The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985) is an 80s-tastic way to Learn About this Great American Writer
I was born in the 1980s, but a little too late to really remember its pitfalls (like huge hair and shoulder pads) or its triumphs (the advent of the music video, and of course, Steampunk) first hand. Luckily for us, this was a time when tons of weird, wonderful and sometimes experimental television and movies were being made, which captured some of the essence of that era. The 1970s and 80s saw a revival of a film technique that was pioneered by Thomas Edison’s manufacturing company in 1908: clay-animation. You can see their film, A Sculptor’s Nightmare, here.
The very first stop-motion film of all time, which employed moving toys, was made in 1897. Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived until 1910, so it is entirely possible that he saw the first clay-animation film and probable that he saw earlier stop-motion films as well.
The Adventures of Mark Twain was made in 1985 and is a trippy clay-anmation sojourn through the works of Mark Twain. There is a little bit of biographical information, but mostly it is a chance to showcase his contributions to literature. The viewer is swept away along on an airship adventure along with some of Twain’s best-known characters, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Twain was born near the passage of Halley’s Comet in 1835, and always said he believed he would leave this world again the next time it passed in 1910 (he died the day after it returned), so the film revolves around him trying to keep his “appointment” and visiting some of his greatest works along the way.
Though it may seem morbid that he is racing to his own death, the film is wonderful combination of stunning visuals, abstraction and humor, which totally downplays the seemingly morbid plot line. Though I should warn you that even though this is an animated film, and so you may be thinking it was made for kids, the depiction of “The Mysterious Stranger” is pretty terrifying. Adults would get much more out of this movie than kids, especially if they have read any Twain at all.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film, which came out on DVD in 2006. When it was originally released in 1985 it had a very limited run, so I wouldn’t be surprised if few people even knows it exists.
March is Jules Verne Month
Jules Verne died in March of 1905, so to commemorate his many contributions to the science fiction canon that have inspired myriad interpretations within Steampunk, I am devoting all of March to Verne-themed books, movies, artwork and characters.
Here are few things to look forward to this month:
Steampunk Sourcebooks for Around the World in 80 Days and Jules Verne himself
Reviews of two adaptations of The Mysterious Island
Unveiling a brand new 3D paper illustration by yours truly
Book reviews of two classic Verne tales
But there is still space in my editorial calendar for a few more things, so feel free to make suggestions! Have you ever dressed as a character from a Verne novel and you’ve got a photo you want to see on my blog? Do you know some fun facts you think others would enjoy? Let me know : )
Steampunk Book Review: Whitechapel Gods (2008)
I ran across this one in a second-hand store months ago, but I hadn’t had the chance yet to read. Whitechapel Gods was always pulling at me from the bookshelf (I think it was those smoldering eyes on the cover), and I finally had time to oblige over the holidays. A six-hour round trip bus ride gave me plenty of time to consume and digest this very colorful creation by S. M. Peters.
But when I say “colorful” please do not picture a rainbow. This is a dark tale of humankind caught in the middle of a millennia-old struggle between beings of great power who use their influence to wage a battle of head versus heart, logic versus love. The world is a very different place, and people are turning into machines either by choice (the “crows”) or by infection by a baffling disease that changes your internal organs into gears and sprockets. The author paints a vivid and often disturbing picture what is going on behind the scenes of an alternative Whitechapel during Victoria’s reign. No seriously, if you have a developed imagination but not a strong stomach, I would think twice about reading it. I will just say that the word “pus” appears several times, and leave it at that.
Even though there is definitely Steampunk technology to offer, this book dwells strongly in the metaphysical. It is an intriguing mix of science fiction and philosophy, with many of the battles occurring in the realm of the imagination and not on the Whitechapel streets, though there is a fair amount of that going on as well. The protagonists were well-developed and multifaceted which led to some interesting twists in the plot. I felt the ending was a bit too tidy, though that may not be the best choice of word considering very few of the characters make it to the end, but it was satisfying.
I would definitely recommend this book to a mature reader, especially someone who is looking for something a little more toothsome than the whimsical tales often found in this genre.
Steampunk Book Review: Clockwork Prince (Infernal Devices 2)
After I read Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, I knew I had to continue the journey. I just had to find out more about Tessa and her mysterious ability to change into anyone, living or dead, just by holding something they owned. And what was the origin of the tiny titan, the clockwork angel, that seemed to come to life just in time to save Tessa’s?
The Clockwork Prince picks up only a few weeks after the events of the last book. Charlotte’s grip on the Institute is tenuous in the wake of the discovery that Tessa’s brother had been a spy in their midst. The Council gives them only two weeks to locate Mortmain, the man who claims to have “made” Tessa and shaped her ability (not to mention he intends to marry her for a still as yet unknown reason). They may have recovered the volatile volume that gives warlocks the ability to bring clockwork to life, but Mortmain has already perfected his technique and it is only a matter of time before the clockwork army makes its move against the Shadowhunters.
As Tessa tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life she finds comfort in Jem, a kind soul destined to die young from addiction to a drug that both cures and kills him. She has to find some way to to take her mind off Will, Jem’s brother from another mother and resident blue-eyes heart throb, who has done his best to push her away. If only her heart didn’t pitter patter faster every time he entered the room…
Their search for answers about Mortmain, not Warlock nor demon but a human with a vast web of downworld allies, takes them to the countryside. Will, Jem and Tessa don’t expect to find anything at his old homestead, but they are met with both an automaton with a warning and the past that Will has been desperately trying to flee. Somehow his family has become intertwined with the enemy, but a vow he made long ago makes him powerless to help them.
The Council also declared that Tessa and any untrained servants at the Institute needed combat training. The Lightwood family is all too happy to provide the stoical Gideon and sarcastic Gabriel to assist in the training, and of course, to do a little spying. If only the Lightwoods were the only ones inside the hallowed halls working against them…
I had a great time reading this book. There are a lot of teen romances out there, and even a lot of teen romances between teens with super powers, but I think Clare crafts and especially robust and heart rending narrative and weaves it throughout an exciting story in a way that does not feel at all forced. I didn’t get my questions about Tessa or the angel answered, but of course I didn’t really expect to, that is for the final installment 🙂 She does get to eliminate some possibilities, which makes me wonder even more what the truth will turn out to be.
I will definitely be picking up the third book, The Clockwork Princess.