I Think I’m Back (God Help Me)

It’s been said that life happens while you’re making other plans. I’ve been having life happen when I was just trying to live.

Hi. I’m going to try to come back to the world of old men complaining about movies and other stuff that’s not all that connected to real life, because real life is rawther sucky right now.

I don’t know how many times I’ve started this post over the last (mumble mumble) months or has it been fucking years? Been dealing with the usual: depression and anxiety and the political situation in the States has not been helpful at all. After a whole lot of things blocking me from even thinking about writing were recently resolved, and the workload during this week has been light, well, here I am.

Not been a fantastic year for a lot of us. Here’s my personal 2022 Hellscape: (if I don’t think better of this oversharing and delete this)

  • 2020 finally caught up with me. I lost half my income during the lockdown, and it never came back. Then there were some very bad decisions made on my part (none of which involved crypto – I’m stupid, not totally brain-dead) and I spent most of the year declaring bankruptcy. I don’t have to tell you not to do this, right? Unless it’s absolutely necessary? It’s a lot of work. That was over as of early this month, and I am now guaranteed to be a pauper for the next five years. But at least my family and I have a roof over our heads.
  • In the final stages of that process, I took my wife to the Emergency Room with a massive days-long headache and double vision. It turned out to be a Cranial Nerve Palsy, which tends to go away by itself, but it takes weeks, even months. We got her a batch of differently colored eyepatches in the meantime, so I am now married to either a cute pirate or Elle Driver.
  • Almost immediately after that, my adult son, who was dealing with severe anxiety and depression (gosh, that sounds familiar somehow), on advice of his psychiatrist, was committed to a psych hospital for 11 days. He fucking hated it, but even he has to admit that he came out much improved.
  • So that was my last month, how was yours?
  • Oh, yeah, I’m now a card-carrying Senior Citizen. Or will be once the gummint sends me my Medicare card.

This is from SHARKULA. You shall hear of it again.

Sorry for burdening you with that, but I do feel better having vented to someone besides my family. The next five years will be, um, interesting to say the least, but if nothing else I still have approximately three billion movies in my possession that I still have to watch.

Therein lies another niggling problem, also with its roots in 2020. I have some buddies I game with online every night, which is something that kept me somewhat sane and centered during COVID and Trump, and that tradition continues. Night time was, of course, my usual movie-watching time, and as my day job requires being conscious during daylight hours, my aging body has required bedtimes earlier than my usual 2AM. This has cut down my movie-watching time drastically.

Another problem that can traced to 2020 – and I’m not the only person experiencing this – was violent damage being done to my attention span. For a while I could only watch stuff an hour long or less. I finally overcame that by watching Chinese action/fantasy movies, which had nothing to with current politics or airborne virii, which helped ease me back. Caught an unfortunate taste for “Prestige TV”, which isn’t a bad problem to have, really.

I had really meant to do Hubrisween this year, but as you know, life banged at the front door. Had a good lineup, too. If I get bored tomorrow – a distinct possibility, since we’re not traveling at all – I’ll share it with you. In the meantime:

  • I don’t have to tell you to watch Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, right? That’s because my readers are smart, right? Falls beautifully into the less-than-an-hour attention span trap, and it is a genuine pleasure to see horror not only done right, but done well. I still haven’t watched the last episode, because selfishly, I don’t want it to end.
  • Black Adam is a totally serviceable superhero movie. Enjoyable to see Zack Snyder’s “superheroes totally kill lol” philosophy administered to a proper character, now give me back my non-murderous Superman and Batman. The plot gets super-annoying at times (The Justice Society admitting it’s “a bad plan” from the start and then doing nothing to change that plan), but it was good to see Hawkman and Dr. Fate. I definitely want to see more of Cyclone and even Atomsmasher, and c’mon, make a Superman movie where he smiles occasionally.
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once was just as weird and marvelous as everyone said it was, and that is all I should say, in case you haven’t seen it yet.
  • Is the V/H/S franchise adhering to the even-movie-great odd-movie-sucks template? Because V/H/S 99 is a terrible letdown after 9494‘s stories were as long as they needed to be, while 99‘s are stretched unreasonably and unpleasantly long.

There. I hope that was worth the wait. Hopefully, I’ll be back later. If you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving. If you’re not, have a good Thursday.

Because, honestly, who doesn’t need more SHARKULA?

Well, Whaddaya Know

I was actually working on a post last Sunday, when I received a text message from my online gaming buddies that I should hop on right now. I hopped on right then. Every attempt since then has been interrupted by other texts and/or teleconferences as I work from home, so here’s some quick notes to let you know that yes, I am still alive, and I hope you are, too.

  1. I still hope to have that post out this week. It’s slight, but I also went into the subject of God and religion – one of those subjects I try to avoid – and I have to look at it again to see if it’s worth it.
  2. I’m an idiot, I’ll probably decide it is.
  3. Working from home is difficult when your job entails hustling a camera around to cover events and organizations. I’m considered to be in an “essential” field- news gathering – but the arcane structure of my job entails a second, maybe even third, layer of red tape. Contradictory orders have been the flavor of the day.
  4.  It’s surprising how disruptive just not bustling about in the morning to make myself presentable enough to haul my body to the workplace without somebody yelling “My God, what is it?” has been. I looked at my pill organizer yesterday and discovered I hadn’t taken my morning meds the previous two days. Being a lot more mindful about that now.
  5. The passing of Stuart Gordon hit me a lot harder than the passing of Terrance McNally. I am a terrible former theater person. Then, Gordon was also a major force in theater, and I had actually met him, once upon a time. Just to echo everyone else, he was as nice a fellow as you could ever hope to meet.

Time to prep for this morning’s teleconference which will likely only involve me tangentially. I’m currently working across three computer systems, and the only one that runs the Cisco Webex software well doesn’t have a webcam, which is good, since I’m starting to get really shaggy and look like a late 70s college English professor.

Which is actually a fairly good look for me.

I need some tweed, though.

Reverse Hibernation

Oh, hi. Are you still here? Man, I would have given up on me ages ago.

We’ll play catch-up in a bit. There’s some community stuff I need to blurt:

Obviously, I’m not doing the Hubrisween roundtable this year. Chad Plambeck at Microbrewed Reviews and The Fiasco Brothers still are. You’re in good hands. Links can be found at the Hubrisween Central supersoaker page.

So. I’ve been off doing this self-care thing I’ve been hearing so much about. Turns out it’s actually pretty nice, but then that old itch starts at the back of my brain, like a rat trying to dig its way out, and suddenly here I am again, staring at a blank page. I’ve been blogging off and on since the 90s, and my God, do I respect the people who manage to turn out stuff on a regular basis for years. There are points in my (admittedly spotty) career when I just have to walk away for a while. Sometimes for years. Do other stuff.

So today we will be talking – probably to a tiresome degree – about “other stuff”. Probably no movies this time around, because I just haven’t watched that many. That’s how complete a break I made from my usual (increasingly and annoyingly regimented) routine. I point you again to the links above if you require ponderings about crap cinema. I have more if you need them.

This is how we used to have to do it. You kids have no idea.

But through all this I am still aggressively me, so we’re going to address How I Spent My Summer Vacation in a sideways manner. First, in my usual oh-look-let’s-try-this-new-thing-that’s-been-around-for-years habit, I finally made use of that Spotify account I’ve had since the dang thing was in beta. I didn’t find the UI as confusing as I did in my younger days, and after some poking around I found myself in lurv. People talk about falling into YouTube rabbit holes – that’s been me with Spotify. My musical tastes tend to the omnivorous, and there are plenty of musical rabbit holes for me to fall down. Discovered many new artists, revisited some old favorites of my youth to see if they still held up. Often they do.

Which brings me to a new version of an old pursuit: The Mixtape lives, we just now call it a Spotify Playlist.

I’m sure I’m not using the Playlist function correctly. I have every bit of 2 followers – one is an old college housemate – and I think the follow function on these are so you can keep up with new additions to the lists. I have one huge playlist – we will get to that shortly – that is constantly being added and subtracted. But the ones I work hardest on I don’t make public until I am satisfied with the flow of song to song. Like I said, mixtapes. Hitting Shuffle Play on those undoes my hard (snerk) work.

Yeah, this is me in my 20s. Recognize me now?

Once again my gloriously misspent youth trespasses on my elder years. In my 20s I played around with LSD quite a bit, and I generally ran the music for such things, solo or in groups. In my amazingly sober teenage years my friends were amazed I didn’t even smoke pot because I listened to music only potheads did, but I just really liked prog rock, and was such a science-fiction nerd that I found the gestating electronic music scene intoxicating. The closest I came was reading Carlos Casteneda, which certainly primed me for my college days, and the addition of physical intoxication in all its forms.

So I started making mixtapes for acid trips. I had a fairly impressive music library in those days, but it was nothing compared to what is available on Spotify. And I found myself engaged in that old pursuit, in my self-care time. Honestly, since I have a fairly nice sound system on my work computer, I can do research while working – just one more reason my job does not suck. If something is good enough to draw my attention from what I’m doing, it gets plugged into a temporary playlist for later appraisal.

The structure for the playlists is fairly simple – at least I think so, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried to actually write it down. I may look at the result, think it the rambling of a madman worthy of becoming President and delete the whole damn thing.

First of all, the playlist is limited to an arbitrary three hours. That is too short for an actual acid trip, which in my experience runs at least 6-10 hours followed by another 6-8 hours of what I called “thinking at right angles”. The Coming Down period is hopefully accompanied by plentiful orange juice and the music of the Grateful Dead and Free, which I found perfect for that time. Traffic is also good, but “John Barleycorn Must Die” still freaks me out.

Three hours just seems like the limit for a casual, non-altered state listen. I also check the flow at night in bed, through headphones plugged into my Chromebook. I have to go to sleep sometime. My first attempt at an acid Spotify list was the aforementioned 6 hours, and that was just ungainly. Psychedelic voyagers could, I guess, just go from playlist to playlist until the sun comes up and you start getting reacquainted with the real world, if need be. Maybe after I get three of these up and running I’ll attempt an integrated version for all your wasted needs.

Alex Gray provides us with an image for #4.

My playlist structure is as follows:

  1. Let’s have fun, and get in a happy, jolly mood. We’re going on an adventure!
  2. Increasingly psychedelic-tinged music as the tide of the drug begins to flow in. One of my great loves, late 60s-early 70s music is perfect for this.
  3. Oh, hey. Something is happening. Ride with it.
  5. Wow oh wow oh wow that was amazi-HERE WE GO AGAIN HAND ME THAT KALEIDOSCOPE (repeat as necessary)
  6. Calm down those over-stimulated nerves with some slower, mellower, and dare I say it – beautiful music.

Obviously, I can go no further without posting the links, should you care to know what it sounds like in my head. Here they are, under the fairly innocuous title, “Headphones Strongly Recommended”:

After a certain point in my 20s, I had gotten everything I felt I could get from the psychedelic experience, and went my separate way. I’ve been asked if it was something I’d consider revisiting in the present day, and my response is: no, probably not. The most remarkable thing about acid, in my experience, was it gave you the ability to see everything as if you were seeing it for the first time, without preconceptions. That includes yourself, and that can turn into something remarkably ugly if you’re carrying any emotional baggage or trauma. I now have about 40 years of such baggage stored up, which I’ve no desire to face in a state where my coping mechanisms are diminished.

Now, as to why I got so into Spotify and created a huge frickin’ playlist that HAS to be put on Shuffle: City of Heroes is back. Goodbye, free time.

Painful as it is, I have to consider that normal people have no idea what I’m talking about, so here goes: City of Heroes was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (henceforward MMO) that went live in 2004, in a period where there seemed to be a new one released every month, all chasing the dollars being earned by the most successful MMO of all time, World of Warcraft (equally henceforward WoW). This one, though, wasn’t about orcs and other Tolkein lifts, it was about superheroes. At the time, it was the only one about superheroes. My pal David Harlan turned me on to it, and thus began a monstrous time sink for me.

I’m not a big fan of MMOs, but City did an exceptional job of functioning without what I found to be drawbacks in other games. There was no waiting around for hours for a special hoohah to spawn for lotsa elite lootz, or even to be able to continue in the game. It was impossible to kill other player characters (people, being jerks, still found ways, and steps were taken to counter them). Every mission (or “quest” if you prefer) was in an instanced space, not the overworld map, so it ran pretty smoothly on most rigs. Combat was a fairly simple matter, and could be controlled by almost any device: keyboard and mouse, joystick, programmable gamepad. All that mattered was which of your superpowers you fired off when.

And I love flying. Flying is fun.

And you get to hang out with giant octopodes. How cool is that?

A companion game was spawned, City of Villains, where, of course, you played an up-and-coming super-villain. The two games were quite popular, though never reaching the player population of World of Warcraft. And in 2012, that all came to an end when the game closed down. I’ve heard varying stories about the whys and wherefores of that shutdown, but while it made me sad, it didn’t affect me all that much at the time. My core group had gradually drifted away to other pastimes, and though it’s possible to play solo, it’s just not as much fun. Playing with strangers did not appeal to me. So I had taken my 15 bucks a month elsewhere long before sunset came to Paragon City.

There was quite a bit of nostalgia over the years. People who loved that game really loved it, and they missed it. I confess the occasional pang or sorrow that I could not simply log on and throw fireballs at demon-worshipping street gangs in the name of justice.

Then I started hearing rumors about a rogue server that was still running City. Membership was closed, and there was a possibility of regaining your old characters from Live! Getting into it was a problematic and lengthy process, until it was revealed that the source code had been released into the wild and there were suddenly several servers openly running the game, so secrecy was no longer an option. A friend who had been working to get the old crew admitted to the closed server was finally successful, and goddammit I was in Paragon City again, and falling madly in love once more.

The reclaiming of old characters wasn’t possible anymore, but I didn’t care. It was a gas playing with the guys again. Now everything is open to all players – Heroes and Villains had separate power sets and archetypes, and now those – and all the costume pieces and other stuff formerly locked behind a paywall – are available to everyone. You don’t have to hit level 50 – once the highest possible level – to unlock the Super Special Ultimate Nitro Platinum Character Types anymore. It’s also free to play, so win-win, as we say in the trade.

I had attempted to start Discord once to participate in a No Budget Nightmares event and it mystified me (occasionally life likes to rub my nose in my increasing decrepitude). I had to demystify it so we could have a (once-again free! Yay!) alternative to our old standard, TeamSpeak. Voice communication is an absolute boon to slow typists like myself, so it became essential. In an attempt to bring the top part of this post into sync with this lower part, I should point out that in the halcyon days of the latter half of the aughts, when we were all heavily into the game, Dave and I ran a station on Live365 that purported to be a Paragon City radio station, so we could all listen to the same ass-kicking music at the same time. Dave produced some fun commercials, too. I finally ran out of money to fund that, but again, here we are, ten years later, with better tools. A truly enormous playlist on Spotify (currently 1814 songs, over 115 hours worth, quite a bit carried over from the Live365 days), and a bot to run that playlist on our Discord server. So even though the game is free, I’ve still found a way to pay 15 bucks a month just to play City of Heroes.

