REALLY RETRO: The Doctor Is In Atlanta! Our Ultimate Retro Guide to Timegate 2014

Posted on: May 23rd, 2014 By:

Celebrate two of the 20th century’s most successful series at  TimeGate, Atlanta’a annual DOCTOR WHO/STARGATE convention, held every Memorial Day weekend (May 23-25) at the The Holiday Inn Select Perimeter-DunwoodyOK, both shows are alive and well in the 21st century, especially DOCTOR WHO which just celebrated its 50th anniversary season, but ATLRetro has to love them a little bit extra for sharing our own passion for time travel at the heart of their premises. We admit if the Doctor asked us to be his companion, we’d be ready to take off in the TARDIS and take our chances with Daleks, Cybermen…well, maybe we’d skip those weeping angels. We’re not quite so versed in the STARGATE universe, except wishing we had one of those gates so we could indulge in some good old-fashioned Egyptomania and maybe grab a souvenir from Atlantis. However, we certainly know fans love STARGATE, and we’re happy they have a place to go to share their passion.

In other words, time travelers will have a ball. Here are ATLRetro’s top reasons to attend!

A Doctor Who Legend

Terrence Dicks spans 15 years of DOCTOR WHO history as a writer and story editor from 1968 to 1983. He started on the show as an assistant script editor during Patrick Troughton‘s final season and co-wrote the 10-part final for the Second Doctor era, “The War Games.” In addition to serving as acript editor for all of Jon Pertwee’s five year run, he penned such classic episodes as “Robot” (the first Tom Baker serial), “The Brain of Morbius.” “Horror of Fang Rock” and the 20th Anniversary special, “The Five Doctors.” He also wrote two DOCTOR WHO stage plays: “The Seven Keys to Doomsday” (starring Trevor Martin as an original version of the Doctor) and “The Ultimate Adventure” (starring Jon Pertwee for the first part of the run and Colin Baker for the second). He was the unofficial editor in chief of the Target range of novelisations of DOCTOR WHO episodes and himself wrote 65 of them. He also wrote, in 2007, the novelisation of the first SARAH JANE ADVENTURES episode, “Invasion of the Bane”. For Big Finish, Terrance wrote the first serial of the Sarah Jane Smith mini-series and adapted his two stage plays. He wrote two Quick Reads novels for younger readers featuring the Tenth Doctor and Martha, “Made of Steel” (2007) and “Revenge of the Judoon” (2008). His impressive television career outside of DOCTOR WHO includes being script editor for productions of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, JANE EYRE (starring Timothy Dalton) and HOUNDS OF THE BASKERVILLES (starring Tom Baker as Sherlock Holmes), as well as penning episodes of Retro favorite shows CROSSROADS, THE AVENGERS, BEAU GESTE and SPACE: 1999. He’s also been a producer and is a prolific novelist of children and young adult fiction.

Ianto!

OK, TORCHWOOD isn’t a Retro show, but it’s a spin-off of a Retro show and involves time travel, too, so we’re just saying Gareth David Lloyd, squee and oh, my! And if he couldn’t be any groovier, Hammer horror movies triggered his passion for acting and the arts at the wee impressionable age of six. And he fronts a prog-rock band called Blue Gillespie.

More Great Retro Guests 

And yes, that’s just the tip of a guest list that includes many more authors, artists, actors and experts. Some other ATLRetro favorites include master monster artist Mark Maddox, a Rondo Hatton and Pulp Factory Award winning artist who has done illustrations for the 50th Anniversary issue of Doctor Who Magazine, as well as Little Shoppe Of Horrors Magazine, Mad Scientist, Black Coat Press, Undying Monsters Magazine and more! Joshua Wilson is an associate editor for Mad Norwegian Press, a publisher of DOCTOR WHO reference guides including the celebrated About Time series, Running Through Corridors and A History. There’s also Louis Robinson, a professional singer/songwriter, who before coming to America, worked for the BBC . In the ’70s, he worked in the film editing department, contributing to such shows as The Brothers (starring Colin Baker and Kate O’Mara), The Onedin Line, Doomwatch (created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, famous for also creating the Cybermen), and of course, Doctor Who. He’s also a Sherlock Holmes expert! And we have to admit, though we don’t exactly remember her from the original STAR TREK, we can’t wait to meet Lt. Moxie Magnus a seven and a half foot tall glamazon (mostly hair and heels) who in the 23rd century serves as the Chief Cosmetology Officer aboard the USS Enterprise under the command of James T. Kirk.

Cover Art by Timegate Guest Mark Maddox.

Pan-Galactic Panels

The above guests won’t be just signing autographs but also sharing anecdotes and insights, along with local and regional fan experts, about DOCTOR WHO, TIMEGATE and other SF and British TV classics like RED DWARF (Fri. 9 p.m.)! We also like that there’s a good dose of vintage DOCTOR WHO represented in panels such as “The Fabulous Baker Boys” panel (Sat. 10 a.m.)! And while the shows are relatively recent, we’re happy to see that TimeGate remembers two of our contemporary Retro ’70s and ’80s BBC favorites in “Time Traveling Detectives: LIFE ON MARS and ASHES TO ASHES” (Sat. 5 p.m.).

Doctors, Daleks, Companions, Tardises, Soldiers and Ancient Egyptians

Ever wanted to be exterminated by the love of a woman dressed as a sexy Dalek or ask the TARDIS what it’s like to carry the Doctor around. Creative humanized takes on classic monsters and the TARDIS itself have become de rigeur at cons. But you can also expect to see plenty precise recreations of Doctors and companions, as well as StarGate soldiers and aliens. And well, we wouldn’t be surprised to some steampunk ladies and gents and even a superhero or few since con-goers don’t always stick to a specific con’s fandom. No matter, watching and interacting with costumed versions of our favorite characters has become one of the most fun reasons to attend a con, especially in Atlanta where DragonCon and AnachroCon set high standards for costuming and cosplay. For peak viewing, some of the best will compete in the Masquerade Saturday night at 9:30 p.m.  Of course, we highly recommend joining in the fun by costuming yourself. Not sure what to do? Well, Timegate has a bunch of panels offering tips for beginners and experienced costumers.

Who has a sonic screwdriver?

You betcha someone in the TimeGate dealers’ room will have one of the Swiss army-knife of sci-fi gadgets. Whether you can wield it like the Doctor to get out of all manner of messes is on you, however. We also expect action figures, posters, stills, books, collectors’ magazines, jewelry, long scarves, costumes accessories, Dalek air-fresheners to exterminate any onerous odors in the automobile (well, we know you can buy them somewhere!), jelly babies and more objets extraordinaires to surprise even us.

Out-of-this-World Entertainment

It used to be that cons were mainly panels and parties, but lately they’re booking some pretty cool entertainment. Saturday night at Timegate is no exception starting with a concert of “Celtic-Gallifreyan” music (don’t ask us to explain! you’ll have to go see for yourself)by  the Ken Spivey Band at 6 p.m. A Fan Cabaret takes off at 8 p.m. Then at midnight, a deejayed dance is hosted by Gareth David Lloyd himself! Well, with the assistance of the mysterious and lovely Lady Soliloque.

Party Like It’s…Well, You Pick a Year!

We don’t recommend you drink anything you’re told is a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster, because, well, we’re pretty sure it’s just a lethal combo of sugar, food-coloring and several types of generic booze. But cons are pretty well-known for their great room parties. Yeah, shhh, don’t tell the muggles, but geeks know how to have fun! Look for announcements by the elevators and on freebie tables around registration. TimeGate also has a con suite with free food and sodas for con badge-holders.

Timegate 2014  kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday May 23 and runs through Sunday  May 25 at7 p.m. Online registration is closed but you can still purchase a weekend pass at the con for $60, a day pass for Friday for $20, for Saturday for $30 and Sunday for just $25, or a  pass for Saturday night (starting at 7:30 pm)  for $10. Click here for more info.

 

Category: Really Retro | TAGS: None

Really Retro: Sergio Leone Meets Norse Legend WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES at The Plaza & A Retrospective on Vikings in the Movies

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2013 By:

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (Iceland/Sweden 1984); Dir. Hrafn Gunnlaugsson; Starring Jakob Þór Einarsson; Sunday, June 23; 3 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Preshow presentation and weapons/crafts for sale by Sons of Loki; Sponsored by Scandinavian American Foundation of Georgia; $8 general admission, $6 for SAFG members; PG-13; violence; parents should exercise caution when bringing children; Trailer; Facebook event page.

By Anya Martin

Vikings may come from cold climates, but Dark Age Scandinavians are hot right now, at least on screen. The TV series, VIKINGS, was such a hit that The History Channel has renewed it for a second season. With promises of capturing the authentic violence of the Vikings in Dark Age Britain, HAMMER OF THE GODS (2013) hits theaters July 5. The main villain in THE AVENGERS (2012) was Norse trickster god Loki, and THOR: THE DARK WORLD, a second feature about that Norse-God-turned-Marvel-Superhero premieres in November. Even Mel Gibson supposedly has BERSERKER, a “real and visceral” Viking feature in preproduction.

In the midst of this seeming Viking fever, critically acclaimed Viking adventure movie WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (HRAFNINN FLYGUR) will get a rare return to the big screen at the Plaza Theatre on Sun. June 23 at 3 p.m. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES recounts an Irishman’s quest for revenge on the Viking raiders who savagely killed his parents and abducted his sister. Ancient Norse gods figure prominently in the plot, and the prerequisite violence ensues. However, the film is as much a Western in its structure as a mythological saga with striking visuals of the desert replaced by stunning cinematography of the unique Icelandic landscape. Director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson describes himself as a disciple of Sergio Leone, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa, and the influence of all three is apparent. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES is evocative of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, in that a mysterious stranger Gestur (Jakob Þór Einarsson) plays off tensions between Thor and Erik, the two brothers who lead the Viking band.

