One thing I will never be accused of is being an art snob. While I can (and do) appreciate the technical and artful elements that go into the making of a film, I don’t normally watch them with such a critical eye that it takes precedence over their primary purpose – that of entertainment. There is value to dissecting a film into its parts and analyzing as if the thing is being scrutinized like bacteria in a petri dish, but – call me Quasimodo – I pretty much just like to sit back, turn off reality for an hour or two and escape.
I haven’t attended one hour of film school, but I pride myself in the knowledge that I’m quite sure I recognize good dialogue when I hear it, good cinematography and direction when I see it, and a moving and effective soundtrack when I hear it. However, I prefer to suspend what limited autodidactic film criticism I possess and instead choose to immerse myself in the story and visuals while watching a movie.
I think I first came across the term, “suspension of disbelief”, in Carlos Clarens’ AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM. I think it’s a good term and is essential for watching monster movies (especially bad ones). In fact, contextual verisimilitude is problematic without it.
Thus, when watching a favorite monster movie, I am usually much more forgiving of the propriety of “good” filmmaking than with non-genre films. That’s not to say that a lot of these films not only have a wince-inducing premise, but they can be pretty corny to watch to boot. But that’s part of their charm, isn’t it? After all, aren’t these films --collectively called “fantastic” -- really just explained with one, short phrase: “a fantasy”?
I tell you what I do enjoy the heck out of when I’m watching monster movies – especially those found in the “classic” and “vintage” categories – and that’s set design and decoration (the mood’s the thing!) and what the actors and actresses are wearing – except, of course, the monsters, in which case I’m checking out the makeup.
Another observation I’ve made over the years from FRANKENSTEIN to THE WOLF MAN and everything in between is, have you ever noticed how natural all the guys look while wearing suits in the old movies? And, how about the women, many who are gallivanting across the screen in evening gowns? These days, about the only suits you see are on Wall Street drones and MIB’s. In fact, I'll go so far as to hold Bill Gates and his Silicone Valley cronies' allowance of the all-week “Casual Friday” personally accountable for this decline of the American business suit (insert smiley face emoticon here).
I won’t go so far as to call it a “trope”, but yet another prevalent “prop” that I notice quite often in old monster movies is the pervasive use of cigarettes, cigars, and yes, that beautifully-conceived implement from a bygone age, the pipe, all found being fondled, fingered, and puffed away by the players. Smoking on-screen back then looked every bit as natural as the coats and ties. It’s also amusing to see how often the floor is used as an ashtray when the actor or actress throws down a butt to emphasize their point!
That brings me to the point of all this – a new, occasional feature starts right here today at MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD, “Smokin’ Monsters”! Many of our favorite mon-stars could be seen, smoking away in the days when the worst things that smokers feared were a sore throat and a “cigarette hangover”.
I’ll kick this series off with a publicity shot of Lon Chaney, Sr., seen here in his floppy newsboy hat and stylishly pinching between his fingers a burning Camel, Lucky Strike, Wings, or maybe it was even a hand-rolled Bull Durham. Oh, and it looks like he’s also wearing a suit and tie.