Wednesday, December 29, 2010
I've been hearing about Detour for years and I had my doubts. Now that I've seen it, I have to say that it is well-made for such a low-budget picture, and it does hold your attention -- but nonetheless, my doubts were well-founded.
The problem with so much of the noir genre is that it relies on the characters making one stupid decision after another, until they've positioned themselves in a sinkhole from which there is no escape. It's hard to feel any sympathy for such a pack of self-destructive boneheads. . . and the central bonehead in Detour, Tom Neal, is no exception. He certainly starts out by asking the wrong question: "Who'd believe me?" The answer is, it doesn't matter. If you run from the truth, you look even more guilty.
And what kind of a moron plays tug of war with a telephone cable under a door? What did he think he was going to accomplish with that one? Really, Ann Savage's demise is one of the dopier accidental deaths in the genre! Not that you mind -- she's such a pill in the movie, and the Neal character caves in to her belligerence at every turn, presumably to show his innocence.
The novels of Jim Thompson rub me the same way. They generate a sense of futility and hopelessness that, in the words of Mark Twain, arrives nowhere and accomplishes nothing. Now that I think of it, these examples of the genre probably violate about 90% of Twain's rules for fiction writing. Not familiar with Twain's Rules? Oh, my goodness, every writer (and reader) should be acquainted with them. Just click here.
And I'll see you down the road a piece. My mood has improved since this morning, because some solutions to my problems are coming into focus. See, that's what you do: don't be Tom Neale and stand there like a fool and let that oncoming train mash you down flatter than a pancake. Take shank's mare and get out of the way!
What should have been a nice evening off went sour. The blower on the gas fire stopped working. Honey not only would not sleep with me, but disappeared -- I was so worried; it is, by my standards, a small house with no real hiding places and still no furniture to speak of, how could she vanish so completely? At four AM I was wandering through the house calling, and then screaming, her name.
I believe I am reaching the limits of what one person can cope with on his own. Those of you with partners in life -- cherish them, even if they sometimes annoy you. Here's a song lyric by Jacques Brel to cheer and amuse. The lyric actually doesn't do justice to the song, which starts low, peaks in the middle, and then diminishes as it tumbles down to the moaning final verse:
We find love, you and I
It's a new game to play
Then we tell our first lie
And see love go away
And we find... we're alone
We rush on, you and I
We don't need love at all
We need thrills, we need speed
Then we stumble and fall
And we find... we're alone
We're loyal, you and I
To flowers that are dead
We forget how to cry
We save photos instead
And we find... we're alone
We hear guns, you and I
We ask what is that
Then we open the Times
We're informed where it's at
And we find... we're alone
We're moral, you and I
We stand for what's right
We Slaughter all evil
By dawn's early light
And we find... we're alone
We're lucky you and I
We're alive and secure
But in the bank and the church
We can never feel sure
And we find... we're alone
We've made it, you and I
We have glory and fame
Yet we never know why
We feel so ashamed
And we find.. we're alone
We have power, you and I
But what good is that now
We could build a new world
If we only knew how
And we find... we're alone
We are old, you and I
We beg warmth from the sun
In the dreams that we dream
We ask what have done
And we find... we're alone
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The last four days have been hellish with an extra-special hellishness that would do Mister Lucifer proud. But, up to a critical point, most of my goals were met.
First, a quat update. When we last met, Tiger Whitestockings and Tiger Grumpyface were both Missing in Action. Both have reported in. But life is hard on an outdoors cat and these guys are taking their lumps. Whitestockings is always gone in the morning, and she stays away all day. I have no idea where she goes. But every night, usually between six and seven PM, she answers my call with a plaintive meow from under the deck, and I see to it that she gets fed. Last night, with our big winter blizzard, she was particularly upset. The fur on her back was iced up
And I saw Tiger Grumpyface every day at the old house. She knows I am trying to get my hands on her, so she runs ahead of me every time I appear, and stands off to one side meowing. I've given her a can of food every day, but on Sunday I brought the cat carrier with me and put the food inside that. She would not go in to eat. Maybe if she gets hungry enough, she will. But the blizzard prevented me from going out yesterday, and I've no plan to go out today, and the cat carrier is probably buried under twenty inches of snow. So unless unless she's cleaning up on some mice and rats out in the barn, she will be plenty hungry when I see her next!
Snow. Don't tell me how pretty it is. On my first day over at the old house, I discovered that the five or six inches we got in town on Thursday night was more like eight to ten inches in the country. I got stuck five times just trying to get into the driveway, wasted an hour, and was exhausted before I could even start in on the house.
I spent two days clearing off the furniture upstairs to make it ready for the move, and one day downstairs. It did not go without tears, usually two or three hard bouts every day. The thing that set me off first was finding a silly project of mine from my early teens. I threw it away. Another memory gone, like the pages from the book of life in Something Wicked This Way Comes.
As I packed and loaded, I also did laundry -- until the dryer died on Saturday afternoon. No more will I launder there -- anything that comes with me is going to have to come dirty. Everything I touch is destroyed.
But by Sunday night the basic mission was accomplished. Everything is ready. There will still be much work after the move, but the worst ought to be behind me at that point.
The last thing I took out of the old house on Sunday was the kitchen clock. My mother loved that clock, and its loud ticking was the heartbeat of that place for thrirty-five years. Without it, the house is still and silent.
Now it is the heartbeat at the new house.
The three days also meant three very full and successful loads to the new house. This part is fun and exciting and satisfying. I now have a dresser in my bedroom, and the television stand to store DVDs in. I have a table in my living room, with a Steiff owl in a cage sitting on it. I have a lamp and a giant child's block for a lampstand in the side room. It's getting better.
But the move, scheduled for Monday, never happened thanks to the damned blizzard, and there's no fallback date as of yet. I have to find a way to get the old house plowed out first, which is kind of hard to do without a phone. My sense is that I'll be sleeping on the mattress for at least a week longer than expected.
On Monday I braved the storm in order to come in to work and access phone and internet. My plow guy hadn't come, so I got stuck twice trying to get out. I got the message from the movers that they were canceling, left a message for them, and called up the phone company to set up phone, internet and television. By the time I got back home, the town plow had filled in the end of my driveway. I got stuck trying to get through, and it took half an hour to get out. Then I got stuck again just shy of the garage. This time there was no escape -- I couldn't move forward or backward. I only had a damn broom to clear snow away with, and couldn't get out to buy a shovel.
I spent the day poking away half-heartedly at the new website (because the old one will go away soon, and I might as well completely rethink it), and waiting for the plow guy. He never came.
Did you know that cleaning up cat vomit from the floor uses the same exact set of shoulder and arm muscles as moving? After three solid days of this, I am back to needing a break from it. My body aches all over, I'm exhausted, and my emotions are in the toilet.
The loneliness is getting to me. In the last years of her life, my mother was of little practical help in facing the winter, but at least we had each other to talk to. I suppose I'm feeling it more for not having the option of picking up the phone or drafting an email.
On Saturday I accepted an invitation from Steve L______ and his wife Claire P_______ to join the two of them for Christmas dinner. I've known Steve casually for about four years now: he temps at the bookstore on big weekends and special events, and is one of the very few employees of the college who shares my sense of humor. We've had less chance in the past couple of years to work together, now that I am in a position of responsibility, but it was awfully nice of him and Claire to make the invite. It turns out that we are practically neighbors now: I was able to walk to their place. Their house is charming and they are good company. I spent two hours there and enjoyed it very much.
