Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Not Quite Enough Marbles

So all these guys are sitting on one side a long table in masks talking to each other and the door opens and they all turn and look at the camera at the same time - that's pretty scary! I feel like I've seen this startling effect copied in later movies. I couldn't find the exact moment on the internet, but this came right afterward. It's from LA MAIN DU DIABLE (a much more apt title than the English version: CARNIVAL OF SINNERS), the latest entry in our annual Halloween film festival. Kind of a fairytale. Jacques Tourneur's dad directed it! I want to know why he was back in France directing this at about the same time his son was in America directing CAT PEOPLE - what a family! - so I'll grab that Chris Fujiwara bio of the younger Tourneur and get back to you later. So! I was walking back home from Square Books the other day when Melissa Ginsburg accosted me from the passenger window of a pickup truck! And Chris Offutt was driving. And they wanted to know whether I wanted a ride, which was funny because I was next door to my house, which they well knew, so they were being hilarious. And they pulled into the neighbor's driveway and I leaned in the window of the truck and we had a talk. And it turned out by coincidence that the newly and impulsively purchased book I had under my arm is one of Chris's favorites! Chris said he read it all as fast as he could and can't wait until enough time passes so he can read it again. It's the "Hollywood Trilogy" of Don Carpenter, three novels in one volume. I was telling Bill Boyle about it and he already knew everything because he's a big fan, too. They were out of print for a while, and Bill was tracking down the separate volumes at the library. So I just started reading the first one and to my surprise it's pretty much about Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and it's narrated by Jerry Lewis. I exaggerate! The decade is wrong, for one thing. And I've only read a couple dozen pages. But one partner in the comedy duo is a crooner, and the crooner hates to rehearse and is always late, and the crooner likes comic books, and his teammate's schtick is to act like he has "not quite enough marbles rolling around in my attic," and they're embarrassed by the low-budget movies the studio forces them to make and are much more at home in their loose and highly improvisational nightclub act, which they have moved to Las Vegas... all these things apply to Martin and Lewis, though there is also a lot about these characters that does not apply to Martin and Lewis, but I'm going to ignore those parts.

Monday, October 05, 2015

McNeil Month By Month

I can hardly believe it's already McNeil's birthday again! I'm sure you all feel the same. And I know you're eager to celebrate in the traditional way: with our annual feature "McNeil Month By Month." It's fun for the whole family! Simply click on any "link" to see what McNeil was doing that month. September 2006: McNeil contends that he does not enjoy the "Little Dot" comic book. October 2006: McNeil furnishes a memorable quotation. November 2006: McNeil recalls playing Aerosmith on a jukebox. December 2006: First appearance of "McNeil's Movie Korner." January 2007: McNeil's system for winning at craps. February 2007: McNeil doesn't see what's so hard about reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich at the same time. March 2007: McNeil and I are talking about Bob Denver when HE SUDDENLY APPEARS ON TELEVISION! April 2007: Wild turkeys roam McNeil's neighborhood. May 2007: McNeil gets in touch with an Australian reporter regarding a historical chimp. June 2007: First McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival announced. July 2007: Medicine changes McNeil's taste buds. August 2007: McNeil's trees not producing apples. September 2007: McNeil pinpoints a problem with the "blog." October 2007: McNeil presents a video entitled "Jerry's pre-defecation chills." November 2007: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy. December 2007: What is McNeil's favorite movie? January 2008: McNeil explains why the wind blows. February 2008: McNeil admires the paintings of Gerhard Richter. March 2008: McNeil comes up with an idea for a Lifetime TV movie. April 2008: McNeil's shirt. May 2008: McNeil's apple tree doing better (see August 2007). June 2008: McNeil is troubled by a man who wants to make clouds in the shape of logos. July 2008: McNeil's apples are doing great. August 2008: McNeil refuses to acknowledge that Goofy wears a hat no matter what I say. September 2008: McNeil's grocery store is permanently out of his favorite margarine. October 2008: McNeil on the space elevator. November 2008: McNeil comes across an incomplete episode guide to HELLO, LARRY. December 2008: McNeil thinks the human hand should have more fingers. January 2009: McNeil discovers that gin and raisins cure arthritis. February 2009: McNeil gets a big bruise on his arm. March 2009: McNeil wants a job on a cruise ship. April 2009: McNeil attempts to rescue a wayward balloon. May 2009: McNeil visits the Frogtown Fair. June 2009: McNeil dreams he is watching an endless production number from LI'L ABNER. July 2009: McNeil sends text messages from his cell phone while watching a Frank Sinatra movie. August 2009: McNeil disagrees philosophically with a comic book cover that shows a mad scientist putting a gorilla's brain in a superhero's body. September 2009: McNeil resembles famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach. October 2009: McNeil wears a surgical mask. November 2009: McNeil reports that a bird broke the large hadron collider by dropping a bread crumb on it. December 2009: McNeil advises me to like the universe or lump it. January 2010: McNeil eats soup. February 2010: McNeil tells of the hidden civilizations living deep beneath the surface of the earth. March 2010: McNeil recalls a carpet of his youth. April 2010: McNeil starts wearing a necktie. May 2010: McNeil's DNA sample fails to yield results. June 2010: McNeil thinks up some improvements for the movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. July 2010: McNeil reads to me from I, THE JURY. August 2010: McNeil finds a hair in his crab cake. September 2010: McNeil has a cold. October 2010: McNeil sends a nine-minute clip of a nice old man speaking at a UFO banquet. November 2010: McNeil sits in his car and looks at pictures of Jennifer Jones. December 2010: McNeil fears a ball of fire in the sky. January 2011: McNeil watches DYNASTY. February 2011: McNeil sees clouds that look like guys on horseback. March 2011: McNeil composes a "still life" photograph. April 2011: McNeil is upset when I interrupt his viewing of MATCH GAME. May 2011: McNeil pines for some old curtains. June 2011: McNeil eats Lucky Charms brand breakfast cereal. July 2011: McNeil investigates the history of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. August 2011: McNeil compares Dean Moriarty to Dean Martin. September 2011: McNeil learns a lesson about pork and beans. October 2011: McNeil finds an article describing Robert Mitchum as "Bing Crosby supersaturated with barbiturates." November 2011: McNeil did nothing in November. December 2011: McNeil discovers scientists creating rainbows in a laboratory. January 2012: McNeil impersonates Paul Lynde. February 2012: McNeil dreams of matches. March 2012: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy (see November 2007, above) used to chart the influence of Jerry Lewis on Carson McCullers. April 2012: McNeil disturbed by the art in his hotel room. May 2012: McNeil considers grave robbing. June 2012: McNeil's idea for "music television." July 2012: McNeil holds his negative feelings in check out of respect when the man who invented electric football dies. August 2012: McNeil reads me an old obituary of Charlie Callas over the phone. September 2012: McNeil concerned about T.J. Hooker's big meaty hands. October 2012: McNeil eats lunch at Target. November 2012: McNeil loves it when Bob Hope slips on a banana peel. December 2012: McNeil sees rocks that look like squirrels. January 2013: McNeil looks at an old, faded photo of a dog gazing into a Bath and Tile Emporium. February 2013: McNeil watches a video in which a hooded figure talks about "our criminal overlords." March 2013: McNeil wakes up at 6:40 in the evening, momentarily thinks it is 6:40 in the morning. April 2013: McNeil sees a singer who looks just like Bill Clinton. May 2013: McNeil is ashamed of himself for not realizing that Ida Lupino directed some episodes of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. June 2013: McNeil mails a cashew tree. July 2013: McNeil watches GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN. August 2013: McNeil recalls being rosy-cheeked. September 2013: A fairyland goes on in McNeil's head. October 2013: McNeil recalls tucking in his t-shirt. November 2013: The cover of a book McNeil buys says it is about Jerry Lewis, but on the inside the book is about Willie Stargell! December 2013: McNeil wants to visit an orgone box factory. January 2014: McNeil did nothing in January. February 2014: McNeil wonders whether Tom Franklin puts his hair in curlers. March 2014: McNeil takes a nap in the car. April 2014: The subject of McNeil pops up in an interview. May 2014: McNeil's emails on the "hollow earth" recalled (see February 2010, above). June 2014: McNeil looks forward to getting drunk and making insensitive remarks as I lie on my deathbed. July 2014: McNeil watches Jim and Henny Backus play themselves in DON'T MAKE WAVES. August 2014: McNeil tells about Robert Mitchum's hangover cure. September 2014: McNeil exaggerates the fate of some owls. October 2014: McNeil is incensed that a candy apple costs eight dollars at the airport. November 2014: McNeil's heart overflows with joy. December 2014: McNeil continues his 7-year chimp investigation (see May 2007, above). January 2015: McNeil listens to a conspiracy theorist who says Jimmy Carter was replaced by a series of robots. February 2015: McNeil recalls doing a report about matches in the eighth grade. March 2015: McNeil takes to bed with the flu! April 2015: McNeil and I establish an amazing psychic link. May 2015: McNeil bitterly recalls the time he brought a John Wayne movie to my apartment and we never watched it. June 2015: McNeil dreams about a bearded Dean Martin. July 2015: McNeil has a disappointing encounter with the Grand Canyon. August 2015: McNeil sees a squirrel holding a stick. September 2015: McNeil is saddened by the news of Dean Jones's death. Sorry to end on such a bummer! But this thrill ride is just getting started! Be sure to come back next year for the next exciting installment of... "McNeil Month By Month."

Sunday, October 04, 2015


Last night Bill Boyle and I went over to Ace and Angela's to watch a Burt Reynolds movie on the back porch. It started to get cold and the branches were creaking and swaying around and the leaves were rustling and I kept bugging Bill to take a picture of the trees which were like TWIN PEAKS trees, as I repeatedly insisted. So here is a photo I got today in an email titled "Trees?" but it is just cigar smoke drifting over the light from the projector and there are some trees behind it swaying eerily, trust me.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Couch Business

Last night when I couldn't sleep I watched three FRIENDS episodes in a row and I got obsessed with the very beginning of the credits sequence where they're all sitting on a couch outside and posing on it in various ways, I was like, "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?" Every time it came on I thought "I am going to rewind this couch business and watch it frame by frame and figure out what is going on here. It seems like some of the 'friends' are late, and then the other 'friends' have to make room for them on the couch, which is outside." But I didn't rewind it or watch it frame by frame. Then I was like, "Well, I bet somebody on the 'internet' has analyzed this. I'll look it up tomorrow." But now I don't feel like doing that either. I guess I'll never know. (See also.)

How I Met Your Manitou

So we watched THE MANITOU for our Halloween film festival and now I am going to tell you all about THE MANITOU so don't read this if you plan to watch THE MANITOU but I don't think you want to plan to watch THE MANITOU. Tony Curtis plays a guy kind of like Zero Mostel in THE PRODUCERS except he gives psychic readings to old women and for one of them he wears a false moustache for reasons that I am not sure I understand. There was one okay part where an old woman floated down a hallway, that was a surprise. Anyway, here comes the manitou! The manitou is a "medicine man" who reincarnates himself in the most inconvenient way possible for everyone. Couldn't he just reincarnate himself the regular way? I guess not! Then a hospital room turns into outer space and they defeat the manitou by harnessing the souls of computers, because computers have souls in this movie, THE MANITOU.

Friday, October 02, 2015

This Counts

Move over, vampires and werewolves, there's a new hot ticket this Halloween season: ghosts! Oh, how I hate myself. But I know you'd want to be the first to hear that Dr. Theresa and I have started our annual Halloween film festival. So far, it's 100% ghosts. First, LAKE MUNGO, recommended by Megan Abbott. And then BEETLEJUICE came on TV and we were like, "This probably counts!" Both BEETLEJUICE and LAKE MUNGO have kids capturing ghostly images with their cameras, and in both cases - forgive me for this morbidity - the ghosts are produced by drowning. Hey, ghosts gotta be produced somehow. Speaking of gruesome subjects I guess I should tell you about these gruesome stories I have been reading in THE DECAMERON lately. WARNING! They are gruesome. Like, in one, the king has the heart of his daughter's low-born lover cut out and then he gives it to her in a golden goblet! What a jerk. He weeps a lot, too. He's probably one of the weepiest kings you'd ever want to meet. It's complicated. And then there's one where this woman finds her lover's body and takes his head as a keepsake! And she puts his head in a big vase and covers it with dirt and plants basil over it and waters it "only with rose or orange water or with her own tears" - and she grows the sweetest basil in the land! Anyway, THE DECAMERON is gross.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

14th-Century Trolls

Meanwhile, I made it to Book 4 of THE DECAMERON, which Boccaccio starts by addressing everyone who has been complaining about the first three parts because the author, in their opinion, 1) writes for women 2) is too old 3) doesn't know what he's talking about 4) has squandered his early promise 5) isn't serious 6) makes stuff up. They didn't need the "internet" to get the word out! All they needed was their rancorous fear of other people's enjoyment, a powerful fuel still in use today. Don't feed the trolls, Boccaccio!

Lonesome Call

If you have read any William Gay at all, it will not surprise you that the protagonist of this book I am reading hears "the lonesome call of an owl," plus it is a ghost story and every ghost story has an owl in it and also in general every book of every kind has an owl in it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rice Droppin'

So Dr. Theresa and her coworker Kevin and her whole department (which is, like, one other person) and all their partners and helpers and students and affiliates did an amazing thing pulling off this 10-day musical event, culminating in last night's joyous Neko Case show. The "green room" was the balcony of the Lyric Theater, and I crept up there and stole a plate of Neko Case's food. So I was leaning on the balcony railing watching the show and two grains of rice fell off the plate! And they hit some guy on the head. And he looked up, right at me! And I just slowly stepped backward and disappeared into the shadows like the Phantom of the Opera! I did not take responsibility for my actions. But the point is that things have been busy around here and also I went out of town and my reading of THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY and THE FAERIE QUEENE has been temporarily stalled. These are nice editions I can't take out of the house! And I just haven't been in the house. But don't worry, I'm gonna get back to them eventually. I don't want you to worry! Promise me you won't worry. Because I'm also doing a presentation for the upcoming Southern Foodways Symposium and I have to get some research done for that! My topic: TV cook and "humorist" Justin Wilson. So I have to read a lot of his "humor." AND! I was sitting at Square Books looking through the new William Gay book, which is a short manuscript found in his papers after he passed away, and I read the compelling introduction by Tom Franklin and I started reading the book and I suddenly realized I had read a certain quantifiable PERCENTAGE of the book and it no longer seemed right to just sit there and read the whole book, maybe, so I bought it, so that's something else.