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2.0 out of 5 stars KUDOS TO JASMINE HROMJAK, 27 April 2014
By 
Richard Masloski (New Windsor, New York USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Welcome to Mars: Politics, Pop Culture, and Weird Science in 1950s America (Paperback)
The cover of WELCOME TO MARS is proof positive that a picture can be worth a thousand words. On the copyright page we learn that one Jasmine Hromjak did the Cover Design - and what a potent, poetic, evocative, mind-boggling, nostalgic and so very humorous cover it is! Love, love, love the cover! It speaks in a UFO sighting instant of a time and place and mania and mind-set - and anyone with a smidgin of knowledge about America and the cultural and political climate of the '50's would be hard-pressed not to smile and also shiver some when looking upon this book's amazing cover. I only wish the book itself were commensurate to its cover.

Being a baby boomer myself, I was familiar with a great many of the topics covered in Ken Hollings' book - mainly those dealing with UFO sightings and the sci-fi films of the decade. The author assigns each chapter to a year in covering American cultural, political and scientific happenings, as the book's subtitle indicates. While the chronological deluge of people, places and things held interest it did so only up to a point: the point where it seemed I was reading a more densely packed "birthday" card, the kind that lists all the happenings in the year you were born, from the miraculous to the mundane. So that is what this book became, in the end. It is a blink-and-miss it approach that over time grows exceedingly tedious. A tidal wave washing everything and anything up on the shore of a reader's scrutiny. I dare say, if someone knows next to nil about this seismic decade in American history, the book may seem to be written in Greek. I know that if one never saw the films discussed, the discussions would by-and-large seem decidedly confusing, pointless and vague. I would guess Hollings is after both style and substance - but the substance of the book, in the end, becomes its style - and the adrenaline rush of raw data with which the book begins ultimately wears itself out rather quickly, like an undisciplined boxer giving too much too soon and exhausting himself for later rounds and thereby losing the bout. The fact that some of the info Hollings serves is tainted doesn't make matters any better.

A few examples of errors I picked out of the whirlwind read: on page 76 Hollings claims that the reason Scotty, the newspaper reporter in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, fails to photograph the electrocution of "The Thing" is due to "some unconscious act of clemency." You see, in Hollings' tortured read of things, he believes Scotty feels a need for some sort of "clemency" because of the imminent executions of the actual atomic spies, the Rosenbergs. According to Hollings, Scotty also stops dead in his recounting of the notorious photo shot by a reporter with a camera strapped to his ankle, a picture of the electric chair execution of Ruth Snyder in 1927. The reason Scotty stops relating the story of the earlier execution is because he knows "history is about to repeat itself" via the Rosenbergs. See what I mean by tortured? Hollings is just trying too hard to find cross-cultural connections that just are not there. Truth is, Scotty doesn't continue with the Snyder story because the Thing is drawing nearer to the final confrontation with the Earthlings. And the reason Scotty doesn't photograph the electrocution of the Thing isn't due to any act of clemency at all! Simple truth is..Scotty faints! His failure to get a single photograph of the Thing is a running joke throughout the entire film.

Here is another: on page 244, Hollings says that Rod Serling got the inspiration for the TWILIGHT ZONE debut episode "Where is Everybody?" from taking a "walk across an empty sound stage." Actually, it was a walk through an empty village set at the back lot of a movie studio. This isn't my being picayune. If you are familiar with this TZ episode, you will appreciate the difference between an empty stage and an empty village. Another: on page 240-41, Hollings misrepresents William Castle's THE TINGLER "as the first movie ever made about LSD" and that because of its subject "the kids in the Midnight Spook Pit are just going to love it." While it is true that this movie shows the first LSD trip in mainstream film - a trip taken by none other than Vincent Price - to say that the movie itself is "the first movie ever made about LSD" is simply disingenuous. Hollings also gets it wrong when he writes that the Price character takes his trip whilst alone, while two other characters are off on a date. In truth, the assistant and girlfriend watch the entire trip from the other side of a lab door. On page 241, Hollings totally misrepresents the one touch of color in the otherwise black and white film. In the film, the blood in a bathtub and running from a sink faucet are red. The color in this sequence - wherein a man is trying to scare his wife to death - has absolutely nothing to do with a LSD trip. To hear Hollings tell it, though, is quite astonishing: "Shot in lurid color while the rest of the film remains in dreary black and white, the hallucination sequences look like a heart-stopping, grotesque, zonked-out parody of THE WIZARD OF OZ." He goes on waxing erroneously: "William Castle takes teenage America for a ride through the chemically enhanced brain; and the boys and girls all seem to like what they see." And more nonsense: "William Castle is the favorite uncle of America's healthy, socialized youth. With the aid of rubber fright masks and bathtubs filled to the brim with fake blood, he is now introducing his kids to the Wonderful World of LSD." If I were a member of the Castle family, I would probably sue because none of what Hollings says about Castle or THE TINGLER is true.

Just as it isn't true that - according to our author on page 249 - "debris thought to be from the crashed Roswell saucer was first examined" at Fort Hood, Texas. Fort Worth Army Air Field, yes, but not Fort Hood. But it seems our author is trying to connect Elvis - who completed his basic training at Fort Hood - to the UFO in Roswell to Lee Harvey Oswald and the Texas military base in order to make some sweeping statement about American culture and craziness. But the connection just isn't truly there, but only in the author's overwhelmed head. So after finding these mistakes relating to things I know about, I uncomfortably wonder what else Ken Hollings got wrong in his book. And in reading a book dealing in large part with the paranoia of a time and place, feeling paranoid in any degree with regards to the veracity of what one is reading...is just not a good way to feel.
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Welcome to Mars: Politics, Pop Culture, and Weird Science in 1950s America
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