Monday, December 21, 2009

Blame it on Santa

Could it be that the collapse of faith that our country has experienced over the last fifty or so years was "all because of Santa Claus?"

A case could be made...

Ah, the baby boom generation...Never has a generation been given so much; or destroyed so much...

The gauzy, sweet world in which the children of the Greatest Generation were brought up was meant to be a correction to the childhood-stealing grim realities that their parents experienced coming up; a world of global economic depression and war. Picture perfect families in picture perfect homes experiencing picture perfect holidays was the goal in this new time of plenty. Santa, being the beloved old icon of goodness that he is, had a field day during this era of Ike, Uncle Walt and Uncle Miltie.

One of the first traumas that the children of this prosperity encountered was when it was discovered that their beloved Santa was not "real." The idea that all their striving for the approbation of this jolly old elf was for naught was the first chip in the "perfect" veneer of the crafted world made for them, and in true child fashion, they kept picking and picking at the veneer as they developed until the dirty "truth" was exposed beneath the whitewash of "lies" that their parents had so carefully wrought.

School, government, families, church, every bastion of order and faith was first doubted, then exposed, then decried, then abandoned to some degree or another.

And the soulless miserable "truth" was left for generations to come...Hallelujah...

Somewhere along the way we lost the distinction between "true" and "factual". As science became our new faith we lost the fine art of symbolism, of myth, of understanding through story and image concepts too large and unwieldy to be perceived in mathematical formulae.

Perhaps none of our religious myths are factual, but many are true. There is no way to verify many facts in such an ethereal field, but we do know that we are here, products of some great mysterious power, little pin pricks of mortal energy in a vast and roiling complex of ever transmogrifying power, given five faulty and failing tools with which to try to perceive and make sense of it all. The X factor here is that we can share our findings, not just with our fellow mortals toiling through the void, but with all of the ones who came before us who bothered to pass on what they knew, and with those whom we hope will follow after us. The thing that works best for us it seems, is when we have a "why" in which to put our faith in to help to muddle through the "what" of reality. The trick is in our perception: if you believe too factually in the myth you become a jihadist zealot. To make it work for you takes a bit of a poetic approach. Why did Christ speak in parables, or stories, rather than just espousing dogma?

Part of the problem for modern folks is we are too in on the sausage making. We know how movie magic is done, so movies, as swell as they can make 'em look these days, seem to leave us flat all the same. It is hard to imagine the days when people ran screaming from the image of a train moving at them on a movie screen, or wondering if "they" really trained a giant ape to perform King Kong. Even the most casual fan can bore you to tears with the facts about green-screen technology employed in film today. Yes, we know that The Wizard of Oz is fake; a bunch of Hollywood hoofers, midgets and drug addicted starlets all made up and dusted with pixie dust to create an illusion. But does that mean that the movies' values, the beliefs in friendship, honor, loyalty, courage, etc. etc. are false, too? This is babies and bathwater territory.

I tell my kids about Santa because he is fun. He is a symbol of societal justice for children: the good shall be rewarded, the assholes punished. That is a healthy thing. I don't make a big deal about how "real" he is. They have fun with the dream of Santa and who am I to rain on that parade? If I see things are getting out of hand, I will try to correct the course while still keeping the "truth" about why we have Santa around, what purpose he fulfills. The same with all the other bigger questions to come: there is a collective wealth of wisdom and power in our institutions, only a fool would toss them all away because they utilize illusion to illustrate their values. The biggest gift I can think of to give my kids is the power of discernment when dealing with the shitstorm of information that they are going to be subjected to while moving through this world; a lot is junk, some of it is gold.

Which is just, in reality, a very pretty, shiny, rock...

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Here's Looking For An Explanation

While recently scanning the American Film Institute's list of top movie quotes of all times, I was not surprised to see the famous Bogart quote from Casablanca at the top of the list:

"Here's looking at you, kid."

Surely, just on quotability and ubiquity it deserves its' place on the list.

But I have always wondered: just what the hell does it mean, exactly?

We can of course infer affection and some kind of flattery in this quote, but "Here's looking at you, kid?" Does it mean, "Here's to your beauty?" like a toast of some kind? Or just literally "Here is looking at you," like, I am here looking at you...Huh?

How did the writer even come up with such an obscure thing to say?

You hear something so much sometimes it takes on meaning and you never stop for a minute to think about it.

Surely a classy lady like Ingrid Bergman always smelled great. Why not: "Here's sniffing at you, kid?" Nah, that doesn't make sense either...

Okay, maybe I am making too much of it, but by golly, if it is the greatest quote ever, shouldn't it at least make some kind of sense.

If not, I vote for "Zug-zug" from Ringo Starr's Caveman...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Wisdom of Oz

1939...Europe steps into the abyss. Fascism in Germany has pushed its' expansionist intentions too far with the invasion of Poland, igniting a World War that will consume tens of millions of human lives before ending in the shroud of two nuclear attacks six years later. The Soviets are willing to play ball with Hitler at first; Stalin has his eye on expanding too, and the non-aggression pact with Hitler seemed like the best means to achieve this end...So too Imperial Japan..Fascist Italy. As Communist , Fascist, and Imperial forces around the world moved their machines into position to dominate the world, a Depression-weary and weakened US is torn in debate as to how to react to the apocalyptic scenarios raging on all sides. One American product that was produced out of this troubled time was to become one of the most beloved fantasy movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz.

One of the bad raps that fantasy has always been given is the term escapist. Well, surely if there was ever a time when folks needed a nice reprieve from reality, it was in 1939. And, too be sure, the wonderful songs and vibrant technicolor visions that Oz offered did transport its' viewers to a happier, funner place. But not a place not fraught with its own dangers, its own forces of darkness bent on possession and destruction of free peoples.

Really good fantasy works on a mythic level. It not only tells a good story, but it gives you a boon of some kind as well. It equips us with what we need in order to stay rooted in humanity and yet spiritually enlightened. The things that the main characters were searching for were the very things that American viewers were going to need to tap into: the Scarecrow wanted brains; the Tin Man wanted a heart, and The Cowardly Lion needed courage. All Dorothy wanted was to return to her home. In the war years that followed, it was the ingenuity, the humanity, the fearlessness, and the desire for peace that not only brought America through the greatest war the world has ever known, but brought it to world prominence when the dust settled.

Now, I am not asserting that it was because of Oz that America won the war. But I believe that the assertion that these things that the characters felt they desperately needed in order to cope were in their possession all along and were to found by searching within not without was a wonderfully empowering message to pluck up an anxious populace. And of course, the mantra of "there's no place like home" was enough to keep desperate soldiers in far-flung hell holes of war motivated to survive; to return to their mother lands.
2001...A still reeling from the 9/11 attacks America goes to the much anticipated first installment of The Lord of the Rings, "The Fellowship of the Ring." In a quiet scene between Frodo Baggins, a poetic, peace-loving hobbit and his friend and advisor wizard Gandalf the Grey, Frodo expresses his wishes that fate had not brought him to this frightening and dangerous place: deep in the bowels of an orc- infested mountain, an early step on a long, perilous, uncertain quest to take on a great evil. Gandalf responds in a way that spoke to all of us who felt like Frodo, wishing what happened had never happened. "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." That beam of light came to us in a very dark time, and helped equip us for a new world, a new war, a new way of life.
2010...Shapes up to be a very uncertain time both domestically and abroad. Things have moved so quickly in the last year that it is difficult to foresee where we may be this time next year. Let's hope for some wisdom. Some heart. Some courage. And let's hope that our homes stay safe and strong. And let's hope for some good fantasy to help us steer into better times...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speer's Destiny

I finished Spandau: The Secret Diaries the other day so I thought I'd throw a few thoughts on the book out there as I said I would in a prior post.

