part, though, is that the history doesn’t read like a text book, it is worked in between the gun fire, which adds to the drama and depth.

It’s got the fast paced action that the #PulpRev readers can appreciate as well as the battle of good/evil that the #Superversive crowd will love. It’s not just about action for action, it’s about action to defend the Pope, the Church and right the wrongs of history. And I might add, their is a Deus Volt vibe going on as well.

As far as the characterization, Declan does an excellent job of giving the large cast of characters distinct personalities and roles in the story. While most of the characters are a bit over the top, totally understandable for this genre, they are interesting. If these characters were real people, I think it’d be fun to hang out with Sean A.P. Ryan, even though I’d need to wear a kevlar vest because he is always getting shot at. I’d also be all over getting to hang out with Pope Pius XIII. You just can’t help love that character.

And the one story line that I’m partial to is the budding romance between Scott Murphy, a nondescript Mossad agent, and the beautiful spy, Manana Shushurin. They are the light spot in an otherwise heavy book. The two are so cute together.

Honestly, one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. I would put it on part with Michael Crichton’s State of Fear.

 

The Superversive in Film: The Black Hole

In 1979, Disney release The Black Hole. This science fiction film got released during the time between the original Star Wars of 1977 and the first sequel (The Empire Strikes Back) in 1980. It was a blatant, and honest, attempt to cash in on the renewed interest in science fiction as an adventure film genre and as such held true to certain old-school sensibilities that George Lucas’s Space Opera revitalized two years prior.

It’s sometimes derided as a Haunted House movie in space, but that’s not fair. The actual speculative element–the titular black hole–literally makes it presence felt in the first reel, drives the plans (and motivations) of the antagonist, and plays the singular role in the climax of the film. For those science fiction fans looking for something scientific to talk about, you’re not disappointed; there is no story without the black hole, so don’t worry about the trappings of gothic horror used throughout.

What makes this a Superversive film is also laid out straight away: the defiance of logic, reason, and good order in favor of reckless and obsessive pursuit of a passion to the point of madness and degeneracy of character. This is symbolized by the antagonist’s reliance on robots and automation over human crewman and proper navel procedure, a symbol made literal at a critical turning point in the plot when a revelation good enough to come out of a Cyberman episode of Doctor Who hits, after which things go increasingly bad for our heroes.

At no point is the antagonist–a precursor to the ethics-lacking “science” Establishment of today–portrayed as anything but a softer Colonel Kurtz-as-a-Mad-Scientist. Each of the cast who succumb to the antagonist’s scheme do so due to critical character defects overwhelming them and compelling the doomed to their demise, while those who endure to the end do so because their fundamental decency shields them from the antagonist’s attempt to seduce them into following his scheme.

The real achievement, for you younger folks out there, is that the horror of the antagonist’s evil gets shown to the viewer without any gore whatsoever. This film, being one of the last of the old-guard Disney films, never lies to or insults its audience (or their parents) by talking down to them or relying on cheap tricks. The heroes win (as much as any hero in a tragedy does win) by being both right enough to withstand temptation and skilled enough to withstand retaliation. The antagonist is utterly undone by his own hand, learning well the price of hubris, and our heroes escape that same fate- if barely. (This is where the tropes of gothic horror get most applied, after their aesthetics.)

This is not some “villains win because Good is suck” story. This is not some excuse to parade degeneracy and moral abomination as the New Normal. This is a well-told story, where heroes are heroes, men are men, women are women, and robots are interesting (for fair and foul reasons), that (if not for the special effects) you might expect from a film 10 years prior.

Much like the Mohicans, The Black Hole was part of the last generation of a Disney (and a generation of film professionals) that faded away in the 1980s (with Tron being the last gasp). The Disney of today may, at times, echo that lost era but it is not Walt’s house anymore. Recommended, especially if you want to know why Disney rarely even tries to do this sort of thing anymore.

The Superversive in Film: Tron & Tron Legacy

In 1982, Disney released a second science fiction film during that six-year period where the original Star Wars trilogy made its mark on world culture. That film was Tron. (The first being 1978’s The Black Hole, which I’ll get to another time.) As with many science fiction and fantasy films of this era, it became a cult classic and made a big impression on a generation who’d come of age with personal computers and (later) the emergence of the Internet.

I didn’t have “superversive” to describe the original film when I came back to it as an adult. At the time, I called it a “Boy’s Own Adventure” film because–despite the protagonist being an adult, and the subject matter being quite serious–how the film went about telling this story clearly aimed at an audience of boys either early in or coming up on adolescence. It has a fairy tail quality to it, a sincere and earnest quality, that those who’d seen earlier films (such as The Computer That Wore Tennis Shoes) would find familiar and comfortable.

