Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Golden Age

Merry Christmas, everyone! (And just about Happy New Year)

One of my Christmas presents this year was the complete collection of Superman serials from the 1940s. I had this box set on my Amazon wish list for years, so long in fact that I
had completely forgotten about it. I was very excited to open up the present on
Christmas morning, and I started watching it that afternoon. For those of you who don't have it, you can check out the trailer online, and I'm also sure that a little hunting across youtube will turn up most of it. The characterization of Superman is very much in keeping with his early appearances in the comic books, where he is known to carry criminals through the air, smack people's head together, and leave the villain hanging from lampposts.

Fortunately, this serial hits all of those wonderfully fis
t-pounding moments from the old comics. The movies were made in the late 1940s, they are Superman's first live-action appearance, and they are hugely entertaining. Each serial is 15 chapters long; each chapter runs about 15 minutes. If you don't know anything about the old-time film serials of Hollywood, you should click that hyperlink and go find out.
(Also, shame on you for not knowing.) Episodes were shown every Saturday morning at the mo
vie house, with the end of each chapter enticing you to return "next week, for the next thrilling installment of [INSERT NAME HERE.]" A fun sidenote, the film serials are the origin of the word "cliffhanger," because the cowboy-hero would literally be hanging from the side of a cliff at the end of one chapter, leaving the audience to wonder how he would ever survive! At the beginning of the next chapter, the cowboy-hero would climb his way to safety, and the adventure begins anew.

This discussion of cliffhangers allows me to provide a link to the best, most amazing, awesome, cliffhangingest cliffhanger of just about all time. It's this one.

But back to Superman.... To preserve the intended viewing style of the Superman serial, I've been watching one episode at a time. Sometimes more than one in a single day, but I always let a little time pass between episodes. Each chapter follows a very clear formula, and when you watch too many of them at the same time, the formulas become very apparent. But spreading them out over several days gives them the illusion of originality. And when I remember how they were originally meant to be seen, they are much more enjoyable.

The only other serial I own is a VHS copy of The Shadow, starring Victor Jory and Veda Ann Borg. I watched this when I was in high school, and I really studied its story structure and scriptwriting. I was very interested in the idea of a modern film serial, milking it for all the cheesy and repetitive goodness that it would offer. I put that project to bed for a long time, but now I'm starting to wonder if there is a way to produce it under the Radio Hound banner. It would be a fun retro project, if I could figure out a great way to market the finished film.

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