The book is a year by year diary of Albert Speer's 20 year stay in Berlin's Spandau Prison as sentenced by the Allied judges at the Nuremberg trials following the collapse of the Third Reich. It was truly a secret diary, as such personal writings were strictly forbidden by prison rules. Speer wrote on toilet paper, scraps from old calendars, whatever he could find and hide on his person (tucked in a place he knew no guard would want to search). He wrote to record his thoughts; to grapple with his guilt; to report on his experiences; and to try to keep a life-line to his non-prison self and his sanity. Many interesting memories and reflections about his experiences in Hitler's "court" come to him along the way, but to me the most interesting thing was the relationships that developed between the seven prisoners, all former Nazi bigwigs,
who went from planning on how to conquer and divide the world to struggling to come together to paint the prison halls or weed the gardens.

The other prisoners all regarded Speer as an outsider among outsiders for his open repentance for the Reich's crimes and excesses, and although there was some camaraderie that grew through hardship, for the most part Speer bore his punishment on his own . He developed an amusing relationship to Rudolf Hess, Hitler's one-time Deputy , who had been imprisoned since his ill-fated solo plane trip to Britain on a quest to forge a peace between the countries. Hess was clearly suffering from some forms of prison psychosis, but he also tried to "play" crazy , with frequent losses of memory and phantom gastric pains that prevented him from doing much work. He was thorny and wily, but there was a strange bond of respect that Speer and Hess had for each other that made them, particularly on Speer's part, protective and supporting of one another.

There were constant attempts by Speer's family, lawyers, and well-wishers to get him an early release. After many such dashing of hopes Speer became resigned that his lot was probably to die at Spandau. Late in his sentence he mused that the 20 year sentence, which struck him at the time as a great relief, was in some ways not as merciful as a death sentence would have been. Not for any abuse or mishandling in prison; but simply the complete eradication of the natural bonds with an aging family and world.

Still and all he got to enjoy aspects of his monastic life. He transformed a scrubby field into a wonderful garden with flowers, fruit trees and terraced walls. He walked constant rounds, imagining he was on a worldwide walking tour, using many of the books about different countries that he read as a touchstone for his imagination. He read many books about his various fascinations: architecture, art, history. He kept in touch with world events through available, albeit censored newspapers, and felt himself more and more disconnected from the world that ground on outside the prison walls.

He grappled with his own place in history; he, who started with dreams of being remembered for the buildings he made, was instead remembered as a war criminal with almost no surviving creations left standing. His biggest contribution to architecture, he noted with dark irony , was an illusion: the "cathedral of light", an effect he created at the Nuremberg party rally by shining the beams of numerous powerful searchlights into the sky creating the illusion of a gigantic hall that the party members held their rites within. I have included in this post a picture of a mock-up of the interior of the Great Hall that he had designed for Hitler's triumphal Berlin that was never to be. I noticed a weird illusion of Hitler's face within the design, see if you can see it.

At the end of the Diaries Speer is whisked off with his wife out of Spandau and to a new phase of his life. The literary contributions that he made in that last phase actually became his true legacy.

I couldn't help but feel that as horrible is that lost 20 years may have been for him, he certainly fared better in this prison where he read, gardened , walked, listened to symphonies and smoked his pipe, than he would have in, say, Huntsville prison. His experience is more what Jerry and George were probably thinking about on Seinfeld when they mused: "Prison...(wistfully)Someday..."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Close Encounters of the Third Reich

Lately I have been reading a couple of books by Albert Speer, Hitler's favorite architect and later Armaments Minister during WWII.

The first book I read was Inside the Third Reich, Speer's memoirs of his youth and his involvement in Hitler's inner circle until the end of the war and his imprisonment for war crimes in its aftermath.

I remember seeing a mini-series on TV in 1982 based on this book starring Rutger Hauer as Speer and Derek Jacobi as Hitler. It was a very well done drama, with many scenes that I have remembered for all of these years. Jacobi was a favorite of ours at the time due to his brilliant turn as the lead in Masterpiece Theater's I, Claudius. He did a pretty good job capturing Hitler's ability to weave many brilliant people into his own fevered dreams, but he has a distinctly Anglo aura about him that he was unable to disguise convincingly. Alec Guinness had a similar problem when he portrayed the Fuhrer in Hitler: The Last Ten Days. It always bothered me when Germans were portrayed with icy upper crust British accents. Of course, the best portrayal of Hitler on film thus far has to be Bruno Ganz in Downfall, who has the advantage of actually being German and performing auf Deutsch. He was very convincing as the erstwhile world conqueror, diminished to little more than a cornered rat , trapped in his bunker awaiting the End.

Both in the mini-series and the book, as fascinating as Speer himself is, the star of the show is , of course,Hitler; and as someone who once claimed to be the closest thing that the dictator ever had to a friend, Speer was uniquely positioned to give us a very up close and personal account of the man who took the world to the brink of Apocalypse.

The enigma of Hitler to us from the perspective of time and culture is the mystery of his appeal; not just to rabble rousers and beer hall brawlers, but to intellectuals, artists, scientists, professionals, grandmas, school kids and everyone else. The cliched question is still the prime mystery: How did the culture that produced Beethoven and Goethe embrace Nazism?

Speer is a good example of someone from the privileged class with a bright future who got caught up in Hitler's dream. From his memoirs one could gather that Hitler was given the keys to the kingdom because of two things he offered the German people at a very uncertain time in their history: Hope and Change.

Obviously you could make some pretty heavy duty analogies about now. It is no secret that cultures are at their most vulnerable at times of excessive ease and times of excessive strain. In times of ease the fat life becomes something expected and taken for granted. Things get soft and lackadaisical and right and wrong gets blurred. At times of strain, panic and despair lead to a search for strength and easy solutions. Hitler was a strong man, a father figure for a country that had been orphaned by its old order and left in disarray. He spoke boldly in terms so black and white and certain that all other politicians seemed like dithering bureaucrats more intent on pushing papers than pulling Germany out of the hole it was in. The mystery of his mass hypnotic appeal so often cited is I think a macrocosmic effect that can be experienced by anyone when put into a random group, co-workers on a project; jurors debating a case; even people stuck in a long bank line. An Alpha asserts himself, the group pulls into a societal order of deputies, conspirators, etc., and it is not until the group dissipates again that the whole experience can be looked back on for what it was.

Speer was an architect with a sharp mind and good connections. He was what Hitler had always wanted to be before he was a politician. He picked Speer to design the Future Reich of his dreams, with Grand Domes and Arches of Triumph, great temples to the Party and monuments to attest to the power of National Socialism. But he was what Dylan so poetically referred to as a "Dream Twister." Speer was pulled into Hitler's dream, thinking that his own dreams were being fulfilled. Speer made an interesting observation, saying that Hitler was like a malignant King Midas: instead of everything he touches turning into gold, he turns everything he touches into piles of corpses.

