. . . Prosthetics

. . .

Hands! Hands! Hands! Hands! Hands!

Ross Nelson writes to make my brain itch:

I was watching the newly remastered version of "Metropolis" Wednesday night, and a detail struck me that I hadn't paid attention to before. The mad inventor, creator of the city's engines and the robot/Whore of Babylon anti-Maria, has one prosthetic hand. Now, I automatically associate this device with Peter Sellers' Strangelove character in the Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" but as I thought about it, I figured it must be a common trope, an echo of the evil character whose physical disfigurement shows his moral disfigurement.

Anyway, my question is, does that particular form, the inventor who is himself part machine, have a long lineage in film, traceable through the years, or is it mostly literary, and if so where does it appear? I expect the scifi B movies of the 50s must have used it as well, but where did Kubrick get it, and was "Metropolis" the first film usage?

I have a clear memory, which seems to be completely false, of a grotesque done during one of the great ages of prosthetic invention... something along the lines of Swift's "Lady's Dressing Room," or Mark Twain's or Edgar Allen Poe's burlesques, or The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin.... Well, those lines are getting awfully broad, aren't they?

The pulp era of science fiction (from what little I know of it) seems to have jumped straight to full-out cyborgs, with everything replaced but the brain. There's The Hands of Orlac, which is almost but not quite there and whose author may have come closer in some book I never would've heard of.

And there's whatever that itch is.

Anyone out there know? I'd really rather not credit Thea von Harbou with an original idea if I can avoid it.

. . .

Josh Lukin joins our perplexity:

There has just *got* to be a story of the Lucy Clifford or E.T.A. Hoffman unheimlich school that does something with artificial hands, but damned if I can think of anything but J.M. Barrie, which would be quite a stretch to include . . . Southern's use of the image in Strangeglove, of course, has all kinds of post-Metropolis precendents among authors who can be classed with Southern as Black Humorists. West, as you note. Durrenmatt's The Visit. Highsmith's "The Great Cardhouse." And of course V., wherein at least two characters have that distinction.

Shelley Jackson would be the ideal person to ask about this, followed by the authors of Narrative Prosthesis.
For pre-Strangelove self-modifying crazy-ass scientists, we might also look into Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, but that doesn't help with my personal goal of finding a precursor to Metropolis. So far the closest I've come is Nuada, which is none too close. Maybe I should just get over it and admit that some Nazis had a flair with pulp.

By the way, those of you with access to the MLN should seek out Dr. Lukin's illuminating review of Dr. Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction.

. . .

Advertising Supplement

Jake Wilson resolves one old issue:

  I considered writing to you a couple of months ago when you were looking for sources of the Rotwang/Dr Strangelove archetype. I was going to suggest that one source might be the Poe tale The Man That Was Used Up, but then from your phrasing I wasn't sure if you'd already made that connection.
That damned phrasing stuff trips me up every time! I responded:

  That was, in fact, the grotesque that I vaguely thought might be Poe or (if post-Civil-War) Twain or even Crane. (When I browsed through Poe collections, I became distracted by "Maelzel's Chess-Player".)

And to balance things out, Jake Wilson introduces one new issue: Senses of Cinema No. 26, with excellent background on the Hong Kong woman warrior, a Stan Brakhage tribute appropriately split between formal and personal concerns, enticing overviews of Ned Kelly stories and Italian movies that I'd probably hate, a pointer to the near-future sf film None Shall Escape, and the usual much much more.

My other favorite web-based movie periodical, Bright Lights Film Journal, has also served up a fresh batch of fine reporting, reviews, and meditations. But would you think badly of me if I admitted that my favorite part was the Holly Woodlawn interview? 'Cause if you would, I admit nothing.

Elsewhere on the web, Dr. Justine Larbalestier has provided a preview of "A Buffy Confession," her spirited defense against (and equally spirited surrender to) nattering nay-Slayers. "For those who haven't seen the finale yet don't read the coda at the end."

And another of our favorite doctors, Josh Lukin, brings us the welcome news that paper-based periodical Paradoxa is finally unleashing FIFTIES FICTIONS: Chester Himes! Patricia Highsmith! E.C.! Richard Matheson! Samuel R. Delany! Judith Merril! People I don't even know! Get your order in early; you know how ephemeral paper-based periodicals are, and this looks like the best issue of Paradoxa yet. (I'd say "the best issue yet of any magazine ever," but I can't be sure till I track down a copy of that Vanity Fair with the picture of Tuesday Weld in the back. [Update: That Vanity Fair issue stunk.])

Yeah, I kid the academy (those nuts!), but when its component parts are given half a chance, the combination of publishing venues, deadlines, and job reviews can be mighty productive. Out here in the boonies, I've been blowing hot air about "doing something" on Highsmith for more than a dozen years; with sharp and decent folk like Lukin and Earl Jackson Jr. on the case, the world might live long enough to see some results.

. . .

"Well, perhaps our Emperor is queer," admitted the servant

Jake Wilson, the perfect guest, chucks another prosthetic hand on the barbie:

Incidentally, the same trope appears in American literature circa 1900 as the origin myth of Nick Chopper, aka the Tin Woodman of Oz. As you might remember, Nick began as an ordinary woodcutter, but was so hamfisted that in the course of his work he accidentally sliced off his own body parts one by one. To make up for these losses he furnished himself with metal prostheses, till finally none of the original man was left. In one of the Oz sequels the Woodman holds conversations with both his own original 'meat' head, and a figure patched together Frankenstein-like from some of his discarded appendages along with those of another man. Adding insult to injury, the latter creature is married to Nick’s long-lost sweetheart (which sounds like a set-up for the kind of joke unsuitable in a children's book). L. Frank Baum excluded death from his utopia for fear of distressing his readership, but while personally as a child I could stand any amount of fictional bloodshed, for years I was haunted by this graphic presentation of the mind/body conundrum.


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