Poster for EMBLA, aka THE WHITE VIKING.

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES has won several awards, including being voted one of the outstanding films of the 1980s at the Tokyo International Film Festival and Gunnlaugsson winning the 1985 Guldbagge Award for Best Direction, the Swedish equivalent to the Oscars. It was also nominated for the 1986 International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film.The movie is the first of the Raven Trilogy, which includes IN THE SHADOW OF THE  RAVEN (Í SKUGGA HRAFNSINS, 1987) and EMBLA (2007), aka the director’s cut of THE WHITE VIKING (1991), which was originally edited by that film’s producers without Gunnlaugsson’s approval.

If the melding of real Viking lore and Leone couldn’t be cool enough, the screening will be preceded by a live weapons demonstration by the Sons of Loki. These contemporary Vikings will also be present in the Plaza Lobby before and after the movie with Viking handicrafts and weaponry for sale and to answer questions about Scandinavian culture in the Dark Ages.

Still over the history of Hollywood, Viking movies have been relatively rare, compared to other historic-based genres such as the Western or the sword-and-sandle epic. And good ones with any relevance to actual Viking culture even rarer. Therefore, at ATLRetro, we decided to dig a little deeper to excavate a brief saga of Norse-inspired cinema.

THE VIKING (1928).

The first appearance of Vikings on film that we could find was THE VIKING (1928), a silent that chronicles Leif Ericsson‘s journey to the New World. The costumes apparently are strictly Wagner, the weaponry inauthentic and the actual history tenuous, but Leif’s father enthusiastically slaughters Christians and Princess Helga has a sexy winged helmet and heavy black eyeliner.

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t return to the world of the Vikings until the 1950s when a sudden splash of features hit the big screen. The first, PRINCE VALIANT (1954), was based on the popular comics series, directed by Henry Hathaway (who would go on to direct TRUE GRIT[1969]) and starred a young Robert Wagner. It was a fun sword-and-sorcery romp with links to the King Arthur legend and the bonus that the sword actually sung, but the plot has virtually nothing to do with authentic Vikings. Always one to follow a trend as cheaply as possible, Roger Corman followed with THE SAGA OF THE VIKING WOMEN TO THE WATERS OF THE GREAT SEA SERPENT (1957). In this cheesy fantasy frolic, a young way-pre-FALCON CREST Abby Dalton leads a bevy of scantily clad Norse babes to battle a monster and rescue a missing man.

Then came THE VIKINGS (1958), the first actual epic Hollywood treatment starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh. Full of battles and striking cinematography in Norwegian locations, this romanticized story of two brother vying for a Welsh princess was directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA [1954]) and also benefitted from visual designs by Harper Goff, another 20,000 LEAGUES veteran as art director. Some time around then, by the way, was the only other Norse-inspired TV series, TALES OF THE VIKINGS, which ran about 19 episodes from 1959-60. Alas most of the footage is lost, but it lifted scenes and props directly from THE VIKINGS movie. You can hear the jaunty theme song here! Oh, wait, there was also the silly British children’s cartoon NOGGIN THE NOG which ran from 1959 to the mid-70s.

Italian giallo director Mario Bava (DANGER:DIABOLIK; BARON BLOOD) also tried his hand on two spaghetti Viking features, ERIK THE CONQUEROR (1961) and KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966) with American action hero Cameron Mitchell, who would go on to become best known as Uncle Buck in 1960s TV Western series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL. The first steals its tale of two brothers plot directly from THE VIKINGS, but is noteworthy for rich cinematography, strong action and dancing vestal virgins. California-based living history and educational group, the Vikings of Bjornstad point out in their wonderful Viking Movie List (see link at end), “This is a Viking-related movie. It’s 786 AD. The ships had red and white striped sails. Once in a while, someone yells “Odin!'” They go on to mention inaccurate costumes that even sometimes have clearly visible zippers, an “underground throne room left over from some Biblical Philistine movie” and a Viking village that seems to be made out of Lincoln logs. KNIVES OF THE AVENGER  is basically a spaghetti Western reset in the Dark Ages mixed with pirates, supernatural magic and lots of knife-throwing which the trusty Vikings of Bjornstad spare no punches to declare “Worst Viking Movie Ever!” As for Cameron Mitchell, maybe he aspired to be the Clint Eastwood of Italian Viking epics since he also starred in THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS (L’ULTIMO DEI VIKINGHI, 1961) and ATTACK OF THE NORMANS (I NORMANNI, 1962).

Charlton Heston is THE WAR LORD (1965).

In general, the 1960s weren’t good to the Vikings on screen, whether outright fantasy or not. THE LONG SHIPS (1964) is a lightweight adventure about a Viking quest for a golden bell in the Holy Land. Directed by Jack Cardiff, cinematographer of THE VIKINGS, and starring Richard Widmark as a Viking warrior and Sidney Poitier as a Moorish king, the movie is not really very Viking except for the presence of a long ship and round shields. But the action scenes nonetheless are amplified by lush Yugoslavian locations, and the titles were designed by Maurice Binder who crafted the Bond openers. Not surprisingly, Charlton Heston also did an obligatory stint as a Norman war lord in THE WAR LORD (1965) charged with defending his Duke’s land again Frisian invaders, who are costumed to look like Vikings, not a far stretch considering they came from near Denmark and were eventually conquered. Despite the stringy chainmail and Hollywood backlot locations, The Vikings of Bjornstad give this one a thumbs up, noting that Heston is well cast and it’s “one of the few films that touches on the differences between the Christian Normans and the pagans they ruled.” They also wouldn’t mind seeing a better update of another Hollywood film that had potential, ALFRED THE GREAT (1969), which starred David Hemmings as King Alfred and Michael York as Viking Chief Guthrum.

Britain’s Hammer Films, known for its high quality low budget horror, served up THE VIKING QUEEN (1967). The goofy plot is involves women wearing much too little to be comfortable in British climates, a Viking-Roman forbidden romance and a Brits versus Romans rebellion which evokes Celtic tribal queen Boudicca. Nobody obviously cared to check and see that Vikings didn’t raid the U.K. coast until long after the Romans had already left. Meanwhile, Danish film HAGBARD AND SIGNE (aka THE RED MANTLE/DEN RODE KAPPE, 1967)  transplanted a ROMEO AND JULIET storyline to two warring Viking families. Filmed in Iceland, Roger Ebert called it “a beautiful, lean spare film…the sleeper of the year,” and the Vikings of Bjornstad overall give it a thumbs up for aesthetics and action for the time.

Perhaps mercifully the long ships barely got unmoored during the ’70s, with the highest profile feature THE NORSEMAN (1978) sinking at the box office despite starring a hunky Lee Majors, at the peak of his SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN fame, with a Tom Selleck moustache as Greenland’s Prince Thorvald. It followed the frequent Viking movie plot of a journey to the New Land, in this case to free his father King Eurich (Mel Ferrer) who is imprisoned by Native Americans, and the brawny cast also included quirky character actor Jack Elam, then a Western staple; NFL stars Fred Biletnikoff and Deacon Jones, and Denny Miller (TARZAN THE APE MAN, 1959). Oh, lest we forget, Walt Disney action-adventure flick THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974) included a lost Viking colony.

In the ’80s, ERIK THE VIKING (1989) literally became a bad joke. Alas it was to be a Monty Python vehicle starring Graham Chapman, but while Terry Jones directed and John Cleese plays the villain, audiences just didn’t find it funny maybe because of the sheer unlikelihood of Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt and Imogen Stubbs appearing in even a satire of a Norse saga. Tim Robbins valiantly gave his best effort to star as Erik who ironically was tired of marauding and goes on a quest for a magic horn of peace.

Well, that’s in the English and apparently Italian speaking world of mainstream movies. In Iceland where Vikings actually lived, the 1980s produced a number of features that purported to be more authentic takes on Norse culture. The first was OUTLAW, THE SAGA OF GISLI (UTLAGINN, 1981), based directly on the Gisla saga. Then director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson embarked on WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES, the film which is playing at the Plaza and became the first installment of a Viking trilogy. Norway also produced THE LITTLEST VIKING (1989), a charming children’s tale about a daydreaming boy who seeks to end a feud with another clan. It apparently has lots of stunning fjord shots.

In the ’90s and 2000s, the mainstream Viking feature took a turn towards being more gritty and gory, allegedly to be true to the times or well, because, dark sells movie tickets. Several interesting ventures featuring high-profile directors and actors sailed onto the big screen. The first was ROYAL DECEIT (aka PRINCE OF JUTLAND, 1994), a supposedly period-accurate retelling of HAMLET starring Christian Bale as a sixth century Danish prince whose father (Tom Wilkinson) is murdered by a power-hungry uncle (Gabriel Byrne, who would be back in Viking robes as the surly old chieftain in The History Channel’s VIKINGS this spring). Of course, he has the hots for his hot mama (who else but Helen Mirren?!). The Vikings of Bjornstad like that the costumes, weaponry and sets are simple, hence probably more period accurate, but otherwise found it disappointing despite what would seem to be a strong cast. The European version is 17 minutes longer than the US/Region I DVD version.

THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999)

Next up is the uber-violent THE VIKING SAGAS (1995), directed by Michael Chapman, the cinematographer of Martin Scorsese‘s RAGING BULL (1980). It starred Ralf Moeller (TV’s CONAN, GLADIATOR) and was actually filmed in Iceland. Alas, the acting and script are not much, but it has a mythic quality with a magic sword – as much a must seemingly for a Viking movie as a medieval fantasy one – and more of an authentic look than most of its predecessors, actual Icelandic movies excepted.

