July 11th, 2020


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Young Frankenstein (1974)

Young Frankenstein won the 1975 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation and the 1975 Nebula for Best Dramatic Script (the latter awarded in 1976, but with eligibility covering December 1974 when the film was released). The other Hugo finalists were Flesh Gordon, Phantom of the Paradise, The Questor Tapes and Zardoz; the other films on the Nebula shortlist were Dark Star, A Boy and His Dog (which won the 1976 Hugo) and Rollerball. The only two of those that I have seen are Zardoz and Dark Star, for both of which I have an unfashionable affection. Young Frankenstein is perhaps more approachable than either. IMDB users certainly think so, they rate it 3rd and 4th on the two rating systems (with The Godfather II at the top).

There are a couple of returnees from earlier Oscar-winning films. The most prominent is Gene Hackman, who gets one scene as the blind man here, but (with a lot less hair) was Detective Doyle in The French Connection four years ago.

The Frankenstein family lawyer, Gerhard Falkstein, is played by Richard Haydn who was in The Sound of Music nine years ago as Max Detweiler.

And one returnee from a past Hugo-winning film, blink-and-you'll-miss him: John Dennis, one of the orderlies in Dr Frankenstein's lecture, was Wagner the sanitation man in Soylent Green.

I have happy romantic memories of the first time I saw Young Frankenstein, and although I can see its flaws thirtysomething years on, it's still much more good than bad. To get the bad out of the way first, it's another all-white film (apart from one black student in Frankenstein's class). Sure, it's mostly set in Transylvania, but still.

Disability is also awfully funny, something I don't think I had seen in my film-watching programme since the 1930s. the most uncomfortable moment for me is the monster attempting to sing.

Having said that, the scene with Gene Hackman's blind man meeting the monster is utterly hilarious.

And Marty Feldman is truly memorable as Igor (with moving hump on his back).

The humour is rather sexist in places, with Madeleine Kahn's Elisabeth and Cloris Leachman's Frau Blucher the butt of the jokes. All power to Teri Garr who is much much better than her material.

And some of the other gags are brilliant - the scene with little Helga, for instance.

Or the earlier scene with the secret passageway (and gosh, there's some symbolism there):

And Inspector Kemp, who is also not entirely human but literally polices the boundaries of what is permissible:

In general it's very funny, if occasionally wince-inducing. I was glad to have an excuse to revisit it. You can get it here.

I'm not doing a compare and contrast with the original novel Frankenstein, because the real source material here is much more recent - it's the James Whale films of 1931 and 1935, starring Boris Karloff, and to a lesser extent the last Frankenstein film with Karloff from 1939. I don't think I had seen any of these on my romantic evening back in 1986, but enough of the Frankenstein mythos has seeped into general consciousness that I understood exactly what was going on.

Nwxt up are two less cheerful films: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and A Boy and His Dog, winners of Oscar and Hugo respectively for 1976.

2020 finalists for the Lodestar Award for Best YA Book

I'm a late convert to the Lodestar Award. I opposed instituting it, because I felt (and feel) that there are already too many Hugo categories (even if this is formally not a Hugo). It also seems to me that the diligent voter is carrying an ever heavier burden of reading obligations, though I guess this applies more to Best Series than here. However, I have to admit that pound for pound, the Lodestar Award finalists have been pretty good books, and have given me more new authors to look out for.

Anyway, in brief here's what I thought about this year's final ballot:

Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Marvin: I don’t know why you can’t ever tell us where you are. I mean even if your dingo father’s on CatNet he’s not going to be in your Clowder.
This is being marketed as a novel-length expansion of Kritzer's Hugo-winning storyt "Cat Pictures Please", which fought off the Puppies in 2016. For me this wasn't a good start, because I am one of the few who was not charmed by the original story. However, the book is a cracking good read, with conscious AI, dysfunctional family, a courageous road trip across the northeastern USA, and a hilarious robot sex education scene. A good start to the list. You can get it here.

Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge

Second paragraph of third chapter:
It wasn’t me! It was somebody else’s idea! I was scared, and it wasn’t my fault! I was tricked into it!
A grim, intense tale of body horror, toxic friendship and an isolated shorefront community in a well-imagined but devastated fantasy world. I did find myself somewhat wincing for the protagonist at times, as his trust was stretched to breaking point. Also, I absolutely loved the cover. You can get it here.

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Mom and the two strongest aunties dragged the unconscious investigator into the parlor. I looked away, feeling a little guilty about all the trouble I’d caused, though the sound of his head thunk-thunk-thunking across the threshold gave me a moment of vindictive pleasure. They laid him on a quilt as if they were going to nurse him back to health. The quilt would have to get washed afterward. I could guess who’d be stuck with that task.
I've enjoyed Yoon Ha Lee's adult books, but felt that this story of Korean animal spirits, queer-inclusive space opera and a plucky protagonist seeking her lost brother didn't quite balance all the various elements. Still, good to have a deep dive into a culture that I don't know all that much about. You can get it here.

Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher

Second paragraph of third chapter:
The shortcomings of the pillow, however, were nothing compared to using the ground as a mattress. Things poked him and prodded him, the ground was hard and rocky, and the only crop to survive the drought seemed to be the bumper crop of insects.
Fun short book about a boy wizard sent on a heroic quest with his armadillo friend. I found it a bit slight compared to some of the others on the ballot, but it's engagingly written. You can get it here.

Riverland, by Fran Wilde

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Gasping, I struggled onto my back and floated for a moment beneath stars pricked bright into a pitch-black sky. The bed frame was gone. The carpet, too.
Very dark portal fantasy about emotional abuse. Densely written, and I didn't really get into it. You can get it here.

The Wicked King, by Holly Black

Second paragraph of third chapter:
“Watching my back is the perfect opportunity to stick a knife in it,” I remind him.
Sequel to last year's Lodestar finalist The Cruel Prince, with lots of palace politics leavened with sex, and our precocious heroine sorting out the governance of her city-state and its relations with its neighbours and its minorities. Perhaps the most small-p political of the finalists. Enjoyable enough. You can get it here.