Monday, April 25, 2011

nor are we out of it

we are out of it

Still those barely conscious years in Lawrence (909 E. Rhode Island. Weird how some things stick in your head.) some evenings I'd while with our next-door neighbor, Kerry, referred to in my house invariably with the epithet short-order fry cook. Mostly in those pre-video days we'd play board games--Dogfight, maybe Risk, Battleship, squares on lined notebook paper.

Sometimes I'd burn out on the novelty of somebody to interact with and just veg in the corner with a book.

I have no idea why Kerry had Alan Dean Foster's novelization of Dan O'Bannon's not-particularly-significant first feature Dark Star, but something about the cover--tattered 'star suit', waves of orange-red flame, frayed debris pressed into service as a surf board--captivated me. So I stole it.

In my leaden, dogged way, I plowed through it again and again, a rereader even then. Most of it I naturally didn't get--phenomenology jokes were over the head of a boy who, that summer, was so scared of the poster for Christine that he had to take the long way home from the Varsity so he didn't have to walk by the used car lot.1 I did get some of the jokes, though--the isolation and loneliness somehow butted up against the claustrophobia and contempt of being around the same people in the same place day after day. And I really liked the idea of killing yourself burning up entering a planet's atmosphere on a surfboard fashioned from your shattered ship's ruined hull. I really liked that death.

The movie holds up okay. Impressive technical achievement for what started as a student film--as we'll see later, nobody did better sets than Dan O'Bannon. Great tone--Kafka in space--funny--absurd--redolent-of-doom. The premise is great: four men on a ship whose mission is to find planets with unstable orbits and destroy them. That's it! The backstory is that they've been out for three subjective years--20 back home--and have minimal contact with Earth. The captain is dead, killed by a short-circuit in his chair. (May all our leaders be electrocuted in the ass.) One survivor is in complete retreat already, isolated from the others, fully checked out. The other three are in various degrees of withdrawal. Everybody is constantly subjected to indignities: eating "ham" as a purplish fluid in a flat plastic tube; a cargo hold self-destructs, destroying the ship's entire complement of toilet paper.

This is not one in which the metaphors are terribly...metaphorical.

Everything's falling apart; nobody likes you; nobody knows who you are--or who they are; nobody cares; you can't escape them; eventually, the device you constructed to blow up and annihilate blows up and annihilates. There are consequences.

It's not heavy-handed, though, just blunted and stunted and paranoid, and style counts. There should always be room for an apocalypse heavy on idiots in avid pursuit of their petty agendas, oblivious to their impeding oblivion. There should always be room for lines like this one: "Don't give me any of that intelligent life stuff--find me something I can blow up!"

Star Trek this ain't. Afghanistan it might be.

I will leave you with a found poem. It's the protagonist's lament, delivered to his video diary.3

I do not like the men
on this spaceship
They are uncouth
& fail to appreciate my better qualities.
I have something to contribute to this mission if they
would only recognize it. Today,
over lunch, I tried
to improve morale & build a sense of camaraderie among the men by holding a humorous round-robin discussion
of the early days of the mission.
My overtures
were brutally rejected. These men
do not want a happy ship.
They are deeply sick
& try to compensate by making me
feel miserable.
Last week was my birthday.
Nobody even said happy birthday to me.
Someday this tape'll be played
& then they'll be sorry.

1 (I was just a little kid--those years, I was often possessed by a full-body terror when walking anywhere after dark. I'd start imagining some silent, stealthy monster2 following me, towering over me. So if you were across the street and you saw me inexplicably start running home? That's why.)
2 Frequently this monster was a spider whose belly would just clear my head as it walked. I knew instinctively that the behemoth spider was exactly the size of all the spiders I'd ever killed, and that it would kill me.
3 Relevant that the protagonist is played by writer/director/editor Dan O'Bannon? Possibly.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fright Night

A talisman of my childhood and a representation of it at the same time. Fright Night has a callow dipshit love the late-night host of horror movies on local TV; then the callow dipshit flips out when two wafting men move in next door--because when two men live together at night next door they bring sinister elements of menace and contagion to your suburban idyll.

When I saw this again--as an adult--maybe five years ago, I was gobsmacked: I'd remembered it as a rompy paean to latenight movie madness turning into a quite good kid-against-the-vampire-evil picture--with real loss!--but it was actually a meditation on Gay Dudes Living Next to You. This is a film where the Gay Subtext is actually drawn so clearly and so thoroughly that it very nearly becomes just the text.

The vampires recruit both the girlfriend and the best friend. The elder with his big swinging cross and his fine robes proves little help, if any. This really isn't subtle at all.

The rewatch beyond the gobsmack didn't do much for me. Something like what John Carpenter once called 'taking a tour of your living room'. I found myself thinking

yeah, it's all here...movies are artifice and sometimes cheesy but still influence us/ dudes walk among us, sometimes you get let down, sometimes people come through for you, heavy shit changes everything, even if you're okay on the far side.

These are trite messages, all of them. I knew that five years ago. Growing up gay is trite, dirt-common and dull, and loving the movies is as controversial as liking food, and sharing those things that are cool with your child? that's just flat square. Or so do scaly aging eyes see. I did not always look through such eyes. I don't look through them now, either--Richard Hugo once said1

Is this corny? Okay, it's corny. But so what? All great art has some corn in it.

Fright Night is not great art. It has some corn in it. But it has sincerity and generosity, it tries hard to be good without being humorless, and there's a lot of talent, a lot of craft snuck into the genre exercise.2

My dad is dead. He was gay, and he loved movies. It was because of him that I saw Fright Night: he picked it out, put it on, played it. A child celebrated it, an angry depressive sneered at it, and now I nearly cherish it. It was because of my dad that I watched locally hosted horror movies on TV. It is because of him that I understand that the gays next door--or the otherwise different anywhere--pose no threat and deserve no fear or loathing. I loved my dad. This movie Fright Night reminds me of him.

1 From memory. In his lovely The Real West Marginal Way.
2 Mostly speaking of the cast here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

everyone is here

When I was a kid, every kid had seen Poltergeist. We had only three moments to our horripilated appreciation.

  1. ghastly grinning man all in black
  2. "they're heeeeere"
  3. a man and a mirror, idly, then intently, then desperately picking and digging at his own skin, pulling his face roughly, pulling his face off

Not sure how this movie got its hold on the entire country: kids on the playground shared "they're heeere" not just with each other but with the entire culture in 1982. What is sure is that this movie bridges the gap between my first two--it's the secret world bursting into ours, it's the evil in us spilling out, manifest and unavoidable forever.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

all this doom

all this doom
god damn these vampires
happy death men

Manhattan, Kansas, 1984. Crematia Mortem on channel 41 out of Kansas City. I'm watching something sunbaked, vaguely Italian with reddish browns and clay. Oppression.

Slow. Doom. I'm tucked into the far corner of the room, in bed for a change, not sleeping on my beanbag chair, beside the bed, 'way closer to the TV. I want to be far away from this.

After years, all I really remembered was blood-in-milk-cartons, walking down smalltown streets, and an image of horror--more than horror, an image of dread--consisting of a woman huddled, hugging her knees and screaming in a room's corner, as...something pushes the walls in, not caving them in, just dimpling them somehow, closing in on her. Literal depiction of those things behind the walls coming after you? Helpless soul-scathing scream I can still hear. This entire town is vampires; and now so am I.

Crematia Mortem I've written about before. Cute microinterview here. All praise to dB for figuring out what movie I was half-assedly describing.

Monday, April 18, 2011


When I was a kid, my dad ran movie theatres. Since he was was a whiz at cheapo promotions, I got to witness things like Scrap the Caddy night, where, in honor of a double feature of Any Which Way You Can and Every Which Way but Loose, people got to whack at a junkyard Cadillac with a sledgehammer. Since I was a hammy little boy, and easily pressed into service, I got to stand around downtown Lawrence wearing one of my dad's many masks, handing out flyers. Since he was an alcoholic, he got transferred/demoted/moved around a lot. After his stint managing the Varsity, he spent some time at the drive-in. I didn't make it out there very much--it was way the hell out of town, and my clanking blue Schwinn with the clouds on the chain guard wasn't great for my chubby legs on a long jaunt. I remember getting screamed at for whining that I couldn't keep up one muggy summer afternoon; probably the last time I tried to get out there by bike.

But when I did make it out past the edge of town, there was always something awesome going on. I could barely swing the sledgehammer, but I gave the Caddy a couple feeble thumps. I thrilled to Megaforce, and sat gape-jawed at Escape from New York--so agape that the next day I went to Woolworth's downtown, bought a pirate's plastic eyepatch, and wore it for a week or so, until the headaches got too crippling. A bully named Chad--absolute scourge of my year in second grade--shoved me off a light-speed merry-go-round. Deft, I managed to get my hands completely behind me so that I could absorb the impact with my face; neither the first nor last time my face would be home to the mud & the blood & the tears.

Sitting on the grey gravel staring at the screen in cooling air. A lot of moments got under my skin--maybe none so much as this one, from Alien ripoff Galaxy of Terror:

Shards moving beneath the surface, body invaded and turning against you. Anything even close to this revolts and disturbs me to this day.

(The movie is remembered--more or less--now only for a giant-worm-humps-a-woman's-clothes-off-and-then-to-death scene that you can look up for yourself. Even as a larva, I remember being nonplussed. My favorite Alien ripoff: George R. R. Martin's Haviland Tuf story, "The Plague Star".)

Friday, April 15, 2011

resume the resume

Great moment from another media outlet failing to question an agent moving into a front office.

Riley, 66, has more than two decades of NBA experience as an executive, scout or coach with Milwaukee, Vancouver, Dallas and Golden State.

You know, model franchises.

Why bother worrying about this seemingly lateral career move? I dunno, but it seems like a junior-grade version of our nation's seemingly insatiable appetite for setting the wolves to guard the henhouse.

Okay, I won't actually just phone this one in. Besides the gratuitous diss of the general manager, we find the following unquestioned glinting gems:

"Plus, no one knows talent and understands contracts like the agents."

Now...that's not an unreasonable thing for Warrior Dorell Wright to say. A player needs to believe in his agent's understanding of contracts and talent in exactly the way a defendant needs to believe in his lawyer's understanding of the law and commitment to the case.

But it's absurd for anybody else to hew to this line. The purpose of an agent is to extract maximum possible compensation for his client. Period. This means that a correcter version of the above would be something like:

Nobody knows overstating talent and understands exploiting contract loopholes like an agent.

It's an adversarial system, by design and by practice, and expecting a specialist on one side to make a seamless transition to the other side is about as sensical as promoting your shotblocking center to point guard. Expect to see former clients signed to slightly head-scratching contracts.

From former UCLA coach Jim Harrick:

He was a B student with an A character, rather than an A student with B character.

I guess it would be out of character for the Warriors to shoot for an A student with A character. And I guess it would be out of character for the SF Chronicle to ask any of these crushingly obvious questions.

Monday, April 11, 2011


As of today, FreeDarko is shutting down. There's a big final post--I had a (small, angry) hand in it--so make double-sure you head over there and help Haverford College's finest get the ship-on-fire finale they've earned.


Friday, April 01, 2011

sloppy and stupid: Bill Simmons needs an editor

Far be it from me to suggest that ESPN front-dude Bill Simmons is far beyond driven the vagaries of the editorial process, but his latest cut-&-paste from his Twitter feed, supplemented with occasional bits that by now must just be Word macros

Uh-oh, I think I just exploded the Blazers Edge message board.
is even more error-ridden & unreadable than usual. Sure, it's not quite as bad as his 10,000 words on middle-aged dudes riding low in Vegas, but it's a rough, rough read.

The lede is his patented semi-controversial move that fails for me b/c it's just plain too easy to shrug and say "no, not really".

We'll remember this as The Best NBA Regular Season Ever.

But, then, maybe 150 words later, he's already given up on his hook (because it was stupid?):

It feels like one of those seasons like 2007 when there just wasn't a most valuable player, so we had to talk ourselves into someone. ... I hate those seasons.

And then we're back to standard-issue recycling and lazy, lazy writing choices.

a USSR-like villain in the MoHeatos
I am, apparently, the only person who finds Rocky IV references played out.

Why not open his arena for Miami playoff games and have "Miami Hate" Viewing parties?
Sure, why not? Why not start capitalizing Viewing?

they evolved into a semi-juggernaut
Semi-juggernaut. Possibly Peter King is ghosting Simmons now? Anyway a semi-juggernaut is what you use to assault a quasi-ziggurat.

and the other owner said, "Screw the money, trade me your best player for a second-round pick, we'd have this exchange:
Is there a reason there's no closing quote here? I had to read this twice to parse it and believe me, I don't want to read Simmons columns twice.

Owner: What do you mean? You have to have someone good."
Well, at least there's no opening quote here. Guess it all evens out.

Simmons is underrated as a stylist.

But it's basketball: a sport in which five guys have to mesh the right way (a process that often defies statistics), and also, they have to collectively give a crap about the sport and each other.

Yup. It's official: starting a sentence with a conjunction; introducing a dependent clause with a colon; then introducing a new independent clause with another conjunction, which contains a pronominal reference to something in the dependent clause--Bill Simmons is either parodying Peter King or being ghostwritten by the man. And I concluded that before reading the couple hundred words about fantasy baseball--Bill Simmons on the NBA: where fantasy baseball happens.

They need to expand the NBA Awards Process beyond MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc. and hand out additional awards.
"They" need to expand the ESPN copy editing Process. Christ. I would have been fired from my entry-level copywriting gig if I turned in copy like this.

The Mokeski: Given annually to the league's best white American player.
You know...if I had to name an NBA award after a great white American player...from the 80s...I might not go straight for Mokeski. None of the other award names are jokes--Erving for most exciting player, Petrovic for best Euro--so why go for a punchline on one and only one of these? Christ, it's not even that good a punchline.

Some end-of-sentence punctuation choices by your man, Bill Simmons:

Underrated as a stylist.

And my favorite bit of rhetoric ever:

We're headed towards a lockout because NBA "character actors" should be paid like what they are -- character actors -- and because the dopey owners need to be saved from themselves.

Yes, billionaires must be saved from themselves. Good point.

In Hollywood, you don't pay "character actors" like Mike Miller or Travis Outlaw $30-35 million to appear in your next five movies. Why? Because it's bad business!!!
Right. Hollywood: where good business practices reign o'er all. Why is this guy still working?

--Fat, annoyed

(I don't have the energy to figure out the capitalization after a colon inconsistency in this column. Here's just one inconsistency, for the record.)

I have an idea to save the Warriors: You know how his Knicks experience exposed Mike D'Antoni as the Mike Martz of the NFL?
Anyway, I stand by my stance when the 'Melo trade happened: you always trade coins for paper in the NBA.