Thursday, May 28, 2009

Do You Recognize this Performer?

Can you name this actor? Can you?? Give up? Here's a hint!

If you've given up, then I understand. Please don't be ashamed. The rest of you can leave your guesses in the comments below!

Thanks to Greg for the inspiration.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Very Quickly Now

(Vague but major spoilers for Let the Right One In are contained within the first two paragraphs of this post)

Over the weekend, I finally got around to watching Let the Right One In, the Swedish vampire film, directed by Tomas Alfredson, that last year was hailed as one of the best movies of the year, one of the best horror films ever made, and possibly the best vampire film, period, full stop, the end. It's all a little too fresh for me to make any similar proclamations, but it is a damn good film, easily the best horror film I've seen in at least a few years. Last year, I wrote about the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist on which the film is based (don't click on that link if you don't happen to feel like it, because the post is nothing to get too worked up about), and the short version is that I wasn't too keen on it. Apart from problems with either the prose itself, or the translation, it's clear to me now that the novel's greatest problem was massive bloat: it's about 500 pages long, and truly didn't need to be more than 300. A film that clocks in at just under two hours is going to have needed to hack away at a lot of that, to carve away anything that wasn't essential. Sometimes, what's inessential to a novel is part of what makes it great, but in the case of Lindqvist's novel that which was intended to add color simply drained all the life out of the story. .

Not so the film, which is wonderfully moody and sad, and which preserves everything strong about the novel. Part of the genius of Lindqvist's story (and he wrote the screenplay) is that in rooting for Oskar -- the young boy who is relentlessly bullied at school, and who leads a largely friendless existence until he meets a young girl name Eli, a girl who treats him well, who likes him, and for whom he feels immediately protective -- the audience is basically rooting against themselves. Everyone -- everyone who's not a bully, at least -- wants the weak and bullied to finally lash out against their tormenters, and when we see it happen in movies, when the asshole at the summer camp finally gets knocked into the lake, our impulse is to cheer. But in reality, when the tormented strike back, it's not always the bullies who get lashed. Let the Right One In, it seems to me, without ever mentioning it, is based on this idea. At the end, Oskar and Eli are on their own, traveling who knows where, to live their lives together. But we know what it takes for Eli to stay alive, and so does Oskar. Eli will take what she needs from whoever she can find, and if Oskar becomes like Hakan, Eli's previous keeper, he will provide for her at the expense of the first person he can lure.

Root for Oskar and Eli if you want to -- I did -- but you do so at your own peril.

* * * *

I just finished watching Erik Nelson's documentary about science fiction, horror, and etc. writer Harlan Ellison, Dreams with Sharp Teeth. It was more or less what I expected it to be, except maybe a little bit better. Clearly, Larson came to the project as an acolyte, and Ellison is his altar. The only words spoken against Ellison -- this man who has amassed such an array of enemies that at one point they formed a club -- in the entire film are those uttered gently and with love by his friends and admirers. Ellison himself has claimed that Larson should have interviewed some of the many people who hate him, but Larson's excuse is that Ellison is his own worst enemy. True enough, and up to a point, but believing that does not make the film more interesting.

But I grew up reading Ellison, and though I now find him to be an obnoxious, insufferable egomaniac, he can still be a darned entertaining one (his rant about writers getting paid is a highlight of the film). If you've read enough of Ellison over the years, especially his autobiographical essays (all of his essays are finally about him, no matter what his ostensible subject is), then you've heard all this before, so it probably helps if you have some distance from that part of your reading history, as I do, before checking this out. It's a hagiography, but I can't find it within myself to get too worked up about that. Ellison's an old guy now, and he's written some terrific fiction, and he got kicked around a lot when he was a kid. Let him have his movie.

* * * *

Speaking of documentaries with which Harlan Ellison has some involvement, when is this thing coming out?
I can't pretend to be any kind of expert on the bizarre work and life (presumably also bizarre) of Brother Theodore, but what small taste I've had over the years -- on Letterman, in films, now in internet clips -- really makes me want to be an expert. Singular, hilarious and disturbing, Brother Theodore has been a background fascination of mine for years. How could I get my hands on his albums? Is it possible I could ever see him perform live? The answer to the second question is now, of course, "No", and the first one is "Probably not", due to the steep prices at which used copies are currently selling. And knowing just enough about some obscure artist to make me want to know more, only to have a full understanding and appreciation of the art thwarted by that very obscurity, until finally I have to settle for scraps and biographies or documentaries, is not a fate with which I'm unfamiliar. So I'm used to it. Once again, you've defeated me, The Universe. Now at least let me see this goddamn documentary.

"Originality" has become a meaningless word. The loss -- not physically, which is inevitable, but in terms of cultural memory -- of people like Brother Theodore is the reason -- the entire reason -- for that. Far too often, true originality gets buried with the body. If no one tells you, or shows you, what the word means, how will you ever know? That's why I want to see the film: to remind myself what genuine, mad innovation really is.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Very Brief Musings on My Bloody Valentine

Brief Musing #1 - Where, exactly, did the idea of pairing a Valentine's Day-themed slasher film with coal mining come from? I've never seen the original 1981 film, but I gather the remake is similar to it in at least this respect, so, 28 years ago, did somebody who wanted to hop on this slasher money-train that was just leaving the station think, "Valentine's Day. That's my angle. But how in the name of God do I tie horrifyingly bloody carnage to a holiday that celebrates love and romance?? Think...c'mon, man, think! Wait, wait, I think I got it...coal mining!" I'll bet that's actually what happened.

Brief Musing #2 - At one point, two characters are just beginning a very tense (ostensibly) scene that will end with one of their deaths (one so callous that I don't think this film even came close to earning it). Since the characters are only fairly nervous at this stage, they're still able to joke about their behavior, and one says, "I'm kind of a pussy sometimes." The line is delivered well by the actress, Megan Boone, and the moment felt very real and human. It is the only time the film ever felt like that.

Brief Musing #3 - Apparently, horror fans are very forgiving if the lame-ass "creative kills" they paid to see involve bits of things flying straight at their faces. This remake of My Bloody Valentine is nothing more than a nostalgia trip for people who long for the days of Jaws 3D and Comin' at Ya! Really, does anybody -- outside of James Cameron and, maybe, George Lucas (I consider them to be pretty much the same guy anyway) -- honestly believe that this new wave of 3D movies heralds some sort of change in the way films are made? Or that 3D is the new Technicolor? Because I sure don't, and my limited experience with it so far (part of this film, at home, on DVD, with 3D glasses bought for 15 cents at Blockbuster -- we switched over to 2D about a half hour in because it was annoying; and one of the Harry Potter movies shown on 3D Imax) has been quite underwhelming. Which is not to say it hasn't been occasionally "cool", just not very, and not for long. But I don't know, maybe this shit will take off and 3D will be a cinematic innovation on the level of adding sound. If that turns out to be the case, then may God help us all..

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Story - Part Four

Click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three


Eventually, he found himself in the hospital's emergency room. He often did. Standing amid the sea-green walls, orange, welded-down chairs, and the worried and weeping faces, Winnick observed a dark-skinned man blankly feed coins into a soda machine. He pressed his palm against a large, bright drink logo and watched his drink plummet into view with a rich thunk. The man retrieved the can, opened it, and then just stood there. Winnick thought his eyes looked disappointed. This isn't what I wanted from my weekend, they said. At that moment, another man approached him hurriedly and hissed something. The first man flushed and his eyes showed alarm. As the two of them rushed away, the first one let his full soda fall into a nearby trashcan.

How did they do it? Winnick thought. How did they wait here for hours on end with their brains sparking on terrible thoughts and their hands turning the pages of magazines so quickly that nothing could be read, only to eventually have the inevitable worst confirmed by an apologetic man who barely had time for them, so that finally they could get into their cars and drive home? How did one drive home from that sort of news? How did you remember to make the correct turns? It seemed to Winnick that under such circumstances, a red traffic light could be so soul-crushing as to finish the job that losing your loved one had started. And then you pull up to your home, turn off the engine, walk to your front door, go inside, and do what? Fix a drink? Go to bed? Turn on the TV? Winnick imagined the dark-skinned man with the untouched soda going home later and eating a sandwich, with tears in his eyes.

