Wednesday, September 29, 2004

So, who has the guts to go to THIS with me?

CINEMUERTE!

Halloween in Vancouver, land of semi-legal marijuana and ... well, I'm not sure what else, but that's pretty good on its own, plus an all-night exploitation festival featuring serious classics like LADY TERMINATOR and POOR PRETTY EDDIE. They'll even serve you breakfast if you can make it all the way to morning. Anybody got a train schedule handy?

And now your lesson for today ...

THE DEVIL'S HAND

Here’s an unobtrusive bit of hackwork from the director of The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow and the man responsible for siring Alan Alda. The Devil’s Hand examines what happens when a man foolishly follows his dreams into a world of voodoo and the occult. He finds himself in thrall to the redundantly named “Gamba, the Devil God of Evil,” tossing aside his faithful brunette fiancĂ©e for a gorgeous blonde enchantress. As the protagonist Rick, Robert Alda is dull and ineffectual, making it hard to believe that a witch with supernatural powers would choose him to seduce out of all the men of the world. He’s a willing pigeon, however, smugly enjoying his sudden success with gambling and the stock market, not to mention his overwhelming desire for his evil paramour (perfunctorily played by Linda Christian). The Devil’s Hand starts off nicely enough with a series of eerie events that quickly get explained away as mere “magic,” and gets more tiresome from there. Judicious editing might have turned this into a decent Twilight Zone episode, but seventy uninvolving minutes are used, padded with stock footage that appears to be from the 1930s. Neil Hamilton (aka “Commissioner Gordon” from the Batman TV series) co-stars as the “High Executioner,” whose specialty doll shop is a front for a Satanic chapel decked out with mannequins, torches and an ever-present bongo player. Good girl Ariadne Welter was a regular in Mexican cinema (debuting in Luis Bunuel’s Ensayo de un Crimen), and had a role in the confounding gore oddity The Brainiac the same year as this, her only American feature. The best thing about The Devil’s Hand is undoubtedly the sleazy bump-n-grind rock instrumental that accompanies the opening credits, as well as a brief scene in which Alda angrily tells Christian to turn the damn noise down, proving that he not only has bad judgment, but also bad taste.

Monday, September 27, 2004

My asocial tendencies are seductive, and it's often after weeks and weeks without contact with people I'm close to that I suddenly realize just how isolated I've made myself. To anyone I haven't returned letters, emails or phone calls to, I apologize, and I'm struggling to climb out of this particular hole and squint into the bright lights. I have packages for various people that sit in the corner untaped, a stack of homeburned CDs on the shelf ... not to mention many (or most) of our wedding thank-yous still to be signed and licked.

Lori and I will definitely be moving at the end of October. We'll be in the University District, kind of a cross between the worst tendencies of East Lansing and Ann Arbor (for those of you in Michigan), but close to Lori's school and work. More space too, a whole extra room to devote to our genius. I'm looking forward to clearing out the old space and resettling, a fresh vista for us to blissfully blunder into.

Friday, September 24, 2004

"Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."

Is there any doubt that our American election will be controlled and compromised like the Iraq election? You bet.

While we should all vote in November and continue with our discussions and protests and fundraising, I fear that the outcome of the 2004 Presidential election has already been decided in some dark room somewhere.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

THE TERROR

As a cinematic experience, The Terror is third-rate at best, a long-winded fable that limps in circles, too haphazard to be great art and not outrageous enough to be great trash. Still, the true student of B-movie mythology may want to spend an hour with it anyway, notorious as the film is for being one of low-budget director Roger Corman's classic rush jobs. After wrapping up his humorous horror free-for-all The Raven early, Corman had two extra days left of Boris Karloff's contract that he was loathe to waste. So instead of tearing down the sets, Karloff was walked through a series of hastily prepared scenes with co-stars Jack Nicholson and Richard Miller. Corman then subcontracted the direction of remaining exteriors and connecting sequences to various assistants, including Francis Ford Coppola, future cult filmmakers Jack Hill and Monte Hellman and even Nicholson helming a few shots. With more directors than some omnibus films and no time for a proper script, The Terror was bound to baffle, and its slippery story eventually becomes too sluggish to bother deciphering. While the film is worth little more than an amusing anecdote in Corman's colorful legend, he got lots of mileage out of this patchwork monster. Five years later, Corman again found himself owed two days' work by Karloff, so neophyte director Peter Bogdanovich was offered 20 minutes worth of footage from The Terror to use if he could incorporate it into a new feature for the horror icon. The result was the taut, fascinating Targets, which cast Karloff as an aging horror star whose personal appearance at a drive-in is interrupted by a deranged sniper; of course, The Terror is the program on screen during the mayhem. Corman productions continued to cannibalize chunks of The Terror in years to come, usually in self-referential spoofs like the silly but enjoyable 1976 comedy Hollywood Boulevard, which featured Richard Miller relaxing at a drive-in and enjoying his own performance from 13 years earlier. - Fred Beldin

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Russ Meyer is dead.

