Sunday, August 14, 2016

Destry Rides Again

The small town of Bottleneck is under the control of Kent (Brian Donlevy), a power-hungry boss who gets control over the local cattle ranchers by winning a rigged game of cards. When the local sheriff questions the legitimacy of the game, Kent has him killed and names the town drunk, Dimsdale (Charles Winninger), as sheriff. What Kent doesn't know is that Dimsdale knows legendary lawman Tom Destry, who in turns sends his daring son Tom Destry Jr. (James Stewart) to Bottleneck to save the day.

Although Destry wasn't black, Mel Brooks lifted a shitload of elements for "Blazing Saddles." 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Whale's Tale

On a surface level, Moby Dick is about obsession. Referring to Melville's bigass novel, just to be clear. "Jaws" is basically "Moby Dick" with a shark substituting for a whale. Quint was dumped in the Pacific with the sailors of the Indianapolis. Most of his mates became shark food; Quint survived, and waged a vendetta against sharks -- the "Jaws" terrorizing Amity, specifically. Jaws ate him. Moby Dick ate Ahab's leg. Ahab launched a vendetta against the great white whale. With the exception of Ishmael, the crew wound up dead; Ahab wound up harpooned to the whale.
On a deeper level, it's a mad little allegory about the Calvinistic clockwork universe. God is the mad watchmaker; if it's God will that a whale eats your leg, you should deal with it. It's entirely possible there's no watchmaker behind the mad machine. You should deal with that, too. Revenge against God and/or the universe is just plain stupid.
The whale is other. Inhuman. Like the sentient ocean in Solaris, it can't be analyzed. It's also bigger than you are. You lost a leg? Too bad. You will not beat up the universe. You will not beat up God. Don't try.
This is second hand knowledge, English major lore. I've read a seriously condensed edition with Kool illustration. I've seen boththe John Huston movie and the Mister Magoo adaptation. I've even read Ray Bradbury's script for the John Houston movie. Cool script. I've never actually read the original, unedited novel.

Ron Howard. Wow. What a wasted opportunity.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Marais: Street Art

Street art by Konny Steding
Street Art. Visual artists everywhere lack for galleries. When artists in Paris have that problem, they say "No problem," and put their stuff out on the street -- creating a changing exhibition space out of mailboxes, lampposts and any other surface they can find. Yes, I know, artists everywhere do that, but not to the sheer density as they do in Paris. The walls are thick with multilayered expression: cryptic stickers proclaiming "J'Existe," mocking distortions of street signage, sad-eyed women crying bloody tears. That dolorous image is ubiquitous in Le Marais -- high-speed brushwork on huge paper posters signed Konny. Who the heck is Konny? Well, in an unlikely chain of events, I wind up talking to Konny and Jacques Halbert (our mutual neo-Dadaist friend) at an iron-wrought table in a French pizza place. (I'd admired her art; suddenly I'm talking to the actual artist. What are the odds?) So I grill her. You've got a fluid style, but the proportions are perfect. How do you do it? A pencil under-sketch? Some kind of grid? Or is this all just brilliant freehand? Not willing to spill her secret, Konny pretends not to understand the question.

St. Michael or Michel

I wish I had taken his photo. We were sitting having an apertif at some nondescript cafe in a residential hood of Montmarte. Champagne for me; Heineken for him. Watching the world go by, which was mostly parents taking their kids home from school. Young lovers met and kissed over a glass and lit up cigarettes, a few ancients muttered in street as they bent to check that glittering object, hoping for a lost centime. We looked up to see a man standing in front of us. (He told us, eventually, he was 83 and had just come back from the doc who was checking on his new hip.) He started talking and everything from his mouth was gold, was silver, was pure. As happens during this magical time in Paris--before le repas and after the chaos of the day (around 7 p.m.), we spent some time with une verre and a conversation (in broken French on our side) that led far into fields we could wander for a long time still. He was born in the Caribbean but moved to Paris in his young 20s. He was a musician--and eventually a sought-after music teacher. Taught and played with some of jazz's greats. During the conversation, I noted that, well, he seemed happy. Happy from a deep inside place--despite old age and the hip, which made him obviously lame. I asked him where that happiness came from and this is what he said: "Happiness takes practice--like exercise. It's not just exercising the smile. It has to come from deep inside--from the bones, the sinew, the deep heart of who you are. It can be hard work!" And he laughed in that deep Caribbean way. As he left, we asked his name. "Michel," he said. And then he was off. Michel? Was he an ange? We had several visitations like this with, of all things, mostly older men--each who reached out to us offering words of wisdom and, almost, warning: Be happy!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Mechano Man

Specifically, the mechano man crouched in the bowels of the search engine like the chess-playing dwarf inside the Mechanical Turk. The dwarf inside the machine! Or, in this case, the metaphoric, mechanical, chess-playing dwarf inside the massive, distributed, fuzzy-logic, pattern recognition system.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

This mountain of a book is the result?

Why kill your audience?

A question posed by the late comedian Bill Hicks in response to the accusation that Judas Priest had layered its albums with subliminal messages driving its fans to commit suicide. To quote:

“You hear about these two kids, big fans of that band Judas Priest? They listened to the band then killed less gas station attendants in the world. What? I don't mean to be cruel but I don't think we lost a cure for cancer here. Trust me, there'll be no delay in the shuttle program because of this. But again, nobody asked the question that I wanted asking at the trial. There are these subliminal messages, backwards messages on the album, OK? Here’s the question that did not get asked in this retarded case: What performer wants their audience dead? What are these guys in the band doing?”

Hicks shifts to working class British accent.

“You know, dude, I'm fucking sick of this. I am fucking sick of it. I'm sick of the touring. I'm sick of making 400,000 dollars a fucking night. I'm sick of the free drugs, the free booze, the groupies blowing me to fucking dawn every night, I'm in a rut and I want out.”

“We got all those concerts coming up, man.”

“I know, it sucks. Unless... Ian, Nigel, come here. I just had a fucking idea, man. What if, Ian ... Let's just say, what open your mind real wide now. What if we kill the fucking audience? Could I go back to my day job? I could sell shoes again!”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

James Orin Incandenza

James Orin Incandenza hovers in the novel's background like the ghost of Hamlet's father. At one point, he seems to become a literal ghost. 

While still corporeal, he put out an oeuvre of avant-garde films (or cartridges). As Wallace describes his obscure legacy ...

"...even the bastards in the avant-garde journels were complaining that even in his commercially entertaining stuff Incandenza’s fatal Achilles’ heel was plot, that Incandenza’s efforts had no sort of engaging plot, no movement that sucked you in and drew you along."

A description that obviously and equally applies to David Foster Wallace's stuff.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Derived from Ancient Greek words βαθύς ‎(bathús, deep) and κόλπος ‎(kólpos, bosom).


  • enPR: băth-i-kol-pē-en


bathykolpian ‎(comparative more bathykolpian, superlative most bathykolpian)
  1. deep-bosomed.
  2. big-breasted.
    "The bathykolpian Heré ... sent down Iris" - Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" (1858)

Quentin Tarantino

In the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino influenced a tremendous growth in nonlinear films with Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994). Here's a helpful infographic: Pulp Fiction in Order.

Gravity's Rainbow vs. Infinite Jest

And now to address the big, shiny, somewhat phallic V-2 rocket in the room.

Wallace wrote a big, funny post-modern book that skewers American civilization. So did Thomas Pynchon (c.f. Gravity's Rainbow). Aside from frequent parabola references, that's pretty much where the similarity ends.

Gravity's Rainbow is basically a pilgrimage. Pynchon's characters move from Point A to Point B.
Infinite Jest is static. Wallace's characters are locked in their own skulls, islands unto themselves.

Gravity's Rainbow had some long strange trips, baby. When faced with evil Nazi rocket scientists and the death cult techno-conspiracy of Western Civilization, why not get high?

Gravity's Rainbow thundered with the voice of the paranoid Author God. Infinite Jest doesn't.

Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess (1917-1993) was a novelist, poet, playwright, composer, linguist, translator and critic. He is best known for his novel A Clockwork Orange, but altogether he wrote thirty-three novels, twenty-five works of non-fiction, two volumes of autobiography, three symphonies, more than 150 other musical works, reams of journalism and much more. He was born in Manchester, England and grew up in Harpurhey and Moss Side, went to school in Rusholme, and studied at Manchester University. He lived in Malaya, Malta, Monaco, Italy and the US among other places, and is still widely read all over the world.

In addition to cooking up the Indo-European tongue of Quest for Fire and the nadsat slang of A Clockwork Orange, this wordy wordsmith peppered his books with near-forgotten slovos. For example ...

Said word pops up in his Malthusian SF novel, The Wanting Seed. To look it up, you used to have to crack open the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary or pay to use their website. It ain't in the collegiate dictionaries. But it is on Wiktionary.

There's a bloody essay out there somewhere chock full of Burgess' words. But I couldn't find it. Bathykolpian will have to do.