Theodore Sturgeon’s “Some of Your Blood”

This is a difficult novel to review, because it is short and not much can be said about it without spoilers. It’s also famous in horror circles, and written by an author with a huge reputation. So having said all that, I’m not going to mince words: I was disappointed.

I heard about this book in the late ‘80s, either at a bookstore or library. I got in a conversation with an older science fiction fan and somehow or other he mentioned Some of Your Blood in awed tones, how great it was supposed to be, and how scarce it was. According to this guy, there was at the time a huge waiting list at the famous SF bookstore A Change of Hobbit for copies of it, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Sturgeon passed on in 1985, and was getting the kind of posthumous recognition often awarded to writers who are talented, creative, published, but not really bestsellers. His unpolished final novel Godbody was published during this time, and I read a Norman Spinrad essay about Sturgeon, and among Spinrad’s typically blunt opinions was that Godbody was a promising novel that needed work, but hardly the masterpiece that some wanted to believe. (I’ve never read it.)

For years I had reading Some of Your Blood on my mental list of stuff to do, and the evocative title seemed perfect for what is – *SPOILER HERE* – sort of a vampire story. I’m glad that I read it, and it was worthwhile, but it is not nearly the disturbing and unsettling depiction of a humanized monster that many have made it out to be. In brief, it follows Dracula just slightly by being told in a series of letters, journal entries and so on (epistolary form), and concerns the psychiatric evaluation by an Army shrink of a disturbed soldier given the name “George Smith.” Smith’s troubled background is revealed and the doctor begins to piece together his secret that it not really much of a secret. There is also an infamous little twist reveal at the very end that no doubt once made readers feel dirty, sick, and weird as the book ended. (It’s not that huge of a shock now, but I well believe that it must have hit hard decades ago.)

So what did I not like? Sturgeon did a great job of revealing bits and pieces of Smith’s background in believable detail, his prose is always readable and moves quickly, and I especially liked how he deliberately made little things obscure so that they could be clarified later. But, there is just not that much sense of foreboding and dread at work here, partially because the doctor and his CO are always exchanging letters with joking introductions that get seriously irritating. (Smarmy, smug, breezy humor of that kind that seemed to begin somewhere in the 1950s and thankfully disappeared in a decade or so just drains the life out of any kind of writing.) It also turns out that Smith has done some terrible things and, despite the sympathy built up for him, is a genuinely disturbed person. Sturgeon doesn’t spend much time on the monstrous side of his monster, however, so concerned was he with getting readers to understand what made Smith into Smith.

And that leads to the real problem I had, running deeper than just my wish that the book had been scarier. Sturgeon seemed to have been one of those early 20th Century types who dumped religion but then embraced a secular faith in progress as the cure for all human unhappiness. And it shows, oh, does it show. There is such a Pollyannaish faith in psychology to cure problems that it makes the book less believable. I half-expected a twist in which the naïve, optimistic doctor is shown up at the end but it never came. In fact the doctor is right about everything and enjoys the flattery of his boss and then of a nurse who contributes quite a lot of research to the case, then gushes over how right he was in his guesses. At that point I wondered if the doctor character was a stand-in for the writer, and if it was wish-fulfillment. It’s definitely a weird little wrinkle on how ‘50s science fiction encouraged the idealization of scientists in the mold of cowboys and other heroes.

So I found the ending a little nauseating—not because of the infamous end reveal, but because of how it flattered a character who at one point tells his patient that only he can figure out his problems. I’m genuinely sorry to say that I found Some of Your Blood to be a little bloodless.

It Came from Best Buy

“After you’ve been working out on the desert fifteen years like I have, you hear a lot of things.  See a lot of things too.  Sun in the sky, and the heat.  All that sand out there with the rivers and lakes that aren’t real at all.  And sometimes you think that the wind gets in the wires and hums and listens and talks.”

icfos_3-d_b-r

So saith Ray Bradbury, my favorite writer.

Because I wrote a lengthy book about the making of a very bad but very awesome ’50s monster movie, I’ve seen far too many of these things. But I also have an appreciation for the ones that actually aren’t terrible, and for a few that are actually good. And this is why I’ve seen IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE more than a few times over the years. With Bradbury’s involvement, this 3-D production from Universal in 1953 is one of the best of its kind. The Bradbury in this Bradbury movie was Hollywood-diluted of course, but the movie’s intelligent treatment of contact with alien life makes it unique, as does the sense of mystery and desert atmosphere. The quote above, gracefully read onscreen by actor Joe Sawyer, encapsulates the greatness of this little gem.