Look, in 1980, when I was a stoned student reading Heavy Metal and listening to Hawkwind over my headphones – had you told me then that 40 years later, I would be guiding a flying laser squid through twisting blue and purple caverns, all the while zapping evil magic users while still listening to Hawkwind over headphones… well, I’d ask you what you were on, why you weren’t sharing and where could I buy some.

Squad Goals

I’ve mentioned before that one of the few things that kept me sane during these last three years of garbage government shenanigans was Marvel movies (and thank God DC finally started making entertaining ones). Being able to briefly inhabit a world where good could overcome evil in a matter of a couple of hours – hopefully as violently as possible – got me through the darkest times. I had forgotten, though, how much physical tension could be drawn away through my guidance of an online avatar to do the same thing in a shorter time frame. There are at least two enemy factions in-game that are obvious Nazi analogs (we refer to them as “Illinois Nazis”), and it’s remarkable how easy it is to gravitate toward the missions that involve taking them down. Hard.

There. I think I’ve bored you enough. Just talking about it makes me want to go online and freeze Illinois Nazis in crushing time distortion fields. Maybe we can talk about movies next time. I did watch a few.

FUTURE FREEX BURSTS IN THE DOOR. It was revealed to me this morning that the megalomaniacs downtown have scheduled not one, but two extra City meetings next week, stealing away three evenings of what remains of my life. Y’all will be waiting for a while on that next installment, I’m afraid.


Prufrocked Again

Whaddaya know, I finally started that project where I would actually watch good, well-regarded movies. I watched the first one, and really enjoyed it. Still thinking about it, almost two weeks later. The Law of Unintended Consequences being what it is, however, it also means that every time I’ve started another movie since. I’ve turned it off after a few minutes because it just didn’t measure up. Look at what I’ve generally been writing about in the last 1-20 years and you’ll see what a WTF moment this is. I have been infected by quality.

I am sure this will pass.

I had a dream, based on past years, of resurrecting a Letterboxd game called March Movie Madness, which was for those of us who couldn’t care less about any iteration of sportsball. It was an A-Z review challenge, one review a night, to run opposite whatever the hell March Madness entails. I like the A-Z challenges (the fact that I do Hubrisween year after year should prove that); they have a sort of scavenger hunt/game vibe that I appreciate. I did a couple of these review marathons, even in the years they didn’t return on Letterboxd. That was also back when I was limited to part-time hours at my job. I’m full-time now (sigh of relief), but that means a lot less time to watch movies, and especially to write about them. I still intend to do this Quality Thing, but it won’t be concentrated in a month (or 26 linear days). It’ll be spread out. I need to come up with a banner to make them distinct, as if the “LETTER: MOVIE TITLE BEGINNING WITH THAT LETTER” weren’t enough.

Looking back over the master list, I should probably also mention that you shouldn’t expect a train of masterpieces, either. It’s also intended make me finally see movies I have should have watched ages ago but just haven’t, for some reason or another. So The Magnificent Ambersons is on the list, but so is Rasputin the Mad Monk.

I’ve read over my older stuff here, and it seems that February is always a time for introspection and grumbling, and if I’m going to start blaming 40 hours a week for diminished writing, I should also start beating on the elephant in the room, which is my age.

Yep, the movies lied to me AGAIN.

Yeah, I’ve always complained about being older than the average bear. I was 40 years old when I wrote my first online review for The Bad Movie Report on a Fortune Cities free website. I got to bitch about my age because I found myself hanging around with people easily ten years younger, if not more, people much more savvy about the Internet than myself, sitting in my room and futzing about with Adobe Page Mill. The aftereffects of a major car wreck years previous (and some foolishly Lon Chaney-esque escapades on the stage) had me still hobbling about on a cane, sometimes wondering if I was going to wind up with a walker. Exercise has weaned me off the cane (unless I overdo it, as sometimes one must), but there is no denying that I hit the 60 year mark a couple of years ago, and I started finding out everything actual old people kept saying was true.

Next time, buy a one-story house. Fool.

I used to like to game. My reflexes have slowed to the point that I say pfui to these twitchy things that require me to do fifteen things at once, and find solace in solitaire games, and JRPGs with turn-based combat. I definitely get winded faster, and as was proven when we tried to move a futon to my son’s upstairs bedroom lst December, I ain’t as strong as I used to be. (a side query involves who the fuck makes futon frames with wrought iron? Hah?) There are times I wonder what the hell I was thinking, buying a two-story house seventeen years ago. (The answer is it was the only one we could afford that also allowed me a room for my office. My tiny, tiny office now crammed full of books and movies)(Also, I loved the neighborhood and still do)

All of this, really was expected. Everything eventually breaks down, even your body. You shrug, you carry on. But the bad thing, the really Bad Thing, is the Senior Moment.

