Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I would have been sixteen when I saw my first Ingmar Bergman films, a double bill of Persona and Hour Of The Wolf. Their depictions of alienation, madness and despair hit me where I lived; as a kid stuck on a farm, living in a community where my intellectual curiosity was viewed with suspicion, I felt just like Max Von Sydow stuck on that island, questioning whether the voices he heard were real.

I saw a lot of Bergman films over the next year or so. The Des Moines theater The Movies was a repertory house, booking lots of the then-standard international favorites (Fellini, Kurosawa) along with then-new or at least more recent international fare (lots of Herzog and Fassbinder). Plus lots of cult films (Eraserhead), American indies (Return Of The Secaucus Seven, Gal Young 'Un) and Hollywood classics (musicals, science fiction, lots and lots of Hitchcock).

In that pre-video era, this is where my film education took place. The things I saw there--Jesus, my mind reels. Sisters, Dark Star, Desperate Living, Paths Of Glory, Forbidden Planet, Heavy Traffic, Tales Of Hoffman, Once Upon A Time In The West, New York, New York, Walkabout, 200 Motels, Dersu Uzala, Brewster McCloud, Hollywood Boulevard.

And through the years, all those other movies stayed with me more than any of the Bergman films I saw. However much they meant to me at the time, however they spoke to me, nothing of Bergaman's has lingered, in my heart, in my mind, in my imagination. They had their moment, then it passed.

I don't mean to disparage the man or his work--I named my beloved cat Monika after a Bergman title, after all--but maybe Bergman's films have the most meaning if seen at a time when you are first asking the Big Questions, are trying to find some sort of meaning in life.

At that point in your life, they seem deep, profound, but as you move on, they lose something. It's not that you stop asking those questions, but you discover other things in life, and then you notice Bergman's works seem hermetically sealed, full of characters who aren't characters, merely vessels for their director's weighty musings, and you want to tell them and him to lighten up, stop being so dour, and just relax.

Monday, July 30, 2007


The great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman has died at 89.

A good age, and he was active until the end, so no sorrow, not in this world. Whether the beyond is the bleak, godless hell he so dreaded and feared, or something more benign, he will have discovered by now.

Bergman's reputation is not what it once was, but his work still stands. Watch The Seventh Seal and be surprised by its wit, watch Wild Strawberries and be humbled by its wisdom, watch Through A Glass, Darkly or Winter Light or Cries And Whispers and...well, okay, those will just depress you. But it's a very human (if not quite humane) depression, a despair we have all known.

There was joy in Bergman's world, sometimes mixed with fear and sorrow (as in Fanny And Alexander), sometimes pure--his film of The Magic Flute is surely one of the most purely pleasurable things you will ever see.

His time here was well-spent, and these things he has left behind will be enough.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


I realize I said in my previous post that I was "wrapping up" Musicals Week here by posting some clips, but guess what? I lied.

It's a blast watching clips from musicals for any number of reasons, not least of which is how odd they can look out of context. Then again, some of these clips look weird IN context.

These are a little more obscure, more beloved by cultists and/or cineasts. Let's start with a great, hilarious, utterly out-of-nowhere number from It's Always Fair Weather, directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Here's Dolores Gray doing "Thanks A Lot But No Thanks":

Movie Movie isn't a musical, at least not entirely. It's a parody of a typical thirties double feature, two movies in one, kind of like Grindhouse, only good. Half of it is a John Garfield-styled social drama, wonderfully titled Dynamite Hands, the other half a Busby Berkeley-type musical extravaganza, Baxter's Beauties Of 1933. Larry Gelbart's script is pure genius, but for our purposes, let's concentrate on this number, from Dynamite Hands. Stanley Donen directed, Michael Kidd choreographed, Ann Reinking supplied the legs:

Shock Treatment had the misfortune of being released in 1981, when Rocky Horror mania still ran wild. It was billed as a sequel, but despite characters named Brad and Janet, it's no such thing. It is, however, a remarkably prescient satire, set in a town that exists only to be monitored on TV twenty-four hours a day. Jim Sharman's direction is relentlessly inventive, Richard O'Brien's script and songs are witty and, as here, occasionally poignant:

That was the wonderful Jessica Harper, a big favorite around here, and not just because of her frequent nudity in the movie Inserts. No, we respect her for her fine comedic skills, and, as you could hear, her lovely singing voice. Here she is, once again bringing real emotion to a very dark, somewhat unhinged movie, in Brian DePalma's Phantom Of The Paradise:

Harper also appeared in Herbert Ross' haunting adaptation of Dennis Potter's TV serial Pennies from Heaven, but she didn't get to sing. Nobody did; it was the movie's conceit that the actors would lip synch to old thirties recordings, representing their dreams of a better world. Or, in this case, representing their truer, baser self. Christopher Walken, folks, dancing up a storm:

Pennies From Heaven is often described as Brechtian, but you can't do Brechtian better than the real thing. Here's Lotte Lenya in G.W. Pabst's film of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. The music, of course, is by one of my all-time heroes, Kurt Weill:

Shifting gears radically, to the stagebound but very enjoyable adaptation of the Broadway hit Lil Abner. This movie is notable, to some of us at least, for the presence of Leslie Parrish, Julie Newmar and Stella Stevens. (I have a story about the effect Stella Stevens had on one young lad's loins...but you probably don't want to hear it.) The presence of three top-heavy actresses and the shitkicker setting suggest a Russ Meyer effort, but no, this is Broadway all the way. And none of those babes are in this scene, but I love it anyway. The song is by Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul, the staging is "adapted" from Michael Kidd's dances from the stage (he wasn't involved with the movie), and that's the great Stubby Kaye singing:

Kind of an odd choice here, but the 1996 Disney version of Hunchback Of Notre Dame, you should pardon, rang the final bell on that studio's Broadway-styled animated features. It's a frustrating movie, with flashes of greatness, but chock full of cutesy comic relief that simply doesn't belong there, and ultimately a frustrating mess. This opening sequence, masterfully staged and set to a dramatic Alan Menken-Stephen Schwartz score, promises a great movie that never materializes:

Finally, a real cult item. This number from the extremely low-budget extravaganza The Forbidden Zone attempts to convey some of the ambience of a 1930's Max Fleischer cartoon, which explains the guy in blackface, the leering sexuality and, above all, the Cab Calloway bit. This oddity was directed by Richard Elfman, and that's his brother Danny leading the band. Tim Burton was a fan of this movie, and gave Danny Elfman a chance to provide another Fleischer/Calloway riff in The Nightmare Before Christmas...Somehow, I doubt anyone at Disney knew about this:


Since I've been going on about musicals all this week, let's wrap this up with a few clips.

First off, An American In Paris, directed by Vincente Minnelli (I've mentioned him before, perhaps?) and featuring the matchless Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. These are two of the best numbers from the film, and in very different ways. I love the langorous mood Minnelli creates with "Love Is Here To Stay"--the light shimmering on the water, the misted, glowing city in the background. When Kelly and Caron start dancing, he lets Kelly's choreography define his use of space...until the two of them get together, when he cuts to a close-up, then immediately pulls the camera back, as if allowing them their privacy. Magnificent.

For the deliberately campy "Stairway To Paradise", notice how Minnelli's camera follows Georges Guetary (I've never heard of him, either) up the staircase as the statuesque babes descend. Hard to appreciate on YouTube, on a big screen, an impressively vertiginous effect.

I wanted to include something from West Side Story, since it's the movie that really made me a big fan of musicals. I'm tempted to post one of Jerome Robbins' amazing dances, but instead, here's one of Leonard Bernstein's achingly lovely ballads. This song tends to make me cry, for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie. (Don't ask.)

Many of the ecstatic reviews for Hairspray have used enthusiasm for that film as an opportunity to bash other recent screen musicals, particularly Rob Marshall's Chicago, for their hyperkinetic editing. Well, Marshall was clearly only paying hommage to Bob Fosse, as this great number from Sweet Charity, Fosse's first film as director proves:

Geez, that was great. How about some more Fosse? No less a giant than Stanley Kubrick once claimed Fosse's Cabaret was as well-directed as any movie he knew. This number shows Kubrick's wisdom:

And finally, Singin' In The Rain. The whole thing, of course, is one of The Greatest Things Ever, but for my money, this is the greatest three minutes ever put on film. Heck, I just watched this scene four or five times before I even posted. This is Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, two guys who were simply the best at what they did. Pure joy:

Friday, July 27, 2007


Since it seems to be Musicals Week here, I figured I should take a moment to mention my (unexpected) enthusiasm for the new movie adaptation of the Broadway musical Hairspray.

I'd never seen the stage version, since its reputation was that it was, eh, okay, but nothing special, so I can't say how much of what works is new to the movie or straight from the show, but certainly the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are instantly catchy, while at the same time delineating character, as good show songs should.

Adam Shankman directed and choreographed, and did an ace job on both counts. His handling of the musical numbers is frequently--and I realize I'm using this word in connection with the director of The Pacifier and Cheaper By The Dozen 2--inspired. There are high energy dance numbers, which Shankman breezes through effortlessly, but he does a great job with the teen longing ballad "I Can Hear The Bells", which is both funny and wistful (Nikki Blonsky's performance is wonderful), and especially "The Legend Of Miss Baltimore Crabs", a number which provides a back story for Michelle Pfeiffer's villain while simultaneously propelling the story forward, and is elegantly staged to an insinuating cha-cha beat.

The cast is tops, as well, and for once, everybody in it seems to belong in a musical. Blonski is utterly endearing as our perpetually upbeat heroine, it's great to hear Pfeiffer sing again, plus Christopher Walken (dancing again at last), Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, Zac Effron, Elijah Kelley and especially James Marsden--who knew that boring guy from The X-Men was so funny, or could sing?

As for John Travolta's stunt casting as Blonski's mom, it works reasonably well. His facial makeup is a bit grotesque, but to his credit, he gives a real performance, something he hasn't done since...I can't remember. Face/Off? Pulp Fiction? Anyway, it's nice to have the Travolta of old back, if only briefly.

Also, kudos to the entire team Shankman assembled here, particularly cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, who perfectly captures the look of an early sixties George Sidney movie.

Hairspray probably won't win any awards, or change your life, but it's solidly-built entertainment, the kind of thing Hollywood used to make on a regular basis. These days, it's cause for celebration.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


This is one of my favorite scenes from Meet Me In St. Louis, and it shows Vincente Minnelli's absolute mastery of staging and lighting. However silly and ordinary the situation and dialogue may be--intentionally so--Minnelli conjures up an increasingly dream-like mood. The color, the constantly roving camera, the cuts so subtle you barely know they're there...oh, and a song, even though it doesn't feel like a musical number.

Minnelli only made a handful of truly great films, but with this, The Bad And the Beautiful, The Band Wagon, Some Came Running and, of course, The Pirate (I do go on about that one, don't I?), he made his reputation as the greatest director of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The 1948 MGM musical The Pirate finally arrives on DVD today. Here are a few thoughts about this most unusual and wonderful film:

1) Judy Garland portrays Manuela, a sheltered child of privelege in a Caribbean island of the mind. She longs for a life of adventure, yearning to be whisked away by the fearsome pirate Mack The Black, but is instead set to wed the island's staid, respectable governor. When a troup of travelling actors, led by the self-impressed Serafin (Gene Kelly), blow into town, Manuela somehow convinces herself Serafin in Mack in the flesh, and he is only to willing to feed her fantasies. Wacky complications ensue.

2) That's the plot, but that's not the movie. Director Vincente Minnelli bathes all this in a hothouse exoticism, a patently unreal, entirely cinematic dreamscape, a shimmering, artful artifice. The first half of The Pirate has a feverish intensity that links it to such cinematic hallucinations as Peter Ibbetson and Black Narcissus, and even when it turns into door-slamming farce, Minnelli remains in firm control, his staging elegant, his use of the camera masterful. Every color in the sets, every strand of every costume, even the varying hues of the extra's skins (the background players are integrated, very unusual for a film of its era)--all of this seems to be part of the director's grand design.

3) He's greatly helped, it should be noted, by his leads. Gene Kelly, of course, always had more than a touch of self-regard, so he inhabits Serafin as if born to the part. He was such a great dancer--his big ballet number is astonishing (aided by Minnelli's furious reds and blacks) and his solo to Nina will make you want to applaud--it's easy to forget what a great comedic performer he could be, and here his Barrymore-esque blowhard is absolutely inspired.

As for Garland, this is easily her best performance, utterly vulnerable in the film's first half, her sense of longing almost unbearably intense. After she sees through Serefin's ruse, she is snapped back to reality, and she proves herself a masterful farceuse, flinging plates and insults with equal aplomb.

4) But is this the performance she meant to give, or the movie Minnelli intended to make? Garland was famously spiralling out of control during the shooting, causing endless delays, forcing Minnelli to do endless retakes. Was this a movie made in the editing room? Is Garland's intense performance in the early scenes a result of her massive insecurities? Would she have given these line readings, had these dazed, faraway eyes if she had not been heavily medicated and suffering from major depression? Did Minnelli use his own wife's mental deterioration to make his movie better?

5) As great as The Pirate is, it's dogged by the shadow movies it might have been. There's the light, elegant confection it was clearly meant to be, that it intermittently still is. If Garland had been capable of giving 100%, she no doubt would have brought a lighter touch to the early proceedings. This movie would still be blessed with Kelly's acrobatics and Minnelli's gorgeous atmospherics, but it would miss the whiff of darkness it retains.

On the other hand, what if Minnelli had deliberately gone darker? One of Garland's songs, Voodoo, was cut, according to some sources because her performance was simply too intense. What if it had been kept? What if Minnelli had left more evidence of Garland's deterioration throughout the body of the film? What if he'd made it clear that for poor, haunted Manuela, there can never be a happy ending?

6) This is one of my favorites, and I'm glad it's finally available, but I won't be happy until Minnelli's Yolanda And The Thief is also on DVD. Of course, we cultists are never happy...

Monday, July 23, 2007


Sometimes I post here because I'm angry at the state of the world. (Those would be the "Bush is a douchebag" screeds.) Other times, it's an act of public therapy, as I try to work through feelings of grief (over my mother's death) or self-doubt (over my inability to sustain a relationship). Still other times, I simply want to make you, the reader, aware of something I think is important. (Did I mention The Pirate comes out on DVD tomorrow?)

Many times, however, I post here simply for the sake of posting. An act of presumption on my part, since it assumes I have enough people stopping by here on a regular basis that I should assume the role of a good host, and always try to have something new.

And I do write here with the hope of being read. Writing is solitary; once it's done and you send it out in the world, you hope somebody, somewhere, will find it and make use of it.

Which brings me to my stats.

My numbers had been unusually high for well over a week, then over the weekend dropped to practically nothing. Some of that higher traffic came from regular visitors here--as always, thanks to both of you--but much of it was new. So something brought people here...and something made them not return.

This site has become a surprisingly important part of my life. I put a lot of myself into it, expose aspects of myself I once would have been uncomfortable sharing, so if no one's reading it--or worse, if they're actively repelled by it--it makes me wonder what I'm doing wrong. Should I post here less frequently, and only if I actually have something to say? Should I shut the whole thing down and go live in a cave? Should I just stop whining?

Or should I just wait until tomorrow, and see if I feel like writing?

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Thoughts inspired by this:

1) Holy crap, that theme music (by Jerry Goldsmith) is cool!

2) Did Barnaby Jones deserve such cool music?

3) That opening goes on for almost a full minute...No way you could do that today. In the seventies, you had more time devoted to program content, less time to commercials, so you could afford such luxuries as opening graphics and kick-ass theme music.

4) Buddy Ebsen as a detective? What the hell were they thinking?

5) Why did my mom watch this every week?

6) My dad would usually kick back a few cans of Grain Belt every evening. Did nasty, watery beer somehow make my mom's TV choices easier to accept? Is there such a thing as TV beer goggles?

7) Sure sign it's the seventies: Conrad Janis!

8) I could use about two more hours of sleep.

Friday, July 20, 2007


The Emmy nominations were announced, and once again, and for the last time, Lauren Graham didn't get nominated.

This is a crime, I tell you. Not because I've had a thing for her since that stupid sitcom Townies, which I used to actually watch just to wallow in my overwhelming desire to have carnal knowledge of her. No, it's not because of that. It's because of her skill as an actress. I respect her.

I mean, that karaoke scene on the penultimate episode of Gilmore Girls. Sure, it was hokily conceived, with her singing I Will Always Love You, first as a joke, then with heartbreaking sincerity as her one true love walked in, but god damn it, she turned it into a thing of beauty, hilarious and devastating and making me want to have sex with her all the more but that's totally irrelevant to the greatness of her performance.


In other Emmy news, what the hell? According To Jim got a nomination? Yep, for Best Cinematography. This is another category in which Gilmore Girls was shut out, even though simply turning a camera on Lauren Graham will result in images that will beguile the hearts and loins of many a stout lad, but...um, where was I?

Oh, right. Emmys. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip somehow wound up with a passel of nominations, including John Goodman's why-bother appearance in a particularly dreadful two-parter and Eli Wallach's shameless turn as an old blacklistee--how the hell did these guys get nominated, when Lauren Graham, who managed to wring laughs from a somewhat humiliating guest starring role as herself, was overlooked?

What I'm trying to say is, Lauren, fire your agent. I'll represent you for free. In fact, I've got a script you might be interested in. You'd play my incredibly hot girlfriend--No, wait, listen, I know how that sounds, but you wouldn't just be playing "the girlfriend"--you'd be the central character. It would be all about you--well, us--and how we're both totally into Star Wars and MST3K, and we'd go to Marshall Crenshaw concerts and drink Guinness and...

Wait, where are you going? Is it the toe sucking scene? I thought it would be a fetish you'd totally be into, and...Come on, it's not that bad. At least it's better than Evan Almighty.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


The back stairway offers an expansive view of the east side of the city. Across the river, on top of a hill sits Mercy Capitol. It was known as Des Moines General when my dad was hospitalized there after his bout with colon cancer, then it was bought out by Mercy, the hospital where I work now, the very hospital from which I'm noticing this view. Dad was there twenty years ago. Jesus. Twenty years.

It was Mercy Capitol when the woman I was living with had surgery following complications from a simple kidney stone removal procedure. That was in the fall of 2005, following the weird summer of Mom's mystery illness, and the revelation of her cancer, but after she had been sent home and seemed to be doing fine.

Directly across from Mercy is the huge central post office. My brother Keith worked there in 1975, the same year he took me to the River Hills theater to see 2001. The River Hills was an old Cinerama theater, and it was located just down the street. It's gone now.

So is Keith, so is Mom, so is Dad. So, for that matter, is the woman I lived with in 2005, not gone in a corporeal sense, but still someone who mattered to me, then disappeared. So much of my life I see through this window, a crazy mirror of things that were and might have been. The temptation to stand here is overwhelming, to relive my life, to wallow in nostalgia.

But I have work to do, so I hurry down the stairs without looking back.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Look, you think I enjoy this sort of thing? I wish I could write something today, eloquently crystalize my thoughts, lets the words flow like endless rain into a paper cup, whatever. But I got nothin', so it's another cheap, clip-filled placeholder.

Not that there's anything cheap about great music.

Here's the great cool jazz singer June Christy:

Some astonishing guitar from Ry Cooder:

One of my all-time heroes, composer Ennio Morricone, conducting one of his classics:

Finally, some early XTC. "We're going to do a Rita Coolidge number"... Andy Partridge is one of the coolest people in the world:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The medical supply company was self-contained. The front of the building housed the IT people and the sales staff, as well as the huge office the owner claimed for himself, and a smaller office for the owner's useless brother. The warehouse sat in back, and in between was the shipping department, where the orders were packed and processed.

I worked in the back, initially as a packer and order puller, eventually as the only full-time shipping clerk. We in the back were the designated proles of the place, and were seldom allowed to forget it. The boss would occasionally pick one of us at random to wash his pickup, but more pathetic would be when sales guys would help us out with picking and packing. They would make a great show of changing out of their sweat-stained Dacron shirts, colorless Dockers slacks and clip-on ties, donning t-shirts and torn jeans, making it clear they considered this kind of work beneath them.

The thing is, every single one of us who worked in the back thought these guys were pathetic losers. Their wages were no larger than ours, so they lived and died by commission, and their naked desperation for the almighty sale made the guys in Glengarry Glen Ross seem dignified. Their only apparent perk, invitations to parties at the boss' house, would be meaningless to anyone with a life outside the place, but these guys were in permanent ass-kissing mode, and the job, the sweet, sweet job with its hollow promise of a brighter future, took precedence over meaningless things like wives and children.

There was no point in telling them how ridiculous they appeared, how empty their lives seemed to be. They wouldn't have listened, and wouldn't have believed it. All they had was their unearned arrogance, and the need to believe that they mattered.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I'm back, and I apologize if my abrupt departure the other day in any way sounded ominous. I was not institutionalized, nor was I wrapping up some "business" with a shady Chilean "associate". I merely spent time in Nebraska--home of "The Good Life"--with my brother and his family. When in Omaha, try a King Kong Burger. You'll be glad you did.

This was my first time away in several months, and boy, did I need it. I could have used more time away, but at least I feel somewhat refreshed and rejuvenated. Though I can't quite claim a Zorba-like zest for life, I could at least join Godzilla in his Happy Dance:

Friday, July 13, 2007


I'll be away for the weekend, so no new posts around here. (Sounds of crickets chirping.)

But even though I've got nothing to say, that doesn't mean I can't leave you the gift of song. Let's start with this site's patron saint, John Lennon:

Switching gears radically, here's Art Tatum:

This is The Jim Carroll Band performing People Who Died:

A great live performance from Stevie Wonder:

And finally, here's Jenny Lewis. Yes, she's awesomely hot, but we RESPECT HER AS AN ARTIST. No, really, we do. Although this clip...yeah. In my world, every woman would wear cocktail dresses and go-go dance:

Thursday, July 12, 2007


282 million dollars was stolen from Dar Es Salaam bank in Baghdad yesterday.

I realize with everything else going on in Iraq, this may not seem like a big deal. But consider that the money--a quarter of a billion dollars, folks--was in American dollars. Nobody's talking about why an Iraqi bank would hold such a huge amount of foreign currency , or how the robbers knew that much American money was on hand.

Now I'd be the last person to suggest any kind of sinister conspiracy. Far be it from me to speculate the money might have been unreported profits from the oil fields, or mad money for Halliburton employees, or there to pay some of the Bushinista's shadowy special ops. Nor would I suggest that since the robbery was allegedly carried out by Iraqi bank guards--who somehow knew the place held a quarter of a billion American dollars--it somehow suggests karmatic payback for bridges burned, yet another howl of protest from the people whose country we occupy.

I would, however, observe that any reporter worth their salt should be all over this story. The only mention in the American press I've been able to find so far is in The New York Times, which buried it in with other Iraq-related news.

Of course, even if some dogged reporter unearthed serious malfeasance here, it probably wouldn't matter. Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales have clearly lied under oath and broken laws they swore to uphold, yet they still serve. Arrogance has its priveleges.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


People come in from outside warning, "It's really hot out there." TV weatherpeople drone on and on about the heat index. Newspapers carry the inevitable stories about drinking fluids and limiting outdoor activities.

All of which, I'm sure, is helpful to people who've NEVER FUCKING EXPERIENCED JULY BEFORE!

It's summertime, folks. It gets hot. We know this, because we just lived through it a year ago. If you don't know enough to keep hydrated in this kind of weather, you're so fucking dense there's no way all the warnings in the world will get through to you. For the rest of this, these warnings are useless because we already know!

What's more, when the heat goes away, it can get cold. And even though the human race instinctively understands that when that happens, we should wear coats, the TV will be full of pasty, nondescript talking heads telling us to WEAR COATS BECAUSE IT'S REALLY COLD OUT THERE. Because, apparently, we can't remember to do anything without being told.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


1) Actor Kerwin Mathews has died at the age of 81.

A quintessential B movie actor, Mathews brought his rugged but bland features and sonorous voice to a number of roles, none of them very interesting...save one. He had the title role in The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, and for that alone he achieved immortality. This was--still is, and will always be--the finest fantasy film ever created. Remembered as a showcase for Ray Harryhausen's spellbinding stop-motion animation--the cyclops! the roc! oh my God that creepy skeleton how on earth did they ever do that!--it actually boasts an enjoyable script, colorful camerawork, a knockout score by Bernard Herrmann and breathless direction by Nathan Juran.

And Mathews, a Sinbad any sailor (or ten-year-old kid) would follow to the ends of the earth, tough enough to take on a sword-wielding skeketon without blinking an eye, but appealingly human-scaled for an action hero. For this one movie, Mathews was the perfect choice for the role. He never really got the breaks that would show if he was capable of more, but that's okay. Several generations thank him for Sinbad.

2) Speaking of Harryhausen and Sinbad movies, a family of pigeons has settled into my window ledge, their nest built alongside my air conditioner. Babies have been born recently, and they crawl and chirp exactly like the newly-born Homonculus in The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. Adorable and creepy in equal measures.

3) For the second Tuesday in a row, I've decided to avoid a post dedicated to new DVD releases. According to my stats, these are among my least-read posts, and I can take a hint. If there's a release I think is of particular value, I'll highlight it--Vincente Minnelli's The Pirate finally arrives in a couple of weeks, and you can expect me to go on and on about that--but New Release Day is officially a thing of the past around here. I'm sure regular readers (both of you--hey, I never get tired of that gag!) won't mourn it.

Having said that, Hollywood After Dark is out today, a 1968 effort with Rue McClanahan as a stripper, and featuring commentary by The Film Crew--Mystery Science Theater vets Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. I'll be picking up a copy.

4) I realize a cat lacks opposeable thumbs and so can't technically can't form a fist, but Monika punched Midnight in the face last night. Not that Moika's belligerant; Midnight was actin' a fool, and deserved a smackdown. Monika just did what she had to.

Monika is awesome.

Monday, July 09, 2007


If you pay attention to the machinations of the entertainment industry--and my sympathies if you do--you will be inundated by breathless stories detailing the "record-shattering" opening weekend of Transformers. If you have even the most basic math abilities and a hint of common sense, you'll realize something's screwy.

The first "record" shattered is for biggest Tuesday gross. It made just shy of 28 million Tuesday alone, but what kind of a record is this? Most movies open of Friday, occasionally on Wedneday--never on Tuesday. It's easy to set the record for something that's not usually done.

More interestingly, though it has made something like 152 million so far, its weekend gross was only 68 million--nothing to sneeze at, but not a huge weekend number for such a heavily-hyped piece of merchandise. In other words, it made most of its money before the weekend--which would seem to suggest that, in the space of a week, many of the people who wanted to see it had already seen it.

I realize it's just Transformers. It's designed to be disposable summer entertainment. Fine. But Big Hollywood Movies have never been designed for more than entertainment value, yet they seemed to have a bit more shelf life once upon a time. Pirates Of the Caribbean 3 was supposed to be one the summer's smash hits, and had the huge opening numbers to prove it, but after only a month it's already faded into the mists of time. The studios thought this would be a record-breaking summer, but it's starting to seem more and more like The End.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


I haven't bought the first season of Welcome Back Kotter on DVD, but just seeing it on a routine trip to Target, Gabe Kaplan and the Sweathogs smiling out at me in the same head shots used as reference art on the lunchbox and Thermos, produces an almost overwhelming sense of nostalgia in me. Or maybe, nostalgia for nostalgia.

In the summer of 1995, Nick At Nite broadcast what they called "block parties"--six episodes of one sitcom back to back, a different series every night. Friday nights were Kotter nights. And nearly every Friday that summer found me at my mom's apartment. She'd prepare a fairly elaborate meal--an Indian dish, perhaps, or some old Yugoslavian favorite she'd read about in The New York Cookbook--and we'd settle in for three hours of Kaplan Magic.

I'd turned thirty as that summer began, and you'd think a single thirty-year-old would have better things to on a Friday night than watch old sitcoms with his mom. Sadly, in my case, you'd be wrong.

And really, what could I have been doing as important as spinning this safe little cocoon for myself, aided by this audiovisual time capsule of my life--Jesus--twenty years earlier? Kotter, with its nonstop references to Ford and Carter, WIN buttons and Bicentennial Minutes, somehow brought my ten-year-old self to life, happily reminding me of a time and place seemingly long gone. Better, taking this trip in Mom's company, it was like actually being there, the effects of time easily erased, I could be safe and happy and ten forever.

Such a dream is impossible to entertain now. That summer is itself twelve years gone, and of course, Mom is gone, too. What tattered remnants of innocence might remain if I watched Kotter now? Would its tacky sets, corny jokes and mellow John Sebastian theme song work their old magic? Would I laugh, would I sneeringly wonder why I watched this crap in the first place? Or would I sit helpless, my body wracked with uncontrollable sobs?


Look not for coherent thought patterns or an over-riding sense of purpose this time. Today is just random, free-floating whatever the hell pours out of my brain.

First of all, I got "tagged" (as people who spend way too much time blogging apparaently say) by my ex in her blog. I'm supposed to respond to questions posed regarding a series of creepy monkey pictures posted at her blog. Technically, I think I'm supposed to post the pictures here, but that would involve knowing how to do that, and well...I don't.

So look to my list o' links to the right, then go to Musings Of A Chick. Sue Ellen's (sorry...I meant Sudiegirl's...Five years with her and you'd think I'd realize she wanted to be named like an Earl Hamner character!) current post amusingly details my obsession with the movie Xanadu. After that is the creepy monkey pictures. And to answer the questions posed, well, if the monkey were here, Monika would have killed it by now (quickly and mercifully, like James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven), so that's pretty much that.

And as far as Xanadu, yes, I like bad movies. My brother and I drove through a blizzard to see Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I've seen Neil Diamond's The Jazz Singer numerous times. I own a copy of The Gong Show Movie, for God's sake. Hey, at least I don't like seventies Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Speaking of bad movies, here's a little clip of Sally Kellerman singing and dancing her heart out in the godawful 1973 musical Lost Horizon. By singing, I mean growling, and by dancing, I mean...well, take a look:

Ah crap. Let's erase the memory of that with something good, shall we? Here's Jill Scott and George Benson:

And here's a little clip somebody (NOT me) made of Stella Stevens in her underwear:

You know, I could go on and on (and on and on) about Stella Stevens, and I really should, but it might get embarrassing, so I won't.

So let me leave you with Lee Marvin. Sure, Paint Your Wagon is an awful movie, and obviously, he's no singer. But I still think this is touching, dammit, because it sounds like he's actually lived the life described in the song. Plus, it's Lee Marvin!

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Last week, the journal Science published the results of a massive research project by Dr. Carlos Driscoll into the origins of the domestic cat. After six years of collecting DNA samples and examining different species, Dr. Driscoll concluded that 10,000 years ago, in Arab desert lands, wildcats made their way into villages, escaping from predators in the outside world and earning their keep by catching pests. Driscoll has, in fact, narrowed it down to five: From five mother cats centuries ago have sprung every housecat since.

Well, I need to go back 10,000 years and hug those kitties.

I want to hug them for all the joy they've given me, all the cats I've ever known and loved. I would thank them for Tiger, Spock, Maxi Cat, Cougar (the first cat who was officially considered my cat, not a family pet), Mo, Sinbad, Harpo, Timothy, Farrah (I had nothing to do with naming her, though she was a Glamout Cat), Bo (the Robert Mitchum of the cat world), William (my soulmate), Lenny, George, Lohman, Abner, Ferd, Avatar (the only living being I've ever known who I've believed to be purely good), Gunnar, Shady, Shemp, Floyd, Solly (who taught herself to walk again after suffering a stroke, and whose eyes were huge and full of love), Izzy Cohen (named for a Howlin' Commando, and quite bitter about it), Roz and Scotchie(whose black-tipped orange fur formed a ridge down her back, and who was one of the best buddies I could ever have). I'd thank them for Pinback, who wasn't really a cat--she was a strange visitor from the planet Zontar--but who assumed the earthly form of a cat, so she owed a debt to those five mothers. I'd thank them for Monika and Midnight, my current companions.

But mostly, I'd thank them for Delmar. Today is my beloved psychokitty's bithday, and while I tried to think of the perfect gift to give him (I thought about gouging out my own eyeball and giving it to him, so he wouldn't have to do all the work), I realized the best thing I can do is to be here for him, to feed and water and hang out with him, to remind him every day how much he's loved.

Del hopped on my lap briefly as I wrote this, rubbed his face against my chin, then left. If that's the only way he has to express his feelings for me, it's enough.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


The Fourth Of July. Like any American with common sense, I'm of two minds about my country.

On one hand, there's a sincer, non-ironic love of country. If it was good enough for Marvin Gaye, it's good enough for me:

On the other hand, even aside from the current administration, there's the knowledge that this land of liberty was built on a lie: the professed belief that everyone was free, unless your skin was dark. Nobody was ever caught the deep flaw in the American character with greater eloquence than Randy Newman, who welded a gorgeous melody to bitterly ironic lyrics for this classic:

So hey, America, let me wish you a most heartfelt yet ambiguous Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


It's not the reason I'm bitter and out of sorts, but Our Beloved President's decision to commute the sentence for Cheney loyalist "Scooter" Libby should make any human being with a soul and a conscience sick.

You want proof the rich and well-connected can escape justice? You want proof that avarice, greed, cruelty and naked ambition are the coin of the realm? You want to know why those of us trapped at the bottom can never escape? Here it is, in a nutshell.

Yeah, history will damn this administration, and people will look back and wonder how this happened, but you know what? I don't give a rat's ass about history. I live in the here and now, while all this shit is coming down, and I feel so powerless, so trapped.

Not much more I can say, so I'll let Billy Corgan articulate my feelings:

Monday, July 02, 2007


Still in pissy mode, still not feeling much like writing, still don't want to get into it.

I will, however, note that things might be changing around here. Postings may become more erratic, and the nature of those postings may change. I've noticed there is no apparent pattern to the traffic on this site--the largest number of hits I've had recently was for the piece I wrote on tuna casserole, for God's sake, hardly one of my shining moments.

Inevitably, anytime I get a lot of visitors here, the next day I get almost none. So clearly, something about what I'm doing here is actively turning people away. Some reconsideratin may be in order. I've tentatively turned to fiction writing again; perhaps I'll post some of that here. Or not. Who knows?

Of course, it's also possible absolutely nothing here will change. Whenever I say I'll post less frequently, I usually wind up with two posts the next day. So I guess the moral is...well, as Michael O'Donoghue once observed, there is no moral, only random acts of senseless violence. And who could argue with Mr. Mike?

Finally, because I had so much fun posting Beatles videos yesterday, here's an awesome piece i certainly didn't know existed, a live performance of John's ballad If I Fell:

Sunday, July 01, 2007


In a pissy mood today--various reasons, none I feel like going into. I wanted to say a few words about Brad Bird's magnificent Ratatouille, but don't feel like it right now, and when I don't feel like geeking out about animation, you know something's wrong.

So it's one of those "Enjoy my musical tastes" posts. Here's The Beatles, the best of the best, even though poor George barely gets one close-up while firing off some awesome lead guitar. And John and Paul look so, you know, happy!

Wow, that felt good. How about some more? Here's a killer live performance of Help. Lennon's vocal is magnificent, Paul and George's harmonies kill, Ringo's drumming is peerless...I'll shut up now:

Of course, I'm a Lennon partisan, but here's a Richard Lester-directed clip for one of Paul's loveliest ballads:

And not to leave George out, here he is with Paul Simon, performing one of his best:

There. That's better. I'm feeling okay now. Nothing could bring me down now. Unless it was something at once heart-stoppingly beautiful and ineffably sad. Like, I dunno, a duet between Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell:

Ah, who am I kidding? I'm down, and I want something down, something torchy. Ella and Joe Pass, what have you got for me?

All right! That's the mood I'm in!