Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What you are listening to if you are listening to Willard's Canteen: A Whiskey Bottle That Has Not Been Neglected cassette

I didn't have time to photocopy the J-card for this Willard's Canteen tape release, A Whiskey Bottle That Has Not Been Neglected, so here's the cover and song info. It's a one-sided tape because for some reason I couldn't tape on the other side of these formerly Christian tapes I taped over. 

Song list (in order):

1. Reinjured
2. Crystal Clear (Beer) (orig. by Beck)
3. Insight
4. 'Shine Runna
5. Idiopathic
6. I am Legend
7. Hamburger
8. Bees
9. 12-PAK-599 (orig. by Grandaddy)
10. Anthem
11. Crom Blood
12. The Left Hand Path
13. Zachariah Harris
14. Flag

Parental Advisory on some of da lyrics. 
Recorded completely in the Peach State of Georgia, US and A. 

Enjoy and drop me a line. If you want the J-card for the tape, lemmy know!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mulleted Neanderthal in Yellow Pants, Please Report to a White Courtesy Phone

I've been fascinated by this gem I stumbled upon on YouTube.

Now from what I understand, Michael Anthony got the short end of the stick from Van Halen, and he probably means well. But if this is not a sure sign of de-evolution, I don't know what is.

As Neanderthalian as he is, and as questionable as his bass solo is, he does have an excellent bourbon-bubbling technique that I've only read about in the writings of Georgia-born author Harry Crews.

Enjoy. You're welcome.

PS Why does Sammy Hagar look like a white version of Michael Jackson in THE WIZ mixed with a poker dealer?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mister, Would You Please Help My Popcorn Lung?

I've been learning about popcorn lung disease, and it's just crazy. I hadn't heard about it until this year, in association with vaping, which I've always appreciated as an evolution beyond the nastiness of smoking, but perhaps isn't as safe as was thought.

Where there's a clown, be careful

I worked at a movie theatre that served popcorn (duh) and the artificial butter liquid for a brief time around 2004. I remember the theatre had a kind of greasy quality to the air at times, and I was surprised they cleaned the popcorn popper's glass walls with glass cleaner, which seems like it would mix with the popcorn. I don't have any popcorn lung symptoms that I know of, and judging by how nasty the disease, I would know. 

At the risk of sounding like a 7th grader doing a report on those big pieces of presentation board/paper, here are some interesting facts about popcorn lung:
  •  The disease first showed up (that we know of) as early as 2000 or so, and after seeing that microwave popcorn factory workers had symptoms, lab rats were tested. Half of the lab rats died in 6 HOURS. That's an amazingly fast takedown. Rivals Ebola. I feel bad for the rats. They prolly thought they were getting a tasty popcorn treat, and it killed them.
  • Makers of Diacetyl -- the amped-up artificial flavoring that when airborne gets into the lungs and causes problems -- knew the dangers (from the above lab rat experiment and early human cases) but kept making it. 
  • The US gov't only regulates about 50 of about 1000 artificial flavorings*.
  • Diacetyl, a ketone, is actually naturally-occuring and is in butter, wine, beer, vinegar, etc., but the levels used in microwave popcorn is far higher than naturally occurs. It reminds me of MSG, also a naturally-occuring but powerful flavor agent. But MSG doesn't kill people. I have a friend who won't eat Chinese food unless it HAS MSG in it. That's the spirit!
  • The EPA tested microwave popcorn like people make at home and the office, and found it very safe (to eat and to breathe some of the incidental vapors -- don't huff it, people!), but there are emerging cases of consumers getting popcorn lung. Cognitive dissonance. 
  • It's tricky whom to blame, because there're the flavoring companies (like in the hilarious dark comedy EXTRACT), the popcorn factories, and the stores that sell the popcorn. And then there are movie theatres, and possible dangers from vaping. It seems like movie theatres have been around awhile and have been using the tasty buttery shit for awhile, and I haven't heard of movie theatre workers with popcorn lung, but then again it's largely young people in those jobs and they are theoretically healthier and more resilient. Vaping is so relatively new that it could very well be connected to popcorn lung, especially with all the crazy vape flavors and how those flavorings are vaporized just like Diacetyl in popcorn factories. 
  • Popcorn lung is incurable and requires a risky lung transplant. Victims have been awarded millions of dollars-settlements, but that probably is a Pyrrhic victory when you need a lung transplant, have lung problems, and have a reduced lifespan. 
  • Hillary Clinton's health problems -- from her coughing fits to falling down on 9/11 -- have been speculatively attributed to popcorn lung from her 4 bag a day (!) microwave popcorn habit. 
I made that last one up. 
The link that I have above is from 2006, so there may be new information, but it's amazing that this has been around so long. (Going on two decades!) Today's popcorn ain't yo' ancestors' popcorn! I wonder about kettle korn.