I’ve had them. The time I sat in the car, frozen, because I forgot, for a moment, how to open a car door. The time I was driving home from the store and cursed because I had forgotten to pick something essential up, and realized two minutes later that I actually had. The time I was leaving the weekly show, dropped my suit bag in a panic because I was suddenly sure I had left the suit bag in The Room. Yes, the suit bag I just dropped. And the one my companion kept pointing to and saying “Isn’t this it?” as I tried to get back into the locked Room.

The worst part is when I can’t get the steam pressure up.

My wife – a lifelong blonde, who claims to do this all the time, all her life – will say “How funny.” It’s not funny, it’s terrifying. I’m not rich, I’m not handsome, all I’ve ever had is my mind, and if I lose my slippery grip on that, I got nothing. Add to that the fact that the thing that keeps killing men in my family is strokes, and I’ve seen the effects of that horror visited upon them – I’m definitely in the midst of an existential crisis.

Probably the best I can do is employ the methods my ancestors have used to deal with existential crises, which involve booze, loud music, and something smothered with cheese, the one concession to the 21st century being the music is Trance and I’m still watching a kaleidoscope app to put myself in an alpha state. My major fear is that I will drop dead before I get to see Avengers: Endgame, and that is at the same time pathetic and extremely hilarious. I should put it on a T-shirt.

Hope to see you next week when the Polar Vortex is back in place and the only horrors in this space are born of whatever movie I plug in tonight. If I can make it through it.



The King of Jazz (1930)

I always forget how hectic August becomes. Probably because I’m usually fixated on just surviving July.

Local Government: Artist’s Interpretation

As some of you know, I put a bit of bread on my table by working tech support at City government meetings, usually meaning sound, sometimes camera. August is the end of the fiscal year, so there’s a lot of budget crunching. Politicians like to be on the TeeVee, so damn near everything must be televised. Ergo, I get a lot of extra work in August. Whereas the money is extremely welcome, there is nothing that clears away the movie malaise I spoke of last time, like hearing a politician going off on the same subject a third time while the legal department tries once more to explain to them why something is being done the way it is being done.

Look, I already know I’m not going to get to watch every movie I want, or read every book, and I begin to actively resent anybody who willfully steals more of my dwindling hours on earth.

That is a major portion of the reason for my absence from this digital page; another is the approach of October, and the return of the traditional Hubrisween event. I am usually much further along on that project, and its time to buckle up, down, or under, or whatever the appropriate figure of speech might be. TL;DR: don’t expect anything on a regular basis from me until October, when you’re going to get heartily sick of me.

That being said, I actually managed to watch a movie! I did something!

Who…? What…?

Criterion recently put out a blu-ray of 1930’s The King of Jazz. Now, I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about film as I’d like to be, so Criterion putting out a movie I’ve never heard of is not unusual. On top of that, I’m not an aficionado of jazz, but I could have sworn that the King of Jazz was somebody like Duke Ellington. But, you know, it’s Criterion, so it’s going to be worth a watch on some level.

The King of Jazz, in this case, is Paul Whiteman. As mentioned earlier, I’m not a particular fan of jazz – I find it listenable, by and large, but other musical genres are closer to my heart. So I’d never even heard of Paul Whiteman. Since my viewing, I’ve done some research. He was quite popular in the 20s and 30s, where he picked up the sobriquet, and still has some renown as a band leader and musical arranger. His was the orchestra that premiered Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, and that orchestra was the farm team for musicians like the Dorseys, Benny Goodman, and and Bix Biederbecke. The aforementioned Duke Ellington speaks well of him. Jazz, as we have come to know it today, has a lot to do with improvisation; the jazz that Whiteman is monarch of is best described as “syncopated dance music”. Perhaps literally, white man’s jazz.

Not the King of Jazz I was expecting.

Hollywood had been trying to do a Paul Whiteman movie for years, with various starts and stops. This was apparently going to be a typical romantic comedy with musical interludes, but after many delays John Murray Anderson took over and made it a revue, complete with comedy blackouts and a cartoon. It’s an early two-strip Technicolor movie, and that opening cartoon is the first in that process; it’s made by Universal’s house animator, Walter Lantz, which animation mavens will instantly deduce from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s cameo.

The King of Jazz cost $2 million to make – and that’s two million in 1930 dollars – and was a colossal flop. After The Jazz Singer broke movies’ silence in 1927, there was an absolute glut of musicals. By this time, ticket buyers were sick of them, and apparently they absolutely hated revues. Which is too bad, because – much as I hate musicals – I actually wound up enjoying King of Jazz. The music is quite good, but it’s the audacity of the visuals – most of them quite trippy to my jaded eyes – that take it over the top.

Wait… where’s the King?

The first big number is “My Bridal Veil”, where a young bride, on the eve of her wedding, witnesses a costume parade of brides from every period of time. This is some gothic romance woman-in-nightgown-running-from-spooky-manse-with-one-light-on-in-the-upper-story stuff, but it’s played for pure spectacle and sentiment. One reviewer has mentioned it primarily exists for the elderly people in the audience. On the cusp of elderly myself, I can safely say that what 1930 needed was either more heavy metal or more techno.

One of the prize gems in Whiteman’s crown, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is introduced by several men playing a giant grand piano; the lid raises, and the orchestra is lifted up from within the piano (there is a lot of that 2 million on the screen).

“Ragamuffin Romeo” is an impressive contortionist dance number with a beggar putting together a girlfriend from scraps of fabric. It impresses mainly as a tribute to dancer Marion Stattler’s acrobatic abilities and flexibility.

John Boles was Universal’s big male vocalist at the time, and he gets a couple of solos, but the singer you’re going to notice – if you didn’t notice him in the Rhapsody clip above – is in Whiteman’s vocal trio, The Rhythm Boys – a very young Bing Crosby. In fact, Crosby was going to get one of what was ultimately Boles’ solos – “The Song of the Dawn” – but der Bingle was in jail for drunk driving at the time of filming.

The big final production number is perhaps the most egregious to modern eyes – every single form of white music in the world – from Scottish bagpipes to Spanish flamenco to Russian balalaikas (and their associated dancers) are lowered smiling into an enormous boiling cauldron and out of that soup Whiteman conjures – jazz music.

I am frankly skeptical of this origin story.

(The color here is sadly inferior to the new remastered version, but what do you want from YouTube?)

It’s 1930, and though Whiteman wanted to use black musicians, this was not allowed. There is only one person of color in the entire movie, a little girl in traditional pickaninny garb who is used, not actually as a punch line, but more a punctuation mark (There is one dancer used to illustrate African rhythm who is not actually black – it’s Frenchman Jacques Cartier, wearing a black lacquer of his own invention). Whiteman though, is so affable and self-effacing throughout, it’s hard to hold this or that odd misbegotten musical ancestry number against him.

Walter Brennan, comedian.

The comedy blackouts are mercifully brief (the comic songs are longer and much worse) but the best things about them is one of the actors: If you thought he was perpetually a dried-up old coot, here’s Walter Brennan at 36 years of age:

Okay, one last clip. If “My Bridal Veil” was for the elderly, “Happy Feet” was for the kiddos, featuring the Rhythm Boys and Al “Rubber Legs” Norman:

To show how spoiled I was by Criterion’s blu-ray, I feel like I have to keep apologizing for the quality of those clips – for a movie I didn’t even know existed a month ago. Before, they would been delightful to run across, a “huh, wow” experience. Instead, I’ll just leave you with this New Zealand preview for the restoration, which gives you a far better idea of the quality of Criterion’s blu-ray.

Remember Me?

hi-you-may-remember-me-from-the-alphabetStill here. Still alive. Paid my money to be here another year – even slapped down the extra gelt to remove the ads from the bottom of each post (you’re welcome). If that’s not a statement that I intend to be in this space for the foreseeable, I don’t know what is.

December was remarkably quiet. In the acting end of my life, it’s usually full of holiday parties. Not 2016, though. Then, surprisingly, January opened full throttle; I think we had more shows in the first two weeks of January than we had in the entire month of December. Some believe this is because people figured out the world wasn’t actually going to end (immediately) and were relaxing. They pointed to the Stock Market, among other things.

It seemed to me that this is more like the parties held the night before the final battle in Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven, but what do I know? I’m just an American citizen of no celebrity, with no stock portfolio, and therefore no worth.

The other side of my employment situation cranked up, too: extra City Meetings, some previously scheduled, some not. This week starts my weekly stories. At some point this semester I am going to have to pretend once more that I don’t despise sports.

In all this, I actually have been working on a post, which is only two-thirds finished and about 1500 words. I hope to have that up in the next few days, but don’t lay any money on that, ‘kay? Stay tuned. Like I said, another year. Which is, oddly enough, the length of time I expect my current health insurance to exist.

Yeah, I’m just a bowl of happy candy today, ain’t I?


The Son of Bad Movie Report

It feels so much better to be typing on a full keyboard again. That tiny Anker bluetooth keyboard I use with the iPad mini on the road is nice to have in a pinch – but it’s surprisingly slow, even given my middling typing speed. I’m happier using it to edit a post already largely written, not creating from scratch. So now that I’m back in my comfort zone in many ways, let’s see if I can recall what I meant to write about but didn’t in my post-lengthy-drive haze.

The first thing will be best prefaced by what happened after my return, namely this tweet:


Yeah, this is the sort of insipid crap I put up on my Twitter, and probably the reason I will never have a Patreon. This was followed by the equally risible



Mort knows better, of course, but this is how Internet rumors get started, so I’d better quash this before I find myself in some sort of faux Joan/Christina kerfuffle. Of course he knows about Forever Evil. He grew up in a house with a framed movie poster in his living room. He’s just never seen it, probably at his mother’s insistence more than mine. I think she was trying to cover his eyes during the scary parts of movies up into his teens.

But he’s 18 now, and can watch whatever he wants. To his credit, he asked to watch The Seven Samurai before heading out to college last summer. But then, while he was home this Christmas, he let slip that this existed. And Ol’ Dad still knows a thing or two about finding stuff on the Interwebs:


Truthfully, I would expect no less from my son. Except that right after the slip, he mentioned “Some Mexican movie with a werewolf” and I asked if it starred Lon Chaney Jr. and he replied “I don’t really know actors” and I disowned him. Also, he seems to be unattracted to kung fu movies, so there is obviously no relation to me whatsoever.

Well, I couldn’t let this guy claiming to be my son go back to college with just his Christmas swag (which was considerable), so I burned him a copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special to inflict on his friends. Then I realized I had been given a ton of blank DVDs in spite of the fact that I don’t use them a heck of a lot anymore, and a lot of burning of horrific stuff in my collection ensued. I felt this was a necessary thing for the son of the guy who used to write The Bad Movie Report. So I had apparently forgiven him his transgressions by that point.

The only thing he specifically asked for was Theodore Rex – for which I will eternally blame Chris Holland. Max used to be able to use YouTube to torment people with it, but benevolent powers the forces of evil scrubbed it from there and practically everywhere else on the Interwebs. But as I said, Dad is pretty good at finding stuff. In case you’ve been lucky enough to miss the most expensive movie ever to be released straight to video:

That was the point at which things started getting crazy, because I realized the kid only thinks he’s seen bad. So Science Crazed and Things went into the box, as did our new pal The Rider of the Skulls. There was a whole substratum of bad kiddie movies he had not experienced – Red Riding Hood and the Monsters, the New Orleans Worst Film Festival “favorite”, Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue (which Krull totally ripped off, in my estimation) (well, except for this scene:)

And I found a copy of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny at archive.org, God help us all. That’s like finding a rusty nail-festooned ball of plutonium nestled among dog-eared copies of Architecture Today. I had been asked if I was doing the RiffTrax version of it and The Holiday Special, but no. 2016 had made me hard. If these kids are ever going to survive, they have to learn to build their own riffs, like me and mine used to do back in the day, begorrah.

And yes, I also made sure he had his own copy of Forever Evil, making sure it also had the audio commentary made by myself and director Roger Evans. I did this in the spirit of hoping he learns from my mistakes, and does not try to duplicate them.

I’ve tried to continue past that last sentence, but the result is lacking; it seems a perfect sentiment to end upon. A hopeful thought for this New Year, despite all my suspicions to the contrary. Happy New Year to all, and be excellent to each other.

And please God, let those movies be the worst thing that happens to my boy this year.

Goodbye, You Damned Year

So here I am, sedentary as a rock – in fact, I generally ask rocks “What’s the hurry?” – yet here I am, in a motel room on New Year’s Eve, several hundred miles away from home. There should now be a record scratch and a freeze frame so I can say “I guess you’re wondering how I got here.”

It’s remarkably boring. 2016’s last Ahabian spitting from the heart of Hell, as many if you know, was the placement of its last two major holidays on weekends. His classes start again on Monday the 2nd. (I, also, return to work on Monday) It’s not actually cheaper to drive him up here, but it means Mom gets to hold onto him for another 24 hours.

This is an interesting change of pace (or place). It was perhaps five years ago or so that my theater group stopped doing New Years show, so I’m accustomed to having my cheap champagne at home, kissing my wife, and walking outside to watch the illegal fireworks in my neighborhood. I am, at least with my family. The cheap champagne is in the small fridge next to this desk. I have no idea what I’ll do for illegal fireworks. I am a stranger in a strange land.

An appropriately unsettling ending to an unsettling year, I suppose. Yes, I am aware that years are not sentient, and 2016 was not deliberately seeking out and murdering people who had been an inspiration and comfort to me across my life, and fuck you for interrupting my mourning with that bit of news.

That was bad enough. Then enough of my fellow citizens decided I wasn’t disappointed in them enough, enough to give an unqualified con man and profiteer an Electoral College victory.

I am really tired of living in interesting times.

So.  Besides putting on a beret and joining the American Resistance, or wondering if the next Tweet is going to cause World War III, I need to make some plans for the next year that assume just a bit of normalcy.

Hope.  Is.  Important.

So. I get a bit of fan mail during the annual Hubrisween event (and some new followers). Some hope for the return of The Bad Movie Report. By this I assume I should cover more marginal movies here. Maybe?

This is at odds with the other task I set myself in 2017, which is to watch all the Tarkovsky films I’ve not yet seen.

Well, it’s going to be a long year – very long, by all indications- I’m sure there’ll be room for everybody.

So enough to tapping away at this tiny, unresponsive keyboard tethered to an iPad Mini (I am so 2009). Have a safe, Happy New Year. And I sincerely pray for the Safe and Happy parts.

Well Now

Well wellWarning, as Neil Gaiman says: contains me.

This has been probably the most profound bout of jet black depression I’ve experienced since my checkered career as a college student. That new prescription for an anti-depressant was very well-timed, it seems, because this time I was actually able to get out of bed and force myself to, you know, do things. Well, some things, anyway.

I stayed off social media for a week. Then started dipping my toe in. The first day I made it five minutes before I had to turn off that particular faucet of despair. That period has gotten a little longer every day. I’m almost up to an hour now, and the flavor runs more toward anger, and then I have to turn off the faucet again.

I live and work in one of the counties that actually turned Texas blue for a few minutes, and I’ve found the best thing has been to be out among people, which is exactly the polar opposite of those dark college days. Well, perhaps not that opposite, but these days I’m a whole lot better equipped to consider that as an option. We’re all being pretty nice to each other. A succession of four people on the campus going through a door, each holding it open for the person behind them, and each thanking the person for doing so was a balm for a very bruised soul, far beyond such a seemingly simple act.

It made it feel a bit less like living in enemy territory.

No, it’s when you’re alone that things get bad, which is a hell of a thing when you’ve been cultivating a reputation as a solitary person for most of your life. I watched a movie last night for the first time in those two weeks, and maybe that will finally shake loose the article I’ve been trying to write for the same period, which has gotten no further than the first line I stare at for far too long. A first line which sounds increasingly like a suicide note, the more chronal distance I put between myself and its writing.

So obviously the first thing to do is delete that line. Delete it forever.

I haven’t entirely been ignoring the blog. I spent a significant portion of those two weeks repairing five years worth of dead YouTube links. I’ll be bold and say, you’re welcome! and even pretend that someone besides me has any interest in what I said years ago. Maybe the links will last more than a week this time. (Of course, one of the side-effects of that little exercise was getting heartily sick of the sound of my own voice, as it were)

So take heart; I’m certainly trying to.

Next time, let’s talk about some movies.


Life Changes and Emotional Miscues

Something we’re all aware of, no matter how disconnected you are from the Webosphere or the current electoral freakshow: Gene Wilder passed away last Sunday. That is a terrible, terrible loss, but as it came out, he had suffered from Alzheimer’s the last three years, so, sad as you are, you can say, “Well, at least his struggle is over,” and mean it.

Like a lot of people, my first reaction was, “Aw, he’s reunited with Gilda.” Then I read the family’s statement about his passing, and found out he was happily married for 25 years to a lady named Karen Boyer. A lady who stayed by his side all through those declining three years. I was surprised, but then, I don’t obsessively follow the lives of artists I enjoy, and Wilder was a quiet man, unshowy outside of his performances.

So I felt somewhat bad about defaulting to a memory of a relationship decades old – I felt bad for diminishing Karen’s role in his life, however unintentionally. The “reuniting with Gilda” feeling was so strong and widespread, though, I felt even worse every time it cropped up. I didn’t want to correct those folks – we all mourn in our own way, and it’s a real asshole who tells people they’re not mourning the right way. There have been more and more posts gently pointing out Karen’s importance in Wilder’s life, which is good.

My amended romantic fantasy is that Gene was greeted at the Pearly Gates by Gilda – and Marty, and Madeline and Zero, with a tray of cocktails, and they spent some time catching up before going off to join the most insanely hilarious comedy troupe in all eternity.

That momentary emotional confusion – that my perception of reality was not so clean-cut as I had presumed – is a piece with the rest of my life right now. Three weeks ago I moved my only son into his college dorm, which was an experience even more emotional than you might suppose. I was surprised that there were two days of activities and meeting following that, but I soon found it was a well-practiced process to wean parents and child away from each other. Sure enough, weepy as his parents were, The Boy was ready for us to leave, as he had more activities to get to, and a fair number of new friends.

I always said that when my wife and son went on trips without me, work expanded to fill the void, and that has been truer than ever in the beginning of this empty nest phase of my life. My wife is laboring long hours to get her school ready for the new year, and I have had no lack of City Meetings and Events Which Need To Be Documented. It took two weeks for the two of us to have time to go out for dinner, just the two of us, to mark this new beginning.

None of this addresses the strange malaise that has gripped me. I’ve had the occasional night off, and time was those would be spent watching movies, and eventually I would wind up here talking about them. This hasn’t happened lately. I’m reading a fascinating book (which you will hear about soon), and I’ve been exploring a bewildering variety of solitaire games, but I only recently forced myself to start watching movies again, mainly for the upcoming Halloween marathon.

That was a lamentable way to try to kickstart an old habit, and I was punished in short order when I tried to watch the movie I wanted to write about this week, Elem Klimov’s Agoniya, only to find that my bootleg disc wouldn’t play.  I dug out my old DVD player, a robust monster I had repaired by hand several times, and now I may finally get to see it.

But I took the liberty of radio silence last week, and didn’t want to let another week go without some sign of my existence. I had tried to write about this last week, and it turned very maudlin; I hadn’t expected that, because I don’t feel maudlin. Life is different now, but not excessively so. I buy fewer groceries each week, cook smaller portions. I’m the one taking out the trash again. This isn’t a life change so much as a life adjustment.

Next week, perhaps, the adjustment will be over. We’ll have all settled in, and routine will return. I am not a terribly adventurous person, in that respect. I prefer the safety of excitement presented to me on the screen or the page, and the sooner I return to that, the better.