Monday, September 18, 2017

I Explain Victor Marilyn to an Uncaring World

You know I don't "blog" anymore, but watching ADVENTURE TIME last night I was reminded that the recent episode "Son of Rap Bear" contains possibly the most obscure allusion to Jerry Lewis possible, which I would not even mention, seeing as how I don't "blog" anymore, but I thought it was a poignant coincidence, Jerry Lewis having recently died. Now this allusion is so obscure that even I didn't know about it, Mr. Big Shot So-Called Jerry Lewis Expert. In the meeting during which we were writing the outline for the episode - and I forget how the subject came up - Kent Osborne happened to mention a phone prank that Jerry had played on an unsuspecting sycophant. So we all listened to it... and somewhere, deep inside there, Jerry invents a nonexistent character named "Victor Marilyn" with which to bedevil his hapless dupe. I mean, I guess you have to sit through four and a half minutes of that phone prank before you even reach "Victor Marilyn." And that's why the devious Toronto (the ADVENTURE TIME character, not the city!) uses the pseudonymous business card you see above. I am glad to get that off my chest.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Karl Malden Wouldn't Sit Anywhere Else

When I go on a trip I still take my famous jotting book but I hardly jot in it anymore because I don't "blog" anymore, rendering the very act of jotting questionable. And besides, as Adam Muto rightly admonished me last time I won an Emmy (this is my subtle way of telling you that I just came back from Los Angeles with another one!) I should look up and experience the world directly rather than jotting about it while it's right there in my face. In fact, if you "click" on that previous "link" you will see a photo of me with my jotting book open and ready for jotting backstage in the immediate aftermath of the awards presentation two years ago. I'm the problem with America! But you know, I'm glad I brought the jotting book because I AM required to "blog" whenever I read a book with an owl in it, and on this trip there appeared in my path THREE books with owls in them. I couldn't believe it. It was a bonanza! Let's get right to them! Well, first I stopped by Square Books for something to read on the airplane, as I like to do. And I was drawn again to the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald, though I never enjoy them the way I'm supposed to. But now I guess they say "airplane" to me because of some sick compulsion. I picked up this one called DARKER THAN AMBER and I was like, "This seems familiar." Because they all seem familiar. And the titles are interchangeable. So I put it back on the shelf and went home empty-handed. And I sat there and thought, why do I know that title? And I poked around on the "blog" and saw that my friend McNeil had mentioned DARKER THAN AMBER as being particularly sexist. But as far as I could tell from my own "blog" I hadn't read it, and perversely I decided to get it and see if McNeil was right. And McNeil was right! In fact, I would argue that Travis McGee goes beyond (?) mere misogyny into a psychotic fear of sex. Now, of course, we can't confuse the author with his creation, but I would argue that McGee is presented as an aspirational character. "Jake leaned back on his heels and stared up at me, like a man admiring a tall building," is a typically modest self-description by our narrator. And now please forgive me but I'm going to quote just a smidgen of the misogyny so you won't think I'm exaggerating. You have been warned. Here we find catalogued McGee's disapproval of women who have had too many boyfriends: "she suffers a sea change wherein her juices alter from honey to acid, her eyes change to glass, her heart becomes a stone, and her mouth a windy cave from whence, with each moisturous gasping, comes a tiny stink of death." What! What kind of writing do you call that? Moisturous! Moisturous? It has a certain purple tone that KNOWS it has a tone (A CERTAIN PURPLE TONE sounds like the title of a Travis McGee novel)... hmm... a tone approaching parody, but wanting it both ways... what is called in the business "kidding on the square," as I was once informed by Rob Schneider. Ha ha! But "tiny stink of death"? That's one of the grossest phrases I've come across. And later McGee refers to a woman's mouth as a "round horror-hole," okay? A ROUND HORROR-HOLE. Wow, I'm forgetting the owl. Weren't we talking about owls? McGee says that the eye of a corpse is "like a cheap glass eye in a stuffed owl." And you know what color that eye is? "Darker than amber," that's what color. So I was lying in bed reading this in the hotel room and Dr. Theresa was lying there too reading her own book - what a picture of contentment I am sure we made! - and she said, "Hey! This has an owl in it!" The owl in her book, she said, flew right into an inn and caused much consternation and dialogue. So! I finished Travis McGee and started a book of Sam Shepard short stories I had picked up at Skylight during one of our jaunts across the city. And in the very first story, some owls settle into a eucalyptus tree. So anyway that is a lot of owls in a lot of books for one trip. Speaking of Skylight Books! I ran into the actor Steve Little there, forced a copy of my most recent story collection on him (they had a couple of copies) and kind of harassed him until he fled the store. This is an accurate depiction of events. And speaking of Sam Shepard! So, T-Bone Burnett was one of the presenters at the Creative Arts Emmys, and I was determined to meet him at the ball following the show. And I did! Megan Abbott and I had been reading Sam Shepard's ROLLING THUNDER LOGBOOK, in which T-Bone Burnett appears, leading me to make the following brilliant remark to the distinguished musical icon of whom I have been a lifelong fan: "I saw a picture of you dressed up like a wizard!" (See above.) I'm getting everything out of order.
Let me check my jotting book and see which of my sparse jottings I've left out. Oh, went back to Dan Tana's and got the same booth. I was like, "Hey, I liked that booth when I was here before, can we have it?" And the maître d' was like, sure! "Karl Malden wouldn't sit anywhere else," he informed us. So here we are sitting where Karl Malden would be sitting were he still among the living. But he can't do a thing about it now! Photo by my brother. Well, I'm flipping through these pages and I hardly jotted anything, it turns out. I'm not sorry. On the plane ride to Los Angeles I was sufficiently convinced that my Biscoff cookie bore the face of a holy saint to request that Dr. Theresa take a photo of it, which she gamely did.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Kinda Scary

