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Archive for November 23, 2011

Areopagitica – Decrying Censorhip

Proving that the modern battle with censorship laws around the world is nothing new, Areopagitica was published November 23, 1644.  Areopagitica: A speech of Mr. John Milton for the liberty of unlicensed printing to the Parliament of England is a 1644 prose polemical tract by English author John Milton against censorship. Areopagitica is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defences of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression, which was written in opposition to licensing and censorship and is regarded as one of the most eloquent defences of press freedom ever written.

Published at the height of the English Civil War. It is titled after a speech written by the Athenian orator Isocrates in the 5th century BC. (The Areopagus is a hill in Athens, the site of real and legendary tribunals, and was the name of a council whose power Isocrates hoped to restore.) Like Isocrates, Milton had no intention of delivering his speech orally. Instead it was distributed via pamphlet, defying the same publication censorship he argued against.

Milton, though a supporter of the Parliament, argued forcefully against the Licensing Order of 1643, noting that such censorship had never been a part of classical Greek and Roman society. The tract is full of biblical and classical references which Milton uses to strengthen his argument. The issue was personal for Milton as he had suffered censorship himself in his efforts to publish several tracts defending divorce (a radical stance which met with no favour from the censors).

According to the previous English law, all books had to have at least a printer’s name (and preferably an author’s name) inscribed in them. Under that system, Milton argues, if any blasphemous or libellous material is published, those books can still be destroyed after the fact.

Milton is best known for his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’, currently being made into a film by director Alex Proyas. More of which later…

Boris Karloff

William Henry Pratt (23 November 1887 – 2 February 1969), better known by his stage name Boris Karloff, was an English actor; born at 36 Forest Hill Road, East Dulwich, London, England.

Karloff is best remembered for his roles in classic horror films and his portrayal of Frankensteins monster; his popularity following Frankenstein was such that for a brief time he was billed simply as “Karloff” or “Karloff the Uncanny.” His best-known non-horror role is as the Grinch, as well as the narrator, in the animated television special of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966).

In 1909, Pratt travelled to Canada and began appearing in stage shows throughout the country; and some time later changed his professional name to “Boris Karloff”. Karloff always claimed he chose the first name “Boris” because it sounded foreign and exotic, and that “Karloff” was a family name. However, his daughter Sara Karloff publicly denied any knowledge of Slavic forebears, “Karloff” or otherwise.

Once Karloff arrived in Hollywood, he made dozens of silent films, but work was sporadic, and he often had to take up manual labor such as digging ditches and driving a cement truck to earn a living. A number of his early major roles were in movie serials, such as ‘The Masked Rider’ (1919), in Chapter 2 of which he can be glimpsed onscreen for the first time, ‘The Hope Diamond Mystery’ (1920) and ‘King of the Wild’ (1930). In these early roles he was often cast as an exotic Arabian or Indian villain. A key film which brought Karloff recognition was ‘Five Star Final’, a harshly critical film about tabloid journalism which was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture of 1931-32.

But it was in James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1931), in his role as Frankenstein’s monster which made him a star. The bulky costume with four inch platform boots made it an arduous role but the costume and torturously administered make-up produced the classic image. Boris was lucky to get the part, not least as it had supposedly been offered to Bela Lugosi, who declined it. A year later, Karloff played another iconic character, Imhotep in ‘The Mummy’. Also quickly followed by ‘The Old Dark House’ with Charles Laughton and the star role in ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’. These films all very much confirmed his newfound stardom.

Karloff played Frankenstein’s monster in two other films, the superior sequel, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935) and ‘Son of Frankenstein’ (1939), with the latter also featuring Lugosi. Karloff would revisit the Frankenstein mythos in film several times afterward. The first would be as the villainous Dr. Niemann in ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944), where Karloff would be contrasted with Glenn Strange’s portrayal of The Monster.

Karloff returned to the role of the “mad scientist” in 1958’s ‘Frankenstein 1970’, as Baron Victor von Frankenstein II, the grandson of the original inventor. The finale reveals that the crippled Baron has given his own face (i.e. Karloff’s) to The Monster. The actor appeared at a celebrity baseball game as The Monster in 1940, hitting a gag home run and making catcher Buster Keaton fall into an acrobatic dead faint as The Monster stomped into home plate.

While the long, creative partnership between Karloff and Lugosi never led to a close mutual friendship, it produced some of the actors’ most revered and enduring productions, beginning with ‘The Black Cat’. Follow-ups included ‘Gift of the Gab’ (1934), ‘The Raven’ (1935), ‘The Invisible Ray’ (1936), ‘Black Friday (1940), ‘You’ll Find Out’ (also 1940), and ‘The Body Snatcher’ (1945). During this period, he also starred with Basil Rathbone in ‘Tower of London’ (1939).

An enthusiastic performer, he returned to the Broadway stage in the original production of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ in 1941, in which he played a homicidal gangster enraged to be frequently mistaken for Karloff. He also appeared as Captain Hook in the play ‘Peter Pan’. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in ‘The Lark’, by the French playwright Jean Anouilh about Joan of Arc.

In later years, Karloff hosted and acted in a number of television series, most notably ‘Thriller’, ‘Out of this World’, and ‘The Veil’, the last of which was never broadcast and only came to light in the 1990s. In the 1960s, Karloff appeared in several films for American International Pictures, including ‘The Comedy of Terrors’, ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Terror’, the latter two directed by B-movie legend Roger Corman, and ‘Die, Monster, Die’.

Karloff ended his career by appearing in four low-budget Mexican horror films: ‘The Snake People’, ‘The Incredible Invasion’, ‘The Fear Chamber’ and ‘House of Evil’. This was a package deal with Mexican producer Luis Vergara. Karloff’s scenes were directed by Jack Hill and shot back to back in Los Angeles in the spring of 1968. The films were then completed in Mexico. All four were released posthumously, with the last, The Incredible Invasion, not released until 1971, two years after Karloff’s death.

Boris Karloff lived out his final years at his cottage, ‘Roundabout,’ in the Hampshire village of Bramshott. After a long battle with arthritis and emphysema, he contracted pneumonia, succumbing to it on 2 February 1969. He was cremated, following a requested low-key service, at Guildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, where he is commemorated by a plaque in the Garden of Remembrance. A memorial service was held at St Paul’s, Covent Garden (The Actors’ Church), London, where there is also a plaque.