And then THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999) nailed the look and feel of a Norse legend perhaps better than any Hollywood film that came before it. Originally titled EATERS OF THE DEAD and based on a Michael Crichton novel, it was meant to be a gory but realistic retelling of BEOWULF, but really more captured the spirit of a Robert E. Howard short story though its outsider hero, an Arab ambassador played by Antonio Banderas, was more spirit and intellect than Conan the Barbarian brawn. Unfortunately, director John McTiernan (DIE HARD, PREDATOR) was not allowed the final cut (the idea of a director’s version someday being released seems increasingly remote especially with McTiernan now in prison). However, enough of McTiernan’s vision remained that THE 13TH WARRIOR acquired a loyal fan following (including a high recommend from ATLRetro and an even better authority – the Vikings of Bjornstad).

Yeah, we are going to skip quickly over the disappointing PRINCE VALIANT (1997) – ATLRetro would love to see a PRINCE VALIANT that’s true to Hal Foster‘s wonderful comic which has been recently resurrected by masterful illustrator Gary Gianni, but this is NOT it. And no time is worth devoting to BEOWULF (1999) starring Christopher Lambert who at some point after GREYSTOKE did completely forget how to act. And the Vikings of Bjornstad say everything worth saying about BERSERKER: HELL’S WARRIOR (2004) in this phrase – “time-traveling immortal Viking vampires who wear sunglasses in discotheques…So overdone.”

The Vikings of Bjornstad rank Polish movie THE OLD FAIRY TALE (STARA BASN, 2003) as “the best Viking movie” for its historical accuracy. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, who has been called Poland’s John Ford, the 9th century story revolves around a wicked Polish king and a Viking-raised hero. Apparently, Viking reenactment is big in Poland, which the Vikings of Bjornstad think may have contributed to it, first, getting made, and second, its high quality. Also well worth a view for its stunning Icelandic scenery and interesting take on the quintessential Saxon/Norse legend is BEOWULF AND GRENDEL (2005), starring a pre-300 Gerard Butler and featuring some of the best Viking era costumes of any film.

In South Africa-filmed low-budget BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (BLOOD OF BEASTS, 2005), Odin punishes a Viking princess (Jane March)  by trapping her in a castle with a beast. A Gallic bande dessinee hero finally gets big-screen treatment in the French animated comedy ASTERIX AND THE VIKINGS (2006) which seems to forget that Vikings weren’t around yet in AD 50. Robert Zemeckis‘s much-touted 3D BEOWULF (2007) honed so close to the original poem, probably thanks to Neil Gaiman being involved in the script, but yes, the animation even of beautiful Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s evil mother, is decidedly creepy.

PATHFINDER (2007) starred Karl Urban, who certainly looked mighty Norse as Eomer in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as a Viking raised by Native Americans who ends up leading the tribe that raised him in battle against new Viking invaders. A crappy remake of a much better 1987 Norwegian movie, the story really comes from Lapland/Sammi mythology. Directed by Marcus Nispel (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [2003], CONAN [2011] ), it’s gory melodrama with lots of mist. The same year (2007) also saw the release of the more serious and well-reviewed SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

Jim Caviezel (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) travels back from the future to 8th century Norway in  OUTLANDER (2008). Viewers who ignore that this mash-up of Norse mythology and sci-fi is light on history may have silly fun. It features both laser guns and swords, a monster, John Hurt as the old king, Sophia Myles as the prerequisite sexy princess and Ron Perlman as a gruff Viking with, let’s just say, poor manners.

And then there’s VALHALLA RISING (2009). Director Nicholas Winding Refn (DRIVE) spares no punches with the ultra-violence in which Christian Vikings and a mute slave (Mads Mikkelsen, HANNIBAL, CASINO ROYALE) headed for the Holy Land get blinded by fog  and end up in the New World. An article in Movie Fanfare on the “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See” (see link at end) perhaps put it best: “VALHALLA RISING plays like THE VIKINGS co-directed by Terrence Malick and Italian gore specialist Umberto Lenzi!”

And oh yeah, there was some movie about a Marvel super-hero named THOR (2011).

For more about Vikings in the Movies, check out the Vikings of Bjornstad’s Viking Movie List, as well as Movie Fanfare’s “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See.” 

 

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Really Retro: Your Ultimate Guide to AnachroCon 2013, Atlanta’s Steampunk/Alt-History Con

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2013 By:

Science fiction used to be all about the future, but in steampunk, it’s gone back to the past to create a steam-powered alternate Victorian era full of airships, goggles and rayguns where Tesla trumps Edison. If you think that steampunk is just about creative costumes, there will be plenty walking the halls of AnachroCon, this weekend (Feb. 22-24) at the Marriott Northwest, but there will also be so much more from literary to art to performances. Read more about the many facets of this fast-growing subculture in our interview with STEAMPUNK BIBLE co-author S.J. Chambers, then head on down to AnachroCon to experience the city’s biggest annual steampunk gathering live.

As Anachrocon’s Website says, it’s the “place in the South for Steampunk, History, Alternate History, Science, Music, Classic Sci-Fi Literature and the most amazing costuming you’ve ever seen!” This year’s theme “The Roaring ’20s” takes steampunk into the 20th century so be prepared to do the Charleston with goggles on and a rocket pack on your back.

Here’s our top nine coolest things to do at Anachrocon. For times and locations, check the full con schedule here.

1. Costumes Extraordinaire

Men in top hats, boots and goggles. Ladies in their finest Victorian dresses with rayguns tucked into their beaded evening bags. Gizmos galore. In the case of steampunk, accessories make the outfit and it’s not just a look but a way of life for some followers who meticulously craft their eccentric wardrobes in home workshops. Expect to see an amazing array of hall costumes, but the best of the best compete in the Costume Contest at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Or learn to make your own from award-winning costumers in the Fashion and Fabrication programming tracks.

Frenchy & the Punk.

2. A Marvelous Menagerie of Musical Acts

If steampunk has a look, thanks to a motley menagerie of talented musicians, it also has a sound – a diverse blend of jazz, ragtime, gypsy, classical, goth and even a touch of rock n roll. At Anachrocon, you can hear some of the best in the region and nation including The Extraordinary ContraptionsFrenchy and the Punk, The Gin Rebellion, Vauxhall Garden Variety Players, Denim Arcade, New York Disco Villains, Valentine WolfeEliza Dane, Mark Gunn, Victorian funk rapper (yes you read that right!) Montague Jacques Fromage and more. Dance the night away to several DJs including “self-described eccentric audio arranger and morally ambiguous scientist” Dr. Q, the mad mastermind behind The Artifice Club which stages quarterly steampunk shindigs and is the official sponsor of the Friday night ’20s themed Repeal Revival. Keeping with the ’20s con theme, the repeal is, of course, of the Prohibition Act and the event is also the official afterparty of their Secret Speakeasy bash in December as well as their 3rd annual Opening Night Dance for AnachroCon. Read an interview with Dr. Q here about The Artifice Club here.

Talloolah Love. Photo credit: Mark Turnley.

3. Trick or Tease: Burly-Q Steampunk-style

Burlesque arose out of vaudeville and sideshow hoochie-coo, all of which go back to the bawdy dancers, singers and comedians of the Victorian music hall. Award-winning Atlanta burlesque beauties Talloolah Love, Ursula Undress and more will be entertaining at The Repeal Revival and offering costuming workshops throughout the weekend.

4. History, Science and Fashion, Oh My!

Yes, the whole idea of steampunk is based on an alternate history and a different direction in science and energy. Costumes are not mandatory to attend these bonafide actual history and science with fascinating panels on such topics as and much more including a variety of historical periods, musings on literary figures such as Sherlock Holmes, pulp fiction, culinary discussions, Vikings, pirates, great comets, the paranormal and more.

5. A Little Etiquette & Indulgence Can Do You Good

The Victorian Age was known for being prim and proper, unlike our uncouth contemporary era, so it seems only fitting that AnachroCon has a programming track centered on Etiquette & Indulgence. Founded last year by Peter Beer Slayer and Richard Carnival, “their mission [is] to make the world a better place by providing instruction on the Social Graces and how to truly enjoy life by using their combined powers to become the Traveling Revelers!” Take a ConChemistry class on whiskey and cigar pairing at 5 p.m. on Friday, or ConSociology on “how to meet people at cons” at 10 p.m., learn to mix civilized cocktails, or engage in properTea Dueling at  5 p.m. Sat.

Bill Pacer as Benjamin Franklin.

6. Viva the Revolution – Meet the Founding Fathers

Tea Partiers and Ultra-Liberals, take note! OK, AnachroCon isn’t breaking out the Ouija Board (well, not right now anyway; we kind of think there has to be some Ouija-ing going on somewhere), but professional Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin impersonators (J.D. Sutton and Bill Pacer) will be on hand to share their wisdom on government, electricity and even provide a Q&A. Find out what the founding fathers really thought about freedom of religion, gay rights and sleeping with French prostitutes – we dare you to ask them!

7. Astounding  Alt-History Literature & Pop Culture Panels

At the end of the day, it’s sometimes forgotten that steampunk started not as an aesthetic movement but in the pages of books and now is a lively literary genre. Panels discuss classic influences from Edgar Allan Poe to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells might get a few mentions, as well as how to write in the steampunk universe. Author guests include Cherie Priest, Lee Martindale, Eugie Foster , Jana Oliver, Philippa “Pip” Ballentine, Delilah S. Dawson, James R. Tuck, Tee Morris,  Kathryn Hinds, Emilie P. BushKimberly Richardson and Alan Gilbreath.

8. Sensational Steampunk Marketplace

Need a pair of goggles, a trusty ray gun, a corset, jewelry, custom leather items? All of these and more are available in the Vendor Room, a veritable bazaar of steampunk-related merchandise, with a little Medieval-Renaissance-Celtic thrown in for fun. Well, steampunk does share some roots in modern fantasy which is often inspired by those eras. Be sure to also visit the Artisans Room where you can buy unique, one-of-a-kind creations.

