Monday, July 31, 2006


First, a couple of numbers:

2005 estimated population in Iraq: 26,ooo,ooo

Most recent estimate of civilian casualties in current conflict: 50,000

That last number, it should be pointed out, is an extremely conservative estimate. Also, it goesw back a ways, well before the current round of unimaginable violence, in which people are dying in the hundreds every week.

Not all of these people were killed directly by US forces, of course. It seems safe to say, however, that they died as a result of the US presence in Iraq, that in the continued stunning ineptitude of Bush and Rumsfeld's occupation, they have unleashed pure and unimaginable chaos that has led directly to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. And they don't care.

And neither do we, because it's happening so far away. We care if an American dies, if a soldier is ripped to shreds or a reporter is beheaded, then we call the people who do that barbarians, but the people who drop bombs on restaurants and blow up orphanages, we have no issues with that. It's war, and sometimes bad things happen. As long as they don't happen to anyone on our side.

As we sit back and let this spectacle unfold, as we wonder why so many Arab nations hate us, as we make no effort to even understand why 9/11 happened, we only guarantee that it will happen again.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


There's an upcoming DVD release called Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier which will contain both the original theatrical cut of Francis Coppola's semi-masterpiece and his mostly dreadful 2001 re-edit, Apocalypse Now Redux. Plus tons of extras, including additional scenes which, mercifully, Coppola has not cut back into the body of the film.

I was a freshman in high school when Apocalypse Now first fried my mind, the perfect age to be dazzled by its attempted profundity, its shout-outs to Joseph Conrad and T.S. Eliot, its allusions to The Golden Bough, its dazzling cinematics and awesome sound design. As soon as I saw it, it seemed like the greatest thing I'd ever seen.

It's still a movie I hold in high regard, but I'm no longer convinced of its greatness, which stems in no small part from the fact that Coppola's 2001 cut of the film suggests that he didn't even understand his own work. Some of the scenes he cut back in clarified aspects of the old film, but they'd never been missed, and he added one whole sequence which brought the whole thing to a dead halt. He'd transformed Apocalypse from a flawed masterpiece to a watchable mess.

Unfortunately, he's not alone. The rise of the DVD format has inexplicably coincided with an explosion of so-called director's cuts, which usually means a few extra scenes are back in the movie. This has resulted in expanded versions of the likes of Saving Silverman, movies that weren't worth seeing in the first place, or the addition of comic book tags in Walter Hill's The Warriors, a movie from 1979 that didn't need any "improvements."

The most notorious example of this trend is the CGI-heavy "special editions" George Lucas made of his original Star Wars trilogy. At the time of their release, Lucas claimed that the original theatrical versions of these pictures would never be seen again, and the "improvements" he'd made suggest that Lucas also didn't understand what made his own work so popular.

Lucas has relented and is releasing the original theatrical cuts on DVD, but reportedly in fuzzy, non-remastered versions, pretty much a fuck you to his fans. His claim is that this is the best these movies can look, because he himself destroyed the original negatives. If this is true--a big if--Lucas is officially batshit insane. These are three of the most beloved movies (okay, two of the most beloved movies, plus Return Of The Jedi) of all time, and historically significant; if he destroyed the negatives on a whim, he clearly has no respect for the art of film.

Is there any other medium in which artists screw around with their work after its out there? Yeah, I know there are "corrected" versions of Beethoven scores and Faulkner manuscipts, but the basic cannon stays the same. Eugene O'Neill didn't undergo therapy and rewrite Long Day's Journey Into Night, and Mozart never wrote The More Magical Flute. And if they had, we'd probably think less of them.

Artists are human; their work is flawed. I hate the last scene in Meet Me In St. Louis, the psychiatrist's explanation almost ruins Psycho, and I wish Stanley Kubrick had recast most of the supporting players in A Clockwork Orange. But the movies are what they are, and we in the audience can accept this, and love them all the same. If only their creators could do the same.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


1. Usually, though not always, I try to find some appropriate song lyrics to use as the title of my posts. In this case, I'm riffing on the title of Michael Nesmith's Some Of Shelly's Blues, and substituting the name Larry, in honor of the dreadful column Larry King used to write for USA Today, which was not so much a collection of random thoughts as a collection of random sentence fragments. (I like clam chowder...If you look up underrated in the dictionairy, you'll find a picture of Cal Coolidge...Morgan Fairchild is a special, special lady...) By invoking Larry King's name, I figured it would be a clever wy of tipping that this was yet another Random Thoughts column. But since I'm having to explain it, it wasn't really all that clever and...forget it.

2. As the above paragraph might suggest, I have not been feeling well lately. Thursday I started feeling lightheaded, and a co-worker mentioned that sweat was pouring off me, even though we were in an air-conditioned building. This combined with the fact that a routine doctor visit on Wednesday revealed that my blood pressure had gone up considerably, even though I'm on medication to stabilize it, has me a bit alarmed. I'm assuming that all of this is somehow related to the weather, which is punishingly hot, with no real relief in sight. And even though similar patterns of unbelievably warm weather are occuring worldwide, there's no such thing as global warming, so I don't want to hear about it.

3. Which reminds me of the ads for An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's global warming slide show. Not surprisingly, this isn't a movie that can be sold on its entertainment value, but the hectoring tones of the print ads is infuriating. The current campaign lists recent high temperatures worldwide, then notes, "Wonder why this is happening? See An Inconvenient Truth." I think we know without Al's explanation, thank you. Far worse was the ad from a few weeks ago, saying in essence that when future generations ask you what you did to stop global warming, you won't be able to look them in the eyes unless you see this movie. It wasn't quite that extreme, but close. It suggests a whole approach to marketing: Buy this or feel guilty.

4. I haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, and don't intend to. Partly this is because I fear that by buying a ticket, the Democratic Party will somehow take this to mean that I endorse Al Gore, and try to persuade him to run for president again. Mostly I'm avoiding it because I do not like Al Gore. I remember all too well the spectacle of the man's debate with nutty bazillionaire Ross Perot on Larry "I like clam chowder" King's show when the Clinton administration was trying to ram NAFTA down America's throat. Perot was against NAFTA, and though some of his arguments were borderline racist, his main point was solid and, unfortunately, prescient: NAFTA would encourage companies to relocate to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor, thus cutting hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S., and consequently doing a number on the working class. Gore's response to this, delivered in the smug, I-know-everything tone that probably killed his presidential bid, was a variation of the Reagan-era "a rising tide lifts all boats" theory. Sure NAFTA would be good for CEOs, but we all know they're altruistic and would take care of their hard working employees, right? Right?

5. It wouldn't be a Random Thoughts post without a mention of my cats. Delmar has taken to yowling at 4 AM, so even on mornings when I can sleep in, I can't sleep. Monika's new thing is bumming food off me, literally holding a paw out while I'm eating in a brother-can-you-spare-a-dime pose. Nice to know I've acquired a fuzzy gray Ratso Rizzo.

6. I like clam chowder.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Of all the things in all the world that I've ever experienced--people I've known, places I've been, things I've seen--there is nothing, nothing, nothing that I love more than the 1952 Warner Bros. cartoon Feed The Kitty. In just under seven minutes, the great director Chuck Jones and his ace team of collaborators tell the story of the unlikely bond that develops between a gruff bulldog named Marc Anthony and a stray kitten he adopts. This cartoon is by turns joyous, hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking. The expression on Marc Anthony's face when he thinks his buddy has been killed--baked into a cookie, in fact!--makes me weep uncontrollably every time I see it, and believe me, I've seen it plenty.

I'm not just crying out of sadness--there's a joy I feel watching this film, an exhiliration from seeing artists in their prime, an admiration for the range of emotions Jones and his animators--Phil Monroe, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam and the peerless Ken Harris--could conjure from lines drawn on paper.