* I once drank a Filbert's Banana soda and left the bottle in my car. Some ants found their way into the bottle and the little bit left in the bottom, and I found a bunch of dead ants later. Apparently when I was a little kid and had red-colored candy (lollipops, etc.), I would get especially crazy. My parents speculated it wasn't just sugar but the red coloring. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Buzz of Flies and the Drone of Bees

A particularly beautiful live version of one of my favorite nine ninch nails songs ever. I've noticed they leave the spoken-word lyrics out completely, as they are explicitly about suicide -- and not the knee-jerk, suicide-is-bad-mmmmmmkay-kids variety -- and perhaps an impressionable or vulnerable person might take it too literally. I don't know. I feel for bands who explore the dark but necessary territory of suicide in their music, because most of them have faced repercussions for it, and maybe NIN is just trying to minimize risk.

But I'm glad someone is exploring this territory, because it's something that never goes away, and successive generations of musicians -- from Judas Priest to Hank Williams III to Ozzy Osbourne to NIN -- have all chimed in on it, and I think, in general, with a sensitivity and empathy about it. I think that's a better approach than having suicide be an unspeakable, taboo topic, or something that people just shut out/shut down about because it's too heavy. I'd venture that if you took all the bands' songs about the topic and whether all troubled listeners felt urged to commit suicide or felt slightly better to hear others going through the ordeal as well, it would be the latter. In short, despite some fatal and perhaps tragic exceptions, I'd bet that more listeners were saved from self-destruction by hearing songs about self-destruction than took their own lives. This is important to remember when grieving parents or whoever look for someone to blame, or the government gets censorious (as it did in the late 1980s) about music it deems harmful to people. I'm pretty confident that if none of these songs existed, the suicide rate'd be higher.

Lastly, for this song specifically, I wonder if removing the vocals doesn't somehow make the song more powerful, because -- since most NIN fans know all/most of the words by heart -- the listener would tend to think of or insert the lyrics into the instrumental nature of this live version, in their head.

And w/out the vocals, which have a very personal and specific focus, I think this song just captures the pure pain of simple existence very powerfully and accurately. Sometimes things are more powerful pre-language or beyond language. In this sense, the song becomes cathartic. It looks at the wound and pain of consciousness, but doesn't -- as in the album version -- offer any perspective on it beyond just musically saying, "Life contains a significant amount of suffering."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Seriously Fucked-Up Childhoods: on Oculus (some spoilers, sorry)

Gave Oculus another chance and I'd add it to a list of worthwhile, creepy horror movies. In other words, it's not top ten for me (see previous post), but maybe top 15 or 20. It is supernatural-based -- a haunted mirror of unknown origin -- but what it does effectively is show how humans can be seduced and get into headspaces that can turn murderous. Oculus borrows somewhat heavily from The Shining and Poltergeist (the original): there's a dad who turns evil under the mirror's influence, and much of the film explores the characters not knowing what's real/what's not, and dealing with the horrifying experience of minds that aren't reliable. But I think it's effective, overall. 

