Archive for April, 2013

Django-Unchained-Poster-2Okay, I realize it’s not a horror film, but I have to chime in on Django Unchained, which we finally got around to seeing yesterday. Twenty or so years ago, I read a piece, I think it was in Film Threat, about this brash young talent and his debut film, Reservoir Dogs. I saw it the night it opened, and was amazed. Here was a film that was cool, funny, brutal, and thoroughly satisfying. In the years since, Quentin Tarantino has had some hit and misses but, with Django, he hits new heights, and shows us all just how much he has matured as a filmmaker.

I’m not going to rehash the plot; chances are you’ve already seen it and if you haven’t, well, see it. This is a film that pays deep homage not just to the Italian spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, but also to the great westerns of Hollywood. For each over-the-top Leone reference, there is a subtle nod to John Ford, Howard Hawks, and countless others. I should also mention that the portrayal of American slavery is brutally, unflinchingly realistic, which is in itself worthy of respect in these politically correct times. Much has been said about the film’s heavy uses of a certain word; from where I stand, every time that particular word is used, it is relevant to the story and the way in which the slaves were regarded by American society in that particular place and time.

As with most of QT’s films, the dialogue snaps but, unlike some of his other works, Django is not overly talky. My thought is that when he has a script in which he doesn’t have total trust, QT plunks in some heavy dialogue to hip things up. Not so in this case. The story is strong, the characters are vivid, and it all just works. For diehard film fans, there is also the bonus of a staggering number of cameos from across all genres of film. It was great fun to see so many familiar faces so unexpectedly. I’ve heard gripes about the accuracy of the period in which the film takes place, from vernacular used to firearms to historical events; while I respect that people know these things and admit that it drives me nuts when a story gets something boneheadedly wrong (Stephen King: if you haven’t yet learned that you can’t put a clip into or a silencer on a .38, then a great many people have failed you), I’m willing to overlook these things in Django, in part because I think a fair number of these inaccuracies were deliberate. The movies to which this pays tribute often got details wrong; in these cases, it’s the big picture that counts, rather than the details.

Lastly, I must point out the performances of Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz; Foxx is subdued and seething, turning in a masterful performance which, in other hands, simply would not have worked (very glad Will Smith turned the role down). Waltz is our conduit into the world of slavery; he is opposed to it in theory, but it is through his journey with Django that he and, by extension, we, see the true horror of this awful part of our history, and the realization that it still happens in the twenty-first century makes the story forcefully relevant.

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Baby JaneI really wish the day job would stop intruding on the writing but until I can make that change, I’ll deal with it. In addition to (almost) completing the first draft of my novel, I also have a new article up at Zombie Hamster,  a retrospective piece on an old favorite, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Yes, it’s in black and white, and it’s from before a lot of us were born; the fact remains that the themes in this classic are timeless, and well worth the time investment.

Stop by and check it out!

 

Interesting day. I have Mondays off from my day job, and that’s typically the day in which I do the bulk of my writing. Not the best way to go about it, but there it is. Anyway, I was bound and determined to not leave the house so yesterday, I stocked up on soda, chips, and other things that aid in the writing process and, holy crap, I didn’t leave the house.

I awoke at 7:15am, and got started on the novel around an hour later. Took a few breaks and at around 4:00pm, I finished the damn thing. I was totally not expecting that to happen today. Okay, there’s probably a couple more chapters, essentially closing one narrative loop and resolution of a minor conflict, but the bulk of it is done. Later in the week, I’ll deliver the manuscript to my insanely awesome editor and we’ll see what we have. And now, the neuroses endemic to most writers kicks in.

I hope it’s good. I hope they like it. I hope it doesn’t suck. I hope it was worth the time and effort.

I hope.

fly_posterBehind the scenes, busy working on the book, and setting up a pivotal, fact-finding interview to add historical accuracy and intellectual/emotional honesty. In the meantime, my new piece is up at Zombie Hamster, where I take a look at both incarnations of The Fly:

A Corruption of the Flesh

This article was a labor of love, and I hope to eventually incorporate it into a larger work covering David Cronenberg’s “Body Horror” oeuvre. The Fly is a masterpiece, and is an absolute favorite of mine. The essay also follows below.

A scientist experiments with the transference of matter from one place to another, with calamitous results. This is the basic plot of the 1958 film The Fly, as well as the 1986 remake of the same name.

The monster films of the 1950s share a common thread, that of technology advancing beyond morality, a grim side effect of the atomic age, when we were starting to see the results of the hydrogen bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which effectively ended Japan’s involvement in World War II. In Kurt Neumann’s The Fly, scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) tinkers with moving objects through space, inadvertently trapping a fly in the teleportation chamber with him.

What results are two separate beings sharing a single fractured psyche, each with aspects of the other, and much of the film is dedicated to rejoining the beings, in hope that the accident will be reversed. Delambre’s lab is a wonderland of 1950s neon kitsch, with no explanation for the myriad machinery and electronics that occupy the space, further reinforcing the idea that science itself may be the problem.

As is expected of movies of that age, the 1958 film doesn’t show us the result of this mishap until well near the end, as Delambre struggles to maintain his humanity despite the rampant overtaking of his body and mind by the foreign invader. It could be suggested that in 1958, the United States was still in ideological battle over its citizens’ hearts and minds over the “Red Menace” of Communism and that the invasion of the fly into Delambre makes a compelling analog for comparison. That the story takes place in Montreal is an interesting device, as one could plausibly deny that since it happens in another country, it has nothing to do with America’s fear of a Communist takeover.

In David Cronenberg’s version of the story, we have physicist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) working on teleportation in his warehouse home / laboratory. Brundle is socially awkward, but manages to lure journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) back to his place, where he shows her the ‘telepods’ he has constructed which, while successful at moving inanimate objects, prove catastrophic when it comes to living things. In other words, the computer doesn’t quite understand matters of the flesh. By comparison, it should be noted that this time, the lab equipment consists of a computer and the two telepods; in this incarnation, the theme is one of interpersonal relationships and the loss of the self, rather than technology run amok.

Through the developing romance between the two, Brundle has a breakthrough that leads to successful teleportation. However, in a moment of jealous pique, Brundle attempts to teleport himself, not realizing that a house fly is trapped in the pod with him. Rather than move the two independent beings through space, the computer merges them at the molecular level. Soon enough, it is obvious that something has gone terribly wrong, as Brundle changes mentally and physically, slowly and painfully becoming neither man nor insect but, rather, an entirely new entity: the Brundlefly. What follows is an examination of the deterioration of not just a person, but also of a relationship.

Upon its release, The Fly was perceived as a statement of the recently emerged AIDS epidemic, and while the analogy possibly bears weight, I see it more as a study of the effects of mental illness or addiction, the toll it takes on relationships, and the eventual loss of the self – not just the afflicted individual, but also the loss of self on the part of the person involved with them. I also see it as one of the best and most tragic love stories ever committed to film. Being in orbit around one another from day to day, the gradual decline of a loved one isn’t always obvious to their partner. By the time it becomes apparent, the sickness is already firmly entrenched and there comes a point when one realizes that to remain will be at their peril. When does the instinct for survival override the dedication of love? Given the sobering statistics relating to domestic violence, it is a valid question, and likely will remain so for a long time to come.

Seth Brundle’s degeneration is brutally graphic, and the danger he comes to represent is universally understood. While we may scream at Veronica to run away, just run away, how long would we stay in a similar situation? This is the question at the core of Cronenberg’s tale, and it is a question to which the answer does not come easily, for it forces the viewer to examine one’s own beliefs, convictions, and interpretation of the concept of love. The Fly is an essential part of Cronenberg’s canon, dealing with mutation and the loss of control over one’s mind and body, which is a central thesis in most of his films of that era.

Both films address the loss of the individual and the erosion of both the psyche and the physical state; however, this is where the similarities end. In 1958, the overriding message is a cautionary tale against the progression of science without consideration for morality and ethics (and possibly the invasion of foreign ideologies) whereas in 1986, the story is deeply personal and thus more horrifying. For that reason, David Cronenberg’s film reaches emotional depths that movie studios of the 1950s were not willing to attempt in horror films, and audiences were not likely to connect with, since such films were considered the domain of the younger crowd.

Having seen The Fly upon its initial release, I can attest to the powerful emotions and devastating intensity the film conveyed. Yes, several people ran out of the theatre due to the graphic imagery but by story’s end, there were more than a few teary eyes in the house.

What a day this was. A marathon writing session of about seven hours puts me just below the fifty-thousand mark, and things are definitely moving along. This might have been the heaviest bit of writing I’ve ever done; it may take a while to come down. By far, the darkest I’ve ever gone. We are approaching the endgame, and the pace is crazy.

When I look back at how long it’s been since the germ of this project first planted itself, I’m humbled. That it is nearing completion (the first draft, at least) has my mind wandering to some much-needed down time, which is quickly followed by thoughts of the next project, which is already parked on my beloved dry-erase board. Waiting.

So I have an editor, a very good friend from a writing course at school from a couple of years ago, who is herself a fantastic writer. I feel really good about this collaboration.

But first, dinner beckons. I’m freaking starving.

A quick entry today, comprised of just this.

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The end of a long work week, and the last thing I want to do is work more. So here I am, working.

