Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I spent nearly all of the last day of 2011 with The Doctor: the two final episodes of Christopher Eccleston's ninth doctor, and the first two of David Tennant's tenth.
Yeah, I broke down and bought the lot.
Matt Smith is still my current Doctor of Choice, and Stephen Moffat, the current head writer, is simply the best thing ever to happen to Doctor Who, but I wanted to watch Moffat's earlier episodes on something other than my computer, and I wanted to see how it began, and how it evolved -- And the price was right. I wouldn't have paid fifty to seventy dollars a set for these, believe you me.
I give credit to Russell T Davies where it is due; he's a workmanlike writer and he managed to update the series in a way that really caught on with viewers. But I really dislike all the traveling companions that he created (OK, Rose has some good qualities when you get to know her better, but I hate her frowzy bleach-blonde hair and her Cockney accent and the fact that she's just nineteen. I hate her stupid boyfriend and I hate her Cockney mother.) -- and all of the best episodes during his tenure as head writer were scripted by others.
"Dalek" and the WW2 two-parter by Stephen Moffat are smashing examples. This is where the show really takes off. We get to see what one single Dalek can do against a whole army, and we get the first taste of Gothic Horror that oftentimes flavored the classic series.
Christopher Eccleston seems, on the face of it, to be an odd choice for the Doctor, but he's quite good. I ended up liking him a lot. He evokes Tom Baker's manic Doctor, and the gruffness of William Hartnell and adds a scruffy arrogance of his own.
Davies isn't nearly as refined a writer as Moffat, nor as clever, and he's kind of coarse at times (farting aliens? Please!) -- but this is recognizably Doctor Who, streamlined and given the production values it always lacked, and at its best it's great TV.
But just two episodes into the second season, I can already see it going a bit pear-shaped. I like Tennant as the Doctor, but he's barely in the first episode ("The Christmas Invasion"), which, without the Doctor's presence, plays more like a downmarket version of Independence Day. Torchwood is already being mentioned, and the supporting cast is starting to grow. Based on what I've seen of season four, by the time it gets to that stage there are so many other characters getting so much attention that the Doctor is reduced to being a supporting character in his own show!
It was the best possible thing (and the kindest thing that he could do for incoming producer Moffat) to finally strip away all that dead weight and produce one final "season" of one-off specials that featured the Doctor traveling alone. In effect, he pressed the "reset" button so that Moffat could come in and work his magic.
There's one other thing about the Davies iteration (and one that Moffat has expanded upon) that vaguely bothers me. It's what conservatives would call his "Gay Agenda." But introducing Gay characters is not what I'm having some difficulty facing. It's the introduction -- rather, the acknowledgement -- of sex at all! The classic series never, ever acknowledged that people have a sexual instinct. The closest one got to an acknowledgement of sex on the classic series was probably Leela's leather bikini! I'm not saying that it shouldn't have been done (but thank goodness the Doctor himself is still chaste). It's just that for an old fan it takes a little bit of getting used to! Hank Panky -- in the TARDIS! I'm shocked! Shocked!
I'd never heard of this before, but it's apparantly real: Today is Good Riddance Day! This is something that we need! Although, if I were to set all my anxieties, grievances, fears and regrets on fire, I might inadvertantly end up torching half the neighborhood. If I had to narrow it down to one thing that I could put through the shredder and be done with forever after, it would be this: Grief.
Back in my younger days, my friend BC introduced us to an annual tradition he'd invented, called a "Year Burning." Everyone brought a calendar with them, and we threw it in the fireplace and theraputically watched the dates blacken, curl and disintegrate into ash. In effect, we said "Good Riddance" to that Damn Year, and told ourselves that the next one would be better.
I kept up the tradition for several years until I realized that the new year is NEVER any better and sometimes it's a good deal worse. The ones that you burned start to look good by comparison.
For some time I've considered coloring my hair snow white. I'm going grey anyhow, and I figured what the hell? Might as well go all the way, right? What I had was just mousy and undistinguished. So during the holiday weekend I gathered all the products I'd bought secretly and separately, disappeared into my bathroom and began my bold plan to remake myself for the next era.
I read all the instructions. I did everything right.
You can see it coming, can't you? If I can possibly find a way to humiate myself publically, I do. I came out of the process looking like a tall, plump munchkin. My hair is now orangey yellow, like a member of the Lollypop Guild. Honestly, I look like I drank a bottle of Grecian Formula.
Go ahead and laugh. I can be a sport about it now. Nothing I can do but wait for it to grow out and then never, ever do that again!
I need to get me one of those little angels to sit on my shoulder. Every time I got a Supposedly Great Idea, the angel could whisper into my ear, "Don't DO it, putz! PLEASE don't do it. You KNOW that you ruin everything you touch. There's nothing wrong with mousy."
Typing of re-making myself, Christmas was at least good for one thing this year: It proved to me conclusively that I still don't know who in the hell I am anymore.
Recently, I have made Advances and Retreats in the area of Being Social. I make a bold move; then I run for the hills, duck and cover, hide in cringing embarrassment.
After the four days off surrounding Christmas, I now understand why. Once upon a time, I knew who I was. I wrote two novels and enough short stories to fill a book. I was finally getting back in gear with a third novel, some one my best work to date. I had a website going and for at least two years I made deadline with significant installments of TWO online comic strips. I was a bustle of activity, I was. Life was good-ish. "Ish" because I wasn't a terrible success for all that work.
Then it all fell apart. And I know now that I haven't gained anything back. Over the four days of Christmas Holiday, I literally did not know what to do with myself. I don't know who I am anymore.
I can't inflict myself on a woman in this condition. A man seeking a partner needs to know what he is about, to be a Real Person with hopes, aspirations and goals.
This holiday weekend showed me that I am far away from that point. The job in front of me now is simply: Become a Real Boy.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Gah. Christmas Day was one long, severe bout of anxiety punctuated by tears. My father and his wife called around noon and we made small talk for five minutes or so. When I hung up the phone I unexpectedly burst into tears all over again.
I had spent Christmas Eve with Laurel and Hardy in Pack Up Your Troubles, and that went down well, so on Christmas afternoon I tried fighting fire with even bigger guns and put on the Marx Brothers in Monkey Business. Alas, I seem to have gone off the Marx Brothers completely.
At first it was funny and I laughed out loud in a couple of places. . . I still love Harpo chasing women all over the ship, and it's something that you wouldn't be able to get away with in a movie today. But then it was more of the same and more of the same, and it seemed endless, and I nearly fell asleep on it. Finally I shut it down and went to putter around in the kitchen.
