Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Thick Envenomed Froth

I was reading in LIVES OF THE NECROMANCERS about Apollonius of Tyana, who once defeated some guy who turned into "an enormous black dog, of the size of a lion, and whose mouth and jaws were covered with a thick envenomed froth." And the footnote told me that this story comes down to us by way of Philostratus, and no, I had no idea who that was. But I was like, "I'm gonna walk up to Square Books, and if they have any Philostratus I'm gonna buy it! I want to read more about magic evil dogs!" But part of me was like, "They won't have any Philostratus, ha ha ha, I'll save some money." But then they HAD IT. So I had to buy it. Godwin writes that Apollonius was born "nearly at the same time as Jesus Christ... The publicity of Apollonius and his miracles has become considerably greater, from the circumstance of the early enemies of the Christian religion having instituted a comparison between the miracles of Christ and of this celebrated philosopher." My new Philostratus book flap confirms his life story to be "a pagan counterstroke against the New Testament." It's not Apollonius's fault! He also confronted a mysterious bride (pictured) who "at length owned that she was an empuse (a sort of vampire)," writes Godwin, "and that she had determined to cherish and pamper Menippus, that she might in the conclusion eat his flesh, and lap up his blood." (!)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Don't Anybody Forget

They brought you John Waters! They brought you David Simon! And I don't want anybody to forget about all the great music the Sarah Isom Center For Women and Gender Studies is bringing to town in the coming weeks. "Click" here for the whole schedule. As for me, I'm especially excited about September 19. Please put it on your calendar. I say this for YOUR sake! LISTEN! Megan Abbott is coming back to town to interview Jon Langford of the Mekons about his visual art. That's at the Powerhouse at noon. FREE! Who wouldn't want to see two such charming and smart people discussing art? Why you'd have to be a soulless automaton not to tingle at the thought. Likewise FREE! is the special Thacker Mountain Radio Show taping on WILLIAM FAULKNER'S LAWN that same afternoon! William Faulkner's ghost is gonna be climbing the walls at the exorcizing power of rock-and-roll, featuring Langford PLUS Kelly Hogan PLUS Amy Ray PLUS Chris Lopez. That'll be just enough to whet your appetite for a 10 PM show at the Powerhouse, in which who knows what sort of unholy alliances between these four will be formed... will they combine their musical powers for good... OR EVIL? And don't forget a special early all-ages show from Neko Case and her whole dang band at the Lyric Theater on Sunday the 27th, kindly benefitting the Sarah Isom Center and all its good work. There's a lot of other good stuff too - I can't emphasize enough that I've mentioned just a small fraction of the fine entertainment and enlightenment to be had - so be sure to browse the schedule for your favorites.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Plumage of the Screech-Owl

I am not surprised that LIVES OF THE NECROMANCERS is a book with an owl in it to add to my compulsive list of books I read with owls in them. Godwin mentions "the plumage of the screech-owl" as one ingredient in a kind of witches' brew recorded in the writings of Horace.

Pythagoras Was Not a Vampire

I was reading LIVES OF THE NECROMANCERS... did I tell you about it? I found it because of a footnote by the 1927 editors of THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY. Anyway, LIVES OF THE NECROMANCERS is by William Godwin, the father of Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley. In the section on Pythagoras, Godwin writes that he "hid himself during the day at least from the great body of his pupils, and was only seen by them at night." So then I thought, I bet there are lots of crackpot theories about Pythagoras being a vampire on the "internet"! But when I googled the phrase "was pythagoras a vampire" here's what I got:
Godwin says Pythagoras "taught temperance in all its branches." And didn't Dracula famously say, "I never drink... wine"? Pythagoras was a vegetarian, but ISN'T THAT JUST WHAT A VAMPIRE WOULD SAY to explain why you never saw him joining in at meals? "What, however, seems to be agreed by all his biographers" (writes Godwin) "is that he professed to have already in different ages appeared in the likeness of man." Aha! Pythagoras claimed to be talking about reincarnation, but I think we can all guess the truth. "He tamed a Daunian bear by whispering in its ear... By the same means he induced an ox not to eat beans, which was a diet specially prohibited by Pythagoras." OH YEAH? Well, I just happened to learn on the "internet" that beans can be used to trick vampires ("click" here for details - you might need them!).
Then I read about Epimenides and Empedocles, both supposedly students of Pythagoras, but Godwin says that's impossible because one was born too soon and one was born too late... but I think Godwin is forgetting the possibility that PYTHAGORAS WAS A VAMPIRE. When Epimenides was young "he was sent by his father in search of a stray sheep, when, being overcome by the heat of the weather, he retired into a cave, and slept fifty-seven years." Some nap! Empedocles said, "I well remember the time before I was Empedocles, that I once was a boy, then a girl, a plant, a glittering fish, a bird that cut the air." Has nothing to do with vampires, but sounds like something Finn has said on ADVENTURE TIME. One thing I like about old Empedocles is that he wanted to disappear dramatically from mankind without a trace, so he threw himself into an active volcano: "in the result of this perverse ambition he was baffled, the volcano having thrown up one of his brazen sandals." When you loosen up the search terms a little bit (removing the quotation marks, for example), you get this ("click" here) - not sure what it is, exactly... some notes for Pythagoras fan fiction in which he's a vampire? And check out footnote #13 to this scholarly article ("click" here) titled "Explaining Pythagorean Abstinence From Beans." Ha ha, like you are going to "click" on that. Or anything! To quote the footnote in part, "Lawson also reports that in Rhodes an ostrakon marked with a pentacle, sacred emblem of the Pythagoreans, is placed on the lips of a corpse to prevent its becoming a vrykolakas." That means vampire! Wait, maybe Pythagoras was a vampire hunter. Or maybe he was one of those vampire hunters who is also a vampire.

Monday, August 24, 2015

I Knew That You Knew

Saw a movie called HOW SWEET IT IS! on TCM yesterday. Was it "good"? No! It is already slipping from my brain. But how I wish I had known about it in time for the most recent McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival. It has a psychedelic theme song and credits featuring creepy mannequins, and there's another psychedelic song during a montage, which (as you can see) the artists helpfully entitled "Montage." Some of the lyrics to "Montage" go like this: "I knew that you knew that I knew that you knew that I knew that you knew that I knew that you knew that I knew that you knew." And... "I didn't feel like Batman anymore/ I hit my bloody elbow on the door... The pimple on my neck began to hurt/ and suddenly I wished I'd changed my shirt." In conclusion, I am sure you recall Laura Lippman's wise words, as relevant today as when she first uttered them: "Freeze frame as everyone literally jumps for joy. Now that's how you end a movie." I am delighted to report that the makers of HOW SWEET IT IS! end their movie in that very way.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cargo Ship Full of Hot Pants

I saw that SIMPSONS episode yesterday where a ship crashes, scattering its cargo of "hot pants" all over the beach, much to the delight of the citizens of Springfield. As the episode comes to a close, the 1950s novelty song "Short Shorts" begins to play. I thought, "What a weird song! And yet it is also undeniably catchy, what with the hand claps and the full-bodied, pleasantly galumphing saxophone solo." So today I decided to look up the history of the song on the "internet." Not to be an old codger, but it does give me the chance to remind you that wikipedia is not always objective, accurate, or helpful: "On that musically fateful afternoon, Gaudio and Austin were driving up Washington Avenue in Bergenfield, New Jersey in Tom Austin's red and white 1957 Ford Fairlane 500, trying to figure out what to call the latest song they had written for their rock and roll band... Just then, two girls came strutting out of Luhmann's (the local teenage sweet shop) wearing cutoff jeans that were cut so short they were almost illegal. At that point, the song 'Short Shorts' was born." I draw your attention to "musically fateful" and the gross description of the shorts themselves, and the judgmental quality of the word "strutting." These are a few of the problems.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hilarity, Texas

Dr. Theresa and I watched PARIS, TEXAS last night. Dr. T said that Harry Dean Stanton made her think of Buster Keaton, and I was already thinking of the Laurel and Hardy movie BLOCKHEADS (I think that's the one), where Stan doesn't know the war is over and Ollie has to reintroduce him to civilization. And there were obvious parallels to Chaplin, especially THE KID. Harry Dean does lots of pantomime, like when he's learning to walk like a "rich father" and the subsequent scene where he breaks the ice with his estranged son by skipping and walking backward. They even waddle into the sunset together Chaplin style at the end of that sequence. Yet PARIS, TEXAS is a pretty somber movie! So I started to enjoy making all these comedy connections. Like, Dean Stockwell and Harry Dean Stanton have a scene high up on a billboard featuring a beautiful woman, just like Dean and Jerry at the beginning of ARTISTS AND MODELS. That may be stretching it. And there's a scene with the dinosaur from PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, though that's just a coincidence because PARIS, TEXAS came out first. Not by much! I like to think they were filming at the same time. What a party that would have been. Ah, it's all just a big coincidence. In fact, by the end of the movie I had started getting depressed, like, a million people have probably already thought of this. I'm not even going to google it. I had recorded the movie from TCM, so after it was over, I watched the intro. Dr. Theresa had better things to do. The actor Jason Lee had chosen PARIS, TEXAS in his role as "guest programmer." And he told Robert Osborne that it reminded him of Chaplin! So I was like, I'm not even going to "blog" about this. And then I did.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Squirrel Holding a Stick

I guess you wonder where I've been. Well, friends, you might just say I've been everywhere... and nowhere. For you see... what? You didn't notice I was gone? That hurts! In any case, the pleasant occasion of my absence was the 4th Annual McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival. My apologies, as I am sure you have these details memorized, but more than three years intervened between the first and second annual festivals, and more than four and a half years between the second and the third. So it may stun you beyond repair to learn that less than a year has gone by since the previous McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival and this one. Let's see, that makes for an average of one Annual McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival every two years, yes, we're finally catching up. No sooner had McNeil rolled into town than we cranked up THE BAD NEWS BEARS (original version). We started with it because one of us, I won't say which (it was McNeil) fell asleep five minutes into it during the last festival. Next: THE WILD AFFAIR, a Nancy Kwan vehicle I learned about ("click" here to learn likewise) from "She Blogged By Night."
Here is a photo from "She Blogged By Night" showing Vidal Sassoon cutting Nancy Kwan's hair for the movie. I am sure you recall how badly Ms. Kwan was treated by a film in the first MMKFF. She was thanklessly blown up! So we wanted to make up for that by watching a movie in which she is treated in a kindlier way. Although she is at least not blown up in THE WILD AFFAIR, her character is treated almost as shamefully by the seemingly endless parade of sleazes she encounters. Kwan holds the movie together, though, and the article from "She Blogged By Night" argues for her agency. Still, it seems to us that Nancy Kwan can't catch a break. Then we watched CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT and Paul Schrader's BLUE COLLAR. Here's something that McNeil noticed: earlier in the day I had made an incongruous reference to the character "Mr. Bentley" (pictured) from the TV show THE JEFFERSONS.
In BLUE COLLAR, a TV is tuned to that show and the characters are discussing, by name, none other than Mr. Bentley! Plus, a scene from THE BAD NEWS BEARS had reminded me of a similar scene from CATCH-22, a fact upon which I remarked at the time. In BLUE COLLAR, Ed Begley Jr. is seen reading a paperback of CATCH-22! Make of these astounding coincidences what you will. McNeil also observed that both Richard Pryor in BLUE COLLAR and Bob Hope in our previous feature, CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT, boasted of having "a new technique": Pryor's for bowling, Hope's for kissing. We came very close to a direct Hope reference when Richard Pryor angrily imagines what he might do as a union rep: fly up to Palm Springs on a private jet and play golf with Gerald Ford. Why didn't he say "Bob Hope" instead? But he didn't. And there's nothing we can do about it. McNeil had me pause BLUE COLLAR so that he could expound at some length upon his admiration for the curtains Richard Pryor's character had in his living room. As you well know, the curtains in movies are one of McNeil's main concerns. My nonfiction cigarette lighter book, which has already been typeset, makes reference to close to a hundred movies and TV episodes, I think. I wish I had rewatched BLUE COLLAR sooner, because I would have certainly included the euphemism that Pryor yells at his union rep: "You can flick my Bic!" Richard Pryor comes up quite a bit in my book, and one sad and terrible fact I know from all my research is that Pryor used a Bic when he set himself on fire. But let us turn from thoughts of tragedy: I believe it was between BLUE COLLAR and Robert Altman's QUINTET that McNeil and I looked out the window and saw a squirrel holding a stick. An unusual sight! The squirrel seemed to be holding the stick with some intent. McNeil compared it to the scene in 2001 when the ape-people learn to use weapons. But the squirrel did not have a sufficient attention span, and soon abandoned the stick without putting it to any use. "He almost had it," I said.
"So many dogs eating so many dudes," I idly remarked during QUINTET. McNeil and I agreed that the dystopian snowscape would have benefitted greatly had Jerry Lewis driven through in a ice cream truck, hollering, "I can't sell this stuff!" But he didn't. And now it is my sad duty to report that this is the very first McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival not to include a Jerry Lewis movie. Pathetic! And now a digression. Ha ha! This whole thing has been a digression. But we took a break from watching movies and walked up to the City Grocery Bar, which has undergone a recent facelift. For one thing, the men's room is no longer just a hellish trough. I kind of miss the hellish trough! The new men's room is sparkling and elegant, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. Owner John Currence tells me that he rescued the piece of sheetrock that has Kent Osborne's still-pristine drawing of his cat on it from the old men's room wall. He plans to frame it and put it in a shadowbox on a wall of the bar! Now, if you drink at the Grocery often enough, you might get your name and usual drink on a brass plaque on the bar one day. And the occasion of our break from the film festival was that Ace Atkins and I have been accorded that honor as part of the general refurbishment. Now. For reasons I cannot recall, McNeil had requested that I get my hands on a copy of the Elvis movie LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE for this year's festival. When the subject came up at the bar, Ace - an Elvis expert - began an excellent discourse on the film's place in the Elvis canon, up to and including the provenance of the dog in it! (In addition to the actual dog, LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE is the movie notorious for making Elvis dance with a man in a dog costume.) Naturally, Ace was invited to join us for the showing - a rare and welcome intrusion into the insular world of the McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival. Plus he brought Popeye's fried chicken! So our last three films - QUINTET, THE PALM BEACH STORY, and LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE - all use dogs in striking ways. The last two - THE PALM BEACH STORY and LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE - also costar Rudy Vallee. So that's weird. I had a bunch of other stuff to say, but aren't you tired? I guess this year's theme was... dogs?