It's impossible for me to remember a time in my life when I wasn't devoted to Warner Bros. cartoons--they aired constantly on TV. I certainly don't remember the first time I saw Feed The Kitty. It's as though I came into this world loving it. I wasn't very old when I realized that Warner Bros. cartoons were better than any other cartoons I was seeing, and that most of the ones I liked best (like A Bear For Punishment or From A To Z-z-z or The Hypocondi-cat--do you have all day? Because I could keep this up all day...) had the name Chuck Jones on them. I was seven, eight. I had no idea what a director did, much less a director of animation. But as I watched Jones' work, I noticed certain formal qualities to his work, not just of character design and animation, but in staging of scenes and portrayal of character, that stood out. So in a very real sense, most of my education in the things that matter to me--film, animation, art in general--came from Chuck Jones.

I'm mentioning all this mostly because the animation community is in a bit of an uproar over a review by Mick LaSalle in The San Francisco Chronicle of the new movie Monster House. This was animated--no, that's not the right word--this was made using a process called motion capture, in which live actors are filmed wearing goofy full-body suits covered with dots, which are then fed into a computer to capture realistic movement. This process doesn't exactly eliminate animators, but it does reduce them to mere technicians, filling in the details over what is already there, rather than creating something wholly from their imaginations.

To LaSalle, this technology is a breakthrough--finally animation can render complex emotions! His example of the wonders of motion capture is so patently ridiculous--"If an actor is bug-eyed, the character will be bug-eyed"--it makes you wonder if LaSalle has ever seen any hand-drawn animation in his life. (A cartoon character with bug eyes? I've never heard of such a thing!) Unfortunately, many film critics for major media outlets these days have no real understanding of the basics of filmmaking. Clearly, LaSalle either read a press release or did an interview with someone or was in some way told that motion capture was the New Great Thing, and he believed it. Not a big deal, in and of itself.

Problem is, a lot of other people seem to believe it. In Hollywood, hand-drawn animation really is, for all intents and purposes, a thing of the past. Kids are into computer animation, according to studio heads, and won't sit still for that "old-fashioned" stuff. An odd assumption, since hand-drawn animation is still popular on TV and DVD. For that matter, the first artistic medium most kids use is still a pencil or crayon, not a mouse and a keyboard. It might be nice for kids to grow up appreciating how eloquent a simple line on paper can be. That's the sort of thing that could actually fuel imaginations, instead of providing the empty sensation of the likes of Monster House.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Previously, I've mentioned the refusal of my insurance company to provide coverage for a colonoscopy if it was a medical neccesity, but willingness to do it as a routine procedure, which dumbfounds everyone I tell. (The reaction is generally along the lines of, "Then why do you even have insurance?")

Since I was going to the doctor today anyway (Foot problems--I shattered the heel in my right foot and have a steel plate instead of bone. Don't let this happen to you.), I thought I'd call the insurance company again, just to double check that what I was told was in fact true.

Guess what? It's worse than I thought! They still won't pony up the dough if it's a diagnostic procedure--if, in other words, my life may actually depend on it--but for a routine procedure, they'll pay the doctor's bills 100%. That is, they'll cover the costs the doctor will charge to read the results. But as for the procedure itself--Ha! First, I have to meet a thousand dollar deductible, THEN they'll still only pay "up to" 60% of additional costs.

In other words, I'm shit outta luck.

The chilling thing is, when I mentioned this to the doctor, he just sort of shrugged and said, "That's unfortunate, since it tends to be an expensive procedure." Clearly, this is a situation he knows all too well.

I have a nothing job, but it's one that allows me a certain amount of flexibility, and one that doesn't follow me home at night. With a job like this, I don't expect an awesome benefits package, but why even bother offering insurance that doesn't pay for fairly basic medical needs? It would be different if the coverage, lousy though it may be, was provided free of charge by my employer...but it's not. I pay.

In every possible way.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Well, according to my own loosely-enforced traditions, Tuesdays are the days for me to suggest new DVD releases. The problem is, the most interesting new discs out today I haven't seen. Chances are, the double bill of Peter Watkins' The War Game and Culloden is really great, and I'm sure Michael Powell's A Canterbury Tale could make strong men weep. But I haven't seen them. Oh, we do have three reissues from Eurotrash auteur Jesus Franco, including the wonderfully-titled Kiss Me, Monster, which I have seen...but I can't remember a thing about it.

So instead I'll steer you towards two of my all-time favorites. They have nothing in common, but both effortlessly manage to do one of the hardest things for any movie: find a perfect tone and sustain it all the way through.

First up: Pee Wee's Big Adventure. This is one of the best comedies ever made, and that's due, I think, almost entirely to the perfect direction of Tim Burton. True, Paul Reubens' Pee Wee Herman is a wonderful comic creation, and Reubens and his co-writers (Michael Varhol and the late Phil Hartman) crafted a funny, sweet script about Pee Wee's efforts to retrieve his stolen bike.

But it was up to Burton to make it work, to create a world in which a tight-suited man-child like Pee Wee could plausibly exist. So reality here is heightened, but we're not in the crazy world of Pee Wee's TV show, with its dime store surrealism. Instead we take a road trip through an imagined American southwest and meet some broken, eccentric dreamers. The key is the tone: this is a genuinely sweet-natured movie. True, there are some dirty jokes, but it's an eight year old's idea of naughtiness. A lot of movies these days seem to be aimed at kids, but this is a rare movie that assumes kids are intelligent.

The other movie to talk about is Meet Me In St. Louis. Produced in 1944, this is the type of thing I ordinarily hate: an idealized portrait of small town life, with a cozy period setting and an affirmation of traditional values. When MGM produced it, they were probably envisioning something along the lines of an upscale Andy Hardy picture.

Fortunately Vincente Minnelli was assigned to direct, and that made all the difference. He fought with studio brass to put more money into it, supervised rewrites of the script and assembled a superb cast. And of course, he brought his astonishing visual sense to every aspect of the film's physical production--I think this might actually be the most beautiful movie (in a visual sense) ever made.

Most importantly, Minnelli hits the right tone from the beginning, and never loses it. The material is the stuff of a thousand family melodramas, the sort of thing that could sink into formula or tip into sentiment, but Minnelli keeps the characterizations, the emotions, believable and true. Whatever the people onscreen are feeling, we feel, too.

For what it's worth, Pee Wee's Big Adventure was Tim Burton's first feature film, Meet Me In St. Louis was Vincente Minnelli's third. Burton's career is still ongoing, of course, and Minnelli's was long and (mostly) distinguished, and both of them would make movies far more ambitious than these early efforts, but never anything quite as good.When you achieve perfection early in your career, it's hard to top it later.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I don't mean to damn Strangers With Candy with faint praise by saying it's the funniest comedy of the year so far--after all, what competition has there been? In fact, Strangers--the story of Jerri Blank, 46-year-old former crack whore who decides to start her post-prison life over at the exact place she left off, by going back to high school--is one of the best comedies of the past few years.

Sharply written by its leads, Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, Strangers neatly avoids the seperate traps of many recent comedies: it's more than just a random collection of gags, but on the other hand, it's not so over-plotted that it actually expects you to care how its ridiculous story works itself out. The casting is perfect down to the bit parts, and Dinello, who directed, keeps things lively, and pulls off a number of tricky sight gags.

My enthusiasm for this movie is all the more surprising since it's a spin-off of a Comedy Central series from a few years back, and though I enjoyed the two or three episodes I actually saw, it didn't make that much of an impression on me. Yet according to Strangers afficianados, the movie fails to live up to the standards of the TV show.

This may well be true. Probably I wasn't giving Strangers enough of a chance when I watched it on TV, or more accurately, I just wasn't paying attention. It's easier to get distracted when you're watching a show on television, though I usually try to pay attention. I know the entire run of the series is now on DVD, and I would probably do well to catch up.

Still, the question remains: Why is a spin-off of a TV series funnier than 99% of the comedies that play in theaters these days? Why spend money, when you can stay home and watch The Office or Entourage or Reno 911? They'll make you laugh, whereas if you drop the dough to see, say, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, you'll just sit there dumbfounded. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I'm down in the laundry room of my apartment building at 6 AM, mercifully alone, free to flip through cable channels as I please. Of course, it's early on a Saturday morning, not much on. But three stories catch my eye.

The first is on CNN. It's a story about the escalating madness in the Middle East. Israel, not content to bomb the hell out of bridges and hospitals, is now trying to decide how many ground troops to send into Lebanon. Israel does not call their military an army, it's the Israeli Defense Force. Somehow the notion of invading a neighboring country doesn't strike me as a defensive move, but what do I know?

Our beloved president, meanwhile, tries to remain indifferent to a mess that was largely made possible by his own cowboy antics in Iraq. Hey, he's got no reason to talk to any of the parties involved, he has no official opinion. But Condi Rice is going to the region on Sunday, so there. You can't say the U.S. is just sitting back and letting people die by the hundreds. We're involved. Or at least we will be. Eventually.

The second item of interest was on some financial network or other, as a bunch of wall street types debated, in typical on-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that style, whether record gas costs would eventually have an effect on the economy.

What's to debate? The answer is yes. Sooner or later, since nobody seems willing to make any major changes in their driving habits, they'll realize that their wages aren't keeping up with the prices they're paying, and it may be gradual or it may be sudden, but they just won't be able to pay anymore. When it hits, this crisis probably won't be confined to this country. The whole world is likely to get dragged down on this one.

If we live long enough to see it happen, which brings me to the third story I saw this morning. A bland TV meteorologist from some NBC subsidiary network appeared on Weekend Today to confirm, in as upbeat a way as possible, that yes, we seem to be seeing record high temperatures pretty much everywhere this year, and hey, you know forecasts predict another freakishly warm winter, and gosh, ocean temperatures are unusually high, too, which could be something to keep an eye on with hurricane season coming and all.

Okay...could we get some context here, a reason why this is happening? No, this is a happy morning news show. This information is presented as an interesting tidbit, something to discuss over the water cooler. Context might scare you.

In fact, none of these stories were presented with enough background information to make it clear just what is going on here, but any sentient being can connect the dots: Israel's arrogance is fueled by knowledge that it is safely protected by the U.S., which will do anything to protect its oil interests in the Middle East. The turmoil in the region (accompanied by rampant greed, of course) is responsible for spiking gas prices, which will eventually cause the economy to flatline. Until that happens, we'll keep burning oil like there's (literally) no tomorrow, even though we know it's directly responsible for the terrifying changes in weather patterns.

But even though we know what's wrong, we won't change. We're a race of ignorant slobs who demand and receive instant gratification. We've fast-tracked our own self-destuction, and we're okay with that.

Friday, July 21, 2006


When right-wingers drone on about the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading elitists on the east coast, they actually have a point. Sort of.

Sure, they're a bit disingenuous: You think Bill Frist doesn't read The Times, or that Rush Limbaugh has never been to Starbucks? And by targeting "the media elite," arch conservatives are trying to make the point that being well-educated is in itself a form of snobbery, that learning facts and thinking for yourself is something that good, hard-working Americans wisely eschew.

Which is bullshit, but as I say, they're right about one thing: So-called progressives can be terrible snobs.

Case in point: A recent story on NPR's Morning Edition promoting (and "promoting" is the right word, since it was a pure puff piece) the new movie Clerks II featured the film's director, Kevin Smith, being interviewed by Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep. Since Smith's latest opus finds the slacker protagonists of Clerks still working blue collar jobs ten years down the road, Inskeep thought it would be depressing if Smith rejoined their saga ten years hence, and found them still working at convenience stores or fast food restaurants in their forties.

Smith, to his credit, was indignant, asking Inskeep if, when he stops by convenience stores in real life, he thinks the employees are losers, then going on to point out that this is how many people live their lives, sometimes by choice, sometimes not, just earning enough to pay the bills and have a little left over for fun.

A smug, self-satisfied self-promoter, Smith's sum total to world culture basically amounts to a fistful of dick jokes, but man was it nice to hear him nail this smug public radio douchebag to the wall.

Because Inskeep's comment was pure snobbery, betraying an utter contempt for the lives of millions of hard-working Americans. When you hear a prominent member of a well-regarded news-gathering organization say such a thing, it makes you wonder if that kind of attitude has an effect on what stories are covered, and what ones aren't. Big Media gave almost no play to the recent defeat of a (admittedly half-hearted) recent attempt in congress to raise the minimum wage. But why would Big Media cover it? It's impossible for them to imagine earning minimum wage, and impossible for them to care about those who do. Who cares about a bunch of proles?

Unless they're trapped in a coal mine, and only if they die.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Observations about my life with cats:

1. My cat Monika--fuzzy, gray, well over twelve years old--has, as I've previously noted, suddenly developed faint stripes along the top of her head and down her back. Now the fur on her back, which is very soft and feels like cotton, is suddenly growing in copper colored. I've never heard of cats who are solid colored suddenly growing stripes, much less spontaneously changing colors.

Monika's mom was a stray cat I adopted because she kept hanging out with my dog Elinore, and they seemed to bond. So I brought the kitty in the house, named her Roz turned out she was pregnant. So, little baby Monika was born. (Elinore was freaked out by the whole process.) Roz was definitely a cat, but what was Monika's father? Some sort of shape-shifter, perhaps? Does Monika carry alien DNA?

2. Delmar, my other cat, once beat a drifter to death with a bag of change. Nobody believes me when I tell them this, but then again, they've never had the experience of waking up and observing that you have stigmata, only to realize that no, Del's just been rending your flesh again while you slept.

3. Are all cat owners amazingly tolerant, or is it just me?

4. My ex, Sue Ellen, brought a cat into the marriage, beloved Scotchie, who immediately decided I was her bestest buddy in the world. (She was right, as it turns out.) Occasionally, Sue Ellen would mention the idea of getting another cat, to keep Scotchie company, and I would say no, she's an only child and I think she likes it that way.

Which was true, but I think the main reason I didn't want another cat was because I didn't want to share my affection for Scotchie. I thought if she saw me petting or holding another cat, it would break her fuzzy orange heart.

I've always felt the same way with Delmar. I'd had him for three and a half years, and ripping my flesh or gouging my eyes aside, he tends to act rather protective of me, and I thought there was no way I could aquire another cat. But I'd always told Mom if anything happened to her, I'd provide a home for Monika, so with her death, I got another cat.

Mostly, it's working out. They seem to get along. Occasionally there'll be a middle of the night tussle, but mostly they tolerate each other, and I've even seen them curled up together.

The sad thing is, it's changed my relationship with Del. He's never been an aggresively affectionate cat, which made his expressions of devotion--such as grabbing my hand between his front paws and holding tight--all the more touching. He doesn't do that any more. Monika is much more of a pet me-pet me-pet me cat, and does tend to beg for affection. So Del has withdrawn some. We're still buddies, and he's sitting at my feet poking his whiskers against my bare foot as I write this, but our relationship has shifted, and I regret that.

5. As Del pokes my foot, Monika, curled up in front of the door, opens one eye to observe. Her eyes are yellow-green, but if they suddenly were kaleidoscopic, or if she grew wings and breathed fire, I wouldn't be surprised.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Okay, I'm hoping this won't become a regular thing, because it seems really lazy, but man o Manischewitz, it's just too hot around here to even think coherently, much less write.

So again I'm posting song lyrics. This is Did You See The Moon Tonight? by Erin Moran (not the Erin Moran who played Joanie on Happy Days), who records under the name A Girl Called Eddy.

Did you see the moon tonight?
Did it shine the way I asked it to
By the time it made its way to
instead of me
inside your room tonight?

It will dance across your floor
Make you remember more
Than you might want to
But I want you to
Remember me...

If you see the moon tonight
I hope it finds you all alone
Maybe sitting by the phone
Kinda sad and glad to be unhappy
'Cause you're missing me
Like I'm missing you

If you see the moon tonight
Don't close your eyes
You might get a big surprise
I might just materialize
Then I could tell you that it's true
I'm the one who turned it blue
Just for you
Just for you...

The cynical among you might suspect that I'm posting these particular lyrics because I'm bitter about...the stuff I'm usually bitter about. Actually, the song happens to be on my mind because, even though I like A Girl Called Eddy's version (and it's her song, after all), I'm really struck by the Latin jazz spin Janis Siegel gives it on her new album, A Thousand Beautiful Things.