I half-watched some of a Frank Capra movie on TCM last night and I'm not gonna say it reminded me of David Lynch, even though it did, but I am aware that everything reminds me of David Lynch now because I just watched a lot of David Lynch.
(Megan Abbott did point out the IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE quality of the recent TWIN PEAKS finale.) But the title of the Capra movie I half-watched is A HOLE IN THE HEAD, which isn't comforting, is it? So Frank Sinatra and his little son are trying to sleep and Carolyn Jones suddenly appears in their window, dancing in her swimsuit and long gloves. It was supposed to be funny! But it struck me as eerie. Once again, this is all my own fault. Then Carolyn Jones shows up with a whole apple in her mouth and strikes a Laura Palmer pose:
The way Sinatra expresses affection for his son is to say he's gonna sock him or punch him or "flatten" him. He's consistently violent in his love imagery, but we never think he's really gonna flatten his son. At one point he says wistfully, "He's a funny kid, you know? I could beat him up, anything, leave him someplace, and I bet he'd still love me. Kinda scary." KINDA!
The background (and foreground) is filled with strange, silent animals, for which I choose this monkey that blows bubbles as representative. The monkey that blows bubbles is next to a photo of Eleanor Parker's husband and son, whom she matter-of-factly describes drowning together before her eyes. Frank Sinatra's little boy is immediately taken with Eleanor Parker because (I think it's obvious) she is like his dead mother come back to life.
She catches the little boy staring at her because she reminds him so much of his dead mother (I believe is the subtext) and gives him a sultry wink as he peeps at her from behind a porcelain dog. Oh, and Dub Taylor works the desk at Frank Sinatra's hotel, where they use the same kind of keychains you get at the Great Northern.
You know, I really have more screen shots than I know what to do with. You should see the ones I'm skipping. There was this disturbingly infantile character (below), a very poor man's Jerry Lewis, who, in his father's words, "runs to the toilet" whenever there's a customer in the store (the same father, Edward G. Robinson, who complains about his "underwear crawling up" on him, a complaint I do not recall hearing expressed so bluntly - or indeed at all - in any other 50s movies; does he say "crawling" or "creeping"? Does it matter?) and you know how much Jerry Lewis reminds me of David Lynch, even though this is not Jerry Lewis, just a tulpa.
I hardly know what to end with.
Well, here's a guy in a white dinner jacket with a pistol on a diving board. Moments later he will pretend to shoot himself in the head with a blank for a laugh, but I don't think that's where the title comes from.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Angry Driver and Other Hot Dogs

Ace Atkins told me that Joe Mantegna owns a restaurant where they serve a hot dog named "the Fat Tony," after Mr. Mantegna's character from THE SIMPSONS. Never mind how it came up. You know what? It comes up a lot. I don't know why we talk about it so much. Anyway, I decided to look on Joe Mantegna's imdb page and help him think up other hot dogs that could be named after characters he has played. I came up with 18 hot dogs I think I might order: The Angry Driver. The Indian Psychiatrist. The Jerry Finkelman. The Mr. Pan. The Crooner. The Mr. Stack. The Jimmy Blamhammer. The Desalvo. The Rocco. The Il Magnifico. The Gomez. The Rube Richter. The Bucky Terranova. The Sparky Smith. The Joey Zasa. The Bandini. The Harry Flugleman. The Sheik. This is more in the nature of a tweet, but it is too long for a tweet, and that it is why I put it here even though I don't "blog" anymore.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Accomplishing Something

So my friend from "She Blogged By Night" was tweeting about the seventies version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, which she watched recently, and suddenly I was flooded by memories, just exactly like Marcel Proust! I remembered things that have been buried in my subconscious for forty years. Shameful secrets! Ha ha! They were not shameful. But I remembered THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU as maybe the first time I ever saw a movie trailer and thought, "That movie is going to be great! I can't wait!" And then, when I saw the movie, I believe it was my first experience of this feeling: "Hey! I've been tricked by advertising! I didn't know they could do that!" I was old enough to know better, but I guess I didn't. For some reason, though, I bought the comic book tie-in. I tell ya, the ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU people must've seen me coming. They got all my money. But here's the thing... at the end of the comic book, Michael York is in a rowboat, I think, waiting to be rescued with the woman he loves, and she TURNS INTO A CAT! Or she gets, you know, sharp teeth and cat eyes, anyway. It's a shocker! And I didn't remember that from the movie. So for forty years I guess it's been in the back of my mind: did that happen in the movie and I missed it somehow? Maybe it was subtle! I put this question to "She Blogged By Night," who reported that no, the movie does not end that way. Thus was a forty-year burden eased from my shoulders! BUT! She also told me that they apparently DID shoot that ending (see below), though it was scrapped, and that furthermore, there was another proposed ending in which that character, we'll call her the Cat Woman, gives birth to a kitten! You know, in all the years since the invention of the "internet," I could have looked this up for myself, but I forgot I ever wanted to know the answer until the "internet" reminded me. I feel like the "internet" has finally accomplished something. I don't "blog" anymore but this seemed necessary to report.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The Kings of Silence

So! I know I keep telling you how David Lynch is like Jerry Lewis ("click" this "link" or this "link" or that "link") but when I saw Bill Boyle at City Grocery Bar yesterday he had another way that David Lynch is like Jerry Lewis. Bill is rewatching THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and finds himself particularly taken with its long stretches of painful silence. I have noticed these before! In an article I wrote about Jerry Lewis, as a matter of fact, I referred to the very same "two full minutes of tense silence" from early in the film that recently earned Bill's rapt attention. This is related to Jerry's tendency to elongate a gag past any normal human boundary or recognizable shape. But never did I think - as Bill did! - to consider its relationship to some of the scenes in the new version of TWIN PEAKS, such as when (is this a spoiler?) a guy unexpectedly sweeps a floor for more than two minutes or a French person puts on her shoes. So that goes on my list of ways that David Lynch is like Jerry Lewis. Thanks, Bill! Bill also sent an appreciation that Martin Scorsese wrote, in which we learn, among other things, that Jerry directed parts of THE KING OF COMEDY. (Pictured, Dean Warfield staring at Julius Kelp in pained silence.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Movie With a Book In It With an Owl In It