9. The Horror! The Horror!

OK, maybe we’re a little prejudiced because ATLRetro’s Anya Martin is on several of the panels on the all-new classic horror programming track, including Frankenstein: Horror or Science Fiction? (Fri. 3 p.m.), Cinema of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe at the Movies (Fri. 7 p.m.), Two-Fisted Tales of Robert E. Howard (Sat 1 p.m.), Dracula’s Bloodline (Sat 7 p.m.) and Jack the Ripper at the Movies (Sun.). Other panels cover Hammer horror movies and much more, and it’s all conceived by Derek Tatum, the grand master of the horror and dark fantasy track at DragonCon.

Category: Really Retro | TAGS: None

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER by Seth Grahame-Smith: The Novel Is Better Than You’d Think, and Maybe That’s the Problem

Posted on: Feb 12th, 2013 By:

By Robert Emmett Murphy, Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER By Seth Grahame-Smith; Grand Central Publishing. 384 pages.

If the forecasts of the end of publishing as we know it, and the end of the novel as an important art form, prove correct, what will we be left with?

Well, one thing I note when I go into a bookstore is that though there’s not as much of what I personally want any more, there’s an ever growing abundance of at least one type of product. The product is remarkably adaptable to our all-too-instantaneous culture, and so deeply committed to vacillating fashions, that though the books are individually ephemeral, they are collectively eternal. I refer to novelty books.

Each is quickly produced, and just as quickly forgotten, yet the space they occupy is never empty. And if you return to that space over and over again, you will see that our impulsive and unconsidered consumption of facile distraction represents a continuum, demonstrating evidence of the hive mind and proof of a certain form of reincarnation. Moreover, within these novelties, maybe sometimes there is the possibility of a slightly substantive literature.

Both of Seth Grahame-Smith’s two most famous novels, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH ZOMBIES and this one, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, were commissioned for gimmicky series dreamed up by his editor at Grand Central Books. In both cases, he was the only novelist engaged who was able to play with the gimmicks (rewriting classics with monsters, reimagining historical figures with monsters) in a way that received significant positive critical attention. Grahame-Smith has a rare gift (or compulsion) to infuse some artistry to a throwaway idea. His literary career is distinguished by focusing on some ersatz absurdity, applying a sharper intelligence than many would think the subject deserves, and then keeping his one-note-joke buoyed by imaginative wit and exceptional attention to telling detail. He knows how the mechanisms of the B- and exploitation-movies make a narrative move, and he knows how to toss in just enough brain candy so that we don’t feel as guilty while reading his work as we did that time when Mom caught us flipping though the pages of a dirty magazine. (I should throw in, his first book was THE BIG BOOK OF PORN, a modestly seriously-minded history of the porn industry.) Here we have (as Gina McIntyre put it) “a great SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch” transformed into a full-blooded, even epic novel.

In classic “high-concept” style (who the hell coined “high-concept”? It’s deliberating misleading as it inevitably targets the lowest common denominator!), the title says it all. I expected it to be fun, and it was, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. And there in lies the rub – it was good enough to disappoint. When I saw what Graham-Smith was capable of doing, he raised my expectations, and then I found myself disappointed he didn’t do even more.

No one reading ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is expecting either a real biography, or something comparable to the truly timeless historical novels like WAR AND PEACE. This is a populist fiction about a President we like a lot more in myth that reality. Rather than comparing this book to Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s TEAM OF RIVALS (the basis of the Steven Spielberg movie LINCOLN) or Leo Tolstoy, we are more in the territory of the movie YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, that sentimental piece of heliography that made Henry Fonda a star back in 1939 (directed by John Ford, written by Lamar Trotti).

Well, like YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, only with more a lot more blood and a much higher body count.

But then Grahame-Smith surprises us with a Lincoln who is many times more believable than Fonda’s. This Lincoln is strongly sympathetic, and though frequenting engaging in super-heroic antics, he’s neither a paragon of some ideal (Superman) nor an invitingly unoccupied vessel for the reader to fill with over-textural identification (most private eye heros). Clearly, Graham-Smith learned a few things from comic-book pioneer Stan Lee’s formula. In the past, Graham-Smith has collaborated with Lee, and here we see that the student far has excelled the master.

The novel begins in 2008, with a fictional version of Seth Grahame-Smith deep in a writer’s funk as he watches President Obama’s first inauguration. At this historically appropriate moment, he is offered a confusing, disturbing, perhaps dangerous, but also irresistible commission: to edit and flesh-out a long rumored of, but never made public diary which represents nothing short of a secret history of the Civil War, and by extension, America’s development and the whole of Western Civilization. You see, vampires are real, and the diary was Abraham Lincoln’s own record of his war against them.

The novel that follows switches back and forth between Lincoln’s secret dairies, which are, of course, fiction, woven seamlessly in with Lincoln’s letters, which are real, and Grahame-Smith’s omniscient third-person narrative, which is based on the testimony of surviving (undead) witnesses and a great deal of material pulled directly from more respectable historical sources.

The novel starts in Lincoln’s childhood and shows his development in a rich and thoughtful in a way that too little genre fiction has much patience for. Deftly sketched is Lincoln’s complicated family tree, the challenges of his humble beginnings, his strained relationship with his father, his enormous personal drive, his insatiable intellectual curiosity, and how his life’s trajectories were guided by a series of early tragic losses and economic reversals. Lincoln’s famous battle with depression is woven throughout the book, but treated with an appropriately light touch, because Grahame-Smith instinctively knows that had the depression truly been crippling, Lincoln would’ve never become Lincoln. It is somewhat removed from the “cult of Lincoln” of popular myth and somewhat closer to a figure historians would recognize.

At least up to a point.

The “up to a point” part is the crux of the novel, because in 1820 Lincoln realizes his life is being shaped by the capricious whim and insatiable hunger of supernatural entities that are stronger, faster, more experienced and more skillful than he. In 1820, he launches a one-man covert-war against their evil.

The novel is at its strongest when addressing Lincoln’s early days. Rich in the biographical detail of years that many, even Civil War buffs, are not fully familiar with, this part of Lincoln’s life is the era in which this kind of keyhole narrative can most easily be integrated into historical realities. The young Lincoln rambled widely, living and working in several states and trying out several professions, giving any adept writer abundant opportunity to paint the landscape vividly and imaginatively and still remain in the context of the verifiable. When Grahame-Smith puts words in his fictional Lincoln’s mouth, he displays a fluid style that is often lacking in like-pastiches, for example, when the diary recounts what Lincoln witnessed at a slave auction:

“I saw a Negro girl of three or four clinging to her mother, confused as to why she was dressed in such clothes; why she had been scrubbed the night before; made to stand on this platform while men shouted numbers and waved pieces of paper in the air. Again I wondered why a Creator who had dreamt such beauty would have slandered it with such evil.”

By this point in the narrative, Lincoln has already allied himself with a group of not-so-evil vampires who call themselves the “Union” –  get it? – against the other more powerful group who dominated Southern politics and society. His political career which would start not long after and be shaped by that association. The contrasts in which the story revels rest on this foundation, largely historical content vs. horror-movie scares and comic-book action scenes.

The horror/action content is fast- paced, hugely entraining and often quite funny. In one episode, Lincoln, now a lawyer, is bruised in court with the loss of a civil suit; that evening he goes out on a vampire hunt. To his surprise, it turns out that evening’s monster is none other than his client from earlier in the day. Just as they are about engage in their death duel, the demoness hisses contemptuously that Lincoln better hope that he’s a better fighter than an attorney.

Grahame-Smith’s historical fidelity grants his hero a more interesting character arc than most pulp heroes. When this fictional Lincoln, mimicking the real one, falls in love, marries, has children and enters politics, he does something few action heroes ever do, but most men of accomplishment accept as an inevitability. He puts aside childish things (in this case, his axe) and creates a more stable and sustainable life, integrating himself into new venues, and pondering how he can apply the lessons of his youth to the realities of maturity.

This radical turn in the narrative allows the pulp novel to be shaped by more-complex-than-average relationships. Lincoln profoundly loves his wife, who is treated with a lot more respect here than in most dramatizations of Lincoln’s life, but  still he turns his back on her in her hour of greatest need. After losing a second child, she spirals into mental instability, but by then he is President and in the midst of the ultimate national crisis. I also liked the handling of his long-rivalry, and occasional allegiance, with Stephen Douglas, who in most Lincoln dramas is regulated to a single footnote incident.

The novel leans heavily on mano-a-mano combat up to this point, and as the more complex history unfolds, Grahame-Smith repeatedly interrupts it with more breathless action-episodes. During the build-up to the Civil War, the retired vampire hunter reluctantly accepts one last vital mission from his Union allies.

So the hero’s reluctantly dragged out of retirement for one last vital mission. Yeah, we all know how well those generally work out, don’t we?

This situation leads to a wild scene where Lincoln and his two assistant vampire hunters, Joshua Speed and Jack Armstrong (both historical characters), are hopelessly trapped in a burning plantation-manor-house, surrounded by an army of vampires, while Jefferson Davis, in classic melodramatic villain style, gives a smug speech about the superiority of his cravenness over Abe’s naive virtues. It would not have been out of place in the recent film DJANGO UNCHAINED.

As entertaining as all this interplay is, it also is evidence of the difficulties of taking a story that was one thing and trying to mutate into another into another. This problem is demonstrated even in the number of pages the book devotes to this subject or that. A full 187 pages are required to get us to the year 1843, when Lincoln hangs up his axe. After that, a mere 146 pages is left to get him into Congress, then the White House, guide the nation through the Civil War, and fall to an assassin’s bullet (by the way, John Wilkes Booth was a vampire).

Joshua Speed.

