By 1991, even the most retrograde of old fogies was starting to suspect that rap music was not going away anytime soon. Advertisers began mining it for every bit of cultural capital they could, and soon hip-hop would be used to sell everything from breakfast cereal to high fashion. It became shorthand for “relevant,” and a nifty cultural touchstone that was sure to resonate with the youth… right? “Cutting-edge” and “hopelessly dated” are not mutually exclusive categories—a lot of groundbreaking things simply look silly in retrospect. Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing but Trouble however, was just completely, unjustifiably bad from the beginning.
The Razzie-winning box office bomb actually had a lot going for it in terms of star-power. In addition to John Candy and Demi Moore, Aykroyd was just coming off the Ghostbusters sequel, and Chevy Chase had finished his final National Lampoon’s Vacation movie. Unfortunately Aykroyd’s success may have have burdened him with a bit of artistically unproductive hubris. He directed the film, co-wrote the screenplay with his brother and co-starred in the movie (almost never a good sign). For a little perspective, this was a movie with the $40 million budget—massive for that time—and the box office take didn’t even reach $8.5 million.
Aykroyd also decided that Oakland hip-hop group Digital Underground (you know, the guys who did “The Humpty Dance”) could spice up the movie with a musical number—with Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase’s ultra-white guy characters as the enthusiastic audience. Most notably, this means a cameo by a young Tupac Shakur in the most undignified role of his short life. I’d be absolutely shocked if anyone predicted a future in music for Shakur based on this performance—it’s literally one of the worst moments in hip-hop history.
It could be the 1670’s, the 1970’s or in this present day, it is hard to be remain childlike in this world. This is the lesson beloved local TV children’s show host, Tom aka Mr. Rabbey (Tom Basham) learns in 1973’s massively overlooked horror film, The Psychopath aka Eye for an Eye. This grim and strange little gem opens up with one of Tom’s “Rabbey’s Rangers,” little Bobby, playing baseball with the neighborhood kids. His mother, who is straight out of central casting’s “abusive hag” division, immediately starts yelling and yanking him out of the game. His big infraction apparently is playing with other kids, who all seem fairly wholesome and nice. The ole chestnut of “Wait till your Father gets home” is growled at the little towheaded boy. Daddy does get home and is henpecked into unleashing some corporal sadism at the little boy, while one of the neighborhood kids watches in secret.
The next morning, an anonymous call is made to the police and little Bobby is “missing,” as his horrible parents look nervously at each other at the breakfast table. Bobby’s age? Five years old.
The film then cuts to “The Mr. Rabbey Show,” which centers around the eccentrically boyish host and his strangely gruesome puppet show. His choice in marionettes are something straight off of an old Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker album. (See, Oops, There Comes a Smile and get a nightmarish taste.) Despite the off putting puppets and plot lines involving cellars, Rabbey’s got a knack with the kids. A trait his handler Carolyn (Gretchen Kanne) recognizes, helping her come to his defense when the stage director hits the roof over Rabbey missing his marks for the umpteenth time.
Rabbey then goes to the park and plays with the local kids, almost like the pied piper of small town sunny suburbia. All is fun until one little girl’s horrible mother comes along and slaps the crap out of her when she tells her mom that she wants to stay with the other children and Mr. Rabbey. Before threatening her kid with “I’ll give you a reason to cry about!,” all but accuses Rabbey of having an untowards interest in the kids and warns him that she will go to the authorities. (Which apparently do not include DHS in her sphere of existence.) Rabbey looks irritated and confused, since his own sphere of existence seems to literally be stunted at a child-like level.
Meanwhile, the local police force are investigating Bobby’s disappearance. One of them notes that his medical records show a history of “accidents,” which are further looked into when the detective goes to the hospital and talks to the main nurse (Margaret Avery, who went on to be in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple). There’s no hard evidence of abuse, but she gives him a lecture on how you can tell when a kid is abused and introduces him to one little boy, who is bruised and afraid to speak. She shows the officer an experiment where she has the poor kid hold his arm up until she says to stop and asks the same of a little girl who was not abused. The latter immediately tires out and puts her arm down, while the little boy just leaves it up. The officer asks her how long Bobby left his arm up the last time he was in the hospital. She says “Fifteen Minutes.” While this is going on, Mr. Rabbey is in the room, visiting the sick kids to cheer them up with toys and a puppet show involving an executioner. Foreshadowing? You better believe it!
As the officer gets ready to leave, he is greeted and promptly scared by a puppet asking him questions through the driver’s side window. Rabbey pops up and doesn’t seem to make the officer feel any less weirded out, but does ask about Bobby and if they are going to arrest his parents. Of course, nothing concrete is given out information-wise, leaving Rabbey to think about justice that is needed. Another abused kid, a little girl named Rosemary, has one of the doctors knowingly tell her that if she needs anything, to call him. As she is being released, her harridan mother shows up and immediately starts quizzing her daughter if she told them “anything.” It’s a sick, sad world.
Bobby’s parents head home after searching for their kid with the police. They talk in hushed tones about when the authorities will find the body, all the while Rabbey is outside, listening. Soon, he breaks in and has one of his puppet friends peek around the corner, whispering, “Where’s the baby?” Creepsville turns into bloody justice land as the town’s boyish TV host offs both parents. While Bobby’s death has been avenged, you cannot spill blood without being changed and Rabbey heads back to the now empty studio, upset and playing the piano. Carolyn notices that he is acting more moody, especially during dinner, where he lightens up only when he starts exclaiming, “I wish I had all the chocolate cake in the world!” But he quickly comes down and says to her, “I don’t want to talk about it and you can’t make me. Leave me alone!” Things start to spiral more and more, with death, intrigue and one of the best and yet strangely, bleaker twist endings I have seen in a long time.
The Psychopath is an amazing and amazingly bent horror film that could have only emerged out of the 1970’s, arguably one of the grittiest periods for horror and crime films. It was the era that also gave us the even darker and brilliant The Candy Snatchers (1973), Hitchhike to Hell (1977) and more famously, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974.) Out of all of these titles, The Psychopath is infinitely more obscure, as evidenced by its lack of any legal DVD/Blu-ray release, something that all of the above have had. Which is a shame because there is truly nothing quite like it.
It’s commitment to not reward you with any feel-good comeuppance and present a fairly stark worldview is equaled by the strong performance by Mr. Rabbey himself, Tom Basham. A character actor who had appeared on TV shows like Adam-12 and Night Gallery, as well as the pro-gay cult biker film, The Pink Angels, Basham’s performance here is nothing short of unforgettable. He physically inhabits the role of this murderous man-child, acting every bit like a kid who gets irrationally upset, acts out and gets neglected, save initially for Carolyn and the kids themselves. Having the harsh realities of a world born ugly rear up in the imaginary life he’s created is a pill that Rabbey cannot swallow. After all, puppet violence is way easier to deal with than the real thing, so when these two worlds clash, none of this goes well. Having passed away back in 2010 from small cell cancer of the lungs, it’s truly a shame that Basham did not become a bigger name since what can be seen of his work is quite good, with his turn as Rabbey being the biggest stand-out.
The film itself is not perfect, with parts of the soundtrack being reminiscent more of a TV Movie of the Week than a dark horror film about mental instability and child abuse. It is also really strange that all but one of the many abusive parents featured here are mothers. The dads are mentioned but other than Bobby’s drunken henpecked sadist of a father, they are more in the background. This certainly would be far from the first (or last) film to deal with some violent mommy issues.
The Psychopath has remained in semi-obscurity for years. A remake was planned in the 1980s with Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo at the helm and starring the interstellar Joe Spinell as “Mr. Robbie.” In a weird move, it was to be titled Maniac 2: Mr Robbie, though it had nothing whatsoever to do with William Lustig’s Maniac. Some footage was shot but the film itself was never completed due to the untimely death of Spinell. (Though you can see some of the footage in the X-rated version of Skinny Puppy’s “Worlock” video.)
The Psychopath can be found both on way out-of-print VHS copies and somewhat easily via the gray market DVD circuit (and YouTube in several parts), but with so many equally obscure films finding their way to legit DVD/Blu-ray releases, one hopes that this bizarre horror gem will get the treatment it so desperately deserves.
Ken Russell was among the many directors originally touted to direct A Clockwork Orange before Stanley Kubrick. Russell was considered stylistically sympathetic to bring Anthony Burgess’s source novel to cinematic life—he had documented youth gangs as a photographer in the 1950s and made a series of highly influential drama-documentaries and films that had inspired not only Stanley Kubrick but also Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and later Derek Jarman. I wonder what Russell’s version of A Clockwork Orange would have been like? Perhaps more flamboyant, more seedy, more of the end-of the-pier, more human than Kubrick’s aesthetically pleasing but cold and sterile vision. And though the great and the good lobbied to have Mick Jagger play Alex, I wonder if Russell would have opted for his favorite actor Oliver Reed? Oh, what japes they’d have had. Instead Kubrick chose Malcolm McDowell because of his unforgettable and iconic performance as Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson’s If…
Casting at first sight: director Lindsay Anderson was understandably smitten by McDowell’s beauty, talented and attitude when he cast him as Mick Travis in ‘If…’ The performance that led to his role as Alex in Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange.’.
McDowell had the blue-eyed, blonde beauty of a fallen angel—he would have been the perfect choice to play Lucifer for Kenneth Anger. McDowell was born in 1943 into a lower middle class family in Leeds, he was never the working class lout as some tabloids like to pretend but a privately educated son to a family who ran a small guest house. He was clever, smart, idealistic, and decided he wanted to be an actor. After school, he found found work as a stage manager on the Isle of Wight before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company. McDowell embraced the cultural rebellion of the 1960s and hated the dominance of the established theatrical institutions, as he once explained to writer Michael Bracewell:
‘The RSC? Horrendous. Middle-class theatre crap…actorly acting with lots of shouting—after [Laurence] Olivier—and soul-searching performances…I mean I saw some great performances—Ian Richardson and Paul Scofield—but it was like being ordered around and told what to do by a bunch of little shitheads. I auditioned for the RSC by reading the Prologue from Henry VIII, for the very good reason that nobody knew it. It begins, “I come no more to make you laugh”, which was ironic, because humour has always been a great mainstay of my arsenal. I mean, A Clockwork Orange was essentially a comic performance. I used to loot my style from Eric Morecambe.’
Eric Morecambe (with umbrella and bowler) and Ernie Wise.
Eric Morecambe was the comic half to the much-beloved double-act Morecambe and Wise, who dominated British television screens in the 1960s and 1970s, which brings a different interpretation to his performance as Alex—one that would have been ideal for Ken Russell.
‘I’ve always had to live down A Clockwork Orange wherever I go, because ever since then, with the exception of O, Lucky Man!, which I made with Lindsay [Anderson] immediately afterwards, I’ve always been cast as the heavy. It used to irritate the shit out of me, and then I just got bored with it, you know? I just wanted to get on, maybe make a few comedies or do something else, but there was Alex…I know that I’ve said some mean things about Kubrick in the past, but thinking back to the actual shooting of that film and trying to forget all the baggage of what happened afterwards, it was an incredibly stimulating experience, even though I got to the point where I hated the film because of the reaction.’
This runs contra to McDowell’s enthusiasm as expounded in this interview about A Clockwork Orange he gave with author Anthony Burgess in 1972, but this was still early days and McDowell had not been hamstrung by his move to Hollywood, where he ended-up making movies for the lowest common denominator. McDowell is an exceptionally talented actor and no matter how dire the film he always gives a powerfully memorable performance.
The book and its Beethoven-loving author, Anthony Burgess.
Anthony Burgess came to hate Kubrick’s film too, which was ironic as the movie made Burgess a bigger star than his writing up to that point had achieved. Burgess is a writer’s writer, a polymath who claimed he would rather be known for his musical compositions than his books. Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in 1962, after being mistakenly told he had not long to live. To ensure he left money for his wife, Burgess wrote a series of novels in quick succession, one of which was A Clockwork Orange. It was moderately successful on publication, a cult book, that became a bestseller after Kubrick’s movie. Burgess claimed he took the title from an old East London saying, “As queer as a clockwork orange,” which may or may not be true, as there appears to be no known record of this phrase. Whatever its derivation, it perfectly captured the book’s theme of a hideous artificial will imposed on natural behavior.
McDowell and Kubrick on set during filming.
After Kubrick’s film version of A Clockwork Orange was released in Britain in 1971, it was ironically linked to a series of violent crimes. The first was the murder of a tramp by a 16-year-old youth; the second involved another 16-year-old who, while dressed in the film’s distinctive gang uniform, stabbed a younger boy; the third was the brutal and horrific gang rape of a Dutch girl by a group of youths from Lancashire, as they sang “Singing in the Rain”.
Sentencing the 16-year-old for assaulting a child, a judge described the attack part of a “horrible trend” prompted by “this wretched film”. Following death threats and warnings from the police over revenge attacks, Kubrick asked Warner Brothers to pull the film from its UK release. For a very long time, through the 1980s and 1990s, the nearest place Brits could see A Clockwork Orange was Paris. It was only after Kubrick’s death in 1999 was his ban lifted and the film re-released in the UK.
New York’s Tragedy is the world’s greatest all-metal tribute to the “Bee Gees and beyond.” They’ve been doing this for awhile, but man this oozing slab of Grease is particularly meta metallicious.
Band members Barry Glibb, Mo’Royce Peterson, Disco Mountain Man, Andy Gibbous Waning and The Lord Gibbeth are masters of their own Universe - a place where hair metal meets disco and dance floors are roiling in blood, polyester, Aqua Net and the ungodly essence of teen spirit!
Tragedy has released three critically acclaimed albums: We Rock Sweet Balls And Can Do No Wrong, Humbled By Our Greatness and their latest, Death to False Disco-Metal.
“You’re The One That I Want” is not a Bee Gees’ song. It was written by John Farrar for the movie version of Grease and performed by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. So this enters into the “beyond” part of Tragedy’s repertoire.
What’s next boys? Farrar/Newton’s other big hit? “Have You Ever Been Mellow?” Yes!
Death to false disco-metal. Count me in!
The video was shot at “Our Lady of Perpetual Decimation High School” in Manhattan - the original school of extremely hard knocks. And as the video begins, I think I detect the beach where I surfed the swells of Montauk before the gremmie hipster invasion fucked the scene up.
If you’ve never had the chance to watch the fascinating 1972 Academy Award-winning documentary, Marjoe take a look at it below. Produced and directed by Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, it’s flat-out great, a singular document chronicling the life of former child evangelist, Marjoe Gortner who, as an adult superstar preacher, admits on film that he’s using the whole evangelist racquet to scam answer-hungry parishioners out of their hard-earned cash. Gortner works with an infiltrating hippie film crew to expose his whole dishonest practice. Watching this is a truly I-can’t-believe-my-eyes experience not just because it gives first-hand evidence that the evangelist thing’s a scam (many of us are well aware of that already), but because of the willing, even eager participation of the film’s subject. This is just a truly only-in-America film that you have to see.
It starts by giving a little necessary backstory about Marjoe Gortner. Strangely, the name Marjoe is an odd combination of the biblical names Mary and Joseph, and from the age of three-and-a half, the boy’s parents, especially his bizarre evangelist stage mom, saw little Marjoe as a sanctified, Pentecostal cash cow. While other kids were out running around doing the things that kids are supposed to be doing, Marjoe was forced to memorize elaborate sermons with the threat of a pillow smothering or long dunks underwater hanging over his head when his mother got frustrated. She knew he had to appear in the public all the time to keep the money rolling in, so she didn’t want to leave any visible scars of abuse.
He would walk into press conferences as a six-year-old and tell the editor of whatever magazine that he was talking to that he was “here to give the devil two black eyes.” He blew people away while sometimes garnering all-press-is-good-press criticism. The film shows Marjoe as a child performing a wedding ceremony for full-grown adults while bedecked in a little white sailor suit with shorts and cowboy boots. He drew headlines. Preachers at the time were outraged at the sensationalism and the affront to the sanctity of marriage. Not unexpected of course. Preachers are always outraged about that sort of thing.
But all the while, despite the accolades, the controversy, LIFE magazine articles and all sorts of people telling him he was blessed with a supernatural gift sent straight from GAAAWD almighty, Marjoe Gortner never really believed it. He just knew he was a good performer trained to entice people to open their wallets, and he became very good at it.
Marjoe Gortner as a child evangelist
Quickly, the film cuts to a time years later where we find a now long and lean, tie-dye adorned, all-grown-up Marjoe Gortner in a hotel room with a very stoned looking hippie film crew. He’s debriefing them about what to do and what not to do when he lets them follow him around capturing his now thriving evangelistic enterprise on film. He’s very clear that the whole thing’s all an act, and Gortner warns the crew not to blow their cover by taking home any of the evangelist groupies (Marjoe sticks with the airline stewardesses himself) or smoking in front of anybody. He warns his far-out friends that they’re about to see people speaking in tongues, acts of faith healing, individuals writhing around on the floor, the whole nine yards.
Before you know it, film is being shot in a church and all of the above happens on camera. A lot of the “tent revival” footage throughout would be relatively unremarkable, except that you know the guy doesn’t really buy into one singular goddamned thing the he’s saying to the shouting crowds of gullible hayseeds and proto mega-churchers. You see how adept Gortner has become at getting people to hand over the “largest bill they have,” while behind the scenes we find him literally counting a pile of cash on a hotel room bed, shaking his head about how easy it is to get the money flowing. He knows he’s a business man, and he even has merch in the form of a record. He talks about how he used some kind of water-activated powder that made a cross show up on his head when he started sweating during one his “crusades.” People ate it up and, more importantly, ponied up the cash.
In a 1972 interview with Roger Ebert around the time of the film’s release, Gortner illuminates the materialist sham:
These people lead miserable lives, and suffer in silence because they know they’re going to get their reward in heaven. A preacher is a man who has been blessed by God on Earth. If he doesn’t drive a Cadillac, they don’t think much of him; God must not favor him. He’s got to look good, feel good and smell good.
There’s a moment in Marjoe where Gortner talks about imitating Mick Jagger when he throws down his stage act. He says he probably would have been a musician if he hadn’t chosen the ministry. The footage is pretty incredible. He nails it. He cock-struts, hand on his hip across the stage, the whole deal.
From the 1972 interview:
You have to go into the heavy religion in order to give people on excuse to loosen up and enjoy themselves. When I’d do a hip movement or a jump, or start walking over the backs of the seats, they’d say, ‘Hallelujah! God’s behind him!’ But if they saw Mick Jagger doing the same thing at a rock concert, that was the work of the devil.
Lest you conjecture, as I did, that the whole coming clean thing was itself a scam, Gortner claims in the 1972 Ebert interview that he actually stood to make a lot more money simply staying in the evangelical game.
A lot of people have charged that I made the movie for money. For example, some of the hard-sell radio preachers are attacking me. That’s ridiculous. At the time I quit, I honestly think I was the best preacher on the circuit, I could cut anybody. In five years I would have been on top and probably a millionaire. One thing a lot of people forget about is the tax advantage: I was tax-deductible.
Post evangelizing, however, Gortner eventually enrolled in acting classes and used his tan, blonde, curly-haired, So-Cal look to land himself a few leading rolls in films, including 1976’s Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw across from Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter:
Marjoe Gortner and Lynda Carter in ‘Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw,’ 1976
You can watch all of Marjoe below, courtesy of the Internet Archive.