It’s not a story night; there’s a lot of admin stuff I’ve been putting off, things that pertain to the publishing end of this project. Fortunately the Mrs, my perpetual cheerleader, is completely supportive of sacrificing the evening to this venture. So, I’ve written off to a potential source for info on mental health facilities, because a significant part of the story takes place in one. I’ve watched documentaries, read everything I can get my hands on, but what I need, really need, is to tour a facility, to see the day-to-day life of the patients, how they live, and to experience firsthand the mood, the feel of such a place. Fingers heavily crossed.

I registered a domain for this blog, which I’ve decided to call Rogue Highways. I think it describes what I’m trying to do quite well, and am very happy with it. Set up a corresponding email address for it as well. What else…since I’m doing electronic publishing for the novel, it’s down to me to do all the publicity and marketing. I made some business cards, they’ll be here in two weeks. Contacted a photographer for stills, and still need to contact a potential editor, then touch base with an old friend to do the book cover. All these details should be reconciled by nights’ end, which will free me up for the next two days off from my day gig, which I’ll spend writing.

I’m exhausted. This business of writing, it’s much more than just telling the story.

I’m so happy, it’s stupid.

 

Music. I live and breathe music. When I write I always, and I mean always, have music playing. Growing up, music was almost always playing in our house; Mom liked rock and classical, Dad liked jazz and western (not the boring, watered-down ‘country’ that’s popular today, but real hillbilly roadhouse western). Between the two, most musical bases were covered.

Grade school, junior high, high school, college, every test I studied for, every paper I wrote, I had the radio on. It wasn’t even a conscious thing; it was just a way of life for me. When I was first developing the idea for what would become my first novel, several years ago, music was playing.

In 2008, my career track derailed when the company I was running vanished. Historically, I’ve blamed the global economic meltdown because it was easier than telling the real version: the people who owned the company were notorious tax evaders and lunatic conspiracy theorists. In November of that year, they took everything that wasn’t nailed down and fled to El Salvador to the bunker they had built, to await the end of the world. I am in no way making up or embellishing this. Having painted myself into an occupational corner, finding a new job during a deep recession proved impossible. I spent a lot of time at a buddy’s coffee house, and wrote a novel that is truly terrible, totally self-indulgent, barely readable. But it was a start, and throughout the process, music was always playing. It set the pace, set the tone, and many times, it set the scenes.

While writing that dreck, the germ of an idea formed what would become the story on which I’m now nearing completion. I knew from the start it was going to be dark, grim, and bloody, and I needed the appropriate music to work by. Hardcore punk? Didn’t work. Delta blues? Nope. Screaming Norwegian death metal? Not my thing. Psychobilly almost got me there but at the end of the day, what has driven this project and moved me more than anything is: 1970s pop. The stuff I’d hear in the car when I was a kid, linked to countless happy memories, is also that which has allowed me to access the deep, dark parts of my creativity. My former girlfriend (we married last year) suggested that this music puts me in my safe, happy place, and when I’m in that safe and happy place, I’m comfortable enough to go swimming in those dark waters. And that makes perfect sense to me. There’s a certain sort of magic I find in the catchy melodies, the arresting hooks, the occasionally dippy and often brilliant lyrics that touch something way down deep that I can’t quite name, a kind of innocence that just…moves me. I can’t put it any other way.

So if at some point you’re reading my weird, freaky little book and if I’ve done my job well, and it’s getting under your skin, remember that I wrote it whilst cranking The Raspberries, Bay City Rollers, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Tee Set, The Rubettes, Albert Hammond and hundreds of others at peak volume.

Rock on.

I’m nearing completion on my first book; when this project started gaining momentum, I figured I’d try to get it published. The thing is, the idea of soliciting a literary agent, having to do a clear and concise synopsis, then, if I’m lucky, having to negotiate a contract and all the hell associated with the process, had me freaked out beyond measure.

However, I’ve decided to take a different approach. I’m going to publish it as an e-book, where I will retain the majority of whatever royalties it might generate, and maintain ownership of my work. More and more people are taking this route, so it’ll be interesting to see how it comes out. If it succeeds, nice. If it doesn’t, well, I wrote it and it’s mine and just the experience is worth the effort and I’ll take what I’ve learned and apply it to the next project. Provided I can come up with a title for this one; it’s getting a little frustrating, truth be told.

Meanwhile, the site that I’ve started contributing to, Zombie Hamster, has just relaunched with a beautiful new layout, and I should have a new piece coming soon. News to follow.

And…thank you to the people who have already dropped by this weblog; since it’s just a day old, it’s nice to have such interest so soon!

