Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Cinefantastique

Frederick S. Clarke's Cinefantastique magazine, launched in the early 70's, one of the greatest ever, was inspired by Eric Losfeld's midi/minuit Fantastique, which debuted in the 60's.

Losfeld's magazine (entirely in French) was the first in publishing history to cover the genre seriously. Clarke picked up the baton in the U.S. and produced dozens of stunning issues (with spectacular cover art) devoted to little known luminaries such as Hans J. Salter, unseen cult films (at the time) such as The Wicker Man, and directors such as David Cronenberg and George Pal.

For mine, the magazine became less interesting when the genre itself became more mainstream (ironically). Clarke's double issue devoted to Star Wars, then subsequent issues devoted to fare such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, while extraordinary for their penetrative examination of these cultural phenomena, were indicative of a new, more commercial direction for the magazine, a direction that saw more marginalized genre films receiving less attention. 

After years of struggling to pay the bills, it's understandable that Clarke embraced what sold. Only an independently wealthy man could have chosen to ignore the call of commerce.

Although the magazine did eventually die, leaving an almost unrecognizable corpse, Clarke's spirit of affording the genre some serious consideration endured with magazines such as Tim Lucas's Video Watchdog, Richard Klemensen's Little Shoppe of Horrors, Gary J. Svehla's Midnight Marquee, and the French L'Ecran Fantastique.

Even though there is a deluge of information on the genre these days, there is still something very special about something you can hold in your hand that is dedicated to in-depth analysis of it. Print possesses a permanence, an authority, a sincerity that data on a computer screen does not.

I treasure my collections of these wonderful magazines, and still feel the texture of the connection they make to my childhood. On Saturday mornings, I'd catch the 'Red Rattler' train into Melbourne's CBD, bound up the station steps, flee into the busy street, and sprint four blocks to Space Age Books, a titan of destinations that was more like a church than a bookshop. It offered me the safety of a church, and there was reverence for that which I held dear.

Entering Space Age Books and its kaleidoscope of wonders was akin to arriving on another planet, a planet where my kind were welcome, where flights of imagination were encouraged, and where our hearts were consoled with our minds.

These magazines still smell of that long deceased bookstore, a brick and glass monument to dreaming.


  1. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 6, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    Cinefantastique was a truly fantastic magazine, i especially liked the reveiw section and the legendary ratings panel: hollow dot = worthless, 1 dot = mediocre, 2 dots = good, 3 dots = excellent, 4 dots = must see. I literally used to be mesmerized by that ratings panel in every issue. I think they had one bird reveiwer, Judith P. Harris, i always used to look forward to reading her reveiws and seeing her ratings for the gory low budget horror movies that Cinefantastique always used to reveiw so magnificently, i always wondered how a bird could watch such stuff and even seem to enjoy it. I remember the early 80`s being the peak for the magazine, they did some incredible double issues back then, their megalithic Forbidden Planet disection was arguably their greatest ever issue.

  2. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 6, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    I want to bugger Jacqueline Bisset (as the bird was in 1962 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

  3. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 6, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Ed Gor-girl has finally enabled com-girl-t moderation over on his site so i wont be able to leave anymore Pauline Hickey com-girl-ts over there, i`m so bloody angry about that.

  4. Jervaise -- funny you should mention those ratings panels. I love them, too. The early ones were kind of black with white dots. Recently, I've considered having a permanent ratings panel on this blog with some regulars such as yourself contributing. Would that interest you? If it interests anybody else, please let me know.

    I remember Judith P. Harris and used to wonder about her. She gave a bad review to 'Phantasm' from memory. I wonder where she is now?!

    That 'Forbidden Planet' issue was amazing.

    Re: Jacqueline Bisset -- definitely buggerable

    Re: Ed Gor- at least he allowed you to run rampant for longer than most would.

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 7, 2012 at 2:09 AM

    It`d be great to give my ratings to certain films, its just that i dont watch modern movies very much any more, but when you do retrospectives of old cult-classic horror and science fiction movies (they`ve always been my favorite kinds of films anyway) i`d be more than happy to provide my ratings for them, using Cinefantastique's old system (as a kind of belated tribute to the genuine magic of that magazine), that would be superb.

  6. Wow some of those FANTASTIQUE covers are quite, uh, erotique.

  7. I loved Cinefantastique and have the two-decades'-worth collection to prove it. Out of the fan-driven side of the genre press, they always did the best making-of articles: their pieces on ALTERED STATES, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and a retrospective on ERASERHEAD are definitive stuff. My only gripe was that their writers tended to be too clinical and pretentious in their reviews, resulting in a lot of baffling negative reviews of films that have become fan favorites.

  8. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 11, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    Phantom, do you recall that other equally superb magazine from the same time: "FANTASTIC FILMS" ?, i think it ran from 1978-85, it had some truly marvelous editions and i dont think i`m over-stating this but i think that when it was at its brilliant best it was actually on a par with the great "CINEFANTASTIQUE".

  9. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 13, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Phantom, I SAID do you recall "FANTASTIC FILMS" ?.

  10. hammy -- yes, I have every issue of Fantastic Films. It started off brilliantly and became a bit sub-standard. Excellent design that mag.