Friday, January 4, 2013

2012: a Year Which Certainly Was

2012: it began, it ended and between the two events was a great deal of middle. During this past year, I consumed a lot of media - perhaps more than I've sampled in any previous year. Although I did keep a record of everything I watched/read/listened to (because I am ridiculous), I'm only going to pause over those things which I most enjoyed... and then those I found most troubling.

2012: BOOKS

Although I consumed a lot of Sax Rohmer novels in 2012, I would feign to list any of them as amongst his best work. The most interesting fiction I read was Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac. I was already predisposed to enjoy the story because the film version is among my favourites, but I was still surprised at where the original story charts its own course, eventually parting ways with the better-known adaptation. Another revelation was the Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury Vol.1, which was certainly an appropriate tome to read during the year of Bradbury's death. Not only does the book feature very early and rare stories, but it offers a terrific analysis of how and why the youthful Bradbury's writing changed, particularly with regards to what publishers were willing to print.

The real triumphs were to be found in non-fiction; my continuing fascination with Africa led me to read Chasing the Devil by Tim Butcher, an account of his travels in Sierra Leone (read just before I visited Sierra Leone). Along with his book Blood River it gave me a terrifically grounded sense of life in two African locales. Butcher's account in Blood River of an aged grandfather in the Congo who knew more about machines than his grandchildren was the most striking illustration. I also delved into Ghosts of Medak Pocket by Carol Off based on the recommendation of a friend who said the book made him "proud to be a Canadian." I didn't quite mirror his reaction as there's more tragedy than triumph in this account of Canada's intervention during Croatia's ethnic cleansing, but it's an aspect of Canadian and world history I was ignorant of and deserved to learn. Finally, Errol Morris' Believing is Seeing wouldn't have caught my attention were it not for the author being a favourite filmmaker; being ignorant of the issues surrounding photography and the question of whether a photo is "staged," I was fascinated by Morris' essays on the subject.

2012: FILMS

Let's see, according to my records I watched... approximately 900 movies in 2012. Huh. Even though at times I would go an entire week without watching a film, on some weekends I would watch movies non-stop, thanks to buying up old VHS tapes for a pittance and constantly renting pictures through my library. I have a list of titles I'm always trying to locate and watch, but also sought out various directors and stars I'd previously had only a minor interest in.

I'm usually a tough sell when it comes to comedies, so it's no small thing for me to recommend the following: Ruggles of Red Gap (1937), O. Henry's Full House (1952), Footlight Parade (1933; I'm not a musical fan either), Bachelor Mother (1939), That Thing You Do! (1996), Stand-In (1937), the Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), the Muppets (2011), Destry Rides Again (1939), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), Palm Beach Story (1942), the Great McGinty (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), the Lost Skeleton Returns Again (2008), Easy Living (1937) & Dark Star (1974).

Some great documentaries were: Shake Hands With the Devil: the Personal Journey of Romeo Dallaire (2004), It's All True (1993), When We Were Kings (1996), Being Elmo (2011), Tabloid (2011), the Adventures of Errol Flynn (2005), Let There be Light (1946) & Grass: a Nation's Struggle for Life (1925).

Some great thrillers & action movies include: the Face Behind the Mask, the House by the River (1950), the Big Heat (1953; this led to a new found appreciation for Fritz Lang), the Reckless Moment (1949), Gun Crazy (1950), On Dangerous Ground (1952), Fury (1936; another utterly amazing Fritz Lang picture), Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Misery (1990), the Ministry of Fear (1944), Onibaba (1964), Magic (1978), Alive (1993) & the Avengers (2012).

Finally, the rest: the Hill (1965), the Road (2009), Black Orpheus (1959), the Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Of Mice and Men (1939), Stage Door (1937), Grand Canyon (1991), Grand Hotel (1932), State of the Union (1948), On Borrowed Time (1939), the Artist (2011), Eight Men Out (1988), Ben-Hur (1925), the Thin Man (1931), the Story of G.I. Joe (1945), Three Comrades (1938), the Sunset Limited (2011), der Verlorene (1951), Patterns (1956) & the Last Emperor (1987).

Strangely, from January-August I only visited the cinema three times, including for John Carter and Brave, which were both good (how strange to me to find myself a Disney fan!). However, in the last four months of the year I visited the cinema eight times! Of the latter eight visits, the Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey was good, albeit padded (can't wait for the shortened edition DVD).