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal 4.2.13

I left HB at 2:45, reckoning there’d be huge traffic; I was wrong. Rolled into LA around 4:00, thinking I could swing by Dapper Cadaver and look at the squishy things. This, however, would put me back on the 405 at rush hour(s), so I thought better of it. Walked a few blocks on Santa Monica, found a diner called Cafe 50s. Standard theme decor, though this place had obviously been around for a long time, which showed in the grime on the floors and the faded era-specific posters on the walls. Waitress called “Cherry” with Pippi Longstocking pigtails and a ton of foundation makeup, showing way too much gums over perfect white teeth. Friendly enough in a detached, big-city sort of way, charged me $25.00 for fries and a Coke, blamed it on the people who were at the table before me. The place was empty but for a couple of fossils two booths down, so go figure. Cherry knew the two old guys by name; they’ve probably been coming here since before any of us were born. That kind of place, and I mean that in a good way. Vintage music on the juke, mainstream enough to be pleasant, different enough to be mildly impressive.

Apparently this stretch of Santa Monica is the Persian area, evidenced by groups of men at outdoor tables playing dominoes and shouting and smoking exotic cigarettes, wearing five o’clock shadows they’ve probably had since birth. Homeless guy sitting against a phone pole, impossibly asleep amid the sound and stink of traffic, endless traffic, shitty cars putt-putting at a snail’s pace, expensive ego machines blasting past them, hellbent on getting to the next red light first. Lifelong city dwellers strut the sidewalk, fronting to all that they’re wise to what’s up, not daring show vulnerability, young Asians shuffling along, displaying that innate meekness and never, no not ever, making eye contact. I’m not a local; it shows in the rhythm of my footsteps, the way I can’t help looking around at all the stuff I see, my subdued aloha shirt may as well be a neon billboard, shouting to the world, “Dude, I’m totally not from here!” Yet I don’t feel any menace, just the desire to wrap this gig and get on down the line, back to the sterile safety of the ‘burbs, where things move slower and more predictably. I’m to saying it’s any better, not at all. Rather, it’s just familiar and known, and that’s what I’m needing now. And I’ll be back to it soon enough; I’m here in pursuit of the dream, sitting in the darkness and reporting what I see, hoping that my spin jibes with that of the artist, my neuroses writ large for the approval of strangers, struggling with syntax and narrative flow and trying to give words to the feelings of the deep dark, to make it universal and personal, to make it all make sense, to make it worth reading, to make it worth writing.

My timeliness OCD is in full effect; first person in the theatre, representing ZH like a boss. Very happy to not have to work tomorrow, needing a bit of time away from all that, and some time to gather thoughts and put them to paper (screen, actually, but whatever). Hoping I do it right, hoping I do it well and don’t fuck things up, hoping that this will help when the time comes to publish and publicize that damned book. How can it not? This shit is mine to own, and own it I will. The site relaunch will have my stuff all over it, as much as the boss wants. I’m not too old for this, writing is my dream, it’s my shot, it’s what I want to do, need to do, HAVE to do. This viewing gig is practice and marketing, the ball is in my court, and other sports metaphors I vaguely understand. I’m nine days away from forty-seven, and I think it’s going to be an excellent year. It should be, it’s a prime number after all.

Eighteen minutes till movie sign.

There is an old couple behind me, I don’t know their affiliation to this project, but he is continually hocking up epic amounts of snot and speculating about the cost of the theater’s recent renovation. Four bolts into concrete for each chair, wonder how they anchored the bolts, these seats must be at least two hundred bucks apiece, steel beams in the ceiling, that’s interesting venting and siding. He’s got to be a shemp of some sort, too bizarre to be real. Is this a thing they do for press screenings, a little avant garde entertainment for the jaded journalists? Are they in the wrong screening room, will they shut the hell up once the movie starts? Goddamn, I hope so.

Eleven minutes till movie sign.

Christ, you could rent this pair from Central Casting: Annoying Old Couple, great for parties and creating uncomfortable noise in quiet places. He’s now on what I’m assuming to be his Jitterbug phone talking about a manufactured home he wants to buy in Florida. I’m totally not making this up.

Eight minutes till movie sign.

Seven minutes.

Six minutes.

He’s still at it. They’ve just been informed that there’s some gore in this movie and not sounding pleased about it. The word “Cannibal” is in the fucking title, for fuck’s sake. Still yammering about the mobile home, oblivious to his surroundings.

Three minutes.

Two minutes.

I have not mastered the art of killing people with my brain, much to my dismay.

One minute.

It’s more comical than anything, we’ll see how things roll out once the lights go down. I can’t say anything, I’m here representing ZH. Over and over, this is my mantra. He just told whomever he’s talking to that he’s here to see “The Sleeping Cannibal.” It’s gotta be Seth McFarlane in costume, this is too stereotypical to be authentic.

Six minutes past movie sign.

Eight minutes past movie sign.

Apparently someone’s having trouble with their head gasket, according to Jitterbug Man.

Ten minutes.

Is this what Kafka-esque means? Surreal to the point of absurdity, annoying to the point of comedy. This has got to be a test of some sort. Please let it be a test.

Lights out. Fun time.

Update: Seems I forgot to link the actual review and director interview. Here it is:

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal