DREAM FACTORIES AND RADIO PICTURES
Wheatland Press / 288 pages / (October 31, 2003)
Finally, there is some vindication for those of us who have lived with heads crowded with movie, television, radio, and all that other minutiae that everyone told us we’d never use! No matter how bizarre our knowledge of celebrity marriages, scandals, and forgotten stars, Howard Waldrop knows infinitely more. Most importantly, he’s consented to share that information and his blinding imagination with all of us. Of course, if you are clueless about these areas you are still going to have a hell of a time with Dream Factories and Radio Pictures, but any insider intelligence is going to make the experience that much richer for you.
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Dream Factories and Radio Pictures is about the entertainment world that was, that came to be, that never was, but could just as easily have been. This is a fascinating look at how things could have turned out. At times, the speculation is so dazzling that the frequent laughs come as a bit of a surprise, a shake of the shoulder to bring the reader back to reality, if just for a second.
The book’s first story is a perfect introduction to the seriously skewed world of Waldrop’s work. “Fin de Cyclé” is a wide-ranging weaving of tales featuring the unforgettable character of Jarry, boneshaker fanatic and fairly harmless psychotic. It is also supports the theory of how non-sequential filming could have caught on in films far earlier than it did. Like all of Waldrop’s stories, it is quirky, complex, clever, and completely irresistible. Oh, and it requires the reader to think.
“Occam’s Ducks” offers a view of one segment of the film industry that few are aware even existed: the thriving business of “race pictures.” From 1934 through to the late 50s, these all-black casts made movies for the growing black audience, movies that the white-controlled film industry was content to ignore, during a time when black actors were looked upon as novelty additions to big budget studio projects. “Occam’s Ducks” brings that almost forgotten phenomenon vividly to life. Neither the story nor the people should ever be forgotten.
For sheer nostalgia and a rollicking good time it would be tough to come up with anything more on target than “All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past.” More familiar pop culture characters put in an appearance in the strangely haunting “Heirs of the Perisphere.” Some not-so-funny real historical figures take on alternative, but equally unpopular roles in “Hoover’s Men” and “Major Spacer in the 21st Century.” Cautionary tales that we would do well to remember and consider.
So maybe you don’t have a limitless store of facts about the entertainment industry; that’s not going to keep you from enjoying Dream Factories and Radio Pictures one little bit. This may well be one of the best collections of the year — intelligent, hilarious, and just slightly whacked — and surely the most unique.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.