“It trails me and it tails me down to Central Park. Even after dark, New York is my home. New York is calling me, and now I find the city never sleeps… it’s my state of mind.” New York Is My Home, written by Dion Di Mucci, Scott Kempner, and Mike Acquilina, 2016
Like many pop culture enthusiasts – we used to be called “fans” before cosplay became a big deal — my “top ten favorite movies” list runs a bit heavy. I recently took to creating an actual written-down list and, as of this typing, this effort has engorged to 66 films. I’m sure it will lengthen.
Among those works on film to which I am most endeared is a 1948 flick called “The Naked City,” directed by Jules Dassin and starring Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, and Dorothy Hart. Despite its title, this brilliant and authentic action movie is not the least bit salacious. It most certainly is naked, in the sense that The Naked City is the most poignant portrait of New York City I have seen.
This is the New York City of legend, filmed on location. Well, 80% of it was filmed on location, and that certainly fits the definition of unique. No other movie had so much Manhattan footage, and the performers and crew were not limited to the types of cover shots we are used to seeing on shows like N.Y.P.D. Blue.
We are thrust into the real, heroic city of legend that is no longer with us, but unlike Camelot or Brigadoon this place was real and that is the stuff of this movie. It was the town many of our ancestors first saw when they came to America, the portal to a new world that offered the promise of fair play, opportunity, equality, and democracy. Those values may be fading rapidly as well, but that’s for another time.
As much as I love the work of Damon Runyon, the New York City seen in this movie is the real thing. There are no singing and dancing gangsters in this production. You can almost smell the sidewalk hot dogs, the sweat of the workers, and the stench of the tenements on a hot summer day — The Naked City was filmed in the very, very hot summer of 1947, and it shows.
Long gone are the Manhattan elevated trains and the Essex Street Market, the old Staten Island Ferry terminal and the real Penn Station, the ramshackle and often dangerous subdivided apartment buildings for those who dream, and the mom-n-pop stores that met their needs. Big-box chain stores and franchise fast food were almost unheard of. It was America’s portal to the rest of the world and, more important, it was the portal from the rest of the world.
The movie most certainly suffers from some of the constraints and attitudes of its time. There’s plenty of white ethnic diversity, and that’s about it. New York City is and always been a lot more than that, but in 1948 I suspect a lot of people wondered why they ever would be interested in seeing a movie about a bunch of Irish, Italians, and Ashkenazi… let alone about New Yorkers. The Naked City does not portray a lot of high falutin’ swells living in the vertical gated communities that line Central Park; this is the people of New York whose heads would explode at the thought of paying today’s $3,500 a month rent.
The original The Naked City movie, later remade as several television series and movies, is a breathtaking, highly detailed and emotionally appropriate record of the city that defined America. It is a 96-minute time machine that nails down the roots of our cultural heritage.
The Naked City is on HBO Max and, better still, the 23-minute Criterion documentary Uncovering The Naked City is there as well, although I do not know how long either will be streaming from that venue. Talk about Brigadoon… Of course, both are available from Criterion on home video and on the Criterion Channel. I say “better still” because The Naked City is shown on TCM with some regularity but the documentary is a mere seventeen months old and not quite as accessible. It’s a love letter to both the movie and to the city that made it… and, of course, to the people who made it as well.
As they said in this movie and its subsequent adaptations, “There are eight million stories in the naked city.” This has been the best of them.
The author dedicates this column to Howard V. Chaykin, the source of several of those eight million stories.
For more than three decades now, “people” have been trying to figure out what to do with Buck Rogers, America’s first major science-fiction hero. Buck, then named Anthony, first appeared in Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella “Armageddon 2419 A.D.“, as published in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The story was noticed by National Newspaper Service syndicate president John F. Dille, who hired Nowlan to turn it into the first major science-fiction newspaper comic strip. The strip debuted on January 7th of the following year, some six months after the initial pulp magazine appearance.
Buck Rogers was a hit. An enormous number of merchandising and licensing deals ensued and Buck was seen in toy stores, a movie serial (starring Buster Crabbe), a radio serial, several television shows, and comic books. The other newspaper syndicates jumped on the Buckwagon, offering us Brick Bradford, Don Dixon, Drift Marlo, Space Cadet, and the spaceman whose fortunes eclipsed them all, Flash Gordon. Buster Crabbe starred in the three Flash Gordon serials as well.