His portrait of Hitler was one of a man at times crude, at times inspiring, more often than not boring, and something of a dilettante regarding many subjects. He kept a distance from everyone in his role as Fuhrer, even Eva Braun , his secret consort.

It was not until the dream ended in catastrophe for Germany that Hitler's true face was seen by those around him; the losing Reich was not worthy of survival; it had to be razed and wiped off the face of the earth, having proved itself as being unworthy and unable to fulfill his desires for world domination and the eradication of Jewry. He was determined to not just commit suicide, but to take all of Germany with him, and Speer was fundamental in disregarding his leader's scorched earth policy, thus saving his country from a much greater destruction than the nightmare it faced in the dissolution of the Reich.

After Hitler's death and Germany's surrender, Speer was put on trial at Nuremberg, along with other surviving Nazi leaders. He fared better than many: 20 years in prison for his part in using slave labor in armaments factories.

The book I am currently reading is The Spandau Diaries about that 20 year imprisonment. I will report on it when I finish shortly.

Speer has many critics who accuse him of being self serving , trying to make himself more sympathetic in his memoirs, and less attached to the Final Solution aspect of Hitler's designs. They even say that his plea of guilty at the Nuremberg trials and denunciation of Hitler's policies were a mere ploy to save him from the hangman's noose, which it did. Several books have been written refuting different aspects of Speer's version of events. I am sure there is some truth to many of these accusations. All autobiographies must be read with a healthy dose of scepticism, after all, the author cannot be dispassionate about his subject. But all the same Speer is an interesting character, with an artistic and earnest eye for detail and examination. One gets the feeling that he truly grapples with trying to make sense of the maelstrom that surrounded him. His precise and probing mind is the crucible in which all the elements of what happened to him personally, and what happened to his country, and to our world are thrown, and Inside the Third Reich is an intriguing result.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Guilted Age

Something has been gnawing at me for some time, and after reading a piece about the forthcoming James Cameron movie Avatar, I just have to say something...

It seems that the story of this film concerns a war between Earth and a distant moon that we are exploiting for our own material purposes.

So we are the bad guys...Again...

The guilt complex that we are foisting upon ourselves just for existing, and the consumptive requirements that existing necessarily bears has gotten way out of hand.

We are made to feel guilty for the food that we eat , ('we are overfishing the oceans! We are turning the planet into a desert with the deforestation that raising cattle for our hamburgers causes! The fertilizers we are using are running into the oceans and causing dead spots!) We are condemned for the use of fresh water, we are even vilified by ourselves for having to poop and the necessary need to deal with the poop once it is here. ('Bad baby! Stinky baby!' )

Our clothes are made by foreign slave labor...Everything we do pollutes...We are killing off everything on the planet by eating it, destroying its' habitat or trying to domesticate it too much. We have also polluted our upper atmosphere with tons of 'space junk'. Even methane producing farts are polluting and destroying us.

Do you remember being able to enjoy watching nature documentaries? I can't even bear to watch them anymore because rather than portraying the nature of the subject, the main theme of these shows is invariably how man is destroying what is left of these marvelous creatures.

Do you and your spouse want to have children? You greedy fools, you are adding to overpopulation and over consumption. ("You have thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled- the fear to bring babies into the world."-Bob Dylan, "Masters of War") . If you are selfish enough to exist, the only thing that you could possibly do that is worse is to die. Coffin burials are polluting, cremations add to ozone decay. If you allow yourself a 'green burial' it is a little better, your corpse can be thrown on a 'possum pile' along with the egg shells and old coffee grounds.

The bad guy in almost every movie, and certainly in every kid's movie, is a greedy capitalist pig who is trying to bulldoze over some little corner of heaven in order to set up his soulless money sucking industry. (All of these movies brought to you, hypocritically enough, by big soulless money sucking industries!) Is it any wonder that in the last elections half our country felt that moving to communistic or socialistic approaches to government was worth entertaining?

Now I am not here to soft pedal any of the challenges that we as a species face, God knows we need to be better stewards of the planet, if that is indeed our destiny. But for goodness sake, we need to preserve the planet so that we may better survive on it as consuming living organisms!

The Big Guilt Trip that we have been on since about 1965 or so has been so all encompassing as to obliterate the origins of its cause. It has almost become a mass delusion of self loathing , a priming in the human psyche to rationalize a species level suicide, rather than a warning to better ensure the survival of the species.

We are clearly a species on the decline...

When you think about the glory days of humankind, when it was called Mankind, and I am not being sexist here, our self image was quite different. The Greeks may have had a host of colorful deities that ran the show, but they were all organs of power on which Man could draw as he climbed the heights of cultural and educational enlightenment. With the warning against hubris keeping him in check, the future was not self annihilation but discovery and growth. The Greek Empire may not have lasted, but the Greek spirit and outlook influenced and shaped the world in the most profound way.

It is easy to have a very dark view of humanity in a general sense. Working in the service industry as I do, I get to see people of all different kinds acting in all different ways. When I have an encounter with a genuine asshole I get very down on "people", but then I run across a genuinely nice person who acts in an unsolicited kind way to another person and I am reminded that we are like a large organism consisting of good and bad cells that must coexist for the good of the whole. We must not allow the assholes to condemn the species to an unfair self-loathing. Rather than always focusing on our limitations, we would be better served to look at our potential, and not just in the light of our modern religion, Science, (which can be blamed for most of the malaise we are in), but in our capacity to make the world a better place with a better attitude towards things that make us better people treating each other in a better way: civilization. And no, I don't mean necessarily by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, etc., etc., (fill in with more whiny liberal guilt trip crap). I mean, treat your kids like the potential great Humans they could be, treat the oldies with the respect that they deserve, respect the brainpower, the imagination, the common joy we all share in the things that make life worth living. I believe Art, rather than being a tool for propaganda or just keeping the bored entertained, can save the self-image of our species, and just maybe, save our species itself.

Artists, don't make us feel guilty for being alive. Make us feel alive!

Who knows, maybe Avatar will do just that.

We can only hope...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Curse of the Videotapes

Piles and piles of video tapes...Years of recordings from cable, dubs of movies, music videos, lots of miscellaneous junk of interest at one time or another. Not only do I have my own sizable stash of tape, but a huge archive of stuff that my late brother had meticulously recorded for his own purposes over the span of about 25 years is also in my care. Part of me (my better half, the wife) says throw it all away and don't look back. It has been collecting in the dusty cabinet in my garage, broiling away on these 100+ degree days of summer, making me wonder how long all this stuff can survive anyway. Then I start looking at the titles. So much cool stuff! Destroy these wonders? Never!

I borrowed my brother's dvd/vcr converter and set out on a quest...

One of my first compilations had to be a selection of some of the many great horror titles that we captured over the years. I started with a kind of sentimental choice. Terror In the Aisles is a compilation of scenes from various movies. It was released in the 80's with Donald Pleasance hosting. It was pre-Freddy, and had a interesting selection of scenes, not just from standard horror movies like Halloween , and The Thing, but some terrifying moments from suspenseful or action packed movies like NightHawks.

The next movie I dubbed was Curse of the Demon. This movie deserves a full write up, which I will work on ASAP.

I just wanted to set the table for the next few posts, where I will talk about some of these cool old movies.