I decided on an early dinner, not so much because I was hungry (although I was), as because I knew that my rationed two drinks that I allow myself with dinner would help with the anxiety that was still digging its claws in my chest.
I cooked up some asparagus and a big batch of chicken wings for me, and a breast for the quats. I ate every damn one of those wings, too. They turned out well this time.
After dinner it was a matter of killing time, resuming my project of duping old VHS onto DVD and playing a round of the Hell's Kitchen computer game until 9:00 PM, when the only Big Event of the day was due to premiere: This year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.
I thought it got off to a bit of a rocky start. But once we got past the ridiculous bit of The Doctor somehow surviving a fall to earth from outer space, it turned lovely quite quickly. When he tries to return a favor to a British war widow in the early days of WWII, it all goes pear-shaped rather quickly and this time it's not the Doctor who saves the day.
It was exciting and interesting and sweet, but in the end its sentiment about the Power of Mums (that's Mothers to us Americans, not flowers!) came in a little below the belt for me and set me off all over again. In this case, this mother actually succeeds in bringing her fighter pilot husband back from the dead, guiding his plane back along the time corridor. Happy Christmas, indeed.
But not for me.
Today has been much better, dramatically better. The anxiety has been little more than a mild background noise, and I haven't teared up at all, except a little bit, just now, writing about the widow's Happy Ending. I won't need to have an early dinner.
My kitties are all settled in front of the fire. It's time for me to whip up a late lunch and join them there.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Last year at this time there was no room for reflection. My days off were filled with the move. This year it's awfully quiet by comparison, and I'm trying not to let that get to me, but I've already been in tears once today and I expect it won't be the last. Sending a holiday greeting out to friends and especially my uncle and aunt was unexpectedly tough. I got through Thanksgiving all right, but Christmas is a different sort of holiday and there's no escaping the fact that my kitties are all I've got.
My lawyer sent me a card wishing me, in part, "All that your heart might desire," and that kind of cuts to the chase. When my friends C_____ and S_______ brought me a cake on my birthday and told me to make a wish, I couldn't think of anything. Not one single thing. I had to pretend. I'm still empty inside.
When I'm done here, I'm going to whip up a snack and settle down to watch Laurel & Hardy in their second feature film, Pack Up Your Troubles. I expect a cat or two to join me. Guess I couldn't wish for more than that on Christmas Eve.
Happy Happy, Merry Merry, and thanks for taking the trouble of reading my blog. No matter what holiday you celebrate at this time of year, make it a memorable one!
Sunday, December 18, 2011
One year ago today, I grabbed up my pussycats one by one and clutched them to my chest, ever so tightly, so that none could get away from me, and slagged through my snow-filled front yard, the yard I knew like it was a part of me for having shared it for more than 35 years, and one by one stuffed them in the car. They screamed and cried. Whitey crawled under the passenger seat and hunched and clutched the carpet with his claws. I had made -- for me -- a Bold Decision to move the family into the New House, before it was ready for Prime Time, but also before the Old House became such a bare and horrible place that living in it was unbearable.
So began four months of busting my butt to make life bearable again, to make a new home.
Acclimating the cats to the new place proved to be even harder than acclimating myself. It was horrible at first.
It's all here on the blog. It was an experience that I would liken -- frivolously, because my life was never at stake -- to being plopped down in the middle of a land war.
Tonight I stood in the bay window at the side of my house and looked out on the neighborhood. A HOME that I am comfortable and happy in stood behind me.
We lost another Family Member along the way. But the survivors are comfy and safe. Even content.
There's still work to do. I am not where I want to be in terms of reclaiming my life as a creative person. But -- in the year just passed? It was unreasonable of me to beat myself up for failing in that regard, when I had so much infrastructure to rebuild.
But now the launch pad is built. To deeply mix my metaphors, I've begun weaving the cocoon. I need to stop whipping myself, and give myself the slack to re-develop. These things don't happen overnight.
Something in looking back at where I was a year ago at this time makes me think that it can possibly, maybe, be done...
PS -- The Green Children. Check 'em out. Good music for a rebirth.
And now, the War in Iraq is officially declared over. It seems quite arbitrary to me. If they were able to end it so suddenly now (and not one nanosecond before President Obama needed it to live up to at least one campaign promise), why couldn't it have happened sooner?
I'm one of those people who believed that we never should have gone there in the first place. Iraq had done nothing to us. W. was so smug and so certain that "Shock and Awe" would have the nation on its knees, begging for mercy, that it would all be over in a few days. When has that ever happened?
The loss of life associated with the Iraq war seems particularly shameful to me. Our soldiers were led to believe that they were fighting in Iraq for "our freedom." They were not. Our freedom was never in jeopardy, except when the Bush administration started doing things like creating the Patriot act and eavesdropping on civilians. Was Saddam Hussein a bad guy? Yes, obviously. But it wasn't any of our business to go in there and kill tens of thousands of people to get rid of him. As other countries in the region have proved during this long summer of protest, when the people get angry enough, they can topple their own kingpins with much greater efficiency.
I join the President in welcoming the soldiers home. They never should have had to go. What did we accomplish in Iraq? What was it all for?
It's common knowledge that in New England, we talk about the weather. A lot. Possibly because it's it's less contentious than talking about politics, except when it comes down to those weirdoes out there who actually like snow. They must be Republicans.
So far, this winter has been a lot more benign than most, and certainly more so than the one we had last year. That changed quite suddenly yesterday as a cold front pushed through and temps dropped from the high forties and low fifties into the high teens. A sudden shift like that is almost harder to take than a long stretch, and it must be particularly hard on the animals living outdoors. The ground tightens up quickly like a clenched fist. As I walked out on my deck this morning, it creaked and moaned underneath me. Recently, I've been able to turn the gas fire off at night without the indoor temperature dropping below 60. Last night it ran all night long, and never got above 64 in the place. I expect that the oil furnace will kick in today, for the first time this winter.
It had to happen, sooner or later. We've been fortunate up to now.
The prospect of Newt Gingrich as Republican front runner has me alternately horrified and pleased. Republicans profess to hate Government, yet they're leaning towards a man who is as deeply intrenched in Government as they come. But he's also an Arrogant Ass, and that's a quality they seem to admire. In Maine, our new Republican governor is as Arrogant an Ass as they come, and he sweetens the pot by also being a delusional, ignorant loudmouth.
I shudder to think of Gingrich in the Oval Office, but then I look at the pack of candidates, and, really, there isn't a single one that doesn't make me shudder! A part of me does want to say to Republicans, go ahead, give Mr. Gingrich the nomination, please! Please give the nomination to someone like him who can't possibly get elected!
But I don't want to jinx the nation. I said the same exact thing about W., and look at what happened. . .
Friday, December 16, 2011
I keep hearing that printed-on-paper books are becoming extinct and will, in very short order, be replaced by e-books. I guess the folks that are saying it are the same ones that predicted that television would kill off movie theaters. Television certainly changed the industry and presented it with some big challenges, but look around you: the movie theaters are still here (and you should go to one to see Hugo!). I didn't originate this observation, but it bears repeating: we tend not to throw away old tech, but to add new technologies on to what we have.
The thing that killed Borders (well, in part) was mismanagement. I happen to know that interest in paper books isn't going away anytime soon, and sales are not in decline. I help run a bookstore, and am the book buyer for the place. Paper books are under attack from so many directions (even by the people who publish them!) that it's kind of remarkable that the market is as strong as it is.
The thing that's happening is that our share of the market (and by "our" I mean all brick-and-mortar stores) is dwindling by the year. It's not going to e-books (I count that, and I bet most businesses do, too, as an additional revenue stream). It's going to Jeff Bezos.
Amazon changed the whole equation for book lovers. When I was growing up and well into my adulthood, you never thought twice about paying retail for a book. It was just one of those things. Sale books have always been strong, but if you wanted something new you just paid retail for it.
Amazon has created a whole new mind-set: now people know that they don't have to pay retail price for books, and they don't want to, and I don't blame them. Amazon caused us all to believe that if you pay retail for a book, that makes you a sucker.
I didn't feel this way until recently, but it does amount to unfair competition. As many others have pointed out, Amazon's not making money on books anymore, it's using them as a loss-leader. Brick-and-mortar stores can't afford to do that.
But the thing that Jeff Bezos did last week really crosses the line. It's so far over the top that I honestly thought it was a hoax at first. Amazon is now using its customers to spy on retail stores, and rewarding them with discounts. Their selling point is that they are doing it to help keep prices low. This, all by itself, is a Big Lie. They're doing it to see how high they can raise their prices while still under-selling brick-and-mortar stores!
Now, I'm somewhat of a hypocrite because I'm an Amazon customer (although I mostly buy DVDs from them, which I can not get locally). People who work in bookstores don't have a lot of disposable cash. But this latest thing is so underhanded that it's driving home the "buy local" message even to me.
In the early days I liked Amazon because it was smart, spunky, convenient, and because it didn't replace bookstores. But through this and other strong-arm tactics that he's taken to using in recent years, it's clear that Jeff Bezos has joined Darth Vader on the dark side of the force and is trying to hammer all small business into the ground. Amazon may have been a genius idea at one time, but now it's being run by an Evil genius. And, y'know -- maybe it was that way all along.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Today I actually climbed the stairs to my "studio" (a guest bedroom where I've set up my drawing table and supplies) and, for the first time, used it for its intended purpose. I have not worked on my scrapbook of the old house in over a year, and have not looked at it much in all that time. Today I sat down and began to finish it.
I only worked about ninety minutes, but that was more than what I expected. I'd expected to just look through the book and re-acquaint myself with it. Instead, right away I saw things that needed doing, and soon I was adding photographs and captions and clips. You know that you're doing something when the wastebasket begins to fill up.
Honey found me and sat on my lap, and unlike when I'm trying to write here at the computer, having her there didn't interfere. I discovered that I did a very good job of setting up the room: everything was close to hand, everything had its place, the work went smoothly.
Last year at this time, the old house was an open wound. Now, the new house is so much my home that looking at pictures of the old place does not hurt nearly as much. It seems like a distant fantasy world. I wonder how we managed to live there.
This was just the beginning. I have a lot of work left to do on this project, but resuming it felt really good. And it's just the first of what I hope will be many projects.
Having spent a little time in my "studio" at long, long last, and discovered that it really is the bright, congenial place to work that I had hoped it would be, I'm optimistic -- at least a little bit -- about getting back to work again, for the first time in longer than I care to think about.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
My first thought was that Bourdain was most similar to a Super-Powered blogger who, unlike bloggers, actually provides information of value -- but, really, am I ever going to make it to Singapore or even South Beach? How can the information possibly be of actual value to someone like me, marooned on my own virtual Desert Island? The most telling moment so far in Bourdain's new series The Layover comes when he's chowing down on Deluxe Dogs and Deluxe Coctails in an exclusive little hole-in-the-wall, and he looks straight into the camera and says, "You're not getting in here. It's pretty much certain that you're not getting in here."
So, by definition, the only real value in Bourdain's shows lies in providing masochists and armchair travelers like me with a bit of vicarious punishment. Granted, I wouldn't eat some of the things that he eats, but then, as a likely case of Asperger's, my palette is almost notoriously bland. I didn't graduate to the milder forms of Mexican food until I was in my forties. It doesn't mean that I can't enjoy learning about Street Foods of The World on an intellectual level.
To be able to go anywhere and eat anything that's put in front of you, to be relaxed enough and comfortable enough in your own skin to speak confidently to absolutely anyone, that must be a Wonderful Thing.
I've traveled enough to know that travel is exhausting, fraught with difficulties, and sometimes dangerous. So if Mr. Bourdain sometimes looks pained or tired, that's to be expected. I don't feel sorry for him. He's like James Bond without the running, punching and shooting. Sounds like a Perfect Life to me.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
I won't belabor the point, but everyone, everyone, should absolutely get out and see Hugo. For reasons I won't get into, it needs to be seen at a Movie Theater, on a Big Screen. Don't wait for the DVD. See it in 3D or see it flat (although I will say that this is what 3D was made for, and Scorcese uses it better than anyone else ever has), but see it.
I watched it through a haze, with tears running down my face. I can't promise that you will have the same reaction, but then I feel intensely connected to the material for a number of reasons.
First, years before Brian Selznick published his wonderful book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, upon which Scorcese based his film, I mined the same material for a short story. You can see it here. The animations and design that really bring it to life are by Farak Ulay. Please take a few minutes and check it out. It's not a long piece. You might want to wait until after you've seen Hugo, though. Spoilers ahead. See it, then come back and follow the link.
Among the very few critics who have actually panned this movie, one of them said something to the effect of "Scorcese shouldn't have waited until he was seventy to make his first Kid's Film."
I want to throttle that person. Hugo is anything but a Kid's Movie. It's for adults who can remember what it is like to be a child, but who have lived long enough to experience loss. And it's for young people, meant to turn a key and open a door in their minds that will allow them to explore avenues that lead, down crooked streets and narrow hallways, to places and people far away from the relentlessly contemporary.
Even though I knew the details of the plot ahead of time, I was entirely drawn in to the deep mystery that this movie creates. Most people who see the film will not recognize the name of the man played by Ben Kingsley, but even if you do, you will not be disappointed in the way the fictional story folds itself in and around reality, like film through sprockets.
I don't want to throw a lot of words at this. Just go. It will make you a better person. It will make you realize that you never know who the people that you meet in life used to be.
Just one more thing: Even here, in Hugo, Martin Scorcese has made a film that forced me to look away from the screen and to literally shake and cringe and squeeze into the bottom of my seat. I am genuinely afraid of heights. When you see it, you'll know the scene I'm talking about. In 3D, it was simply unbearable for me to watch.
This was a good ending to my birthday weekend which began with some friends coming over on Friday night for one of my Movie Nights. As I've written before on this blog, I always do up a Full Program with a cartoon, serial and a comedy short before the feature. I served up some pretty good stuff: Betty Boop in Snow White, Buster Keaton in One Week, and episode one of Republic's 1941 cliffhanger, Spy Smasher. The Keaton was particularly fun. Watching Keaton all alone by yourself in front of the telly is one thing, but watching him where there are other people in the room and they are all laughing out loud in all the right places definitely adds an additional layer of enjoyment.
The feature was another movie about children faced with seemingly insoluble mysteries, Disney's 1963 The Horse Without a Head, featuring Jean-Pierre Aumont, Leo McKern and Herbert Lom. Also one of my first childhood crushes, Pamela Franklin as a spunky little girl who has a way with dogs. This slight little mystery is a charmer that's been a favorite of mine ever since I was five years old. Disney has never formally released it to the retail market, but there are copies of their "film club" DVD out there if you know where to look.
E___, a former boss and longtime friend, who came to my mother's memorial service, got to see my house for the first time, and commented that I've done well at making it home. Thanks. I think so.
So, yes. Much, much better than my last birthday, which you can read about here on the blog. Life in general has improved a whole heckova lot since then, and who knows? Maybe, like the characters in Hugo, I won't be broken forever.
Friday, December 9, 2011
There was a large box on my deck when I got home last night. I thought, "What? I didn't order anything! Did I? Did I order something else while I was drunk and then forget all about it?"
In the dark I couldn't tell where it was from. I had three bags of groceries and my usual shoulder bag, and I tried to manage everything at once whilst simultaneously trying to let myself into the house. Once I got everything into the back hall and hit the lightswitch, I saw that the box was from a Maine wreath company.
I thought, " A wreath? I didn't order a wreath! Who sent me a wreath? What the hell am I going to do with a wreath?"
Truth told, in my new home there's not a single place to hang a wreath. The front porch door is made of glass and metal, no place to drive a nail. On the inner porch door I already have one of my mother's paintings hanging; there would be no point in hanging a wreath there anyway, no one would see it. I finally looped it onto a hook on my deck that I hang plants from in the summer.
It turns out that the wreath was sent to me by the auction house that handled the sale of my mother's estate. When I learned this, and read the insipid note that was enclosed in the package, I just wanted to throw the bloody thing back in their faces. Stupid fake sentiment. They made a lot of money off of my mother, so they send me a damn wreath. A stupid, bloody wreath is not a fair trade for my mother's life. If I had any cojones at all I'd drive over there and toss it onto Mister James Julia's desk, and tell him where he can hang it.
There are many things that went into the sale that are unaccounted for, notable things, prominent things, and the auctioneers are being, at best, coy about the missing items. Among these are a vintage firearm, a very old wood carving of cherubic faces, a soft sculpture of a Phoenix by the Maine artist Dahlov Ipcar, and the eight or ten boxes of vintage comics that actually belonged to me.
My father has been very active in trying to make them accountable for a the first two items. He's had no luck, as I knew would be the case. The auction house holds all the cards. If they say that they never received something, and it doesn't turn up in their records, what are you going to do about it? For my part --
-- I lost so much last year. Just read back in this blog, I won't rehash it. All by themselves, the three days that the auctioneers spent clearing out the house were a brutal gang rape of my life.
I know that my father is frustrated by my attitude about the missing items, but I'm not being blasé. I care about it as much as he does, perhaps more. But I simply need to let go, and declare the past dead. It needs to be over. Engaging in a battle with the auction house is not going to bring me any closer to peace.
But then again, neither is a stupid wreath.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
|I did not "choose" this photo. I clicked on it at random from well over a|
thousand images I have sent to me by the auctioneer. Even now, I don't like to
look at it. I know exactly where these things were in the Old House.
"When Jim Julia & Bill Gage arrived at the (Thornsjo) house for the first viewing they were truly astounded at the quantity upon opening the front door ... the two could honestly say that they never had to side step through room after room, in single file before."
Monday, December 5, 2011
I spotted this magazine cover at the supermarket the other day, and thought, "Oh, really? A headline written by someone who's never suffered from it."
Actually, I had a good streak of Freedom from Anxiety in recent weeks. I suspect it was because I was so sick that I didn't have the energy for panic attacks or anxiety. Now that I'm feeling somewhat better, all that has changed.
The spells are coming at different times of the day, and are lasting longer. I've written about this before, so I won't go over it all again. I do see the footnote reading "As long as you know how to use it," but that makes no sense to me. Anxiety is formless and cannot be channeled, only outlasted, and that only for a short time before it's back on you like a parasite.
My doctor is talking about increasing my dosage of Prozac. I hope that it helps. I did not miss these daily adventures into panic, and would be grateful for anything that would Make it Stop.
Speaking of anxiety, just to prove that I am my own worst enemy, I joined an online dating service. Briefly.
I know! I thought the same thing! I thought, What the hell are you doing? Well, a co-worker had signed up for the same service and he was getting all kinds of hits and I guess it seemed like the Thing to Do. I'm good at playing Follow the Leader. I never imagined that anything would come of it. I figured that a few days would go by, nothing would happen, and then I'd forget the whole thing.
So I was actually mortified when my inbox began to fill up with notices saying that various women wanted to meet me. I thought, Are they stupid? Did they read my profile?
But then I went and actually answered a couple of them!
I know!! I thought that, too! I thought, Are you crazy? What are you thinking? Why are you completely unable to learn from past mistakes?
I live my life knowing that I'm going to make a fool out of myself, but unable to prevent myself from doing it.
Well, not this time. This morning, I deleted the account. Now I am breathing a sigh of relief.
I really shouldn't go anywhere near the computer after about ten o'clock at night. My typing fingers tend to do things of their own volition, without speaking to my head. One of these days, it's going to get me into trouble.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
When I saw The Omega Man for the first time as a young teenager, I thought it was pretty good. To be fair, I saw it on network television, and my sense is that it was quite heavily edited to get it down to the standards that TV censors demanded back in those days -- maybe some of the worst scenes came out along with the violence, swearing, and the topless black chick.