Well, that and there's someone who's stopped answering my phone calls, but I don't want to talk about it...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


There is so much shit flying around as regards the situation with Israel, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip that it's hard to know where to start, or to try to narrow this post down to a single relatively coherent strand.

(Though first I must make mention of team Bush's initial response, after six days of escalating violence, a spokeman said yesterday that the administration would "likely" dispatch Condi Rice to the Middle east "at some point in the future." The whole powderkeg's on the verge of exploding, and this is how the leader of the free world deals?)

Obviously, there's a lot of bad blood flowing in all directions here. Long standing grudges are coming into play. Israel is pissed at Palestine for electing a Hamas-based government, since Hamas is a terrorist organization devoted to the destrucion of Israel. Ah, but this government was democratically elected, by a people pissed off at Israel's bullying tactics along the Gaza Strip. But Israel's bullying tactics were as a result of Palestine...It goes on and on, an Escher print of resentment and denial, in which all perspectives are warped or non-existant.

So there's that. But for me, the real chamber of horrors here is the wrath-o'-God fury Israel is unleashing on Lebanon. Israel's rationale is that they are "defending" themselves, that they are under attack from Hezbollah, a terrorist faction based in Lebanon. Okay...but Hezbollah is not in any way sanctioned by the Lebanese government. Doesn't matter, according to Israel, because by not somehow reigning them in, the government is at fault. Therefore, Israel is justified in attacking Palestine. Not just attacking suspected Hezbollah strongholds, mind you, but deliberately targeting the very infrastructure of the nation, knowing full well the level of suffering this will bring to ordinary citizens.

It's a strange thing--on the world stage, to criticize Israel is to be branded an anti-Semite. So the world remains largely silent, suggesting that the Israeli government is--perhaps, just maybe--overreacting a little. Nobody seems willing to follow Israel's twisted logic to its obvious, chilling conclusion.

Namely, if an entire nation and all its citizens can be held accountable for the rogue actions of a few--who do not represent the government or its peoples--and if said accountability involves the deliberate murder of civilians, how is that honestly different from what happened on 9/11?


It's Bruce Campbell day in spades on DVD, with the release of boxed sets devoted to the complete runs of his two TV series The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. and Jack Of All Trades. The former, a western/science fiction/action/comedy extravaganza, ran on Fox in the mid-nineties, and features the erstwhile Evil Dead star in his physical prime, gamely attempting to play the straight man. The latter, a swashbuckling spoof, was produced for syndication a few years later, by which time Bruce had officially entered his doughy guy phase, and was putting ironic quotation marks around his every utterance.

Both shows have their strengths and weaknesses, but feature plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. I have a real fondness for Jack, produced by Evil Dead masterminds Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, but if you were only going to pick one, the best bet would be Brisco, largely for its wonderful cast (Christian Clemenson, Kelly Rutherford and especially Julius J. Carry). Never quite the great show it could have been, but still a lot of fun.

It takes a lot to trump Bruce Campbell in my world, but the really big deal today is the release of The Pee Wee Herman Show on DVD. This is the original incarnation of Paul Reubens' brilliant creation, an adult-oriented cabaret performance videotaped for HBO in the early eighties.

Let me be clear: I think Pee Wee Herman is one of the most inspired creations in comedy history. I loved Pee Wee's Playhouse (which featured many of the same performers as The Pee Wee Herman Show, as well as the talents of designer Gary Panter), and think Pee Wee's Big Adventure is one of the best films ever made. (Yes, I'm serious.) But for primo Pee Wee, The Pee Wee Herman show is all you need. I taped it off of HBO and wore out my Beta tape from watching it so many times, and I laughed every single time.

From Kap'n Karl's awkward romance with Miss Yvonne to Jambi the Genie's new hands ("Cool! Caucasian!") to Mr. and Mrs Jelly Donut's salute to Sly Stone to the evil hypnotist Dr. Mondo...this stuff is pure genius. Go buy it now! You wouldn't want to be like Mr. Bungle, would you?

Monday, July 17, 2006


Despite oppressive heat in these parts, I did venture out to see A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel. It was shot in live-action then rotoscoped into animation, but the actors--Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey, Woody Harrelson--all remain recognizable on-screen, which is distracting at times. (I think it would have worked better with a cast of unknowns, though Reeves is excellent.) Mostly, the trippy visual style works, and at least is a valid attempt at visualizing Dick's tale of identities lost to drug-induced paranoia.

A Scanner Darkly was a movie I actively wanted to see, which is saying something these days. We're more than halfway through the year, and the number of movies I've wanted to see--as opposed to things I saw on dates, or went to as time-killers, or whatever--is alarmingly low. I was looking forward to the Aussie western The Proposition and Robert Altman's A Prarie Home Companion think that's it.

The thing is, back in the eighties and for much of the nineties, I went to a lot of movies. (I had no life, clearly.) I was willing to sit through anything. John Hughes teenpics, Chuck Norris actioners, tragically unfunny Dan Aykroyd vehicles, I've seen a lot. I paid money to sit through Electric Dreams, for crying out loud. Electric Dreams! Lenny Von Dohlen and his talking computer--what was I thinking? (Do I still sometimes finding myself singing the title song? Yeah. So?) And Howard The Duck! (Though to be fair, I think in the eighties there was some sort of federal mandate requiring you to see a certain number of Lea Thompson movies.) And Willow! Kevin Pollack as a tiny sprite? I'm standing in line for that one! (And later, when it showed up on cable, would I watch it again? Sigh...I don't want to talk about it.)

Well, maybe I've just gotten a life, or have less disposeable income, or maybe I've just realized that life is too short. For whatever reason, the idea of spending money and actually seeing almost any mainstream American movie fills me with a sense of dread. And when I actually do see one of the fruits of Hollywood's vine--let's pick at random and say The DaVinci Code--I'm filled with an overwhelming despair that actually makes me think back nostalgically to a time when somebody in Movieland actually thought that what we as citizens wanted was a Lenny Von Dohlen vehicle.

Because, remember, however far it seems, we'll always be together...together in Electric Dreams.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


I stumbled outside at 6 AM this morning, and already it was incredibly warm and humid. When the cool part of the day is this bad, you know it's only going to get worse. So I'm thinking this is going to be a weekend to stay inside, soak up the air conditioning and enjoy some movies. The idea of doing anything else--well, it's too darn hot.

Too Darn Hot is also a song from one of the movies I'll be watching this weekend, the 1953 adaptation of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate. (By the way, shouldn't there be a comma in there? It's always bothered me...) Overlooked and underappreciated for years, this wonderful movie is finally starting to get the reputation it deserves.

The reason it was ignored for so long, apparently, is because it was an MGM musical that wasn't produced by Arthur Freed. For the tastemakers who wrote the official histories of screen musicals, the product cranked out by the Freed Unit in the forties and fifties equaled Real Class.

And a lot of good things happened under Freed's supervision. He gave Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen the go-ahead to direct On The Town (though the decision to gut Leonard Bernstein's score was also Freed's), which would lead to even greater things with Singin' In The Rain and It's Always Fair Weather. He brought Vincente Minnelli to Hollywood and produced virtually all of his musicals, an amazing list that includes Meet Me In St. Louis, two obscure personal favorites, The Pirate and Yolanda And the Thief (Am I the only one who thinks Lucille Bremer was hot?), The Band Wagon...It's a good list. Unfortunately, Freed was also responsible for an endless stream of Mickey-and-Judy snoozers, gaudy biopics of Great Songwriters and the occasional overproduced adaptation of Broadway shows.

So the fact that Freed didn't shepherd Kiss Me Kate to the big screen indicates MGM must not have had much faith in it, which might explain why it gets away with so much. There's a great number early on where Ann Miller performs Too Darn Hot, basically a song about how, before air conditioning was commonly available, sometimes it's just too hot to have sex. The content of the song apparently didn't ruffle the feathers of any studio bosses, but, in a concession to Good Taste, a reference in the lyrics to the Kinsey Report was changed to "the latest report!"

This amuses me, because they let stand the lyrics to Always True To You In My Fashion, which includes the line "Mister Fritz is full of Schlitz," both a scatological pun AND a reference to anal sex (ah, the Cole Porter wit!), and let pass the Tom, Dick And Harry number, which features Miller and three guys in tights unleashing a sexually charged dance while singing, "Dick-a dick, dick-a dick, dick-a dick!" As dick jokes go, this is about as unsubtle as they come (sorry), but no one at MGM caught it.

Those three guys in tights, by the way, would be Tommy Rall, Bobby Van and Bob Fosse, and one big reason why Kiss Me Kate has attained a sizeable following in recent years is because it features Fosse's first choreography for the screen. Hermes Pan, who staged the dances here (and who did an ace job), let Fosse stage his own brief duet with Carol Haney. The results are sensational, and were directly responsible for Fosse getting the job as choreographer on Broadway's The Pajama Game, which is to say, this is dance history in the making.

But everything is great in this movie. Leads Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson slogged through a lot of middlebrow crap in the fifties, but Grayson is surpisingly good here, and Keel is magnificent--this is actually one of the best comedic performances I've ever seen. And of course, boy, can they sing. (It's a guarantee: their duet of So In Love will break your heart.) Kurt Kasznar, James Whitmore and Keenan Wynn are quite funny in supporting parts, the story moves along, the Technicolor on Warner Home Video's DVD pops out of the screen. A real treat.

Oh yeah, and the songs. That Porter guy knew what he was doing.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Is there anything more depressing than a movie like You, Me And Dupree?

Well, yeah, the Bush presidency and Israel's two-pronged asssault on despised neighbors come to mind. I acknowledge that these depress me, and now move on.

So okay, for people who love movies, is there anything more depressing than You, Me And Dupree? Not that the movie is in and of itself any worse than any other piece of Hollywood product, but why is Owen Wilson doing this to himself?

Wilson is written about in the press as a member of a sort of Guy's Guy collective of comedic performers, whose frat brothers include the likes of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Wilson's brother, Luke. Can you think of a movie most of these guys have made recently that was worthwhile? Yeah, me neither.

What's sad is, all these guys are massively talented. Despite several hits, Stiller has yet to show on the big screen a fraction of the genius he brought to his late, lamented TV program, The Ben Stiller Show, which was regularly fall-on-the-floor funny. Vaughn was a memorably creepy Norman Bates in the otherwise misguided remake of Psycho. Black was lucky in that his only substantial hit, School Of Rock, was a pretty good movie, but he's already showing signs of falling into easy, lazy habits. As for the Wilson boys, Luke was absolutely heartbreaking in The Royal Tenenbaums, a movie co-written by Owen. In fact, Owen co-wrote three films with director Wes Anderson, including the wonderful Rushmore. Honestly, if you're capable of something like that, why would you waste your time doing shit like You, Me And Dupree?

Most of the good work these actors have done seems to be receding into the past. Of this bunch, only Ferrell seems to even be trying these days. True, his co-starring roles in The Producers and Woody Allen's underrated Melinda And Melinda didn't get a lot of attention, but they showed a willingness to diversify, to not just appear in lazy comedies made by your friends. (Of course, his upcoming Talladega Nights looks to be just that sort of movie, but if it's anything like Ferrell's Anchorman, it will have one advantage over most current comedies: it will actually be funny.)

What I don't understand is, why this is happening. In earlier eras, the level of success these guys have had would propel actors to take a few risks, to try new things and work with challenging material and strong collaborators. Instead, they tend to work with the usual suspects, supporting actors like Paul Rudd or Seth Rogan or Jason Bateman (all of whom are usually funnier than the leads) and maladroit directors like Jay Roach or David Dobkin, who can be counted on to supply absolutely no style or anything resembling a point of view.

That's the problem. These actors are so successful, they oversee every aspect of the movies they appear in, and they choose to appear in crap. There are brilliant comedic filmmakers working these days, like Joel and Ethan Coen, Alexander Payne and Noah Baumbach, but they make movies their own ways. If Vince Vaughn wanted play one of Alexander Payne's sad-sack protagonists, he'd have to resist his crowd-pleasing mannerisms and be willing to be a character...but he could do it. Ben Stiller could easily play a neurotic urbanite for Noah Baumbach, as long as he was willing to step outside his comfort zone.

It probably won't happen, though. Which is frustrating, because all of these guys are capable of doing great things. If only they'd break out of their little fraternity, which is starting to resemble a circle jerk, and take a look at how shitty their recent work really is, maybe they'd learn. Here's a hint, guys: If your agent sends you a script like You, Me And Dupree, first fire the agent. Then destroy all copies of the script, so it can't happen to anyone else.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Ah good--the CHECK ENGINE light blinks on the dashboard.

It's probably nothing. It's done this before, guys with greater knowledge than me have pointed out that it's not worth it to run the diagnostic, that light's basically just there to remind you of some recommended service. If there was really something wrong with the engine, I'd already know it.

I know this. Yet it's making me anxious, a gnawing, festering anxiety. The last time the light came on, I ignored it and it went away. My car was fine. No problem. But that was several thousand miles and what feels like another lifetime ago.

Crappy things seem to be happening to me at regular intervals these days. Big things, little things, they add up, slowly draining the joy from my life. Yeah, for now, I've still got my sense of humor, and I feel like as long as that's in place, I can survive anything.

I can't help wondering, though, how firmly in place that is. Am I one catastrophic financial or emotional blow away from losing it?

Or to put it another way: Do I finally spring for them to hook my car up to the computer? It's only seventy bucks, and while a couple of months ago, seventy bucks would have been nothing, money's a little tighter now. Yeah, I can afford it, but what if they find something seriously wrong? Can I afford that?

Or do I do nothing and continue to drive a ten-year-old car that has already developed a significant oil leak? And if the car goes kablooey, I'm well and royally fucked, since I need it for my job, and considering what my monthly bills look like, I'd be hard-pressed to afford a new (used) car.

I'm forty-one, and if, when I was younger, I ever imagined my life at this age, the vision was probably nothing like this reality. Probably I never actually imagined living this long, so in that sense I'm ahead of the game. But a tiny apartment, a crappy job, two cats, no girlfriend, no change to any of this in the forseeable future--no, that's not a future I would have imagined for myself, even in my grimmest moments.

It's the life I made for myself, though. College, feh, that was for elitists, I figured, or people who wanted to spend their lives as puppets of The Man. No way, I'd make my own life and march to my own music, even if I wound up marching straight off a cliff.

Still...I've never really gone off the cliff. Some wrong turns, unavoidable detours and unmarked cul-de-sacs aside, my life's journey has been largely satisfying. Right now I'm just cruising, I've been to the old familiar places and I missed the exit I meant to take, but it's okay, there will be other exits, and maybe they'll lead to places more interesting than wherever it was I wanted to go in the first place.

Still, I'd better pull off soon, before my life-as-highway metaphor springs a leak.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


1. Free Association? Hey, didn't they do Cherish?

2. My cat Monika is fuzzy and gray. Solid gray. When I had a house of my own, I literally painted the walls of the living room a solid gray, just to match Monika. Anyway, she's suddenly developing stripes. Very faint stripes, like the Shroud of Turin, but still, stripes. Where the hell did these come from? Twelve years of one solid color, now this?

3. It occurs to me that if I was fond enough of Monika to paint my walls in tribute to her, the fact that I left her in my Mom's care when I ran off to be with my then-girlfriend, later-wife, now-ex, probably makes me seem like a heartless bastard. I was looking for an apartment in Washington, Iowa, and the first one I found didn't allow pets. Why didn't I just keep looking?

4. On the other hand, after a few months in my own apartment, I just moved in with Sue Ellen anyway. She already had a cat, beloved Scotchie, and technically, she wasn't supposed to have pets, either. If I'd had Monika with me, we'd have really been pushing our luck. Plus, if Monika's been with me through the marriage, she'd have moved out to Maryland with us, and would probably still be out there. Anyway, I like Monika, and I'm glad, whatever the circumstances, that she's here with me again. Still--stripes?

