Thursday, August 31, 2006


My brother's dog, Rufus, got loose the other day, and when he gets away, he doesn't want to be caught. He goes from adorable family pet to snarling hellhound, and he snapped at my niece as she tried to catch him, biting her and drawing blood. Finally, the Humane Society was called, and they managed to round him up, but they issued a warning: since he had drawn blood, he could be categorized as vicious. If he he gets looses again, and they have to catch him, that's it for Rufus.

Rufus is a wonderful dog in so many ways, but he's messed-up. Is it just the way his brain is wired? Or is it how he was raised?

I was still married when Rufus came on the scene. Sue Ellen and I had just had another blowup, and I stayed at my mom's house for the weekend so we could both cool down. While I was gone, she bought a puppy. Possibly this was done to spite me, since I didn't want a dog, but more likely it was a manifestation of her bipolar disorder: the fact that we were apartment dwellers, forbidden by the terms of our lease to have a dog, was overridden by her immediate desire for something. Irrational purchases are common for bipolar people, but in this case, the purchase was a living thing, not so easily thrown away.

When I got home that Sunday night, Sue Ellen was gone, visiting her family. She had left Rufus behind, plopped in the bathtub, apparently the only place she could think of where he'd be confined. Our cat Scotchie sat on the hamper next to the tub, and every time Rufus would raise his head above the rim, she'd thwack him across the face, and he'd sink back down. But when I saw his oversized ears and beady eyes , and his nervous tremble as I spoke to him, I fell in love.

I took him for a walk, and sat with him on the steps outside, and held him as he collapsed into me. When Sue Ellen came home I asked her what we were going to do, and she insisted we were keeping him, but the landlord called--Rufus had been barking the whole time he was left unattended--and told us to get rid of him. But how?

The store where she bought him had a No Return policy, and I wasn't going to let him go to the pound, not my new buddy Rufus. The only person we could think of that was in the market for a dog was my mom, who had been saying she thought it would be nice to have a puppy. This despite the fact that she was already taking care of my dog Elinore. But Elinore mostly stayed outside, or in the garage, and Mom wanted a dog of her own, to be in the house with her. So she got Rufus.

She loved him dearly, but from the beginning, he dominated her. She was either unwilling or unable to train him in any way, and as a result, he developed no social skills, and crapped all over the house. She'd clean up after him, but the smell would linger. He grew incredibly fat, because Mom would feed him her leftovers, and she had a lot of leftovers. She'd fix a lot of food but eat very little, perhaps an early warning sign of her cancer that she chose to ignore.

But she was ignoring a lot of things then, venturing out of the house less and less, not realizing or not caring that her nutty dog (and four cats) were running her life, and entering a Grey Gardens phase as a crazy old lady. Was this by choice? Was there something else going on? Did she know the end was coming, and did she just say the hell with it? She was still sharp, she was still herself, just...different.

Last summer, Mom was in and out of hospitals, and responsibility fell to my nieces to take care of her house and pets. Initially they thought Rufus was totally crazy, that he'd have to be put down if anything happened to Mom, because who would want a dog like that? Eventually they came to realize no, he's actually quite sweet, just kind of eccentric. Kind of like his owner.

When Mom died, things were sorted, tossed out or kept. But cats and a dog can't be discarded so easily, not for anyone with a heart. John has a large house with a dog run, so that was it. Since he acquired him, he has come to love Rufus, partly for what he is and partly for what he represents: Mom's legacy, everything good and bad about her, all of her love and all of her quirks, an unstoppable force of nature, maddening, contradictory and wonderful.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Some very worthwhile new releases on DVD today, including The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Volume 10 (with some of the best episodes ever) and the final, brief season of Arrested Development. But what I want to rant about right now is another of today's new releases, Albert Brooks' Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World. More specifically, the critical reaction to it.

Let's be clear: Albert Brooks is a comedy god. He was a brilliant, innovative stand-up comedian in the late sixties and early seventies, and parlayed his reputation into a gig making short films for the first season of Saturday Night Live. Most of these featured Brooks playing an annoyingly exaggerated version of himself, a whiny, neurotic showbiz also-ran who thinks he's entitled to special priveleges in life simply because he's a celebrity.

He played the same type in his debut feature, 1979's remarkably prescient Real Life, as a shifty documentary filmmaker trying to capture the lives of "ordinary" Americans, but willing to burn down their house to provide a climax to his film. He hit his stride with 1981's Modern Romance and 1985's Lost In America, which are simply two of the greatest comedies ever made. While very funny, the laughs in these movies often stick in the throat, as Brooks explores some of the most appalling aspects of human behavior.

None of these movies were exactly smash hits, but they all found favor with critics, who understood exactly that Brooks was going for uneasy laughter, not big yucks, and appreciated any director interested in exploring the human condition.

Well. How times have changed. Earlier this year, when Brooks released Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World, he was greeted with almost universally withering comments from the critical community. Fine, if they simply thought Brooks wasn't up to his usual standards, or simply don't care for his brand of comedy. But in this case, they mostly didn't even see what was right before them.

This time around, Brooks plays a moderately successful comedian and filmmaker named, uh, Albert Brooks, who accepts an assignment from the state department: in order to understand how the Muslim community views the U.S., we should try to understand their culture. And what better way to understand then do determine what makes them laugh?

Brooks travels to India, flags down Muslims on the street and tells them jokes. (Mostly, they don't laugh.) He books an auditorium and does a ventriliquist routine. Mostly he wanders around fretting about a report he's supposed to write for the government, and tries to foist the assignment off on his assistant.

The point couldn't be more obvious: Brooks is the totally self-absorbed Ugly American, ostensibly there to work with the Muslim community but unable to care about anything other than his own petty problems. Kind of like, I don't know, a certain occupying superpower in a certain Muslim nation.

Amazingly, most critics completely missed this, wondering instead why Brooks had to play such a jerk. Well, because that's the whole point. It's very rare to find newspaper critics these days with any knowledge of film history, but in this case, they seemed astonishingly blind to world events, as well. (This was true even in such papers as The Washington Post, where you might expect staffers to be well-informed.) Most critics these days understand little beyond a kind of "It's great!" or "It stinks!" mentality, fine for reviewing blockbusters but worthless when it comes to trying to cover work of real ambition.

A shame, because Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World is a big-hearted comedy that is, incidentally, very funny. It was never going to be a smash hit, but with the critical support it deserved, it might at least have become a cult item. Maybe on DVD...

Monday, August 28, 2006


Francis Coppola is a liar.