Because, Oh Yes, when I tried to watch it again as the inaugural feature of my annual winter science fiction filmfest, I was greatly brought down to realize that this picture is one heck of a smelly Stink Bomb. It took me three sessions over three days just to get through the damn thing.
Back in 1971, we still had this thing called "Mod." It was dying a slow and painful death, but when The Omega Man was made, there were still some very un-Mod people who thought it was the thing to do to rake in the Youth Audience. And The Omega Man wants so very much to be "Mod" -- it tries so hard to be "Mod" that it only ends up showing you how deeply Un-Mod it is.
Their first mistake was in casting Charlton Heston in the title role. Heston may have been many things (or Not), but "Mod?" Yeesh! Maybe when they were changing the title from The Last Man on Earth, they should have gone with The Least Mod on Earth. Only Nancy Reagan is less "Mod" than Charlton Heston.
Then there's the music -- my GOD, the music! Jumpy, Fake Pop Elevator Music at best, fake Electronic Gothic, and worse. The best example of how deeply wretched this score is comes at the very end, as a kind of bouncy Supermarket tune plays over the fade-out of Heston lying symbolically crucified in a fountain of his own blood.
I'm not making this stuff up!!!
Then we have the villains. In the original story (and the actually very good first film version starring Vincent Price in the Heston role), a virus had turned everyone on the planet into Walking Dead. They didn't talk much. They did spend their nights trying to break their way into Vincent Price's home. This was well before George Romero stole the idea, added piles of gore and gave us the zombie genre that is with us, very much like a disgusting virus, to this day.
But no, The Omega Man has to be really MOD, baby! So in this version, the virus turned everyone on the planet into Albino Cultists who go around in long black robes and chant "The Family is Everything!" Anthony Zerbe plays the Head Cultist and, under his white Fright Wig and white pancake make-up, he works overtime (and I do mean overtime) to prove to us How Very Evil he is. By allowing the Cultists to talk, and to do so at great length, the screenwriters have opened themselves up to vast opportunities for Silly Dialogue which does not go un-mined.
The script, that's another big part of the trouble. By trying to expand upon Richard Matheson's original story, they turn terror into camp, and humanity into pathos. It tries so hard to be profound that it forgets how to be a simple science fiction thriller. Mod, meet Miss Guided!
And don't even get me started about the Jive-Ass Black Chick. I know lots of African Americans and not one of them looks or talks like they just stepped out of a Pam Grier movie. This was written by White People who wanted to prove to someone (maybe themselves) that they were not bigots. They failed.
Along the way, this movie does play with one of my favorite themes: the creation of a Family. In this case, not only doesn't the family "take," but it raises the question of "What if you don't like your new-found relatives?" See, the Jive-Ass Black Chick and Charlton Heston become a deeply unlikely couple when he saves the life of her little brother. And just as soon as he can talk again, little brother proves to be kind of a Pain in the Ass. In-laws!! Go figure!! He gets killed for it, but then so does almost everyone else.
The one thing that this picture gets right is also the one thing it has in common with the Vincent Price version: an interesting, accurate depiction of Men Living Alone. Where Price lives in squalor and depression, dragging himself out every day to dispose of the bodies and shore up his ever-diminishing defenses, Heston lives in city style with every kind of luxury he wants, and ventures out by day as a gun-toting Warrior, tooling around the streets in a new car every day. You can almost hear him saying "Out of my cold dead hands. . ." and that's what happens.
I've not seen the recent remake with Will Smith and probably never will. At the time of its release, I had only my memory of the Heston version to go on, and I scoffed. "Why would they remake The Omega Man?" I said. "It can't possibly be as good as The Omega Man!"
Now, with the bar very much lowered, I have to say, "If it isn't as good as The Omega Man, then it's really in the shit!"
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
I was hoping by now to be able to write about Hugo, Martin Scorcese's new film from Brian Selznick's wonderful book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This is a bit of a milestone for me: I've never seen a Scorcese picture before. It's for the same reason that I'll never watch The Godfather films or Apocalypse Now: Scorcese's work is much too dark, violent and intense for me. When Gangs of New York came out, I watched the trailer and thought that it had a really wonderful look. Then I saw the actors carrying around meat cleavers and knew that they weren't going to be used on a roast leg of lamb. No, thank you, Mr. Scorcese. I know that his films are of a high standard and are not exploitative -- but I also know my limits.
Now, for the first time in his life, he's made a film that I not only can sit through but am eagerly looking forward to -- and the stupid local cineplex, which usually is all over any 3-D release, isn't putting it on the schedule. It's not even coming in next week.
Mind you, they have Happy Feet II running on two screens in both 3-D and flat versions. Wasn't one Happy Feet movie bad enough? They have the latest Adam Sandler stink bomb (who goes to his movies, anyway?). They have Arthur Christmas, whatever that is. They have Disney's The Muppets.
I believe they will be serving Ben & Jerry's in hell before I'll sit through any of that rubbish. And if these choices, versus bringing in Hugo, accurately reflect what the average person wants to attend, then Joe and Jane Average have a lot to answer for.
I know that Disney's The Muppets is getting good press, but, former muppet fan that I am, I chalk that up to logrolling and ignorance. There's a reason why it's called Disney's The Muppets and not Jim Henson's The Muppets. No one from the Jim Henson Company was involved in the making of this picture! Even Frank Oz has called it quits. Given the tripe that Brian Henson has turned out in his father's name since the man's death, perhaps this is a good thing (The Muppet Wizard of Oz, anyone?). But two wrongs don't make a right, and this is a "muppet" movie made out of one hundred percent artificial ingredients.
According to the Disney Company, nothing ever has to die, because nothing was ever really alive to start with.
But the Muppets were alive. They died with their creator, and should be allowed to rest in peace.
Back to Hugo. All I can tell you is that the book it's based upon is a unique combination of words and pictures -- not so much a graphic novel as a novel with purely cinematic sequences embedded in the tale. This approach probably screamed "make me into a movie" to a certain class of people. But to me the entire point lay in that it was printed on paper and bound between two covers. Here is someone who managed to get a genuinely cinematic experience into a book. That the early days of cinema factored into the story only made it that much more appropriate. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is so much a vision of its author that I balked a bit when I learned that it was being filmed.
Time will tell if I ever get a chance to see Hugo in a movie theater, where I imagine it truly needs to be seen. All I can say for now is, I'm awfully glad that Steven Spielberg didn't his damn dirty hands on it. (I'm tempted to ask Mr. Spielberg, in the unlikely event that our paths ever cross, what it feels like to Rape Tintin.)
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Last night, somewhat out of desperation, I took a hint from an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and threw a pork chop onto a big ol' bun. It's one of those things that, once you've seen it done, you can't understand why you never thought of it before.
It's good, people.
You need a big bun to soak in the juices and handle the volume. And -- I don't know the proper terminology here -- you can't have the typical kind of pork chop with the bone going down the middle. You've got to have the cut that has the bone going around the edge. Cook up your pork chop any way you like, put in in the bun, and pig out. It's a meal all by itself.
I grilled mine on my Farberware indoor grill. Good luck finding this absolutely essential kitchen item anywhere today, the company hasn't manufactured it in years. George Foreman doesn't have anything that comes close!
Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay don't need me to do their PR for them, but I know that my mother would have enjoyed their shows, and I regret not getting cable or satellite television while she was alive. Mom deprived herself of very little in the way of "things that she enjoyed," but especially in her later years some televisual seasoning would have been welcome. We were strictly a free-over-the-air antenna TV household, and for some reason we had it in our heads that it was an either / or proposition, that getting cable would cause us to lose the local stations that she depended on.
In fact, my television has about a hundred and eighty-seven connection ports. I currently have three devices hooked up to it and switch back and forth with ease. If I wanted to add an over-the-air antenna, the hardest part would be climbing up onto the roof. (No, maybe the hardest part would be getting down. Something tells me I'd be clinging to the chimney for dear life, sweating and screaming for someone to call the fire department.)
It's not that DirectTV or cable are any better than broadcast TV. Out of a bazillion channels, a veritable tsunami of available programing, sensory overload waiting to happen in nearly any genre you can imagine, the vast majority of it is unwatchable crap. Can you say Ghost Adventures? They build you up for twenty minutes and then spend the rest of the show stumbling around in the dark going "Did you hear that?" "Did you see that?" Uhm, no. There are some nights nights when I can't find a thing to watch. Even TCM lets me down on a regular basis (last night they ran Doctor Zhivago; even if I didn't own the movie on DVD, at something like nine and a half hours long, that's not a movie, it's a commitment.)
But I hate to run across things anywhere that I know Mom would have liked. It always makes me feel sad and guilty, as if I could have done more while she was alive.
Bourdain's No Reservations is a show that I can definitely see her sitting through a marathon for -- who wouldn't enjoy galavanting around the globe with such an experienced guide, even if he does have an attitude problem? Adam Richman's Man Vs. Food is another. It's nice to learn that there are still some regional styles of cooking that survive in the world of Tasti-Freeze and Wimpy Burgers that Peter Cook's Bedazzled Devil has so successfully created for us. I'm not crazy about the challenges, which fall into the category of grotesque, but up to that point Richman's show is pure Food Porn. And of course there's the Gordon Ramsay campaign for Total Global Domination And The Advancement and Promotion of Gordon Ramsay, of which only The F Word leaves me cold. It doesn't know what it wants to be; it has no shape. It's Ramsay's Bridge Too Far.
I dunno where I'm going with this. It all started with a pork chop on a bun. Mom would have liked that, too.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
There's a reason why The Music Box is one of Laurel & Hardy's best-remembered films: it's at the very top of their Hoover, I mean oeuvre, thirty minutes of sustained, perfectly timed comedy. . . not just one of the great short comedy films of all time, but a great film, period.
More than that, I see in it a great metaphor for the Life We Live. It's not just about two guys delivering a piano. That impossibly long staircase, their burden, and all the frustrations and setbacks that they encounter -- that is True to Life, folks, and by giving us such a clear vision of Life's Difficulties, and then making us laugh at it, and laugh uproariously (well, I still have a bit of a cough, so I could only laugh until I started hacking my lungs up), the boys are doing something really special and astonishing.
There's a reason why the steps are a popular tourist stop to this day. I think people "get" it in a big way. Inanimate objects were always Laurel & Hardy's enemies, and this stairway is almost a character by itself, a malevolent entity determined to do them in -- just as they are determined to conquer it, no matter what it takes.
I won't belabor the point, and I really don't have anything else to say about the picture that hasn't been said before, by better writers. Just know that if you see only one Laurel and Hardy picture in your lifetime (and I honestly can't imagine a bleaker life if that's the case), make it The Music Box. Oh, and if you don't like this? Then you can't be my friend.
I'll leave it with a bit of trivia: Did you know that Billy Gilbert, the formidable gent in the photo above, frequent opponent of Stan and Babe, was also the voice of Sneezy The Dwarf in Snow White? It was his then-famous radio "sneeze routine" that got him the job.
P.S.: Thanksgiving was accomplished in Good Spirits. It was the right choice for me to face it alone.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
I knew that there would be tears today and I wasn't wrong about that (note to self: don't play "Into the West" by Annie Lennox again). Weren't the first, won't be the last. But today I'm going to do That Holiday Thing and count my blessings.
First and foremost, I am thankful that I don't have in front of me what I had in front of me last year at this time. We are well and truly ensconced in our new home, and if I still haven't figured out what to do with the rest of my life, at least I have solid footing from which to plan the launch.
I'm thankful to the people who helped make this happen, especially my father and his wife, my lawyer Joann and her assistant Sue. Without Joann and Sue, and their compassion (never pressure), I don't know what I would have done in the past year and a half.
I'm thankful that my sister wasn't the executor of the estate!
I'm thankful that I still have Patches, Whitey, Pandy Bear, Honey, and, outdoors, Tiger Whitestockings. They mean more to me now than ever before. I don't know that I'd be alive without them in the picture. This year has wrought big changes in their lives and their behaviours, too. Patches is no longer afraid to come upstairs to my bedroom and sleep with me. Honey is willing to share. Pandy Bear isn't "marking" the house. Much.
I'm thankful to have Honey sitting on my lap as I write this, even if it makes it much harder to type,
I'm thankful to my employers and co-workers for keeping me on during what was really not a very productive year. I'm thankful to be coming out of the fully shell-shocked stage at long last, and to be passing into the stage of true mourning. It's progress.
I'm actually thankful to be out of the old house, with all its problems and associations. There, it was raining indoors in more ways than one. There, winters were so isolated that we felt as if we were living on the moon. If I feel as if I have lost much in the way of history, I have lost much more in the way of troubles, concerns, difficulties and sadness.
I'm thankful to be paying down half of my home mortgage next week, and thankful too that there will be enough left over from the estate to provide some liquidity in case of emergencies. After all, life is one big emergency waiting to happen. Lots of people don't have anything to fall back on, and I am one fortunate guy in that regard.