I also wanted to say that if anyone has tried to post a comment on this blog lately, I apologize, I have not been snobbishly rejecting them, I have stupidly forgotten to update the email address to my new one that I got about four months ago! That should be fixed now, so let the show go on!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

There's Something About JAWS

At my nine year old son's insistence we watched Jaws again the other night. It was the second time I watched this movie with him. We saw it together last summer as well. Jaws is definitely a summer movie.

I can't say how many times I have watched this movie; probably somewhere between 50 and 75 times, there is no way of knowing at this point.

I had some hesitation to watch it with my kid. We always enjoyed body surfing in the big waves of Port Aransas beaches together, and I didn't want to screw that up. I am still being vilified by my sister for having scared one of my niece's out of any desire to swim in salt water for having shown her merely the clip of the shark rising to Chief Brody's chum.

But Joey has a remarkably clear-eyed view when it comes to all things involving Nature, and has never suffered under any illusions about where humans are on the food chain. He is also a big fan of "riding the whoppers", the big waves, so it's all good.

Watching Jaws again made me think about the first time I saw it, when I was about Joey's age back in the summer of '75. My oldest brother Mike went to see it with some of his friends when it finally came around to our small town. It was already a huge sensation around the country and the airwaves were filled with Jawsmania. It is weird to think of it now, but back in those days we rarely got first-run movies on their opening week at our local theaters. Many movies never came around at all. And of course there was no video market then, so if you missed it, you missed it, at least until it came out in horribly edited versions on TV. You had to seek out the almost universally horrible movie adaptation paperbacks, called novelizations, or on some rare occasions, a Fotonovel, which was a video image cartoon version of the movie. Not to get too far off the main subject, I recall that the novelization of the Jaws/killer -giant -animal ripoff movie Grizzly, was much better than the actual movie which I finally got to watch on video years later, so not all novelizations were bad.

Anyhow, back to 1975 and my brother. He came home from watching Jaws brimming with excitement and inspiration. Sitting around in our bunk beds he regaled us with an amazing almost frame by frame narration of the tale, from the opening prowling music accompanied shark's eye view cruise through wormy beds of sea grass, to the last shot of the exhausted survivor's drifting onto an abandoned Amity beach. It was a virtuoso telling, many of the phrases he used to describe the story stick with me to this day, and I hear them in my mind whenever I watch the movie. I was deemed a little too young for the movie at that time, which in a way was a relief for me. Up to that time, the only movies I saw in the theater were Disney movies, or pioneer family movies like Against a Crooked Sky.

In the meantime there was Peter Benchley's novel to investigate. We found what looked like an old library copy of the book at a garage sale. It bore the familiar shark bearing up on a swimming girl cover, but instead of the awesome great white image of the movie poster, the shark more closely resembled a giant lemon with a mouth slit carved in it. This was the first book written specifically for adults that I ever read, and beyond the classically corny prose-"The great fish moved silently through the water-", there was plenty of potboiler sleaze involving lesbians,extramarital affairs, and the like. Considering I had been reading the Gold Key Comics adventures of Andy Panda and Little Lulu right before it, this was truly hot stuff.

Finally my turn came. Jawsmania had raged all summer long, and by popular demand, Jaws returned to the Palace theater late that summer for one more lap at the box office. This time after much begging, wheedling and cajoling I convinced my Mom to let me accompany my older brothers to the theater to see what all the hoopla was about. I remember my oldest brother Mike was wearing Ice Blue Aqua Velva when we went to see the movie, and the smell of this after shave still reminds me of the experience. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by the experience. The shark of course was scary as hell, but what scared me the most was the grue of the shark's victims, particularly the remains of Ben Gardener, the hapless fisherman who met his end in a mysterious attack on his boat. I remember my brother Mike could send me running in fear, simply by chanting "the little head popping out of the hole!" I always wondered what happened there; had the shark attacked his boat and given Ben Gardener a heart attack? Did scavenging fish nibble out one of his eyes or did he lose it in the attack on his small vessel by the shark? I guess it doesn't really matter, but I always wondered. I was also always prone to brooding on little thoughts such as "Gee, that estuary victim whose severed leg drifted to the ocean floor put that shoe on that morning like any other not knowing it would be the last time he would do it."

Most of all I was sad for Quint. I remember viewers of the time always referred to Quint in a negative way, mostly based, I am sure, on his heavy macho attitude and initial berating of sensitive 70's guy Matt Hooper. I always saw Quint in a different way. He reminded me of my Dad, and certain old uncles, all veterans, all fishermen and/or hunters who had a personal relationship with the life and death struggle. It made them all a little crazy, (Quint was certainly a loon, his blustering blabbing at the wharf as they are setting out on the hunt was almost embarrassingly over the top), and it made them all a little scary. But there was something sad there, too, an unfinished business that they all pursued and that could only end one way. If Quint had a Death Wish, then he certainly got what he wanted. It was interesting how the book and movie differed. Hooper, who brought on his comeuppance in the book by bedding Brody's wife, was spared death in the movie , and was much more of typical "correct" hippy hero of the times. Brody, as the Everyman, survived, as he did in the book, but was given a much more heroic part to play by causing the shark's exploding death. The shark in the book had the really disappointing end by simply expiring of old age ,exhaustion , or harpoon stress at the last minute as it was about to consume Brody. I guess it was in keeping with the whole Moby Dick implacable force of nature thing, rather than a boffo popcorn movie ending, but it was still a bit of a letdown to end a novel with. This was one of cases where the movie version of a story was a vast improvement on it's original source material.
The fallout of such a huge cultural phenom continues to this day. I read (and loved) all of the myriad Mad magazine, Crazy, Cracked etc. parodies. When the sequel came out I read the Hank Searls novel and saw the movie. (Both disappointing.) From there on it got worse and worse as it usually does, and I skipped most of the other sequels until years later on a bored video rental whim.
The original film, now almost 35 years old, still packs a punch. The shark still looks pretty darn cool to me. All of the bizarre side characters in Amity are much beloved or behated icons on par with Mayberry's little world of small town folks. The Mayor's anchor suit still brings a smile to my face. (Does he wear that thing ALL of the time?) And it still brings me back to that awkward time when both book and movie formed a bridge from my childhood to my adolescence. The horror is all still there, although I now feel more of the parental terror that the Brody's and the Kintner's experienced than I did before.
I am sure it will hold up well over the next 50 to 75 viewings...

Monday, April 27, 2009

The other day my son, daughter and I accompanied my brother and nephew to a Toy Convention in the neighboring city of Live Oak. It was pretty much what you would expect of such an affair; rows and rows of vendors peddling their wares of action figures (from fancy, pricey mint in box affairs to big plastic tubs of junk toys, my favorite) comic books (meh) and cards (bo-ring). It was an interesting affair trying to herd the kids through all this, keeping them from going completely nuts and browsing through the stuff myself. My main reason for going to these things is to check out the odd bits of memorabilia that have survived since the "old days" of my childhood. Even if there are things around that I didn't have or know about at the time, it is cool to see stuff from that era because they evoke the feelings of the time. Last time we were there a guy was dressed in a Darth Vader outfit, and in person, Darth's outfit is huge and you get a real sense of the dread that the "real" character would exude. (The fact that Darth sported a prominent fanboy paunch did nothing to dampen the effect.) This time there was a fully suited clone trooper and he was equally impressive. (I think it was the same guy, his paunch looked mighty familiar.)

After selecting a large stuffed Pinkie Pie (My Little Pony) for my daughter and an ARC trooper (Star Wars) for my son, and a big bag of old squeaky toys (ostensibly for the kids, but I really liked them), we were about ready to call it a day. But I just had to make my way back to the front area and get a look-see at the special guest who was there signing autographs. It was Jonathan Joss, the voice of John Redcorn on my second favorite series currently running on the air, King of the Hill. I went to the table that was his station, and by this point in the show there was no one around it. There were a few guys sitting behind the table, which was decorated with dried red corn husks and stacks of pictures and Tee shirts with KOTH characters adorning them. I scanned for who among the guys sitting behind the table may be Redcorn and I couldn't see any of them being the one. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, A guy who could be no one else BUT Redcorn stepped up and introduced himself. He looked exactly like his character, only a more human version, and he was exceedingly polite and fun. I told him it was an honor to shake his hand, (yes I gushed a little), and he said the honor was his, that he lived to meet the people who supported the show, and we had a great conversation where he hinted that there was some talks in progress for ABC to rescue KOTH from its' announced cancellation from Fox at the end of this season. He joked that he always thought that Redcorn should have his own show. He was a delight and a class act, so I plunked down $5 for a autographed color picture of the KOTH gang. Later I told my wife that I had shaken the hand of someone who had no doubt shaken the hand of Tom Petty (who brilliantly provides the voice for the character Lucky) who had to have shaken the hand of fellow Wilbury George Harrison, my all-time favorite musician. That's only two degrees of separation!

It would be fun to do one of those profile tests to see which character of King of the Hill you most resemble. I think I have some strong Hank tendencies, but none of his proficiency with tools, lawns, and such. I have some very Bill-like tendencies as well, I am sorry to say. Who do you think you are most like?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Movin' On Up

Long time no post...Life has a way of hogging up all your available time and brain power sometimes. Since I last posted I was laid off from one job, got my old job that I had prior to that one back, and went on a whirlwind trip to Florida.
And through all that I only have one burning issue that has compelled me to dust off the old username and password and get back on the blog..
The horror of the Three Stooges movie announcement.
Not so much that one is being made, heck , the corpse grinding never ends . Much worthier subjects have suffered the grinding. I am not even a big fan of the Stooges, they used to scare me when I was little . I only started watching them with my son, who loves their violent antics. It was the casting...Sean Penn as Larry...Jim Carrey as Moe...Benecio Del Toro as Curly...WTF?
That is AWFUL! That is cozy casting run rampant.
I started thinking of who might be better and thought I'd throw it out there and see who YOU think would be better...
While watching TV Land the other day, my wife mentioned that Marla Gibbs on The Jeffersons was the Wanda Sykes of her day. We jokingly cast the Jeffersons movie and came up with Martin Lawrence as George Jefferson, Queen Latifah as Weezy, Sascha Baron Cohen as Mr. Bentley.
Are you listening, Hollywood?

God, I hope not...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Monster Among Us

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he doesn't become a monster."--Friedrich Nietzsche

Monsters have always both repelled and fascinated me. When I was very small I was what my Pop dubbed a "chicken poop", easily frightened by scary images on TV or in books. I remember being terrified while watching Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein when the Monster threw a nurse out of a laboratory window. Sure, it was just Abbot and Costello, and the bit was just put in for some good Universal Monster grue; but in my imagination I filled in the Nurse's horrible death: the lacerating explosion through the glass, the terrifying plummet through dark misty night air, the bone breaking impact on cold stones, the tumble into icy sea water, all the time through the searing pain, the knowledge that death was imminent. I doubt even the actress portraying the nurse worked her way through the "method" as much as my five year old mind did in that instant.

There was always a ready supply of monsters and spooks on TV but my childhood was also haunted by various "native" monsters as well. Our parents, wanting to keep nosy kids from rooting through various packed mementos in a closet, invented a "hoopher" that lived among the boxes, guarding their contents with scratchy claws and needle teeth. I remember my Pop, to add a little realism to his monster myth, showed us all a bloody cut he had received somehow, and chalked it up to the work of the "hoopher", guarding his horde. The terror that the "hoopher" evoked grew to such a fever pitch that our parents must have decided that the monster had gotten away from its original intent, and was having a decidedly unhealthy impact on over imaginative children. Pop staged the "death" of the "hoopher", and took his tiny body out to the trash pile and burned it. I have no idea what was actually burned but I can remember seeing some lifeless limp thing in Pop's hands as the creature went to his funeral pyre. The aura of fear lingered in the closet for some time after. And then we tore into their stuff!

There was also the man who took kids who would not take their naps away to the dump in a burlap bag, there to barbecue his naughty prize on a pile of burning trash. Now, these native monsters may seem like prime examples of psychological child abuse to our 2009 minds, and undoubtedly they were, but they were also in a very long tradition of various bogey men designed by parents from time immemorial to get children to do things that they would otherwise be loathe to do.

As time went on, my "chicken poop" side turned to morbid fandom. I read every classic horror story, bought and consumed Famous Monsters of Filmland, and watched every horror movie that I could. I became a true student of the macabre. I wrote scary stories, and planned horror novels and movies with my friends. As a student of the horror genre, it was interesting to watch how the emphasis changed with the times.
The monster was always the star of the show, and usually the movie or book was named for it. But in the old days, the story was always told from the perspective of the victims and/or those who fought them. The monster was the other, and as such had to be cut out like a cancerous tumor, for the sake of society, and any concerns about how the monster became a monster or saving its soul, were a very low concern, if a concern at all. The monster was always dispatched with at the end, even if it was destined to be reborn in a sequel, the audience was never left with an open ending to haunt their dreams upon leaving the cinema.
After America "lost its innocence" in the post-JFK assassination, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era, the focus started to change. The evil wasn't necessarily an 'other' anymore, it could emanate from your child, ala The Exorcist and The Omen, or the rustic family off the highway ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The endings were much less cut and dry; things did not always end nicely, the monster more often than not won the day.
When Halloween launched the era of 'splatter' horror , the monster almost took over the role of the hero, the victims were cardboard cut outs set up for the monster to dispatch with in more and more creative ways. There wasn't even the expectation of a "sewn up" ending anymore. Now, the cynical observer might just say that these monsters could not be finally destroyed because it would be tantamount to killing off Mickey Mouse; the end of a lucrative franchise. That may be true to an extent, but I believe there is also a deeper, more sociological reason. I believe the trend reflects the maturing realization that evil can not be truly destroyed; it can be beaten back but never removed entirely. The evil is not necessarily out there anymore, it may even lurk inside of us. This certainly is behind the new 'torture horror' trend in the genre, where the bad guy is definitely the only interesting thing in the tales. This existed to a degree in some classic horror, but much more as subtext.(Frankenstein's true monster was not the creature he brought to life, but the blasphemous drive inside him to attempt to be God-like.)
The place where you should always truly look for a 'moral' is in the actions of those who attempt to take on evil. How do they go about it? Do they stick to their principles, or become more like the evil itself in order to take it down? This is where horror movies can really be insightful. The horrors that we face in our personal lives (financial, medical, marital, career woes) can make us stronger, wiser people for taking them on; or they can make us victims ourselves; or even worse, we can become twisted and evil in an attempt to be victorious. This also works on the level of our roles as citizens. Does the government that represents you truly reflect your intentions in the way it takes on the horrors that it must? (war, economic collapse, the erosion of freedoms)
Anyone who passes judgement too quickly and superciliously on horror as a genre is losing sight of the fact that it is primarily a modern morality play, our modern equivalent of The Harrowing of Hell or The Divine Comedy. They may not always say what we want them to say about us, or we may not always agree with what they do say, but they hold up the mirror, and it is up to us to look and ponder.
And to an old chicken poop like me, it is both thrilling and illuminating to do so...