That's the conclusion I've drawn from purchasing the new DVD Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier. Originally, I wasn't even going to pick this up, since I was already furious with Coppola based on some of the things I'd read about it, and since I hated his 2001 recut of the film, which of course is included here. But I found it on sale cheap, and I don't have any version of Apocalypse on DVD, so I bought it.

Mind you, I haven't watched everything yet. I haven't even listened to Coppola's commentary track all the way through, and maybe he says some things that clarify some of the outright lies that appear elsewhere on the disc. I doubt it, though, since his story of the creation of the film's incredible opening sequence smells like a lie. (Though there's nothing I detest more than the stench of lies, we must be merciful to those who lie...Crap! I swore I would get through this thing without paraphrasing favorite Apocalypse lines, but I dunno...)

The lies come mostly in a FAQ section among the supplements. Though the responses to the questions aren't written by Coppola himself, since this is a Zoetrope-authorized release, we can assume they are his official version of the story. And they're just wrong.

Sample question: Was there a five and a half hour cut of the film? The answer given is a flat no...but then it goes on to explain that there was a five and a half hour work shouldn't the answer be yes? No, the workprint was never finished, and it was never meant to be Coppola's final cut, but it was a version he was circulating at one point, suggesting that he meant for it to approximate his final cut.

Another question: Does Willard order the destruction of Kurtz's compound at the end of the film? The answer given is no, which is true in the film as it stands. But it goes on to state that the footage of explosions destroying the compound (not included on this particular DVD, unfortunately) which accompanied the end credits of 35mm showings of the film back in '79 were never intended to be included in the movie itself, but were simply shot when Coppola and company dismantled the sets in the Phillipines.

Wait...Whaaaa--? When a movie is done shooting, sets are taken apart, not blown up. How stupid does Coppola think we are? Of course he shot footage of the destruction of the compound, because at one point he was planning on concluding the film that way. Back in '79, he admitted he didn't know how to end the damn thing, and shot a ton of possible endings. Now he's trying to claim he knew what he was doing all along, that the way the film ends now is the only way he ever intended. So he was either lying then or he's lying now, and the footage makes it pretty clear that he's lying now.

Why? Maybe he's trying to preserve his legacy. Coppola has done some interesting work since Apocalypse Now, but he's also done some embarrassing crap, and certainly nothing he's done since the seventies can compare with either Apocalypse or the first two Godfather pictures. In recent years, it's become possible to see Apocalypse Now as a failed masterpiece, saved from the smoking ruins of Coppola's ego by the masterful contributions of others. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro might have been most responsible for the stunning visuals. The narration written by Michael Herr provides the lion's share of the film's most quotable lines, and gives the characters back story and motivation that otherwise wouldn't be apparent on screen. The editing team gave the film a structure and pace when Coppola apparently couldn't.

It's a pointless game to play, but Coppola plays it himself. I'm not exactly glad that Stanley Kubrick is dead, or Bob Fosse or John Huston, but at least we never had to listen to these guys rewrite film history on DVDs of their work, and prove themselves to be total assholes.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Cats. I like 'em. Yet I've got to admit, there's no real rational reason why I should.

Take Delmar--please! (Thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, you've been a lovely audience. Please be sure to tip your waitress. Thank you and goodnight!) The thing with Del is, aside from the fact that he's always been moody and cranky and has a tendency to bite and scratch me at random intervals and steals things from countertops and rips up newspapers and yowls loudly for no apparent reason--these are his good points, mind you--aside from all that, lately he's developed two really annoying habits.

First, he's started shedding. A lot. He's always done this, and when I'd sweep my floors every Saturday morning, there'd be enough accumulated fur to build a whole new cat. But ever since I acquired Monika, he's started to shed so much more. I thought it was a nervous thing at first, having to deal with another cat around, a rival for my affection. (I am, of course, expected to display affection for Del, whether he shows any for me or not.) Okay, but Monika's been here for half a year. Shedding season has come and gone. He's still at it. I wake up every morning with fur in my mouth. I had to put a comforter over my bed just to absorb cat hair. I don't enjoy this, it's not fun. Why should I put up with this? Just because I love my cat?

Sadly, yes.

Del's other annoying habit is--well, he doesn't like it when I have company. Overnight company. Overnight company of the female lady type persuasion. I mean, people can come by the apartment and visit, male and female, he's perfectly fine and personable. (As personable as he can be.) But as soon as, to quote a Rilo Kiley song, the talking leads to touching, and the touching leads to sex, Del can't deal. I don't know what he does while the actual act is transpiring--I'm guessing he cowers in a corner and questions the very existence of God--but afterwards, he prowls the floor at the foot of the bed , meowing sharply, the stump of his tail twitching. Talk to him and he growls, reach for him and he hisses, and he can keep this up all night long.

After the overnight guest leaves, Del is fine. He rubs his head against my leg and even purrs. He seems to be trying to remind me that he loves me, he loves me more than one of those two-legged female things could. I appreciate the sentiment, but what does he know? He's been neutured.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I don't have cable, but it is available in the exercise room in my apartment building. It's a nice way to kill time while doing laundry on a lazy Saturday morning, and a chilling reminder that basic cable is a dumping ground for all types of pop culture ephemera. This morning I saw snippets of two movies that reminded me, as bad as most movies are now, there was a time--the late eighties and early nineties--when things were a whole lot worse.

First up, Far And Away, Ron Howard's inexcusable crapfest from '92. This is the one with then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as plucky Irish imigrants trying to find their way in the New Land...or something. Hell, I don't know. I've been avoiding this thing for years, so when I actually saw a little bit of it this morning, it was the first time I'd experienced the unspeakable horror that is Cruise's Irish accent.

Oh. My. God. What were they thinking? Was there anybody on the set? Couldn't anybody stop him? At best, it's like an earnest high school freshman doing a dramatic reading from Sean O'Casey, at worst, it's...AARRGGHH!! It's so bad, it makes you respect Kevin Costner's decision to not even attempt an accent when he was cast as Robin Hood, and anything that makes you respect any decision Kevin Costner has made must automatically be considered a crime against humanity.

(At this point, I must make note of the Costner Exception Rule, the Kevin Costner movies I actually like. They are The Untouchables, probably Brian DePalma's best movie as a for-hire director, in which Costner's bland presence at least does no harm; Bull Durham, easily the best baseball movie ever made, and Costner is perfectly cast; and A Perfect World, in which Costner gives a brilliant performance as a psycho with a conscience, but since it's like nothing he's done before or since, we should probably give most of the credit to its director, Clint Eastwood, who's always good with actors. Otherwise, Costner sucks.)