A great artist. If you haven't, pick up Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Pretty much anything he did is good ... even his weakest films are wildly kinetic. He was about a lot more than boobs (but aren't we all?).


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

THE GONG SHOW MOVIE

It's been a twenty-four year wait, but last night I finally caught the great Chuck Barris' masterpiece, his 8 1/2, his Birth of a Nation, his World's Greatest Sinner. THE GONG SHOW MOVIE is available from any number of bootleg DVD purveyors online, but financial circumstances prohibited me from plunking down $25 for a film so iconic, intriguing and mysterious to me that it was bound to disappoint. Finally Scarecrow Video came through and stocked it, so I was able to actually rent the holy grail, a film reportedly so awful that it was pulled from distribution after a month and never released on any sort of home video.

Was I disappointed? Well, of course I was. As a child I was enamored with the Gong Show. I was desperate for some color, outrage and surreality in the bland world of canned vegetables and Methodist culture in which I languished. If nothing else, the Gong Show was loud and abrasive, and sometimes that's all it takes. Chuck Barris simultaneously mocked and celebrated the untalented, rewarded and punished eccentricity. It was all a big send-up of television as a whole, and if the panel of "celebrity" judges (talent-starved hacks like Jamie Farr, Pat McCormick and Jaye P. Morgan) took themselves far too seriously, their bloated arrogance taught me just how unimportant famous people really were.

So, the movie is a massive ego trip for Barris, a disjointed, overindulgent fantasy about his own stardom in which he attempts to self-aggrandize by painting himself as an exhausted, put-upon TV producer imprisoned by his own fame. Yeah, yeah, we've heard that one before. It's hard to be successful, no one really knows just how hard, and you have all these lunatics hounding you for spots on the show night and day, and the censors are breathing down my neck, and my sweet, understanding girlfriend left me because I'm a prick and I told her to get lost, and ... you get the picture. Barris obviously thought that a self-deprecating portrait of himself on film would be perceived as brave or truthful, a great statement on fame, but by the end of THE GONG SHOW MOVIE, when he's exiled himself to the deserts of Morocco to get away from the pressures of celebrity, a television executive flies out a marching band and dozens of friends and fans to beg him to return to TV because of how damn special he is. Amazing.

About a third of the film is real Gong Show audition footage, which is truly fascinating in the bizarre lengths people will go through for fame. Various censored clips from the show are used too, including two teenage girls whose act is seductively licking popsicles, a man dressed as Christ on a cross singing "Please Release Me," and "Count Banjula," a man dressed as Dracula hanging upside down from the ceiling strumming the banjo ... his act ends abruptly when the rope accidently breaks and he crashes painfully through the floor of the stage. The narrative never flows, the plot is nonexistent and a cruel streak of bad taste humor warps the moments when Barris tries to take the film in a serious direction. It's no wonder THE GONG SHOW MOVIE was universally hated when released in 1980. Even the TV version was running out of steam by this point ... if the film was made a year or two earlier, it would have gained an audience no matter how bad it was, but this flaccid ego trip just had everyone confused and offended.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Gloomy Bear, the Naughty Adult Bear.

Anybody ever hear about this service?

Guru.com - The world's largest online marketplace for freelance talent.

I went through the trouble of registering for a free account to check it out, and while it seems like a boatload of good opportunities, the "basic membership" essentially isn't enough to actually bid on any of them. So I gotta pony up the $200 yearly (maybe more) for the privilege of being rejected for a whole new batch of jobs. The thing seems legit and would easily pay for itself quickly if it's as good as it seems, but what ever is? Nothing. My theory has always been that if you have to pay money to a service to get a job, it's a scam ... I'd be perfectly willing to fork over 10-20 percent of what I make to a website that points me in the right direction, but money up front sounds like a ripoff.

On a more positive note, I want to publicly thank fellow genius Rob Lightner for hooking me up with the newly revived Amazing Stories magazine ... it was a long, bumpy road filled with rewrites, near-misses and long silences, but I got a contract in the mail on Friday so I can only assume they're actually going to use my review of ALIEN VS PREDATOR . Thanks again, Rob.

Lori and I went to a poetry reading last Thursday. Cranky is a literary journal run by a friend of Lori's and we wanted to "support the scene," if I may reuse a trite phrase. I think all clear-headed people can agree that most poetry is garbage ... or more accurately, ALL poetry is garbage, but occasionally some verse strikes a personal chord within a particular reader. You can throw everything you learned about poetry in college out the window (actually, that's true on any topic). There are no rules. Poetry is in the eye of the beholder, and most of what I behold is irritating at best. Even my own stuff ... I never begrudge anyone who mails my submissions back, which so far is everyone. Far as I'm concerned, nothing I write is poetry until someone pays for it.

There was a handful of good writing on display Thursday night, some nonpretentious stuff and some that was extremely pretentious but striking enough to overcome the fact. The big star was this deaf Russian guy, and even though he sounded like a retarded Dracula, the words were inspired. Still, I counted three wool scarves on guys INSIDE the building, so yeah, that's the kind of crowd it was. One thing I noticed is that the prettier the poet, the worse the writing. One girl just got her PhD in poetry (look for her at a coffeeshop near you soon), and while her stuff was uppity and pointless, her breasts were impossible to ignore. Even Lori noticed. Luckily, they had a makeshift bar and we both got lit, but that just made it harder for us to stifle our guffaws.

So if I no longer feel comfortable at rocknroll shows, can't stand the literaries and think most fans of my favorite movies are geeks or perverts, where is the cultural universe I fit with? At home, I guess, amongst my library of rejected thrift store LPs, remaindered books and Al Adamson videotapes. I look forward to growing old ...

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Friday, September 17, 2004

"GREASE ON SPEED"

Gabba Gabba Hey, the Ramones Musical

Rock and roll officially dies in Australia. There are no words for how stupid and embarrassing this is.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Johnny Ramone dies.

He was nobody's favorite Ramone, but what the hell. Surrounded at his bedside by friends like Eddie Vedder and Lisa Marie Presely? What a strange world celebrities live in.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

CANADA, HERE I COME

The United States announced it will shift more than $3 billion earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction to improve security and oil production, the State Department said Tuesday ... In order to offset the redirection of money, the United States will reduce spending on water and sewage projects by $1.9 billion and electricity by $1 billion.

So let's get this straight ... we invade a country for the purpose of liberating it from an evil dictator who won't allow his people basic human dignities. Then, after said invasion causes devastation to the area, we use the money earmarked to rebuild the infrastructure to MINE FOR OIL.

It's so transparent that you have to give our government a doff of the cap for having the fucking balls to prove every single war protestor right ... it was all about the oil all along, and the people of Iraq are going to keep on suffering while we spend money on "security" for the American businessmen who will be profiting from the vast oil fields.

It's like we're begging for more terrorism. Or fewer personal liberties at home ... while we fuck everybody on earth, our lives become more endangered by foreign nationals bent on revenge, so the government gets to clamp down on free speech, privacy and free movement, all in the name of keeping the peace. I don't think I'm kidding.

Lori found this story last night on CNN and went on a tirade (perfectly appropriate, although truth be told I was pretty tired at the time and just wanted to watch Satanic Rites of Dracula). This morning I figured this would be big, big news, screaming headlines about corruption, etc. Has anybody else seen this anywhere? I had to hunt for fifteen minutes to find it on CNN ... it's nowhere on the main news page, you have to do a websearch to catch it at all.

If Bush wins again, and I fear he will (let's not quibble about election results, the bottom line is HE WON), then he's going to be prime target for assassins and terrorists, but he'll certainly double his security and be perfectly safe while the rest of us sit and wait for the next shoe to drop. It will soon get to the point where the only way to be safe is to agree to the identification tattoos and microchip implants. After the next terrorist attack, the living will envy the dead.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Note the "advertiser links" on the right side of the page ... these fuckers always win, even when the publicity is bad.

