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...