In addition to Cruise's accent, there are enough leering shots of his ass and footage of him preening to qualify this as softcore gay porn. Keep in mind, I only watched this for about ten minutes. God knows how bad things would have gotten if I'd sat through the whole thing.

Tom Cruise is still around, of course, although Paramount Pictures loudly severed ties with him this week, and he's still an egotistical jerk. Still, as misguided as Hollywood can be these days, it's kind of hard to imagine a studio greenlighting such an expensive vanity project.

Still, sometimes when the studio was in charge, the results could be even worse. The other movie I watched with stupefied eyes this morning was The Disney Corporation's '93 version of The Three Musketeers.

In the eighties and nineties, no studio churned out as much soulless, mindless, featureless product as Disney, particularly, its "adult" divisions, Touchstone and the short-lived Hollywood Pictures. It was all pretty much indistinguishable, competent but free of any frills, style or sense of purpose, giving steady paychecks to such grating screen presences as Bette Midler and Jim Belushi. (Yes, kids, there was a time when major players in the movie biz thought Jim Belushi had what it takes to be a Big Star. Governments have been overthrown for lesser offenses.) Once in awhile they'd mistakenly hire talented filmmakers like Paul Mazursky or Tim Burton, but then drop them like hot rocks after a picture or two. But in-house hacks like Arthur Hiller or Stephen Herek would always have a home at Disney, because they could be counted on to make 'em fast, cheap and without one iota of personality.

Herek was in charge of The Three Musketeers, and aside from the fact that Richard Lester's magnificent 1974 version of this story has officially obliviated any need for further variations, the fate of this sucker was sealed when they decide to play it as a standard buddy action-comedy so typical of its era. The decision to cast Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt (as the comical fat guy) in the title roles didn't help, nor did the theme song, "All For Love", performed by Bryan Adams, Sting and Rod Stewart--a Mt. Rushmore of crap.

But nothing marks this as a product of its time like the casting of Chris O'Donnell as D'Atragnan. Anybody else have terrifying memories of the Great Chris O'Donnell Scare Of The Nineties? Suddenly this smirking, blandly handsome frat boy type started showing up everywhere, in movie after movie, even though none of his movies were popular. It's atrend you still see today, when every other weekend brings another Colin Farrell movie, but at least, annoying as he can be, Farrell has talent. O'Donnell was just...there.

Movies are horrible now, most of them designed to be nothing more than momentary sensations, and usually failing to be even that. Still, at least the attempt is made. So many studio movies of the eighties and nineties actually seemed to have been designed to bore audiences, to let their minds drift, to do more useful things while watching them, like making grocery lists or slitting their wrists.

Friday, August 25, 2006


The United Nations is investigating whether Israel violated an international trade agreement by using U.S.-made cluster bombs in their recent vendetta against Lebanon.

There's no question that these bombs were used; they were. The question is, were they used under the proper circumstances? Did they kill the right people? According to the vague, shadowy terms of the Israeli-American trade agreement, these bombs could only be used on clearly defined military targets.

The Bush administration is so far silent about this investigation, and speculation among Washington types is that the Bushinistas may ultimately go along with some mild form of sanction against Israel, apparently as some sort of pathetic way to gain street cred in the Muslim world, by saying, "Hey, we think bombing Arab civilians is wrong."

How nice. Of course, while the bombs were falling, the administration's official opinion, when it could find the cajones to have one, was that Israel had the right to defend itself.

But wait! If Israel was merely "defending itself", there was no violation of the trade agreement. Bush should be outraged that the U.N. is investigating our poor, beleagured ally. A cynic might argue that this is yet another example of the administration's moral bankruptcy, willing to say or do anything to make itself look good at the moment.

In this case, by offering an (implied) mild criticism of Israel, Bush hopes to make it look as though he actually cares about dead Lebanese. This inevitably raises the question, Why didn't he stop the killing instead of mourning it after the fact?

For the record, the number of people killed in Lebanon stands at 1183. Most of those were civilians. And in Lebanon, and throughout all Arab states, they damn well know who made those bombs.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


If you believe the hype, the digital age is changing everything we know about filmmaking. Suddenly, with semi-pro level technology available for home computers, editing, scoring, hell, even distributing your own movies is something everyone can do. And with high-def video cameras, it will all look as good as Hollywood product.

Just one problem here: Most of that isn't true, and the stuff that isn't a lie is wildly exagerated or blindly optimistic.

High-def video, for instance, looks like shit. It looks bad in amateur videos posted on YouTube, it looks bad in earnest, navel-gazing indie crap, and it looks bad in big-budget Hollywood movies like Miami Vice and all three Star Wars prequels. George Lucas repeatedly claimed, in his endless justifications for those Star Wars pictures, that digital was the only way to go, visually, since high def can capture a range of color and detail film just can't.

Right. Here's a simple comparison: Take a look at the "range of color and detail" in, say, The Phantom Menace. Then take a look at what Vincente Minnelli did with three-strip Technicolor in The Pirate, or Michael Powell's Black Narcissus, and tell me which looks better.

Computer-based editing and scoring tools guarantee that the average person's home movies can move and sound in a semi-professional but generic manner. Swell, but is this a filmmaking revolution?

No. It may be easier than ever for any schlub to make their own movie, but any schmuck could buy a canvas and paint, any yutz could write a novel. That doesn't mean they have talent. That doesn't mean they should be forcing their amateurism on the rest of us.

The fact of the matter is, people with talent, with the will to make films, have always been able to do so. Kenneth Anger and John Waters shot their first films while still teenagers, using home movie equipment, and were able to get their works distributed. John Carpenter's early work is a model of invention over funding. And even though he's chosen to work in the digital realm now, Robert Rodriguez shot El Mariachi on film for less money than it would cost to buy pro-level digital equipment.

All this talk about the brave new digital world wouldn't bother me so much if the people doing the talking had a shred of knowledge about film history. Yeah, technology is cheaper and faster now, but not better. And maybe there's some genius kid out there ready to utilize the technology in a manner that will blow us all away. But that doesn't mean that this work, if it ever happens, will be better than anything that has come before. Beethoven didn't use digital sampling in his music, either, but you know what? It's still pretty good.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Okay. Well. For reasons I'm not going to get into, I got absolutely no sleep last night, and boy am I tired. (You're thinking, Was there a girl involved? and I'm telling you, I'm not going to get into it.) I got through the day alright--felt fine, actually--but when I sat down at the keyboard an hour or so ago to do a bit of research on the topic I wanted to write about, suddenly I realized the only thing I really could think about was how much I desperately wanted to sleep.

So nothing new and original today. But hey, I'll give you something, just not anything of mine. Here are lyrics by Ron and Russell Mael, the brother act that, with various instrumentalists, makes up the band Sparks. They're in their fourth decade of recording now, and though they've tried almost every imaginable sound, they always sound like themselves. I think deadpan absurdism is the best description for this little number from 1974, which can be found on the album Kimono My House.

I tried to tell you in the night
That with a girl like you I could do without guided tours
You tried to tell me in the day
That your leading exports were textiles and iron ore

Hasta Manana, Monsieur
Were the only words that I knew for sure
Hasta Manana, Monsieur
Were three little words I knew you'd adore

Leaving my syntax back in school
I was thrown for a loss over gender and simple rules
You mentioned Kant and I was so shocked
Where I come from, none of the girls have such foul tongues

Hasta Manana, Monsieur
Were the only words that I knew for sure
Hasta Manana, Monsieur
I'm gonna do it now...

C'est la vie, c'est la mort, say no more, no no more
It's all the same, here or there or anywhere
There's them who have, and others who have not
Kimono my house, mon amour
I am sure this motion needs no accompanying words
Guess I was wrong because you've fled
Leaving me my Michelin Guide and a half-empty bed

Hasta Manana, Monsieur...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


New on DVD today is Irwin Allen's ill-advised sequel-cum-ripoff of his earlier popular favorite, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and while there's no way it could be called a good movie, it is well worth seeing, if only as an example of how old Hollywood used to do things.

Clearly Warner Bros is releasing Beyond The Poseidon Adventure today to cash in on the simultaneous release of Poseidon, this year's awful remake, with its B-level cast and over-reliance on CGI. It's also appearing at the same time that Snakes On A Plane, a campy throwback to seventies disaster movies, has hit theaters. And so this is where we find ourselves: a movie that for years has been considered a pointless, godawful piece of trash somehow seems...a well-made pointless piece of trash.

Let's be clear: Beyond is a bad movie, but one with modest virtues. As a director, Irwin Allen had no concept of such niceties as style, or even camera placement, and seemed clueless at building suspense sequences. Yet he moved the story along, fast enough that you seldom have time to question the idiocies of the plot, and at least managed to sustain interest throughout the entire running time.

The surprisingly strong cast--Michael Caine, Sally Field, Telly Savalas, Peter Boyle, Slim Pickens, Shirley Knight--helps, too. Sure, all these actors are only in this to collect a paycheck, but they're too professional to let this come across onscreen, and they inhabit their incredibly cliched characters with a surprising amount of conviction. (Caine and Field are funny enough together you wish the script gave them something to work with, and Savalas is superbly menacing.)

Physically, this is a solid craftsman's piece of work, cleanly shot by Joseph Biroc and designed by Preston Ames, both veterans of the old studio system. It looks good without ever being fussy, without calling attention to itself. In other words, everything in the movie is there to serve the story being told.

Of course, it doesn't have a story worth telling. Beyond got terrible reviews when it was released in 1979, and deservedly so. 1979 was an astonishing year for movies--Manhattan, The Warriors, Alien, Being There, The Muppet Movie, All That Jazz, Breaking Away, Dawn Of The Dead, Apocalypse Now, to name but a few. Holy crap! On any given day, something truly great would be playing at the movies.

In an atmosphere of such amazing creativity, something like Beyond The Poseidon Adventure must have seemed incredibly old-fashioned, ludicrous even. But we don't live in 1979. That great burst of creativity is only a wistful memory, and the movies we get now are so bad, so lacking in even the slightest ambition, that something that is at least competent now reminds us that there was a time when audiences demanded more, when even modest entertainment was expected to, well, entertain.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Maybe it's my recent bad experiences with Blogger, but I'm feeling more down on computer technology than ever lately.

No real reason, I guess. Sure, there are lots of good things about the web, and it could be used as an actual instrument for social change. (Could be, but usually isn't.) Most frequently it gets used as a medium for clever stunts, such as the online hype regarding Snakes On A Plane, which--surprise, surprise--failed to translate to actual box-office success. How could it, really? Internet geeks aren't going to waste time actually seeing the damn movie--they'd have to leave their computers.

For me, the internet represents a huge suckage of time. I'll think that I'll be on there for a few minutes, and the minutes turn into hours. (Fortunately my job does not involve computers, or my life would probably be even less productive.) And the types of information you can find on the web! Let's say, on a whim, you do a search to learn the exact size of F Troop star Forrest Tucker's famously large penis (and just typing those words makes me feel creepy), which will lead you to, among other things, the web site of Mamie Van Doren, the Grade Z starlet from the fifties who is apparently not dead, and will also lead you to YouTube, on which you can watch the opening of Forrest's mid-seventies Saturday morning crapfest, The Ghost Busters, which co-starred Larry Storch and which had production values roughly the equal of upscale porn. Well, The Ghost Busters was produced by Filmmation, the crappiest production house that supplied kiddie programming back in the day, but they did produce Jason Of Star Command, with Sid Haig, so naturally you have to go looking for that, and anything else you can find out about Sid, who was in a lot of Pam Grier movies, so hey, there should be lots of photos of Pam Grier naked, shouldn't there? Yes, there are, and oh, Christina Ricci as well, ah, this could take a while...

It's the type of thing that makes eating a frozen pizza while watching reruns of The People's Court seem dignified.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Time goes by, and you forget things. It's been over six months--God, half a year--since my mom died. I would have thought I would have noticed the anniversary. I would have thought there was no way it could pass by unnoticed. Somehow, it did.

Maybe that's good. I'm not dwelling on it, I'm not letting the sadness overwhelm me. Still, sometimes I feel there's something wrong with me, I should be feeling sad, or at least feeling bad about not feeling sad. But there is no sadness, at least not daily, and no empiness, or sense of loss.

There are times, though. Today is the last day of the Iowa State Fair, which means the finale of the State Fair Talent Search. This thing has been going on since the Jurassic Period, a ritual in which all the stage moms force their kids to dance around in sequins, or older drama queens perform lugubrious show tunes in front of an audience of bemused, corn-dog chomping mulletheads. It's all as exciting as it sounds, but if approached in the proper spirit, it can be the height of unintentional hilarity.