The film is based on a short film, Oculus: Chapter 3: The Man with the Plan, which takes place all in one room and is a simple premise: a man figures out that a mirror is correlated with particularly brutal murders over time, and he has possession of the mirror, so he sets up equipment to catch the mirror in the act (something no one's been able to do in the past). In the feature film, the story jumps between the childhood of two siblings who experienced the mirror possess their parents, and the present, where as adults the siblings reunite: the girl was put in foster care after her father shot the mother, then the brother shot and killed their father, and the brother was incarcerated in a facility for the criminally insane. He's rehabilitated and released, and learns from sis that she's found the mirror once again, because she works at an auction house and the mirror came through her company (perhaps a bit unlikely, but not impossible). So she sets up a recording room to catch the mirror doing its thing: dehydrating living things in its vicinity, messing with people's minds, and trying to kill people but only by having humans do its dirty work and take the fall for the deaths. 
I think the film could've stayed away from the supernatural by focusing on some of the intriguing themes it explores: the reliability of memory (the siblings have differing accounts of their traumatic childhood), and whether the brother killed his father in cold blood or not (basically, is the brother sane?). But it's a horror movie, and an entertaining one, so the brother is innocent, if a bit fucked-up from his childhood (understandably), the siblings basically agree on what happened during their childhood, and indeed the mysterious mirror causes death and destruction wherever it goes. It's a pessimistic film in that (spoiler), like many horror films, evil lives on. Despite some rather ingenious and ultra-prepared, strategic tactics the sister takes (in the present day) to not only record the mirror being bad, but destroy it -- with a time-released metal anchor -- the mirror "defends itself", outsmarts the humans, and continues its reign of terror, all the while framing the brother, yet again, for now the murder of his sister. (The brother is having a really bad life.) Like many horror movies, the evil person or object lives on -- evil goes unpunished, and, in this film, undetected. We don't know what happens to the mirror at the end of the story, but we assume it will be circulated back into someone's life eventually and keep doing its evil.
Had the film stuck to the cerebral horror aspect of unstable minds, the unreliability of memory, and how people can come to believe in the supernatural -- the brother's last words before his second arrest are "It wasn't me! It was the mirror!" -- I think the film could have been deliciously ambiguous and even scarier. But it went for some low-hanging fruit: camera work that built tension, scary ghosts, disturbing images and violence/gore, etc. But if it had stayed in the realm of the natural and possible -- such as by exploring how, say, a paranoid schizophrenic mind could construct a narrative about a haunted mirror that seduces people to kill -- I think it would have been better. The unknown is always scary: we don't know the mirror's origin, there's a pretty spooky scene in a storage room with statues covered in cloth (and we only find out about two of the three), and if the film hadn't showed its hand, so to speak; we could've come away from watching it feeling creeped out not knowing if it was all in someone's head -- or, even scarier, a shared delusion among people -- or if an object can really be possessed by evil. The former is more realistic than the latter. And the most effective horror movies work by making viewers construct their own mental images, their own worst fears (Jaws; Alien; etc.) -- the less you show, generally the scarier, because the human mind has an amazing ability to scare itself.

But it's worth seeing. I like the rather mysterious origin of the mirror -- all we know is it was "carved from one solid piece of Bavarian darkwood," which gives it a vague kind of Germanic/forest background. In the short film, the guy trying to record and kill the mirror calls it a "bitch," feminizing it -- or just doing that custom of naming inanimate objects like boats, etc, as female. My girlfriend views the world thru a very feminist lens, and brought up a good point that many horror films depict the female as more susceptible to evil seduction, thus implying a weaker mind, but Oculus is pretty gender-fair: the dad and brother get as possessed as the mom. In the mirror's history, it's pretty equally men and women who fall under its spell, if I recall (or maybe it IS more females than males). The sister seems like she's actually the one most capable of catching the mirror in the act and destroying it, but she too has her vulnerabilities. 

One can read Oculus as saying about the world that evil is mysterious and powerful, that it has no rhyme or reason, and that it lives on through time and has been around a long time. I think this is pretty accurate. Whether objects can be conduits for evil is pretty much fiction, but mirrors are semi-creepy things to begin with, so the pairing of evil with mirrors makes sense. What I do think is very realistic and scary is that there are evil people in the world, and unreliable minds and memories. If you can't rely on your own mind in life, you're kinda screwed. The film explores this a little with the idea of "fuzzy" ways the human mind works to make the world/facts fit into its story about things, rather than the other way around of admitting the fallibility of the human mind. Oculus is at its best when exploring the tension between the brother, who approaches the idea of a haunted mirror with skepticism and scientific reasoning, and the sister, who is cocksure the mirror is haunted -- but is the daughter of a mom who had a severe mental breakdown, and may have inherited the crazy gene. When things aren't explained -- kind of like how I find The Exorcism of Emily Rose so scary in that it never takes a side on whether the girl was genuinely possessed or her behavior was explainable via rational science -- humans are the most scared. Indetermination can be very fearful. Oculus could have been an A movie if it'd stayed with this fundamental, and ultimately unknowable, tension between skepticism and belief in the supernatural, but is a solid, scary B movie nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

