(Un)Happy Public Domain Day – 2017 Edition

puub17So what do the founder of the Surrealist movement, a star of the silent film era, the Japanese author behind the popularization of Buddhism in the West, two female writers at the heart of the Modernist scene, and one of the “fathers of science fiction” have in common this year?

If you guessed that they’re among the creators whose works will be entering the Public Domain this year in other countries but not in the U.S., then you’re right.

Sigh…

Yep, once again, in what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to not celebrate Public Domain Day.

pub001What’s Public Domain Day? Simply put, it’s the day that we recognize the deleterious effects of the changes in copyright law since it was changed in 1978 and subsequently which have kept most of the things that would have gone into the public domain from doing so, and will continue to keep anything new from entering it until at least 2019, and in many cases even longer. As a matter of fact, that 2019 date only applies to the earliest works that will be eligible to enter the public domain. The ones that would be joining it this year most likely won’t actually become a part of it until 2056. And that’s if Congress doesn’t shift the dates on us again, which is altogether likely to happen. This is true for the U.S., though it is not necessarily so in Canada and much of the EU or other parts of the world.

For those of you wondering about the names of the individuals included in the list above, here’s a partial list of this year’s “honorees” courtesy of this page: André Breton; Buster Keaton; László Moholy-Nagy, Gertrude Stein; H. G. Wells; Frank O’Hara; Alfred Stieglitz, Evelyn Waugh; D. T. Suzuki; Paul Nash; Mina Loy, Walt Disney,  W. C. Fields, Lenny Bruce, an C. S. Forester. An that’s just a snippet of the list of authors whose works would be eligible. (More information about each them can be found at the link above or at their respective Wikipedia pages.) As far as movies go, the list includes: The Time Machine, Psycho, Spartacus, Exodus, The Apartment, Inherit the Wind, The Magnificent Seven, Ocean’s 11, The Alamo, The Andy Griffith Show (first episodes) The Flintstones(first episodes).

So what would these works being in the public domain mean in practical terms? As the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School puts it:

pub002Readers interested in iconic stories of courage in the face of racial injustice, or middle class America in the late 1950s, or just great literature, would have something to celebrate. In the current political climate, Shirer’s work, and also those of Hayek, Bell, and Schlesinger, might provide food for thought. And Dr. Seuss’s beloved books would be legally available for free online for children (of all ages).

You would be free to use these books in your own stories, adapt them for theater, animate them, or make them into a film. You could translate them into other languages, or create accessible Braille or audio versions. You could read them online or buy cheaper print editions, because others were free to republish them. Empirical studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see here, here, and here. Take, for example, The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater—like the works listed above, it was published in 1960; but unlike those works, it’s in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed. You can legally download it for free, and the purchase price for an eBook is $0.99, instead of $10 or $20.

Imagine a digital Library of Alexandria containing all of the world’s books from 1960 and earlier, where, thanks to technology, you can search, link, annotate, copy and paste.

Beyond even that, though, our film heritage is suffering even more. Again, from Duke Law:

The case of film preservation is particularly troubling because older films are literally disintegrating, soon to be lost forever. The overwhelming majority of our cinematic heritage consists of orphan films — they are covered by copyright but have no ascertainable copyright owner. They include newsreels, documentaries, anthropological films, portraits of minority life in the United States, instructional films, and even some Hollywood studio productions. Because copyright law prevents scholars and citizens from using these orphan films (including copying and restoring them for preservation), the existing copies are actually disintegrating. This is because the cellulose nitrate base on which they were made makes them prone to shrinkage, to outgassing that destroys the film’s emulsion, and even to spontaneous combustion. The vast majority (upwards of 90%) of films from the 1910s have already decayed beyond the possibility of restoration. The numbers are only slightly better for works from 1920 to 1950. And the number of orphan films is staggering. As of 2005, of the 13,000 films housed at the Museum of Modern Art, over half were orphan works unavailable to the public. Vast numbers of the 150,000 titles held at the Library of Congress and the 46,000 tiles at the UCLA Film and Television Archive were also orphan films. (For more information, see the 2005 Report on Orphan Films submitted by the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at the invitation of the Copyright Office.) The law does allow libraries and archives (not preservationists generally) to digitize films during the last 20 years of their copyright term, but only in limited circumstances: the library or archive first has to determine through a “reasonable investigation” both that the work is not being commercially exploited, and that they cannot obtain another copy of it at a reasonable price.

Learn more about the situation in the U.S. and why the public domain is important in this article in Huff Post Books and this from the Duke Law School’s Centre for the Study of the Public Domain.

(Un)Happy Public Domain Day 2016

pdd

Once again, in what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to not celebrate Public Domain Day.

What’s Public Domain Day? Simply put, it’s the day that we recognize the deleterious effects of the changes in copyright law since it was changed in 1978 and subsequently which have kept most of the things that would have gone into the public domain from doing so, and will continue to keep anything new from entering it until at least 2019, and in many cases even longer. This is true for the U.S., though it is not necessarily so in Canada and much of the EU.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about all of this here today, instead referring you to this page for a good explanation of why the situation is the way it is and why all of this matters (or at least should) to all of you and to this page for a good look at what could have been entering the public domain today and isn’t. Take a look, the list may surprise you.

Jewels Of The Public Domain Treasure Chest – The Cat And The Canary (1925)

I’ve mentioned before that quite a few years back I ran another blog, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest. In it I tried to spotlight some of the real jewels that can be found in the Public Domain. It’s been quite a while since I’ve actually updated the site, but there’s quite a few pieces there that I still think are deserving of attention, so I thought I’d begin to spotlight some of them in a new occasional feature, “Jewels Of The Public Domain Treasure Chest”. For the most part I’m going to be running them just as they were posted then, except for – as I’ve done with this post – editing a bit of the grammar, fixing a couple of links, and adding a few more graphics just to make it fit in a little better with the other posts here. I hope you’ll enjoy this little blast from the past, and let me know what you think about it in the comments.

cc1aOk, gang, time to jump into the way-way-back machine and set the dial for 1927, and the American debut of famed German director Paul Leni who has just combined the expressionism movement of his home country with the burgeoning horror-comedy genre of this country to create what may be one of the most influential films of the mid 1920s, The Cat and the Canary.

Now I’ve made no bones before about my love for the so-called “old dark house” genre of films. I’ve used the analogy before, but in a lot of ways,  for me sitting down for one of these movies is like tucking into a favorite meal of… oh, go ahead and pick your own comfort food. It’s the kind of thing where it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve eaten it, no matter how well you may know the taste of it, that’s a large part of the enjoyment of it. You know what I’m talking about, the kind of thing that may bring back special memories, maybe from your childhood, maybe of a particular time with someone special, maybe of a place that you once visited and want to go back to. It’s the kind of thing you maybe keep in the back of your mind when you go to a new restaurant, something that even if you’re unsure of the menu, you know that you’re going to enjoy this particular dish. That’s how I feel about old dark house mysteries – they’re my fall back comfort food, because even when they’re not that great, there’s usually some aspect of them that I can enjoy.

cc3But if the old dark house mysteries are comfort food, then watching The Cat and the Canary was, for me, like going back to the place where it all started, finding that little English pub or off the byway place where your favorite dish was created. Or maybe talking to the great grandparent that first came up with the secret family recipe and realizing that all along there had been something missing. Like taking that first bite and realizing that no matter how many times you’ve had the dish, how many variations you’ve tried, there really is nothing quite like the original.Now I’ve made no bones before about my love for the so-called “old dark house” genre of films. I’ve used the analogy before, but in a lot of ways,  for me sitting down for one of these movies is like tucking into a favorite meal of… oh, go ahead and pick your own comfort food. It’s the kind of thing where it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve eaten it, no matter how well you may know the taste of it, that’s a large part of the enjoyment of it. You know what I’m talking about, the kind of thing that may bring back special memories, maybe from your childhood, maybe of a particular time with someone special, maybe of a place that you once visited and want to go back to. It’s the kind of thing you maybe keep in the back of your mind when you go to a new restaurant, something that even if you’re unsure of the menu, you know that you’re going to enjoy this particular dish. That’s how I feel about old dark house mysteries – they’re my fall back comfort food, because even when they’re not that great, there’s usually some aspect of them that I can enjoy.

cc2

Like I said at the first, the year is 1927. Carl Laemmle, one of the founders of Universal Studios, was reaching back to his home country of Germany to bring in new talent. One of those he invited to come direct movies for him was Paul Leni, who was already beginning to make a name for himself as he explored the boundaries of what was becoming known as the “expressionist” movement in film. Now, expressionism can and has been defined in many different ways, but basically it seeks to combine certain stylized visuals with the narrative structure of the film in a way that tends to affect the viewer not only mentally but emotionally. Sometimes this involves shooting a sequence with an odd camera angle. Sometimes it involves odd, often stylized and overpowering architecture. Sometimes it involves the superimposition of seemingly unrelated objects into the frame. Whatever form it takes, however, the effect is generally one of keeping the audience off-balance, and of trying to bring a more visceral feel to the proceedings. This is the influence that Leni was able to bring with him to Universal and to the beginning of what would be a long line of horror and horror-comedy films, and this influence can be felt from the very opening sequence of the movie.

cc6The film opens with what could have been a fairly standard sequence, as we are given the history of one Cyrus West, a millionaire who is approaching death. West lives alone in a huge mansion with only his caretaker, the ironically-named, ever-frowning Mammy Pleasant for company. However, as news of his impending death spreads, we are told that he is descended upon “like cats around a canary” by his greedy family who attempt to drive him insane. Interspersed with this narrative are scenes of West, flailing about the screen, but instead of being shown how his family is treating him or perhaps seeing him lying on his death bed, he is instead superimposed upon a model of his towering mansion, which instead of providing space and refuge seems instead to imprison and confine the old man. Then as the narrative goes on to tell of the medicines and potions he is taking, the towers of his mansion are slowly echoed and replaced by the bottles containing those potions. And still the old man is trapped, and his growing despair and desperation is made evident. Meanwhile, behind the bottles, we have another superimposition of menacing black cats, towering over both the bottles/mansion and the man. Yes, it is, perhaps a bit too spot-on literal, but there is a power to it, nonetheless.

cc5Finally the old man passes, slumping into his chair, and we see, coming slowly into focus, an envelope, and written on the outside of it is “Last Will and Testament of Cyrus West. To be opened twenty years after my death”.  This scene then fades back to show us just the mansion and then a furred, long-clawed hand enters the frame and picks up another envelope reading “This envelope is never to be opened if the terms of my will are carried out.” The clawed hand replaces the envelope, the scene fades, and a card tells us “and for twenty years, it was said, the tormented ghost of Cyrus West wandered nightly through the deserted corridors”, at which point, we the viewers become the ghost himself, wandering the hallways of the mansion, ever vigilant. Another card appears: “But on the night when the will was to be read, there was something more tangible than a ghost in the house”, and though we go back to the same first person perspective, wandering through the hallways, this time our way is illuminated by the beam of a flashlight. It falls upon a safe which is opened by a gloved hand, and we see one of the envelopes being replaced in the safe. It is only after this opening mood setting five minutes that we see the first of the participants in our drama-to-come, and the mayhem, murder, and accusations begin.

Ok, enough of me telling you about it, instead, here’s a very short scene which shows not only the exterior of the mansion and the creepy clawed hand I mentioned above menacing our sleeping heroine, but also the sometimes innovative use of even the intertitles. I do think in this version the atmosphere is somewhat undercut by the score, but it was, unfortunately, the best that I could find.

Ok, let’s take a look at the skinny for this flick, shall we?

Title: The Cat and the Canary
Release Date: 1927
Running Time: 82 min
Silent
Tinted Black and White
Stars: Laura La Plante, Forrest Stanley, Creighton Hale
Directed by:  Paul Leni
Produced by:  Paul Kohner
Distributed by:  Universal Pictures
Adapted from the 1922 play by John Willard

The Cat and the Canary is available to watch for free or as a free legal download here.

Want To Play Over 900 Classic Arcade Games For Free? Head Over To The Intenet Arcade!

ia1I’ve written about and/or mentioned the Internet Archive quite a bit over the years. The effort that they have put into preserving our pop- (and at times, not-so-pop-) culture deserves an incredible amount of commendation, as they serve as a repository for countless online books, films, radio shows, television shows, magazines, photographs, concerts, recordings, and so much more.

And now they’ve added a new collection to the site: The Internet Arcade!

Here’s the description, straight from the site:

The Internet Arcade is a web-based library of arcade (coin-operated) video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, emulated in JSMAME, part of the JSMESS software package. Containing hundreds of games ranging through many different genres and styles, the Arcade provides research, comparison, and entertainment in the realm of the Video Game Arcade.

The game collection ranges from early “bronze-age” videogames, with black and white screens and simple sounds, through to large-scale games containing digitized voices, images and music. Most games are playable in some form, although some are useful more for verification of behavior or programming due to the intensity and requirements of their systems.

Yes, these are games that you can play, for free, directly in your browser. They appear to work best in Firefox, though any browser will, theoretically at least, work.

I haven’t had much of a chance to check these games out for myself, partly because of the “sinkhole effect”: I know once I start I might as well give up on getting anything else done for quite awhile. Nonetheless, it looks like a pretty amazing collection, and I can’t help but suggest that if you’re interested in spending some time playing these games or just seeing what they have to offer, you head right on over. All you’ve got to do is click here.

Once again, I simply have to say “kudos” to the folks over at the Internet Archives for really working hard at preserving so much of our shared cultural heritage alive online Thanks gang!

Happy Public Domain Day! Unless, Of Course, You’re In The U.S.

pdd2014Yep, it’s the first of January, and time to celebrate all of those great books, stories, characters, films, recordings, and everything else that enters the Public Domain today.

So what new treasures are on tap to enter the P.D. this year? Well, according to The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School, if it weren’t for the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978) this would be the year that works from 1957 would be entering the P.D. (and don’t forget that anything prior to that would already be there) So, among the list of books would be:

  • Samuel Beckett, Endgame (“Fin de partie”, the original French version)
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (completed 1951, published 1957)
  • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
  • Margret Rey and H.A. Rey, Curious George Gets a Medal
  • Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat
  • Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, The Untouchables
  • Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
  • Walter Lord, Day of Infamy
  • Studs Terkel, Giants of Jazz
  • Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, The Three Faces of Eve
  • Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love
  • Ann Weldy (as Ann Bannon), Odd Girl Out
  • A.E. Van Vogt, Empire of the Atom

2014whatcouldhavebeencollage

Then there are the films and TV shows,, such as:

  • The Incredible Shrinking Man (Based on Richard Matheson’s 1956 book The Shrinking Man)
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (Best Picture, Best Director (David Lean), Best Actor (Alec Guinness); also starring William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa)
  • A Farewell to Arms (Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones)
  • Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas)
  • 3:10 to Yuma (1957 original starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin)
  • Island in the Sun (James Mason, Joan Fontaine, Dorothy Dandridge, and introducing Harry Belafonte)
  • Witness for the Prosecution (Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester)
  • 12 Angry Men (Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, and more)
  • Sweet Smell of Success (Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis)
  • Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley)
  • The Prince and the Showgirl (Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe)
  • Funny Face (Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire . . . and Paris as only Hollywood can imagine it)
  • An Affair to Remember (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr . . . and the Empire State Building)
  • Nights of Cabiria (written and directed by Federico Fellini and starring Giulietta Masina)
  • The Seventh Seal (written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot)
  • What’s Opera, Doc? (Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd do Wagner)
  • The first episodes of Leave It to Beaver and Perry Mason
  • Elvis Presley’s third and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957 (CBS refused to show his gyrating hips)

And then there are all of the sound recordings and artworks and other cultural artifacts, and that doesn’t begin to take in the items from 1985 whose copyright would be up for renewal this year, meaning it would be up to the copyright holder to decide if it were worth it to renew the copyright or not.

So what will actually be entering the U.S. Public Domain this year?

Just as has been the case every year since 1978, the answer is simple:

Nothing.

Yep, You read that right.

Nothing.

incredibleshrinknigpdgreyAs a matter of fact, nothing will be entering the Public Domain here in the U.S. until at least 2019.

Again, yes, I said 2019.

Oh, and the items I mentioned above? Yeah, we’ll have to wait until at least 2053 for them.

And that’s assuming that congress doesn’t pass another extension to the Copyright Act between now and then.

And yes, that extension is already under consideration.

I’m not going to go into a lot of the background of the public domain and why it’s so important, nor am I going to go into the history of the Copyright Act and why things are in the sad state they’re in. All of that information can be found at the Duke Law Center website , along with information about other works that would also be included in the “Class of 2014”

4663860075_195d7ac4f6_bI will, however note that for those of you interested in further exploring the treasures that can be found in the Public Domain and my own personal take and reviews on many of them, I used to run another blog, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest which, though I quit updating it a while back for a number of reasons, still has quite a number of reviews and articles about things that actually are currently in the Public Domain. And some of them may surprise you.

Anyway, here’s to What Could Have Been!

Kung Fu Krazy Fest – The Street Fighter (1974)

***SPECIAL “GUEST BLOGGER” NOTE*** I haven’t done this for awhile, but today seemed like a good day for it. What follows is actually a reprint, of sorts. A couple of years ago, under the guise of “Professor Michael Damian”, I was writing and running a blog called “Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest” in which I attempted to highlight movies that were available for free legal download, streaming, remix, what-have-you, thanks to the Public Domain. The site hasn’t been updated for awhile now, but if you like what you’ve read here so far, or if you enjoy this post, or have an interest in the public domain or even just want to check out some really good (and, admittedly, some not-so-good) free movies, I encourage you to go check it out.

Anyway, from time to time, when it’s relevant or when I’m under a kind of time crunch, or maybe just when the fancy strikes, I’ll be re-presenting some posts that originally appeared there. The post below first ran there a couple of years ago, on August 31. 2011. At first I considered rewriting or editing this some for its presentation here, but ultimately decided, for better or worse, to just let it stand on its own, as is, though I have changed/updated some of the links so they will work properly. I hope you enjoy this little blast from the past. ***END NOTE***

Streetfighter1It’s really part of the nature of this blog that most of the time I’m writing about “classic” films – older, black and white, even silent-era movies that have moved into the public domain because of the time that they were created. And since, due to the changes made in copyright law over the years (especially since the late 70’s) no new movies (or books or music or anything else for that matter) will enter the public domain until at least 2019, it’s likely to be that way for awhile. Still, there are some more recent films that over the years have in various ways “slipped through the cracks” and made their way into the public domain, and some of those movies could even be considered modern-day classics. Such is certainly the case with today’s entry, the rousing Sonny Chiba martial-arts flick The Street Fighter.

Actually, The Street Fighter is notable for a number of different reasons. Though it was not Chiba’s first movie, (he had been making science fiction and crime films and appearing on television in his native Japan for at least a decade before) it wasn’t until this film that he became an internationally known superstar. The film also gained notoriety because it was the first movie to garner an X-rating from the MPAA solely because of its violence. It is also noteworthy because of the number of spinoffs and sequels that it spawned.

1974 was, of course, just the right time for Chiba to make his mark in the US. Bruce Lee had just made a huge splash in the American market with Enter the Dragon, and American cinemas (and moviegoers) were eager for more. This was also a time when the so-called “exploitation” and “grindhouse” films were at their peak, so the atmosphere was ripe for Chiba’s brand of two-fisted (and two-footed) action.

Chiba was not however, merely a Lee clone looking to cash in on the times. No, there was something that definitely set him apart from many of the other martial arts stars of the time. Whereas Lee brought a certain tightly contained elegance to his on-screen fighting style, and fellow fan-favorite Jackie Chan brought a definite sense of comic playfulness to his film persona, Chiba’s style showed much more of a barely restrained fury. There is something in his performance as Terry Tsurugi that suggests whenever he cuts loose in the film not only are his enemies in danger, but everyone around him might be as well. As a matter of fact at one point in the film, one of the other characters calls him “an animal”, and Chiba, at that moment all snarls and growls does absolutely nothing to contradict her assessment.

streetfighter2It is also this animalistic fury that gained the film it’s second bit of noteriety. Containing scenes such as one in which Chiba castrates a rapist with his bare hands and another which shows Chiba striking a blow to an opponent’s head and then quickly cuts to an x-ray like shot of the opponent’s skull being completely shattered before showing the audience the devastating effect of the blow with the man on the floor with blood gushing from his mouth (actually quite an interesting stylistic decision by the filmmakers), the film was, as noted, given an X-rating on its first review by the MPAA. Subsequently, a full 16 minutes were cut from the film in order to finally garner it an R. Fortunately, those scenes have been restored to the film, and it is now available in an uncut “unrated” version, but those scenes are somewhat noticeable in this version as they were dubbed into English at a different time using different actors. Still, that’s a small price to pay to see Chiba’s full fury unleashed.

Of course, fans of the genre can (and do, I’m sure) argue over whether the inclusion of those scenes upon its initial release would have made the movie more or less popular with American moviegoers, but one thing that definitely cannot be denied is that the film was a definitive success. As a matter of fact, it was so successful that it not only spawned two direct sequels, Return of the Street Fighter and The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, but a four film mostly in-name-only spin-off Sister Street Fighter series.

So, let’s quit talking about all the action in the film and take a look at some of it, shall we?

And here’s the skinny:
Titile: The Street Fighter
Release Date: 1974
Running Time: 91 minutes
Color
Starring: Sonny Chiba
Directed by: Shigehiro Ozawa
Distributed by: Toei Company (Japan), New Line Cinema (US)

The Japanese version of The Street Fighter (with English subtitles) is available to watch or download for free here. There is also a dubbed version here. (Fair warning: the dubbed version is not downloadable.) It is also available on DVD from Amazon.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Giant Turtle Terror – Gammera the Invincible (1965)

***SPECIAL “GUEST BLOGGER” NOTE*** What follows is actually a reprint, of sorts. A couple of years ago, under the guise of “Professor Michael Damian”, I was writing and running a blog called “Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest” in which I attempted to highlight movies that were available for free legal download, streaming, remix, what-have-you, thanks to the Public Domain. The site hasn’t been updated for awhile now, but if you like what you’ve read here so far, or if you enjoy this post, or have an interest in the public domain or even just want to check out some really good (and, admittedly, some not-so-good) free movies, I encourage you to go check it out.

Anyway, from time to time, when it’s relevant or when I’m under a kind of time crunch, or maybe just when the fancy strikes, I’ll be re-presenting some posts that originally appeared there. The post below first ran there almost three years ago, on March 9th, 2010. At first I considered rewriting or editing this some for its presentation here, but ultimately decided, for better or worse, to just let it stand on its own, as is. I hope you enjoy this little blast from the past. ***END NOTE***

gammera2“Oh, no! They say say he’s got to go! Go, Go Gammera!”

Yeah, it really doesn’t have the same panache as the Blue Oyster Cult original, does it, Kiddies? But that’s ok, because the giant monster in question today gets his own rock anthem right in the middle of his first movie. Even his giant lizard predecessor had to wait more than 20 years for that.

Daikaiju Eiga  – that’s the Japanese term for the type of movie (giant monster) that we’re looking at today, and since that’s where the best ones come from, it seems only appropriate to give them their correct name. Of course, considering what we’ve done to the actual movies, simply ignoring the Japanese term would seem only a minor slight.

Toho films began the tradition, of course, with their 1954 release of the original Gojira, which came to America in the form of Godzilla. Unfortunately another trend was also begun once it reached our shores. Believing that American audiences wouldn’t want to watch a film either with subtitles or where there were very few American actors for them to relate to, the film was not only dubbed into English, but it was heavily re-edited, with scenes moved around, many of them pulled, and new scenes were added starring Raymond Burr. Unfortunately between bad translations and terrible editing, (and an attempt to both appease and appeal to American audiences) much of the original meaning and subtext of the film was lost. Still, it was a hit both there and here, and this treatment became the trend for all subsequent Japanese monster movies brought to America.

gammera3As noted, Gojira (or Godzilla) first appeared in 1954. 11 years later, when the daikaiju eiga craze was really hitting its stride, Toho’s film studio rival, Daiei, decided to jump on the bandwagon and create their own giant critter. Now I’m not going to speculate on what the person who first proposed that they combat the big G. with a giant turtle was thinking, but fortunately they figured out some pretty neat ways to trick him out so that he could become a formidable foe for the forces that would soon be arrayed against him. First off, instead of “Atomic Breath”, they gave him fire breath. But this creature not only breathed fire, he could eat it. As a matter of fact, as the movie progresses, we find out that he is made of different stuff than those of us with lungs, and the big lug actually needs the flames as fuel to survive. More than that, though, Daiei also provided their Big G with a power that Godzilla would never get. When he pulled his head and legs into his shell, the giant turtle was able to shoot flames from his “port holes” and fly! Certainly helpful for an animal that otherwise has no way to get off his back, as the military soon finds out.

gammaera1Of course, upon his arrival in the US, Gamera (the Japanese name) was given a pretty complete makeover. An extra “m” was, for some reason, added to his name. Another pretty atrocious dubbing job was done. And again, scenes were cut, recut, and added, so that the movie once again bore little resemblance to what it had once been. Nonetheless, the film proved successful in both its Japanese and American versions, and Daiei went on to bring him back in a film a year until 1971, when Daiei went into bankruptcy. (The first was actually the only one released to American theaters, the rest were packaged for Television by American International.) Since then, there have been a couple of attempts at revivals, though they have proved less successful.

Here’s a short clip showing the monster’s initial emergence from his icy tomb and a bit of the American footage that was inserted.:

(Just a note: it is only the American version which was never properly copyrighted and is now in the Public Domain. The original Japanese version is still under copyright, and Shout factory has announced that they have licensed it and will be giving the film its first American DVD release on May 18th.)

Now for the Skinny:
Title: Gammera the Invincible
Release Date: 1965
Running Time: 86min
Black and White
Starring: Gamera, Brian Donlevy, Eiji Funakoshi
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Produced by: Hidemasa Nagata, Yonejiro Saito, Masaichi Nagata
Distributed by: Daiei

Gammera the Invincible is available to watch or download for free here.
It’s available on DVD from Amazon: Gammera the Invincible.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian