Friday, October 24, 2014
Halloween Film Festival will probably be shorter than ever this year because of all my October travels. We have managed to squeeze in THE MUMMY'S SHROUD and RE-ANIMATOR if you are keeping score. Ha ha! Who are you, person who doesn't exist? Yesterday we were distracted by something else that had many horrific elements and some "downer" aspects with which you know I hate to trouble you, but there is a happy ending... though not for every creature involved! You have been warned. So anyway we have been feeding this feral but sweet-natured blue-eyed cat that hangs around our neighborhood. Many times when Lee Durkee has been walking past our yard he has seen the cat. He became quite taken with it. (It is the kitten we were trying to coax off the roof in another unforgettable "blog" "post" you may have forgotten.) He said if we ever caught it he'd like to try to bring it into his house and make it a pet. Now, Dr. Theresa had already caught this fellow - the cat, I mean - once and had him fixed and got all his shots and had him tested for dangerous diseases and everything. She does that out of her own pocket when she finds a feral cat, just to help out and keep the population down and make sure they're healthy. So on Wednesday she saw that the cat - we cleverly call him "Bandit" because of the black "bandit" mask across his blue eyes - had a hurt leg. Fearing he had been hit by a car, Dr. Theresa caught him and took him to the vet again. He had only fallen from a great height and twisted his leg and scratched up his nose a little, the doctor reported. So, now that he was drugged and compliant, a perfect opportunity to take him over to Lee's house so he could recuperate inside and find himself in a new home! The exciting and terrifying parts of the story that will make you question the meaning of existence are coming up soon, don't worry. So Dr. Theresa and Lee set up the cat in a safe, small space: Lee's bathroom. That night our pal Joey and her practically brand new husband Brian came to town so we all went out for a big night on the town square. Everyone came out. Semmes (the man who was once almost in a plane crash with Werner Herzog) told a story about peeing next to Bob Hope. (You know, I should do a "post" about the time I peed next to Rob Reiner and the time Ward McCarthy peed next to Robert Mitchum, but I am getting far afield of the existential horror I mean to express here. OR AM I?) Joey told about when Vince Vaughn gave Buck Owens a prop knife from the PSYCHO remake, only it was a real knife, but Buck Owens didn't get that part - he thought it was some kind of trick knife and started slashing it madly at everybody (including Joey) and laughing with glee while people fled in actual terror that Buck Owens thought was a joke. SO! Now we are coming up on the part of the story that will trouble and alarm you! And then it turns almost into a David Lynch movie. When Lee got home, he couldn't find the cat anywhere. And then he noticed that the CAT HAD CLIMBED UP SOMEHOW AND OPENED THE WINDOW and escaped. This is a window that is hard to open. It sticks! And Dr. Theresa had shut it securely herself, expressly so that the cat could not get out of it. But this cat displayed remarkable dexterity and cunning. Not only did it manually slide open the difficult window, it pushed out the screen and dropped from a height of 10 yards (Lee's house is on a steep slope) and vanished. We found out the next morning. We feared the worst! The cat was already injured! And Lee's house overlooks a heavily wooded ravine filled with wild animals. Dr. Theresa set out walking the neighborhood for signs of the cat. I soon followed. In my haste I forgot my glasses. At one point I met Dr. Theresa coming from the opposite direction and I pointed at something I saw moving and said, "What is that?" And Dr. Theresa said, "It's a raccoon." It was a sick raccoon! A poor sick raccoon stumbling and circling and appearing confused in the broad daylight. To add to the nightmarish quality of the scene (made more impressionistic by my blurred vision) the raccoon was on the street in front of what appeared to be a gulley filled with colorful rubble. There's some kind of construction going on. And three guys are taking a break from work, saying and doing nothing but sitting there in the bed of a pickup truck wearing red-tinted sunglasses and expressionlessly, without comment, watching this dying raccoon try to make sense of the world. It was truly a hellish scene. Dispirited and with little hope we went on looking for the cat. We walked through the parking lot of the Chevron on the corner and it was deserted - like weirdly OMEGA MAN deserted - except for two large crows who were just WALKING AROUND the empty, silent parking lot like they owned it. Silent except for their eerie cries, that is! As we went on into the neighborhood I began to notice that the Halloween decorations seemed sinister. So many skeletons! We were forced to pass by the raccoon a few more times, and on one of those times it had died. We found all sorts of weird things in the neighborhood, things we had never seen before, like a tumbled-down shack filled with rusty machinery and glass. All this time Lee was out looking for the cat too. Finally we gave up. When it was close to getting dark, Dr. Theresa decided to go back out. (I couldn't join her because I was in an ADVENTURE TIME meeting. I was not feeling it! Pen and Kent cheered me up by singing funny songs they were making up and then I showed them this Little Rascals clip ["click" here] that Kelly Hogan sent me a long time ago, and we all got a lot of enjoyment out of it. Art helps!) On Dr. Theresa's lonely way in the gathering dusk she met Lee, who had a forlorn expression and told of a harrowing experience. He had heard an otherworldly shrieking from the woods behind his house! He said it was the worst sound he had ever heard. And as he walked deeper into the brush, he came upon the omen-like vision of A BUNCH OF GROUNDHOGS ALL STANDING ON THEIR HIND LEGS AS IF FROZEN IN ETERNITY AND GAZING IN HORROR IN THE SAME DIRECTION, the direction from which the scream had come that had also haunted Lee. Things did not look (or sound) good. Lee and Dr. Theresa split up. Dr. Theresa walked deep into the treacherous woods and sat on the ground and softly called again and again. She was about to get up and head home when she heard a response. She called again. The response came louder. Finally she saw in the distance the feral cat actually running toward her! This is not something feral cats do. Somehow she scooped it up (this is not easy to do with a feral cat; in fact it is impossible) and carried it in her arms UP THE STEEP BRAMBLY HILL back to Lee's place. And Lee came walking back forlorn and when Dr. Theresa, covered in dirt and thorns, told him she had the cat he couldn't believe it. But that's Dr. Theresa for you! She's my hero. So anyway, they blocked up that window real good.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Tupelo Airport. There is a War Museum, which I skipped. The flight was delayed: some outfit called Silver Airways. They discontinue service to Atlanta in a few days, so I was crossing my fingers that their heart was still in it a little. It wasn't, I think. 2. Lots of posters about history on the walls of the Tupelo Airport. One poster recounted a Chickasaw legend about the naming of Alabama. It involved some Native Americans strolling around tossing a stick in the air. I'd only ever heard it from my dad before. It's a pretty good story! I had recently incorporated it into a short story in my supposedly forthcoming collection MOVIE STARS (2016). And there it is on a poster at the Tupelo airport. And so begins my traditional jotting in my precious little notebook, recording my eventful travels for grateful future generations. 3. Dr. Theresa had flown Silver Airways before and assured me that John T. Edge - a world traveler! - uses it all the time. I saw him at a party and when I brought it up, seeking comfort, he didn't seem quite so sure about Dr. Theresa's characterization of his travel habits. Was he bemused, even? Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls flew Silver Airways when she came to Oxford recently. Only upon my return did Dr. Theresa happen to mention that Ms. Ray compared her experience to the John Lithgow section of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. 4. Well, what with the delayed flight, these pills are kicking in too early. I feel like Elaine Dundy somehow. 5. I must give props to the old-fashioned office-style water cooler in the Silver Airways waiting room, with its exceptionally cold and bracing water. 6. I can tell you what I plan to read on the plane if it ever gets here: THE DRINKING DEN by Zola. Expectation of owls in it is low. It's a gritty human drama of the streets of Paris... laundresses, blacksmiths, roofers. When will they have the chance to hear an owl? Some bird imagery when two blacksmiths are showing off their skills for a laundress: "they were like two great red cockerels strutting around in front of a little white hen. What would they think of next? Sometimes, the heart really does have a strange way of declaring its feelings." The shy blacksmith shows the laundress some rivet-making machines. He's ashamed at the precision of the machine-made rivets compared to his own. The laundress objects: "'See what I mean?' she yelled passionately. 'They are TOO well made. I prefer yours. There, at least, you can feel the hand of an artist.'" I liked that part. 7. I resisted THE DRINKING DEN at first - squalid in the name of so-called "realism" and a little prurient it seemed to me, but I really got caught up in the story. Zola lets something nice happen just for the pleasure of pulling the rug from under these poor so-and-sos. It's cruel, but it keeps you turning pages with sickly, burning hope. 8. The loudspeakers of Silver Airways - why isn't their logo the Silver Surfer? - made a cryptic announcement that our pilot was "in the air" and headed our way. But from where? Across the street? Pills wearing off. The iPod is on shuffle. Harry Partch is singing about monkeys. I have various superstitions and rituals involving the iPod I shan't go into here. 9. A young woman is taking up an entire row of these vinyl waiting room seats. She's sprawled out on her stomach. Her face is pressed flat against the very spot where strangers' butts go. Ah, youth! Impervious youth. 10. The tiny plane landed and it had a slogan printed on the side: "BUILDING BLOCKS." I don't know what that meant, but it didn't strike me as a reassuring thing to stencil on the side of an airplane; I felt the airplane should demonstrate a surer sense of already having been put together properly. The engines were painted fuchsia, a bold choice! I decided to ignore that Blackalicious was performing "It's Going Down" on my iPod as I settled into my seat. 11. Late! A missed connection in Atlanta. Sitting at an airport piano bar reading THE DRINKING DEN (among other things, a catalogue of downfalls instigated by demon liquor) while drinking rye and listening to a lookalike of actor Mike Starr (pictured, the real Mike Starr, I mean) tinkling out a syrupy version of my favorite Chi-Lites song.Delta guy had been about getting me a good seat on the next plane out, so when the bridge came up I belted, "Whhhyyyyyyy Oh Why! Did she leave and go away?" as everyone pretended to ignore me. 12. (One day I'll go back and fill in all the jottings I left out from our punk rock trip to NYC. Like the great steaks Dr. Theresa and I had at LaGuardia! You have to cut them with a plastic knife for security reasons. "But you could kill somebody with this fork," said Dr. Theresa, jabbing to demonstrate. "Shh!" I said. But it was a real fork and she had a point.) 13. Savannah at last! Elizabeth picked me up at the hotel and treated me to a fancy dinner. When we left the restaurant, her car had been towed! She refused to take the cab with me, insisting that she lived "a couple of blocks away." So I couldn't get her on the phone for the rest of the night and spent a troubled evening fearing unspeakable calamity. 14. I finally talked to Elizabeth at eight the next morning as I ate my $36 room-service oatmeal, and she was alive! 15. I spoke to a "humor class" and then the writer Lee Griffith drove me to lunch. Quite unexpectedly we spotted Elizabeth walking down a sidewalk like a glamorous spy in sunglasses. OR WAS IT HER? We turned around and drove back to find out. But she HAD VANISHED! We spotted her headed down a different street. We circled the block to catch up with her. GONE AGAIN! This went on for a while until I insisted she was driving the car behind us. By this time Lee was convinced I had been hallucinating everything. But it was Elizabeth! Her car had not even been towed. She had parked it a block away from her house and forgotten. 16. At one point I needed a tissue and Lee gave me A REAL CLOTH HANDKERCHIEF. TO KEEP! 17. Yes, I got up in front of a packed auditorium of hundreds of young innocent college students and rambled about Jerry Lewis. I remember some of what I said. 18. I praised Jerry's DIY and punk spirit in making THE BELLBOY, though I think I forgot to tell them the title of the movie. 18. When demonstrating Dean Martin's approach to art, the opposite of Jerry's, yet equally valid (no matter what that one guy whom I'll never ever forgive said in that one grad class that time), I eased into a brief, unplanned Dean Martin impersonation. It was really more like Perry Como, but they'll never know that. 19. I drew a line from Jerry to John Waters to Andy Kaufman to Tim and Eric to argue against the importance of "laughing" at comedy. 20. I argued for the influence of THE LADIES MAN on MOONRISE KINGDOM. They applauded at the mention of the latter title because (I think) I had finally mentioned something they had heard of. 21. I encouraged them to emulate Jerry Lewis, who cut his education short when he smashed his high school principal in the face for making an anti-Semitic remark. 22. The Q&A session. Nearly all the Qs were about ADVENTURE TIME. I managed to finesse some of the answers so that they came back to Jerry. I summoned the hubris, for example, to compare Kent Osborne and myself to Dean and Jerry while pontificating on the importance of serendipitous friendships to the development of unanticipated new forms of artistic expression. 23. One kid asked about the influence of Charlie Chaplin on Jerry Lewis, God bless him! God bless that wonderful little bastard. 24. I was very pleased to stay for an hour after the lecture as a long line of young people wanted to talk about ADVENTURE TIME some more. 25. Dinner at a lovely restaurant with a view of riverboats chugging by. The waiter said something about "assorted heirloom carrots" but it sounded like "sordid heirloom carrots" ha ha! Good times. 26. HERE IS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED! It turned out that Beth Concepcion, the Dean of Liberal Arts, with whom we were having dinner, USED TO DATE BARRY MILLS! That's right, "Barry B." of "blog" "fame"! "The only ghost story I was ever a part of involved Barry Mills," she said. To which I replied, "Was it the old sea captain?" To which she cried, "Yes!" I knew all about the ghost in Barry's old house. But SHE had heard the relentless footsteps of the mysterious old salt himself! 27. It must have been about this time that I splashed seafood broth all over the lapels of my purplish jacket, and that's okay. Like the "magic jacket" before it, it may be up for retirement. Oh, purplish jacket, you are too much for this sad world! 28. Elizabeth and I had a nightcap at the hotel bar, where they were trying to sell an oil painting of a lion for $30,500. Kansas when he landed. I said to Z.P., "This plane is making ghost noises!" She said, "I'M SCARED!" And then she said, "You can reach over and grab my hand if you want." I declined. 34. But I noticed that by the end of the flight she was holding hands with the trucker. Aw! Their names were Veronica and Ray. Safe travels! 35. I don't want to be too hard on Silver Airways. Back on the ground in Tupelo a worker raced across the tarmac toward me, clutching the paperback of THE DRINKING DEN I had accidentally left behind on the plane.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
last year's Halloween Film Festival when a movie called THE VAMPIRE nearly destroyed us. It wasn't even about a legit vampire. It was about a guy who took pills made of bats! And it wasn't very good. And it was called THE VAMPIRE. So WHERE WAS THE VAMPIRE? It took the wind out of our sails. We didn't think we could go on! Why am I forcing myself to relive this? Well, this year's Halloween Film Festival, by contrast, has been going pretty great! BUT. Then there was this thing we watched called AUDREY ROSE. I guess it started out okay, with an eerily dreamy car crash. But then in the middle it turned into MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. Remember that? That's the movie where there's a trial that hinges on proving that Santa Claus exists. That's not a horror movie! And in the middle of AUDREY ROSE it suddenly turns into a courtroom drama about the existence of the immortal soul! HUH? And how it travels from body to body. And therefore you can't really be convicted of kidnapping somebody if she happens to have your dead kid's soul living inside her. WHAT! And everybody in the courtroom sits around nodding gravely like, "Hmm, makes a lot of sense when you think about it, I guess we should let this guy kidnap whoever he wants." MIRACLE ON 34th STREET handles this kind of implausible legal whimsy quietly and even believably. Here your jaw just drops. And you also realize that now you are watching a flimsy courtroom drama with a million holes in it instead of a horror movie. The defense lawyer arguing in favor of the human soul (!) is played by Robert Walden, the existence of whom the "blog" has proven before. And saintly soft-spoken spiritual weirdo kidnapper Anthony Hopkins sits there having long documentary-style flashbacks (I think) to religious rituals in India, where, throughout the movie, he has been sort of humbly yet obnoxiously bragging about living for a while and it made him so great and quietly humble and everything (it was at this point that Dr. Theresa realized we had been suckered into watching some kind of proselytizing religious movie for our Halloween Film Festival), and the movie suddenly cuts from the stock footage of India to the star of our movie, a little girl, inexplicably marching in a circle with some other little girls around a giant snowman in a schoolyard in New York or wherever the hell they are.This "blog" "post" I found on the "internet" - "click" here - rightly compares it to THE WICKER MAN, which went through my mind too. [I should also include a "link" to this more appreciative though still skeptical analysis of the film.]) Then they put a crown on the giant snowman and set it on fire. Here you can see the girl being hypnotized by the flames because of her crazy soul and all. It made me think of the "burning the witch" segment in Fellini's AMARCORD (pictured), which I believe (if I recall correctly)CASANOVA made me think of THE LAST TYCOON, the movie version of THE LOVE OF THE LAST TYCOON, which kind of nicely captures the scene from the novel of the intoxicating vision of the girls floating on the big head through the backlot after an earthquake. That's an intoxicating vision it would be almost impossible to ruin.Robert De Niro explains to a huffy "literary writer" exactly what a movie story is, and that's fine, but De Niro squirms and darts around and leaps about and gesticulates so much while he does it! Really laying it on thick. Whereas in the book, his character (Monroe Stahr) makes the exact same speech, but oh so still and simply... it's better. It's spellbinding! In the novel. A real centerpiece. And there's another big problem with THE LAST TYCOON, which I generally like. But let's not get into that. I do remember reading in Tony Curtis's autobiography about how handsome and fit he was in THE LAST TYCOON and it made Ray Milland and Robert Mitchum so jealous because Tony Curtis was walking around being such a fine hot specimen of manhood, according to Tony Curtis. I find it hard to imagine Mitchum giving a crap. BUT I'M GETTING OFF TRACK. Maybe I'm just avoiding AUDREY ROSE. A long time ago the "blog" used to tally up all the guys we saw in movies with cigarette holders, I can't remember why. Anyway we stopped that nonsense. But the prosecuting attorney in AUDREY ROSE, who hates reincarnation, is played by the stalwart John Hillerman (pictured), and he sits in judge's chambers puffing away on a cigarette through a cigarette holder. The man was born to use a cigarette holder.CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, a much superior horror movie that's not quite a horror movie about parents who don't understand what their child is going through. But he didn't luck out twice with the child actors, I'll tell you that! Though I hate to cast aspersions upon a child actor. So we won't get into that.) BUT! And here is a BIG SPOILER. Instead of fulfilling the perfectly set-up catharsis that was right there in the filmmakers' hands, the kid just flat-out lies down and dies. The kid dies! Boom. She's dead. They killed the kid. No more kid. The kid's just lying there dead. No catharsis for you! And then there's a long solemn epistolary voice-over from her mother (!) about how that all worked out pretty well because her kid's ashes were sent to India (with her creepily beatific stalker Anthony Hopkins!) so maybe the whole reincarnation thing will go better next time. That's looking on the old bright side, I guess.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Someone has been reading all my "posts" about THE BIG MOUTH. And no, it's not you. It's never you. It's McNeil. He writes: "First of all, do Jerry and his leasing lady EVER kiss? I can't recall. Watch it again! Also a theme between TWIXT and THE BIG MOUTH you mention without actually saying it is their actual mouths! Remember how everyone had trouble talking in THE BIG MOUTH? I'm too tired to type more." Thanks, McNeil! Me too. But in his great monograph, Chris Fujiwara writes about "the failure of understanding, primordial in Lewis's universe." For more on the lack of communication in THE BIG MOUTH, see that essay from which I keep stealing images.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Halloween Film Festival continued with a Japanese movie from 1959, THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA. "It's Shakespearean! It's Greek!" we said, trying to find the right word before realizing that "Japanese" was the right word, of course. But there is a little Iago-like character who runs around saying things like, "Push him into the waterfall! And if you miss, I'll stab him!" As you can see, there was a lot of white makeup with red around the eyes, a recurring theme around here lately.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
THE BIG MOUTH, and I don't think they cover it in that masterful essay I've told you about so many times. As McNeil and I noticed in our recent viewing, Jerry Lewis and his leading lady are dressed nearly identically in every scene they share. If Jerry is wearing red, she is wearing red. If Jerry wears black and white, so does she. And I think they even look alike. IT'S LIKE JERRY IS KISSING HIMSELF. Anyway, what is wrong with me? Do you know?
TWIXT and Jerry Lewis's makeup at the end of THE BIG MOUTH (see also). I urge you once more to read the article in which I found this frame ("click" here), the most detailed analysis of THE BIG MOUTH you will ever need. Do you need one? And in conclusion, this seems like a good place to mention (ha ha! There is no need to mention this at all) Jerry's braces at the end of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and the implication about his concessions to the monster he has supposedly defeated and also the way - SPOILER ALERT! - Elle Fanning's braces pop off with a comical yet terrifying "SPROING!" when her vampire teeth come out, or did I imagine that?
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Geneva Bible when God asks the devil, "Where commeft thou?" and the devil says, "From copafsing the earth to and fro, and from walking in it"? You're probably wondering about my recent travels in the same way! Okay, you twisted my arm. But to understand my wandering properly we have to go way back to when my glasses fell off my head in the lobby of a swank New York City hotel some months ago. I lost a very nice silver pen in that same lobby! And Megan Abbott gave me a pen to replace it. Was the replacement a fancy silver pen? No! It was one Megan picked up in a hotel during her own travels. This pen was a gift from the heart! And cheap though it may have been, it was of an unusual and pleasing shade of blue, its body made of a sturdy, semi-opaque plastic, I believe. It advertised a company called Kimpton, which owns hotels and restaurants, apparently. So on my recent trip to Birmingham to do a reading, I thought I had left the pen Megan gave me behind in a bank! But when I came home it was just sitting there on the TV tray. While in my Birmingham hotel room, I distractedly watched the shoe factory show. Hey remember on GILMORE GIRLS when Luke had a daughter with another woman and that woman was angry when Lorelai (who was dating Luke at the time) hung out with the daughter and it caused problems in Lorelai's relationship? Well, now they are making Lauren Graham go through that plot line again on the shoe factory show, just like the other time they stole a plot from GILMORE GIRLS and marched Lorelai, I mean, Lauren Graham, through it. Lauren Graham is like some doomed soul, forced always to reenact the same torments! What a bummer. While I was watching the shoe factory show, Dr. Theresa was back in Oxford, having an elegant dinner with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls and T. Cooper, whom she had introduced on the Thacker Mountain radio program earlier in the evening. THEN! It was on to New Orleans, where I saw many of my fave former students from back when I used to teach: Abby, Elizabeth (wearing her mother's prom dress from 1968!), Burke, Rachel and SKIN MAG, Ryan, and Anya (wearing a wedding dress because IT WAS HER WEDDING DAY, a happy occasion I wouldn't have missed for the world). It was a lovely ceremony on the porch of an old house, the kind of house where I kept looking up at the attic windows expecting to see a gently approving ghost but I didn't. Burke gave me a book with this great first sentence: "Art has a way of undermining all aesthetic theories." Just like Jerry Lewis! I added the part about Jerry Lewis. On the drive back to Oxford, "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys came on the radio and I suddenly remembered going to see a feature-length documentary about the theremin back in Atlanta with Dr. Theresa - I think it was just called THEREMIN - and Brian Wilson was interviewed in it about the memorable theremin part in "Good Vibrations." You know how Brian Wilson thinks and talks. He's a genius! And he comes off very open and vulnerable and eccentric sometimes. And I think he said the theremin was scary and made him think of sex. Is that what he said? So, the director of THEREMIN was there for this screening (and as I recall, so was Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer!) and in the Q&A session afterward, some fool in the audience asked the director if it was "hard not to laugh" when interviewing Brian Wilson and the director shot back with shocked sincerity, "No, it's hard not to cry." And that came back to me so vividly while I was driving that I was completely absorbed in experiencing that memory and sort of forgot I was driving. Has that ever happened to you? Don't do that! It's not safe! Dr. Theresa snapped me out of it. And then I started thinking that Brian Wilson's genius might be profitably compared to Jerry Lewis's in its directness. When Kelly Hogan was just visiting us, she was trying to learn a Brian Wilson song for an upcoming performance. Hogan expounded thoughtfully on the lyrics "I wrote a number down but I lost it/ So I searched through my pocket book, I couldn't find it/ So I sat and concentrated on the number and/ Slowly it came to me so I dialed it/ And I let it ring a few times, there was no answer/ So I let it ring a little more, still no answer" and their relationship to the complex transparency of Brian Wilson (which is different than Jerry's complex transparency). Complex transparency! (It comes to me just now that the theremin documentary featured a clip of Jerry's encounter with a theremin in THE DELICATE DELINQUENT.)