Robots Prepare To Torch Harry Houdini

Several people have sent me this link, and that is because they, and it, are awesome: the trailer for a new DVD of Harry Houdini’s film career. Gizmodo declares, based on this evidence, that “Houdini was the first person ever to fight a robot on film.” I think they mean to say, “the first person to fight a robot in a fictional film”–but now I’ve said too much. Click through for hot Houdini on robot action plus a couple of stern looks and many death-defying stunts. Eat your heart out, Gene Autry!


Christmas on the Road

On Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, that is:

The orange light of the fire. The boy’s hollowed out face—by hunger and fear. The man handed him something, wrapped in an old shred of newspaper he’d found in what had once been a basement and was now a tomb. He closed his eyes against the rat eaten bodies and worse of his imagination. What is it, the boy asked, looking at the words, trying to decipher an existence he had never known. Take off the paper, the man said. The boy removed the paper carefully, his look more concerned than excited. What is it, Papa? An iPhone, the man said. Oh no shit, the boy said.

Hee. Read the whole thing. It’s too bad Bob Hope and Bing Crosby aren’t around to make The Road into a movie.

I too am having Christmas/Hannukah on the road: we set out this weekend for points South. (I know, Hannukah’s been over for a week, but my daughter doesn’t know that.) Posting here will either be less frequent or more, depending on internet connectivity and post-egg nog energy levels.

The first week of the new year will find me at the American Historical Association’s annual conference in Washington. Drop me an email or a comment if you’re going to be there. I’m posing as a Canadianist on a roundtable about “Writing the Transnational Political History of North America,” though somehow that buzzword “transnational” got left out of the official program. I will try to post a teaser for the session over the next week or so; my contribution will certainly draw on the fine conversations about transnational history we’ve had at Cliopatria and Mode for Caleb over the years.

Edit: Excitement, she wrote! A panel at the AHA sponsored by the Historians of Film Committee features a paper by Cynthia Miller called “Defending the Heartland: Technology and the Future in The Phantom Empire.” What is The Phantom Empire, you ask? Oh, it’s just the insane science fiction singing cowboy serial from 1935 in which (this phrase has delighted me for years, you understand) “robots prepare to torch Gene Autry.”

Robots prepare to torch Gene Autry.

Robots! Gene Autry! Preparation for torching!

Happy holidays.


Old is the New Hope

Tags: “I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.”

He's the Jedi, I'm the Wookiee.

Today, or this week at least, Star Wars turns 30: it’s the anniversary of the opening of the movie we’ve been retroactively instructed to call Episode IV: A New Hope. Word has gone out on the global sub-neural geek-net that we are to blog about Star Wars today. Indeed, The Constructivist cajoled me for a guest post on the subject at Mostly Harmless. While T.C.’s a fine fellow who somehow manages to maintain half a dozen worthwhile blogs, I’m not feeling the Lucas today. For one thing, this week is also the 2nd anniversary of Revenge of the Sith, the 5th anniversary of Attack of the Clones, and the 8th anniversary of The Phantom Menace, considerably more dubious occasions. And for another, isn’t every day kind of “blog about Star Wars” day?

But I’m not above recycling some old SW-content from my archives. There is, of course, the classic Alec Guinness story, from which the tag at the top of this entry comes:

The bad penny dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. … Looking into the boy’s eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guessed that one day they would explode. [read more]

And, in a similar vein, Matthew Baldwin‘s Darth Vader Made Me Cry:

As we walked away I was filled with combination of terror, relief, and exhilaration. … I immediately began to proactively gloat, thinking about how jealous my friends would be when I showed them Darth Vader’s autograph. But then, just before I closed the cover, I noticed something else… [read more] [expanded special edition]

And my buddy Chris has made great pseudo-historical stew out of the Steampunk Star Wars meme:

When the French Revolution began in 1789, the Jedi were slow to respond. … While the Order bickered and debated how to respond, Napoleon Bonaparte quickly rose to power by manipulating a dispute with the British over a trade embargo on the French colony of Naboo on Ganymede. When he unveilled his “Armée grande de la République,” which was composed of soldiers made from re-animated corpses, there was great concern within the Jedi Council over the properness of backing such a method. But unbeknownst to the rest of the Council, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order was squarely in Napoleon’s pocket and he compelled the Order to support the Solar Republic in their gruesome war against the British Empire and their Automaton armies.

I still think it ought to have been (p)remade as a singing cowboy serial with Gene Autry.

Edit: That’s no moon! Check out the giant collection of links at Edward Copeland’s fully operational Star Wars blog-a-thon. Also, the T-Critic (yes, I read blogs about t-shirts, doesn’t everybody?) lists his Top Ten Star Wars T-shirts (and then some).