Between that and the day full of work (including a full car to unload after I left them), I hardly had to think about Christmas at all.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
|A Sanity Claus made by my mother.|
. . . is a book that I find hysterical but which no one else seems amused by. It is the only really crabby book about Christmas that I can think of.
My Christmas present to the blogospere is: I will be away from it for a few days, while I spend the holidays taking apart what's left in the old house, making the place ready for the movers to come in, packing and loading. Christmas was a favorite holiday of my mother's, never one of mine, and this one will be more poignant than any other I've experienced.
If someone had told me last Christmas what this year was going to be like, I would have said they were crazy. Which just goes to show something, although I'm too close to it to know what.
Happy, happy, Merry merry.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
I ended up not going out to the old house last night. It was raining too hard, and windy, and I didn't want to load and unload the car in those conditions. That was my excuse. The real reason was that I just simply needed a night off after something like ten straight days of moving; I was exhausted, aching, and my emotions were out of control after closing on the place yesterday afternoon.
Now I regret not going -- the rain has turned to snow, and if the snow doesn't stop it will make a trip out to the old place untenable, and that's not getting anything done.
But it was a lovely, peaceful evening. I played with the quats, watched an episode of UFO, made and ate a pizza (Hamburger, mushrooms, bacon and broccoli. . . must remember to give it a couple more minutes in the oven next time) and thanks to the shelving I brought over on Monday I was able to unpack and shelve six big boxes of books. I will need those boxes, going on.
It doesn't help that Tiger Whitestockings has been behaving like a ninny. For three days she hid under the Corvette that the previous owner of my house is storing in a bay of the garage, actually cowering on top of the far front wheel, not even coming out to notice that I left the garage door ajar for her. I literally had to drag her out and carry her across to the food, and kneel over her and pet her before she would eat anything. If I so much as stood up, voooom! She shot back under the car.
This morning I got pretty fed up with this bullshit, and carried her outside. I set her down with the heaping plate of food on the deck, under cover. But she freaked out all over again, and slinked away, finally taking shelter from the snow under the deck. That's probably as good a place for her as any. There's a gate that I can put her food through. I left the garage door ajar for her again. We'll see how it develops from here, but I am honestly starting not to care. I've done everything I can.
The same goes for Tiger Grumpyface. I tried and tried to get my hands on her this past Saturday, and she ended up swiping at me with her claws. I finally decided, "Fine, if that's the way you want it." When I went back Sunday morning, there was no sign of her. When I went back Monday night, there was no sign of her. I didn't leave any food out; no point in just feeding the damn raccoons. She made her choice. I have enough to deal with.
Honey is still not sleeping with me. This morning before eight, I found her curled up against the wall outside my room, and grabbed her. She must have been sleepy enough not to care, because she stayed with me and for ten minutes we had a good snuggle. Then I made the mistake of petting her and thanking her for staying, and that must have woken her up enough to realize where she was. She ran away.
So I'm pretty angry with her, too. I give her turkey and everything, and she's not doing her job!
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I don't want to write about moving today, although it is much on my mind, a weight that never seems to get any lighter.
Instead I will write about Miss Bianca and Bernard the Brave. Not the Disneyfied version of the movies (although the first one was okay despite its departures), but the source material, the original books by British author Margery Sharp.
Regrettably, the Miss Bianca series is completely out of print. This is a crime. Although I cannot speak for the later books in the series (my family stopped at four for some strange reason, and until later years I never knew that more existed), the first three are among the books that I most fondly remember.
They are Gothic Victorian Romantic Adventure stories -- with mice. When Disney made their version, it was Americanized and transplanted to the Louisiana Bayou, but the books are ornately European and much richer in texture. As illustrated by the great Garth Williams, the books are filled with what Williams himself referred to as "a soft furry love."
But they are also filled with darkness and wonderful villains. In The Rescuers, a young girl is forced into servitude by The Grand Duchess, who with her faithful valet lives in a decaying old mansion attended by clockwork handmaidens.
I have to stop. I may revisit this post later on. I'm not doing it justice. Just too tired. Suffice to say that you should seek out The Rescuers, Miss Bianca and The Turret, and devour them by candlelight at night.
Monday, December 20, 2010
|Casting around for images of moving on the internet, it dawned on me that Howl's Moving Castle was the perfect symbol.|
I can hardly wait! Life will be so much better all the way around once this is done.
As it stands now, everything is jangling and there are lots of things that I can't unpack because I have nowhere to put them. Living out of three suitcases and a bin is a pain, and it doesn't help that I'm so absent-minded! I couldn't find my razor and had to buy a new one. I still can't find the comb that I packed just a couple of days ago. I had an hour of panic this morning because I couldn't find the wallet, keys and checkbook that I had in my pants pockets yesterday at work! (It puts things into a kind of perspective when you realize how much you can't do without those three things!)
The cats will be happier too, although I fully expect them to subject me to another round of freaking out when I finally release them from the bathroom.
Last night was better. It was good to bring the television, DVD player and computer out from the old house. Even though I'm not connected to anything yet, I could still play DVDs and have something to look at while I ate dinner (the original I Spy), and did some unpacking and puttering around.
I put on the Hogan Peter Pan for that, and no, the significance of my current focus on that story is not lost on me, nor did I title a previous post The Peter Pan Syndrome on a whim. To grow up is an awfully big adventure, and I'm doing a lot of it under adverse conditions, awfully late, and awfully suddenly, all through this terrible year.
The quats are settling down some. The gas fire is a big hit with everyone except Honey. Whitey is no longer hiding. They are eating again. On the first day, Honey wouldn't even eat the turkey breast that I bought especially for her and Whitey. That changed last night! But she still isn't sleeping with me. In the middle of the night I grabbed Patches and was surprised when she stayed with me, purring, until I fell asleep.
I finally managed to get my hands on Tiger Whitestockings yesterday on my trip out to the house. She's in he garage now, but she's a day behind the other guys. She spent the entire day under the previous owner's Corvette, and wouldn't eat at all unless I was kneeling there, petting her. Finally this morning, she found the cloth cover I'd spread out for her, and settled on that.
It looks like we are not going to get the significant snow that they were predicting for tonight -- so I will make the trek out to the old house again, load up the car, and drive back into town. With Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, I expect to spend a lot of time out there packing and getting ready for the movers on Monday. Maybe, just maybe, this won't take as long as I thought.
Tomorrow afternoon, I close on that house.
Onward, indeed. . .
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Oh my god.
It seems premature to write about the move as it won't be done for more time than I care to think about. This is worse than I imagined, and I used to have a pretty good imagination.
The cats hate the new house. I worked so hard to make it seem familiar to and comfortable for them, but as soon as I set them down, all five of them started tearing around, screaming their heads off. Whitey spent most of the day hiding under the radiators. They're not eating the way they used to. Honey won't even sleep with me.
Only Patches has ended up perfectly calm and relaxed. She likes the windows and the easy access to them. Pooky does enjoy lying in front of the gas fire when it's on, but when it isn't she's congregated on the landing with the others, screaming at me.
This does not help my emotions. I feel that I've taken them away from the place where they were happy. I feel that I've harmed them.
Understand that I'm not whining. My constant message to myself is: "Don't boo-hoo-hoo that it isn't home -- work hard to make it home."
And I'm trying so hard. But I'm already exhausted and my emotions are all over the map.