Winnick sat down in one of the orange chairs. It always amazed him how quiet it was here. This was a place where people stuck with their own, and everyone kept their heads down.


Winnick looked up. A nurse, a dry-looking woman of about forty, was staring down at him. She didn't appear to be wearing make-up and had freckles sprayed across her forehead. He'd seen her before.

"What?" he said.

"You know what. We've told you. There's cops here, and I can go get one who'll make you leave, or you can just leave by yourself."

"I'm waiting for my brother," Winnick said. "We're waiting to find out what's wrong with our mom. He should be right around here."

"No, you're not," said the nurse. "I know you're not. You just come here and sit and stare and you scare people. You scare me."

"Not this time," said Winnick. "This time's for real. There's something really wrong with my mom. I'm worried."

The nurse watched him for several seconds.

"What's her name?" she asked.

"...Jane," he said.

"Jane what?"

Winnick gaped. He always knew that one day his brain would fail him when he could least afford it. His silence stretched on.

"Fuck it," the nurse said, looking around quickly. "I don't got time for this shit. Linda, where's Officer Brady?"

Winnick stood up and walked away from her.

"Linda, get Officer Brady."

As he passed through the automatic doors, Winnick spat on the floor.

* * * * *

He sat on a bench in the dark near the emergency room parking lot. He was waiting for a nurse to leave. He hoped it would be her, but it didn't have to be, and it wasn't. The nurse who finally left after what seemed like a long time was a good deal younger, though not, Winnick found it interesting to note, especially pretty. She was blonde, yes, but also had what Winnick had referred to as a "weak chin". And her arms were as thin as straws.

It was easy to follow her home, because she walked. This was a break. He'd thought he might have to get a cab, making the cabbie a potential witness, or simply let her go, or maybe on the same bus with her. But she walked, alone, through the breezily humid night air. It felt like a Southern night. Winnick knew what that felt like, having at one time in his life walked the streets at night in that part of the country. Those weren't great days.

She lived in a townhouse, and he watched from across the street as she dug around in her purse for her house keys. As she rattled them free, Winnick considered that he simply didn't have the energy to try and talk his way into her home, or even to talk to her at all. It had been a long couple of days, and he simply wanted to get on with it, so as she slid the key into the lock of her front door, Winnick took long, light strides across the street, making as little sound as possible so that when she was pushing open her door he was springing up the front steps behind her, shoving her forward into the door, which banged and shook against the wall inside. She fell against a set of steps leading up, her nurse's cap tumbling from her head as she grunted, "What?"

Winnick gently closed the door behind him. It was dark here, in the woman's foyer -- he hadn't given her a chance to turn on the lights. He kicked out at her, in the vicinity of her ribs, and her hands and nails scrabbled at him as he slapped his hands along the walls, trying to find a lightswitch. When he found one, hit it, and drenched them with a kind of medicinal white light that put Winnick in mind of the hospital they'd both just left, she spoke again, shrieking, "Get out!" Her face was wild, like a mental patient about to be locked up for good. Quickly, he hunched down towards where she was still sitting against the stairs, and punched her as hard as he could in the jaw. She collapsed sideways like he'd just driven a bolt into her brain. Grabbing her by her long hair, he dragged her across the hardwood floors, into the shadows of her home. He turned on every light he could find until he was able to locate her kitchen, which was where he took her next. There was an iron pot in the sink, which he filled with water. Standing over her, he turned the pot upside down over her bruised and slack face. The water landed on her with a slap, causing her eyes to flutter and roll in their sockets. Winnick filled the pot and doused her again. She gasped and sputtered, and this time kept her eyes more or less open. Winnick said, "I'm going to murder you." She said, "What?" "I'm going to murder you," he repeated, and she coughed and said, "I don't..." "Can you hear me?" he asked. "Yes, I'm, I can't..." she said. "What's your name?" he asked. "Can't...can't you just leave and go home?" she asked. "What's your name?" he asked again. "Jennifer," she said. "Are you lying to me?" he asked. "No," she said. "Please don't kill me," she said. "Who are you?" she asked. "Jennifer," he said, "I'm the man who is going to murder you," and by this time he had a large kitchen knife, like the one he'd used last night, in his right hand, and he used it to slash at her face and cut into her abdomen, from which he was eventually able to remove some of her organs, which he later placed in her bed upstairs.

She had a living room that seemed so quiet to Winnick, under the circumstances, and there was a deep leather easy chair. He sunk into it. He believed, from what he'd seen when he was upstairs, that Jennifer had a roommate, another nurse. Presumably, this nurse was working a different shift and wouldn't be home until much later. Winnick was undecided as to what he should to about that: leave, or wait for her? He sat in the chair to think about it. And then he noticed, on the squat glass table to his left, there was a card, mostly eggshell in color, with golden lettering and curls on the front. The front of the card said IN YOUR TIME OF SORROW... Winnick opened the card, and on the inside cover was a handwritten message that said:


I am so sorry for you loss. I can't even imagine what you must be feeling. Does it help to know that I think your sister is finally safe now? I think she finally feels well again.

You were such a good sister to her. And she was to you, too. Jennifer, you weren't lucky to have her, and she wasn't lucky to have you. You both deserved each other. You were so good for each other. I hope you can remember that and think about that in the sad times ahead. She loved you as much as you loved her, and she is going to watch down on you and guide you during your good times and your bad times. She's there with you now.

I love you so much. Take care of yourself and be safe.


Winnick thought that this card was very beautiful. What a sad girl Jennifer must have been, to see such tragedy at her age. But she was with her sister now, at least. That was something.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Story - Part Three

Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.


He turned and walked out, scanning for the elevators. He found them around a corner, banked against a giant mirrored wall. The light around the elevators was dimmed, draining into sepia, because maybe the hotel managers wanted people to think they were in an old photograph. Winnick shook his head at the absurdity of it all. That would never work, he thought. He had yet to hit a button, and he held Scott's wallet in his hands. Alone for a moment, he began to wade through its contents, lifting out the hotel room keycard between two fingers, while his thumbs kept the wallet gaping wide. He found, in the same inner sleeve as the keycard, a slip of paper with what appeared to be a room number scribbled across it. Slipping the wallet into his back pocket, he looked at the paper, turned it over, scanned for more writing, maybe a little note, or a sketch. Nothing. Winnick felt briefly disappointed in Scott, but he shook it off. He quickly memorized the room number, and then at the slip of paper.

Hit hit a button. He heard a ding, then the easy rumble of an elevator door sliding open. A hunched over young man wearing a white baseball cap with a giant floppy F on the front stepped out and walked quickly away from Winnick without looking at him. Winnick watched him go, then stepped into the den-like quiet of the elevator. He hit another button, marveling at the apparent sleepiness of the big hotel, and he heard another ding. He stepped into the hallway.

A soft, syrupy light settled over everything out here. What was with the light in this place? he wondered. It made him drowsy. He tried to figure out what financial motives the hotel management could have for trying to make their customers sleepy with all this brown half-light, but he couldn't come up with anything. So he walked down the hall, looking for the room number. He found it after about five minutes. He swiped the keycard, and gently opened the door.

He stepped in, and immediately noted the white kitchen to his right. The kitchen was the only source of light. The sink was silver and dripping and filled with a plate, a glass, a pot streaked with pasta, and a saucer that looked like someone had opened a vein into it. Winnick walked quietly into the kitchen, which smelled of cold, wet food. He bent his head over the sink, squinted at the saucer, as though it were a fly-leg under a microscope. He sniffed. Not blood, because that would be odd. A sauce, he supposed, with which he was unfamiliar. The plate had gobs of tomato and onions and bread, and other bits of whatever, and the wet sink odor of it all put him off. He turned from the sink and found the knife rack, from which he extracted the big kitchen knife, which had apparently not been used to prepare the dinner Scott had been unable to get home for. Standing there in the middle of the kitchen, Winnick looked into the shadows of the rest of the room. A chair and a sofa hunkered down in the dark, the large box of the TV cut big black corners into the blue evening light coming through the curtains on the far wall. Maybe he'd flip some lights on later. Probably not, though.

He walked out of the kitchen and turned right, the only place the hallway into the bedroom could be. He made no sound. He found the bedroom door as if by instinct, turned the knob so gently, pushed it open so gently, walked in, and heard the soft, sweet breathing of the pretty young woman who loved the man Winnick had left cooling and stinking in a garbage heap somehwere back that-a-way. Winnick felt such sadness for her. How could she ever have envisioned such an outcome for herself or her husband? And if she had, what could she had done? Would not marrying Scott have saved her? Would she have preferred nights of unbroken loneliness, if this was the alternative? Would marriage to someone other than Scott have led her life in another, safer direction, one free of such unthinkable horrors? Would she have loved that man as she loved Scott? If the answer was no, would that have been a trade she would have been willing to make? And if not, what a sweet young woman she must be.

Winnick got slowly into bed with her. She was warm, and wearing something that felt almost slippery; it must be terribly comfortable, Winnick thought. He cautiously found a small lamp on his side of the bed and turned it on.

The woman stirred, and turned her head, with its pretty tangles of sleepy hair.

"Baby?" she murmured. "I'm sorry, I got tired."

Winnick put his hand over her mouth and slammed his knee into her stomach. She went rigid and bleated into his palm. He showed her the knife and she immediately began to cry.

"I cut open your husband's stomach about an hour ago," he said, sad at the words.

He could feel her saliva and her lips, even her tongue, against his palm. Her tears poured back into her ears and hair.

"Here we go," he said. "There won't be anymore." He stabbed her hard in the abdomen, twice, paused to watch her, and then stabbed her three more times. The bed was becoming a lake of blood. Her feet pounded the bed's sheet and comforter. He squeezed tight on her mouth. He kept stabbing her, and her fury began to drain out of her. "This is how it ends. So now you know." He cut her throat and gouged out her eyes with his thumbs.

He took a shower while holding the knife, which later went into the trash. He took one of Scott's topcoats to cover the gore on his clothes, and ditched his shoes in favor of a nice pair of boots. He left the hotel without a glance at anybody or anything, hailed a cab outside, and let out a relieved sigh when he opened his own front door. He undressed, showered again, put on a robe, stuck his clothes in the garbage, got into bed, and lay awake for a long time.

* * * *

The next day was Saturday. Tomorrow was Sunday, and Sundays were for calling his brother's home and hanging up if anyone answered. Saturday was usually something of a free day. He rolled out of bed at 9:22, his room lit by a cloudy, curtained haze of a sun, softening all the shades of blue in his bedroom, of which there were several. Mounds of clothing were kicked through on his way to the bathroom, where he showered for the third time in under twelve hours. This shower was the hottest of the three, the steam so thick and piping that it seemed to effect his breathing a little. He reddened comfortably beneath the spray, and hung his head in, what was it, shame? He toweled off, took his pills, brushed his teeth, slipped into his thickest robe, and went back to his bedroom. He scooped a shoebox out from beneath his bed, took it to his kitchen table, opened it, and scattered the contents before him.

This was a collection of scraps. Index cards, dollar bills, Post-Its, formerly crumpled notebook and legal paper, typing paper, napkins, all scribbled over. Lists, notes, letters, poems, warnings, pleadings, apologies, ultimatums. Drawings, story ideas. Winnick could not remember how long he'd been collecting these. Two years? Something like that, he supposed. Regardless, he'd begun by accident during one of his walks. It was in his nature to walk the streets, during the day as well as at night, just to observe things and people and places. Park benches were often a destination for him. He would seek them out in areas busy with pedestrians, and he would plant himself, and he would warmly stare at them all, taking note of people's moods, noticeable in eyes and strides and breathing. Angry people, for instance, had small eyes and rapid breathing. Happy people had soft eyes and slow breathing. Sad people walked as though the bones in their legs were degenerating with each step, which maybe they were and that was why some of them were sad. Also, sad people's eyes looked like those of sleepy fish. Sad people wore sweatpants and sweaters.

This natural interest in his environment and those who shared it with him surely led him to this current fascination, because it was while observing people one day that he found his first scrap. Not a scrap, to be honest, as it was a full sheet of unlined paper, folded square twice over and left almost in the middle of the bench. He didn't unfold it at first, but waiting until there was a lull in foot traffic. When he did unfold it, he saw it was a letter, written in blue ink. It said:


You told my parents that you think you lost Jesus. I think that's very sad. Why did this happen? Times are tough I know, for me too, but for you more. I know. I'm going to tell you something straight, it's a shit life sometimes and I'm done pretending it's not. But you can't lose Jesus! Because Jesus is all there is. Do you know why? Because he's the only one who can love you forever.

There was a bit more after that, but it was a variation on the "I care about you and you should call me" sentiment that ended all such letters. Winnick was nonetheless enthralled by that first part, and tried to imagine who had written it. He knew it was a woman, because she'd signed it (Brittany), and he thought she was probably young. And he thought she might be black, because he was given to understand that black people often talked about Jesus. Beyond that, he had to admit, he had trouble seeing her, and imagining her life. Her life must be absolutely packed with loss, though, and apparently also compassion for others, which impressed Winnick to no end. To know so much suffering, and to still find it in herself to care about her friend! He'd read that letter twelve times in a row right then and there, and from that day on had sought out more letters like it, wherever and whenever he happened to be walking.

He'd found few of that caliber over the years, but he'd found many other scraps of thoughts and emotion, scribbled or scrawled and left for strangers throughout the city. He sifted through them now.

Here was an interesting one. A list, on a large Post-It. It said:


And another one. Not a list this time, but a personal note on a small piece of legal paper. It said:

Dennis - You hurt me with what you said about my legs. I go to the doctor about them almost all the time! But whatever, your fat! - Joan

Another list, a sort of "to do" list this time. Or no, more like an attempt to structure a day:

take a bath
eat my breakfast
play sega for 1 hr.
go to cemetery and see mom
write letters
eat my lunch
play Nintendo until dinner
eat my dinner

Now a warning:

Keep knocking jackass I'll call the cops or I'll punch a whole through your face! Whats it like to eat shit my friend? Ha ha youre a clown. Maybe thats why we're always laughing. Its not because youre funny cuz youre not. Youll be eating shit even more too if you keep knocking jackass. So keep it up it'll be so funny if you do! Youre funeral, jackass!

A lament:

I miss you and wish you would call. When you don't I get sick. I think about why you don't like me anymore, and I don't have an answer. But I'm truly sorry for whatever I did.

A non-sequitor, a melancholy one:

Peter - You left again. Most times I just sleep.

There were several shopping lists, like that first one. It struck Winnick that something as trivial as a shopping list could linger with him in a way that even some of these nakedly emotional notes and letters could not. It was curious, but when you read something like this next one -

sandwich things

- you had to stop a moment, didn't you? Winnick did, at any rate, and when he read that list it swept through him like a slow breeze. It struck him in the way he supposed other people were deeply impacted by reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby-Dick, or some other great novel. Winnick guessed he was a bit of a fool, because who else cared as little for art or literature as Winnick did, but at the same time could almost be awe-struck by a sloppily spelled grocery list?

He was beginning to feel restless, staring at this heap of paper. He watched it for a few more minutes, fluttering a little from the air conditioner's breath coming from the vent in the ceiling above the table. He put his hands on top of the heap to try and settle it, and its many corners rustled against his fingers. He didn't want to press it too firmly.

Well. That was enough. He began to gather it all up again and put it back in the shoebox. Once it was all stored back safely underneath his bed, he got dressed and ventured outside. He wanted to go walking today.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Story - Part Two

Click here for Part One


This dark part of the street would soon lighten up, he knew. He'd killed this Scott person just past the point in the city where things stopped being fun, or, rather, things stopped trying to be fun. Past a certain point, the are couldn't even sustain a barbershop, though presumably the people in this section had hair just like everywhere else. It was sad, and a little perplexing. Winnick knew that there were perfectly good explanations for these sorts of unofficial borderlines in cities throughout the world, but those explanations could only cover the rational ground. There was something else there, Winnick had always believed, something having to do with a general sort of sadness, that no one could really figure out, if they even noticed it, which he imagined most people didn't. Winnick felt it, but was at as much of a loss as everyone else seemed to be.

But all that was behind him now, because look, here were lights, and people, and bars and restaurants. That sort of thing. As the number of people increased, as he moved with the tide along crosswalks, he began to want to strike out at them. Not because they were, or appeared to be, having fun, while some other small group of people down the street were staying in for the night and probably having less fun, because he didn't truly care about that. He wanted to punch them, he believed, because there were just too many of them.

As he cross the street, the night around him lit back up into dusk, he fell in step behind a young man walking between two young women. Both women wore jeans that were similarly tight and similarly low-slung. Each girl had an arm wrapped around one of the man's, and whenever the man turned his head, Winnick could see his drunk, oblong grin.

"What?" the young man said to the girl on his right.

"She said," said the girl, "that she didn't want to meet me again, like, ever again. She said, 'I don't let people treat me that way, if if you're going to treat me that way, I don't ever want to meet you again.' She said, 'People like that aren't my friends'."

"I guess she doesn't have many friends, then," said the other girl.

"I know, right?" said the first, and by then all three of them were across the street, and Winnick lost the thread of the conversation, once it had jammed up against the crowding voices of the people moving like cars on a freeway all around them.

What time was it? Winnick though. Around 9:30, by his watch. He put his hands in his pockets. He passed by the entrance to a bar, outside of which sat a big bald guy wearing a black shirt, his hand out to receive the ID of a young kid hoping to get in. Winnick heard the bouncer say, "What's up, bud?" before he lost their voices, too. To his left now was an old couple, both dressed as though the casual attire of all the young people all around them were part of somebody else's night out, and had nothing to do with them. They were standing by a parked car at a meter, the car squat and blue and newly washed. The old man, much taller than she, had his hands on the hips of the old woman. She had her head tilted up, her lips ready for a kiss, her face white and powdered and crumbling like a squeezed doughnut.

Winnick passed them. As he did, he heard the sound of scuttling paper, and when he looked down he saw that he had absently kicked a tightly folded sheet of yellow legal paper along the sidewalk ahead of him. He brightened, and bent swiftly to pick it up, moving to the side as he did, away from the constantly moving mass of people. The paper was crisp, and Winnick thought it had been dropped recently. Opening it, and seeing that it was a personal note, he thought hopefully that it had been dropped on the way to being delivered.

Dear Paul,

Quit stealing my CD's and pills. Don't come to my house anymore. I will come to you're house.


Winnick read the note four times before refolding it and putting it in his pocket. His mind was racing. The note was to be hand-delivered, obviously, but to where? To Paul's house? Why a note? Why not pick up the phone? He tried to imagine, as he always did in these circumstances, the kind of person who would write such a note, and what history existed between these two people that would lead to this. A history of stealing, apparently, as well as either addiction or health problems, or both. Winnick's mind couldn't latch on to anything more specific or interesting, however, and he began to grow frustrated. He clenched his fists, back against the wall of a restaurant as people filed past, and then he forced himself to sigh. There was no time for this now anyway, he thought. When he got home later, he could spend time on the note, but not now. The reason he couldn't figure it out was because there were too many other things to be thought about and to do.

The Global filled his vision as he walked on. The whole thing was a sort of casual white, like an envelope, with dark blue awnings scattering its lower floors. He could see the outside dining portion of one of the hotel's restaurants, all black with light orange lamps casting a faint glow on people against the rails holding bottled beer, or sitting at tables, crowded over their food. He crossed the street diagonally, walking briskly straight for the Global's main entrance. He probably reeked of beer, and would take care of that in the restroom. Or probably no one would notice anyway.

Once int he lobby, Winnick stopped for a moment to gather himself. His instinct was to plow on ahead at full-speed, now that his blood was pumping and his brain was spinning, but he knew he shouldn't. Not that he knew for sure, but he believed that when he got like this his eyes went glassy, and maybe even shined unnaturally, which would be a big giveaway to anyone who looked at him for more than a few seconds, so while he slowed his walk as he neared the center of the lobby, he began blinking rapidly to erase the gleam. He felt that by the time he reached the ring of deep leather sofas in the lobby's center he had achieved this. The sofas were soft and comfortably brown, and at first he thought he should sit here and relax for a bit, but he discarded that notion. Off to the left of the white and nearly empty lobby was a darker room. The hotel bar, called Bozeman's. Winnick went in.

He sat on a stool at the bar and laid his forearms on the hard wood. Two stools down sat a middle-aged man, grinning up at a basketball game on an overhead television. This man was smoking, and there was an ashtray by his elbow. Cigarette smoke curled towards Winnick, and he flapped his hand at it, like he was waving away gnats. The man glanced at Winnick.

"I'm sorry," he said, shifting his ashtray a few inches towards himself.

"That's okay," said Winnick, putting on the face he believed would be most appropriate. "I'm in a bar, after all."

"That's true. I try to be polite about it anyway, but if you'd kicked up more of a fuss, I probably would have had to fight you."

Winnick laughed as the bartender approached.

"What can I get you?" the bartender -- young, fat and bald -- asked.

"A Foghorn," said Winnick. "And a shot of bourbon, whatever's cheap."

The bartender said, "You got it," and he walked off. He was back shortly with Winnick's beer and shot, and Winnick paid him.

"You know what's funny?" said the middle-aged man. "Or maybe not really funny, as such, but I stay here every time I'm in this city, which is a lot, and I come to this bar most nights I'm here, and none of these sons of bitches ever seem to remember me."

Was this man angry? Winnick thought.

"Oh well," he said, shrugging. He had nothing else to say.

"I talk to them. I tip well, or not badly, at least. Well, no biggie."

There was silence then for a bit, during which Winnick listened to the basketball players' shoes squeaking on the court. He drank his shot and sipped his beer.

"Saw a good movie the other day, up in the room," the man said, yawning mid-sentence. Winnick was starting to regret his decision to come to the bar, but he'd felt the need to let some time pass, and to cool his mind.

"Oh yeah?" he said.

"Yeah. Not porno. This was, it was one of those movies where it's a bunch of kids, and they're grown up, and they all come home for their class reunion, and everything's changed and whatever, one of the kids had died, and nobody could, you know, this kid was everybody's best friend back in school, you know? I don't know, it was kind of good. It made me kind of think, though, you know, I never go home, never go to any reunions, but it made me think maybe I should. See how everyone is, and who's who. I had some good times in high school -- "

"Right," said Winnick, nodding.

" -- okay? Good friends, real good friends, and I don't know where the fuck any of them ended up. Isn't that sad? You ever been to a class reunion?"

"No, never."

"Yeah, me neither! We should go. Not together," the man said, laughing, "because how well could that go? But you know, I think it's something that's good to do for yourself, if nothing else. But I liked the movie. It was called Remember That Time. You should order it. It's like five bucks."
"I will," said Winnick. He drank his beer down halfway.

"Sorry," said the man, after a while. "I get very conversational when I travel, with anybody I see." He held up his drink and showed it to Winnick. "And plus this. But I get restless when I travel, and I do a lot of it, so that probably can't be good, right?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Winnick; then, saying something he'd been led to believe was true, "It's good to travel."

"Maybe," the man said, sipping. "If you're going to Europe or wherever with your family. But I'm traveling so I can tell some guy 'You don't need to fire these people because we made such-and-such money last year.' That's not fun. That's not relaxing.

"No, I guess -- "

"Not that I want anybody to get fired, but it's no fun. What if they don't believe me? Or they decide it's not enough money? That's not fun."