Obviously I hit a rough patch with comic books in 2012 as it was the year I quit working for Marvel Comics and gave up buying comics from Marvel or DC. It was also the year which saw some of my favourite books - Snarked, Rasl & glamourpuss - conclude their runs, while Usagi Yojimbo went on hiatus.

Still, there was much to enjoy; IDW is fast becoming my favourite publisher, not only as I continue to delve through their Complete Terry & the Pirates collections but with Larry Hama's G.I. Joe: a Real American Hero!, Roger Langridge's Popeye, the reprinted Classic Popeye (me? buying two Popeye comics per month?) and James Stokoe's Godzilla: the Half-Century War I happily gave them a lot of business in 2012 and it appears 2013 will be another great year at IDW!

Elsewhere, I added Joe Sacco's Journalism and the Fixer and Other Stories to my library, plus another of Fantagraphics' Carl Barks Library editions. There was also at least one more Tales Designed to Thrizzle, wasn't there? The graphic novel a Tale of Sand was a visual treat and Supernatural Law squeezed out another collection, one I happily supported via Kickstarter (more on this book in coming weeks). Finally, delving into the university's collection brought up Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo, a fine non-fiction graphic novel and great way for me to remember the creator, who passed away during the year.


Discovering Errol Morris' First Person series was the single best television-based experience of mine in 2012; I implore you, seek this program out! If episodes like "Eye to Eye" or "Leaving the Earth" don't keep you fascinated and riveted, I don't know what would.

I didn't keep up with many current programs; although I continued with the Amazing Race's two 2012 seasons, neither really thrilled me (aside from a few very memorable teams and moments). I actually enjoyed last year's Amazing Race: Australia far more than the US version! I also kept track of the Daily Show for most of the year, primarily for Jon Stewart's monologues (I don't care much for the correspondents and find maybe half of the interviews worth watching). Still, it being an election year in the USA made the show worth keeping up with; I also watched more Colbert Report than usual because of the election, although I can only take so much of Colbert's style (the show half-mocks and half-endorses the cult of personality; I'd rather just dispense with all the Colbert-baits-his-audience moments).

2012: CDs

I didn't buy much music in 2012 because I had so many albums gifted to me in 2011 which had yet to be experienced. I did purchase a Louis Armstrong collection (because I felt I needed some Louis Armstrong), but the real purchase was the Newsboys' God's Not Dead, which was up to the band's usual standards; having stepped away from Christian music for most of a decade, it's great to be listening to at least one band again, especially one which melds basically every group I enjoyed in the 1990s into one unit.


The only new video game of significance came late in the year: Halo 4. I was dubious about continuing the Halo story after it had been well wrapped-up in Halo 3, but the new game's campaign was decent enough. The only real frustration with Halo 4 is how terrible the matchmaking system is, with many games lagging, stalling or outright dropping.

Now that I have all my good will out of the way, it's time to indulge in what I found disappointing in 2012.

In books, I tried out Bram Stoker's Lair of the White Worm even though I'd heard many times how Dracula was supposedly his only good book. Having enjoyed Jewel of the Seven Stars, I was prepared to prove the critics wrong, but... this proved to be an uninteresting slog.

In the midst of my Sax Rohmer reading I bought Bianca in Black by his wife, Elizabeth, primarily as a curio. It's a pretty unremarkable mystery story about a bride who might be a black widow murderer. Or is she...? I'll tell you up front: it's reverse-Rebecca.

After years of searching, I finally picked up the film Track of the Cat (1954), having enjoyed the radio adaptation on Suspense and assumed it would make a pretty great film; it was immensely uninteresting and ultimately botched the best moment of the story (the moment where the protagonist thinks a panther is stalking him). The most interesting thing about the movie is it's use of colour, being a colour film which uses primarily black/white coloured objects & clothing. That's it.

Finally, two films about famous authors: Kafka (1991) and Hammett (1981). Both films have the "brilliant" idea of casting a famous author as the hero in a story ripped-off from the author's own material, rather than examine the authors' real lives (which should have been fascinating enough!). I fear someday I'll discover someone made a film called "Doyle" wherein Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must investigate a phantom hound...