10 horror films to check out

Well it's that time o' year again when people start watching scary movies and getting into the Halloween spirit. I like to watch horror movies year-round, because I find life horrifying year-round. Everybody's got their thing that scares them: for some, it's supernatural, for some psychological horror, for some gore, for some realism, etc. I myself am in the realism/nonsupernatural/horror of real life/psychological camp, but I'm open-minded, and I like a lot of stuff. Exorcism of Emily Rose scared the beejesus out of me and made me a fan of director Scott Derrickon, whose Sinister is startle-y and well done. Emily Rose is somewhat supernatural (exorcism/demonic possession), but what scares me about it is that it's fundamentally ambiguous: is this girl severely mentally ill? Does she have a brain tumor? Is she really possessed? How did she know how to speak all those languages she never learned? And there's something very sad about what happens to her, this innocent farm girl who lives a short life full of horror. My girlfriend has very strict requirements for horror movies: it must be contemporary, it cannot be supernatural, and it must be about plausible scenarios involving killers or people doing bad things to other people. She liked Creep and You're Next.

Here's an arbitrary list of some of my favorite horror films. No order. Some spoilers.

1. The Life of David Gale. Not a horror movie per se, but I find it tragic what happens to him, and it shows how one bad life decision can really fuck the whole thing up. His estrangement from his daughter is especially horrific and sad; his downfall from talented teacher to alkie bum living in his car. The horror of wrongful execution. Very plausible to me.

2. Jacob's Ladder. Psychological horror, and I appreciate that it's entirely on-location filmed (gritty NYC) and uses no CGI for its rather disturbing effects. A lot of horror packed in here: the horror of losing a child (McClunky Cloakin actually does an amazing job as a child actor in this film), the horror of war, the horror of losing one's mind, the horror of bad hallucinogen trips and acid damage, the horror of job/lifestyle change (philosophy professor to postman), the horror of women (the hot but demonic Elizabeth Pena), the horror of the pressure of dancing in public, the horror of lawyers, the horror of Santa Claus, the horror of bodily injury, the horror of opening the fridge casually for a beer and finding a skinned goat head on a plate in it. This movie really has it all for any kind of horror fan. 

3. Shadow of the Vampire. Strange film about the 1920s silent film Nosferatu. Film about a film about a book about a legend based on a historical figure (Vlad the Impaler). A lot of levels here. Willem Dafoe plays a real undead vampire playing an actor playing an undead vampire. John Malkovich as German director F.W. Murnau. Malkovich does not smile once in this film. Dafoe probably steals the show; the scene where he drinks schnapps and has a spontaneous snack is amazing. A film about obsession, filmmaking, realism, German seriousness, the 1920s, a lot of things. It does help to have seen the original Nosferatu it heavily references, and/or Werner Herzog's remake. Shadow is not a jumpy, uber-scary film, but it's cerebral, interesting, and unique, and deals with the earliest of horror films. What is kinda horrific is Murnau's actual life: an almost 7' German guy with an "icy, imperious" personality (Wikipedia) who served in World War I (a very brutal, surreal, traumatic war) and then made films, most of which are destroyed or lost (maybe his films are like Buddhist mandalas), who died at 42 because his 14 year old Filipino chauffer crashed into an electrical pole. What was a 14 year old doing driving a car? Further, Murnau's grave was dug up and his skull stolen. His films are missing, his fucking head is missing.

4. Calvaire. A bit over the top, but it shows how one psychopath can fuck up your whole day and then life. A descent into degradation. How the victim/lead actor goes from singing at nursing homes in the beginning to wandering around an electric, burnt-out, Black Sabbath forest at the end after being completely brutalized is pretty horrific. Far better than that silly, unrealistic, overrated, idiotic film Hostel. It's true: one wrong turn on the road can make a major wrong turn in your life.

5. Synecdoche, New York. While I don't think this movie totally succeeds, I really like its premise and ambition: writer-director Charlie Kaufman tried to make a "horror" movie simply about the horrors of everyday existence. This means the blood in your poop, a trip to the dentist, weather, your wife stealing your children (notice a theme here?), going crazy, death, etc. 

6. Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, "Eggs" episode; Jackass (Mtv) egg-eating challenge episode and eggnog-drinking challenge episode. The horror of food and the body.

7. I do find the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre scary and having a lasting creep factor. The low budgetness of it, the graininess, the horrific hammer scene. I saw the movie Shakes the Clown in a theatre in Minneapolis many years ago, and for some reason they showed the original, long trailer for TTCM before Shakes, and the juxtaposition of the two was disturbing. 