However, Graham-Smith, making vampires the primary drivers of the slave economy and the secret force behind the South’s mad, headlong rush into war, has stumbled across a near perfect metaphor. Vampires, since Dracula, have represented hold-over superstitions trying to keep the shadows deep and dark in the face of the light of reason and modernity, and they are simultaneously the aristocracy and the parasite. They have been exploited to make political points not only in fiction but presidential campaign rhetoric (anyone remember the “Romney is a Vampire” TV ad?). The metaphor has rarely been utilized as forcefully as here, but unfortunately it isn’t used to dig as deep as it could. Having set the stage so deftly, Graham-Smith fails to utilize his fantasy to illuminate real themes in history as historical fictions are generally expected to do.

One thing almost every Lincoln drama gets wrong is how slowly his positions on slavery evolved. From his earliest years, he found slavery morally repugnant, and his abolitionist rhetoric was fiery in even his earliest political speeches. But even well into the Civil War, his policies regarding the institution were, in fact, quite moderate (and from a 21st century perspective, reprehensible). Preservation of the Union was his number one priority, freeing the slaves was way down the list. It would not be much of a stretch to say he’d have been satisfied to institute a handful of reforms that maybe could have been utilized by others later, and that he was okay with the possibility that the end of slavery was something he didn’t personally live to see.

The first step in seeing someone as human is fully recognizing them as real. There’s little reason to think that black slaves, who did move Lincoln’s heart when he saw them suffer from a distance, were ever close enough to him that he was forced to see them as real as his friends and associates, or even as real as his bitter enemies. There’s little or no record of Lincoln having substantive encounters with blacks during his formative years in rural Kentucky. Working on a flat boat on the Mississippi, he wasn’t likely to be invited into the homes of slave owners, nor to encounter the minority of black freemen in his day-to-day labors. Though Lincoln married the daughter of a prominent slave-holder, he was not close to his in-laws, and he and his wife settled in a free state. I’d wager that it’s not likely he had a conversation with a black person longer than 10 words before went to Washington in 1846, maybe not until he entered the White House in 1861, and maybe not even until his memorable meeting with Frederick Douglass in 1863 (which isn’t included in this particular book).

Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Stephen Spielberg's LINCOLN. Dreamworks/20th Century Fox, 2012.

Moreover, not only was Lincoln not a liberal by today’s standards, he was a man of a time when it would’ve been almost overwhelming intellectually challenging to conceive of blacks as fully of the same species as whites. He was quite articulate in expressing his belief that blacks were inferior to whites. Lincoln’s moral evolution was a long road that most dramatists don’t want to admit he had to travel. Nor do they want to acknowledge that his eventual abandonment of comfortable, if reprehensible, moderation and his heroic embrace of a righteous stand was something that he was burdened with, in part, by the Confederate madness.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER doesn’t misrepresent Lincoln’s relationship with slavery, but having built so a fine bridge of fantasy to this true subject, it side-steps it rather than crossing it.

The novel is better in evoking the madness and hopeless of the Southern cause, but even here I find fault. We see the relentless spiral towards war through Lincoln’s eyes in the first-person entries. But Graham-Smith also availed himself of the third person omniscient, yet didn’t utilize it when it was most needed. It should’ve been said that the South had a smaller population, a limited industrial base, and significantly no cannon factories. The Confederate strategy was to strike first in the months between the election and inauguration and then dig in so that the Federal Government couldn’t respond. When Lincoln chose the course of military engagement, the South inevitably was doomed. Yet almost four years and more than 600,000 lives were forfeited to this pointless exercise. Even to that last moment, the firing on Fort Sumter – hell, even after that last moment – the South had so many other options, but they acted with the kind of irrational absolutism that we now associate with only the maddest of despots or the presumptuousness of the divine (read: supernatural) right of kings.

According to a 1973 study by Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, had the South ended the institution of slavery by buying and freeing all the slaves instead of going to war, it would’ve cost them about $2.7 billion 1861 dollars. True, it is hard to imagine the political will to execute such a plan could’ve ever been mustered, but what were the costs of turning their collective backs on any compromise or accommodation? On the Southern side alone, the most often-cited figures are $1 billion in property destruction, $1.5 billion in loss of human capital, $767 million for war expenditures, and an appalling 258,000 dead young men. To this, Goldin added a net economic difference of $10 billion between an imaginary South without rebellion and the one we got, in which wide regions wallowed in near continuous recession for the next 80 years. This is the kind of clarifying extra that the fictional narrator Graham-Smith could have provided us with, but that the fictional diarist Lincoln couldn’t have been reasonably expected to.

Poster art for the movie of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012).

And not for nothing, the real Lincoln, who couldn’t have done Goldin’s math, wasn’t insensitive to the idea. In an 1862 letter Lincoln wrote, “Less than one half-day’s cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at $400 per head … [and] less than 87 days’ cost of the war would, at the same price, pay for all in Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Kentucky and Missouri.” (This letter is not cited in this particular book.) In fact the Federal government did buy back the slaves within the confines of the District of Columbia. (This fact is also not cited in this particular book.)

Once the war starts, the novel engages the reader mostly because of its effective and exciting compression of what actually happened, while the vampire metaphor, suddenly under-exploited and under-explored, loses much of it bite (pardon the pun). Lev Grossman puts it well in TIME Magazine, “Once the connection is made, it feels obvious, and neither slavery nor vampirism reveals anything in particular about the other. One could imagine a richer, subtler treatment of the subject, in which the two horrors multiply each other rather than cancel each other out.”

Yet as Lincoln fictions go, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER has more to say than most. Maybe it communicates something about our culture that a deliberately ridiculous, axe-wielding, vigilante super-hero towers over most more easily respected works. Allegedly realistic fictions have been full of myth, while the myth-shaped novel presents a sharper picture. One measure in how the novel succeeds is revealed in a words of a withering critique of the Timur Bekmambetov’s film based on this novel. Historian Vernon Burton enjoyed the book but hated the movie, and spoke volumes of the pitfalls of fictions that prove incapable of grasping the real historical issues they grapple with (from an article by Tierney Sneed in US News and World Report):

“‘Slavery was our national sin,’ said Burton, who said the connection works in that ‘the nation sucked the blood out of Africans for its wealth.’ However, in posing vampires as the villains behind the crime of slavery, the film risks ‘letting the South and the United States off,’ freeing it from blame for the practice.

‘The book did some clever things,’ said Burton. ‘I was excited to see the movie. The book had potential.’ He said the film version was oversimplified, and he worried viewers would make too much of what he and other historians often call the ‘Oliver Stone school of history.’”

That, at least, is one trap the novel didn’t fall into.

Robert Murphy is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and books and play with his cats.

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Really Retro: Art Meets History and Hollywood!: A Walking Tour of Downtown Atlanta’s Hotel Row Historic District

Posted on: Nov 23rd, 2012 By:

Hotel Row, an architectural gem in south downtown, as seen from the corner of Mitchell and Forsyth Streets. Photo credit: Kristin Halloran.

By Kristin Halloran
Contributing Writer

If you didn’t seize the opportunity last month to go see the Elevate murals on Broad Street, you’re in luck – they’re still there, AND I’m going to tell you all about another reason to visit the neighborhood: the Hotel Row Historic District.

So, everyone knows that Atlanta owes its beginnings to the railroads – zero milepost near Five Points, Western and Atlantic Railroad, Terminus, Nancy Hanks, Silver Comet, etc. etc. If you need a refresher, Wikipedia’s History of Atlanta page is a pretty good start. You can find out more about the Gulch here (watch this space in 2013 for more on Jeff’s tour), and for good measure, read the entertaining tale of a recent search for the relocated milepost here.

Now that we’re all on the same page about what happened in the 19th century, let’s move on. The 20th century came along, and with it came Terminal Station in 1905, designed by P. Thornton Marye, who later worked for the firm that designed the Fox Theatre. Sadly, Terminal Station was demolished in the 1970s, but for many years, it was Atlanta’s largest and busiest train station. And of course, what does a city need near a busy train station? Hotels. And hotels it had. In 1908, a fire destroyed most of the block, creating a perfect opportunity for property owners to provide convenient lodging for rail travelers.

The north side of Mitchell Street between Forsyth and Spring is now known as the Hotel Row Historic District. It was placed on the National Register in 1989, and for good reason. Like Broad Street south of Five Points, this area was more or less ignored when other parts of the city were being redeveloped. Looking on the bright side, that means that it’s retained substantially more of its historic character than the northern part of downtown, where entire blocks were cleared to make space for modern office towers and soaring new hotels. Hotel Row and other intact pockets of the neighborhood are little time capsules, representative of what most of downtown looked like in the early 20th century: sturdy, but not boring, three- to five-story brick buildings with shops and restaurants on the ground floor and offices, residences, or lodging above.

A postcard shows Hotel Row circa 1910.

Starting at the eastern end of the block, where Mitchell intersects Forsyth Street, you’ll find Concordia Hall. On the Forsyth Street side, you can still see old advertisements painted on the brick, right above the gator waiting for a belly rub who was added to the building as part of Living Walls in 2011. You’ll also see the detail that makes these buildings exceptional. Although some of the applied ornament on the front of the building has been removed over the years, the arched windows, fluted pilasters and remaining stone, terra cotta and brick detailing are definitely worth a look.

Concordia Hall is the oldest building in the district – it’s the only one that survived the 1908 fire. The Concordia Association was founded at Morris Rich & Co. (later Rich’s Department Store) on Whitehall Street (now Peachtree Street) to provide social and cultural opportunities for Jewish businessmen, mostly of German and Hungarian descent. The building was designed by Bruce & Morgan, who also did the neo-Gothic Healey Building in Fairlie-Poplar (stay tuned for more on them, too). In 1912, when the Concordia Association was less active, the upper floors were converted to hotel rooms.