This morning before work I made a run out to the old house. I forgot that the burglar alarm was on and set it off. It's a sad, terrible place now. I was in tears within minutes and pretty much stayed that way the whole time I was there. I'm going to hate these trips in the worst way.
I feel guilty for moving on; I feel like I've betrayed a trust, have let mom and the cats and the house all down. I feel like my actions are the things making her death final. I feel lost and lonely.
On the other end of the spectrum, it's satisfying that the new house is looking better and homier with every load. I've hung lots of things in the kitchen to make it feel like I belong there. And I like being in town, I like seeing the holiday lights on the houses at night. Much as I loved the countryside at the old house during Spring and Summer, in Winter it is desolate and depressing, a blue, lunar landscape containing no life. The new place is better.
I think in time the house will be good. But it's not there yet.
Friday, December 17, 2010
It is the day before Opening Night, and like all producers I am concerned for the success of the show.
Last night I pulled up the big rugs in the living room and dining room of the Old House, rolled them up and loaded 'em. I had the notion that the rugs would be a fairly big deal to the cats, something they would instantly recognize when they get to the new diggs. I must have been right, because when Honey came downstairs this morning she completely freaked out! I haven't seen her so upset since the first day that the auctioneers came to raid the place, and I've never heard her yowl like that. Of course, it probably didn't help that there was a strange man in the house. She ran and hid, and when she reappeared I couldn't pet her or hug her enough.
The strange man was from the moving company. If I was doing this right I'd probably get more than one estimate -- but just now I'm inclined to take the path of Least Resistance, providing the number he gives me isn't completely outrageous.
Yesterday I talked to the estate lawyer and learned some interesting things. The Wolf is at it again: she's been appearing in the lawyer's office every other day, hounding them for money. She wants $15,000, and she wants it yesterday. The estate doesn't even have that kind of money at the moment. Everything is still pending, though we close on my mother's house this coming Tuesday. I reminded the lawyer that at some point we have to remember to dock my sister for the $2,000 that she already has swindled from the estate, and come up with a number for the other things that she stole.
Sue C_______, the paralegal who works with my lawyer, had been in contact with the auction house. The first auction, of the least valuable pieces in my mother's collection, apparently brought in somewhere around $45,000. The lawyer was thrilled with that. I don't know how I feel. When I heard the number I didn't feel either happiness or disappointment. I felt completely empty. It saddens me to reduce my mother's life to numbers.
In the "more than enough Misery to go around" department, Sue and her husband H______ lost their house to a fire recently. I'm told that there wasn't much in the way of flame, but the smoke destroyed everything inside.
I'm reminded of a postcard I used to have. I used to think it was funny. It was a cartoon of a man poking his head out of a foxhole. He was surrounded by total thermo-nuclear devastation, a desolate landscape of craters and debris. He had one black eye, bruises all over him, and half of his teeth knocked out. But he had a huge grin on his face, and he was holding up a sign that read:
LIFE GOES ON!
Thursday, December 16, 2010
This is going to sound like a personal problem, but I have a mattress in my car!
During the six years that the family split time between Cliff House and the Farm, my main bed was a cot. When we moved to the Farm full-time, that cot was brought in to the upstairs hall and never used again. I won't need it at the new house, but the other night it caught my attention. I knew that I couldn't get the whole bed into my car, but, just maybe, the mattress. . .
I'd already loaded up the car for the next morning, so I couldn't try it right then. But last night I dragged that thing through the length of the house and out into the fresh snow. It took some doing, and I can't see out of my left window, but I got it loaded! There was even room left over for me to get some bits of furniture in there, and some rugs and bags of odd items, and a broom (now at last I can sweep off the deck of the new house!).
The main problem in moving right away was that I didn't want to sleep on the floor for a week and a half, if that was how long it took to get the furniture moved. Problem solved! I am now officially moving this weekend!
. . . and what seemed like a great idea at the time is now giving me butterflies. It's crazy. This needs to happen and under the circumstances (the old house is now in a deeply depressing state -- even the cats have noticed it) I want it to happen, but for some reason I'm all nerved up.
I've changed my focus in packing from clearing off (and out) the larger furniture to packing up the things I'll need for bare-bones living with the quats. With any luck, we'll all hit the road on Saturday -- but I have a lot to do before that can happen, and it may force a day's delay. Either way, when I leave for work on Moanday morning, it will be from the new house, my commute will be just three minutes, and if the snow flies that night (as some are predicting) I'll be under no obligation to drive out to the old house through a storm.
What a year this has been. . .
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I guess it's a milestone to say that I no longer enjoy looking at pictures of my mother's house the way it was before the auctioneers came to rape the place. I'm just focused on moving ahead. But I needed this picture to tell an amusing story.
One of the things I rescued from the block was a hand-carved, primitive wooden Donald Duck marionette. You can barely see him in the picture, just under the orange plastic bucket with the Halloween cat on it. He's partially concealed by a similar Mickey Mouse marionette.
He used to hang in front of the stove, to one side. On Saturday, I moved him into the new house and hung him in the kitchen, from the rack that's built in to the ceiling.
I hadn't been planning on going in that day, but the old owner wanted to meet me there to go over some things. It turned out to be nothing and really kind of pointless, although I did get a full load of stuff in, so the trip wasn't wasted.
He saw the duck marionette hanging in the kitchen and looked kind of puzzled. He asked me, "Is that where he's going to stay?"
I thought, You betcha, but I said "Oh, I don't know, I'm just throwing stuff in here for now."
And then he said: "Because that's for pots and pans, you know..."
I thought: Noooooo! Really? Oh my god! Call out the marines!
My mother did things differently from most people and let's just say that's a tradition I intend to keep up.
Meanwhile, I have in mind a plan that could have me living in the new house by the close of the weekend, albeit without much in the way of furniture. I'll let you know the details if it pans out. Like all plans, it has pluses and minuses.
On the side of the minuses:
- Things will be pretty austere at first until I can get my furniture moved out, hopefully late next week.
- I'll still have to make a trip out to the old house every night, load up the car and head back into town.
- It'll be tough to get out there to meet with movers so that they can give me an estimate.
- Did I mention it was going to be austere? I'll be living out of a suitcase, and the quats will have to make do with just rugs and towels and their one little quat bed.
- The quats will have their major transition behind them, and instead of having the old house get sadder and emptier around them, the new house will be getting happier and fuller as the days go by.
- I'll be able to unpack some of the boxes and re-use them.
- If we get a storm and the driving becomes horrendous, I wouldn't absolutely have to get out to the old house. We'd be snug and warm and safe right here in town.
I'll find out if it's going to be possible tonight.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
On Monday morning it was time to close my PO Box and set up forwarding of my mail to the new address. This was a little bit sad to start with: I've been using the C____ V________ Post Office for thirty-five years, have known the postmistress as long as she's held the job. So this would be yet another goodbye.
While I was filling out the form an older woman came in to pick up her mail. On her way out she poked her head in from the lobby to say hello. The postmistress greeted her, asked how she was doing. I looked up at that point. She sighed, and smiled, and said, "One day at a time."
When she had gone, the postmistress told me that she and her husband had been in a bad car accident just the week before, and that her husband had died. "They were very close," she said.
I think I must have bit my lip and said, "Oh, God." Then I said, "The misery just never stops, does it?"
She said, "There's more than enough to go around."
I told her that I hated the business of moving, because it was just like having to say goodbye again to my mother every damn day.