8. Saw the original Blair Witch Project before the hype, and when viewers did not know if it was mockumentary or documentary (because the filmmakers did a brilliant campaign where they presented the film as documentary, with MISSING posters and other artifacts to add realism). A Witch with hairy arms, the children, the stuff that happens in the woods -- creepy stuff. After the film, my then-wife and I went home to a country house on six acres we'd just moved in to, at night, and a vent for the floor heater had fallen off under the house, so I looked in the vent, and a light under the house (a bare bulb) in the crawlspace was on, and I saw this bone through the grate. I don't know from what animal, but we were like, "Why does the heater vent lead to the crawlspace, and why is the light on at night, and what's that bone?!" Apparently our landlord had been under the house fixing or getting something and had forgotten to turn the light off, the heater vent falling off was just a random thing, and to this day I don't know the story behind the bone. But after Blair Witch, when my wife was nauseous from the handheld, dizzying camerawork in the film, and we thought we'd just seen an actual, unsolved death-murder-mystery documentary (a snuff film, in essence) -- and a particularly bizarre, frightening one at that -- we were scared and unnerved. 

9. One of my favorite films of all time is the Australian film The Rover, a realistic postapocalyptic story with a surprisingly good performance by Robert Pattinson. Although I lean toward anarchistic ideals, I do admit that in a societal breakdown such as depicted in The Rover, both the best of humanity (such as the doctor/veterinarian, or the young girl killed at the motel) and the worst (Guy Pearce's conflicted, hardened character) come out. The Rover presents a counterpoint to the stylized, almost romanticized postapocalypse world of Mad Max or the like. The Rover is bleak, ultraviolent, desperate, surreal, plausible, dystopic, and oddly beautiful. There is a compassionate, sane humanity lurking underneath the story and its characters' struggle for survival, but it also has its finger on the pulse of where humanity generally is these days: on the brink of climate change, potential financial meltdown (such as keeps happening with a capitalistic neoliberal economy), and general collapse. It captures so well the conflict in people to protect themselves -- even if it means harming or killing others -- versus helping others, and it has a good (dare I say) "message" about how the taking of human life (or any life) will and should haunt you to your dying day.

There's also a scene in which Guy Pearce, who I think is a fantastic actor, describes how he murdered his wife and her lover ten years ago, and no one came after him -- there was no consequence. No one cared. (This murder happened when society was in its first throes of breakdown, mind you.) The sheer godlessness of this scenario, the lack of even trial or punishment -- just how it was basically permitted -- is a disturbing point about life. Sometimes things happen and people get away with stuff; there is no "karma" or justice or good balancing evil. Bad things happen and people have to live with it.

10. On the same note as #9, another realistic postapocalyptic film is the French movie The Time of the Wolf. (French: Les Temps du Loup.) It tells the story of a family fleeing an unnamed societal breakdown for the country and finding that things are very fucked up. Justice and fairness has broken down; sexual assault takes place unhindered; children are confused and superstitious; people are in shock and a state of ennui, just kind of waiting for someone or something to rescue them. There is an actual animal killing in this movie, but I find it far more respectful, necessary, and justified than the sad animal abuse in a film like Cannibal Holocaust, which, though I admire aspects of the film, I find an overall exploitive, lowest common denominator, torture-porn-y, and insensitive cinematic experience.
Why 10? I dunno. I have ten fingers currently, and ten toes. You see a theme of what I find horrifying: injustice, tragedy, exploitation, psychological horror, realism, living nightmares. Eggnog.

As Walter Jon Williams said, "I'm not afraid of werewolves or vampires or haunted houses. I'm afraid of what real human beings do to other real human beings." I find real life infinitely more horrifying than any horror film could ever be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Major/Minor Harry Crews, and a Look at Crews' Canon

Ever since reading Ted Geltner's excellent, groundbreaking Harry Crews biography, I've been thinking about Crews. This is just idiosyncratic of me being opinionated, but I would break Crews' work into major and minor, kind of like the academic father character talked about major and minor [Charles] Dickens in the film The Squid and the Whale. Before doing that, something a little less arbitrary would be to divide Crews' books into sections:

Early Crews: The Gospel Singer, his first novel, to Karate is a Thing of the Spirit. This is Crews writing in the mid- to late 1960s, and includes critically-acclaimed novels like Naked in Garden Hills (which I didn't care for so much, and have a first edition paperback of for sale if you want it) and This Thing Don't Lead to Heaven, which was critically-panned but I like quite a bit.

Early - Mid - Late 1970s Crews: This is where Crews hits his stride, and I think contains his two best books: The Hawk is Dying (1973), and A Feast of Snakes (1976). These two novels, plus his critically-acclaimed autobiography A Childhood: the Biography of a Place (1978), are what I consider Crews' peak or golden period. But I'm also very fond of Karate, so would include that, too.

The Break: Crews doesn't publish novels from about the late 1970s (after Childhood) until the late 1980s (almost a decade), when he returns with the excellent All We Need of Hell (1987, but which was written quite earlier).

Late Crews: The Knockout Artist (1988) to his last pre-death book, An American Family (2006).

The Essays: Classic Crews (1993), Blood & Grits (1979), Florida Frenzy (1982). Journalism articles, rare stuff, etc.

The Unpublished (Late Crews) Stuff: This is what I'm most curious about right now, and includes the novel Bone Grinder (finished around 2006), the 2nd autobiography/memoir Assault of Memory (2006? 2012? -- certain chapters published, others under lock and key at the Harry Crews Archive at the University of Georgia), and the novel (I assume) The Wrong Affair, which Crews described as his best book ever, which was definitely his very last (it's not included in the Crews Archive), and which is currently in the possession of his lawyer. From what I can deduce, the last things Crews worked on, working right up until his death in 2012, were Assault of Memory and The Wrong Affair. Bone Grinder had been finished but failed to find a publisher. If you check out the Crews Archive at UGA, you'll also see A LOT of unpublished stuff, some if it very lengthy, and also shorter pieces that were ideas written down, or fragmentary, discontinued, etc. "The Unpublished Stuff" captures a period where Crews is having health issues but still writing; it's the stuff post-An American Family.

The Screenplays and Movies: The Hawk is Dying (2006) is the only Crews book to really make it to the big screen (and I think it's a faithful, underrated, undeservedly-panned adaptation), even though Crews was involved with The New Kids (director Sean Cunningham of Friday the 13th fame), formerly called Southern Express. However, Crews wrote many screenplays, including one called Clown and another called Boomtown, as well as adaptations of his own novels that he optioned or almost had made into films by filmmakers, but fell through.

So, here's how I'd break down major/minor Crews:


Gospel Singer
This Thing Don't Lead to Heaven
Karate is a Thing of the Spirit
The Hawk is Dying
A Feast of Snakes
A Childhood
All We Need of Hell
Scar Lover
the essays "Fathers, Sons, Blood" and "Climbing the Tower" (reprinted in Classic Crews)


Naked in Garden Hills (only because I didn't really care for it)
The Gypsy's Curse (1974; I like its ending, but it seems like Crews was leaning too much on freaks as stock characters by this point)
Car (I like its ending and overall premise, but it's a bit far-fetched)
The Knockout Artist (well-written, but premise/main character is a bit unrealistic)
Body (I just don't think this book connected with readers who aren't bodybuilders)
The Mulching of America (Crews ended up hating this book; I think it has redeeming qualities)
An American Family... (good, but short)
Celebration (good, but I was hoping Crews was going to write a fictionalized novel about carnival freak retirees in Florida, since the original title of this was Circus Act)
Where Does One Go When There's No Place Left to Go? (well-written, imaginative, and playful, but ultimately it recycles his characters from other books)
Various essays, some of which are really good, but it can be hit and miss (his essay on KKK leader David Duke is turning out to be very ahead of its time, given the 2016 Presidential Election)

One of the ways to delineate major/minor is that Crews sometimes got "caught up" in the spirit of his times and wrote about things that were specific to a time/place (such as handball in All We Need of Hell*), whereas I think his strongest writing has a timeless quality to it. For example, the essays "Fathers, Sons, Blood" will always capture the bonds and weaknesses of the father-son relationship, and "Climbing the Tower" not only was prescient about the current age of mass shootings we live in, but I think it captures something timeless about mental illness, violence, alienation, and writers being able to empathize with nonfictional and fictional characters, what Crews called slipping out of his skin and into another's, even a deplorable character. Hawk is Dying is timeless to me because it explores how people connect with animals while having trouble dealing with other people. Karate is timeless to me because it captures what attracts people to cults, as well as the ancient and ever-interesting practice of martial arts. Feast of Snakes is just really good, dark, sexy, disturbing Southern gothic/grit lit at its best. You get the idea.