Mom definitely had the proper spirit. Nobody enjoyed Bad Entertainment more than Mom. She paid good money to see the movie Xanadu, and was so overwhelmed by its relentless stupidity that she smacked herself on the forehead. (It still hurt the next day.) She saw the Neil Diamond version of The Jazz Singer accompanied by two of her grandchildren, and was so annoyed she almost chucked one of the kids right at the screen. When sitting through a marathon of Sid and Marty Kroft TV shows, she commented, "So this is what little gay kids watched in the seventies?"

So naturally, Mom loved the State Fair Talent Search. In fact, I can't even remember a time when it wasn't mandatory viewing. Mom cultivated a hyperintense sense of irony in all her kids, and what better way to do it than exposing them to the sight of corn-shucking midwesterners doing lame hoedown routines, or warbling the umpteenth version of "Over The Rainbow"? Watching the show came with its own set of rituals, such as guessing how many times host Bill Riley would utter the phrase "talented youngsters" or wondering who would be more likely to win, an Asian girl playing the piano or a black guy singing "Old Man River".

As I got older, I still tried to find time to watch this thing with Mom, or at least try to see it through her eyes. Two years ago, I watched it at my place, but she'd call every five minutes: "Flaming batons? The wind is blowing! Don't they have safety codes?" Or: "An Asian girl playing Bach. Guess we have our winner." Last year was the terrible summer of sickness for Mom, when we discovered she had cancer. We didn't watch the State Fair Talent Search together last year, and for some reason it never occurred to me that we'd never be able to watch it together again. I mean, sure she had cancer, and it was inoperable, but come on, it was Mom. She wasn't going anywhere.

This year, I'm not watching. Yeah, it might be funny, in the same way as always, but the endless parade of spastic dancers and baton twirlers just wouldn't be the same without the phone ringing, the sardonic voice and the comfort of shared laughter.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Well, that was fun. I hadn't intended to take extended time away from posting, but Blogger seemed to have other ideas. I couldn't even sign in!

So , after all this time, things seem to be running as close to normal as they ever have, and Golly Moses, I wish I had some precious pearls of wisdom to drop...but I got nothing. Oh, Bush is a douchebag. Does that help?

Anyway, hopefully more coherent thoughts will be coming soon. Or not. We'll see.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Details are still slowly coming to light regarding the plot to blow up planes flying from England to the U.S., but one thing that's clear is that pretty much all the legwork involved in breaking this thing was handled by Britain's MI6, while American intelligence agencies pretty much stood around in the background.

As a James Bond fan, this seems about right to me. In the Bond pictures, Brithish intelligence is responsible for foiling pretty much every world-domination plot you can think of. America is represented, when it's there at all, by CIA flunkie Felix Leiter, who is always played by somebody like Jack Lord or David Hedison--TV actors, bland and uninteresting, as opposed to the big-time movie stars playing Bond.

(Trivia buffs could, of course, point out that in the 1983 Bond picture Never Say Never Again, Leiter was played by Bernie Casey, who could give Sean Connery a run for his money in the coolness department. I would only respond that NSNA is a non-canon Bond picture, that it's still a tiny, insignificant part--and that I'm getting kind of off-topic here. Sorry.)

My initial skepticism about the terrorist plot story stemmed, in no small part, from the fact that the story broke in the U.S. via a press conference headed by Homeland Security honcho Michael Chertoff. That's right, the same Michael Chertoff who couldn't figure out people were dying in the Superdome in the wake of Katrina, even though every news organization was telling the story. Suddenly this guy is busting up terrorist cells?

Well, no, and no one ever said he did. Clearly, the Bushinistas used Chertoff to run the press conference in an attempt to make him look competent as the one year anniversary of Katrina approaches. Clearly we were supposed to assume if Chertoff is the head of Homeland Security, and he's talking about foiling terrorist plots, he must have had something to do with it. Heroism by association.

Just like Felix Leiter.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


You may have noticed I had no post up yesterday. Not because I didn't write anything, but because Blogger lost it somehow--I posted it, then removed it for some editing, and even though I tried to protect myself by saving it as a draft, the whole thing went POOF, vanished forever into the ether.

True, I could have rewritten it, but come on, I have a life outside of this. Really, I only mention this because, in the past week, I've had three posts vanish. One of those may have been my fault, hitting a key I didn't realize I'd hit, but one simply vanished when I hit the Publish Post button. Weird.

Remember the future we were once promised? The one with flying, rocket-powered cars and jet packs and transporters and big, clunky robots? The main reason none of that came to pass is, none of that stuff worked. If anybody could have developed affordable, reliable personal jetpacks, we'd all have one.

Because who'd buy something that didn't work? Back in the fifties and sixties, when bright new products were introduced to consumers, they did what they were supposed to do. If they'd never gotten, say, refrigerator technology down just right, they'd never have gone on the market. If you bought a Buick in the sixties, and took reasonably good care of it, the thing would run for years and years and years. Microwaves, air conditioners, stereos--true, some models were better than others, but the basic design of all of these things was sound.

When computers were first introduced to the home market, they tended to crash, or have unexpected blips, or otherwise not quite always do what they were supposed to do. And they still have this! The technology is becoming faster, it can do more, but it isn't actually getting better--the old problems are still there, only in newer, ever mutating forms.

Even the most hardcore computer geeks will tell you that the technology has quirks, has idiosynchrocies, has bugs. Okay. Shouldn't those bugs have been worked out before the technology was actually introduced? Nobody seems to remember this anymore, but the world worked fine in a pre-computer world--better, probably, than it does now. It's not like qwe were all wandering around downcast, miserable faces held in gnarled hands, waiting for something to deliver us from the unspeakable despair of our lives.

Ironically, as we push our technology to do more and more--faster, better, now--we wind up settling for less. Computers crash. Cellphones drop out. We accept these, but should we? By just shrugging it off, clearly our expectations have been lowered.

If we can accept this, what else can we be sold?

Friday, August 11, 2006


This latest plot by terrorists to blow up planes scares the hell out of me, but not for the obvious reasons.

Sure, the plot itself is scary: carry the seperate elements for explosives on board seperately, then mix them together when the time comes. It's ingenious, the type of thing Jack Bauer encounters every day on 24. In fact, it's so ingenious, you have to wonder why they haven't tried this sort of thing before.

I try not to go in for conspiracy theories. I don't think Bush and his loyal eunuch Tony Blair concocted this threat out of thin air. But I do wonder how far along this plot was, how imminent the threat. How often do workers in intelligence agencies uncover this sort of thing, how many plots have been foiled in the past, plots that weren't publicized because there was no political hay to be made at the moment?

