March 31st, 2007

(no subject)

I did something weird to myself yesterday—I went to see Shooter, the new Mark Wahlberg flick.

Recently I’ve seen a number of American movies that have expressed a confused agenda. 300, for instance, is a picture that manages to be at once homophobic and homoerotic, though this is less by design than an inadvertancy produced by the juvenile sensibilities of its primary creator, Frank Miller. Shooter, on the other hand, seems deliberate in its confusion. Based on Stephen Hunter’s Robert Lee Swagger novel, Point of Impact, the film plays like an alternate world version of First Blood as directed by Michael Moore. Swagger (embodied here by the artist formerly known as Marky Mark) is your basic ex-marine sniper/superhero/Ruby Ridge kind of guy, a mountain man who loves his dog more’n anything, cept’n maybe his country. Kill such a man’s dog, frame him for an assassination attempt on the President, and you just know he’s going to fly off the handle and kill several hundred people.

It’s your basic Neocon wet dream, right? Yet another update of Walking Tall? It’s got all the symptoms. Ultra-violent. Women whose main function is to change clothes a lot and handle heavy ordinance in bra-and-panties. Villainous politicians and heroic ordinary folk. The thing is, however, each time one of the characters pauses to deliver the movie’s message, whether it’s Swagger or an Instrument of Evil like Col. Johnson (Danny Glover—wasn’t he too old for this shit twenty years ago?), he essentially reads a Blue State liberal position paper on Abu Ghraib and WMDs. In between dialoguing with various and sundry about the illegitimacy of the Iraq war, the Kennedy assassination and his “moral compass,” Swagger flees innumerable pursuers, self-treats his gaping wounds with an IV macgyvered out of a plastic bag, a pound of sugar, and a bicycle pump, and whips up a batch of homebrewed napalm with which he incinerates a passel of National Guardsmen, never mind they’re innocents, fellow soldiers just doing their duty. Swagger is the New Left’s psychopathic serialist, called to the Lord’s work (if the Lord looks like Eugene McCarthy). He hates injustice so badly, he’ll commit any atrocity to right it.

So the Dems are attempting to win back the wingnut/redneck/Montana militia vote not by persuading them that gay marriage is for lovers and their children shouldn’t be turned into chum in the service of corporate oil, but by giving them the Air America version of Timothy McVeigh to relate to? Is that what’s happening here? They’re trying to gather a few hearts and minds in the cause of global warming and health insurance for all? If that’s the case, maybe this exercise in violent amorality is a good thing. Or is it just a thin strand of what’s-become-all-too-obvious woven throughout in order to provide a structural component to support the bloodletting?

I’m not too sure.

Edie

The once and future muse. 

Manohla Dhargis has a nice essay in today's New York Times, in conjunction with an exhibit of Warhol films featuring Edie Sedgwick at the Museum of the Moving Image.  The screenings will only be for a week, otherwise I'd get down there to check them out.  I'd love to hear from anyone who does see them.

I read Jean Stein & George Plimpton's oral bio EDIE: AN AMERICAN LIFE when it was first published, lying on the beach on Edisto Island.  I must have read it a dozen times since.  It was the first biography I can recall that was composed solely of interviews, a pastiche method that's now been used countless times, but seldom to such great effect  (Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain's raucous Please Kill Me: An Oral History of Punk, is a good runner-up). 

I'm one of those people who can't get enough of Edie  — her spectacular, sad life, those amazing photos.  Youtube has (or had, I haven't checked recently) a fantastic array of Edie material, including a lot of poignant mashups of stills or Warhol-era footage set to sad music by contemporary kids.  There was also a marvelous extended sequence,  about thirty minutes long, of lost footage from Ciao! Manhattan with commentary by the director, David Weisman.  Some previously unpublished, breathtaking still photos can also be found in the coffeee table book Edie: Girl on Fire, by Weisman and Melissa Painter, which I gave myself for Christmas -- not much new or original in the text (a lot of it reprinted from the Stein/Plimpton bio) but the photographs are worth the cover price.  I gave Edie a cameo in Black Light, as a ghost; she still haunts me.

It's not hard to pin down the prurient appeal of her sad trajectory — the poor little rich girl, out of her mind on speed; surrounded by all those other beautiful people, a lot of them artists or their hangers-on — but what's most striking to me is how the photographs are like a black hole: I look at them and get completely swallowed up.  The only face that's made a similar impression on me belongs to Louise Brooks -- watch the recent Criterion Collection re-release of G.W. Pabst's great Pandora's Box.  It comes with four different soundtracks, and I wondered what it would be like to soundtrack it to the early Velvet Underground, a la Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon & The Wizard of Oz.  There are tantalizing photos of Edie as Lulu in a  proposed film adaptation (never made) of Alban Berg's opera Lulu.  (Lulu and Pandora's Box are based on Frank Wedekind's plays, "Erdgeist" & "Die Buchse der Pandora"; Wedekind also wrote "Spring Awakening", which has been adapted into the current Broadway hit of the same name featuring music by Duncan Sheik.  I wish I could see this, too.)

In still photos, Edie often appeared as though she saw something just out of the frame — something beautiful or terrible or mysterious, or unbelievably funny, or sad.  I think that's where her power derived.  She wasn't just a great beauty.  She was a modern who projected a sense of the uncanny, at a time when the uncanny was seeping into mass culture through drugs and mysticism and film and music and books; our very own late-century Nefertiti.  The Beautiful One is Here.
 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/31/movies/31edie.html

And What Costume Shall The Poor Girl Wear?

If Edie appears, can The Velvet Underground be far behind?

There's a terrific piece on the VU in The London Review of Books, which by some miracle of serendepity is actually available online!  Go ye and check it out.  

The perfectly named (if not spelled) writer, Mark Greif, is ostensibly reviewing a new book on the Velvets by Richard Witts, but he ranges much further afield, including a long and fascinating analysis of the Velvets and the Grateful Dead (both of which originally called themselves The Warlocks) as thesis and antithesis of the magical sixties . . .  

Refreshingly, he also shines more of a spotlight on John Cale and his musical apprenticeship with the New York avante garde minimalist composer LaMonte Young than I've seen before in appreciations of the Velvets -- usually it's Lou Reed, front and center.

Now go watch this amazing moment in American musical history, comparable in its effect to the famous appearance of Roky Erikson and the 13th Floor Elevators on the Ed Sullivan Show . . .

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Jess Dandy!

Messr. Jess Nevins, for those of you not checking the comments section regularly, gets the prize for identifying the author of Jimmy Olsen's adventures in cashmere.

"Leo Dorfmann script from "The Day They Unmasked Mister Action," Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #159."

Nice work, Jess!
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Roll Out the Red Carpet for Liz!

The latest issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, dated April 6, 2007--it's the one with the cover image of Liz Hand receiving a MacArthur "Genius" Grant (oh, well, in my dreams)--features a review of Liz's latest book, GENERATION LOSS:

GENERATION LOSS
Liz Hand
Thriller
Thirty years ago, Cassandra Neary's grim photos of punks and corpses briefly made her the toast of the downtown art scene. Now an alcoholic wage slave, Neary accepts a magazine assignment to interview one of her reclusive photographer heroes on a Maine island, where a rash of missing-teenager cases and an off-kilter populace grab her attention. It takes time to warm to the self-destructive, sour-tempered protagonist --she drives drunk, pops Adderall and Percocet, and generally tries to not stick out her neck. Luckily, Hand's terse but transporting prose keeps the reader turning pages until Neary's gritty charm does, finally, shine through.
B
--Sean Howe


Well, aside from that grade not being an "A", we endorse this review heartily.

Congrats to Liz and Small Beer Press!
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The Turntable Song

Don't you want to have a charmingly contrived Hollywood ditty, as performed before your eyes by a beautiful singer, engraved forever into your limited cortical space?

Of course you do!

So, go right away to YouTube and watch Deanna Durbin perform "The Turntable Song." It's under two minutes long. Then, come back and we'll talk.

Go!

http://youtube.com/watch?v=GR6wfJ4SyrQ

Now, wasn't that fun?

Deanna Durbin was only a name to me, and a hazy one at that, until I watched her in two films, the second of which was SOMETHING IN THE WIND, where "The Turntable Song" kicks off the action in a thrilling manner that makes the rest of the rather boring comedy an anti-climax. But such is the power of Netflix--and other websites that offer suggestions based on your personal consumerist habits--that I was steered to Durbin with accuracy and insight into what I might like. Thus does the dinosaur of culture unfurl its "long tail."

In any case, I'm now a Deanna Durbin fan. I immediately went to her Wikipedia entry to learn more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deanna_Durbin

I still haven't watched her in what some argue is her best role, in LADY ON A TRAIN:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0037859/

But nonetheless, she's now my vocational role model and low-key hearthrob (don't tell Deborah!), at least in her performance in that YouTube clip.

Just consider: Deanna's a dj who keeps on gamely working without a sponsor to pay the bills. How like a freelancer! Her radio station is too cheap to even record her theme song! She has to sing it live every day. And she gives the audience her talented all, even when you can tell she's weary and somewhat disgruntled, as when she flips off that switch at the end and gratefully doffs her headphones. Meanwhile, she's a multitasker, shuffling records and sleeves while singing.

As for Deanna's sex appeal--well, goodbye, Bettie Page! Just catch that little growly, pouty, tigerish moue she makes when she sings "I love you." I showed this clip to my pal Steve who runs Round Again Records in Providence. Steve's my age, and a fan of all pop music. He was glued to the screen, never having seen Deanna either. He said, "Some guys go for the va-va-voom, but I always go for cute. And man, is she cute!"

Later in SOMETHING IN THE WIND, they put Deanna in a strapless gown and have her vamp the leading man, and it's much less erotic than "The Turntable Song." There's a lesson here somewhere.

So there you have it: like Keats besotted with a figure on an ancient Greek urn, I'm captivated by the frozen image of a woman who's still with us at age 85, and who, according to my pal Howard Waldrop, once after her own early retirement put down Judy Garland with, "Are you still in that asshole business?"

If there wasn't a chapter of the Deanna Durbin Fan Club in Providence before, there is now!

Support the small press

Deborah Layne ([info]wheatland_press) says, "Special Offer Available From Now (March 30) through April 30, 2007: Buy any title with a cover price of $19.95 and get any other title free. Just place the order for the first title as usual and list your choice of a free title in the comments box on the Paypal form. If you don't like to use PayPal, then you can send me a check (to: Wheatland Press, P.O. Box 1818, Wilsonville, OR, 97070) with a note enclosed telling me which titles you'd like.

Got questions about this? Email me at: inquiries (at) wheatlandpress.com"

What does that mean?

Well, it means you can purchase my Weapons of Mass Seduction, Ben Peek's excellent 26 Lies, 1 Truth, Steve Utley's The Beast of Love, Jerry Oltion's Paradise Passed, Howard Waldrop's Dream Factories and Radio Pictures, Jay Lake and Frank Wu's Greetings From Lake Wu, and the Jay Lake and David Moles edited All Star Zeppelin Stories. You can also buy the Forrest Aguirre and Deb Layne edited The Nine Muses. And you can also buy Bruce Holland Roger's recent World Fantasy Award winning collection The Keyhole Opera. Buy one of these and get any other free..