She nodded. She said, "I've been without my mother for nine years now."
I said, "Does it ever get any easier?"
There was quite a long pause. Her eyes were glistening. She looked down at the desk. At last she said, "A little bit. You start to remember the good things."
I held it together long enough to finish my business, but was sobbing by the time I got to the car.
When I arrived at work, there was a rolling counter unit that needed to be stripped so that J___ could use it later in the week for Book Buyback. It had some of our Last Chance Book Sale items on it -- things that I'd pulled to go back to the publisher. As soon as I change these books to Returns in the system, they sell at 25% off the cover price until they go out the door.
One of the books that found its way into my hands was the hardcover edition of Patti Smith's Just Kids, the memoir of her longtime friendship with Robert Maplethorpe. The paperback is currently on the bestseller list, and it's been getting many recommendations and favorable reviews. I opened it up to take a quick peek. This is how it begins:
I was asleep when he died. I had called the hospital to say one more good night, but he had gone under, beneath layers of morphine. I held the receiver and listened to his labored breathing through the phone, knowing I would never hear him again.
Monday, December 13, 2010
My current run of Peter Pan pictures would not have been complete without revisiting Paramount's 1924 silent version starring Betty Bronson as the boy who won't grow up. Bronson's principle qualifications for playing Peter seem to be that she has a good silent-movie kind of face and is utterly flat-chested. . . but in all other ways she's about as convincing a boy a Betty Grable would have been.
Her performance is as broad as any you'll see in a silent movie, full of posturing, posing and, worst of all, prancing about and flapping her arms. This latter especially invites some very un-PC Humorous Thoughts to float through my mind.
She also has a habit of flashing her eyes wildly, which at times makes Peter seem more like a deranged serial killer than a Lost Boy. And yet, J. M. Barrie was still alive when this movie was made, and Bronson apparently came with his glowing recommendation.
The picture is in most ways true to the play, although two different actors are used for Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, and there's a sudden and bizarre Americanization that takes place in the final act. The whole affair is made uncomfortable by such a ladylike Pan and a Wendy (Mary Brian) who is much too old for the part -- probably necessitated by Wendy having to appear slightly older than a grown-up woman!
Paramount spent some money on this in the form of a real pirate ship anchored off the California coast. Neverland (here referred to, most annoyingly, as "The Never Never Land") looks just great, and so do the Lost Boys in their fake fur jammies. There are some bathing-beauty mermaids, and all the pantomime animals are amusing in the best sense. In her few close-up shots, Tinker Bell is realized quite well in a long, flowing gown that appears always to be the center of a windstorm.
But the award for best performance has to go, hands down, to George Ali as Nana, the dog! For me, this is the most fun part of the movie, as it's the closest we will ever come to seeing the original stage production of Peter Pan. As thankless a job as playing Nana must have been, Ali knows how to move and manipulate the costume to great effect.
When all is said and done, it's not a bad interpretation. . . but it is a pretty easy one to fall asleep on.
I must say that College Swing (Paramount, 1938) is just about the goofiest picture I've ever seen -- and not in a good way!
For one thing, the student body is kind of elderly, with Gracie Allen leading the pack as a gal who just can't graduate. The question is, dumb as she's portrayed here, how did she get in to college in the first place? Bob Hope is on hand to see to it that she gets her diploma one way or another, and when this actually happens (in a ridiculous fluke), Gracie immediately takes over the college -- go figure -- and appoints herself dean of men.
After hiring a string of the un-funniest "comic" professors you never want to see (who ever thought that Ben Blue was even remotely amusing?) she meets Edward Everett Horton, marries him, and turns the college back over to its former masters.
That's it. That's the whole movie. Throw in a few enthusiastic but minor musical numbers, a cursory romantic subplot, and vamp till ready, baby.
George Burns gets top billing, yet he's barely in the movie at all -- and without any significant scenes with Gracie!
And then there's Martha Raye. I can take her in very small doses -- this is too much, although she does get the best scene: a musical number with Bob Hope in which the two finally succeed in breaking each other up on camera -- the only genuine laugh or charm in the whole movie!
This came as a double feature with The Big Broadcast of 1938. As an "extra feature" I guess it's worth a watch. It's certainly the only way that Universal could ever sell this thing on DVD! Brrrr! I call it proof positive that braindead comedy didn't just begin in the 1980s!
Friday, December 10, 2010
Yesterday was my birthday. For my birthday, I got:
-- A prowler in my yard.
-- A minor car accident.
-- A broken light fixture in the kitchen.
-- And the news that the buyers of my mother's house want me to come down $11,000 on the already bargain-basement low price they were getting.
This is so very frustrating. The reason I moved forward on the new house was because the old one was being yanked out from under me. Now, if the deal falls through, I'm left with two houses on my hands and more responsibility than I can possibly cope with. It backs me into a corner and diminishes my prospects.
As the agent who did the evaluation on the house points out, it doesn't make much sense to take a reduction when the house hasn't even been on the market.
Today I close on the new house and my emotions are running high and very mixed. Because of the prowler I have had several people say to me, "Get out of there now!" and I look around at all the packing and moving that lies ahead of me, and I think, "Riiiiiight! I'll just do that little thing!" I'm all alone, people!
Yesterday was my birthday. For my birthday, I also got:
-- Lots of well-wishes from friends on Facebook.
-- A new secret room on Pet Society from my friend D_____.
-- A bottle of whiskey.
-- And my cats Patchy and Whitey sat on my Halloween blanket in my lap and we all watched Finding Neverland again. That's right, an uplifting film about death. This time, for the first time, I blubbered as much as the rest of the audience had the first time I saw it.
This morning I realized that one of the biggest difficulties for me lies in the fact that I don't believe in anything. If I could believe that my mother wandered off into the depths of Neverland, the way Kate Winslet does at the end of the film, that would be something nice. But I don't believe that, any more than I believe in heaven or hell. Despite my supernatural dreams that I posted about a while back ("Dreams of the Departed") I don't believe that the dead talk.
It's been proven that energy can't be destroyed, only transmuted. Okay, that means something. But it's impossible to know the answers, and religion is a creation of men, not divine voices, and a place in the clouds where a bearded old man sits on a throne and weighs souls is an even more ridiculous concept than Neverland.
In just two hours I will be closing on the new house, and now the impact that this will have on my life is even more in doubt. Everyone says that it will be a good thing, and I "believe" they may be right. But I can't forget the reasons why I have ended up at this juncture, which all put an unhappy shade over what should be a happy thing.
Wish me luck! -- But, no, I don't believe that wishes work, either. If wishes came true, I would not be here.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
This morning I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw through the back bathroom window that someone had been prowling around outside the house. I could see their footprints in the deep snow. They walked all the way around into the back yard, staying close to the house, looked into all of the windows, and spent some time standing in the back corner, out of sight from the road. They apparently approached or departed across the back field. There seems to have been more than one of them, and they spent a lot of time giving the place a good looking-over.
My best guess is that they came during the day while I was at work, and I wasn't able to see the footprints in the dark. But it's possible that they came at night, and looked in the windows while I was there. Either way, this is not a joke anymore. I am scared witless.
The state police have already demonstrated that they won't do anything, and since there doesn't seem to have been any actual attempt at a break-in, I have no reason to believe that this would make any difference.
They were pretty brazen about it. Perhaps this weekend I will follow the tracks to see where they end up.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Frosty the Snowman
Was a randy sort of fellow
And he liked to play with the girls all day
When he went to the bordello.
He led them down the golden path to wrack and ruin each day
And he always used his carrot when they turned the other way!
Down to the Village
With his Broomstick in his hand
Chasing girls and boys
Waving his sex toys
Saying "Try this one, it's grand!"
'Cuz Frosty the Snowman
Was a right old letch you see
He may be cold but parts of him
Are hot eternally!
Look at Frosty go!
Over the hills and snow!
Just to show you the far-reaching depth of subjects on my mind, and their Stark Seriousness, today I'm going to type about Barnabus Collins's bangs.
When I began set one of the Dark Shadows DVDs, I was surprised to find that Mr. Collins's trademark spiky bangs were not in evidence! It's something that appears to have evolved, and even to have started by accident.
For his entire first month on the show, Barnabus's hair was neatly combed straight across his face. From time to time, a stray lock would create a very subtle spike, and somebody appears to have noticed this and picked up on it. It's only now, near the end of his fourth week on the show, just as he is preparing to put the bite on Maggie Evans for the first time, that a more subdued version of the spike is beginning to formally appear.
It's funny to note that we kids all thought Barnabus's spiky bangs were really cool back in the day, and now they look. . . well, silly.
Post-Halloween I've cut my Dark Shadows dose down to one episode a week. The plot moves slowly, but steadily, and it actually plays well at that pace. It's not surprising that there are occasional fluffs and flubs (Mitchell Ryan was visibly drunk on last night's show. Trust me, I know the signs); what is surprising is what they were able to accomplish on a daily basis with a minimal budget and none of the technical advantages we have today. The individual episodes are well written and structured, and take into account that they can only afford to use about four or five of the large cast of characters in any given episode. And, like The Avengers, this was a radical concept for a show, then and now!
I hear that Tim Burton is planning a Dark Shadows movie with Jonny Depp as Barnabus. My reaction? Feh! Another misguided project to stay far, far away from!
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Last week around Wednesday I spoke to the soon-to-be ex-owner of what will become the All-New, All-Different DuckHaus. He told me that I could start moving in.
On Saturday another old friend, H______, came by with his wife E________ to pick up the six big bags of VHS tapes that I duped to DVD during the summer months. As a result of the earlier phone call, I was able to say to them, "D'you want to be the first ones to see the new house?"
We threw some boxes quickly into the back seat of my car and scooted in to town.
We were standing on the front lawn near the FOR SALE BY OWNER sign when D___, the owner, drove by and hollered at us out the window of his car, "You can take that sign down if you like!" -- which we did.
He let us in, showed how a few things worked, then left us -- not before giving me the keys to the back door. They are now on my key rings.
H______ and E_______ got the grand tour, we visited a little and then they had to leave. I was all alone in the new house. I unloaded my boxes, stowed them in the small attic, puttered around a bit, sizing the place up, put the FOR SALE sign in the garage. By then it was getting dark and starting to snow, so I locked up and hit the road.
It struck me on getting home that Home still feels like Home and the new place of course does not. Sometimes I still wonder if I'm doing the right thing.
The next day I got some big pieces out of the workshop and into the barn, so that I will still still be able to access them if the side door gets snowed in. I filled up the car with boxes of books, and on Monday through a blinding snowstorm I somehow got to town and moved that lot into the house. But it was just boxes. It did nothing to make the place begin to feel like it was mine. I needed to start Marking the place, just like a cat.
So today I brought over some of my mother's paintings and some other minor iconic items. Just that little bit made a wonderful difference. I will do the same tomorrow.
Moving is one hell of a roller-coaster ride. The part about moving in is exciting and interesting; but packing -- tearing apart the old house where absolutely everything has a memory attached -- that's another thing entirely. It used to be such a nice place. Now I'm reducing it to a pit again.
At the end of the day I look at what I've done and am proud to have accomplished it. Then I look at what I have left to do and I just want to shoot myself.
The snow hasn't helped. I'm drinking too much at night. It's the only way I can get up enough courage to load the car.
Monday, December 6, 2010
|Jason Isaacs as Hook in P.J. Hogan's delightful film version of Peter Pan|
There are rights and wrongs in art as in life. Here are two wrongs having to do with J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, before I move on to the rights.
J.M. Barrie gave a remarkable gift. For nearly one hundred years, his royalties from Peter Pan have gone to benefit the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London.
Now that the copyright for Peter Pan has lapsed and the character is in the public domain, the moral right of the Great Ormond Street Hospital is under attack by none other than the Walt Disney Company. In a move that can only be described as a crass attempt to glom the copyright of Peter Pan for themselves, their book publishing arm Hyperion has issued several new novels about the character co-authored by the otherwise respectable Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
It seems strange to be working in a bookstore and to ask you all not to read or support a book, but that is exactly what I am doing. By publishing these unauthorized rogue “prequels” to Peter Pan, the Disney Company is literally stealing from sick children. So much for the vaunted “family values” of the suited corporate criminals hiding in the shadow of Mickey Mouse.
In an effort to hang onto their bequest, the Great Ormond Street Hospital has authorized an official sequel of their own, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean. If you must have new stories featuring Peter Pan, please support (and encourage your children to support) the official novel, which promises to take the Barrie bequest well into the new century.
And now, on to the travesty that is Hook. Anti-intellectual, wallowing in stupidity, this shocking rape of J.M. Barrie twists and contorts his play into a contemporary parable about finding one's "Inner Child." Despite Hoffman (who is fine), this is typical Spielberg soft-headed manipulation. Stay away -- stay away!
On the other hand, Finding Neverland is more of a right than a wrong. It's merely an incredibly efficient machine for making people cry. The audience I saw it with all blubbered unashamedly. For my part, I am entranced by the movie's portrayal of the original Victorian-era stage production of Peter Pan.
But the real reason I'm yammering at you today is to encourage everyone to check out P.J. Hogan's little-known and under-appreciated 2003 version of Peter Pan. This is, by far, the best, most faithful film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's play. Somehow it manages to balance a modern approach and very showy computer work with respect for the source material. A terrific cast all up and down the line is highlighted by Rachel Hurd Wood in her first-ever acting job as Wendy, and Jason Isaacs following in the tradition of the stage play by taking the roles of both Mr. Darling and Captain Jas. Hook, and doing a smashing job at both. The delightful Richard Briers co-stars as Smee, and, in a major milestone that finally allows some of the play's subtext to come to light, Peter himself is at last played by a boy, Jeremy Sumpter.
This changes everything, and allows the play to breathe deeply. For the first time, Peter Pan becomes what it really was all along: a Romance. It's made quite clear that Wendy is on the verge of becoming a young woman, and her feelings for Peter are colored by frustration at his refusal to grow up with her. Meanwhile, Isaacs's Hook turns out to be something of an embittered Romantic, a Poe in Pirate Drag whose motivations in hating Peter go far deeper than just the loss of his hand. He's jealous, and choked with regrets so powerfully strong that he actually distills poison from his own tears (this is a detail right out of Barrie). In fact, he is able to manipulate Wendy because he understands her.
The one real liberty that's taken with the play happens at the end, when Hook discovers the power of flight and the final swordfight between him and Peter takes spectacularly to the air. Happy thoughts, to him, involve murder and lawyers, so, with the requisite dose of Fairy Dust, he soars quite well -- until Peter, in a very nice twist, realizes Hook's dark secret and turns it, fatally, against him.
One of my oldest and best friends, BC, sent this selection from Rosanne Cash's new memoir, Composed. Thanks, BC!
“In the months since my father's passing I had come to understand that the loss of a parent expands you (or shrinks you, as the case may be) according to your own nature. If too much business is left unfinished, and guilt and regret take hold deep in the soul, mourning begins to diminish you, to constrict the heart, to truncate the vision of your own future, and to narrow the creative potential of the mind and spirit. If enough has been resolved (not everything, for everything will never be done, but just enough) then deep grief begins to transform the inner landscape, and space opens inside. You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn't, he will. You recognize how much is hidden behind the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrow and traces of great loss run through everyone's lives, and yet they let others step into the elevator first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember.
“Loss is the great unifier, the terrible club to which we all eventually belong.”
Sunday, December 5, 2010
|Actually, this picture is unfair. My sister is nowhere near as cute as this wolf!|
I need to start thinking about making a Will. Now.
The day when The Wolf who Calls Herself My Sister was at the house, going through my mother's clothes, she looked at my scrapbook and then coyly said, "So, if anything happens to you, can Patty have this?"
And I thought to myself, "What, are you going to have me killed now?"
The thought did actually occur. But I pushed it aside, actually flattered that The Wolf was covetous of my pictures.
But some time later I told this story to my father in an email, and instead of telling me it was Melodrama (which it probably is, as my friend B____ did point out), he wrote back to tell me that the same thought had occurred to him!
And when I told it to my lawyer, as a joke, she not only didn't laugh -- she looked concerned!
People shouldn't react like that to the things I tell them. I'm an impressionable boy. Now a part of me is looking nervously over my shoulder from time to time to see if there are any Hit Men hiding in the trees!
My sister is not just an alchie like me -- she's also a junkie who nearly killed herself driving through a red light at high speed while she was on LSD. She has done things that, much as I dislike her and enjoy smearing her in public, I can't write about here. She undoubtedly has Connections with what is referred to in the Funny Books as The Underworld.
So -- you know -- just in case -- if anything untoward happens to me in the coming months, you will all know who to blame!
Meanwhile, I'm getting all my Ducks in a Row. If she and her Unholy Spawn can't inherit anything from me, and know it, that's the best defense -- the same as changing the lock on the house was the best security measure that I took all those months ago!
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Being a "Believe it when I see it" kind of person (I'll believe in God when I can look him in the eye and tell him that I think he's Quite A Bastard), I'm starting to feel reluctant to pack any more until I get word from the bank that the closing is actually going to happen. According to the owner, everything is ready to go -- we're just waiting for the phone to ring.
No matter. It gives me time to work on my scrapbook, which is coming along nicely. The paper inserts between the pages that started out as a design element have now become a necessity just to hold the book together; it was never made for this kind of abuse, and a while ago I had to split the spine open in order to allow for expansion. I'll re-bind it with cloth tape when all the work is done.
Last night I finished blackening all the pages with India ink. I'll continue making the pages fast and laying down a basic design, but for now I've run out of prints! -- And I'm not ordering more until until I have a new mailing address!
Once I get into the All-New, All Different DuckHaus, I have decided that one of the upstairs bedrooms will become a studio. Oh, it'll still have a bed in it. But any overnight guests will have to put up with my drawing table, a small stand for drawing and art supplies, a stack of magazines and other things that I cut up for scraps, and some of my own comic art on the walls. Maybe quite a lot of it.
In fact I have a plan for all of the rooms, subject to change and revision of course. I certainly have enough furniture to fill the place! -- Just not enough shelving.
Here's a question you could maybe help me out with. I have a large sofa and a small one that are a matching set, but the large one has been badly mauled by about fifteen generations of cats and needs to kept covered to look halfway presentable. Do I keep it because it goes with the little one, or take a different sofa from another room that is in much better shape, somewhat larger, but in no way matches the little one?
Ah, decisions, decisions. . .
Friday, December 3, 2010
I spent a delightful evening the other night with John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel in "The Town of No Return." It's been close to a decade since I've invited The (original) Avengers into my home, and y'know what? That's too long a time!
Steed and Mrs. Peel are old friends. It's a series I've watched many, many times -- yet somehow it's always fresh.
Diana Rigg is so assured as Mrs. Peel that it's easy to forget this was her debut episode -- and what a terrific introduction to the character it is. The chemistry between Rigg and Patrick Macnee is immediately apparent; and they're given a lot of time to warm up before the plot really starts to happen and things get dark indeed.
The last time I worked through the series, I wrote a piece on the show for my long-dead literary 'zine. Now seems like a good time to trot it out again. Some of the writing is immature and vulgar, but I stand by the sentiments.
We’re happy whenever one of our favorite television shows from the 1960s is made into a godawful big-budget summer “spectacular” Major Motion Picture. Inevitably, this “blockbuster” is dismissed or forgotten, as it deserves to be, the producers lose buckets of money, as they deserve, and the original television series benefits from all the hype by re-emerging in syndication or on home video, often remastered and looking better than ever.
This is particularly the case with The Avengers. Any attempt at filming The Avengers without Pactrick Macnee in the pivotal role of John Steed is misguided from the get-go, and last year’s version featuring Ralph Fiennes as Steed and the ever-diminishing Uma Thurman as Mrs. Emma Peel was a miscalculation of jaw-dropping proportions, proving the arrogance of '90s film producers, who seem to believe only in what’s synthetic; or at the very least to believe that nothing lives or breathes which cannot be replicated artificially in a studio laboratory.
To look at the original and the replicant side by side is to look at difference between life and anti-life — yet in this case the living thing owes its continued existence (on video) thanks to the construct. In the thirty years since its original run, The Avengers has aired in North America only twice, usually with five minutes or more hacked out of the running time of each episode. Video releases have been spotty and of low quality. Thanks to A&E, and to Hollywood’s belief that nothing is sacred, a restored, uncut Avengers is available to us again — for the first time.
We doubt that this effect will alter the world of so-called entertainment — but it should. The Avengers was radical in the '60s — by rights it should seem tired and dated when compared to television programming in the '90s. It does not, which should frighten you down to the soles of your feet. As radical as The Avengers was thirty years ago, today it’s at least three times as radical, three times as fresh, three times as daring. In part, this has to do with the producer’s arrogance mentioned above, the belief that creative people are no longer needed in the production of film or television. But it also has much to do with the broader effect of that arrogance, which has been to create a culture that has taken two technological steps forward and three spiritual Giant Leaps backward.
The Avengers is everything '90s cultch is not: colorful, intelligent, charming, playful, dignified, exciting, stately, witty, powerful and just a little bit impudent. Try getting that from a cola nut — or from any Hollywood company actively producing new material for television, all of which seems hyper-serious, weighted by muddy, muted colors, a relentless pursuit of the relentless, dull pseudo-documentary style, posturing doctors, lawyers, bare-assed cops, all sweaty protagonists snarling at the camera as they draw arbitrary lines in the sand. The Avengers proves that we are not only dumbing ourselves down but losing our sense of humor and our flair for style.