Moving west, the next five buildings all date to 1908-1909, shortly after the fire. The Gordon Hotel was designed by one of my favorite Atlanta architects, Willis F. Denny – probably better known for Rhodes Hall and the recently renovated Kriegshaber House, now the home of the Wrecking Bar. (Denny managed to to get a lot done by the time he died at just 31 – I really need to hurry up and design something that will still be standing in another 100 years!) Now Gordon Lofts (yes, you could live there – and there’s a roof deck!), the exterior of the building retains its ground-level stone pilasters, historic windows and Ionic capitals.

Third-floor windows and Ionic capitals at Gordon Lofts, formerly the Gordon Hotel. Photo credit: Kristin Halloran.

The unnamed commercial building next door is a simple one, solid and elegant. It is separated from the Gordon by an alley, as was common in late 19th- and early 20th-century planning. Most blocks had alleys; Atlanta abandoned nearly all of them in the 1970s. This one now leads to parking for Gordon Lofts.

The Scoville Hotel is next. Plenty of detail is still present on the building’s exterior, and I’ve heard that there are original light fixtures and tile in the lobby. Look for particularly nice stone detailing above the second-floor windows, along with a gabled parapet and a heavy pressed metal cornice with dentils, which are just what they sound like – teeth. The Scoville has been on the market since February. Anyone interested?

The Factory Building is another fairly simple building, also with a heavy cornice. Lunacy Black Market, a favorite haunt of neighbors (like me), is located on the ground floor – Chef Paul Luna (of Loca Luna and Eclipse di Luna fame) opened this eclectic little restaurant after riding his bicycle across the country . It’s friendly and cozy, and there’s not a single thing on the extremely affordable menu of small plates that I haven’t liked. I’ve taken ATLRetro editor Anya99 there, and I think she agreed [Ed. note: yes, I did!]!

The Scoville Hotel - imagine what the right buyer could do with this place! Photo credit: Kristin Halloran.

Last is the Sylvan Building, which has also been converted to loft apartments. It’s a lovely four-story building that was rehabilitated in the late 1980s with help from Atlanta’s Historic Facade Program. It retains much of its brick detailing, and continues the line of the heavy cornices with parapets above.

Need another reason to visit Hotel Row? Small Business Saturday is coming on Nov. 24! The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is in the Gordon and a cute new boutique called Girlfriends recently opened nearby. Friedman’s Shoes, a family-owned business that’s been around since 1929, is located in Concordia Hall. My husband buys his shoes there from a salesman named Murray, whose raspy voice and accent might make you wonder if you’ve somehow been transported to Queens. Friedman’s has been well-known for years for its appeal to athletes who take advantage of its large range of sizes, including Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Julius Erving. The interior is a fascinating maze – make sure someone sees you go upstairs in case you can’t find your way out! And they do carry women’s shoes, too – I have a neighbor who got a great deal on samples there in size 7!

In addition, the art galleries of Castleberry Hill are just over the bridge, as are the Wine Shoe , a down-to-earth tasting room and wine shop, and No Mas, where you’ll find unique handmade furniture, glassware, jewelry and art objects straight from Mexico.

Whew. Have I given you enough ideas to fill up an afternoon downtown? If not, here’s one more thing to do in the neighborhood – Atlanta Movie Tours!  Both downtown and Castleberry Hill have been overrun with TV and movie crews lately, and some pretty famous stars – I heard that a certain former Governor of California was here earlier this week filming car chases and gunfights that frightened everyone’s pets. Atlanta Movie Tours will let you walk (and ride) in the footsteps of your favorite actors from classic and recent movies filmed downtown and farther afield. ATLRetro readers might be particularly interested in the Big Zombie Tour and can use promo code ATLRETRO for a 25% discount on either of the regularly scheduled tours during December – the Big Zombie Tour or the Big Southern Hollywood Tour. I hope to see you in my neck of the woods soon!

ATLRetro Contributing Writer Kristin Halloran is a damn Yankee who loves living in downtown Atlanta. She is an architect at Lord Aeck & Sargent, and her favorite things include vintage postcards, old brick buildings and secondhand bookstores.

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Really Retro: Elevating Downtown Atlanta’s Historic South Broad Street with Murals and a Festival on Sat. Oct. 27

Posted on: Oct 25th, 2012 By:

By Kristin Halloran
Contributing Writer

As part of the second annual Elevate arts festival, the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs has brought internationally-recognized muralists Hense, Sever, Push, Tilt and Born to South Broad Street to brighten up a once-vibrant block in south downtown. The artists started work Monday Oct. 22 on the large-scale works of art intended to enliven the street and the neighborhood. Come check them out in person this Saturday from 4-8 p.m. at the Elevate South Broad Mural Festival, featuring performances by Pierre Rigal and Atlanta Music Project as well as music by award winner DJ Kemit.

The street will be closed to cars and other fun will include sidewalk chalk art, paint-your-own graffiti, and food from Munch food truck, which is headquartered just around the corner on Mitchell Street. Mitchell Street’s Hotel Row Historic District is well worth a peek if you have any interest in the glory days of Atlanta as a main crossroads for rail travel, when the spectacular Beaux-Arts style Terminal Station still stood just blocks away. In addition, the corner of the district hosts a mural that was created by another French street artist for the 2011 Living Walls Conference – go give the croc a belly rub and see if he purrs!

Formerly known by a variety of names, including Bridge Row and Market Street, this section of Broad Street was the 19th-century home of the city’s first market, fire station and cotton warehouses. In the early 20th century, it was known as Produce Row, and when Rich’s department store relocated to the corner of Broad and Alabama Streets, South Broad Street seemed destined to grow into one of the south’s great retail streets.

The buildings still standing today on South Broad Street reflect the area’s history as one of the original “mixed-use” districts; they’re mostly late 19th- and early 20th-century brick buildings constructed with retail storefronts at the ground level and offices or residential space above. But the growth was slowed in the ’50s and ’60s and reversed in the ’70s and ’80s by a cascade of factors. Among them were the decline of rail travel, the end of Atlanta’s streetcar system, bus rerouting that eliminated a large portion of the pedestrian traffic and the national trend of “urban renewal” in inner cities across the country.

Most of the buildings on this block are vacant now, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating. One has been the home of Miller’s Rexall – the store that provided the inspiration and cover image for Paul McCartney‘s album “Run Devil Run” – since 1965. Hense’s brightly-colored mural is going up on a building that is currently empty but was occupied by the Lewis H. Cottongim Seed Company from the 1930s to the 1980s. Built in 1895, it’s been boarded up for years, but features beautiful original brick detailing, as do several of the (even older) buildings across the street – the ones that are now emblazoned with enormous orange and yellow lettering.

The hope of Elevate organizers, area residents and business owners, and others who have been working together to revitalize the area is that the presence of this high-profile art in a setting that’s accessible to anyone will draw much-needed positive attention to South Broad Street. Despite the vacant spaces, a tightly-knit community exists here – one that understands the potential of the area and wants to see it fulfilled.

Courtney Hammond, project supervisor with the Office of Cultural Affairs, notes that Tilt’s flag mural incorporates the names of many of the people he has met on Broad Street, demonstrating his shared ownership of the piece with the members of this community. Hammond hopes Elevate brings people to the area who may not have visited before, showing them a piece of Atlanta that could someday soon become a new and exciting arts district. Come and experience it on Saturday!

Editor’s Note: All photos are provided by and copyright Kristin Halloran, 2012.

 

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Really Retro: Raising an AleCon: Renaissance Music Stars Three Quarter Ale Celebrate Their First Decade with a Convention and Performance Festival!

Posted on: Aug 10th, 2012 By:

Three Quarter Ale. L-R: Rivka Levin, Dolph Amick, Becky Cormier Finch.

What do you do when your popular Celtic/Renaissance rock band hits 10 years old? If you are Three Quarter Ale, you throw a convention and festival for musicians, performers and fans of history-inspired musical theater and performance art. The three-day AleCon is this weekend (Aug 10-12) at Fabrefaction Theatre Company in Midtown and features performances not just by Three Quarter Ale but a host of other Ren bands and performance artists presenting magic to bellydancing. Other activities include panels on a variety of theatre, music and even film topics from stage combat and Irish dance to prop-building and financing art projects, as well as Killer Karaoke and daily costume contests.

A while back, we made Three Quarter Ale vocalist/flutist/guitarist Ariana Pellayle, aka Becky Cormier Finch, Kool Kat of the Week for her ’80s revival band Denim Arcade, so this time we asked bandmate vocalist/harpist/percussionist Rosemary Quench, aka Rivka Levin, for the scoop on Alecon and the enduring appeal of Ren music.
ATLRetro: Ten years old is a big landmark for any band, but they don’t usually throw a convention and performance festival. How did you guys get the idea for AleCon and what inspired you to go all out?
Rivka Levin: It was my bandmate Dolph‘s [Amick, aka Wicked Pete Speakeasy] idea. We are all three actors and dancers as well as musicians, so paying tribute to all the various crafts in which we participate seemed like the thing to do! Plus, we’re kinda ambitious that way. We are so much more than just a band, and we are THRILLED to be able to do something huge to celebrate out 10th anniversary.
You’ve assembled a pretty impressive performance line-up. Was it challenging or more a matter of ask and they will come?
OHHHH yes, it was challenging. We first had to narrow down what panels might be interesting to the general population as well as professionals – AleCon is designed to appeal to any arts lover. Then we got on the horn and started talking to the many talented people we know. But being so talented, many of them were already booked! WONDERFUL for them, but it meant another round of “who would we like to hear speak or perform?” and more phone calls. On the other hand, we did have some folks who heard about what we were planning and approached us to ask if there was a way they could get in on it! So it was a bit of both, really.
AleCon also includes panels and workshops. Can you tell us a little bit about the range of programming and highlight a few cool learning opportunities?
Sure! One of the panels about which I’m most excited is the Musical Stylings panel. We’ve got three industry leaders – really AMAZING people – talking about how to take a melody and do something unique or different with it – like making a standard musical theater piece jazzy or making a jazz tune sound classical. They are so good at what they do, and I can’t wait to hear them share their knowledge!
We also have an Irish Dance workshop, a podcasting panel by some of Atlanta’s best, “Recording on a Budget” and even a Prop-making For Film panel featuring the man who does all the props for VAMPIRE DIARIES! And some of the most talented and varied performers lined up, too.
The full schedule can be seen at http://alecon.threequarterale.com.
I understand Three Quarter Ale has a secret origin story of sorts which will be revealed at AleCon. Can you divulge a bit of it or do we have to come to find out?
Oh, you’ll have to attend! Our characters are pretty malleable and timeless, so there are really many possibilities regarding their origin or story. But I have just finished an historical novel with one exciting version, which I’ll be debuting at AleCon on Sunday! Parts of it have been posted online, and it already has quite a following of readers who have been chomping at the bit for the last several chapters!