So I was watching DOCUMENTEUR by Agnes Varda and the mother and son start talking about a book they read about an owl who makes tea out of his own tears, and he has a list of sad things he thinks about to make himself cry enough to make a pot of tea. Despite some halfhearted "googling" I have not determined whether this is a real book or an invention of Agnes Varda, so I regret to inform you that I cannot at this time put it on my big long list of books with owls in them... however, I can say that - while being charming in its own right - this owl crying into his teapot business puts me in mind of one of the least pleasant subplots of the Thomas Harris novel HANNIBAL, which I bought at the Atlanta airport and read on an airplane back in 1999, yet to this day I remain astonished by the number of typos I recall. Never, to my recollection, have I run across a professionally published novel containing so many typos. You know I like everything! Yet somehow that book made me feel so bad - some flaw within myself, no doubt! - that I purposely left it behind in a San Francisco hotel room, an act for which I still feel remorse, what a horrible surprise for somebody. (I left some Bukowski novel - was it POST OFFICE? - in a New Orleans hotel room for similar reasons but I guess I don't feel so evil about that.) As long as you are here I should tell you that Ace Atkins and I finally went back to Costco yesterday. I saw "a fourteen-pound tub of violet decorative cake icing," as I put it on twitter. Although! In reality I saw several fourteen-pound tubs of cake icing, some orange, some green, some pink. I don't know why "violet" struck me so particularly. I did wonder - as I remarked to Ace on the way back - why there is only one color per tub. That seems like a rip-off! I think they should go in there and arrange it in three stripes, like Neapolitan ice cream. Though no doubt you get a good price on a fourteen-pound tub of cake icing, so who am I to argue?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Owls and Aliens and Snakes and Stuff

Adam sent me some comic books in the mail! So I was happy. One of these characters goes underwater and has a vision, and I thought, "Are those owls?" But whatever he was seeing, their heads looked rounder than I thought an owl's heads should look. But then I closed my eyes and pictured some owls, and sure, I could think of some owls that have round heads. In fact, I was 99.9% sure that this guy was underwater having a vision of some owls. But .1% of me was like, "What if they're supposed to be pigeons?" But I was going to go ahead and say that this book has owls in it anyway, and put it on my widely celebrated list of books with owls in them. And let me stress that the problem was mine, not the artist's! Plus I was like, "Pigeons can't be in a mystical vision!" Why was I shaming pigeons? Aren't they kinda like doves? And doves are in mystical visions all the time!
My sliver of lingering doubt was laid aside when I came to this panel a few pages later, and it is why I can report with 100% confidence that DUNGEON MASTER: BOOK ONE by Joe Daly has owls in it. Looking back in the morning light, I can totally see that they are owls, I mean, it's not even a question! You can tell by the way they're standing! I guess the problem is I don't trust my own eyes. Another reason I should have known they were owls is that I was vaguely reminded of an illustration from Emile Grillot de Givry's anthology. None of this is your problem!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

God Made the Sky Dark

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore, but Jerry Lewis died! And then McNeil called to talk about it: "God knew it was going to happen and that's why he's making the sky dark tomorrow. I bet there was an eclipse the day before he was born too! I'm going to look it up when I get off the phone. It's called research and that time is tax deductible." All of this said McNeil.

Jerry 101

I just heard that Jerry Lewis passed away. Dr. Theresa and my pal Phil Oppenheim alerted me simultaneously. I feel terrible! I am going to try to update an old "post" that had ninety introductions to Jerry Lewis for the curious. I am going to try to find eleven things to add so I can call it "Jerry 101." [As a work meeting was coming up as this "post" was being typed, several, though not all, of the hastily retrieved final additions may be of a lesser quality. - ed.] 1. How is Edgar Allan Poe like Jerry Lewis? 2. For that matter, what would Kierkegaard say about Jerry Lewis? 3. Bob Dylan got "deeply into" Jerry Lewis. 4. Jerry was a hero to Richard Pryor. 5. Jerry shares expressionistic instincts with iconic rappers. 6. He made Orson Welles laugh. 7. Freudian aspects of Jerry. 8. He played a gig with Thelonious Monk. 9. A trusted method of immersing yourself in Jerryness. 10. Don't believe me? Take it from bestselling novelist Laura Lippman! 11. Don't believe Laura Lippman? Perhaps famed method actor Edward Norton is more to your taste. 12. Consider Jerry Lewis as the forefather of David Lynch. 13. So can it be a coincidence that Lynch was cast in a part originally written for Jerry Lewis? (See also.) 14. As muse to hardboiled Don Carpenter. 15. Jerry's spectacular use of color. 16. Jerry is the inventor of anti-comedy, his aesthetic also appropriated by the cinematic underground. 17. Read the great Jerry monograph by Chris Fujiwara. 18. Jerry a hero to Michael Palin of the Monty Python comedy troupe. 19. Jerry an inspiration for the British version of THE OFFICE that everyone used to love so much. 20. Jerry makes me think of the French painter Henri Rosseau. 21. Do you think Jerry is redundant? No, he is "unfolding redundancy." Joke's on you! 22. Do you like Godard? Well, Godard based some of his scenes on Jerry Lewis scenes. Like this and that. 23. Some maintain that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY would have been better with Jerry in it. 24. Speaking of which, was Jerry an influence on Boorman's groundbreaking POINT BLANK? I don't know, but he should have starred in it. 25. How about that prescient scene in THE BELLBOY that anticipates Scorsese's THE KING OF COMEDY? Or the possibly relevant fact that Jerry directed parts of THE KING OF COMEDY? 26. The Cinderfella dance! 27. Jerry frequently appears in THE BELIEVER magazine, if that's your cup of tea. 28. I intuit a connection between Jerry and J.D. Salinger. 29. And supposedly Salinger considered Jerry to direct the movie version of CATCHER IN THE RYE, maybe. I said maybe! 30. Jerry's influence on GOODFELLAS. 31. Jerry Lewis is part of Philip K. Dick's mystic vision of the entire universe. 32. You should watch lots of Jerry Lewis so you can practice the fun habit of saying things like Jerry Lewis. 33. Even nature itself aspires to sound like Jerry Lewis. 34. Jerry Lewis is a good singer. 35. Maybe you identify with Jerry's world-weary attitude. 36. He hung out in a diner with Marilyn Monroe. 37. Blair Hobbs detects an aesthetic kinship between Jerry and the photographer William Eggleston. 38. Jerry was an inspiration to Bruce Springsteen. 39. Think of Jerry as a poet. 40. Need a dissertation topic? How about "Medical Ethics in the Films of Jerry Lewis"? 41. In a hilarious practical joke, Jerry ruined Dick van Dyke's meeting with the queen! 42. Jerry was instrumental in getting the great Stan Laurel his honorary Oscar. 43. Jerry is handsome! 44. Maybe you are a "conspiracy theory buff." Well, for real the CIA tampered with one of Jerry's movies. 45. Maybe you're an animal lover. Well, Jerry bought a hearing aid for his dog. 46. Jerry is subversive! 47. Quentin Tarantino + Jerry Lewis = True Love 4ever. 48. (Maybe because he anticipated one of Tarantino's more radical and disruptive narrative decisions by 40 years.) 49. Does he irritate you and make you uncomfortable? MAYBE THAT'S JUST WHAT JERRY WANTS! 50. For example, he once stuck his nose in Frank Sinatra's eye. 51. And took some of the starch out of Tony Curtis by flicking ashes on his jacket. 52. Jerry is complicated. He "both depicts and manifests inadvertent disclosure." - J. Hoberman. 53. Jerry's influence on the Beastie Boys. 54. Jerry appears in works by acknowledged comic geniuses John Hodgman and Michael Kupperman. 55. But perhaps you prefer authors from Mississippi, a chunk of land with a notable literary history. If so, you should be aware that Tom Franklin and Frederick Barthelme have put Jerry Lewis in their well-regarded "Mississippi" novels. 56. So has Don DeLillo, though he is not from Mississippi, nor are his novels set there. 57. ARE you a historian, by the way? Then consider Jerry's breakup with Dean in its implications as "a national trauma." 58. Francis Ford Coppola cites Jerry as an influence. 59. Which reminds me: I recently read an interview that Scorsese did with Lewis in which he (Scorsese) cites THE LADIES MAN as an influence. I always assumed the scene in question was drawn from SATYRICON. But SATYRICON came out after THE LADIES MAN, so maybe SATYRICON was influenced by Jerry too! I just now decided that, while typing this. 60. Jerry's darker side a fruitful subject for literary speculation. 61. Speaking of which, John Waters said Jerry Lewis was "probably a monster!" Can there be a higher compliment? 62. Although (see previous "link") John Waters went on to praise his taste in costuming. So that subject is worth contemplation. 63. Though, intriguingly, to Waters's original hypothesis, Jerry repeatedly acknowledges the collusion of the innocent with the monstrous, especially within a single individual. (See also.) 64. Jerry's art provides some of the same challenges and rewards as Sun Ra's. 65. Jerry envisioned hosting Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Hoffa and Helen Keller on a talk show. I still want to write that play. 66. Fascinating undercurrents to his on- and off-screen chemistry with Dean Martin. 67. I wrote a pretty good article about him once if you can find it. 68. And this "post" is all right. 69. Try to solve Jerry's universal problem. 70. The complex transparency of Jerry's genius can be profitably compared to Brian Wilson's. 71. Jerry reveals the intrinsic flaws in the very notion of successful human communication. 72. Maybe that's why he's constantly "rewriting his own being." 73. But before he rewrote himself too much, here's a 13-minute clip of young Jerry at his brashest and most engaging. 74. Jerry's anarchic devouring of the hand that feeds him. 75. Maybe you are from the "dance world." Did you know that many highbrow choreographers turn to Jerry Lewis for inspiration? 76. Similarities between Jerry and the great Italian giallo director Mario Bava, if that's your thing. 77. Jerry is a model of tact and restraint compared to the makers of Jason Bateman movies. 78. As Jerry is, so you will be. As you are, so once was he. 79. Jerry, like Elvis, was a target of snobbery and classism. 80. I mean, even when he ended the Oscar broadcast EARLY, the powers-that-be still despised him. He gets under "the man's" skin. 81. For example, when everybody in "the establishment" was dumping on Arthur Penn's BONNIE AND CLYDE, Jerry was one of the first to proclaim its greatness. 82. Did he inspire a character in a Wes Anderson movie? Probably not. But I think he inspired a character in a Noah Baumbach movie. 83. Touchstone for towering cartoonists Lynda Barry and Gilbert Hernandez. 84. Jerry deemed a subject worthy of the Savannah College of Art and Design. 85. Jerry cut short his formal education and set out to educate himself. 86. Jonathan Rosenbaum knows a lot about movies and he loves Jerry Lewis. 87. Tough-to-please James Wolcott likewise. 88. Camille Paglia seems happy about Jerry Lewis. 89. Even comedians who resist his influence must grapple with his legacy. 90. Jerry blurs assumptions about gender. 91. Hey, Sandra Bullock likes Jerry Lewis. 92. And John Sayles says "he did it all," though he was likely just being polite. 93. Jerry helps redeem the troubling "monkey riding dogs" trope. 94. Jerry advances clowning from sadness to rage. 95. Jerry's singing provides ballast in one of those ubiquitous "peak TV" shows that no one can get enough of. 96. Just the thought of Jerry Lewis makes someone laugh alone in a parking lot. 97. Jerry makes comedy of our basic existential choice. 98. See my AV Club interview on Jerry Lewis's literary influence, I guess. 99. Jerry of sufficient interest to narrowly escape being drunk-dialed by Cary Fukunaga. 100. Noted author Megan Abbott finds that watching Jerry is "akin to psychosexual quicksand"! 101. Appropriately at this moment, Jerry Lewis distracts me from James Joyce's elegiac short story, "The Dead," supplanting death with life!

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Dirty Glass

Dr. Theresa and I watched THE PARALLAX VIEW last night and I was happy to see Paula Prentiss. But then she was just in a couple of scenes! And I thought... she is always just in a couple of scenes! It's not right. Nor is it accurate, but I can think of many examples off the top of my head of the shameful underutilization of Paula Prentiss. THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE. CATCH-22. And that was without even trying hard. It's like the executives are afraid her presence is too vibrant. "We can't have the audience shielding their eyes from her vibrant presence the whole time! They won't be able to eat their popcorn!" Always the bottom line with those guys. I mean look at this lobby card. All you get is the back of her awesome haircut. I learned about I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE straight from the director's brother, Elvis Perkins, which I only mention because I just realized I have met three different people named Elvis. Is that odd? How many Elvises have you met? Maybe not three! Or maybe everyone has met a minimum of three Elvises. I'm sorry I brought it up. And we are getting off the subject. So when Paula Prentiss and Warren Beatty were having their big scene, of course the thing I was thinking was: "She has been a foil to both Warren Beatty and Bob Hope! That is an unusual range she has there!" [Though Bob Hope was the Warren Beatty of his day in at least one way. - ed.] Now, as you know, I don't "blog" anymore, but it seemed important to mention that shortly thereafter Warren Beatty goes to a rough, tough bar in the northern climes and arouses the ire of louts by ordering a glass of milk. Who could help but recall Bob Hope going into a rough, tough bar in the northern climes and ordering a lemonade? No one, that's who! And when Bob similarly arouses the ire of louts, he famously snarls, "... in a dirty glass!" Warren Beatty didn't think of that. And then he dies at the end of the movie. Score one for Bob Hope. (Though see also.) I will note that a tiny bit of inadvertent research reveals that Burt Reynolds's eponymous tiny child sidekick in the forgotten action-comedy COP AND A HALF goes into a rough, tough bar and orders a "milk... in a dirty glass," bringing everything together, especially if you recall that Burt's character in HUSTLE enjoyed drinking milk, too, though presumably in a clean glass. How could I NOT "blog" under such circumstances, with such a myriad of kaleidoscopic thoughts whirling around in my precious, delicate head? Like, I just thought of Leonardo Dicaprio's cranberry juice. I'm like a James Joyce character over here, thinking so much! And wait, don't they mention James Joyce in THE DEPARTED? Hmm, is it possible to think TOO much? "I can't believe he died!" I yelled during THE PARALLAX VIEW. "It was the seventies, who didn't?" replied Dr. Theresa with a jaded shrug. Anyway, I'm sorry I didn't say "spoiler alert" but it ruined the flow. These are the choices we make in life and some of them hurt people. Well, I might as well say Paula Prentiss dies too. I was in denial. I kept yelling, "Is she DEAD? Is she DEAD?" even though she was obviously lying there on a slab in the morgue. I really wanted her to hop up!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Shrugging Off a Dancing Ghost

So in this Shirley MacLaine memoir, Glenn Ford tells her that his house is haunted by the ghost of Rudolph Valentino, who moves furniture around and puts on tango records. Ford's wife Eleanor Powell is freaked out by the ghost but Glenn Ford is like, "Eh, it's fine." I paraphrase. Also - more pertinent to the "blog's" interests - this book has owls in it: some imaginary owls that Shirley MacLaine makes up in her head as she listens to Robert Mitchum tell about escaping from a chain gang. [POSTSCRIPT! Megan, double checking the original anecdote, reminds me that Ford "loved the presence," according to MacLaine. So my so-called paraphrase - and indeed the title of this "post" - is misleading.]

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Golden Rule

As is well documented, I don't "blog" anymore unless I stumble across something I should have put in my cigarette lighter book but didn't know about in time. So! Megan Abbott and I are reading a Hollywood memoir by Shirley MacLaine, and she tells about how Dean Martin "would light a cigarette with his solid gold lighter, blow out the flame, and toss the gold lighter from the window as if it was a used match." So! This naturally reminded me of something I DID put in my cigarette lighter book: the time Hal Needham maliciously tossed his friend's gold cigarette lighter from the window of a speeding car as a joke. If only I had known about Dean's habit. What a study in contrasts Dino and Needham would have made! As MacLaine notes, someone always retrieved Dean's lighter for him, whereas (Shirley MacLaine does not note this part; how could she?) the lighter of Needham's friend was seemingly lost forever. So Needham's act is more "punk rock" (I guess? Jon Langford once told me that being "punk rock" does not necessarily call for unmannerly behavior) while Dean's is ironic (maybe? I have no idea what I'm talking about. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't know about this in time to put it in the book). But I think we can agree that Dean is on firmer ground morally. I'm glad that's settled.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bread Shaped Like Owls

Look. As you well know, it is NOT AND HAS NEVER BEEN my responsibility to inform you of EVERY instance of an owl in any particular book. Once I tell you that a book has an owl in it, I am done, even if fourteen more owls show up later. It is really none of my business. BUT! I feel I owe you something in the case of Till Eulenspiegel, whose name means "owl mirror." Was that really enough, as I so boldly claimed? If a guy's name happens to mean "owl mirror," does that count as "an owl" for our purposes? Well, I am happy to inform you that this haunting question is no longer relevant, because I just read a chapter in which Till Eulenspiegel gets a job with a baker and starts making loaves of bread shaped like "owls and long-tailed monkeys." This drives the baker crazy for some reason. But bread shaped like owls definitely counts. In conclusion, Till Eulenspiegel easily sold the bread shaped like owls and long-tailed monkeys, nobody cared what their bread was shaped like, in fact they seemed to enjoy the novelty, I don't know why that baker got so worked up.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

These Aren't the Owls You're Looking For

I was watching that recent movie about Emily Dickinson and I could have sworn somebody said, "Bees in the lavender, and the lazy owl." Well, it didn't make much sense to me! First of all, bees and owls don't hang out at the same time of day. Also, that is a serious mischaracterization of the temperament of owls! Plus the scene had no obvious context for a line like "Bees in the lavender, and the lazy owl." But I was intrigued. "What a cryptic snatch of poetry!" I thought. Because sometimes Emily Dickinson just says her poems in voiceover in that movie, and in the scene in question the characters were so far away (pictured) I couldn't tell whether their lips were moving, my old eyes being what they are. And my ears aren't in such great shape either, I guess, because when I scoured my COMPLETE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, I could find no such line anywhere. I did find an owl, though not the one I was looking for, as you might have guessed, because I famously don't "blog" anymore unless I find a book with an owl in it. So in case you were concerned, I am pretty sure no one in the movie said, "Bees in the lavender and the lazy owl." [POSTSCRIPT. According to a single online source, a line of dialogue in the film indeed goes, "Bees in the lavender, then the lazy owl." While "then" makes more sense than "and," the "blog" stands by its belief in the superb work ethic of owls. - ed.]

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Important Musical Cigarette Lighter

Remember when I wrote a book about cigarette lighters? Neither do I! But last night I was watching a very good movie called FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (pictured), in which a musical cigarette lighter plays a pivotal role. And I know just where I would have put it in the book. As it stands, musical cigarette lighters got but a passing mention from your slipshod author. I should have been more thorough about musical cigarette lighters. Oh well, I'll try to remember that the next time somebody asks me to write a book about cigarette lighters.

Monday, July 03, 2017

You Eschew Froufrou Poo Poo

I was thinking about Richard Strauss's tone poem "Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche" and realized I don't really know much about Till Eulenspiegel himself. So I started poking around and was delighted to learn that Eulenspiegel means "owl mirror." So any collection of the Till Eulenspiegel tales might be said to have an owl in it, mightn't it? Sure it might. Why, look. Here's Till Eulenspiegel's supposed gravestone and he's holding an owl and a mirror over his head in case you don't get the point. During my idle research I stumbled on the website for that certain corporate behemoth, the name of which I never utter here. And someone had reviewed a collection of Till Eulenspiegel stories like so: "It seems like the punchline of every single story has to do with Euelenspiegel defecating on or in something or someone. That's it. That's the book's running joke. I suppose if you were an illiterate German peasant sitting around a hearth fire in the 1500s, you'd find these tales of feces and bad puns hilarious, but I didn't." I was fascinated to discover this living person who is so worked up about Till Eulenspiegel. And as you can imagine, he had inadvertently composed one of those "bad reviews" that made me want to read the book more than ever. For good measure, the reviewer rubs this salt in the wounds, though I hate to repeat it so close to our nation's birthday: "Of course, since a good majority of modern Americans are probably less sophisticated than an illiterate German peasant from 400 years ago, perhaps Till Eulenspiegel is due for a comeback. Hollywood could cast Johnny Knoxville... and he could crap all over American audiences, who will double over with laughter at every fart noise." Sold! I was naturally drawn to this reviewer's other reviews, which form a kind of epistolary novel or Robert Browning poem, in which you get to know the narrator by filling in the gaps. It's like that famous intellectual essayist said in his manifesto that time, we don't need novels anymore. Did he say that? It sounds like something somebody with a manifesto would say! Before getting into his one-star judgment of Folgers Classic Medium Roast Coffee Singles Serve Bags, our reviewer indulges in this bit of throat clearing: "I am no coffee elitist. I eschew status-conscious coffee drinkers and the frou frou coffee houses they frequent in order to be seen carrying green fringed cups emblazoned with quotes from left-wing icons." I've spent some part of my life trying to make up narrators who talk just this way, but I see once again that I am unnecessary. Also recommended: the same reviewer on the moral depravity of the Frankie Avalon movie BEACH PARTY.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Point We Have Reached

It's no secret that every book I read ends up having an owl in it, for which cause I am then obliged to add it to my big long list of books with owls in them. Now I would like to relate how I came upon the book I am reading now, and whether or not it has an owl in it (it does). So! A few days ago a book popped into my head for reasons I cannot fully explain. I couldn't remember the title. All I knew was that it was a ghost novel by Anne Rivers Siddons, and that Stephen King had said really nice things about it in an essay or article, maybe some years ago. I was at Square Books and poked around among the shelves but I didn't see anything that rang a bell. So! A day or two ago Pen and I walked up to that used book stall I like and there it was! No one had penciled in a price, so the man at the cash register insisted upon giving it to me for free. The whole transaction struck me as magical and mysterious! I know what you're thinking: this book is obviously cursed. I haven't read much of it. In fact, I can't even tell yet whether it's a ghost story (as I recalled) or an evil house story. I guess most evil houses have ghosts in them. That's not a scientific fact! But! Our narrator is lying in bed when she hears the "dreadful sound" of an owl. She starts tying "a knot in the corner of the top sheet." Her husband asks what's up and she says, "It's just something my grandmother always did. You tie a knot in the bedsheet when you hear an owl. If you don't, it means somebody is going to die." Now! As you may or may not know, I am a veritable dumping ground for superstitions. I collect and practice them all, compulsively! But here I have found the one superstitious ritual that I am far too lazy and uncoordinated to assay. There is just no way I am going to tie a knot in a sheet at any time for any reason. Is this a triumph at last of the rational mind? No, we have just reached the point at which my sloth exceeds my crippling credulity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Old Carnival Term

It is a universally acknowledged fact that I don't "blog" anymore. But I was watching some of FULL METAL JACKET, a side effect of reading a biography of Stanley Kubrick with Megan Abbott, when what dialogue should chime in my ear but "Where's the wienie?" It's the question of an editor who has just glanced through an article submitted by reporter Matthew Modine. I was reminded at once of another celebrity biography recently read by Megan and myself in an offshoot of our aptly named Doomed Book Club: one about Walt Disney, in which Disney on more than one occasion refers to the "wienie" in much the same way. He is, according to his biographer Neal Gabler, "borrowing an old carnival term" for something that will entice your intended customer "presumably the way a wienie entices a dog." At one point, Walt Disney shouts "It doesn't have a wienie!" at some flustered GE executives, who have "no idea what Walt meant." Of course, we are all familiar with a more common phrase meaning much the same thing: "the hook." Now, why am I telling you this? I'll be honest: I DON'T KNOW! But just look. Lurking behind Matthew Modine - at the very moment when his editor is asking him "Where's the wienie?" - are two Mickey Mouse figurines and one Mickey Mouse head. Coincidence? Yes. It seems unlikely that Stanley Kubrick knew or cared that Walt Disney used to like to go around saying "wienie."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Guitar Emotions

Stopped by The End of All Music yesterday and walked away with this treasure (see above). It wasn't until I got home and took the record out of the sleeve to play it and saw Jimmy Bryant's name on the label, frank, plain, and unclouded by unsettling clowns, that I thought, "Oh! Jimmy Bryant." I know his work with the equally nimble Speedy West. But somehow the name "Jimmy Bryant" was not what leapt off the cover. It is indisputably true that I do not "blog" anymore, but as this recording has such an obvious thematic connection to "Jimmy's Happy/Jimmy's Blue," a double LP I also found at The End of All Music and put forth for your examination in these pages (though that was a different Jimmy altogether), I thought it only proper to break my rule just this once. (Photo by Bill Boyle.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Great Forgotten Baby Actors of Yesteryear

Pen came over and we watched BARRY LYNDON. I know I don't "blog" anymore but after going on and on about the great baby performance in SUSAN SLADE how could I not correct my long and shameful silence on the subject of the great baby performance in BARRY LYNDON? This baby is very interested in the conversation that Barry Lyndon is having with his mom! And furthermore this baby is clear on his or her motivation in the scene. This baby wants some porridge! What are these people talking about that is so important that it is preventing this baby from getting some porridge? Such is the query brought forth by this baby's thoughtful and layered performance. And now I find I am compelled to mention for the present record the equally fine performance by the baby actor in ROCKY II. As the thought occurred to me at the height of my noble quest to stop "blogging," I merely "tweeted" ("click" here) that the baby in ROCKY II was the Spencer Tracy of baby actors, a remark that has stood the test of time.

Friday, June 09, 2017

A Satisfying Ululation

I was meeting Ace Atkins, Bill Boyle, and Tom Franklin at the City Grocery Bar at 4:02 PM, or as it is known around here, "Megan Abbott Time." But I was early so I stopped in Square Books and killed some time by taking the Flann O'Brien novel AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS off the shelf and idly leafing through it in a comfortable chair like a common thief of ideas. Now, you must remember that I read AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS back in that hazy time before I noticed that every book I read has an owl in it and must therefore be catalogued for the people of the future. So! Someone asks the legendary Irish hero Finn MacCool about what might be the sweetest music he has ever heard, and he rattles off a list of dozens of answers, many of which made me laugh, like "the whining of small otters in nettle-beds at evening... A satisfying ululation is the contending of a river with the sea." And somewhere in there was "the low warble of water-owls in Loch Barra." And I sat there for some time muttering it aloud so I wouldn't forget: "the low warble of water-owls, the low warble of water-owls." I don't know why I didn't ask for a pen and a scrap of paper. But when I got home I wanted to recall some of the other phrases too, so I got out my yellowed, falling-apart paperback of AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS and it was then that I also noticed, for the first time, Finn's tribute to "the long-eared bush-owl," which had somehow escaped me in the afternoon. At the end of his long list of pleasant sounds, Finn's friend says, "Relate further for us," and Finn replies, "It is true that I will not." Ha ha! (Pictured, the fanciful Ziphius, or water-owl, with a friend.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Flaring Eyes of Mice-Killing Owls

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore except in the extremely specific circumstance that Megan Abbott and I read a celebrity biography that has an owl in it somewhere. I can't say I'm a fan of the writing in this Stanley Kubrick bio. "At cocktail parties and sit-ins the air was filled with discussions" is a typical fragment. Maybe it doesn't rub you the wrong way! Nor can I explain what irritated me about this attempt to convey Kubrick's thrill-a-minute New York boyhood: "Comic books were ten cents, and a bakery featured chocolate eclairs and freshly baked rolls." I mean I could explain it but would you care? Okay then! But by the time I got to "the flaring eyes of mice-killing owls on the cedar trees" I just couldn't tell if that was good or bad. You win, author! You broke me.