In this The Avengers owes not a little of its success to blind luck: the sort of blind luck that can only occur when creative people are given the power to make their own decisions. It is next to impossible for this kind of Happy Alchemy to occur at any level in the culture that has evolved over the past two decades. Why? Because all the components that could bring it about are missing. Principally, these are:
--> Producers who are creative people first, business people second — if at all. There have always been money men: people with no creative inclinations or ability who run the business end of things and reap the lion’s share of the rewards. We can’t kick about this, it’s more than a simple fact of life: it’s a darn good arrangement so long as the suits know their place. But the Reagan-Bush years were so kind to suits that vast numbers of them began to get uppity and think that they could handle creative work without the participation of creative people (nearly everyone notices the danger flags, but the balance of power has shifted so far to the right that “creatives” can’t do much more than lick their wounds). The Avengers profited from something almost unheard-of today: a couple of writers were more or less given complete control to produce the show their own way. When the suits stepped in and tried to take the reigns from Avengers producers Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell, as they did at the end of show’s fifth season, the show’s quality nose-dived so dramatically that Fennell and Clemens were finally brought back on board: too late to save the series from the corruptive cookie-cutter Suit Influence that had already set in. Let’s put this as simply as possible: people should stay away from things that they don’t understand. By definition, suits try to reduce everything to numbers: but drama doesn’t work that way. Even when the numbers are in place, suits lack the ability to make them add up to anything.
--> Production designers who aren’t afraid to dazzle the eye — in the service of the story. Visually, '90s television isn’t completely dull — only the programming falls into that category. In the days when color was new to television, it wasn’t just the sitcoms that were bright and visually exciting. Designers for shows like The Avengers, The Prisoner, Star Trek and The Wild, Wild West went out of their way to provide us with colors and images that were not merely exciting, but focused the eye and the brain delightfully on the story at hand. Especially in the case of The Avengers, the playfulness of the production designers actually enhanced the playfulness of the stars and the producers: this is a far cry from design for its own sake. In the early eighties, so-called “reality” shows like Hill Street Blues began to mute the color scale and provide us with faux noir imagery that would have had more dramatic impact if the shows had simply been filmed in black and white. Today, muted colors and dull images are the industry standard for dramatic programming — meanwhile, commercial designers have reacted to this mudslide by dazzling us on a scale beyond the wildest hallucinations of the hippie-culture '60s. But when all of our most interesting work is being done in the service of Madison Avenue, the value of creative design is flipped on its back — and culture begins to die a long, lingering death as it flails about helplessly trying to find the ground.
--> Directors more interested in storytelling than dazzling the viewer. We believe that good storytelling is dazzling in itself, and that eye-catching visuals are the province of the designer. Thirty years ago, most television directors learned their craft working as assistants to Hollywood’s greatest storytellers: they knew how characters and the elements of plot worked because it was in their blood. Today, most directors have their training on MTV with high-gloss music videos whose object is in direct opposition to character, conflict, sustained tension or mood. This has damaged our culture in ways that are probably irreparable. Drama requires thought and development, whereas scenes in a music video are measured in the fractions of a second and images are forgotten in an eye-blink. By definition, a character can only work on one level in this kind of structure — sometimes these characters are literally flat, removed from any context of background and turned sideways until they vanish. At the surface level these short films are often very effective, which is why they have successfully weaned us away from things like depth, purpose, layers and commitment. But a music video lasts only a few minutes: feature film and hour-long TV drama require more, and modern directors are emotionally and intellectually unable to provide the necessary substance.
--> Actors more interested in acting than in becoming a “personality.” Being British was a distinct advantage for The Avengers — that advantage reached the pure definition of Happy Alchemy when Diana Rigg was cast opposite Macnee as the swashbuckling amateur, Mrs. Emma Peel. That’s M-Appeal, for Man Appeal. Rigg had that in spades, but she had something better: classical training, instinctive talent, and an affinity for working hand in glove with her co-star that we think is unmatched anywhere in the history of series television. Rigg was as interested in success as anyone (her stint as a Bond Girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service proves that) but she wasn’t about to let ambition keep her from doing the job at hand.
It’s pleasing to note that Macnee and Rigg put themselves forward by not putting themselves forward — by refusing to pose and pretend. There seems to have been a remarkable quality of genuineness and generosity on the sets of The Avengers. None of actors can be said to be sleep-walking through their work: indeed they seem to be challenging each other to be real within the context of the series unreality, and having a jolly good time in the process.
Above all, a sense of drama — and especially melodrama — that does not take itself too seriously. The Avengers’s lightness of touch meant that an accelerated sense of fun could be applied to straight-forward, nearly realistic stories, while an aura of calculated dread and menace could be brought to bear on tales that would otherwise be too ridiculous for words.
Here again the British way of thinking comes to the rescue: because humor has been an essential element of British drama since the days of Shakespeare and Marlowe. There must be cycles of tension and relief, a sense that human drama is actually comedy underneath it all and that the gods — often represented by the audience — are having a good laugh at the expense of mere mortals. In High Art, the worst of Eugene O’Neil and Arthur Miller often collapses under its own weight because it offers us nothing to laugh at. This principle reaches its deadliest point when art is not a factor, in the biceps-flexing movies of Stallone and Willis, where smash-cut is piled on smash-cut and the audience is expected to swallow it all with nary a flicker of a smile. Danger and an onrushing sense of hyper-catastrophe — a sort of mandated super-seriousness that isn’t seriousness at all but mere straightfaced posing — is the tone of '90s drama... the empty embodiment of runaway self-importance, a culture that clings too tenaciously to the wrong things. The two faces of John Steed are the perfect example of this. In the original series Macnee’s Steed was always smiling: and it was a genuine smile, full of humor, even when he was about to punch some villain’s lights out. As Steed in the new big-screen Avengers, Ralph Fiennes can barely manage a pained wince. “Dignity,” he seems to be declaring. “Dignity for its own sake.” Macnee never had to ask for dignity. He didn’t give a rat’s ass for the stuff. He had plenty of it in store, which was why he could afford to be charming.
In that sense, The Avengers was a more realistic show than many more serious programmes then or now. It’s a living example that television is, or once was, capable of offering so much better when creative people are allowed to do their work without a Suit looking over their shoulder.
Why does The Avengers matter? Because people create culture and culture creates people. We become what we watch. Steed and Mrs. Peel, with their commitment to set things right while still taking the time to enjoy everything that life has to offer, are the best models that anyone could have.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I would rather be chewed out by my boss for a solid hour than have to rise in the dark, especially on a dreary, dismal day like this when the sun never really comes out at all, but hangs behind a gray blanket of gloom. Days like this reduce me to a quivering mass of jello, begging and pleading with god (a creature I don't even believe in) to "please help me, please make it stop" -- whatever "it" is.
I don't think that anyone who has never experienced clinical depression can understand its effects. It's not just "feeling sad" or "being down." It is a physical thing that coils around the base of your spine and radiates throughout your body, causing not sadness but a palpable despair that you wish you could cut out of yourself with a knife.
Even when the Prozac is doing its work and your emotions are under control, you can still feel the depression chewing through your body just like the chest-burster in the Alien movies.
It causes (rather, I think, than being caused by) self-absorption, which is why one of the best treatments is simply to go to work, even if you hate your job. Once you're caught up in the fog of getting things done, the beast can sometimes loosen its grip.
I have found only one thing that kills the beast entirely, for a short while: alcohol. But that comes with a price that's too costly in the long-term: the doses must be ever-increased, until the alcohol begins to kill everything else inside you as well -- including your stomach and liver.
Pray for sun.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Last night I said a temporary goodbye to Farscape with the final installment of The Peacekeeper Wars, the big, loud, messy, sprawling mini-series that winds up all the loose threads (and gives them a pounding for good measure) left hanging when the series was canceled.
No doubt the Sci-Fi network wanted something more actionful and less cerebral than the original series, and that is what Brian Henson (Jim's kid), Rockne O'Bannon and David Kemper served up. Spiny spaceships breathe fire and guns blaze at every turn. Blam! Boom! Enough already. Farscape was many things, but it was never boring, and the mini-series teeters on the edge of that precipice just for being so packed with running, punching and shooting.
The time could have been used much better and more imaginatively. The plot elements that need to be covered were originally meant to play out across the entire fifth season -- having to compress it all into just three hours puts a strain on the proceedings.
And yet, it's still Farscape, warts and all. One of the things I always liked about the series is that they clearly subscribe to Lester Dent's theories of Pulp Fiction. No matter how bad you think it is now for our heroes, don't worry, it's about to get much worse. "Make sure the hero gets it in the neck at every turn," quoth Dent, the man behind Kenneth Robeson and the creator of Doc Savage.On Farscape, the crew of Moya doesn't just get it in the neck -- they get full-body Trouble by the wagonload.
There's something soothing about this, in a perverse way. It's the same draw that a good Soap Opera has: the troubles that the characters experience make what you're going through seem petty by comparison.
The Peacekeeper Wars continues that trend with things like John and Aeryn birthing a child under heavy gunfire, and an alarming number of Major Series Characters who don't make it to the end.
For all the sound and fury that precedes it, the final third is actually near-perfect. Everything that the series has been hanging itself upon is contained in John Crichton's head, and we finally get to see what that looks like. It doesn't disappoint. Even Scorpius, who has spent three seasons doing every dirty thing in the villain's playbook to get that information, is suitably impressed.
And the ending is wonderful. All this time, we've been asking the Dorothy in Oz question: "Will John ever get Home?" It turns out to be the wrong question entirely. Home is not the place you go to. Home is where you make it.
Now I have to find something else to fill my Monday nights for a while. With all the packing I still have ahead of me, I've promised myself not to buy anything, not even a single DVD, until after I am moved. So it'll have to be a re-run. Y'know, I kind of have a hankering to spend some time with my old friends John Steed and Mrs. Peel. It's been years.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Yesterday I found, neatly packed in a box in the basement, a terrific hooked rug that my mother made in 1962. The design was almost Mondrian-boxlike, with a different element in each box: half a sun, my mother's name, and more. I'd forgotten all about it; had half-forgotten that she ever worked in that medium.
She was so creative and did so many different kinds of things. Signs, clothing, handbags, papier mache fruit and flower arrangements, wooden carvings, wire creations, toys, jack-in-the-boxes, engraved leather work -- and sometimes combinations of all those things. She made the papier mache clock sign in the picture above. She was always working on something, in between raising us kids and doing many antique shows every year.
She sold a lot of it. I remember the summer she got the commission from Unionmutual to do hand-tooled leather bags to be given away at a company event. The arrangements sold at antique shows, as many as she could make. Some of her pieces are still on display at a pancake restaurant in the state capital. Her Jack-in-the-boxes were exhibited at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, which is otherwise notable for its collection of the work of three generations of Wyeths.
And then, suddenly, she stopped.
This was in the early eighties, right around the time she and my father divorced. The flow of creativity just stopped dead in its tracks, and another flow began, as she started to fill every corner of the house with antiques, toys, books, magazines, Disneyana, vintage games, Disneyana, dolls, teddy bears, and more Disneyana. Whether or not it was antique didn't matter. If it tickled her or struck her fancy, it came home with her.
She claimed to be claustrophobic, but she created a house that had one narrow path to allow a person through. In a way, the house itself became her magnum opus, a collage of Fun Things done on a colossal scale. It wasn't like the homes of hoarders you see on television. It was all neatly and artfully arranged, until after the operation to amputate her right leg robbed her of her ability to venture very far into the house.
When she ran out of money and couldn't afford to buy anything anymore, it made her so sad that she cried.
It was as if she was filling the empty space inside of her that was created when she stopped making art of her own.
My uncle O____ once said to my father, "You broke her heart."
It was a cruel thing for one brother to say to another, but it was true.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Why MCA's DVD release of The Big Broadcast of 1938 came as part of a Bob Hope set is beyond me, when Fields gets top billing and is clearly the only reason to watch the movie! Oh, sure, Bob introduces his signature tune, "Thanks for The Memories," and it's a nice scene. But Fields gets much more screen time and makes the most of it. And, since Edith Head designed the costumes, it's nice to see The Great Man look dashing for a change.
The plot concerns a trans-Atlantic race between two steamships. That's pretty much it: just a clothes horse to hang novelty numbers and comedy scenes on. The novelty numbers are, alas, particularly uninteresting -- most likely the reason why I didn't remember any of them.
Never mind. Fields gets things off to a smashing start with a whirlwind round of golf, careering around the course on a rocket cart and shouting "Get out of the way!" to a throng of cowering caddies, before putting the wings down and literally taking to the air. As the bad-luck brother of the owner of the steamship Gigantic, Fields is meant to sabotage the other boat simply by gracing it with his destructive presence; instead, he lands on his own ship and promptly shuts down the new radio-power invention that was guaranteed to win his company the race.
Dorothy Lamour is on hand, but she can't wait to get rid of Hope so that she can sing and smarm over Leif Erikson as the Young Inventor. Hope's three former wives are also present to insure their alimony payments. Hope himself is the emcee of the Big Broadcast of the film's title, which seems to go on endlessly.
Of course Fields gets a snooker sequence, cheating outrageously and blaming the other fellow. Martha Raye arrives, powering a lifeboat with her own Mighty Lungs, and turns out to be Fields's even more disaster-prone daughter. Fields tries to leave her abandoned at sea.
The race is all but lost before Fields realizes his mistake and assumes command, piloting the boat through a maze of icebergs with approximately the same level of caution that he piloted the golf cart earlier on.
With its gimmicks and effects, this is more like Never Give a Sucker an Even Break than it is like My Little Chickadee or The Old-Fashioned Way, both of which are better comedies. But when Fields is on-screen, he fills it with gusto, even though his health was already starting to wane.
Also on the bill was a Little Rascals comedy, with Alfafa murdering "The Barber of Seville" right and left, and an uncredited Henry Brandon as an evil agent. Brandon was then under contract to Hal Roach, and went on to play the horrible Mister Barnaby in Laurel & Hardy's Babes in Toyland, among other notable but small roles.
And I'm nearing the end of the 1943 "So Bad It's Good" Batman serial from Columbia. Columbia's serials were the bottom of the barrel in most every way, but they had the buying power to outbid Republic on both Batman and Superman. Their Superman literally turned into a cartoon every time he flew, while Republic's Captain Marvel, filmed years earlier, soared convincingly. You can bet your bottom dollar that a Republic Batman would not have been the chubby, frumpy guy in the ill-fitting and ill-tailored Halloween Costume that you see above! Every episode opens with some nifty mysterioso mood music, but once the action starts I keep expecting Graham Chapman to show up with his swagger stick and shout, "Stop that! It's silly!"
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Finding this on the web just now really made me sad. It's the notice for the first of three auctions to be held around my mother's estate. Click here for the listing. Be sure to look at the image gallery. It's coming right up, on December 7. What a day to choose.
Anyway, here's your chance to own a piece of the funhouse. Or for me to buy it back.