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I just finished reading David McCullough's 1776, and I am sad. I am sad because the scope of the book was limited to just the events of the eponymous year, and even though I know how things turn out, I am sure left wanting to continue my trek with His Excellency General George Washington and his rag tag Continental Army. This book was written as a companion piece to McCullough's Pulitzer prize winning John Adams, which I have not read yet. I watched the excellent HBO mini-series starring Paul Giamatti , which I recommend highly, and thought I'd read 1776 as a warm-up to tackling Adams. So my sadness is tempered with the joy of expectation for my next read, but, if the mini-series is faithful to the book, many of the great historical occurrences may just be glancingly presented in relation to the effect on Adams' life. But I trust McCullough to do it right enough.

I don't need to spend much time singing McCullough's praises, he is a much read and honored writer of history. 1776 is the first book of his that I have read, however, and I was completely engrossed throughout the chronicle. The portrait of Washington in this book , though preserving some of the enigma that all great historical figures seem to present, made me consider the man, not the icon. For the first time the fragility of the birth of our nation , the uncertainty, the danger, the true ballsyness of rebelling against the Greatest Power On Earth was brought home to me.

It occurred to me how this great tale has been somewhat shrouded in the gauziness of myth.We all learned the basics, the Boston Tea Party, crazy old King George III, and the almost miraculous coming together of the Founding Fathers to Declare Independence, and shoot at Redcoats from behind trees until they gave up. But the real nitty gritty, desperate, brave, freezing, green, conflicted and uncertain struggle is not as well portrayed. I was trying to think of other movies concerning the American Revolution, and the only one that came to mind was Revolution, an Al Pacino starrer that I believe came out in the 80s and was, if memory serves, a stinker. There was also The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, but this one, while dealing with some historical characters and events, was a fictionalized account. And of course, the musical 1776.

And this begs the question: why hasn't the story , the real story, ever been told in all the glory and horror that it deserves?

My theory is that the heart of the average member of the Powers That Be is much more in line with the priggish ruling Tories, and the average Founding Father with his patriotic and libertarian zeal would be considered a religious whack-job militia man.

If you want to see the Civil War portrayed, you can take your pick of any number of films, some of them very fine. I think that apart from being closer to our own time, the central theme of slavery is a more fun "teaching moment" for filmmakers to engage in. There may have been a time when the assumption that the details of the story are too familiar from repeated exposure in school, but that was before society crumbled.

In any case, there are always books, and 1776 is a great place to start. Maybe McCullough will finish the job and grace us all with a complete history of the Revolution someday. Then maybe we'll get our movie!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From Rolling Stone Issue #34521 June 2019

The Dream Is Over...Again

 Around the world, Beatle fans  and fans of Beatle fans are mourning  the unexpected  break-up of a newly formed supergroup, and are left pining for " what might have been."
  News broke late on May 10 that the group comprised of the famous offspring of the Fab Four was breaking up almost as soon as it had formed.
  First announced only two months prior(RS- April #34519-"Here Comes the Sons") the group calling itself The White Alumni comprised of Sean Lennon, Stella McCartney, Dhani Harrison and Zak Starr broke the world's heart through a terse press release, effectively ending what was a thrilling prospect for rock fans worldwide: the closest thing to a Beatles reunion we could possibly expect.
  In case you have been living in a cave for the last two months, here is a brief recap of events.
  Phoenix-like, the hopes of this band rose from the ashes of  the inferno that claimed the life of many stars,  among them the last surviving Beatle , Lord Ringo Starr, at the tragic and ironically named Ringo Starr Celebrity Roast disaster of January 8, 2019. (RS -February  #34517 -"Helter Swelter") " We should not have booked Great White to play at the event, " Gilbert Gottfried, the Roast's coordinator conceded.  The funeral for the fallen Starr brought the famous Beatle offspring Dhani Harrison and Zak Starr together.  Jamming through their pain, a bond was formed, and then, a Band was formed.  "It just felt right," said  Starr, "And I think our Dads would approve."  
  A call was made to Julian Lennon with the invitation to join his mates.  Unfortunately,a back injury incurred in a  plumbing accident precluded Lennon's ability to tour, and he was unable to get vacation time from his boss to allow any studio time either.  Reluctantly, a call was then put in to Sean Lennon who immediately joined up.  The last vacancy was to be filled by someone more famous in the fashion world than in  the music world, Stella McCartney .  "We considered signing on some of Uncle Paul's bastard sons but in the end Stella offered to design our tour wear for free if we signed her, so fate smiled on us there," Dhani Harrison said during the band's launch press release. 
  With the aide of the Martinizer, the state of the art production computer designed by the original Fifth Beatle, Sir George Martin himself , the band was now equipped with the essential tool that could not only mix, record and edit their music, but could also brew the best pot of tea in England.
  After kicking around various monikers including, Bad Seed, Bad Blood, The Nowhere Men and The Apple Doppel-Gang, the band settled on the now famous The White Alumni.
  Preparations were made at Abbey Road; the world was enthralled by the press releases, the family of Mark David Chapman was put under police surveillance;  everything was set for The White Alumni-mania.  Then fate stepped in.   On the first day of recording, Kyoko Ono, daughter of John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono from her first marriage, arrived with Sean Lennon, at their mother's insistence.   The band, attempting to cut their first song, were aghast at the wailing and caterwauling of Kyoko , and a chill fell on the proceedings that was never to thaw out.
"We unanimously decided that the time was not yet right,"  Dhani Harrison sadly announced  after the May 10th press release was broadcast.  "We thought that once all the original Beatles were no longer with us, we could make a respectful go of it, but we didn't really take the fact that Yoko is still living into account."
  The world is left bereft again.In the words of John Lennon: "And so, dear friends, we'll just have to carry on...The dream is over!"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Smarty Pantsuit

   "We must use what has been called 'smart power', the full range of tools at our disposal.  With 'smart power',  diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy."--Hillary Clinton 

Normally I am not one to nitpick such sweeping and vague pronouncements from a member of our beloved leadership, but when Hillary made the above proclamation at her Senate hearing the other day, a chain reaction was started in the media that I just have to speak to.  
  "Smart Power"  seemed to be the only thing that Ms. Clinton really had to promise in order to get the enthusiastic approbation of the Senate and the media.  There was no real substance to her proposal.  It basically came down to "I will be smart, not dumb. (Like Bush and Co.)  We will be good, not evil. (Like Bush and Co.)  And all will be great, not crap. (Like Bush and Co.)
  Wow, it must have taken a think tank a lot of long nights and many pots of coffee to come up with this new political philosophy.
  I know she is trying to say she will employ diplomacy first and military might only when necessary, but this is really the exact approach taken by Bush and just about every other administration before.
  But hers will be "smart!"
  I have come to really hate when the word 'smart' is employed to sell things, the inference is if you don't want it or like it you are dumb.  It's the same technique used with the Patriot Act or The Fuzzy Baby Bunny bill-"How can you oppose it?!"
  I defy you to find  an article about Tina Fey that does not mention that she is "smart.   "And she has the glasses to prove it!"
  Now, I don't doubt the IQ of either of these fine women, they have both achieved substantial things in their given fields of endeavor.  I just get weary of seeing an appellation like 'smart' getting craftily attached to something to create a 'spin' that is usually unchallenged by the media.  It is what the great poet Charles Bukowski called "a shortcut to thinking."
  I remember years ago when the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula  came out, almost every reviewer to a man mentioned how true to Stoker's tale this movie was, I am sure because of it being Bram Stoker's Dracula instead of just Dracula.  And of course, they revealed to everyone that has read the book that they had never cracked its'  pages, because Bram Stoker's Dracula is waaay off!