Friday, May 19, 2017


As you know, Megan Abbott and I are on a steady diet of celebrity memoirs, which I tell you about only where there is an owl in one of them. So! Louise Brooks is widely read, and sprinkles her reminiscences with literary allusions, including a passing one to Edward Lear's nonsense masterpiece "The Owl and the Pussycat." PS I didn't even put "owl" in my search terms but here's Louise Brooks with an owl photoshopped onto her head. It popped up like magic.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How About an Apple, Chad?

As you know, I never "blog" anymore except when I do. For example, I am obligated to "blog" every time I read a book with an owl in it because it has to go on my big long list of books with owls in them ("click" here). A couple of weeks ago, I guess, I ran into Bill Boyle at Square Books, and you know how Bill is always recommending books. So I got the book he recommended and we went to the City Grocery Bar (pictured, with book), which is conveniently located. (Also pictured, a Benjamin Franklin pencil sharpener Ace Atkins gave me that evening.) So I've been reading this book and thinking, "Oh well, I can tell Lucia Berlin is not an owl type!" But suddenly last night she gave me some "ratty horned owls." And Jell-O, which is in the books I read almost as often as owls are. The Jell-O appears in the same sentence as the book of Deuteronomy, a good balance. I like those two proper nouns holding down a sentence from either end. I am also allowed to "blog" about THE BIG VALLEY. Hey! Remember when Heath really had a thing for apples in the first episode? So last night I was watching one in which this kid goes through a horrific tragedy, seeing his grandfather gunned down before his very eyes, so Heath is awkwardly holding an apple and he says, "How about an apple, Chad?" Apples are Heath's answer for everything! He also loves cleaning guns, especially when Audra is around, but not exclusively. I'm going to watch some more and make sure this is true. I'll tell you one thing, though. Jarrod is always staring into the fireplace. That's where he goes to stare!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Tinder of Our Wishes

Hey remember when my book about cigarette lighters came out? Me neither! But for a while there I would see something and think, "Oh, I should have put that in my cigarette lighter book. If only I had known!" But after a while you stop thinking that because you'd go mad. Mad, I say! But I just read AGNES GREY. To my surprise there were no owls in it, because those Brontë sisters are usually reliable purveyors of literary owls. The closest we get are some rooks who fly away as the sun sets: "For a moment, such birds as soared above the rest might still receive the lustre on their wings, which imparted to their sable plumage the hue and brilliance of deep red gold; at last, that too departed. Twilight came stealing on..." And I was like, "Oh, boy! Here come the owls." But there were no owls. Here's what Anne Brontë DID have: something I would have stuck somewhere in my cigarette lighter book, had I read it in time... "the flint and steel of circumstances are continually striking out sparks, which vanish immediately, unless they chance to fall upon the tinder of our wishes." I also enjoyed (this is unrelated) her elaborate conceit on the subject of a lonely glowworm. Anne Brontë is in great sympathy with nature. The same cannot be said for Arnold Schwarzenegger, I fear. We watched most of ERASER last night. You know, Dr. Theresa and I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I associate it with the very earliest years of our marriage. I did not recall the part in which Arnold is being pursued through a zoo by some bad guys, so he shoots out the glass on a tank full of alligators, and the alligators immediately begin eating the bad guys. "Don't they feed these alligators?" I wondered. Actually, what I wondered was "Don't they feed these crocodiles?" But I decided later that they were supposed to be alligators, for reasons that will soon become clear. So after the alligators eat the bad guys, one of them gets after Arnold, so he shoots it in the head. Hey, these alligators just helped him out! And isn't he responsible for them now? Doesn't he realize their terrible irony? But no, he just says, "You're luggage." That's what he says after he shoots the alligator. I found it unnecessary! First of all, the alligator is already dead. Second of all, even if the alligator was alive, it wouldn't be able to understand what you were saying. Third of all, why are you gloating? Even if forced into a situation in which she was required to kill an alligator (there is some arguable precedent in AGNES GREY), Anne Brontë never would have gloated about it! Fourth of all, why are you staying and making wisecracks to a dead alligator when there are more bad guys coming? In any case, his remark was in extremely bad taste. I decided they were meant to be alligators because I believe shoes and belts and boots and suitcases are traditionally made from alligator hide, not crocodile hide. I don't know the difference. I must sadly conclude by noting that Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in my cigarette lighter book more than once, poor Anne Brontë (as noted) not at all.

Monday, May 01, 2017

A Very Important Announcement

I can't believe it took me so long to watch the ending of THREE RING CIRCUS. I just got around to finishing it last night. So Jerry does a clown act with a tiny monkey. This is one tiny monkey, believe me. And it runs over and starts riding around in the sawdust on a tiny scooter and I was like, "Gee! They really found a tiny scooter to fit that tiny monkey. Look at him go!" This isn't the important part, but it was pretty great to see that tiny monkey really booking it on that tiny scooter. And he's wearing like a red silk diaper. Suddenly he's off the scooter and posing Burt Reynolds style in his red silk diaper. We haven't gotten to the important part. Now Jerry, for reasons I can't quite recall, picks up something like a bazooka and starts shooting something - maybe they're long foam tubes? - at the reclining monkey. It's all real harmless and Jerry misses by a mile anyway. Don't make me swear to what it is coming out of that bazooka. But one thing is for sure: that monkey needs to escape, and pronto. So he jumps up and hops on the back of a convenient dog we haven't seen before and rides away to freedom. That's the important part: THREE RING CIRCUS has A MONKEY RIDING A DOG IN IT! As I'm sure you will recall, I have mixed feelings about monkeys riding dogs. They (the feelings, and the monkeys riding dogs) even come up in one of the stories in my most recent short story collection MOVIE STARS, in which they (the monkeys riding dogs) symbolize... the futility of existence or something? I can't remember. But in this case I was okay. I even laughed! The dog seemed into it.