I can go twice as high
Just take a look,
It's in a book —
A reading rainbow!
I can go anywhere
With friends to know
And ways to grow.
A reading rainbow!”
Reading Rainbow theme song
A recent visit to the Flashback Weekend Chicago Horror Convention unleashed a river of great memories, gut-punching emotions, and general malaise. I arrived early, thinking I could 1) valet park and 2) eat a decent meal at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare’s signature restaurant O’H. Neither were possible because, although the hotel was open for business, it really wasn’t totally, completely open for business, due to the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic. Valet parking was suspended and the only restaurant open was the coffee shop.
The COVID adventure hung over the entire affair, from the convention’s “suggestion” that everyone wear a mask, to the plentiful plexiglass at the hotel’s registration desk, to the plexiglass at some of the professional photo-ops. Why not just require convention-goers to be vaccinated? Would that be so… monstrous?
Yet one thing I loved about standing in the entry line was the chance to overhear many joyous reunions and conversations. If you go to enough conventions, you wind up making “convention friends” along the way. People you see at every show, or people you strike up conversations with, begin to feel like distant family members. (My convention friend is named Tony, and he lives in my mouth.) Conventiongoers greeted each other a little more heartily, with much gusto and passion, because this was the first convention anyone had been to in almost two years! It was great to see and hear. I greeted several people I know informally in the line, and each time I thought the same thing, “They survived the pandemic. I survived the pandemic. It’s great to be alive.”
A few years later I was introduced to the extraordinary criticism of Pauline Kael and excitedly tore through all the published collections of her New Yorker pieces. I had never read anyone like Kael before; she clearly loved movies with a strong passion, but she wrote about them as if no one else had ever written about movies before. Her takes were so personal; the writing so lively and lucid. Thanks, Pauline.
Returning to the “Land of Mank” reminded me of the last time I attended Monster Bash in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That convention visit was notable for two things: 1) It was the weekend of F This Movie’s epic Podcast-A-Thon where we broadcast for nearly twenty-four hours to raise money for the Magnolia Tree Foundation, a cancer charity started by the family of a friend and 2) It was the weekend I finally got to meet Gregory Mank and Tom Weaver.
Meeting them at the Monster Bash convention in 2016 [...] was a highlight of my year. I am afraid that I probably came off like an embarrassing fanboy, babbling like an idiot as I produced book after book for them to sign. (In the photo below, Weaver is on the left, pictured with Greg Mank on the right, who was also forced to smile at my awkwardness and sign many books.)
At the tail end of my teaching career, I became entranced by the film criticism of Dana Stevens, who writes for Slate; and Farhad Manjoo, who used to write for Slate but now writes for The New York Times. (Manjoo was the Tech. expert at Slate and was really good at explaining difficult concepts in a way that I could understand. Thanks, Farhad.) Stevens’ film criticism reminds me of Pauline Kael’s: wild, personal, mercurial, and so well-argued that her points are tough to disagree with. Stevens has a book coming out this November, Cameraman, about the life and work of Buster Keaton, my favorite silent film star. This looks like a must buy and a must read. Thanks, Dana.