As the realities of the real space program captured the world’s attention, spaceman stories began to look naïve; their sense of wonder was co-opted by reality. Buck’s adventures were drawn by some truly top-notch artists, including Frank Frazetta, Howard Chaykin, George Tuska, Gray Morrow, and Murphy Anderson, following in the footsteps of the originating artists, Dick Calkins, Russell Keaton and Rick Yager, but by the time we tossed beer cans on the moon Buck was but a cultural memory. A vaguely successful television series started up in 1979 and lasted two years.
This has not kept people from trying to bring Buck back. Not at all. But such efforts were hampered by recent lawsuits claiming Buck Rogers had lapsed into the public domain. The Dille Family Trust had gone blooie, and a judge ruled they were not eligible for bankruptcy relief.
After three years of listening to the crickets chirp, Legendary Entertainment said they were doing a movie, and Flint Dille, an accomplished television writer and grandson of John Dille, got on board. Brian K. Vaughan is writing the script. And, lo and behold, George Clooney is an executive producer — prompting rumors that George would play the lead. As much as I like Clooney, this is nearly laughable. Dr. Huer, the not-mad scientist of the series, would be more acceptable but I doubt George is likely to shave his head for the part. Bill Murray might, but he rarely returns phone calls. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #104: The Great Buck Rogers War!” →
Right now, the Democrats are working hard to create on online convention that resonates with true believers and motivates anyone still on the fence. And it’s gotta feel like an effort that’s worth it all.
American business, and specifically Geek Culture is doing the same thing. A few weeks back, San Diego Comic-Con. (officially entitled Comic-Con international) pulled together a virtual comic convention. Seem like a lot of folks participated at various levels. From a personal level I was pleasantly surprised; my typical on-location panels can fill a room of 350 fans but this year, online, they drew 5,000+ viewers!
Looking ahead to the weekend, FanDome will celebrate DC Comics, despite the depressing anguish fans felt from the recent corporate “bloodbath”.
And this past weekend, two online comic conventions debuted:
I’m all about buried treasure lately. Next week I’ll tell you about my wild ride that led to the PIRATES book, soon to be published by Clover Press & Yoe Books. But this week, I want to write about my travels to the exotic and mystical land called New Jersey, and my adventures in three comic shops and the treasures I found.
The Joker’s Child, a long-lived comic shop nestled in the northern part of New Jersey, used to be my hometown store when I lived there. I brought my daughters, the Catto Girls, there when they were little. They are all grown up now, and I was back in town to help celebrate one daughter’s bridal shower. Tempus Fugit!
Writer / artist Batton Lash died Saturday of complications from a “very aggressive” form of brain cancer. Whereas he was fighting the disease for several years, according to his widow Jackie Estrada it recurred two months ago.
A one-time assistant to Howard Chaykin, the Brooklyn native was a graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where he learned his craft from teachers that included Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. He created Wolff & Byrd – Counselors of the Macabre in 1979 where it ran in The Brooklyn Paper as well as in The National Law Journal. From there Wolff & Byrd appeared in a wide variety of comics, including a rather stellar story in the Munden’s Bar feature in GrimJack (I’m not taking any credit here; the story was edited by the gifted Anina Bennett). Several years later, the series was published on its own as Supernatural Law by Exhibit A Press, an outfit established by Batton and Jackie.
Batton racked up quite a number of assignments, including The Big Book series from Paradox/DC Comics, the Eisner Award-winning Radioactive Man for Bongo (a Simpson’s spin-off title), and one of my personal favorites – the story is as good as the concept – Archie Meets The Punisher for Archie Comics. Recently, he produced The First Gentleman of the Apocalypse for David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly.
One of his classiest acts was having his studio, which he shared with artist Bob Smith, at the one-time home to EC Comics, 225 Lafayette Street. He racked up a sizable number of awards nominations and was the recipient of the 2009 Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award for Graphic Novels.
Batton made no secret of his political views and worked with James D. Hudnall on an anti-Obama feature for Andrew Breitbart. He endured some criticism, and I should point out that he counted among his friends any number of left-leaning members of the comics community, as well as at least one outright radical.
Jackie, of course, was the long-time organization provocateur of the San Diego Comic-Con and past president of the Friends of Lulu. She will be continuing the publishing program at Exhibit A that she and her husband had established.
And, no, Batton was not a lawyer. He was one of the greats of the independent comic book field. His go-to attorney was Mitch Berger, a comics fan and a former member of DC’s legal team.
Memorials are being planned in both San Diego and New York City.
Batton was 65. He was one of the best.
– Mike Gold