I'm thankful for Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Doctor Who, Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, for Pee Wee Herman and Turner Classic Movies and all the rest of the high and low filmic and theatrical distractions that have not just entertained me, but helped pull me out of my despair and even sometimes edified me or filled me with joy. The arts have always been That Which Makes Life Worth Living for me. They have been working overtime this year!
I'm thankful to everyone who has followed, perused and commented here at this blog. This has been the best therapy ever. Without it, and you, I would have had nowhere and no one to turn to. For lots of reasons, I can't actually talk about many of these things. Without this, they would go unexpressed and fester and get moldier and more corrupted by the day. So thank you all for putting up with this.
Most of all, above all else, I'm thankful to have memories of happier Thanksgivings. I'm thankful to my mother and my grandparents on both sides, all wonderful people whom I miss dreadfully on this day, for Having Been.
See, there come the tears again.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Ah, here it comes, the Traditional Season of Heartache and Suicide, and this year I am electing to spend it alone. It's nice that I actually had two invitations to Thanksgiving Dinner, but I turned them both down. It's time for me to reclaim Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We all know that the winter holidays are about spending time with your Family, and much as I like the people who invited me, they aren't my family and never will be. Attending their personal family gatherings feels all wrong. Part Home Invasion and part Parody. Stranger in a Strange Land. Anyone would feel that way, but with my minimal social skills it feels all the more uncomfortable.
So this year, I am taking the Dreaded Feasts by their horns. Gonna wrestle 'em to the ground. It will be a true holiday in that I will be under no pressure to be somewhere or get something done, and no beating myself up for laziness. I will make myself three nice meals, make sure that Patches, Honey, Whitey and Pandy Bear have some extra treats, raise a glass in my mother's memory, call my father out in Arizona, and spend the day with all that remains of my real, slowly dwindling family.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
She said, "Are you married?"
"No," I said.
"Do you have children?"
"No," I said.
"Do you have a Significant Other?"
I thought, Why are you doing this to me?
"No," I said.
"Why do you think that is?"
Is it a requirement of life? Am I breaking a law? Am I deficient, an Underling, because I am alone?
I thought, Bitch.
Pause. A beat.
I thought of all of my ex-girlfriends, and how the relationships all ended the same way, with them dumping me because I could not be, no matter how hard I tried, the person that they wanted. I tried so hard. It never made any difference. I can't read minds. I Don't. . . Understand. . . PEOPLE. I can NOT Play the Game of "Guess Why I am Angry at You Today." My last relationship lasted just three months. That was, Christ, a decade ago.
I worked so hard to get INTO relationships, and I never walked out of one, not one single one.
I said, looking at the floor, "I'm not very social. Borderline Asperger's."
I said, "I don't have a diagnosis or anything. . ."
And she put up her hands and said, "No. . ." in the way that said, You don't need one. I know all about it. It's obvious.
What is it about the Harry Potter books that makes them so compulsively readable? With apologies to J.K. Rowling, they aren't particularly well-written, the characters and themes are in no way original.
I think the reason is that Rowling has created a fantasy setting that is both familiar and deeply immersive. When you finish one of the Harry Potter books, you feel as if you've lived it. (Don't get me started about the movies, though -- when you sit through one of those, you feel as if you've been clubbed over the head like a baby seal.)
The same exact thing can be said for Blizzard Entertainment's online role-playng game, World of Warcraft. In the past week-plus, when I would drag myself home from work with barely enough energy to check email and Facebook and then sit here wondering what to do with myself, I confess that Blizzard's recent offer to play World of Warcraft for free (up to level 20) did reel me in.
And now that I've been playing for a while (my main character, a night elf druid, is up to level 10 and can take on the shape of a tiger!) I have to say that Blizzard's offer is pretty much the same thing as if they stood at the edge of a playground and handed out free doses of crack cocaine to the children!
If you even remotely like this sort of thing, World of Warcraft is unbelievably addictive. And I think the reason is the same as for the Harry Potter books: the setting is deep, detailed and immersive.
The world is huge: I've played for hours and explored just a tiny corner of it. The world is gorgeous: Blizzard has always employed the best artists and designers in the business, and the amount of work that has gone into this is impressive. The world is one of great variety: you can create up to ten characters, each one of a different race and class, who exists in a different corner of the world and experiences the game in quite different ways. As much as I've played over the last week and a half, I'm in no danger of wearing out my free trial.
I could do without all the killing, but the world hardly gives you a choice. There is an adrenaline rush when a hideous monster attacks you for no reason at all, and you manage to put it down (or not; I've been killed myself more times than I care to admit. Fortunately, resurrection and redemption are possible here, very much unlike real life). And there's a rush that goes even deeper when you've leveled up a bit, and can go back to those same monsters that kicked sand in your face, and give them a damn good thrashing.
There is also a plot. The game writers cleverly guide you through a series of chapters, during which thin layers of the larger tale come gradually into focus. As you rise and advance in the game, the plot begins to thicken.
Like all habits, it comes with a dark side. The download is humongous, ten gigabytes -- even with a high-speed connection, it took all night. And just as the game will take up a big chunk of your hard drive, it will attempt to take up a big part of your life.
I think Blizzard knew what they were doing when they made this offer: give the punters a sample, then reel them in as junkies!
For my part, now that I am feeling much better, it's time for me to reclaim my life, tear myself away from World of Warcraft, or at least deeply restrict the amount of time I spend there.
Great, just ducky. Like I needed another addiction to cope with.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
|. . . and no, I would still not say that I am feeling anywhere near as perky as this gent. . .|
They say that a blogger should never post more than once a day, but I've never put much stock in what other people say, and anyhow, I feel somewhat entitled. The posts have been few and far between over the last few weeks. That's because today is the very first "off-day" in something like a month where I actually have the energy to sit up at the computer and type something.
After a brief period of relative wellness following three weeks of feeling as if I'd been hit by a truck, low and behold, that same truck stopped in the road ahead, backed right on up and ran over me again.
At first I thought that I was just being lazy. This added a unique flavor to the illness, because it meant that while I was unable to move or do anything productive, I had the additional pleasure of mentally beating myself up about it.
But by this past Tuesday I was so far depleted that all I could do was phone in sick, drag myself to bed and lie there in my chilly room, sweating like a pig while my thoughts and dreams raced crazily on about nothing at all. There isn't a thermometer in the house, so I can't actually say with authority that it was a fever -- but it was a pretty good imitation of one!
This morning? Fingers crossed, but I as if there's light ahead and I don't see a truck sitting in the road. It was nice to feel that I actually had an appetite again. It was nice to feel some benefits from eating. It was nice to walk around the house and water plants, and to bring in the rest of my yard ornaments for the winter. It was nice to sit here and type something approximately coherent.
I don't owe it all to my new doctor, a woman connected with Inland Hospital here in town, who said, "You are probably coming off of some virus activity -- but we don't have to do anything about that." -- and then promptly turned my visit into another investigation of my alcoholism.
I get tired of these investigations. I'd been totally honest and up-front with her about it, after all it's something that she needs to factor in to any calculations that she makes. But they don't need to lecture me anymore because I've heard it all and I know perfectly well that it's all true. I'm not in denial about the consequences. But my attitude is that I've modified my behaviour so dramatically over what it was fifteen months ago, and for now that is enough of a step for me. If I'm going to knock it off completely, I'm going to need better reasons.
I am completely sober from morning light until around ten o'clock at night. That's enough sobriety for anyone. It is nice, at that lonely time of night, to feel some weight taken off of my shoulders, even if that's an illusion. After all, I'm not hurting anyone but myself -- and that's the person I care least about.
Friday, November 18, 2011
. . . sounds like I am groping for a metaphor to title one of my personal posts, but no, no, I'm really going to write about The Lost World.
The 1925 silent film made from the book was a long-time Quest for me. Being a fan of Ray Harrihausen and Willis O'Brien and their stop-motion dinosaurs was a big part of that. And really, what's not to like about stop-motion dinosaurs? Even The Valley of Gwangi, far from being Harryhausen's best film (although it contains some of his best work) is good fun to sit through.
Without exception, I find stop-motion dinosaurs to be far more effective than their modern CGI brethren. They have more personality, and despite the occasional herky-jerky quality of some of O'Brien's earliest work, or perhaps because of it, I find them much more convincing. Not even Jurass-has-had-it Park (as Mad magazine called it at the time) can hold a candle to Gwangi.
So, when I finally got my hands on a copy of the '25 Lost World about a decade ago, was I disappointed? Not a bit of it! The stop motion-dinosaurs are a bit primitive, but they have a genuinely eerie quality about them, especially at the end of the picture when what we used to refer to as a brontosaurus sets about demolishing London.
Oh, yeah -- Hollywood was Hollywoodizing even in 1925. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original story, the Challenger expedition brings back a baby pterodactyl with them, only to lose it through a window. But this being The Movies, they had to bring a full-size brontosaurus! Never mind how -- it doesn't have to make sense!
The senior Wallace Beery chews up the screen as Professor Challenger, and the story moves along at a clip, remaining (except for the brontosaurus) as faithful to the book as anyone could expect. And -- oh my! -- in the Ain't Technology Wundafil department, you can watch the full movie online here:
The reason I'm typing all this is that I had the chance the other evening to watch the 2001 remake with Bob Hoskins as Professor Challenger, and to my great surprise I actually rather liked it. It's not that the CGI dinosaurs were very good -- they weren't. And the background music -- ye gods! I don't think I've ever heard a more overwrought, overblown score.
But the cast was terrific and the adaptation was quite faithful to the spirit if not the letter of the book. Hoskins makes a smashing Professor Challenger and it's nice to see him playing something out of his usual neck of the woods. There are hordes of familiar faces in the supporting cast -- including the late Peter Falk, that was a surprise! The direction is steady, the story gets told, and we finally get to see the real ending of the book. We're not talking The African Queen here, by a long pinch, but for a low-budget, made-for-TV venture this is above average. The New Zealand locations are stunning as ever, too.
I note that a TV series of The Lost World that lasted about three seasons was made right around the same time. This raises the question of why film and TV producers are so incestuous. Remember the two back-to-back remakes of The Poseidon Adventure that appeared one after the other, on TV and in the cineplex? Remakes are bad enough in principle, but how does something like this even happen? Presumably, there are rights issues. . .
At any rate, the stills from that series look dreadful, so I think I'll be drawing my line in The Lost World's sand right about here.
One last thing, and then we're done here. I never read the book until a few years ago when I was working in the production department of Thorndike Press, the biggest large-print publishing company in the world. Best job ever, bar none, and I don't expect I'll ever have it so good again. Where else could I have gotten paid to read (and typeset a new edition of) The Lost World? I'm quite proud of the work I did on that book, giving the design a subtle vintage look. I still have my copy.
So, for a collection of small reasons, The Lost World and I have a vaguely personal connection. Also, you have to be impressed that the same man who created Sherlock Holmes also single-handedly created a genre that's still being ripped off to this day. Conan Doyle was no stylist, but he certainly knew how to fabricate a High Concept.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
How many years since the last time I watched Horse Feathers, one of my favorite Marx Brothers vehicles? Decades. I'd forgotten so much about it -- and had never understood parts of it. The term "College Widow" -- as applied to the lovely Thelma Todd -- baffled me and sent me to the internet to find a definition. Ah, now I get it!
But I'm afraid the Marx Brothers are to some extent wearing out their welcome with me as I get older. I used to love their anarchic spirit, but lately I've been putting myself in the shoes of their helpless victims and thinking how annoying it would be to have these guys around.
Let me put it another way. In the second half of the movie, when the Brothers are for the most part interacting just with each other and with Miss Todd (and the thug football players) -- I LOVE that stuff. Margaret Dumont works for me, too, although she's not in this picture. But when the boys are perpetrating their madness among otherwise Innocent civilians (like the girls in the classroom here), they lose me. It seems unfair, the same way it would be if Bugs Bunny were to step in and take over the campus. Normal People are no match for the Marx Brothers. They don't stand a chance. There's an element of bullying in the Marx Brothers, as if Superior Alien Beings have descended among us and are taking the planet over.
That said, I still love Horse Feathers when it gets going. Maybe it's the Romantic angle, and thanks to the song "Everyone Says I Love You," it's a GENUINE Romantic angle. Each one of the brothers gets to sing (or in the case of Harpo, play -- but he makes the harp sing for him) their own version of it to Thelma Todd, each with their own lyrics, and each time it's kind of crazy and goofy and wonderful all at once. It's not often that Groucho gets a genuinely Romantic scene; here there's a wistful quavering to his voice that sells the moment.
Todd was also a frequent foil for Laurel and Hardy, and she must have been made of pretty strong stuff to put up with so much (very physical) wooing from so many Marx Brothers. The final fade-out is a little bit horrifying if you think about it: that's one wedding night that doesn't bear imagining!
Harpo is still my favorite Marx Brother, and this makes more sense to me now in the light of my probable mild Asperger's. He's the most alien of them, but also the most soulful. HIs humour is all sight, none of the rapid-fire patter of Groucho and Chico that often goes zooming past me at the speed of light. To some extent the talking Marxes cause a reaction in me much like the stunned students and faculty at their mercy: all one can do is stand agape, staring, and wonder where it's all going to end.