"Maybe you should quit," said Winnick.

"I probably should have, years ago," the man said, nodding. "A bit late now. Christ, how many of these have I had?" He stared at his glass, as if he'd just realized it wasn't what he'd ordered. He looked back at Winnick. "What do you do?"

"Sales," Winnick said, without thinking.

"Christ," the man said, "quit now. You're young, get out. That's like, Put me in jail, but you gotta pay me, but not enough. Fuck it. I did that. Never again."

Winnick's mind fogged out for a second, and he remembered something he'd done several months ago. There was a woman lying in the middle of her living room, and her torso was opened up, and her intestines were lying all around her, spread out like stereo cable. And Winnick was standing above her, wondering what to do next.

Also, that same night -- and least he thought it was that night -- he had found a five-dollar bill on the steps outside his apartment. Along the top, in tiny print, someone had written: Give to Charles for video games.

Winnick shook off the memories and said to the man, "It's just what I'm doing until something better comes along."

"Yeah, but don't get caught sitting around. There's that saying, 'Life's what happens when you're sitting around?' And that's very true, my friend. When you start just sitting around, it'll eat up everything."

"Well, yeah, I know," said Winnick, finishing his beer. "That's what my wife says."

"Your wife's right. You movin' on?"

Winnick had started to stand.

"Yeah," he said. "Got to."

"Well, it was nice meeting you. I hope I didn't talk you to death."

"No, no," Winnick assured him.

The man put his hand out so Winnick could shake it, which he did.

"Mitch Downey," the man said. "Good to meet you."

"Paul Crosby," said Winnick. "Same to you."


Monday, May 18, 2009

A Story - Part One

Click here for the announcement.


To the people of Queens,
I love you. And I
want to wish all of
you a Happy Easter.
May God bless you
in this life and in
the next. And for now
I say goodbye and

- Son of Sam letter

Stuck outside of a shut-down barbershop, near the mouth of a wide, trash-packed alley, a phone booth was lit up, cold and white. Inside, a man tapped out his home phone number on the keypad.

"Hey baby, it's me...Nope. I'm sorry, I'm stuck, I can't get away."

On the street behind him, a cab almost hit a kid dressed all in black who was skateboarding at 9:00 in the evening. The kid skipped his board up on the curb between two parked cars and glared after the cab. The kid thought, but didn't say, things like "Fuck you" and "Fuck off".

"No, it's the Vasey people," the man in the booth said. "They got me, they want me to go out with them. To, well I guess to commemorate the deal."

This was a quiet part of the street. Another car passed, its headlights dancing over the chrome inside the barbershop. Not far away, someone was yelling loudly for someone else to come here and shut up.

"Well, no, I mean, I'm not that far away. I'm only like three, four blocks from the hotel, and I think we're probably just going to go to some place called Olson's for some drinks."

Across the street, a couple stories up, a woman opened a screen door and stepped out onto her balcony. She lit a cigarette and craned her neck so she could still watch TV while she smoked. From the street, the TV could be seen flickering on the opposite wall.

"Because they just told me. No, I'm walking. They'll already be there when I get there, so...No more than an hour, I don't think...No, I doubt it, I mean, it's just sort of like, you know, 'Good job, everyone. Let's all do a shot!'. It won't be..."

From the darkness of the wide-mouthed alley, a man in a slick yellow coat, who was holding a 40 oz. that was half-full of urine-colored beer, shuffled towards the phone booth. He stopped, his body lightly tilted to the left, and stared curiously at the man inside. He did this only for a second before turning his back.

"Okay. I'll call you from Olson's before I leave...I know, but you'll be up, right? No, I know, right. Okay, I love you, baby. Okay, see you soon. Bye, I love you."

He hung up and stepped out of the phone booth. As he did, the drunk in the yellow coat slipped and stumbled, his beer dropping from his hand. The bottle rang off the concrete but didn't break. As it rolled towards the outer wall of the babershop, the beer foamed and crept up the funnel-shaped neck.

"Wup, shit," the drunk muttered, landing on one knee and staying there, head down, as though waiting for a wave of sickness to pass.

The man from the phone booth stopped and watched him. As he watched, the drunk shook his head and muttered some more before sliding both legs out in front of him so that he sat down, hard. He sat there and watched his beer bottle clink against the barbershop's red brick. He huffed out a long sigh and coughed.

"You all right?" the man said, a little quietly, maybe hoping the drunk wouldn't hear him. The drunk shook his head, possibly in response, maybe in reference to something inside himself he privately disagreed with.

"You okay?" the man asked, now taking a few steps toward the drunk. "I saw you go down. You bang your knee?"

As the man got closer, the drunk tilted his head back, the man appearing to him upside down.

"Oh, hey buddy," the drunk said. "Naw, my knee's...I don't know. I lost my beer."

"I saw that. You need help up, or what?"

The drunk's hair was short and ruffled, but a quick combing would have fixed it. His coat was slightly beat to hell, but otherwise he didn't seem too weathered. The man wondered if the bender this man had evidently been on was just a one-off, something spurred by a temporary bout of depression, which, once it had been replaced by a hangover, might not reoccur. This idea somehow made the man less willing to help in whatever small way he could, but he was committed now.

"Yeah, man," the drunk said, nodding. Nodding had replaced head-shaking, perhaps indicating a positive change in his general outlook. He lowered his head, seeming suddenly tired, and lifted his hand so the man could take it. The man did, and braced his legs before pulling the drunk up.

"There you go," the man said.

The drunk plunged a knife, long and thick, into the man's guts. With one hand clutching the back of the man's head, and the other curled around the handle of the knife, he drove the man back into the shadows of the alley. The man started to make noises -- wet, catching noises -- like someone closing their throat to keep from vomiting. His eyes grew large and he began to sweat. Blood ran over the drunk's hand, and some splattered over his body. The blood ran off his coat like water.

"This isn't how you thought it would go for you, is it?" the drunk said. His voice was calm. He twisted the knife hard three times until the man sat down, back into a pile of stuffed garbage bags. The drunk sawed at him, opening a mouth in the man's belly. The man gurgled and cried out, so the drunk closed a hand around his throat, cutting off his voice.

He removed the dripping knife and set it aside. The man's eyes were glazing over, so he tentatively removed his hand from the man's throat. The man didn't scream, though his breathing was loud and quick. The drunk looked at the slit in the man's belly and slowly wormed his hand inside. The man was about to scream, he could tell, so he took a great handful of what he found in there and pulled down. The fistful held, and the man's mouth dropped open, as though what his killer held, so deep inside him, was somehow directly connected to his brain stem. Then his eyes rolled back, and his appearance now resembled the photograph of a ghost.

His killer let go and looked into the man's swimming eyes.

"This is it," he said. "No more for you."

The man's eyes rolled as the drunk put his hand over his mouth and pressed. Then, with his other hand, he retrieved the knife and slashed open the man's throat, moving back slightly as the blood washed down. The man died there, and his killer, long having shed his drunk act, took the man's wallet from his back pocket, and stuffed his corpse into a deep pile of trash. He then took off his coat, threw that on the body, wiped the knife free of prints, and added that to the mess. Finally, he covered everything over. Quickly washing his hands in what was left of the beer, and throwing the empty bottle deep into the back of the alley, he then opened the man's wallet, to see what there was to see.

The dead man's name had been Dennis Scott. The address on his license wasn't local, but there was a keycard for a room at the Global, which was just four or so blocks east of where his killer now stood. His killer, who name was Sam Winnick, turned in that direction and saw the glowing top of the Global and the red light flashing on the hotel's antenna tower, which looked like a dead star. Thumbing through the wallet again, he found photos, family photos, old parents, a young wife, maybe a brother. There was a little money. Winnick looked at the photo of the woman he presumed was Dennis Scott's wife, and he thought of the conversation Scott was having in the phone booth.

He turned and walked east.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Don't Be Here... here, at 10:oo am EST. Pat's hosting TOERIFC's May discussion of Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, don't you know!

Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm Getting Ready to Do Something I Probably Shouldn't

The other day, I went to a website I hadn't visited in a very long time. After browsing through it for a few minutes, I came to a decision. How momentous a decision, in the grand scheme of things, I don't know -- probably not very -- but for me, right now, it's sort of a big deal.

This is the website in question. I've been aware of Nedroid for a while, and I've always found him very funny, and an immensely talented artist. I mean, look at some of that stuff. Even the pictures that look like doodles are, I think, pretty great, and when you look at his more detailed work it's hard to not think he should be getting paid for this. And he's just throwing it up there for free. Maybe he has all sorts of deals with book companies or paying websites that I don't know about, and by all rights he should, but I don't think so.

So, I'm about to follow suit. I can't draw, so don't worry about that, but I do write stories. I'd rather not get into my personal writing history, such as it is, right now, but it's something I've done off and on (mostly, sad to say, off for the last several years) since I was a kid. And recently, for the first time in a long time, I actually finished something. Broadly speaking, it's a horror story (that's how I think of it anyway, although some may quibble with that designation), and the market for that kind of fiction is pretty abysmal these days. That might sound like an excuse to you, and maybe it is, but it's also true. There are no good magazines for it that I'm aware of, and even my decision to embrace New Technology and submit it to an on-line magazine that actually pays hit a roadblock when I discovered that my story is too long. The magazine has a maximum word count for the stories they publish -- as do all such magazines, on-line or otherwise -- and my story exceeds it.

Which leaves me where? With possibly more options than I'm either willing to admit or prepared to look into, but looking at Nedroid's site the other day has inspired me to take the step of putting my story up here, for free, for everyone to read and comment on. What I ultimately hope to gain from this, I don't really know, but I feel like simply putting it out there is a big enough step for my lazy ass that it's worth taking.

To be honest, the idea has been in my head for a few months, and one of the big reasons I haven't gone through with it is because my story doesn't have a title. I think titles are important, and I love a good title, but apparently -- lately, anyway -- I'm absolutely terrible at coming up with them. I do hope to be able to finally find the right one for my story before I actually put it up, but if I can't, then this thing'll just go up as "Untitled". I hope that doesn't happen, but the reason I'm putting up this post now, at least a few days before I put up the story, is to basically force myself across the line, the point of no return. I'm on record now, so...

A couple more things: the story isn't that long -- in manuscript form, it's a little over 20 pages, which I'd call average for a short story -- but it's long enough that I'm going to break this up into parts. I don't know how many posts this will take up, and I won't until I start actually breaking it down, but the point is that this will be a kind of series. Or serial, if you will. Also, if the story were to get an MPAA rating, it would be rated R, for Violent Killing, Suggestive Times, and Swear Talking. So if that's not your kind of thing, this counts as your warning.

Okay, well, that's it. I'm on record. Look for Part One in a few days, and please don't hesitate to leave comments on the story itself, whatever you think of it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Overshadowed: A Sport Enjoyed by All

As always with Overshadowed, spoilers are in effect.

Go into just about any pool hall in the country, especially those frequented by casual players, and I'll bet you that you'll see the above image, enlarged, framed and hanging on the wall. That's because in 1961, Paul Newman played Fast Eddie Felson in Robert Rossen's film The Hustler, and by virtue of being Paul Newman (which is not, by any means, to say Newman is the only thing the film has going for it) every man of a certain age across America who wasn't already devoted to the game of pool suddenly decided that maybe picking up a cue stick could be worth their time. If you learned how to play pool, and could play it well, you could make money. You could show your superiority over other men. You could take on a pose of world-weariness. You could be a man. The culture of pool hustling obviously already existed, but Rossen's film, and Newman's incredibly skilled and seductive performance, turned it into a fad. Of course, most fads -- frisbees, Pokemon -- don't require the level of practice and accomplishment that a person needs to really take part in serious pool, so the vast majority of the people who put their quarters on the table after seeing The Hustler suddenly found themselves not living the life of Eddie Felson or Minnesota Fats, but, instead, merely discovered that they were the owner of a brand new hobby. Because once you've picked up the habit of shooting pool, you don't just drop it. You don't leave it behind when the next fad comes along. You might not be any good, but it's a damn good game to play. Even at the level of rank amateur, when shooting good pool -- good for them, anyway -- a person can still feel that "Nothing could be so clear or so simple or so excellent to do."
That line's not from the film, and Paul Newman and Robert Rossen didn't create Felson or the film from scratch. The line is from the 1959 novel of the same name, by Walter Tevis. The Hustler was Tevis's first novel, and he would only publish five more, and one collection of stories, before he passed away in 1984 at the age of 56. Curiously, four of his seven books are science fiction (including the collection), and three were adapted to the screen: The Hustler, The Color of Money, and, of all things, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Focusing only on the first two, then it goes without saying that Tevis created not one, but two of the most enduring and iconic characters in post-War American fiction. There's Fast Eddie, of course, but also Minnesota Fats, a character given such presence by Jackie Gleason in the film that a professional pool hustler by the name of Rudolf Wanderone claimed, disingenuously but with the apparent aid of Willie Mosconi -- pool great and technical adviser on the film -- that the character was based on him (of course, this claim was made not after the novel came out, but in 1961, after the film was released). But the character of Fast Eddie Felson casts a big enough shadow over our culture that Tevis should be remembered for that alone. Yet, back where I'm from, there's a pool hall (two now, actually) called "Fast Eddie's", and I feel confident that if you were to walk in there and ask any ten people if they're a fan of Walter Tevis, ten out of ten times the response would be "Walter Who-vis?" Such is the power of cinema.
Another odd facet of the Hustler phenomenon is how the the story seems to want to dissuade the fakers, those who don't come by the lifestyle honestly. Actually, the film seems to want to dissuade everybody -- more on that later -- but even the novel, in delineating what it says are the two kinds of hustlers, says: "The small-time men -- the scufflers, musclers, dollar jumpers -- prey in nibbles: on unwary but seldom wealthy drunks; schoolboys who aspire to what they take to be manhood; middle-aged men who aspire to what they take to be youthfulness... In other words, that means you. Still, everybody wants to be the best at something.
Not that I need to tell you this, but the basic story of both the novel and the film is as follows: Eddie Felson, from Oakland, has just arrived in Chicago with his friend and financial backer Charlie (Myron McCormick in the film). Charlie is content with the profitable hustles they've been pulling up to this point, an example of which is beautifully illustrated in the first scene of the film, and the third chapter of the novel: pretending to be two traveling salesman, Charlie and Eddie go into a bar and start shooting pool. Eddie's no good sober, and even worse drunk, which is what he's steadily becoming. But he makes one amazing shot to win a game, and bets a skeptical Charlie that he can do it again. He fails, and wants to bet again. Charlie tells him to save his money, but the bartender wants in, even when the bet has been greatly increased. And, what do you know, Eddie makes the shot. Back in the car, Charlie takes his cut, and off they go. That's what Charlie wants. But Eddie believes that he's the best hustler in the country, or good enough to be though of as one of the best, and he wants to go to Chicago to prove it. Specifically, he wants to go to a particular pool hall (called Bennington's in the novel, and Ames in the film, which is just one of a number of apparently meaningless small changes) where many of the best hustlers congregate. In both versions of the story, he winds up playing Minnesota Fats at straight pool. He loses at first, but then he finds his groove, and at one point he finds himself ahead $18,000. Charlie wants him to quit now, but Eddie says the game isn't over until Fats says it is. From the novel:
He said it very slowly, tasting the words thickly as they came on. "I'm the best you ever seen, Fats." That was it. It was very simple... He had known it, of course, all along, for years. But now it was clear, so simple that no one...could mistake it. "I'm the best. Even if you beat me, I'm the best."...

Somewhere in Eddie, deep in him, a weight was being lifted away. And, deeper still, there was a tiny, distant voice, a thin, anguished cry that said to him, sighing, You don't have to win. For hours there had been the weight, pressing on him, trying to break him and now these words, this fine and deep and true revelation, had come and were taking the weight from him. The weight of responsibility. And the small steel knife of fear.

So, naturally, Eddie -- who is by now also quite drunk on JTS Brown bourbon -- winds up losing. Same thing in both the novel and the film, but the film has already, at this point, made one very big change. When Fats starts losing, he tells one of the on-lookers to get him some whiskey, and, specifically, to get it from Johnny's. In the film, that's a signal to bring back Bert Gordon (George C. Scott, to my mind every bit as good here as Newman, though no one ever seems to talk about him). In the novel, Fats is his own financial backer, but in the film, when he's losing badly, he needs Bert to come in and stake him, which he does. This is where Bert and Eddie first meet, while in the book, though we learn Bert was watching them play, he doesn't actually appear in the book until almost halfway through..

After losing, a beaten-down Eddie leaves Charlie and meets Sarah (Piper Laurie in the film), an alcoholic student for whom Eddie feels an odd attraction. They end up living together, and quietly and gloomily fall in love, although maybe not in so many words. And Sarah and Bert are at the heart of the differences between the novel in the film. First, in the novel, Bert is a pretty unlikable guy, but in the film he's positively Satanic, and in the novel Sarah is...Sarah is what? In the film, she tells Eddie stories: she says she got the money she lives off from a former rich lover, and has a limp due to an injury sustained in a car accident, before later coming clean and admitting that the money comes from her father, and the limp comes from childhood polio. In the novel, she's up-front -- because why wouldn't she be? -- about both right from the beginning. On screen, she also wants to be Eddie's conscience. When Eddie has taken Bert on as his backer, she travels with them to Louisville, where Bert wants to set him up in a high stakes game against a rich loser named Findlay (Murray Hamilton).
In the book, she doesn't go with them to Louisville. She never even meets Bert. Which, if you're familiar with the story, should tell you something else about where the film goes its own way, but first, here's what happens in the novel when Sarah finds out how Eddie earns his living:
"But why pool? Couldn't you do something else?"
"Like what?"
"Don't be cute about it," she said. "You know what I'm driving at. You could...sell insurance, something like that."
He looked at her for a moment, wondering whether he should take her to bed, work up a little action. "No," he said. "What I do I like fine."
"I've heard that pool can be a dirty game," she said.
He walked back into the living room and, not looking at Sarah, looked instead at the [clown painting in the living room]. The clown looked back, sad and mean, holding the wooden staff. His fingers were painted in only sketchily, but they were graceful and sure of themselves. The clown was, apparently, unhappy, but was not to be pushed around a good, solid clown and a figure to be respected. Eddie stretched again, his back to Sarah, still looking at the picture. "Yes, it's dirty...Anyway you look at it, it's dirty."
Sarah, in the novel, doesn't understand why Eddie does what he does. It seems frivolous to her, and, after he gets his thumbs broken by some guys who catch him hustling them, dangerous. And, when he tells her he's going to Louisville for a week, she sees it as a wedge between them. She's a desperatly, unhappy woman, and Eddie has raised her hopes, but maybe he doesn't care the way she thinks he does.

Eddie can also be fairly cruel. Interestingly, in the film, she asks a question of Eddie when she first invites him back to her place -- "Why me?" -- that she doesn't ask in the novel, but the novel may actually provide the answer, or at least actually say the answer, that the film doesn't. Towards the end, Eddie and Sarah have a blow-out about his trip to Louisville, and he calls her a "born loser". Which is what Bert calls him when he first broaches to Eddie the idea of becoming his backer. At the time Bert says that, and when Eddie and Sarah first meet, that's what Eddie is. But in the novel, he's about to go to Louisville to beat Findlay and make enough money to get a new game with Fats, which Eddie will also win. He's not a loser anymore, so he's going to leave Sarah behind (although he does say she can come along, he doesn't make the offer until he sees how upset she is). It's also interesting that in this argument, Eddie essentially calls Sarah a whore, which is what Bert calls her (also essentially) in the film. And many of Sarah's retorts in this scene in the novel are, in the film, actually delivered by her to Bert -- the idea that he wants to take his opponents' pride as well as their money, and so on. The climactic showdown between Piper Laurie's Sarah and George C. Scott's Bert in the film is, in the novel, actually had by Sarah and Eddie. And this is the argument that, in the film, leads to Sarah's suicide!
Which, in the novel, never happens. The above argument, cruel as it is, is the evidence we need to know that these two kids will never be able to make it work. In the novel, after winning in Kentucky, Eddie goes back to her and buys her a very nice watch. He tells her -- again, rather cruelly, but at least unintentionally so, this time -- that he almost bought her a ring ("What kind of ring?" "What kind do you think?"). They have an expensive but melancholy dinner, and part ways. Then he goes to Bennington's to beat Minnesota Fats.
Meanwhile, over in the film, Sarah is in Louisville, trying to be Eddie's conscience, and get him to pick the right side in the class war she sees waging around her. Not just a class-war, I suppose, although notice the way Murray Hamilton, the rich Mr. Findlay, looks at her with amused contempt when he sees her passing through his opulent home during a cocktail party. Everyone treats her like a whore, like trash, and she begs Eddie to rise above it. Eddie can't walk away from his past defeats, and snaps at her, talks to her like she means nothing. So she decides that, if everyone is going to treat her like a whore, then that's what she'll be. Bert, who has made it clear that he doesn't want her around, unless she's willing to have sex with him (then she should go, of course), pays her off from the money Eddie just won off of Findlay. They're in her hotel room, and she says, "Leave it on the dresser. Isn't that how it's usually done?" Bert agrees that it is. Then she agrees to have sex with Bert, and afterwards goes into the bathroom and kills herself.

(I think this is a great film, but watching it again, I really don't believe that Sarah would have sex with Bert. I believe that, under the circumstances, she would kill herself -- she was really bad off before Eddie met her, and now she's been stomped and spit on -- but I don't think she'd lower herself to have sex with a roach like Bert, even if she did only do it to make a point.)

Anyway, after all that, the novel's final pool game seems like a bit of an anticlimax, or it does if you come to the novel after being very familiar with the film, as I've done. The stakes just seem so much lower. I think the essence of these differences lie in the different approaches Tevis and Rossen take to pool itself. I've heard it said of the film that it isn't really "about" pool, that pool is incidental. And at one point, Newman's Felson, in describing his love of the game to Sarah, says that "anything can be great". Maybe Rossen felt that way, and that's why Sarah's character goes in such a different direction in his version. He wanted to expose what Sarah refers to as the "perverted, twisted, crippled" side of this kind of lifestyle, the disregard for basic humanity that is necessary to hustle someone, the pursuit of money at almost any cost. So maybe Rossen doesn't care about pool, and as far as he's concerned it could have been any game or sport. But The Hustler is about pool because Tevis's novel is about pool, and Tevis did care about that game. He couldn't have just slid poker in there as a substitute. His love of the game, reserved as it might be, is stamped on every page. The book is about a game and a unique lifestyle and the people who inhabit that lifestyle. And that translates to the film, whether Rossen or anyone else wants it or cares that it's there. Rossen wants the story to be universal, but Tevis knows that not everything worth talking about applies to everybody. In its way, Rossen's film is as good as Tevis's novel, which is very good indeed, but he should know that there's no shame in making a movie that's actually about what it pretends to be about. After all, when Eddie finally beats Fats, he doesn't beat him at tennis:

And Fats' one victory did not affect Eddie, for Eddie was in a place now where he could not be affected, where he felt that nothing Fats could do could touch him... Eddie Felson, with the ball bearings in his elbow, with eyes for the green and the colored balls...with geometrical rolls and falling, lovely spinning, with whiffs and clicks and tap-tap-taps, with scraping of chalk, and the fingers embracing the polished shaft, fingers on felt, the ever and always ready arena, the long, bright rectangle. The rectangle of lovely, mystical green, the color of money.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Here are some of my mom's favorite movies:
I watched a lot of films with my mom, not all of which could be categorized as "her kind of film". But we liked watching them together anyway. And I'll never forget the time I rented Dead Man, and when we reached the moment when Lance Henriksen shoots Michael Wincott, and Jarmusch cuts to Henriksen at his campfire, eating Wincott's arm...oh, how she laughed. Very much in spite of herself, but she laughed.
I love you, Mom, and I miss you. Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Silver Blobs and Head Vaginas

If you were a comedian from the 1990s, and you had to extrapolate a story based only on the title of Hajime Sato's film Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell, you would probably assume it was a somewhat wacky film about a body snatcher, named Goke, who was either very bad at body snatching, or was both a body snatcher and an unpleasant human being. Had Goke been a civil engineer with one of the aforementioned deficiencies, a 90s comic would jokingly refer to him as "Goke, the civil engineer from hell!" If, on the other hand, you were a Japanese person who was told only the title of this film and then asked to fill in the blanks, you would of course instantly know that the film was about a race of body snatching vampires, called the Gokemidoro, who are from space.

Images like these have inspired Japanese pornographic animators for years.

I watched this film in two parts, separated -- due in part to bad timing, but mostly to forgetfulness -- by about three weeks, so at the moment I'm not equipped to write a full-scale review. From what I can tell, though, the film is about how aliens have been watching us war ourselves stupid, and waiting for just the right time to snatch our bodies and blow up our planet. And we, being the trigger-happy madmen that we are, have finally given them their big chance. O folly. Also, the aliens cause birds to commit suicide. What birds did to get themselves tied up in this mess I have no idea. So it's a tragedy, this film, and also a cry for reason.
The thing I enjoyed most about Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell was the dialogue. This thing is filled with winners, though of course there can be only one true champion. Among the runners-up are:
Humanism! Just what we need!
I don't want to die! You die instead!
But the line I liked most requires some context. The film revolves around a group of plane-crash survivors who, as the film progresses, get picked off one by one by one of the aliens (except for one guy, who gets accidentally knocked off a cliff by a fellow survivor. These things happen). One of the surivors is an assassin, who briefly takes a stewardess hostage and runs off with her into the rocky surroundings of the crash-site. He and the stewardess stumble onto the aliens' base-camp, and the assassin's body gets snatched, which involves becoming hypnotized by a blinding light, having his forehead split open -- forming the head vagina seen above -- and passively allowing the silver alien blob to crawl inside the wound. The stewardess witnesses all this, but escapes unharmed. When she returns to the crash-site, she describes in detail every lunatic event she's just seen to her fellow survivors. After her story is told, one of them says:

A blinding light? That's impossible!
Personally, I think that sums up Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell quite nicely. This has been a recommendation.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Looking Forward To...

I like Lars von Trier. Or I think I do, at least. I actually still haven't seen the one film of his that most people can at least sort of agree on, Breaking the Waves, and I remember nothing whatsoever about the first film of his I did see, Europa (which went by the name of Zentropa when I caught it), or of the first season of The Kingdom. So almost every scrap of my positive feelings towards him stem from a film that I think only I and three other people liked: Dogville. The hatred directed towards that one really baffles me, as do the charges that it is anti-American. I believe Von Trier probably is anti-American himself (Dogville's asinine follow-up, Manderlay, is evidence of that), but Dogville, while ostensibly set in the US, really has nothing specifically to do with America or Americans -- the film is down on pretty much everybody. It's a deeply, almost cathartically misanthropic film, and I will freely own up to finding such a point of view occasionally bracing. If you don't have a misanthropic bone in your body, then God bless you. I truly envy that. I have one myself -- just the one, though -- and Von Trier's wildly original and gripping film hit it pretty solidly.

(You know, it occurs to me that there's a real danger in taking the old "I don't have a single ______ bone in my body" metaphor in the direction I just took it. I had to re-work that last sentence many times to keep it from sounding like I was talking about my weiner. My misanthropic weiner.)

Point being, a horror film with an honestly, unflinchingly angry or sneering point of view might be interesting, even refreshing, if for no other reason than that most horror films have no point of view whatsoever -- they check the boxes and go on home. Maybe my reaction to Anti-Christ will be to find myself put-off by Von Trier for the way he views humanity, but I honestly believe that's better than hating Anti-Christ because it sucks.

And speaking of Von Trier, don't forget about May's TOERIFC selection, Dancer in the Dark (which I've seen, but will offer no opinion on right now), hosted by the wonderful Pat of the wonderful blog Doodad Kind of Town. That's on May 18th, folks, so mark your calendars.

Finally, I offer a very sincere and hearty congratulations to Fox and Mrs. Fox, who are celebrating their wedding anniversary today. Good on you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Affinity #12

"Death is good."

-Val Lewton, in response to a question about what the
message was in his film The Seventh Victim

Monday, May 4, 2009

More Brief Thoughts on Horror

I am not, I don't think, a horror fan like some other people are horror fans. I don't say that out of a sense of superiority or elitism, but rather out of a genuine belief that my perception of the genre is significantly different from that of the majority. I've long felt this, but in the past I took the attitude that most of the people who either worked in the genre or were fans of it were losing their way, and they were dragging horror along with them, while people like myself clung desperately and hopeless to it by one shoelace, hoping that, somehow, through the overwhelming strength of my disapproval, I could drag the genre back where I wanted it to be. All of which I realize sounds pretty arrogant, because who am I to tell anyone else what any one genre should or shouldn't be? That's not my place -- though I have gone on at length about what I like and don't like about horror -- but one can hope, right? Well, my days of hoping are over, because nothing's going to change. I'm not angry or disappointed that the infidels have won, either. I really think that I've been fooling myself all these years by pigeonholing the genre, and fighting -- well, complaining, really -- against a tide that predated my birth by several decades.

I came to this understanding while watching a movie I didn't much like -- which sort of follows, doesn't it? -- but which, to my knowledge, is not particuarly beloved by anyone: What Have You Done to Solange?, a film which is not only not very good, but also isn't even really a horror film. It's a suspense/mystery film, though it also falls under the very broad Italian giallo category, which encompasses films like this, but also horror, making the definition fairly vague. That's neither here nor there, and another thing that is neither here nor there is What Have You Done to Solange? itself, or its proper genre designation. What matters is that, while watching it, I thought about the fact that I don't much care for Italian horror films. There are exceptions -- while I may not adore Mario Bava's films like some do, I can certainly understand the appeal -- but by and large there is always a camp element and primary-color visual style to these films that pushes me right out the door. In my view, much of it is just plain clumsy -- the last few Argento films are almost models of incompetence, and in Solange, which as I said is primarily a murder mystery, the killer isn't even introduced as a character until the last twenty minutes -- with patches of visual bravado that nevertheless fail to carry me through the rest of it. How many self-proclaimed horror fans will admit to not much caring for Italian horror films? That's like saying you don't like Hammer films, or Val Lewton. And as a result of not being a fan of that subgenre, I don't often go out of my way to watch those films, which is not only cutting myself off from a great many films that are an important part of a genre I claim to love, but it also distances me from many of the films that have followed Italian horror's heyday, as the influence of those films on modern horror is going to be felt much more strongly than the influence of my beloved Hammer or Lewton, which at this point has been all but erased.

I'm very much in danger of repeating things I've said over and over again on this blog, so maybe I should cut this short. I'm just continually struck by my own lack of connection to horror, and certain important movements, for lack of a better word, within the genre. Italian horror, political horror, horror as satire (which is often claimed as an element after the fact). What I don't like about horror is an easy list to make; what I want from horror is harder to describe, though I suppose I come closest (-ish?) here and here. I want writers and filmmakers to look more squarely at what we're all scared of, and why we're scared of it, and why maybe we shouldn't be, if that's their angle (an often unexplored one). What we're afraid of at our core. Though I don't quite know why I would want this, I want something I can't shake off, and not because I saw a lot of entrails and brain matter. I want mortal dread.
UPDATE: Sort of. Anyway, what a mess this post is. Never write something that you haven't fully thought out when you know you're going to be interrupted a lot. But I'll let it stand as a testament to the fact that they can't all be winners.