Friday morning, we flew up to Portland for the HP Lovecraft Film Festival. It was neat that on the flight up, I looked out the window and said to myself, ‘Hey, that itty bitty rocky thingy down there sorta resembles Half Dome’. I look more closely and say to myself, ‘Hey, that is Half Dome!’ No announcement from the pilot, but we flew right past Yosemite. You could see the whole green valley set amongst the mountains. The only things I could really identify from that height were Half Dome and El Capitan. It literally looked like a green Shangri-La set amongst forbidding mountains.
Anyway, we got to Portland, got the rental car (once again, they had no economy cars, so we got bumped up to compact for free – not that driving a Hyundai Elantra is a real joy. It did have a sunroof, though, which was completely useless in Portland because of the rain. On the other hand, sliding it open gave me another inch of much-needed headroom.
Thence to the Banfield Motel. I can sum the place up in three words: “Don’t stay there!”
I didn’t expect it to be a marvel, but my worst fears were realized as we checked in, and the slovenly innkeeper ignored us for a good long time as he shuffled the paperwork pertaining to the person before us for an unconscionably long time.
Not only was our room right behind the steps leading from the first to second floor (allowing all who cared to to stare in our only window until we pulled the drapes), but it was also right next to the vending machine, which didn’t get as much business as I had feared, and the laundry room, which did make rumbly noises fairly frequently. Also, there was a family possibly living in the room next to ours with at least three kids. When the youngest cried, the guy above us would turn his TV on loudly to drown out the squalling. The drain in the sink performed its eponymous task at a glacial rate. The TV remote didn’t work, BUT apparently the remote in one of the other rooms worked well enough to affect our TV. The first night we were there, we were woken up by the Poltergeist-y noise of the TV switching on, the channels flipping madly up and down, and then switching off. It did this three or four times over the course of ten minutes or so, and then stopped. There were holes in the bed-clothes. The room smelt of stale fast food. One could easily shoot a Lovecraftian film in such a locale.
Anyway, we walked around the neighborhood to get our bearings. Interesting sights include the Pagoda, a Chinese place entirely covered in hideously yet hypnotic orange tile, and the Hollywood Theater itself, which has a magnificent façade.
It was way to early for the show, so we went around the corner to the Laurelwood for a late and sustaining lunch. Despite being the restautant’s pride and joy, the garlic fries were a bit cold and mushy, though definitely garlicky. The burgers we had were adequate, but not enchanting. But the beer was fantastic. A bit more walking around and a quick nap for Becca and we were ready to hit the festival, which doesn’t really bear going through hour by hour.
Of the features, we stayed away from ones that we could rent whenever we liked, so we saw foreign and/or indy things like the Shunned House. It was made in Italy, and they shot in both Italian and English. We saw the English version, though I think I may have preferred the Italian, as the accents of some of the actors were at times distracting or incomprehensible. Nevertheless, the film was a nice mix of The Shunned House, Dreams in the Witch-House and the Music of Erich Zann. It was purposely shot in a disjointed (some said Lynchian) style that didn’t add up to a fully coherent story, but I appreciated the overall atmosphere. I particularly liked the Zann section, and the actress playing Zann must have been a violinist; usually I find it highly distracting to see non-musicians pretending to play instruments. She was great, even through that section’s grisly punchline, which many found way too over the top. I confess that I liked it.
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. This was an ‘animated’ feature based on Jason Thompson’s series of comic books. Although I admire the dedication this project took, I can’t really say that I found it enjoyable. The animation was not entirely made up of pans & scans across Thompson’s artwork, but it was not much more than that. But I think the greater flaw was that it tried to cover a lush novel in its entirety. Thus, everything flitted by so quickly that even the good stuff went by without a pause to enjoy it. There is much that is not-so-good in the source material, but it all gets equal time. As in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien, the occasional sections of beautiful Lovecraftian language are muddled or excised. It’s easy for me to sit back and criticize when my only direct contribution to Lovecraftian film is my dreadful acting in the dreadful “Cthulhu Wore Tennis Shoes”. So I certainly honor the labor of love that went into DreamQuest. And Aaron and I both agree on what the most quotable line of the film is: “Where’s my yak?”
The Eldritch Influence: a documentary on Lovecraft, particularly his influence on later authors and media, including a few short snippets of an interview with Aaron Vanek (and a few other people). I enjoyed this a great deal, except for the filmmaker’s attempts to create some pseudofactual material, like footage of a ‘real’ Lovecraftian cult that worships a pre-Sumerian obelisk in the woods of Wisconsin. I was impressed by most of Neil Gaiman’s interview, in that he seems to understand what Lovecraft is all about the same way that I do. Which reminds me of the great edit from Neil Gaiman calling The Call of Cthulhu a “crap story” to Aaron naming it as his favorite HPL story. There is also a painful (hopefully completely staged) scene of a Call of Cthulhu gaming group. Five fat slovenly people with funny-shaped dice and Cheetos. Afterwards, during Q&A, I told the filmmaker that that scene cut a little too close to home. Aaron took exception to that. He thinks my players are better-looking on average than those depicted in the film. Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, ST Joshi, Christian, Andrew and others supplied more of the interview material.
The shorts. I didn’t see nearly as many of these as I wanted to.
Maria’s Hubris: A German short based on the Thing on the Doorstep, which is one of my favorites and a story for which I’ve written a few pages of screenplay. I liked it quite a lot, and the German was almost easy enough for me to understand. The director cut down a long story into the critical moment and did it quite well.
The Raven: A fantastic filmed version of the poem. The talent reading the poem has a great voice, and the actor (if it’s a different person) did a creditable job lip-synching just those parts of the poem that area actually spoken by the poem’s narrator. I might have read some of the lines a bit differently, but on the whole it was a great reading of a poem that’s always much longer than I remember it being. I was worried that the raven would be a taxidermed thing, but instead a very clever puppet was created. It doesn’t look like a real raven, but its stylized look is perhaps even better than a real Raven.
Pickman’s Model: Another Italian film. I liked it a great deal, but it suffers from a terrible flaw. It does not have a proper ending. It just ends in a ‘why are foreign films so foreign?’ moment.
Casonetto’s Last Song: “Cthulhu Wore Tennis Shoes” may be awful, but at least it was less than five minutes long. This amateur film is 15 minutes or so. Several aspects of this film are not merely amateurish, but bad. In particular, the dialog is bad, bad, bad. The acting and some of the other elements of the script are also pretty bad. The picture and sound quality are also bad, but that’s just because of the no-budget production. I think at one part you can hear a cat meowing in the background; this for me was one of the delightful highlights, actually.
An Imperfect Solution: Christian Matzke tackled one section of Herbert West: Reanimator. Beautiful historical medical props… made me think of Steve Martin’s drill in Little Shop of Horrors: “They don't make them like
this any more...sturdy...heavy...dull.” Lots of other attention to historical detail all over the place. Props and locations aside, the acting and story are all better than adequate, though the assistant’s sister is a bit off. My one real beef is that the punchline was a bit drowned out by the other loud sounds. But really, this amateur film looked mighty professional to me.
Cutethulhu: I’d seen it on the web, but it’s still good for a chuckle. I’d speed up the scene in Swan Point to get the humor timing right, but the whole thing is less than 2 minutes anyway.
Among the usual suspects that I know reasonably well: Aaron & Kirsten, Andrew & Linda (and their son Vincent), John Tynes, Bryan Moore, Shawna.
People I know of, and may even know through email, but haven’t hung out with all that much or people I know barely at all: Christian Matzke, Andrew Leman & Sean Branney, Donovan & Pam, Jack Donner, ST Joshi, Craig Mullins (somehow it totally slipped my mind that I had written a limerick for him – ah well, you can read it on www.unfilmable.com) and his dad.
People I still don’t know: a whole lot of them, including mskoi and the other people at Catalyst Studios – their stuff is ultra-cool, but one asks oneself (or at least one does if one refers to oneself as ‘one’) ‘does one need a teddy-bear with an animal skull for a head that discusses the effects of gases released by nuclear bombs when you squeeze its tummy?’ Sadly, my answer to that question is no.
Perhaps in another life, I will be gregarious, but for now I remain antisocial and shy and so there were many people that I didn’t talk to. This fest was so much bigger than the last one I went to. The Sunday brunch back then was, I think, 14 people… including all of the Thickets. This time, there were about 30, I think. And at the festival itself, things were really crowded, so it was hard to just chat with people anyway. Excuses, excuses. For one more excuse, I’ll say that I felt out of place hobnobbing with the not-rich and famous. I’ve had fuck-all to do with Lovecraftian film in the past several years, so what business had I to party with the cool folk? On the plus side, the stimulation of the festival may spur me to spend some more effort on creative works of some kind. I even signed up for NaNoWriMo.
I picked up a couple shirts and a couple books at the fest. Most depressingly, no one bought any of our Eldritch Quintuplets at all. Not a single person. Not one. Ah well, as I was packing them up, ST Joshi was standing nearby, so I thrust one upon him and ran away before he had time to register disgust and drop it in the trash. We still have 100 or so of the damn things, so if you’re one of the ten people reading this, you know what you’re getting for your birthday every year for the next ten years or so.
But the big spending binge was at Powell’s of course. I blew $100 on Hodgson’s Deep Waters. Somebody on Ebay has been trying to sell his copy for $170 or so for a few weeks now. I knew that was overpriced, even for a dealer. I spent another $100 on other books. Lethem’s latest and some Graham Joyce, Jonathan Carroll, and a few other random things, like some Agatha Christie short stories in German (which I’ll get to after I finish slowly slogging my way through Der Herr der Ringe.) Rebecca spent quite a bit less, but did come away with a 3 volume unabridged set of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, along with a few more less weighty tomes.