CNN.com - Fight over Wal-Mart at Mexico ruins - Sep 11, 2004

The Boyfriend Arm Pillow

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Kuchar Brothers ... they're in town this weekend to show some of their new films.
Strange how motivating a hangover can be. Lori and I met on Capitol Hill last night and went to a place called Charley's ... decent enough, a bit low-rent, and I drank vokda concoctions with ridiculous names (including a Tropical Quaalude). Lori had a Dr. Pepper, which we hadn't seen since our days at Bilbo's ... a shot of Amaretto dropped into a beer, tastes just like, except apparently you need a special license to set the shot on fire, which is unfortunate, since setting liquor aflame always makes drunkenness more exciting. It was a pleasant, necessary drunk that led to strangely vivid dreams ... a television soup commercial starring a posthumous Charles Bukowski, a zombie epidemic resulting in the streets of Seattle covered with sickening chunks of human flesh, James Brown judging a dance competition I somehow ended up in, damaged elevators, lady midgets propositioning bus drivers, a phone conversation with an ex-friend that I'd really rather not remember. Upon waking I was up in a flash and ready to go get out the door in record time, despite a vague unease and softly throbbing forehead. I feel energized (for now), and I'm wondering how long it will take for my work here at Westward to drain the fucking life out of me today. Wanna take bets? I say by 11:00.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents A Wedding

Of course, we have Sorend to thank for this clue, but I have to remark on the remarkability that someone decided to make a musical based on one of Robert Altman's most boring films (of many, many boring films, God love the man). The reason this is worth mentioning is because one of the few geniuses I know, Mark Deming, made his feature film debut in the original screen version. I'll be interested in knowing whether his character (a tiny part, but a speaking role nonetheless and also the first human to appear onscreen before the credits) has been translated to the stage ... Dr. Deming's dialogue was mostly unscripted, and flowed directly from the core of his wild, untamed soul, so if anyone checks this stage production out and discovers that a certain character goes on (and on) about the 1972 Ray Milland film Frogs, then we'll know that our hero deserves a royalty check of some sort.


More Mark Deming for those so inclined.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Friday, September 03, 2004

Word has it that I'm going to try playing music with a stranger again. This time a guy named Jeremy (actually, they all seem to be named Jeremy), not the Jeremy of the Rolling Stones tribute band (who shall henceforth be referred to as Rod to keep things straight) but a Jeremy who spent his college years in Missoula, Montana, a good sign if I ever heard one. His Stranger ad was generic yet specific, not listing cool bands that he dug, sticking instead to styles and instruments played. He's over 20 (30), which is a good sign, and seemed pretty cool on the phone, plays drums, guitar and keyboards (if I remember right), so if we actually get on (which rarely happens) then he'll be a valuable asset indeed. So I guess Monday is the day ... I better start practicing, or at least memorizing the dozens of riffs and bits and pieces I've been accumulating over the years. If all goes well we can bring Jeremy (er, I mean Rod) along and turn the thing into some kind of Revelators experience. That's the fantasy, anyway.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I know you're all wondering what I thought of Andy Milligan's 1985 haunted house thriller CARNAGE, so I shall oblige ...

Amoral anti-genius Andy Milligan turns in his most disciplined, conventional horror film with Carnage. Gone are the hard-bitten street hustlers he usually cast, replaced with clean-cut drama students who were mistaken if they thought this was their big break. Maybe Milligan had the same misconception, since he's more careful with pacing and plotting than before, but this is the same director who brought us shrieking gorefests like Bloodthirsty Butchers and Torture Dungeon, so there's no shortage of transparently fake decapitations and disembowelments for the faithful. Milligan gleefully rips off The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist, but hallmarks of his own cinematic obsessions arise as well, most notably in a throwaway scene involving one character’s cold, insensitive mother. While Carnage is too hokey to be frightening, Milligan packs in one outrageous shock sequence after another and holds the audience’s attention better than his often tedious (but more personal) earlier films. Carnage is truly godawful, but enjoyable in a way that the rest of his shrill, misanthropic oeuvre is not.

There's two more reviews I need to grind out for AMG before Thursday (I'm allowed three submissions per week and Thursday is the deadline if I want to post my full quota), but the problem is that the next one on the list is CRIMSON, a truly breathtaking piece of Spanish crime/gore garbage that I'm in love with and want to do right by. But I'm running out of ways to express how mindbending these broken, surreal films can be. I think I need to start consulting dream interpretation books ... the best of these bad films are like nightmares where nothing makes sense, the storyline non-linear, the characters behaving strangely, violence surfacing suddenly and without provocation. There's no other way to describe them or the pleasure they provide. These films fail entirely when judged by conventional cinematic criteria, so things like bad acting, confusing scripts and half-assed direction don't matter. So what's left? Other than sheer outrage and spectacle?