So when the news came out that Universal was getting IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE out on Blu-Ray as a Best Buy exclusive, I noticed it was priced like the Wal-Mart bargain bin and knew I had to own it on that basis. It could have been released by Criterion, cost $24.99, and gone into the land of ain’t-buying-because-DVD-is-good-enough. But wiser heads prevailed, despite a lot of trouble going into this release. The 3-D Film Archive did intensive work on the picture and sound, bringing its original three-channel audio to home video for (I believe) the first time.

Old black-and-white movies are tricky for me on Blu-Ray. Some enthusiasts get defensive when someone claims that old movies don’t pop all that much in high definition, the defenders pointing out that 1080p resolution will recreate that silver glow that coats the screen in black-and-white projection. While that is true, I’m not going to pretend. Without color, high definition just doesn’t define that highly to my eyes.

So when I played the disc, I had the same issue I always have with black-and-white Blu-Ray. This looks good, I think to myself, but does it really look that good? But, yes, it does. Comparing it to the 2002 DVD, the Blu-Ray blows it away with significantly more detail and contrast, and an overall brighter image. Atmospheric imagery in a cave late in the movie becomes absolutely beautiful on the new disc, and little visual details like the glittery trail left by the alien shine in a new way.

But having said all that, the audio is just stunning. There is some real channel separation going on, which is a startling thing for my ears to register when watching a movie as old as this one. And the louder moments are downright stunning, like the explosion and musical stab at the beginning.

Extra features to me are extra and not always necessary, but this disc carries a magnificent audio commentary by Tom Weaver from the old DVD. Anyone who has heard a Weaver commentary knows that he not only knows his stuff, but he has specifically prepared it in a pattern that makes sense, and he barely stops talking(!). There’s a good documentary from the DVD too but the commentary is where it’s at.

Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, it seems to be selling. My local Best Buy had three or four copies, and I was surprised to see them sold out later in the week. (Shout! Factory’s outstanding Manhunter didn’t seem to be selling out in the spring.)  Anyhow, I hope Universal goes to the trouble with more classic science fiction. Being me, I have to close with a song, one that sampled this movie:

The Magnetic Monster

No robot monsters here in this 1953 collaboration between Ivan Tors and Curt Siodmak, but there are several machines acting crazy.  Less known than the recently restored in 3-D Gog, The Magnetic Monster is the first Tors film about the fictitious Office of Scientific Investigation, a concept that must have seemed close to reality in 1953.  Recently released on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber, it looks wonderful in that old school monochrome way of silvery whites and black ink shadows (along with a fair amount of gray in the middle, I admit).

The Magnetic Monster should get more respect just for starring Richard Carlson, stalwart of fifties SF movies in which he repeatedly plays a wonderfully urbane yet competent scientist hero.  It Came From Outer Space and The Creature from the Black Lagoon are the best examples, but Carlson is no less awesomely himself here, all smooth determination in the face of a world-threatening calamity.  This lower budget effort brings him together with the movie trope of implying a monster when the money is not there to actually depict it (which Val Lewton did better than anyone), and of using some truly excellent stock footage as another budget fix (from a German silent film with amazing art direction).  Throw in a pretty unique concept for the monster (I won’t spoil it), some great sections of contrast-heavy black-and-white visuals, and a bit part with Strother “Failure to Communicate” Martin as a pilot, and there is a lot to enjoy here.  If you enjoy this sort of thing–I sure do–then check it out.

Shostakovich, In Toto

Shostakovich’s waltz from the previous post has been given some cinematic glory, especially from the visionary Stanley Kubrick.  Over a decade before, the visionary David Lynch had TOTO keyboardist David Paich compose the score for his epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune (a project that Lynch had tremendous enthusiasm for, despite his later disowning it).  As Paich remembered, Lynch had Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony in mind for the kind of music he wanted for his film.  As this track demonstrates, Paich and his bandmates ran with that influence and achieved a beautiful result: