Thursday, May 28, 2015

She Meditated Vengeance

Hey I am reading another book by Peter Ackroyd. It's not this one ("click" here) that I mentioned recently nor this one ("click" here) that I mentioned recently. It's another one! It's about the Tudors. Hey remember when I got so sick of reading books about kings that I just couldn't stand it anymore? When I bought this one at Square Books a week or two ago, Kaitlyn said, "I'm glad you've come back around." Ha ha! I don't know. This one has so many executions it actually gave me nightmares. Executions that defy description! Though Peter Ackroyd certainly gives it the old college try. I'm ashamed to say I read this part to Dr. Theresa the other night: "When the executioner held up the head, its eyes and lips moved." That's by far one of the milder executions. BY FAR. Oh brother! You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Let me put it this way: if the king LIKED you he'd have your head cut off. So imagine if you made him mad. But anyway the queens take over about halfway through book so that's nice for a change of pace. I just read a couple of good things about Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (pictured). "She rode fast and furiously; she wore a steel helmet and carried a brace of pistols at her side." And: "Mary returned in triumph to Edinburgh where she meditated vengeance on her feckless and unstable husband."

Saturday, May 23, 2015

I Think About Plastic Man a Lot

I am going to write some boring stuff about old comic books. Is that okay with you? It's better than rambling about CYMBELINE in "post" after "post," isn't it? You be the judge! I sincerely believed that my midlife crisis had culminated in June of 2013, when I stopped caring about old comic books after a brief revival of that interest. So a couple of weeks ago I went to Memphis with Ace Atkins and Bill Boyle. We stopped by the comic book store so Ace could pick up some Scrooge McDuck for his kids (classic Carl Barks reprints, I'm only too happy to add). I was idly browsing the new releases when I saw new issues of Captain Marvel (the real one, who says, "Shazam!") and Plastic Man, two of my old favorites. "Well!" I thought. "I wonder what these guys are up to!" So I bought one of each. Captain Marvel seems to be plugging along in the old spirit of Captain Marvel. But I am sad to say that in Plastic Man, the Nazis have taken over the United States! Plastic Man is meeting in seedy motel rooms to buy guns, like Travis Bickle! Who did this to you, Plas? Soon enough I was crawling around in the attic, opening up sealed boxes of my dumb old comic books, looking for what? Lost innocence, probably!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Folly & Fancy

Just promenading around the square and ran into Lee Durkee, so we talked about CYMBELINE some more, aren't you glad? I bet you thought that part of your life was over! I got to remind Lee about that "Hell is here" line I liked and Lee said, "That would've been a throwaway line in ROMEO AND JULIET." Lee's not cutting CYMBELINE any slack! I also got to tell Lee that Samuel Johnson agreed with him. I read in a Peter Ackroyd book that Johnson criticized "the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct... faults too evident for detection, too gross for aggravation." Ackroyd takes up for the play, though, seeing "fancy" where Johnson saw folly and "deliberate farce" instead of absurdity. Now, this has nothing to do with the play, but a few times I thought the movie was making visual jokes or being visually extravagant where Lee saw (in Samuel Johnson's words) "the impossibility of the events in any system of life"... such as when they light the queen's body afire in her body bag... "Right next to a cop car!" as Lee exclaimed. And the tone of farce is hard to detect in the movie, that's for sure, buried under all that supposed grit and sullenness and those leather jackets. Okay, we're done.

You Dragons

Dug out a couple of books about Shakespeare and looked up CYMBELINE in them. Edith Sitwell, in her "Notebook on William Shakespeare," quotes this: "To the Truncke againe, and shut the spring of it./ Swift, swift, you Dragons of the night, that dawning/ May bare the Raven's eye! I lodge in fear;/ Though this is a heavenly Angell, Hell is heere." I should have mentioned that when Lee asked me for memorable lines. See, Ethan Hawke is like, "Hey, uh, I almost forgot, can you hold a package for me for a few days?" (I paraphrase.) and Dakota Johnson from 50 SHADES OF GREY is like, "Sure!" (I paraphrase again.) So that's no package! It's a steamer trunk, and Ethan Hawke is hiding in it in his underpants, and when Dakota Johnson from 50 SHADES OF GREY goes to sleep he pops out and takes selfies with her. I don't recall if he said the part about "dragons of the night" but I do know he said, "Though this is a heavenly angel, hell is here." And "hell is here" struck me at the time. To be fair to CYMBELINE! And Ethan Hawke. Looked in a Frank Kermode volume and didn't get much (well, I didn't try very hard) except for a casual and tantalizing aside about "the astrologer Simon Forman" who saw the original production and (which has nothing to do with CYMBELINE) later "died, as he had precisely predicted, on 12 September 1613."

Magic Prison

Here's something I don't know anything about: CYMBELINE by William Shakespeare. Took the newish movie version of it over to Lee Durkee's. Lee - who doesn't usually care for this kind of coy tampering - was pretty excited that it is set in the world of motorcycle gangs. But there weren't enough motorcycles to suit him! There were hardly any. Motorcycles were usually represented by an offscreen revving. One character pushes his out-of-gas motorbike down a country path. A bad boyfriend glumly glides along on his skateboard. "Why didn't they make Cymbeline the king of a skateboard gang?" Lee said. After the movie was over, Lee said he didn't like it - not enough motorcycles! - and he didn't like the play, either. He theorized that it was just a Beaumont-and-Fletcher mashup of Shakespeare, a kind of Shakespeare's Greatest Hits, "Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending," is one way Lee put it. He challenged me to think of any compelling use of language in what we had just heard and seen. "When the guy said he was going to cut the other guy's head off and throw it into the sea and then it could tell the fishes it was the queen's son," I suggested. "That was the best line in the movie," Lee admitted. "And I liked that one soliloquy," I said. "I want to look it up and see what it's all about. The one about being immured for life in a magic prison." Lee searched digitally through the text of CYMBELINE and couldn't find anything about a magic prison. A little more digging revealed the compelling passage to be an Emily Dickinson poem that the filmmakers just stuck in there! Which proved Lee's point, I guess.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A World of Feathers

So as you know I've been thinking about MACBETH. So I was in Square Books to meet someone, and while I waited I leafed through a history book by Peter Ackroyd, which begins with the reign of King James, who inspired MACBETH in so many ways. And on page 2 somebody writes King James a letter suggesting he should have "a heart of adamant in a world of feathers." I thought that was okay! But I skipped ahead to Shakespeare. And that's when I was reminded (by this quotation: "Where the bee sucks, there suck I:/ In a cowslip's bell I lie;/ There I couch when owls do cry") that THE TEMPEST has owls in it.

Some Measure of Culture

Hey I recorded the Orson Welles version of MACBETH off of TCM and I was going to save it to watch with Lee Durkee but he says he's seen it recently so I went ahead and watched it and somehow it was two or three short steps to looking up Jerry Lewis in the index of Peter Bogdanovich's book of interviews with Orson Welles and Orson Welles said about Jerry Lewis, "When he goes too far, he's heaven; it's just when he doesn't go too far that he's unendurable" and I thought that was a pretty good thing to reflect on for any person, in the arts or whatever, so go ahead, reflect on it! Welles goes on to describe a particular gag ("click" here) from THE LADIES MAN that made him laugh until he was sick. You know what I found out by consulting another index? You remember that movie Orson Welles was trying to finish when he died? Well, Peter Bogdanovich was in it, and he based his character on Jerry Lewis: "Bogdanovich launched into his vivid Jerry Lewis impression, which Welles pulled apart and reconstructed by dialing it down and adding some measure of culture and refinement, before ultimately landing on a strange mix of Lewis and Noel Coward." That's from a book by Josh Karp. (I don't know why this photograph is one of the first things to come up when you search for an image of Orson Welles and Jerry Lewis together - there doesn't seem to be one of those - but it kind of looks like the boys could be in MACBETH here, ha ha ha, it all comes together.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ace Atkins Reporting From the Square

Last night our man on the street Ace Atkins filed this report from the town square: "Old people with half glasses love frozen yogurt. It makes them crazy." That's Ace Atkins, reporting from the square.

McNeil All Hepped Up

McNeil is all hepped up about Brain Boy. How do I know? I received this message from him: "Oh boy!!! I'm all hepped up about Brain Boy... According to Wikipedia 'Brain Boy' was just his nickname ( if his parents would actually name him that) and he never had any kind of costume - though he looks straight out of BOTTLE ROCKET." I would only add to McNeil's reflections that Brain Boy got his powers when his father was killed by an electrical tower. That's rough!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

All About Brain Boy

Pen says he bought this comic because it reminded him of me. Ha ha ha! He also asks, "How much do you know about Brain Boy?" I know nothing about Brain Boy! But now I want to know everything about Brain Boy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Original Breezy

Hey! Remember when I became fascinated with Clint Eastwood's 1973 free-spirit-teaches-a-craggy-old-sourpuss-about-love movie BREEZY, so much so that there was an ADVENTURE TIME episode named "Breezy"? Well, I don't think enough people have noticed that Kay Lenz - the original Breezy from the original BREEZY - played the Cosmic Owl's "dream woman" on ADVENTURE TIME last night. Yes, I lobbied for that. Here's another trivia fact! M. Emmett Walsh, as you know, plays the Cosmic Owl, so when Kent wanted me to brainstorm with him about some of the dream imagery in the episode (there was a lot of it), we slipped in Mr. Cupcake with a head in one hand and a sandwich in the other, an allusion to a story Mr. Walsh's character tells in RAISING ARIZONA. It went by fast, but I think it made it in! Rounding out the cast last night was Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Dinesh on SILICON VALLEY. Pretty good!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to "McNeil's Movie Korner," the "blog's" oldest and most respected recurring feature. Go back and "click" on them all! Ha ha ha, I know you won't, you jerk. McNeil writes: "Do you remember me bringing BRANNIGAN to your apartment in Atlanta? At least once? I wanted to watch it, and you never did - so we didn't. That's just the way you are. Well, I finally watched it... 15 years later. What a terrible movie." And now we bid you goodbye from "McNeil's Movie Korner."

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Alligator Luncheon

Just talked to Mom on the phone. She's getting ready to go to a "luncheon" at a place that has alligators...? And while you eat you can "watch them [the alligators] go down a slide"...? Mom says she doesn't think she'll have much of an appetite, especially if the staff is feeding the alligators. She doesn't want to watch alligators eating while she's trying to eat! More on this breaking story as it develops.

Movie Spoon

It was more than a week ago when we went to the movies and I impulsively chose a container of "Minute Maid Frozen Lemonade" from the concession stand. Friends, the plastic spoon they gave me was a mockery! Now, I am no stranger to plastic spoons. No, I am not as lofty as all that! A good, sturdy plastic spoon is nothing to sneeze at, and may even save a person's life. I am speculating. But I must object to these low-quality movie theater spoons! The handle was so thin and cheap and puny that it bent and threatened to snap each time I attempted to plunge the spoon into the "Minute Maid Frozen Lemonade." I assume they buy these spoons in bulk, let's say 144,000 at a time, and they save a nickel per order by supplying the public with inferior plastic spoons. This is a national disgrace.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

2008 Envelope Glue Still Works Great

Today I went to the post office to mail some stuff to Pendleton Ward. I included an inventory of all the stuff I was sending, inscribed on a notecard given to me by a bookstore in Marin County in 2008, when I came through to read my novel and my audience was named Pamela and Frances. Anyway, I licked the notecard envelope and the glue still worked great! What an invention.


I brought my copy of Zola's THE DRINKING DEN over to Off Square Books to trade in. The ending just depressed me too much; I didn't want to look at the spine anymore. I noticed some ephemera nestled inside the book, including this scrap of paper given to me by a student after I lectured on the subject of Jerry Lewis at SCAD. I believe it represents the entirety of her notes. It's more than I could have hoped for, honestly.

Meet Uncle Peewee

Stopped by Ace's office yesterday and he gave me an "uncorrected proof" of his upcoming book THE REDEEMERS. I dove right in and have already encountered Uncle Peewee, who looks like "a cartoon owl." (See also.) And you know what that means: Ace has written a book with an owl in it. It counts! Figurative owls count.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Lineup

Bill Boyle has put together another big NOIR AT THE BAR event. It's tomorrow night at Proud Larry's. The lineup is star-studded and action-packed. Ace Atkins! Jimmy! Derrick Harriell! Mary Miller! Melissa Ginsburg! Tom Franklin! Tyler Keith! Lisa Howorth! And that's not even everybody. Chris Offutt is on the fence, for example. Maybe if we all clap our hands and really believe, he'll appear, like Tinkerbell coming back to life. Everybody is going to read shocking sex things, I guess. Either that or bloody things with blood and stuff. I got nothing. Last time I read about kitty cats. I might read the end of an old story and if I do you will be able to tell it is old because it has MySpace and Laura Bush in it.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Break Room

"I was listening to one of the more entertaining conspiracy theorists in the break room the other night and he mentioned The Bohemian Grove," writes McNeil. "You may already know about it. But the most important thing about it is there is a giant owl, whose voice was once a recording of Walter Cronkite." I checked into this and found a SPY magazine article by a guy who sneaked into the Bohemian Grove in 1989. The article says, "The big improvement this year was to project a sort of hologram onto the owl's face so that its beak seemed to move. Also, it was Walter Cronkite talking... Cronkite, as the owl, said that the only way Care could be cremated was to use fire from the Lamp of Fellowship before him, an 'eternal' gas flame that burns day and night." Speaking of 1989, I am struggling to find some things to say about PHYSICAL EVIDENCE, a Burt Reynolds movie from that year, viewed last night by members of the reconvened and reconstituted movie club: Ace Atkins, Bill Boyle, with Lee Durkee (who was actually the first person to tell me about the owl in the Bohemian Grove, though I don't think he mentioned that it was voiced by Walter Cronkite), stepping up to replace Megan Abbott, who moved back to New York City for some reason. Dr. Theresa and I thought Popeye's fried chicken would be a good accompaniment. We were amazed to discover that neither Ace Atkins nor Bill Boyle had ever eaten Popeye's. Lee told us about the sickly cat restored to good health by a diet of Popeye's biscuits. I am avoiding talking about PHYSICAL EVIDENCE. Hmm. It was nobody's finest moment. Well, it may have been one woman's finest moment. She played the flirtatious receptionist at a fish processing plant. As Bill Boyle observed, she gave the movie its one spark of life. We paid attention for two minutes. (Bill dug around and found out the actor's name [Laurie Paton] as well as an online critique - "click" here - that agrees with our assessment of her performance.) Bill also liked it when, in a bit of eccentric "stage business," Ted McGinley threw a Chinese-takeout spare rib at Theresa Russell as she ran up a flight of stairs. Are we grasping at straws here? Lee, I think, would vote Ted McGinley as most valuable supporting player.
We all agreed that he had a real AMERICAN PSYCHO thing going on. (If you examine this frame carefully you will see the takeout box from which Mr. McGinley will momentarily extract the rib for throwing.) There are other parts I could talk about. The perversely constructed ending. Eh. I'm too tired. The score. It sounded, I said last night, as if Henry Mancini wrote it on his portable keyboard in the back of the car on the way to the studio (another point of agreement with that online critique). Dr. Theresa, who dozed off early in her chair ("Like somebody who took Dramamine before getting on an airplane," said Ace of the film's effect on Dr. Theresa) woke up while the credits were rolling and said, "Who was the murderer?" I told her, "The guy from TWIN PEAKS." She went back to sleep.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Owl Soup

I told you this book would have an owl in it! McPhee writes of the people who live along the Kobuk River eating owl soup.


Finished reading that book about the Middle Ages. Conquered it, more like. As I was just saying to Cody at Square Books, I'll never trade it in for store credit at Off Square Books because now that I put it on the shelf I feel like I fought it to the death barehanded and chopped its head off and stuffed and mounted it and now I'll just stare at it forever. I have moved on to John McPhee's book about Alaska, which I feel certain will have an owl in it. I just read this sentence: "Unopened cans of sardines have been found in the scat of grizzlies." So that gave me a lot to think about.

Alley Breeze

Dr. Theresa and I were eating in an alley last night when we heard Neutral Milk Hotel. I was eating a hamburger and here came the title song from "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." Not a recording! It was Neutral Milk Hotel, all right, playing live. Oxford Canteen usually closes at 3 in the afternoon, but last night Corbin stayed late serving hot dogs and hamburgers. As you should know, Oxford Canteen is a window in an alley and the kitchen is adjacent to the Lyric Theater, where Neutral Milk Hotel happened to be doing a sound check for that evening's performance. Pretty good hamburger music. The music floated from the stage through the kitchen door and out the window. The song bounced off the brick walls of the alley. Birds were chasing each other and chirping. There was a breeze.