Three Quarter Ale as 2011 finalists in the Georgia Lottery All-Access Music contest.

You’re a trained opera singer and act at The New American Shakespeare Tavern, too. How do these skills inform your work with Three Quarter Ale?

As I said, all three of us are actors, and one of the most electrifying things about Three Quarter Ale is the stage show we put on. People really connect with these three characters, in part because they are so real. I think folks come to an event of ours as much to spend time with Rosemary, Ariana and Pete as they do to hear the music itself. That’s also why I’ve so enjoyed writing this novel! Watching these three lovable and imperfect people get into scrapes, lose their tempers, deal with being kidnapped by pirates, fall in love, argue with each other, comfort each other – it’s been SO much fun! And so very rewarding.
With regards to being an opera singer, Dolph (Wicked Pete) is very skilled at writing original music that makes the most of the skills Becky and I bring to the table. Much of what he writes for me, even if it’s got a heavy metal or ’60s rock chord structure, uses my classical voice. It makes for a very unique and interesting sound, and it’s something that our fans really appreciate about our music – that it’s truly OURS, and no other trio could do it quite the same way.

Three Quarter Ale plays coy. L-R: Becky, Dolph and Rivka.

Do you have a personal highlight/favorite moment in 10 years of Three Quarter Ale?

I think one we all share was our first CD release concert for our second CD, INTERTWINED. We always start each set or concert with our theme song, in which we shout a toast, “Drink Hail!” and the audience is cued to toast us back by shouting, “Wassail!”  We’d been doing the theme song for two or three years, and we knew our fans knew the cue…but still, when we shouted that first “Drink Hail!” and an entire theater full of people shouted back “Wassail!”, it was so loud and so enthusiastic that it literally rocked all three of us back on our heels! The sheer volume! The love that was pouring forth from folks who had driven all the way out just to celebrate with us! It was honestly elating, humbling, and beyond anything we expected. But who knows – maybe something at AleCon will top even that!!
After AleCon, what’s next for you and Three Quarter Ale?
Oh, heavens! Dolph’s working on a screenplay that gives an alternative version to the novel. We’ve got lots of new material not yet on a CD. We’ve even talked with some sequential artists about a Three Quarter Ale comic book or animated video. AAAAAND if you come to AleCon on Saturday night, you’ll see the surprise secret project we’ve been working on, too! Honestly, the possibilities are endless.
Note: All photographs are courtesy of Three Quarter Ale.

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STEAMFEST Brings the World (and the Moon) to Avondale Estates

Posted on: Apr 11th, 2012 By:

When the Academy Theatre, the Artifice Club and the City of Avondale Estates present the 4th annual S.T.E.A.M.Fest this Sat. April 14 and Sun. April 15, the Steampunk world will come together for one heck of a good time.  Musical and theatrical performers confirmed for the Festival include Philadelphia’s This Way to the Egress, Mister Joe Black from the UK, San Francisco’s Unwoman, Los Angeles’ The Peculiar Pretzelmen, Texan comedic styling of Mr. Saturday and Sixpence, Charleston’s Megan Jean and the KFB, Atlanta’s own The Extraordinary Contraptions and Play It With Moxie, plus The Awalim Dance Company bring steps from the Middle East and Thimblerig Circus giving us the wonders of their fictitious Moldavian homeland, and more.

But why stop with the world when S.T.E.A.M.Fest can hang the Moon? The Academy has acquired an exclusive screening of an amazing restoration of Georges Méliès’ masterpiece, A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902), 110 years after its first release of this hand-painted marvel of early cinema. Steampunk short films of various stripes will be on show all weekend in the fantastic Tea Parlor.

Moving from screen to stage, this year we will feature the world premiere of THE ADVENTURE OF CAPERCALLIE BRIDGE by Maegan Mercer-Bourne, which tells the tale of Mycroft Holmes and his adventures.

S.T.E.A.M.Fest, which stands for Steampunk Theater, Entertainment, Arts and Music Festival, is Atlanta’s only Steampunk arts festival (and, quite possibly the ONLY Steampunk Arts Festival in all the Solar System). Live performances and musical acts will be complemented by many artists, authors, illustrators, actors and filmmakers talking about their involvement in the Steampunk genre. Whether in the vendor/dealer’s room, workshops, panel discussions, a costumes contest, musical and theatrical performances, out by food trucks, or dancing with the DJ’s spinning until the wee hours of the morning, some of the best and brightest in the Steampunk scene will be mixing and mingling with all the guests at the event.

Costumes are encouraged, but not required!  Props are welcome and weapons must be peace-bonded.

Tickets range between $25 to $100 and can be purchased online and at the door, with VIP sales closing down this Saturday, April 7 at midnight.  Be sure to note that there is a discount for young people with a valid high school ID. To find out more, visit the S.T.E.A.M.Fest Website , the  S.T.E.A.M.Fest Facebook page or the S.T.E.A.M.Fest Facebook link Event page . Follow S.T.E.A.M.Fest on Twitter at @ArtificeClub.

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Really Retro: Your Ultimate Guide to AnachroCon, Atlanta’s Steampunk/Alt-History Con

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2012 By:

Science fiction used to be all about the future, but in steampunk, it’s gone back to the past to create a steam-powered alternate Victorian era full of airships, goggles and rayguns where Tesla trumps Edison. If you think that steampunk is just about creative costumes, there will be plenty walking the halls of AnachroCon, this weekend (Feb. 24-26) at the Holiday Inn Select Perimeter, but there will also be so much more from literary to art to performances. Read more about the many facets of this fast-growing subculture in our recent interview with STEAMPUNK BIBLE co-author S.J. Chambers, then head on down to AnachroCon to experience the city’s biggest annual steampunk gathering live.

As Anachrocon’s Website says, it’s the “place in the South for Steampunk, History, Alternate History, Science, Music, Classic Sci-Fi Literature and the most amazing costuming you’ve ever seen!” Here’s our top nine coolest things to do at Anachrocon. For times and locations, check the full con schedule here.

Mad Sonictist Veronique Chevalier.

1. Costumes Extraordinaire

Men in top hats, boots and goggles. Ladies in their finest Victorian dresses with rayguns tucked into their beaded evening bags. Gizmos galore. In the case of steampunk, accessories make the outfit and it’s not just a look but a way of life for some followers who meticulously craft their eccentric wardrobes in home workshops. Expect to see an amazing array of hall costumes, but the best of the best compete in the Costume Contest at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Or learn to make your own from award-winning costumers in the Fashion and Fabrication programming tracks.

 

Frenchy & the Punk.

2. A Marvelous Menagerie of Musical Acts

If steampunk has a look, thanks to a motley menagerie of talented musicians, it also has a sound – a diverse blend of jazz, ragtime, gypsy, classical, goth and even a touch of rock n roll. At Anachrocon, you can hear some of the best in the region and nation including The Hellblinki Sextet (do we need to say more than pirate cabaret to pique your interest?!), The Extraordinary Contraptions, Frenchy and the Punk, Aeronauts, The Ghosts Project, The Gin Rebellion, The Vauxhall Garden Variety Players, Play It With Moxie and more. Dance the night away to several DJs including “self-described eccentric audio arranger and morally ambiguous scientist” Dr. Q, the mad mastermind behind The Artifice Club which stages quarterly steampunk shindigs and is the official sponsor of the Friday night main entertainment track provocatively titled Fallout Frenzy. Read an interview with Dr. Q here about The Artifice Club here.

Talloolah Love. Photo credit: Mark Turnley.

3. Trick or Tease: Burly-Q and Carnivale Steampunk-style

Burlesque arose out of vaudeville and sideshow hoochie-coo, all of which go back to the bawdy dancers, singers and comedians of the Victorian music hall. Circuses and carnival sideshows for general public pleasure also came of age in the 19th century. See steampunk versions of both this weekend. Award-winning Atlanta burlesque beauty Talloolah Love  invites you to Burlesque At the End of the World (Fri. midnight) featuring  flavors of Bertolt Brecht, The Muppets, and Hollywood heresy; “you’ve never seen a burlesque show like this!” Guest stars include Knoxville’s Rosey Lady, the Blooming Beauty of Burlesque; Katherine Lashe of Syrens of the South Productions; The Chameleon Queen; and Sadie Hawkins and Barbilicious of Blast-Off Burlesque. Meanwhile under the motto of “Doing the extrordinary with the ordinary,” the talented performers of Oklahoma’s Carnival Epsilon (Fri. 5 p.m.) test the limits the human body can be pushed to with sharp blades, burning fire and a silver fork. And Wicked Hips Bellydance, a professional troupe with members from the US and Europe, presents an art form once considered so risque that it would have inspired proper Victorian ladies to grasp their smelling salts (Sat. 7 p.m., Sun. noon).

4. History, Science and the End of the World, Oh My!

Nikola Tesla.

Yes, the whole idea of steampunk is based on an alternate history and a different direction in science and energy. Costumes are not mandatory to attend these bonafide actual history and science with fascinating panels on such topics as “the history of passive-resistance and non-violent protest” (Fri. 3 p.m.);  “evolution of small arms” (Fri. 5 p.m.), “Sex in Classical Greece and Rome” (Fri. 11 p.m.), Van Gogh at Remy (Sat. 5 p.m.) and much more including culinary discussions, Vikings, shipwrecks and a Sunday-morning gnostic mass. Well, with the Mayan calendar’s abrupt end this year, we give them some slack for a few more apocalyptic (and maybe not so hard-factual) programs such as “This is the Way the World Ends; Eschatology 101″ (Fri. 2 p.m.), “Mayan Calendar 2012″ (if the world’s coming to an end, it only makes sense there’s also a mead-making 101 class out by the pool at the same time), and “Surviving Those Pesky Zombie Apocalypses” (Sat 8 p.m.). Does that mean we’ll see some Walking Dead Steampunks drunk on mead? Well, we can only hope.

The Traveling Revelers.

5. A Little Etiquette & Indulgence Can Do You Good

The Victorian Age was known for being prim and proper, unlike our uncouth contemporary era, so it seems only fitting that AnachroCon’s newest last-minute programming track is centered on Etiquette & Indulgence. Run by Peter Beer Slayer and Richard Carnival, “their mission [is] to make the world a better place by providing instruction on the Social Graces and how to truly enjoy life by using their combined powers to become the Traveling Revelers!” Take ConSociology classes on “how to meet people at cons” (Fri. 3 p.m.);  “the zen of flirting” (Fri. 7 p.m.); “the art of social cues, green lights/red lights” (Sat. noon),and enjoy a “morning refresher” course (ok, early afternoon, Sun. 1 p.m.). Or engage in proper Tea Dueling at 11 a.m. Sun. morning.

Bill Pacer as Benjamin Franklin.

6. Viva the Revolution – Meet the Founding Fathers

Tea Partiers and Ultra-Liberals, take note! OK, AnachroCon isn’t breaking out the Ouija Board (well, not right now anyway; we kind of think there has to be some Ouija-ing going on somewhere), but professional Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin impersonators (J.D. Sutton and Bill Pacer) will be on hand to share their wisdom on government, electricity and even provide a Q&A. Find out what the founding fathers really thought about freedom of religion, gay rights and sleeping with French prostitutes – we dare you to ask them!


7. Astounding  Alt-History Literature & Pop Culture Panels

At the end of the day, it’s sometimes forgotten that steampunk started not as an aesthetic movement but in the pages of books and now is a lively literary genre. Panels discuss classic influences from Edgar Allan Poe (Sat. 1 p.m.) to a Victorian Science Fiction Roundtable (Sat. 9 p.m.) where we imagine the names Jules Verne and H.G. Wells might get a few mentions. More topics include how to write alternate history (Sat 4 p.m.), modern steampunk literature (Sat. noon) and Growing Up Steampunk (Fri. 7 p.m.). Author guests include Mark P. Donnelly, Kathryn Hinds, O.M. Grey, Emilie P. Bush, Kimberly Richardson, Alan Gilbreath and Dan Hollifield.

Enhanced sonic phaser by Venusian Airship Pirate Trading Co.

8. Sensational Steampunk Marketplace

Need a pair of goggles, a trusty ray gun, a corset, jewelry, custom leather items? All of these and more are available in the Vendor Room, a veritable bazaar of steampunk-related merchandise, with a little Medieval-Renaissance-Celtic thrown in for fun. Well, steampunk does share some roots in modern fantasy which is often inspired by those eras. Be sure to also visit the Artisans Room where you can buy unique, one-of-a-kind creations by jeweler Corey Frison (Labrys Creations), art prints and jewelry by Kerry Mafeo (Fantastic Visions), chainmail by Thandor (and watch him craft it before your very eyes!), the geekiest T-shirts on the planet from Aardvark Screen Printing and works by award-winning artist and illustrator Mark Helwig.

9. Steampunk Boba Fett

Do we really have to say anything else but those three words? OK, you may have seen the Elvis Stormtrooper at DragonCon but Steampunk Boba Fett has taken this helmeted STAR WARS mercenary to a new level of eccentric creativity. Dubbing himself humbly, “the galaxy’s most feared Steampunk Bounty Hunter since 1878 (Earth Time),” to see him is to be inspired! Now go home and get to work on your costume so you’ll be ready to enjoy Anachrocon this weekend!

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Really Retro: Lauda Musicam Treats Couples to Love and Lust Medieval/Renaissance Style

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2012 By:

Joanne Mei plays the recorder and Darryl Payne the flute in Lauda Musicam of Atlanta.

Chances are, if most people have any impression of romantic music in Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque times, it’s either courtesy of a scruffy bard at the Georgia Renaissance Festival or an image of a troubadour standing beneath Juliet’s balcony – the Really Retro version of a mariachi band. However, like the serious and silly love songs of jazz, blues and rock, romantic music was much more diverse and delightful than these stereotypes suggest. Contemporary Romeos and Juliets will have a chance to find out for themselves when local early music ensemble, Lauda Musicam of Atlanta present “Love and Lust: A Valentine’s Day Concert,” this Sat. Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. at Holy Trinity Parish in Decatur.

ATLRetro caught up with Joanne Mei, who plays the recorder in Lauda Musicam; about the 50-member instrumental ensemble of recorders, viols, harpsichord, sackbuts, shawms, harps, crumhorns, cornettos, and percussion, as well as the history and sound of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music; and why this Saturday’s concert will be a Really Retro romantic night to remember.

Any thoughts on the love song in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Were love songs different in an era of arranged marriages and stark class divides? Would a troubadour have sung one of these songs under my balcony window?

The Renaissance was a very romantic time if you weren’t dying of plague. The Catholic Church had a huge influence over the period which led composers to find unusual ways to express themselves. At the time, marriage for the upper classes had little to do with love. Courtly love as interpreted by poets and troubadours emerged as a way for people to express their passion. If you were a medieval noblewoman, you may have had a troubadour singing your virtues. If you were a washer woman, forget about it.

Lauda Musicam of Atlanta.

Tell us why we won’t be bored and why seeing this old music performed live in 2012 is both fun and enjoyable and the perfect way to spend date night with your 21st century Valentine.

If you have never heard early music, as performed on reproductions of period instruments, you are in for a real treat. Take your true love back in time for a unique, romantic evening with Lauda Musicam of Atlanta.

What does Lauda Musicam mean?  

It is a Latin phrase that means “In praise of music.”  Sometimes folks misspell it “Lauda Musicum,” which means “In praise of the musician.”  We certainly intend the former!

For most folks, I’d guess that the three musical periods run together in our minds, but are there distinct difference between each like jazz, blues and rock n roll? Or were there different styles coexisting like today?  

There were absolutely distinct styles and they were just as diverse as today. Unlike today, though, music wasn’t frequently heard in concerts. Rather, music served primarily a social function.  Early musicians often refer to Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque as the three major style periods, but they overlap greatly, and each period is represented very differently from region to region.

Many instruments we consider standard today didn’t exist in those days, like the piano and the guitar. Are these older instruments harder to play or why did they drop out of fashion?

Early instruments are fairly easy to play, but it takes practice to play well. These instruments were eventually replaced by technology – keys and valves made playing louder, higher and faster more of a possibility.

Liz Thomas plays the harp in Lauda Musicam.

Is there any story about how you become interested in/develop a love for medieval, Renaissance and baroque music, and joined Lauda Musicam?  

After earning my PhD and getting a job, I found I had some time on my hands.  One of my coworkers asked if I might like to try the recorder. Recorders are those plastic instruments you see in toy stores that so many grade school kids learn to play as their first instrument. I tried a soprano recorder in 1994 and got hooked!

Can you talk a little bit about the concert on Sat. Feb. 11? What will the group be performing?

LMA will be performing Love Music of the Renaissance at the Holy Trinity Parish in Decatur at 8 p.m.  Performing with LMA will be Uncommon Practice, an a cappella group that sings vocal music before the 18th and 19th centuries. Countertenor Adrin Akins will provide his unique voice to selections while John Maschinot will perform traditional Celtic folk tunes on the bag pipes.

Has Lauda Musicam done any recordings? Or is one planned?

Our performances are usually recorded. The Lauda Musicam of Atlanta website  is under construction but should have recordings available for download soon. Be our friend on Facebook!

What’s next for Lauda Musicam?

Our next two concerts will be geared to families and children. LMA will perform standard early music fare. Music by some of the most well-known composers will make this concert fun for the newbie and the enthusiast alike!  Members will lead a “petting zoo” after the concert for people to see and try instruments and to ask questions.

Join us either on Sunday, May 6  at 3 p.m., at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, [in] Covington. Or Friday, May 18 at 8 p.m. at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church at 1790 Lavista Road.

Robin Prechter, Joanne Mei and Patsy Woods of Lauda Musicam.

Are all Lauda Musicam’s concerts free?  

You can listen to all the hits from the 5th to the 18th centuries for free, but donations are accepted and appreciated.

What’s your day job when you’re not playing with Lauda Musicam, and do you play with any other musical groups?  

By day I manage a laboratory at CDC in Atlanta. I play recorders, Renaissance flute and the occasional percussion instrument. I also play penny whistles and sometimes perform Celtic rock music in pubs.

How do can someone become a member of Lauda Musicam of Atlanta?

Membership is open to amateur and pre-professional musicians with good music reading skills. Please contact [Lauda Musicam Director] Jody Miller at http://www.fippleflute.com/ or recorder96@aol.com.

 

Editor’s Note: Jody Miller also contributed some editing and checks for historical accuracy to this article. All photos courtesy of and copyright Lauda Musicam of Atlanta.

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