That's just a very personalized listing from me that could very well change, but I don't think majorly. Everyone has their favorite and not-so-favorite book/story by him, and for very personal reasons. But the literati/cult following of Crews tend to agree about his peak period of Hawk-Snakes-Childhood, the general strength of his earliest novels, and the uneven quality of his post-All We Need of Hell period. I have no idea where Bone Grinder, Assault of Memory, and The Wrong Affair factor in, or the screenplays or other unpublished stuff.

Bone Grinder (formerly working-titled Things That Swim in the Night) is apparently about hogs, horses, and alligators (and humans, I assume) in Florida. Sounds pretty epic to me. Assault of Memory begins where A Childhood ends, but I'm not sure how much Crews got done or if it's as finished as A Childhood is. It seemed to give him more trouble than A Childhood due to its subject matter: his rough (sounds downright traumatic at times) upbringing as a pre-teen/teen/etc in southern Georgia. No idea what The Wrong Affair is about.

Anyway, the good news is there's so much rich stuff to dig into with Crews.

Here's hoping some of the end-of-life stuff sees publication, posthumously. I'm hoping Geltner's bio rekindles people's interest in Crews' work for a new generation, and it'd be a nice closure to things if some of the very last things he worked on were published. I started reading Crews (Karate is a Thing...) before I was even 10 (different times back then; I was a free-range kid) and have been hooked ever since. I've never really connected with any other human about some things like generalized anxiety (which Crews captures beautifully in a chapter of Assault of Memory), disliking the feel of Sundays ("Climbing the Tower"), and difficulties being a social human being (Hawk is Dying) like I have with Crews. I appreciate him a lot for that, and he's just a damn good writer, especially when he's at his best. He is missed.  
 Crews writing longhand at his house in Gainesville, Florida and sporting a kind of redneck punk Mohawk

*Even though this example shows that handball isn't a very popular sport anymore even if it was once was in the 1970s, and some of Crews' obsessions and interests didn't resonate with his readers, I still think All We Need of Hell is major Crews. It grew out of a short story he wrote and published called The Enthusiast, and it shows how Crews never really knew where his novels were taking him until he arrived, sometimes with "surprise and discovery." It's about a lot of things, but the timeless factor is divorce.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The killer in me is the killer in you: on film in the era of political correctness

I watched the 2010 film adaptation of Jim Thompson's 1950s noir novel The Killer Inside Me. Despite its 13 million dollar budget and big-name stars, as well as it being based on a story by a well-known writer whose work has been adapted multiple times before, it only did 3 million at the box office, and was criticized for its violence against women (which is a large part of the source novel). According to Wikipedia, an audience member at Sundance stood up before the end credits and screamed, "I don't understand how Sundance could book this movie! How dare you? How dare Sundance?"

I think this brings up an interesting point about where we're at as a society, how politically-charged and politically correct we've become, whether film should or shouldn't be used as a tool for political correctness or agendas, and the rise of Trumpublicans as a reaction to a decades-long progression of the political correcting of society.

Rachel Cooke of The Observer said "I was so queasy, I had to go and stand outside. I thought I might actually faint." (Again, Wikipedia.)

I read the source novel before seeing the 2010 film, so both knew what was coming in the film and that, even before reading the novel, had a sense of what to expect from Jim Thompson, whom I knew a little about. I understand that for certain viewers, since we all bring our own experiences to aesthetic experiences, there's no knowing what will "trigger," arouse, and disturb any given viewer. This is why I think trigger warnings do more harm than good, and are ultimately useless.

I also agree that violence against women -- especially that that occurs in the real world -- is not merely a form of political correctness: it's a societal problem, long has been one, and long will continue to be. And if a film is good, and draws you in, and you suspend disbelief and enter its narrative, I can see how certain things depicted could have a deep impact on a person. For, after all, the mind doesn't fundamentally know the difference between fantasy, reality, dreaming: dreams can feel extremely real, and something like masturbation fools the body into thinking an experience is really happening.

But I do find it interesting that the reception to the 2010 film focused on the violence against women depicted, and -- at least, again, on Wikipedia (I haven't read full reviews of both films or gone deep into research; I'm merely commenting on the bite-sized, quick and dirty summation that Wikipedia offers) the reception to the 1976 film version of the same film did/does not. That reception focused on what a mess the film is, how the film doesn't successfuly adapt the novel. Further, as far I know, the book was never banned or burnt or seen as promoting or condoning violence against women when it was published. Do the times an aesthetic, fictional story occur in affect its reception? Absolutely! Duh.

I can see how people seeing the 2010 version, especially those unfamiliar with the story, were surprised when soft-spoken, good-looking Casey Affleck turned out to be the killer of the title. But I have to defend the 2010 version director Michael Winterbottom here, for people see movies to be surprised in the first place.

1) Winterbottom was just doing what countless other filmmakers -- male, female -- have done when adapting a book to the screen, which is to try and be true to the source story as much as possible. In the book, in the first ugly act of violence against the prostitute, the killer actually farts while beating her into a coma, a detail that the film leaves out. Think of the dilemma for a filmmaker: if you're not true enough to a source story, you're criticized, and if you are true to it, you're criticized.

2) I understand that a male character dies offscreen and the deaths of women occur in real time and with graphic depiction. But remember, this story emerged in the early 1950s, and the 2010 film doesn't update it for modern times, it's a historical film as well as thriller/crime/noir. That is one mistake I see people who feel very strongly about an agenda or in support of political correctness make, which is to apply something contemporary to the past. People noticed an actor wearing a wristwatch in Spartacus, an obvious anarchronism, but anachronisms go in both directions. Just like tolerating and not judging other cultures who are different from one's own is a key feature of cultural relativism, we need to remember that the past, a specific time/place in the past, is and will always be different from what preceeded it and followed it. Many films about Texas have featured violence, and the 1950s was before women's liberation.

3) An audience has a right to react how they want: dislike the movie, demand a refund, walk out, etc. But I have to wonder about someone going to a movie called The Killer in Me, at Sundance -- a place known for bringing less-mainstream films to the mainstream -- I mean, what were the "dissatisfied" viewers expecting? Ratatouille? Hunter S. Thompson was often fond of saying "Buy the ticket, take the ride." How "dare" Sundance show a film that might garner some kind of live, emotional reaction from a viewer who voluntarily went to do exactly that?

4) Most importantly, my instinct tells me that the audience members and critics who protested the violence depicted against women might just also be, shall we say, comfortable with today's PC milieu more than others who have criticized it or downright rejected it. Just a hunch. I know I'm focusing on a few dissenters when the majority of the audience didn't walk out or scream at the director, who was in attendance at Sundance, but the nature of political correctness is to focus on the minority and make things as comfortable as possible for those in a minority who have historically been excluded, or ridiculed, or ignored. Even though a school may have zero students and staff with peanut allergies -- and allergies rare and strong enough to seriously threaten the sufferer -- the school has a no peanut policy. Director Winterbottom didn't know how to respond to the screamer at Sundance. It's hard on the spot, and he probably was hoping a cultured audience like a Sundance one would know what they were getting into (see #3, above).

In this sense, I admire Werner Herzog, whom animal rights activists accused (absolutely un-factually) of abusing a camel in his early film Even Dwarfs Started Small, and he responded not with an apology but with an even more abusive -- and equally untrue -- explanation of what the camel went through. Herzog is smart. He knew that there is no winning with certain people, so you might as well up the ante and respond with a lie as well.

To conclude: aesthetic expression, and here specifically, film, if used for any agenda or purpose, even if it's anti-violence-against-women, becomes propaganda no different than Nazi propaganda or informercials. The medium of film, or any aesthetic media for that matter, has always had the potential to disturb, to stir up, to get people out of their heads, habits, and cemented worldviews, and it always should. I will always be haunted by a scene in Cannibal Holocaust, but whether it's just me (it's not) or every last viewer of that scene, it would be a far worse tragedy and limitation of freedom to prevent that disturbing scene from coming into being than, as a viewer, happening upon it. It's truly a slippery slope when we get too censor-happy or condemning of things that don't conform to the mores of the times (certainly, we also have to have expectations of reasonableness and definitions of things that go too far, such as obscenity). Does Franklin's adage about security and liberty apply to aesthetic expression as well? Absolutely.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


As we go into the fall and then winter, charity season (altho charities need contributions year-round), please consider this organization working to reform, systemically, child protection policies and agencies that actually do more harm than good to children:

Thank you.