For our tenth episode it’s back to the Discworld – and Ankh-Morpork – as academic, writer and broadcaster Dr Dan Golding joins us for Moving Pictures. The tenth Discworld novel, Moving Pictures was published in Pratchett’s most prolific year: Good Omens, Eric and both sequels to Truckers also came out in 1990!
Student wizard Victor Tugelbend has been happily failing exams at Unseen University for years…but when alchemists suddenly invent “moving pictures”, Victor finds himself drawn to Holy Wood, the mysterious coastal home of this new entertainment industry. He’s not the only one: hopeful actors, ambitious producers and even talking animals have all been caught up in the glamour of the “clicks”. It’s not magic in the wizard sense, but there’s definitely something unnatural going on – and it’ll take Victor, fellow star Theda “Ginger” Withel, Gaspode the Wonder Dog and the faculty of Unseen University – including new Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully – to solve the mystery of Holy Wood.
Bringing modern world concepts to the Disc had always been a feature of the series, but Moving Pictures really kicks off the tradition of “X comes to the Discworld” main plots. Pratchett takes broad aim at Hollywood in a mix of homage and parody, referencing everything from the pre-talkie era to the Golden Age and 1980s blockbusters. It also features first major roles for Detritus and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler (both introduced in Guards! Guards!), and is the first appearance of Gaspode the Wonder Dog (who returns in Men at Arms) and the stable, ongoing cast of Unseen University wizards. There’s so much happening in Moving Pictures, and we’d love to hear what you thought of it! Use the hashtag #Pratchat10 on social media to join the conversation.
In our next episode we’ll be joined by television captioner and Discworld mega-fan Sarah Pearson as we reunite with Death for the eleventh Discworld novel, Reaper Man! If you have questions you want answered on the podcast, send them in by via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat11.
Show Notes and Errata:
- Dan Golding is on Twitter at @dangolding. His next book Star Wars After Lucas will be released on May the 4th, 2019, but you can see his ABC series What is Music? with co-host Linda Marigliano right now! Check it out on ABC iView or the triple j YouTube channel.
- You can find all the info about Dan’s excellent podcast Art of the Score with Andrew Pogson and Nicholas Buc at artofthescore.com.au. They also have a Twitter account at @ArtoftheScore.
- To hear Dan talk about Star Wars music, check out the five Star Wars episodes of Art of the Score (the original film actually gets three episodes!), or watch the video he made for the ABC explaining why the theme is so great.
- The previous book that kicked off with Death overseeing the passing of a previously unmet character was Sourcery, in which Ipslore the Red dies but tricks Death, passing his soul into his staff. We almost get this sort of beginning in Pyramids, but Pteppic’s father only dies after the school days flashback section of the book, and again in Guards! Guards!, though Gaskin dies before the book starts and we instead join Vimes after the funeral.
- In the real world, cellulose is an organic compound vital to the structure of cells in green plants, while celluloid (eventually a trademark name) was the first kind of thermoplastic, made from cellulose nitrate, used to replace ivory in billiard balls (as discussed in episode one) and widely as a filmstock before the development of safer, cheaper and easier to make acetate film in the 1950s.
- Inglourious Basterds is a 2009 film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino in which multiple (fictional) plots to kill nazi leaders during World War II converge on a Paris cinema at the premiere of a new propaganda film.
- Liz refers to the 1903 film Electrocuting an Elephant, produced by the Edison Film Company, in which Topsy the circus elephant, who had killed several people, was executed via electrocution on Coney Island. The film was distributed but thankfully doesn’t seem to have been as popular as the company’s other films, though it still exists. It’s sometimes claimed to have been funded by Thomas Edison in an effort to discredit Nicola Tesla’s alternating current as unsafe during the War of the Currents, but the timeline of events makes that unlikely.
- “Play it again, Sam” is probably the most famous mis-quote in cinema history, and is not from the 1942 film Casablanca. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) supposedly says it to the piano player in his bar, but what he actually says is “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.”
- Listener Ian Banks let us know on Twitter that Victor’s arrangement with his income is a nod to the character Grimsdike from Richard Gordon’s Doctor novels, who receives a generous stipend as long as he’s a medical student. The series began with 1952’s Doctor in the House, lasted for 18 books, and was adapted many times for film and television. The early television versions in the 70s were adapted by members of Monty Python and the Goodies, including actual doctors Graham Chapman and Graeme Garden.