Yet this film most certainly was Superversive, and even now that’s clear as day. The villain (Edward Dillinger) is a thief, albeit a cunning one, and a rival to the hero (Kevin Flynn) as a creator; the villain’s creation (the Master Control Program, “MCP” for short)has surpassed him and now threatens to go out of control, trapping the villain by his own hubris. The hero succeeds thanks to his friends’ aid (as well as that of their creations)- most notably being the title character, the program Tron. The virtues of courage, fortitude, and loyalty win out over the treachery and despair that the villains wield as much as the discs this film is famous for. Kevin’s fortune is restored, and the promise of a better tomorrow for all is put before us at the end. Its story is simple, but well-done, and still holds up today.

The sequel, Tron: Legacy, seems a subversion- a deliberate pozzing. Yet it is not; it is as Superversive as its predecessor. People mistake the darker tone and mood for subversion, when it is a clear extrapolation of the exact mood evident at the end of the original film. Again, the flaw at play here is hubris; Kevin exhibits a clear overconfidence in the original film, which is what got him in trouble initially and stymied his efforts to get back at Dillinger then. As the sequel shows, this flaw was not tamed; the overconfidence consumed Kevin and drove him to madness that he did not realize until it was too late and–like Dillinger–the creation (Clu2, Kevin’s System Administrator) got out of control and threatened even worse.

That seems like a shallow excuse to remake the original with a new case and fresh effects, but to its credit Legacy went beyond that. The narrative clearly shows the consequence of Kevin’s hubris on every single character in the film, trapping Kevin into despair and non-resistance- a trap that takes the heroine (Quora) with him.

Unlike the first film, the new hero (Sam Flynn, Kevin’s son) doesn’t blindly repeat his father’s adventures. He challenges his father’s assumptions, telling him how his utopian visions resulted in dystopian dysfunction out in the real world. This gets amplified by Kevin realizing the root of Clu2’s hatred for him: parental abandonment, as Clu2 (without ever saying so) resents Kevin for favoring Sam over him (using his argument about his purpose and mission as the proxy). For Kevin, this film is a tragedy of his own making and he owns up to it in the climax.

For Sam, the film is not just saving his father, but superseding him as he succeeds him- taking Quora with him into the (again) promised better tomorrow. To get that ending, he had to face–and fess-up–to his own despair-based behaviors and change his ways accordingly. In other words, Sam had to man up, and in so doing got his father to man up also. By the end of the film, she looked forward to a new world full of light and life at Sam’s side.

Hollywood in general, and Disney in particular, have had a serious problem with undermining the culture with their films and television for years now. These two films are exception; they don’t lie to the audience in the course of telling their stories, which is likely why we won’t see another like it for many years to come- not without popular support backed by related sales. Watch these films; you’ll be glad that you did.

The Goal of the Superversive

For Throwback Thursday (a little late)–at the request of some of the other folks here–here, again, is our statement of exactly what it is that Superversiveness stands for and wishes to accomplish.

Subversive Literary Movement

Any new venture needs a mission statement. So, what are the goals of the Superversive Literary Movement?

Well…let me tell you a brief story.

As a child, I distained Cliffsnotes. I insisted on actually reading the book. I would like to instill the same virtue in my children. But recently, I made my first exception.

My daughter had to read Steinbeck’s The Pearl for class. We read it together. She read part. I read part. The writing was just gorgeous. The life of the people involved drawn so lovingly. The dreams the young man had for his baby son were so poignant, so touching.

Worried about what kind of book this  might be, I read the end first. It looked okay. So, we read the book together.

Turns out, I had missed something—the part where the baby got shot.

Not a happy story.

Next, she brought home Of Mice and Men. We started it together. What a gorgeous and beautifully writing—the descriptions of nature, the interaction between the two characters. A man named George, who could be off doing well on his own, is taking care of a big and simple man named Lennie, who accidentally kills the mice he loves because of his awkward big strength. In George, despite his gruff manner and his bad language, we see a glimpse of what is best in the human spirit, a glimpse of light in a benighted world.

The scene of the two camping out and discussing their hopes of someday owning their own little farm, where Lennie could tend rabbits, was so touching and hopeful, so filled with pathos and sorrow, and so beautifully written. Steinbeck is clearly one of the great masters of word use.

But I remembered The Pearl.  I glanced ahead, but this time, I looked more carefully.

On the next to last page, while discussing how their hoped-for little farm with rabbits is almost within their grasp, George presses a pistol against the back of Lennie’s head and shoots.

Now, in the story, he does it with a terribly heavy heart. He does it for “a good reason”—Lennie accidentally killed someone, but…

That doesn’t make it better.

I sat there holding the remains of my heart, which Steinbeck had just ripped out and stamped on. The devotion of this good man George had led to nothing. All their golden hopes turned to dross, sand.

And it wasn’t just the end. The book was full of examples of “the ends justify the means” type of thinking – such as a man killing four of nine puppies, so that the other five will have a chance.

Very realistic? Check. Very down to earth? Check. Very “the way of the world”? Check.

Why give a book like this to children to read? What are we trying to teach them? That life is difficult and meaningless? That sometimes its okay to kill something we love for a “good reason”? That life is pointless? That dreams and hopes are a sham? That no matter how you try, you cannot improve upon your circumstance, so it’s better not to even hope? (That was what The Pearl was about.)