The fact that Joe Lieberman immediately used this threat as an excuse to attack his opponent in the Connecticut senate race makes me wonder. Lieberman, who still calls himself a Democrat, has lately been receiving warm endorsements from the likes of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. That's business as usual for the Republicans--Lieberman has been a useful idiot for the administration, and if he wins, they win.

Fair enough. But Lieberman's talking points on this issue come straight from the Karl Rove handbook. Almost as if they were written ahead of time, before details of the plot were fully known. As if someone was feeding him information. As if a real but minor threat was being exaggerated for political gain.

Ah, that's just crazy talk. There's no way any politician would ever exploit post-9/11 fears simply for their own purposes. They wouldn't dare. We live in a democracy. If elected officials did such things, the people would throw them right out.

Wouldn't they?

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I guess the mild-mannered, Henry Jekyll-like persona Joe Lieberman has been dining out on for years has finally been ripped aside, revealing the monstrous Hyde underneath, who cares not one iota about the needs of his political party, his state or his country. Now the truth is revealed: Lieberhyde cares only about himself.

True, it should have been obvious in 2000, when Lieberman was picked to be Al Gore's running mate in the presidential election--while still running for reelection as senator in Connecticut. This meant that his time was split between two seperate campaign trails, and while it's doubtful that, had Joe been more attentive, the Democrats would have scored a more decisive victory in Florida, we'll never really know. The main point was, Joe wasn't willing to risk his ass for his party--if he lost one election, he had the other as a backup. Clearly, Joe was taking care of Joe.

Still, at first, when Ned Lamont challenged Lieberman for the Democratic seat in the senate, largely over Lieberman's continued, baffling support for the invasion of Iraq, it was possible to take Lieberman seriously when he claimed he had voted for the war with his conscience, he was a proud and faithful Democrat who still felt he was a humble servant of the people, and all that tripe.

But when Lamont won the primary and Humble Joe announced his plan to run against Lamont as an independant--thus increasing the likelihood of a Republican victory--it couldn't have been more obvious: Joe wants to hold onto his sweet gig, and the hell with anyone who gets in his way.

And today, he is Hyde triumphant as he attacked Lamont: "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a certain date, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

Ah, a new version of the Bushinista's imaginary Iraq-9/11 link. In no reality could Lamont's outrage against our prolonged presence in a country sinking deeper into civil war by seen as having ANYTHING to do with this alleged terrorist plot, but that won't stop Joe from saying it. When you start spouting lines that might as well have been scripted by Dick Cheney, it's time to admit you've left the ideals of the Democratic party pretty far behind.

It's time to take one for the team, Joe. Fall on your sword. Do it for your party, do it for your country, but for God's sake, do it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


I slept late this morning--well, late by my standards--and my brain's not focused enough to articulate what I was going to say. I'll try later, but for now here are the lyrics to the somewhat obscure Richard Thompson song Woods Of Darney, which conveys some of what I intended to say about lives shattered by war:

I found your picture in a corporal's pocket
His cold fingers still pressed it to his chest
Sniper's bullet took his eyes and breath away
Now he lies out in the forest with the rest

You looked shy in your grandmother's wedding dress
Feet set wide like a farm girl stands
Too young to love and too young to lose
In a cracked picture frame in a dead man's hands

I kept it with me, for the luck, for the magic
Maybe fate wouldn't strike in the same place twice
But something stirred and I dared to dream of you
And I knew I'd look for you if I should survive

When we stood down at last, it was easy to find you
And mine was the shoulder you cried on that day
Just an old comrade doing his duty
Bringing the news from the
Woods of Darney

When I showed you the picture perhaps I felt jealousy
As your tears welled up with each reminisce
Well, my hands may be rougher and my tongue may be coarser,
But I knew I could give you a love good as his

Now we lie in the darkness together
Often we lie without speaking this way
As you stare in the dark do you see
A young corporal who never came back from the
Woods of Darney?

Is it him that you see when we make love together?
Is it him that you see when war fills the sky?
Was he there as you stood in your grandmother's wedding dress
As we made our own vows, you and I?

Now the bugle sounds, they say it's the big one
A curse on the life of a soldier, you say
But don't you know, that's a soldier's small comfort--
For the bugle to sound, and to hear and obey

Now I'll carry your picture, the one that he carried
I'll wear your innocence and take my chance
On a frozen plain, in a far-flung war
To win back what we lost in a field in France

It's many a soldier who goes into battle
Your corporal and I, we just hear and obey
Perhaps we'll lie in the darkness together
With your love to bind us, in the
Woods of Darney

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Some good stuff is out on DVD today, including Rian Johnson's superb high school-set film noir, Brick, and Spike Lee's entertaining hostage yarn, Inside Man. Both are tough, thoughtful films, well worth seeing.

But I want to talk about Jayne Mansfield.

Three movies featuring the busty blonde arrive today in a boxed set, cleverly titled The Jayne Mansfield Collection. Unfortunately, they are not available seperately, since one of them, The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw, a dismal comedy western that is only of interest to hardcore auterists who insist anything Raoul Walsh did was worthwhile, does nothing but raise the price of the set, when I'd be happy to buy the other two individually.

And those two others would be a duo of Frank Tashlin comedies, The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, both new to DVD and both essential for anyone with an appreciation for screen comedy.

Tashlin was a director at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio, and he brought a cartoonist's eye and sense of timing to the live action movies he directed. He helmed quite a few Jerry Lewis vehicles, and was largely responsible for Lewis' directing career. He worked with everyone from Bob Hope to Danny Kaye, and many of his pictures feel like they're just itching to go off the tracks.

Fortunately, The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter don't even seem to know there are tracks. These are completely screwy pictures about...well, whatever Tashlin was obsessed with at any given moment. Girl has some semblance of conventional structure, in its story of a press agent hired to hype a gangster's girlfriend to stardom, but it's really about Jayne Mansfield's enormous breasticaboobicals, fifties mores, Edmond O'Brien's full-throttle bellow, Julie London's smooth crooning of "Cry Me A River", plus Gene Vincent and Little Richard in Cinemascope and eye-popping color. Rock Hunter has more of Jayne's funbags, plus an utter disregard for anything resembling reality: Tashlin will bring everything to a dead halt for a non-sequitar gag, then call attention to what he just did.

Both movies are defiantly lowbrow yet brilliantly conceived and executed, and were a major influence on, to name one, Jean-Luc Godard, who was in turn a major influence on such filmmakers as Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese. (Scorsese cast Jerry Lewis himself in The King Of Comedy, resulting in the least funny, most cerebral Frank Tashlin hommage ever.)