- Victor’s single exam question may be a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When the Arthurian knights reach the ominous Bridge of Death, its keeper tells them they must answer his three questions before they can cross his bridge. His first question: “What…is your name?”
- You can see the dance from 1951’s Royal Wedding on YouTube here – or, if you like to know how the sausage-inna-bun is made, you can watch this version that shows what Astaire’s experience on set was like.
- Disney’s Snow White was released in 1937, but as Dan pointed out in a bit that hit our cutting room floor, Steamboat Willie – the first appearance of Mickey Mouse, and the first animated film with synchronised sound – was released almost a decade earlier in 1928.
- Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), directed by animator and cartoonist Winsor McCay, wasn’t the first animated film, but was the first to use several important animation techniques including keyframes and animation loops. It was originally used by McCay as part of a live vaudeville act in which he commanded Gertie to perform tricks, but was eventually released with a live action introduction. Gertie was also the first animated dinosaur on film. You can watch it on YouTube here (we’ve skipped the live part).
- Also cut for time: Dan mentioned that other pioneers of anthropomorphic animation included Felix the Cat and the singing, swaying trees of early Merry Melodies.
- George Méliès was a French film director whose most famous work is probably A Trip to the Moon (1902), based loosely on two of Jules Verne’s novels and widely considered the world’s first science fiction film. You can watch the hand-painted colour version on YouTube here.
- Dan’s version of the book is the Collector’s Library edition, and you can see its beautiful cover at the Discworld Emporium. Liz has the modern paperback (also available at the Discworld Emporium), but you can see Josh Kirby’s full original cover illustration – as featured on Ben’s early paperback – at this Cultured Vultures review of the book. The original hardcover with the Superman/Ben-Hur styled title can be found in this Gizmodo collection of the best Discworld covers.
- Wikimedia has a great photo of the Han dynasty seismograph from 132 CE. Well…a recreation of it, anyway. No-one’s quite sure how the internal mechanism worked but historical records indicate it was accurate.
- The “Odium” is a pun on Odeon Cinemas, a chain of movie theatres in the UK, Ireland and Norway, the first one opening in 1928. The name comes from the Ancient Greek word for various buildings built for musical purposes. (The Rhoxie, the Seriph of Al-Khali’s fabulous palace featured in Sourcery, is mentioned as a possible better name; both are references to the famous Roxie Theatre in San Francisco, the longest continually-operating movie theatre in the US.)
- The roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu was first released in 1981 (seven years after Dungeons & Dragons), and is named after a Lovecraft short story. It’s currently in its seventh edition.
- The Necronomicon by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred is a fictional book of evil magic mentioned in many of Lovecraft’s stories. Its contents mainly concern the “Great Old Ones”, ancient cosmic beings beyond the understanding of mortal minds, and ways in which to summon them. Doing so is always a terrible idea.
- The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are a nerdy Canadian rock band whose lyrics are largely inspired by the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Their albums include faux-soundtrack Spaceship Zero, rock opera The Shadow Out of Tim (a loose retelling of one of Lovecraft’s last stories, The Shadow Out of Time) and of course The Dukes of Alhazred. You can find them all on the Thickets’ BandCamp page.
- Multiple online sources cite the origin of “that’s not a thing” as a 2001 episode of That 70’s Show (“Donna’s Panties”) or a 2003 episode of Friends (“The One Where Rachel’s Sister Babysits”). Moving Pictures predates both by more than a decade.
- Several fan-invented rulesets exist for Cripple Mr Onion; Andrew C. Millard and Terry Tao invented one for a deck with eight suits (a standard poker deck plus an Italian/Tarot suited deck) and posted it to newsgroups in the 1990s, where Pterry apparently approved. Those rules were later adapted by Stephen Briggs into a version using only a complete tarot deck, published as an appendix in Turtle Recall, the fourth revision of The Discworld Companion.
- North by Northwest (1959) starred Cary Grant as Roger O Thornhill, an advertising executive who is mistaken for a spy, and Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall, a mysterious woman he meets as he tries to evade capture. In addition to the middle initial, the opening sequence of Thornhill dictating a memo to a secretary while they travel through New York is also supposedly a dig at David O Selznick, who reportedly did this frequently. (It’s worth mentioning that Selznick had produced his final film, A Farewell to Arms, two years earlier, and had not produced a Hitchcock film since 1947’s The Paradine Case.)
- Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a 1958 science fiction film about a wealthy heiress who grows to a height of 50 feet after an encounter with a giant alien. It was remade for HBO in 1992 by Christopher Guest with Darryl Hanna in the lead role.
- Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World imagines a 26th century America in which the human population has been genetically engineered into castes; the more intelligent castes are kept peaceful and compliant through various entertainments, including the happiness-inducing drug soma, and “feelies” – films that induce physical sensations through metal knobs grasped by viewers.
- The “Penfield Mood Organ” appears in the opening pages of the 1968 Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the basis for the film Blade Runner. By dialling a number a person’s mood can be set to any one of hundreds of specific states, including 481, “awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future”, and 888, “the desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it”.
- “If it bleeds, we can kill it” is a famous line of dialogue from the 1987 sci-fi action film Predator, delivered by paramilitary team leader Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) after his team finds the bright green blood of the alien hunter who’s been killing them off.
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is the direct sequel to Frankenstein (1931), both starring Boris Karloff as “The Monster” and directed by James Whale. At the conclusion of the second film, the Monster is rejected by the Bride made for him; he tells the Bride and her creator “we belong dead” before he tearfully destroys the lab, killing all three.
- There have been a lot of King Kong films, but Dan recommends the 1933 original, which he informed us birthed leitmotif in Hollywood film music! Ben once wrote an absolutely scathing review of the 2005 Peter Jackson remake featuring Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody, but Dan reckons 2017’s Kong: Skull Island starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman is actually pretty good, if very self-aware.
- The Rank Organisation was a British entertainment company, its assets now owned by The Rank Group. It’s famous logo and filmed intro sequence, known as “Gongman”, is a buff shirtless man hitting a huge gong. Four different performers struck the gong in Rank’s heyday, most filming it at least twice to replace deteriorating film stock. The gong itself was a prop made of papier-mâché; the sound of a (much smaller) Chau gong or tam-tam was recorded separately.
- Rankin/Bass Productions, by contrast, was an American production company best known for it’s stop-motion animated holiday programs, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and Frosty the Snowman (1969), though we especially recommend Mad Monster Party? (1967), which features Boris Karloff’s only performance in a musical.
- Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis is the only male actor to have won three Best Actor Oscars. For our universe’s sake, we thank Sir Daniel for retiring from the acting life. However if Liz’s theory is correct, Katherine Hepburn was a greater threat to reality, having won four Best Actress Oscars.
- Jurassic Park (and, later, Jurassic World) is built on Isla Nublar (Spanish for “Clouded Island”), a fictional island off the coast of Costa Rica. “Site B”, featured in the sequels The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, is located on another island further west, Isla Sorna (which is sort of Spanish for “Sarcasm Island”).
- “Jumping the shark” has become a modern euphemism for the moment when a television series or other long work of popular culture loses its relevance and starts going downhill. The phrase is a reference to the 1977 Happy Days episode “Hollywood: Part 3” in which Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli literally jumps a shark on waterskis, considered the point where the show left behind its relatable roots. (It’s worth noting that Happy Days continued for seven more years after this stunt.)
- 119 twelve-minute films of The Hazards of Helen were released between November 1914 and February 1917. They initially starred Helen Holmes, though she left to form her own company with her husband after 26 of the films, remaining one of the most famous silent era serial stars. Holmes was replaced by Elsie McLeod for about six months before Rose Wenger Gibson (credited as Helen Gibson) took over; Gibson filmed the final 70 and became as famous as Holmes. All the Helens did most of their own stunts, though Gibson made a name for herself as the first female stunt performer in Hollywood before moving into acting, and continued to appear in Hollywood films until the 1950s. You can watch clips from Leap from the Water Tower starring Holmes and The Governor’s Special starring Gibson at the Internet Archive.
- Beyond the Valley of the Trolls is a reference to Russ Meyer’s 1970 exploitation film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. It was the first of several written with Meyer by famous film critic Roger Ebert.
- The other parody film names we mention are references to the Marx Brothers films A Night at the Opera, Duck Soup and A Day at the Races (two of which are also the titles of Queen albums).
- According to the IMDb, Ennio Morricone has composed music for over 500 films. He probably remains most famous for his work in Westerns, especially The Good the Bad and the Ugly, but has worked in many different styles. His soundtrack for Space: 1999 was for an Italian theatrical film edited together from three episodes of the original UK television series; the Space: 1999 television theme (and most of the incidental music) was composed by Barry Gray.