What possible good is such a message doing our children?

Maybe if a child grew up in posh circumstances and had never seen hardship—maybe then, there would be a good reason for letting them know that “out there” it can get hard.

But this was my daughter—whose youth resembles that of Hansel and Gretel, and not the fun parts about candy houses and witches. There are many things she needs in life—but pathos-filled reminders of how harsh life can be is not one of them.

The book was also full of cursing. I’m not sure I would have noticed, but my daughter kept complaining.

I closed the book and refused to read any more of it. I told her we’d find the answers online. She ended up getting help with it from her brother (who had been forced to read the book at school the previous year) and from a friend.

I’ve seen some of the other books on the school curriculum. Many of them are like this. In the name of “realism,” these works preach hopelessness and darkness.

They are lies!

So, you might ask, why does it matter if our children are being fed lies? They’re just stories, right?

What do stories matter?

Stores teach us about how the world is. They teach us despair, or they teach us hope. In particular, they teach us about the nature of hope and when it is appropriate to have it.

So why is hope—that fragile, little flutter at the bottom of Pandora’s jar—so important?

Because hope needs to be hoped before miracles can be requested.

In life, some things will go badly. True. Some things will go well. But what about everything in between? What about those moments when hope, trust, dare I say, faith, is required to make the difference between a dark ending and a happy one?

If we have been taught that hope and dreams are a pointless fantasy, a waste of time, we might never take the step of faith necessary to turn a dark ending into a joyful one.

Think I am being unrealistic, and my head’s in the clouds? Let me give a few examples.

Example One:

I heard a story on the radio the other day. A woman named Trisha is dying of cancer. She has an eight year old son named Wesley and no one else. No close friends. No relatives. No hope for her son.

Trisha met another Trisha…the angel who ministered to her in the hospital in the form of her nurse. When the news came that her illness was terminal, Trisha worked up the courage to do something astonishing. She asked her nurse: “When I die, will you take my son?”

The nurse went home and spoke to her husband and her four children. They said yes. They not only agreed to take Wesley, they took both Wesley and Trisha into their home, caring for them both as Trisha’s illness grows worse.

What if Trisha, laying in her bed in pain, had not had the faith, the hope, to ask her nurse this question? What would have become of her little boy?

If Trish believed the “realism” preached by Steinbeck and other “realists”, she would never have had the courage to ask her nurse for help.

Example Two:

Don Ritchie is an Australian who lives across from a famous suicide spot, a cliff known as The Gap. At least once a week, someone comes to commit suicide there.

Don and his wife keep an eye out the window. If they see someone at the edge, Don strolls out there. He smiles and talks to them. He offers them a cup of tea.

Sometimes, they come in for tea. Sometimes, they just go home. On a few occasions, he’s had to hold someone, while his wife called the police. Sometimes, the person jumps anyway.

Don and his wife figure they’ve saved around a hundred and sixty lives.

What if Don had believed that hopes and dreams are dross, and he never walked out there? What if he had spent the years standing in his living room, shaking his head and cursing the fact that he bought a house in such an unlucky place?

There are people living lives, perhaps children born who would not have been, merely because Don did not give up on those caught by despair.

Example Three:

Andrea Pauline was a student at the University of Colorado. She traveled to Uganda to study microfinancing for a semester. While she was there, she discovered that some of the local orphan children were being abused.

Andrea refused to leave the country until the government did something. She received death threats. She would not back down.

The government of Uganda took the forty-some children away from their caretakers—and gave them to Andrea. She and her sister now run an orphanage in Uganda called Musana (Sunshine). They have over a hundred children. (Matthew West was inspired by her story to write the song Do Somethinghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8 )

What if Andrea had believed the things preached by Of Mice and Men and The Pearl?

What if she had come home to America and cried into her pillow over the sad plight of those children back in Africa? What if she pent her time putting plaintive posts on Facebook about how the sad state of the world and how blue it made her feel?

Over a hundred children, living a better life, because one teenage girl refused to give up hope.

This is what the Superversive Literary Movement is for—to whisper to the future Trisha’s, Don’s, and Andrea’s that miracles are possible.

That hope is not a cheat.

The goal of the Superversive is to bring hope, where there is no hope; to bring courage, where without courage, hope would never be manifested.

The goal of the Superversive is to be light to a benighted world.

The goal of the Superversive is:

To tell the truth.

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Jam-Packed June CLFA Boonado

In addition to the general CLFA Booknado goodness, this month includes several offerings from Superversive authors, including For Steam and Country by Jon Del Arroz, Chasing Freedom, by our own Marina Fontaine, and a new short story by Declan Finn.

Get ready to peruse a Category 5 Booknado of literary delights! Let refreshing winds of free thought and freedom blow away tiresome leftist reads and bring in exciting New Releases and Special Discounts! Read on for this month’s selections; just click on any book image to read more and shop. Enjoy!

Jam-packed June Booknado!