5. When referring to my ex, I call her Sue Ellen, which is, after all, her name. Yet she's taken to calling herself Sudie, which sounds to me like a character from Where The Lillies Bloom. I remember her mentioning to me once that I could call her that, but I didn't take it seriously. (Heartless bastard, remember?) I told her she could call me Spats, but that didn't go anywhere, either.

6. The name Spats would be a reference to Spats Baxter, one of the characters played by George C. Scott in the very funny, now almost completely forgotten film Movie, Movie. It's a spoof of a 1930's double feature, half of it a gangster melodrams, half a musical extravaganza. It was written by Larry Gelbart and directed by Stanley Donen, two of the best at what they do. Man, I'd love to see it again, but it's almost impossible to find, and has never been on DVD. A crime, I tells ya, a crime!

7. I'm sorry...Did I really reference Where The Lillies Bloom?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Two new DVD releases of note today. First up, Joe Dante's contribution to Showtime's Master Of Horror series, Homecoming. Masters Of Horror was a good idea that mostly didn't really lead anywhere, an opportunity for terrific filmmakers like John Carpenter and John Landis--guys who once created big boxoffice hits but who seem to find themselves out of work these days--a chance to strut their stuff, albeit in abbreviated, one-hour form, and under the restrictions of TV budgets and shooting schedules.

Mostly the results have been disappointing, but Homecoming redeems the whole series, though tagging it as "horror" is a bit misleading. The premise: It's 2004, the presidential election is coming up and the slimy (though unnamed) Republican president will do anything to win. The unpopular war he's waging in an (also unnamed) foreign country may come back to haunt him as all the soldiers in flag-draped coffins suddenly rise up, determined to do their patriotic duty and vote.

Typically for Dante, Homecoming is very funny, but there's a bracing anger here that's new to his work, and very welcome. Though made for TV, it should be considered one of the best films of 2005, and after with George Romero's Land Of The Dead, was the second zombie picture of the year to use the undead to explore life in Bush's America. Sadly, these were among the very few non-documentary films to show any interest in contemporary life.

Also new to DVD is the second season of one of my favorite TV shows, The Rockford Files. Starring James Garner as reluctant private eye Jim Rockford, this is one of the most underappreciated programs ever, regarded by even its fans as nothing more than a vehicle for the smooth charm of Garner.

Well, it is that, of course, but so much more. For one thing, Rockford is a surprisingly complex character, a literal working class hero living in a trailer and hustling for jobs. Despite his easygoing manner, he's capable of real anger as he goes up against the machinations of corrupt businessmen or, in one memorable episode included in this set, the military. He's funny, he's tender, he won't even hold a grudge if you beat him up--just don't piss him off, or you will be sorry.

The other thing about The Rockford Files is that it never slipped into formula. Yeah, most episodes would feature a chase scene--it was actually in Garner's contract that he'd get to drive his Trans-Am as much as possible!--but you could never guess, in the first five minutes, where the story was headed. It might be a light hearted caper, a complex, Ross MacDonald-style mystery involving buried secrets, or a character study. Wherever any episode sought to take you, the trip was almost always worthwhile.

The Rockford Files really started to gel in its second season, and would only get better. Other than an interview with series creator Stephen J. Cannell, the DVD comes with no extras, and Universal Home Video continues to issue their TV library in crappy-looking prints, but at least the shows themselves are uncut, unlike the versions in syndication, so this is the best way to see them. And who needs bells and whistles when the show itself is this good?

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Well, here's the deal: I was most of the way through a lengthy post on the new Will Ferrell comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby when I somehow deleted the whole thing. D'oh!

Well, I'm not rewriting the whole thing. (The point was, it's funny movie, you should see it.) So here's my fallback move, posting lyrics to favorite songs. In this case, here are the lyrics to Richard Thompson's "She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair" from his magnificent 1996 album you?me?us?:

Midnight in her room
Music, incense and mirrors all 'round
By the light of the moon
Her silver dress slipped to the ground
Then she knelt like Saint Joan
And invisible armies attended her there
And her knife brightly shone
As she cut off her long silken hair

Trapped, I suppose
Lied, for my sake
Crushed like the rose
Picked by mistake...

O I knew it would come
I knew she would leave me
For some better start
O I knew it would come
She was too well-rehearsed in her part
And I measured my life
And my heart fairly broke with the sorrow and care
When she took down the knife
When she cut off her long silken hair

There are some who believe
O some who believe there are reasons to lie
And there's some who deceive
When the truth is right there in the eye
But I don't see why
In all of my life I've seen nothing so fair
And I don't see why
She cut off her long silken hair...


How awful is Superman Returns? Bad enough to make me nostalgic for Superman III.

Almost. Nobody could make any claims of quality for Superman III. In fact, it's just awful. But it's awful in a different, more interesting way than Superman Returns, and it's hard to imagine an oddball project like this even getting a greenlight these days.

Everything that seemed dreadful back in 1983 remains the same: Richard Pryor is shoehorned into this simply because he was a major boxoffice star of the time, and his tic-filled performance as a nervous computer genius manipulated by the bad guy drifts dangerously close to Stepin Fetchit territory. That bad guy, an ultra-rich industrialist played blandly by Robert Vaughn, has no personality whatsoever, and his scheme to control the world's economy...hell, I just watched the thing and I can't tell you what he was trying to do. There's no sense of menace, or urgency, no reason for Superman to be involved. Which is good, since Supes--or more accurately, Clark Kent--spends much of the movie back home in Smallville, rekindling an old flame, which makes us wonder why he's being unfaithful to Lois (and why Margot Kidder is barely in this).

The most annoying thing about Superman III is the obvious contempt director Richard Lester has for his material, and yet, that's the thing that today makes it most interesting. Once an exremely influential filmmaker, Lester's career had obviously gone into freefall by the early eighties. He had made such terrific pictures as A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Petulia, but by the late seventies a series of flops had led him into for-hire work. He was worked on the first two Superman installments in various capacities, and was credited as director on Superman II, although only about half of the picture was his own work.

Lester was on board Superman III from the get-go, though why he bothered is anyone's guess. He'd had good luck deconstructing familiar genres in the past, such as the anti-musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and the anarchic swashbucklers The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, but in those cases he seemed to have real love for his source material, even as he refashioned it to his own ends. Here, he seems totally at sea. Lester's touch is evident in some elaborately constructed slapstick and deadpan sight gags, as well as eccentric casting choices. (British comic Pamela Stephenson and jazz singer Annie Ross are always welcome presences, but what they're doing here is beyond me.) Some of his work here is elegantly staged, some is appallingly sloppy, but nothing he does seems to serve the material; viewers who plop down their money to see a Superman movie have a certain set of expectations, and Lester had no interest in fullfilling any of them.

On the other hand, Bryan Singer is so respectful of the material in Superman Returns that his movie is utterly lifeless, with no sense of fun whatsoever. It's like one of those all-too-respectable adaptations of Great Literature MGM ground out in the thirties and forties, but this isn't great literature, it's Superman. He wears tights and can fly. It's one thing to take a premise seriously--as opposed to taking a campy approach, as Lester did--and another thing to regard it with wildly misplaced solemnity, making The Passion Of The Christ look like a Mel Brooks film.

Comic book adaptations seem to be the new regular thing in Hollywood these days, and though most of them flat-out blow (The Fantastic Four, anyone?), they're not train-wreck bad like Superman III. These days, it's hard to imagine an eccentric like Richard Lester getting hired by a major studio to direct a big-budget franchise picture.

It's also hard to imagine an eccentric like Lester getting hired by a major studio to direct, period, and we're all poorer for that.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


The usual plans for Friday night: Not a damn thing. But an evening of sloth was interrupted by an email from my online dating service. Someone has emailed me. Her communique read, in part, that she believes in doing things spontaneously, she'd read my profile and I seemed "cool." And she left her phone number.

I called, we talked. "Allow me to be bold," she said. "Maybe we should meet tonight." Um, okay. "What's your favorite spot that you haven't been to for awhile?"

Well, if I haven't been there for awhile, it's probably not a favorite spot.

"Then what's your favorite regular haunt?"

I like hanging out at book stores. How about we meet at a book store?

So the plans were made. We'd meet at a local chain book store at 7:30. Her manner over the phone seemed a bit self-consciously high-flown--does anybody use terms like "regular haunt" in a non-ironic way?--and I knew that by asking me for a favorite spot, she was testing me to see if I'd name an official "in" place. But I figure there's a coffee shop at the book store, plus literature, music and DVDs. If we can't bond over these things, there's no point. Besides, it's just a meeting place. We can go elsewhere later, if we're so inclined.

I told her I'd be hanging out in the magazine section, and she approached me there. She told me she was 43, with a few extra pounds, and was 5' 7". Well, the first may have been true, the second definitely, but I'm 5'6", and I had a slight edge on her height-wise. Not a big deal, but something I noticed.

We start to wander through the store. There was a prominent display of recordings from Tony-nominated musicals. (Note to Borders: The Tonys have come and gone. Update your display items.) "Oh," she said, examining a CD, "what's this? The Drowsy Chaperone? I've never heard of it."

Yeah, I said, probably the least lame nominated show this year. It didn't win. I don't know why I know this stuff. Just a theater geek, I guess.

"Well, not much of a theater geek, since you don't recognize me."

And I would know you from--?

She rattled off a couple of credits, and I realized I wasn't being properly awed to be in the presence of an icon of community theater, and I thought, oh no, if there's one thing I know, it's stay the hell away from theater people.

We continued walking through the store, to no apparent purpose, and arrived at the music section. She would mention something, I'd start to respond and she'd talk over my response, already on to another subject. She picked up a copy of the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack and started to rhapsodize about it in a particularly patronizing manner.

Yeah, that's one of my favorite movies, I said. In fact, I love it so much I named my cat Delmar.

She studied the back of the album. "Who's Delmar?"

Ah, one of those. She has the album because it was trendy for awhile there, psuedo-sophisticated NPR types decided that Ralph Stanley was worth their time, at least for a moment. The movie, feh, she'd probably never bothered.

We wandered back through the store. Maybe she'd just made a bad first impression on me, and I certainly had nothing better to do, so I started to suggest making our way over to the cafe and sharing a nice, overpriced drink. But literally as I opened my mouth to suggest this, she said, "Well, thanks for sharing some time with me," and marched straight out the door.

I stood, slightly perplexed, somewhat relieved. Am I that much of a loser? She spends maybe five minutes, tops, with me, then kicks me to the curb? Really? Do I deserve that? Really?

The best I can figure is...hell, I don't know. Maybe if I had recognized her from her extensive body of work (in community fucking theater--that's it, I'm never going to a locally produced play ever again; it only encourages these people), been properly dferential, I'd have gotten somewhere. No place I wanted to go, but somewhere.

The amusing postscript is, I come home, sit down in front of the computer and start to write a post, this very post, about what happened. The phone rings, it's a girl I briefly went out with over a year ago. We'd talked a few times since then, but nothing much. I asked her if she wanted to go have a few drinks, she said yes, and we went out and had a great time, the type of evening I could never have had with Theater Queen.

But then again, it's a scientifically proven fact that you can't have fun amongst theater people. Unless you're one of them, but I prefer to keep my soul.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I'm feeling kind of down this morning, and don't feel much like writing. So I'll just post these lyrics by Marshall Crenshaw to the song Where Home Used To Be, from his 2003 album What's In The Bag? This describes how I'm feeling right now better than anything I could write:

I had to see for myself
I had to show it to you
Among my sweetest of memories
I see this place in more than a few

Familiar shadows remain
They are all that's unchanged
Because this whole street seems haunted now
And the atmosphere is still and strange

We didn't worry 'bout much
We never had a spare dime
This is where home used to be
In a different time
I know it's hard to believe
So much has turned to dust
But this is where home used to be
And it was good to us
More than good to us...

This was our place in the world
When life was new and untried
When every wild dream seemed possible
It felt good to be here
It was warm inside

I have to say I'm amazed
Even though I learned long ago
Sometimes good things get thrown away
How I wish right now that it wasn't so

Those days are good and gone
Around here it's plain enough
This is where home used to be
Where we lived and loved
We were only here for awhile
Then we got drawn away
This is where home used to be
And I pray
That it'll see a better day...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Yes, I see we're moving on
Maybe trouble's all we'll find
But compared to what's behind
This is easy...
--Marshall Crenshaw

My sister Ann and I got together for lunch yesterday. It didn't take long for the conversation to turn to memories of Mom.

Specifically, how Mom dealt with the deaths of people around her. When dad died, he'd been so ill for so long, it was most likely a relief. She told me once she'd accepted that she had long before accepted that her husband no longer existed, she had become a caretaker, not a wife. So when he passed, there was sadness, yes, but it was easy to move on.

But when my brother Keith was killed in 2002, it was different. It was sudden, out of nowhere. Keith was her first born child, and they were as close as that suggests. Yet Mom seemed to accept it, seemed almost to expect it. "When you reach a certain time in life, nothing surprises you anymore," she said. "It's not that it isn't sad, you just know thngs like that are going to happen sooner or later."

Is that what I'm going through? Have I reached "a certain time in life?" Because this whole thing is a lot easier for me than it should be. I'm more likely to go on a crying jag thinking of my late, lamented cats Pinback or Scotchie than from thinking of Mom. And it's not that I don't think of her.

Ann mentioned a weird moment when her phone rang the other day at the same time of evening when Mom would always call, and how, for just a moment, she thought it was Mom calling. Well, I had experiences like that, too, but only in the immediate wake of her death, for maybe a week or two. After that, no, she was gone and I knew it. And, stranger still, accepted it.

Or is it just that I've accepted that, as she put it, things like this happen? It might be freeing to think so. It would be hard to imagine a personal loss more devastating, but it's happened and I'm still here. If a person like me, prone to depression and occasional bursts of suicidal behavior, can get through this, the rest of my life should be easy.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Today's DVD recomendation is 1000 Years Of poular Music, a concert film of singer-songwriter Richard Thompson's peculiar theatrical conceit: In 1999, a magazine asked a variety of musicians for their picks fot the best songs of the millenium. Figuring they probably meant the last 1oo, not 1ooo, years, Thompson took the assignment literally, naming popular songs stretching back to the 1200s.

The magazine declined to run his list, but it got Thompson thinking. Why not perform these songs in concert, trying to find the common thread that links medieval ballads to American country music, or British music hall to jazz? And filtered through Thompson's voice and astonishing guitar, the similarities are easy to spot: They all sound like Richard Thompson songs!

The emphasis here is on the songs, but Thompson, with the invaluable assistance of percussionist Debra Dobkin (formerly with one of my favorite bands, Was (Not Was) and vocalist Judith Owen (apparently a graduate of the Patti Lupone School Of Annoying Mannerisms, but she has a great voice and is married to Harry Shearer, so she gets a pass), makes it clear that all ths music profoundly influenced his own songwriting. The Buck Owens honky-tonker A-11 (which features a brief but jaw-dropping solo during which you'll swear Thompson is somehow playing lead and rhythm guitar and bass all at once) clearly is a spiritual forefather to Thompson's numerous love gone bad songs, just as Shenandoah clearly inspired his heartbreaking ballads. (He could easily have dropped some of his own songs, such as Beeswing, in here, and they'd have not been out of place.)

He brings it all to the new millenium with a cover of Ooops!...I Did It Again, Britney's teen-pop fave, and though he's performing it more or less as a joke, he characteristically finds the icy dark heart inside it ("I'm lost watching the day..."). All in all, a grand event, and if this sounds more like homework, well, Thompson is the coolest professor you'll find.

If you're a Thompson neophyte, by the way, I highly suggest starting with the splendid concert DVD Live In Austin, part of a series of releases from New West Records of uncut performances from the Austin City Limits TV program. The producers of this show clearly understand music, and the camera is always in the right place at the right time. Others in this series include individual discs devoted to performances by Sun Volt, Johnny Cash (who also has a new CD in stores today--buy it!), Merle Haggard and a great one featuring Steve Earle in his mid-eighties New Springsteen period.

And crikey, as long as I'm in a music groove here, let me also suggest you pick up the brand new The Kinks: The Live Broadcasts, a swell opportunity to appreciate this still criminally undervalued band, and Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing, which proves, beyond all doubt, that Gaye was in fact the greatest singer who ever lived. (No, there's no room for argument. Check out the performance of What's Going On included's one of the most transcendent things I've ever heard.)

Why are you still reading this? Start listening!

Monday, July 03, 2006


I'll say this for Superman Returns: at least it looked like they tried to make a good movie.

They failed, but when it's summer blockbuster time, and you're dealing with the likes of Poseidon or The DaVinci Code or--shudder--Click, good intentions actually count for something.

But director Bryan Singer made quite a few fundamental mistakes when he set out here. One is his obvious devotion to the 1978 Superman, which Singer feels--correctly--is still the best cinematic adaptation of a comic book. In essence, Superman Returns is a belated sequel to that picture.

And it just doesn't hold a candle to it. Singer is certainly a better director than Richard Donner, who helmed the '78 film, but Donner got lucky. He had a script by writers like Robert Benton and David Newman and Tom Mankiewicz, who'd written for magazines and newspapers as well as movies, and who could write dialogue as well as action. He had cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who shot 2001 and Cabaret, and designer John Barry, who'd created the settings for A Clockwork Orange and Star Wars. In other words, Donner was riding herd on world-class talent, and he had the sense to let them do their best.

But mostly what Donner had were perfect leads, Christopher Reeve, achingly sincere as Superman, goofily funny as Clark Kent, and Margot Kidder, quirky, adorable, cynical and slightly melancholy as Lois Lane. They had chemistry you couldn't manufacture, and it wasn't just between the actors but between their characters; you could understand why a straight-arrow like Superman/Clark would be drawn to an oddball like Lois.

Singer's movie has plenty wrong with it, but it would have gotten by with the right leads, and this is where Superman Returns fails most spectacularly. The whole premise is, Superman has been away from earth for five years (on a rather flimsy premise) and when he returns, he discovers that not only has the world survived without him, but worse, Lois has, too. She's engaged, she's got a kid--she doesn't need him anymore, and the poor sap's heartbroken. Basically, it's Superman as Paul Giamatti in Sideways. (Or, um, me.)

Fine. Not what most people want to see in superhero movies, but okay. For it to work, though, you have to believe that these characters have a past. And if Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth seem to have shared any kind of past, it must have been in junior high.

It's not just that they're too young for the parts (Though they are; seriously, if you're going to make it a plot point that they've been apart for five years, it pretty much follows that you should cast actors who would have been adults five years ago.), it's that there is nothing even remotely interesting about them. Routh--probably not his fault--simply does an impression of Christopher Reeve, and while he's not bad, he's clearly just a copy of the original. Bosworth is much worse. Beyond being physically attractive (though in a rather generic way), there is nothing in her presence or performance that justifies Routh's character carrying a torch for her. He's Superman, and this is the best he could do?

With this failure at its core, Superman Returns is left to live or die by its spectacle, but here, too, it comes up short. A sequence involving an airplane and space shuttle is fairly riveting, (though the cartoonish CGI looks phonier than the cheesy miniature work in the '78 film), and Kevin Spacey froths entertainingly as villain Lex Luthor (though again, he fails to erase memories of Gene Hackman's superb comic performance in Donner's original). But really, that's about it.

So what we have here is a summer blockbuster that tries to work on a slightly higher level than these things usually do, but fails on even the most elemental level. There's a lesson there somewhere, but no one in Hollywood will ever understand it.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


With my marriage only a vague memory, what is left? What fills my nights? How do I stave off boredom and loneliness?

Well, I could take up knitting. Instead, I date.

God help me.

I don't even know why I do this. I pretend that I'm looking for a relationship, but I'm not sure if that's true. Relationships are a lot of work, requiring massive energy to build and even more trouble to maintain. I thought I found the love of my life in my thirties, and that didn't work out. I'm forty-one now. Is it getting a bit late for this sort of thing?

Seriously, is it? Because if it is, I might as well just admit that what I'm looking for is just a pure physical relationship--the old rumpty-pumpty, as Roger Ebert would put it. (Sorry, I've just been listening to Ebert's commentary on the Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls DVD.) And if that's the case, well, I guess it makes more sense.

Because for that, at least, I need another person. Sure, I can go trolling for all the naked web-cam action a fella can stand (not--koffkoff--that I'd ever, you know, do that, heh heh...), but at some point, you need contact.

Emotional contact, though, that's a whole different thing. Society conditions us to pair off, to find emotional fullfillment with another person. But is it really necessary? Most of the time, when I desire someone's company for non-sexual reasons, it's usually just to save myself the embarrassment of going out someplace by myself. And often, I wind up going out anyway, by myself, and having a perfectly good time. Solitude is underrated--often, you can more fully enjoy yourself if you're not worrying about the response of the person you're with.

When I'm home, I'm probably better off being alone, anyway. Since I'm the type of person who can suddenly decide that an Ingmar Bergman double feature is a perfect evening's entertainment, Swedish angst is probably best experienced in private. (And if I actually knew a woman who was into Bergman, it would be pretty clear that she had issues of her own. Which, of course, is the type of woman I date, and is usually the reason it doesn't work. Lord, this is getting depressing...)

As you might have guessed from the tone of this thing, the only reason I'm sitting here writing is because I'm not doing what I thought I'd be doing this evening, which is to say, going out with someone. She was very apologetic when she cancelled, and given what I know about her (which is probably way too much for only two dates), the reason she gave seems plausible. I don't really think she's just blowing me off, but who knows? The worst part of dating is never knowing the other person's intentions. How can I know what to feel when I don't know what they feel?

And is it possible to write about this sort of thing without sounding like a country song?

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Photos of us in a variety of settings, dressed up, dressed down, her hair changing. Tapes and demos she recorded, and presents she bought for me. Inexplicably, her wedding dress was left at my mom's house, and came into my possession when Mom passed away. Oh, and a divorce decree.

These things are the only tangible proof I have that i was married.

Memories, too, of course, growing fainter as the time we spent together recedes farther into the past. Not so much memories anymore as anecdotes, the bad things I did, the bad things she did, spun over and over to women I date, so they'll understand, or told to friends, to explain a mood. The tales are told by rote now, there's no longer any pain, no new revelations, the details never vary. Sometimes I wonder, as I recite the stories yet again, did it really happen this way?

My marriage doesn't feel like something that actually happened to me anymore. It doesn't feel, period. Would I remember as much as I do if I didn't talk about it? Do I have actual memories of us as a couple, or memories of talking about us? We did things, went to nice restaurants, saw a lot of movies, went for walks. We made love, we fought. That we did these things I know, but the little details that can make this shared past come alive, those are gone. The whole time we spent together is blurring into vague feelings, contentment or resentment, happiness or pain, joy and sorrow--yes, I remember all those things from my marriage, but I can't recall the context. I considered myself happy with her, but I don't know why.

It's good to let it go, and necessary, but troubling, too. When all the wounds were fresh, I could hear a song or read something or see something that would make me think of her, and I would burst into tears. I don't do that now. Is it the pain that has diminished, or the clarity of the memory?

I'm calmer now, less angry, better able to keep my temper in check. Depression is still an aquaintance i know all too well, but I function. I wasn't like this when we were together, but I know this because she reminds me, not because I can recall my foul moods. Does the person who was married even still exist? Or is he just a shadow, whispering in my ear vague warnings that the past could repeat itself, preventing me from enjoying my life in the present? Would I be better off now if I had never known her? Or worse?

We talk still, two or three times a week, because we still enjoy each other's company. Her voice on the phone is abstract, I can't even visualize the person who goes with it. The vibe is that of talking to an old buddy you haven't seen in years, not someone I once loved with all my heart and soul. And I did love her. That part, at least, I remember.