And just as an aside, I wonder if Hillary would confess to having employed 'Dumb Power' when she signed on to the invasion of Iraq?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This Is Who We Are...

   For the last week and a half or so I have been indulging in one of my favorite pastimes: renting and consuming an entire season of a good TV series.  In the past I have had epic screenings of The Sopranos , Ken Burns' The War, the mini-series John Adams, to name a few.  It is endlessly delicious to be able to boot up the next episode immediately if so desired, and not need to wait until the next air date.  Viewing episodes in this manner gives you a better macro-comprehension of the series as a whole as well.  I  get the same pleasure from reading anthologies of great comic strips instead of just getting the daily four panels.
  This week's journey has taken me to the rainy, dark world of Millennium.  I remember watching the series as it aired and enjoying it for the most part, particularly season one, which is the season I rented and have been watching.  The series was Chris Carter's follow-up to his hit , The X-Files, which was riding high the year Millennium debuted, in 1996.  I was never much of a fan of X-Files.   This  was primarily due to the fact that I found the main characters, Mulder and Scully, to be painfully cartoonish.  The treatment of many of my beloved cryptozooilogical critters was also shabby (the Jersey Devil is only a hairy, crazy lady in the woods!) and the underlying mystery just got more convoluted and confusing as time went on, hinting that if the producers ever actually tied things up the series would be over (see Lost)  therefore viewers would be left on eternal third base.  
  That being said, Millennium initially looked like  a different animal.  It was cast as sort of to crime what X-Files was to aliens .  Chris Carter supposedly pitched the show to Fox producers as "Seven in Seattle", and you can certainly see some David Fincher influences not just in the subject matter, but also in  the look of the show.  One of the main enticements for me was the casting of the lead role.  The show revolves around the experiences of retired FBI man Frank Black, played by the great Lance Henriksen.  Frank Black hunted serial killers for the FBI as a profiler, using his unique talent to be able to get inside their skin (figuratively speaking!)  and "see" aspects of their case that would be undetectable to normal investigative procedures.  The impression that you get is that he is psychic, along the lines of Will Graham from Red Dragon, but Carter always denied this, saying that Frank merely had an extremely acute sense of empathy, his "gift"-his "curse".    The darkness that Frank visited in his daily work  life apparently crept into the imposed sunlight of his safe haven family life, causing a breakdown for Frank and a break from the FBI.  He retires with his family to his hometown of Seattle and settles in a house he had painted bright yellow, the new haven of light and normalcy amidst the darkness of fear and crime.  He also joined a mysterious group of ex-law enforcement types known as The Millennium Group which at the onset of the show just seemed to be a super-capable group that used their various skills and talents to solve crimes going beyond normal law enforcement procedures.  Frank is not only the heart of the show but it's soul as well.  He is the model of integrity, but not in the cartoony John Wayne hero way.  He is quiet, serious, dignified, concerned, and a great force of humanity dealing in  in the most inhumane spectrum of human behaviour.  In Henriksen's soulful wise eyes you can believe that here is a man who has seen it all.  His calm thoughtful way of speaking is somewhat contagious, too, I find myself unconsciously emulating him from time to time, which would be annoying if it wasn't so damn effective in defusing stressful situations.  Henriksen is one of those rare actors that does his best acting with his face, however, and whatever lead  might have been in the script is turned to gold when he puts it over physically.  Terry O'Quinn plays Frank's liaison to the Millennium Group, Peter Watts.  Here is another very fine actor who, like Henriksen,  has been  relegated to somewhat schlocky roles but always shines in them.  (Remember him in The Stepfather? Wow!)  In season one Peter is a great right hand to Frank, doing much of the necessary research via the Group to aid Frank in catching the bad guys.  And bad guys there are!  Any one with a passing knowledge of true crime can detect the sources of many of these killers, but they are vividly realized and portrayed by some really scary actors, many you recognize by face if not by name, as quality actors you've seen somewhere before.  
  A word or two must be said about Frank's wife Katherine, played by Meagan Gallagher.  She is Frank's rock, and , as a social worker who sees a lot of bad stuff herself, she knows his path isn't easy, but it is right.  She boosts him up and helps him keep his center.  At first she seems dangerously close to the stereotypical cop's wife, bitching about him never being home, getting pages at inopportune family moments, etc. , but as the series unfolds she becomes more dimensional .  She even gets to be the prime lead in an episode concerning a monstrous case of child abuse, which, if not being among the best of season one's episodes, is a nice vehicle to showcase her character's own motivations besides "being there" for Frank and Jordan, their small daughter.  Did I mention she is gorgeous as well?  That doesn't hurt anything, either.
  I won't catalogue much about the stories involved except to say they are generally very good with some being exceptionally good.(The one about the Russian Anti-Christ that started Chernobyl  should have been a movie!)  Many are strictly crime stories but some go into a more possibly demonic area.  There is a lot of religious themes in text and subtext, mostly of an apocalyptic nature.  The whole thing reminds you of the apprehension and millennial madness that was churning around out there in the late 90's, as the year 2000 approached.  One of the goals of the show was to cash in on that anxiety , and it is a pity that the series never made it that far, being cancelled in 1999.  Frank showed up in a special episode of The X-Files in 2000, ostensibly to tie up all the loose ends that the shows cancellation left in the air, an admirable, if ultimately unsatisfying, effort.
  It has been a long time since I watched the shows of seasons two and three, but I remember being unhappy with the direction the show took.  It may have been a natural progression of the shows' story arc, but it seemed more like a re-tooling to me.  The Group turned out to be a bunch of religious nut jobs intent on killing off everyone in the world by means of the release of a super virus, with only their chosen few given the antivirus.  The once solid Peter was turned into a sinister force, throwing Frank's world into chaos.  They even killed off poor Katherine in an attempt to make Frank's journey to the millennium as bumpy as possible.  To my mind, the re-tooling seemed to be an attempt to make the show more like The X-Files, which was a mistake.  Here again was the big baffling and maddeningly slow revelation of an over-arching mystery, a strip-tease that could never end, that rather than getting me hooked on the show to see what happens next, left me bored because I knew we would never find out the answers.  Still, there were some stand-out shows along the way, and if given the opportunity, would gladly watch seasons two and three on DVD.  I am trying to think of a case where the re-tooling of an already airing series actually worked, and the only one that comes to mind is Chris Elliott's Get a Life.  As soon as he ditched the yuppie couple and moved into Gus' basement the show turned to gold.  Other than that I am at a loss.  I  read on the Internet that there was some buzz about Carter making a Millennium  movie, which would be pretty cool.  However, given the near universal yawn that met the last X-Files movie, I wonder about its' chances now.
  Oh, and by the way, the theme music for the series is awesome.  It is by Mark Snow, who also did the X-Files theme.  It is a haunting mix of Celtic-style strings, deep percussives, and ethereal synthesizers.  I saw it was available on Itunes, and on my next buy I am going to snag it.  The film montage that accompanies the theme music on the opening credits is a masterful collection of glowing, colorful,  and mysterious images.
  The world of Millennium is perhaps  not the happiest place to spend the last couple of weeks but it is full of rewarding viewing.  It his highly evocative of its' time, where end of the world anxiety abounded, and pre Y2K jitters even had the government spending billions to avoid a technological apocalypse.  It all seems almost innocent in our post 9/11 world.  Far from a big splashy end, the collapse seems more likely to  be like the ants that take down the elephant, the death of our way of life due to a lapse in faith; faith in God, faith in our liberty, faith in the human ability to effect change in a positive way.  Sometimes it seems like we are at the wheel of a car that is heading for a cliff and yet we are too transfixed to simply turn the wheel...Like I said,  the world of Millennium is no tea party, but it does present some interesting food for thought...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vital Statistics

     "If the sun and moon should doubt
      They'd immediately go out."-William Blake

  As far as we can tell , humans have always required a higher power to call upon for securing their well-being; whether it be for the  blessing of  a hunt, a crop, or  a good and restful place to go to in our afterlife.  Whether God created us in his image or we created him in ours has been, of course,  subject to debate for centuries, but what is not open to debate is that there  is an inherent need, even if  only  at certain times, for us to have a "parental figure" of some kind to depend on to carry us to our fates.  Your god usually depends on your geography, or your station in society.  You may not even consider the higher power a "god" as such, but the faith that is put into any force that cannot be 100% quantifiable is , in the end, not unlike any other.  They all have their degree of unlikeliness that must be handed over to some degree of faith.  
  In his book, Beyond the Occult, Colin Wilson discusses the "anthropic principle" which propounds that "the existence of life in the universe seems to argue that the universe was somehow designed to create life and that life is finally destined to colonize the furthest corners  of the universe."  He then tells of  the vitalist view , saying that rather than life arising through some fantastically unlikely combination of chemical compounds out of the dead matter of the universe, perhaps it entered the universe from outside, that life invaded matter, which was really just a cosmic machine created for its expansion.  "Life is," he says, "in some fundamental sense, independent of matter."  This is certainly the spiritual view.  He makes an interesting analogy that we are like cosmic explorers who, after making a spearhead into the unknown country, lost contact with our mother source, and after centuries of struggling independently in the colonies, have only subconscious and mythic reminders of that source.  But we still have that need to keep contact.
  It is interesting to play with  such provocative  ideas.  The concept that the dueling forces of the universe , God vs. the devil, good vs. evil, light vs. dark, are all poetic readings of life vs. matter is certainly intriguing.  In some ways it is beside the point, as Bob Dylan said "you either got faith or disbelief, and there ain't no neutral ground."  But I think that what makes atheists and agnostics out of many people is there definition of god.  It is understandably difficult in the Age of Science to buy into certain ancient mythologies.  However, the old cliche "there are no atheists in foxholes"  still rings true.  In this turbulent era  we realize, to some degree, that our whole world is a "foxhole".  We have hardwired in us the need and ability to have faith in certain things; the stripes in the center of the road are just licks of paint, but if we didn't have the faith that the majority of drivers would  honor what those stripes symbolize, we would never dare go down the road.  
  Faith is part of us, part of our evolutionary survival, as individuals and as a species.  What we do or do not do with it is our free will, and everything hangs in the balance.  So the struggle continues...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Movies That Moved Me Part One

  I remember when I was a little kid just the word Exorcist was enough to fill me with dread and horror.  The movie had quickly earned the reputation of being "the scariest movie ever" , and everyone who saw it in the theatre would tell of their revulsion and fear with a nervous laugh and a shiver.   This was one of the rare cases in which I was relieved to be too little to see an influential release such as this, for it almost became a test of one's bravery and stamina to endure a screening.  The anecdotes about green puke and blasphemous crucifix usage, not to mention twisting heads and the most  hideous voice ever recorded became the stuff of mass cultural legend.
  As I entered adolescence I developed a keen interest in horror literature and movies, and Famous Monsters of Filmland, helmed by the late Forrest J. Ackerman became something of a monthly obsession for me.  I hunted down and watched as many of the genre classics as I could.  But still, The Exorcist remained something of an intimidation to me.
  Finally, when the age of the VCR dawned and it was possible to screen movies uncut and outside normal circulation I had to face it head on.  My oldest brother rented the movie and we watched it.  From the opening scenes at an archaeological dig in Iraq to the last in the misty grey streets of Georgetown I was spellbound.  Here was a movie that happened to be concerned with horror; not a horror movie.  The direction was mature and refined, the imagery profound.  The acting was of the highest caliber.  At times amusing, at times almost unbearably naturalistic, you sensed right away that this was a movie that was crafted, not cranked out.  Certainly not the exploitation flick that its' reputation might lead you to believe.
  I won't dwell on any details of the story; no doubt anyone reading this has probably seen it before, and if you are like me you have screened it many times.  I will say that despite the obvious spiritual horror of the possessed girl, it is the medical horror of all the tests performed on the girl that really gets to me, especially now that I am a parent myself.  
  The story hinges primarily on the character not of the Exorcist, nor of the possessed girl or her mother, but on the battle being waged for the soul of the Exorcist's  assistant, Father Damien Karras.  He is battling with a feared loss of faith at the onset of the picture; frustrated by the impotency he feels in the face of his inability to "save" his mother from a decline in health leading to her despair and death.  Indeed it is despair that seems to be the demon's weapon of choice as he uses the crucible of the girl's soul to take down all the characters concerned for her well- being around her.  In the end, Father Karras overcomes his impotence of spirit and sacrifices himself-"Come into me!"-seemingly the true target of the sinister force-that the girl may be free.  His crucifixion was a fatal header down an epic set of stone stairs, and the scene where his priest friend holds his bloody hand and administers a trembling Last Rites is incredibly moving. 
  It is in the film's final moment, as the mother and now- free child are leaving Georgetown and being seen off by Karras's priest friend that the big punch arrives.  As they are saying farewell, the girl, Regan, who was raised in a strictly secular single parent family, focuses on the priest's collar , and in a spontaneous act of gratitude to the Almighty Power that collar represents, embraces the priest and seemingly "accepts" the Power .  Not being terribly spiritually- minded at the time, I nonetheless was deeply moved by this, and I knew that the film I had come to  I expecting to see "the greatest horror movie" of all time, was in fact one of the greatest" pro-Christian" films of all time; and a classic one.
  It was certainly provocative then, and each time I view it, (once a year is my ritual), I get the same overwhelming meditation on trial, redemption and faith.  It is a true classic.  By the way, the re-released "version you've never seen" with added footage, while a somewhat interesting variant, is, in my opinion, inferior to the original cut, and should only be viewed after seeing the original cut if at all.  The less said about the sequels and prequels the better.  
  This is an entertainment with religion; not a religious entertainment, and I think that is in general the best away to approach the subject; show don't tell.  
  And I must say, after all these years, I still get a tingle when I hear the word Exorcist, but at least now it doesn't just concern green puke...