I'm glad these movies are finally available, but I don't know why the braintrust at Fox Video decided we needed an entire box set devoted to Jayne Mansfield. They could have just sold Girl and Rock Hunter together, billed it as Jayne Mansfield's Nice Pair and had a joke Frank Tashlin could have called his own.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Even though Blogger magically refused to post the piece I wrote yesterday, and didn't even save it as a draft, I'm not going to rewrite it. Basically, I went on and on about Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, the new Will Ferrell comedy, and in a nutshell, it's funny and you should see it.

Unfortunately, my screening of it was also my first experience with the miracle of digital projection. This is, of course, the wave of the future: movies are downloaded from a satellite link and thrown on the screen. Film is no longer projected; it basically makes your local googleplex into a giant DVD player.

Theoretically, there could be advantages here: this would eliminate battered prints, or the inevitability, when a movie is opening in a thousand theaters, of poor quality prints being struck. Focus shouldn't be a problem, or the brightness of the image.

But. At the screening I attended, there were frequent blips, pauses on screen while the soundtrack buzzed. Computer glitches, in other words. They'd only last for a millisecond or two, but they were there, and irritating. And if this had been projected on film, they wouldn't have been there.

Since I was at a theater owned by Carmike Cinemas, I went to their website to try to find out more about how their system works. What I found were standard press releases, but very little real information. Links to newspaper stories about other Carmike theaters making the digital transition merely showed how clueless theater managers and executives really are, one actually claiming the difference between 35 mm film projection and digital projection was "like the difference between VHS and DVD." Well, no. Videotape looks blurry. Film, properly projected, looks amazingly clear.

And pure--watch a good Technicolor print of, say, Michael Powell's The Red Shoes and you'll be amazed by the gradations of color, how muted the reds are in one scene, only to pop off the screen in the next. This happened because Powell and cinematographer Jack Cardiff carefully chose their film stock, and worked closely with the lab to make sure the negative looked exactly as they wanted it to look. Film is maleable, in a way that digital technology isn't. It may get there, eventually, but right now it looks...well, it looks horrible, frankly.

Okay, I'm a movie geek, and stuff like that is more likely to bother me. But the glitches when I saw Talladega Nights were noticed (and grumbled about) by other audience members, especially as they became more frequent. Still, it's very possible that the public won't complain about things like this. They'll just come to expect it, the same way they expect their computers to crash periodically. With every new supposed advance in technology, our expectations seem be lowered.

Welcome to the future.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


On our first date, M and I bonded by comparing the scars on our wrists from suicide attempts. We ate and drank, laughed and talked, and fueled by alcohol, we wandered the streets of downtown Des Moines on a cold Friday night a few weeks before Christmas.

We wound up at her apartment, where she shared some details of her life. A former Goth, her bookshelves wer lined with the usual suspects--Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Sylvia Plath. She had notebooks and notebooks of poetry tucked away, and was eager to share it with me. It wasn't very good, but it was obviously sincere, which is what I told her. "Oh, and there's another thing I should tell you," she said. "A few years ago, I was in a car accident, and I got some glass in my head and...anyway, sometimes I have short-term memory loss. Like in the restaurant, when we were sitting there talking, I could have forgotten who you are. I just blank sometimes. If it happens, don't take it personally, I just can't remember things."

"Has it happened tonight?" I asked.

"No, and that's weird. I have a hard time remembering new people, but I seem to know who you are."

We talked some more, but soon it was 3 AM, and I excused myself and went home. I could have stayed the night with her--we'd been laying in her bed, fully clothed, as we talked--but her revelation of her condition bothered me more than I wanted to admit. Somehow it made her seem more vulnerable. Did her condition scramble only her memory, or were her thought processes and perceptions messed up as well? I was afraid a physical relationship might imply feeling and emotions that just weren't there.

Who knows, though? Those feelings and emotions might have developed eventually, but it was not to be. M and I spent a lot of time together in the next two or three weeks, even roadtripped together on the weekend between Christmas and New Year's Day--we stayed in a motel and slept together, but literally only slept--and ate a lot of Indian food and listened to a lot of music.

One night I got a call from her. She was manic, alternately crying and laughing, and finally bluntly asked, "Why don't you want to fuck me? You don't think I'm pretty enough, do you? Is that it?"

"No," I said, "that's not it."

"You think I'm crazy? Is that it?"

"No, I just...I just think...It's not that I don't want to, I just think we should wait until the right time..."

"Well, I think you should come down here and fuck me."

I did not go down and fuck her, but the next time I saw her, I learned the reason for the phone call: Some friends had given her crack. "They're not very good friends," she said, "but at least I can remember who they are."

This made me extremely uncomfortable, and our day together had a weird tone, our connection had been altered, but we still had a pretty good time, and ended the day watching Scooby-Doo reruns, both of us admitting an unhealthy obsession with Velma. (M was bi-sexual, and most of her long-term relationships had been with women.) The evening wound down and I left.

That was the last time I saw M. We'd talk on the phone, but she seemed spacier and more confused than I'd known her to be. Was that an aspect of her condition I simply hadn't seen, or was it something more sinister? We'd make plans, but she'd cancel. Eventually I'd stop calling her, and she didn't call me.

About a month later I met Sue Ellen, who I fell for almost immediately. I asked her to marry me on our third date, and within a few weeks I had moved halfway across the state to be with her. Initially I had my own apartment, then I just moved in with her. That would have been in September.

Shortly after that, I received a phone call from my mom. Some girl had left a message on her machine, saying she was looking for me. It was M.

She'd left a number where she could be reached. Sue Ellen, mercifully, gave her full blessings to allow me to call her--I think her words were, "Let's see what the lesbo chick wants." So I dialed the number. Her mother answered, I told her I was an old friend of M's and that she'd left me this number, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, to never call again.

Her mother couldn't have known who I was, and must have been protecting her daughter from "old friends"--but why? What had happened, many, many months after we last spoke, to prompt M to randomly dial someone in the Perry phone book with my last name, in the hopes of getting a message to me?

I'll probably never know. After several years away, I live in Des Moines now. M is not listed in the phone book, and I've Googled her name to no avail. I have no idea what might have happened to her, or even if she's still alive. It would be nice if I could talk to her, just to let her know that she really did matter to me, that I think of her sometimes, fondly and with regret.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Yet another senate panel on violence in Iraq, more questions from senators who voted for the war but want to pretend that they didn't, more scrambled thoughts from the generals in charge, admitting Iraq is close to civil war while at the same time claiming that their latest strategy could turn the tide.

And this priceless quote from beloved Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when asked straight up by Senator Hilary Rodham-Clinton why we should believe a word he says:

"My goodness. First of all, it's true there is sectarian violence in Iraq, and there is a loss of life. And it's an unfortunate and tragic thing that's taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children...And the idea of them prevailing is unacceptable."

Where to start?

Everything--everything--that is happening in Iraq can be laid squarely at Rumsfeld's feet. He lowballed the number of troops that were needed to do the job, stood by and watched as Bagdad broke into chaos, and never showed the slightest knowledge of the long-simmering feuds between the Sunnis and Shiites.

Why should he have cared about any of that? It's becoming more and more obvious that the whole enterprise in Iraq was in fact to secure the oil fields. That was done immediately, and while U.S. forces aren't able to stop civil war from breaking out, by God they're able to protect Halliburton's interests. Every little thing we've been told, by Rummy, by Bush and Cheney and Condi and Colin and the whole gang, has been a lie.

Still, there is some truth in what Rumsfeld said yesterday. There are people who are attempting to prevent the government in Iraq from being successful, by installing puppet regimes that the citizens don't want. And they are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children, by dropping bunker buster bombs on restaurants, then shrugging at the carnage without a word of regret.

For many Iraqis, the U.S. is clearly the enemy. And, as Rummy said, the idea of them prevailing is unacceptable.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Another bad day. After climbing two flights of stairs, I was covered in a cold sweat, hands shaking, heart pounding, convinced that this was it, I was having a stroke or a heart attack or something. I called my doctor and made an emergency appointment, and called my boss and said I was coming back to the office, I'd have to take the rest of the day off. She sounded a little skeptical on the phone, but when I got back to the office and she saw me, she remarked that I looked awful. Great.

"Blood pressure's a little high, temp is normal," the nurse remarked blandly as she checked my vitals. There was no alarm or concern evident as I described my what happened, and I didn't know whether that should make me feel better or worse.

It was much the same from the doctor himself: "From what you're saying and what I'm seeing, there's no reason to think you're having a stroke. The symptoms you're describing suggest a possible thyroid condition, possibly diabetes, but we just ran blood work for those six months ago. Certainly we'll go ahead and test you again, but the fact is, your blood pressure's elevated from what it was a week ago, and we doubled your meds then. The extra dosage should be working by now, so we'll have to make a change there. Until we get the blood pressure under control, you'll probably still have these symptoms. And remember, too, one of the things that leads to elevated number is anxiety, so when this happens, and you start to worry about it, your numbers shoot up even more, which may be what's causing the trembling you describe. You might also want to try to work to manage your stress levels..."

Yikes! To live in this world is to suffer from anxiety. From what he said, I was briefly terrified the doctor was going to suggest some kind of mood elevating meds, and I've been down that road enough times to know I don't want to go back. Instead, he put me on diueretics, took some blood and told me to come back in a week.

In a way, I wanted something dramatically wrong with me, something life-threatening but reasurringly concrete, in which the course of action would be obvious. Instead, I got a grim reminder that the human body is a wobbling, backfiring machine that barely even works sometimes. But it can be amazingly resilient, too, and when it does work, it's a marvel.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


It's interesting that, despite Mel Gibson's tirade when he was busted for DUI, most of the stories regarding this still cautiously note that "some" have detected "hints" of anti-Semitic "undertones" in The Passion Of The Christ.

Let's just put this one to rest, shall we? Gibson's claim that The Passion is based closely on the gospels is a joke--unless you can find the passage in the Bible that specifically mentions crowds of jeering, hook-nosed Jews watching as Jesus is whipped, you have to figure this is Mel's invention. And who should be seen wandering among the Jews, enjoying the spectacle. That's right--Satan. Very subtle.

According to a 2004 article in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Passion was widely shown and very popular in Muslim countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Qatar, which ordinarily ban any movie which show a literal depiction of a prophet. An exception was made for The Passion, however, since, as one observer put it, "It withholds from Jews their claim that they are innocent." It should be noted that Gibson owns the rights to the film, and the decision to show it in these countries was entirely his. Unlike Pontius Pilate, Mel can't wash his hands of this matter.

What's so strange is, I would never have seen this coming. Once Mel Gibson was the star of Mad Max, the guy who did exemplary work in Peter Weir's Gallipolli and The Year Of Living Dangerously. One of his best movies is Gillian Armstrong's little-known Mrs. Soffel, in which he's tremendously moving as a convicted murderer with a tender heart, a man torn between his impulses and his conscience.

I could try to give him the benefit of the doubt, and wonder if Gibson is torn between similar extremes in real life. If it was only his drunken tirade, maybe. But he made a fortune off of a deliberately anti-Semitic movie, and it's not like he humbled himself, Christ-like, and gave his fortune away. ("I own Malibu," he told the arresting officer.) No, it's got to be said: Mel Gibson is a terrible, hateful person, and all the apologies in the world won't change that.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Another Tuesday with very little of interest in the way of new DVD releases. One thing being released today is the complete first season of the early-to mid-sixties sitcom Hazel. This utterly bland offering starred Broadway legend Shirley Booth (this was her best known non-stage role, poor thing) as a busybody maid, plus the less than charismatic Don DeFore and Whitney Blake as her employers. Why this is even coming to DVD at all, I don't know, as it was the sort of disposeable, generic offering that used to run endlessly in syndication back in the early seventies, but was never watched by anyone I knew, and it hasn't been shown in years, and is probably best forgotten. did inspire an absolutely brilliant parody in Mad magazine, entitled "Strange Interlude With Hazey" which imagined this dull suburban sitcom as it might have been written by Eugene O'Neill, the stilted dialogue and innocuous situations a mask for the seething rage just below the surface. When I read a reprint of this piece (written by Stan Hart and illustrated by Mort Drucker) as a kid, it opened my eyes to what was really going on, not just on Hazel, but other shows as well. Was Fred Mertz abusive towards his wife? Was Lumpy Rutheford gay? Did the Professor and Mary Ann have something going on?

This is what Mad did for kids. It taught them that things were not always as they seemed, so question everything. Politicians lie, your neighbors are hypocrites, and that new movie that everyone says is so great? It's crap. Mad also planted a lot of Yiddish into the mouths of goyish children everywhere, and showcased one of my all-time heroes, the cartoonist Don Martin.

Mad still exists, and still seems to be aimed at eleven year olds of all ages. I don't read it anymore, and obviously it is staffed by different people these days (though Mort Drucker still draws the occasional movie or TV parody), and the vibe just isn't the same. Stll, if it is still able to convince just one kid to be skeptical of everything, it still serves a purpose.