In 1987, the news that Diane Keaton had directed a movie about the celestial firmament was met with bumfuzzled curiosity among the general populace, who had hitherto not had the slightest notion that she had harbored any such ambitions. The resultant movie, Heaven, was about as distinctive a film as came out in the 1980s and certainly did a good job of representing Diane Keaton.
The movie is a combination of found footage and subject interviews, most of whom appear to have been rounded up in a dragnet at Venice Beach. The movie feels very California, both in the number of pop culture references that get dropped as well as Keaton’s evident assumptions that the Christian heaven is most likely bunk and that the New Agers or the Zen people probably have it figured out. Of God Himself, one intense lady says, “I see him like Groucho Marx, and he’s always playing tricks on us. When we think we’ve got it, we’re sitting in a pile of cow manure, so he really is a practical joker.” One fella muses that in heaven “I’ll be just like Burt Reynolds or any other star” while another identifies it as the site where everyone wins an Oscar. Asked whether there is sex in heaven, one dude blurts, “Heaven is an orgasm! I mean, why not? It’s the best!” which comment embarrasses his girlfriend no end. Just in case we get bored, there arrives the unmistakable image of boxing promoter Don King to explain his take on heaven.
The music on the movie was the responsibility of frequent Cronenberg collaborator Howard Shore (who also worked on some Tolkien movies) as well as CD compilation empresario Hal Willner. The canny musical choices include the Dream Academy’s obscure gem “Heaven” and The Residents’ “Walter Westinghouse.”
One of the best elements of the movie are the incredible art deco intertitles, which were done by Geppetto Studios in Brooklyn. Here are a couple examples:
The found footage relies a lot on hokey black-and-white movies as well as bizarre footage from evangelists and so forth. The middle American true believers come in for a hard time in Heaven. Two of the quotes are so good that I’m going to reproduce them here in full; the first we only hear as an audio track:
The summer is ended, and you’re not prepared to meet God. The summer is ended; why has God let this happen to us? GONE will be the late night drunkenness, GONE will be the massage parlor, GONE will be the nude beaches, GONE will be the bars on every corner, GONE will be the automobiles and the riches, GONE will be the television sets and the movies, GONE will be the Chevy Chases and the Erik Estradas and the weirdos of Hollywood!
I don’t know about you, but I’m not soon going to forget the frenzied cry of “GONE will be the Chevy Chases and the Erik Estradas and the weirdos of Hollywood!”
In the second one, we have video—I’d love to find out who this guy is, he’s the big beardo who pops up during the “sex” segment around minute 43 to explain,
Sex is all right. I like spitting, too. I like washing my eyes, too. I like getting a haircut, too. I like scratching. But I’m not gonna miss it, no. You see, if you miss something, that’s because you’ve made it your god. But if sex is your god, which it usually is, look down that perverted town of Hollywood. On Fag Day, when they got their giant phallix parading up and down the street. You see, this is their god! You see? Well, one day, their god will be dead! They’ll be alone, and they won’t have a big phallic to lay on, to cuddle, fondle, and enjoy.
Oh shit, Fag Day is coming up and I haven’t even started shopping yet!
Heaven probably would have benefited if Keaton had gotten out of El Lay and found some folks in a less west coastal environment to talk to, and the use of found footage feels dated, like a segment on Night Flight. It’s almost disorienting to see a documentary on a subject that almost by definition, nobody knows anything about, but in a way, that very fact excuses Keaton’s offhanded approach. It might have been better to corral a handful of people who had had life-after-death experiences and really figure out what was going on there, but that’s not what Keaton was interested in. If Heaven is about anything, it’s about the folly of people. It’s a difficult movie to dislike, and it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding than the otherwise similar, but insipid, What the #$*! Do We Know!?
There’s nothing more irritating than the evasive non-answers politicians mete out for the press and public. Education, budget, jobs—the words get thrown around a lot (and always in positive terms), but candidates are cagey and it’s nearly impossible to cut through their bullshit. If the voters want to know who these people really are, we have to ask the tough questions. Questions like…
The Wave: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.
It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Gavin Newsom: I don’t have anything to put in it. I would thank them and move on.
TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
GN: I would tell him to… You know what? I wouldn’t know how to respond. How’s that for an answer? Is this a psychological test? I’m worried…
TW: They’re just questions, Gavin. In answer to your query, they’re written down for me. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response.
GN: Oh, I got you.
TW: Shall we continue?
TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm. How would you react?
GN: I would quietly sit and wait for the wasp to move to the next victim.
TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Gavin, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Gavin. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Gavin?
GN: [Immediately] Not a chance. I would never flip the tortoise over in the first place.
TW: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
GN: Ethics. Commitment. Sacrifice.
CONCLUSION: Almost too close to call. Almost. Newsom displays a defensiveness when his empathy is questioned. He’s aware that he’s being probed for emotional responses, and even expresses concern about this. However, this concern is alleviated a little too easily by our crafty V-K interviewer. Newsom is definitely a replicant. Probably a Nexus 5.
My fellow Americans, that was the test for Gavin Newsom, who not only won that election, but ran and was elected for a second term in 2007, and now serves as Lieutenant Governor of the state of California. Forget about creeping sharia or David Icke’s lizard people—the replicant threat is real!
In 2002 David Lynch unveiled on his website eight short animated movies, each one an episode of a series called Dumbland. Featuring a blistering cowpunk score and a stark animated style that is vaguely reminiscent of Dr. Katz on mescaline, Dumbland may represent Lynch at his most unvarnished, revolving around a mouth-breathing troglodyte named Randy. It was released on DVD in 2006 and also appears on Lynch’s jaw-dropping multi-disc release The Lime Green Set from 2008.
Lynch said of it: “Dumbland is a crude, stupid, violent and absurd series. If it is funny, it is funny because we see the absurdity of it all.” It’s true, everything about this tossed-off show is violent and absurd; perhaps it is the detritus that lodges in one’s brain if one has been busy dreaming up crazed, animalistic characters like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks, and Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart.
Richard Stanley’s one of the most fascinating human beings I’ve ever met. He’s a divinely demented film maker, necromancer, and pop culture provocateur with a rock & roll heart that beats time to a cosmic rhythm machine redeemed from some post-apocalyptic pawn shop located at the outer edges of absolute reality. He’s got the widescreen stare of a gunslinger in a spaghetti western and more than a few metaphorical bullet holes in his serape. Stanley’s been through some tribulation, the kind that can pulverize a man’s soul into a million little shards of crystallized dogshit. In the mid-90s, while still only in his twenties, this precocious and audacious filmmaker was given the opportunity to make a movie based on his visionary adaption of H. G. Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. What followed was a classic example of a young director’s rebel spirit bumping up against old school Hollywood politics and power games. Stanley was not only fucked over by the heads of New Line Cinema, he was also mentally brutalized by the epically malevolent ego of Val Kilmer who he had cast, along with Marlon Brando, in a leading role. Only days after the start of filming, Stanley was fired and banished from the set of his ambitious and potentially ground-breaking movie.
The whole sordid saga of Richard Stanley’s cinematic trial by fire has been documented in the riveting Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Directed by David Gregory and released by Severin Films, Lost Soul shares much of the same dark humor, heartbreak and intrigue of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune project, as seen in that recent documentary. Stanley, like Jodorowsky, saw his concept appropriated by Hollywood and twisted into something that was to his original vision what rape is to love.
Lost Soul is as entertaining as it is sad and infuriating. Watching studio heads blathering idiotically about a film they didn’t understand and hearing the crew and cast’s disgusted take on Kilmer’s ego-driven subversion of Stanley’s efforts to make the movie his way is a far more dramatic and engaging experience than the Hollywood bomb that was ultimately released.
Eventually, Stanley’s project was handed over to the long past-his-prime director, John Frankenheimer, a hired gun with a dictatorial attitude and almost zero interest in Stanley’s vision for the film. With nothing at stake, Frankenheimer essentially took the money and ran. The film he delivered to the studio was cinematic road kill, dead on arrival. The Island of Dr. Moreau debuted in 1996 to critical jeers and promptly crashed and burned at the box office. I actually went to see it the day it opened in New York City, mostly because of the presence of Brando and David Thewlis in the film. Overall, I hated the movie but loved Brando’s over-the-top, don’t-give-a-fuck performance. You could tell he was intent on enjoying himself despite appearing in what he clearly thought was a steaming pile of shit. I think Brando was also slyly editorializing about the way Stanley’s ideas had been altered and corrupted. He liked Stanley and in my opinion was demonstrating solidarity with the young director who had been exiled from his own film. As far as Kilmer goes, that motherfucker had blown his cred ever since appearing as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s hate letter to rock and roll The Doors. Frankenheimer made no attempt to reel in Kilmer’s narcissism and the end result ain’t pretty. Kilmer spends most of his screen time doing a silly imitation of Brando which is both unfunny and insulting. I’m sure Brando didn’t even notice.
I met with Richard Stanley after a screening of Lost Soul during last year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin. A commanding figure with a delicate grace about him, Stanley was easy to talk to and extremely open about the passion and pain involved in creating a work of art that, had it been realized true to his vision, could have been a glorious thing.
Photo of Richard Stanley by Mirgun Akyavas.
I’m not easily impressed by most human beings these days. Few walk it like they talk it and fewer still are genuinely fearless in pursuit of their dreams, willing to take risks that could end disastrously or triumphantly or a little of both. Richard Stanley is truly an artist/warrior and he’s in the midst of a remarkable and well-deserved return to the public eye. Last week, he was the subject of an Entertainment Weekly cover story (good for you EW). The wheel of karma is spinning back in Stanley’s direction and it’s good.
In the few short hours that I spent talking with and videotaping Richard I felt like I was with a dear old friend. Before he left Austin, we met on the patio of the Alamo Drafthouse where I gave him a copy of Geoff Dyer’s book on Tarkovsky, Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room and a small bag of medicinal herb from Northern California. These were not rare or expensive gifts, they were very modest. But Richard responded as though I’d given him precious feathers of an ancient mythological bird. His reaction was so heartfelt, so sweet and unfettered, that I was somewhat taken aback as he tilted his head down and gave me a huge kiss on the cheek. This was a kiss I would have expected from my born again mother after telling her I had gotten engaged to Jesus. Richard clearly liked my gifts. “Shall we smoke it” he asked, referring to the packet of herb in his hand, all the while grinning hugely. In that moment, I saw the face of a man whose spirit is impossible to contain, who will live to his fullest no matter what gets in his way. And that’s the ultimate “fuck you” to the assholes who tried to take him down. I love it when the truly hep cat gets the last laugh.
I started the camera rolling and let Richard do his thing. His life story is quite marvelous and he’s practically breathless in the telling of it. Among many things, he touches upon his early videos for Fields of the Nephilim, Public Image Limited, his feature-length cult classics Hardware and Dust Devil, Lemmy and Iggy, fighting with rebels in Afghanistan, his abiding love for Fairuza Balk and his home in southern France where he has a magical relationship to the mysterious Château de Montségur.
Richard Linklater’s mission in life has apparently been to make experimental cinema techniques as accessible as possible. As a writer, his specialty is a certain humdrum ordinariness, which has had the virtue of giving his work a dollop of generalized familiarity even as it risks being colorless, plotless, meandering, or humdrum. (I say this as a fan—seriously.) His most recent movie Boyhood was one of the most lavishly praised movies of 2014, failing to win the Oscar for Best Movie last night but was still nominated for a bunch of important awards; it did win Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette’s performance.
Despite its uncontested power to resonate emotionally, Boyhood possesses a near-total absence of plot and a protagonist, Mason, who is generic to the point of being a cipher, qualities that, as we shall see, have been part of Linklater’s directorial persona from the very start. In his career, Linklater’s efforts to represent Everyman have sometimes have resulted in movies about nobody in particular. Ethan Hawke’s Jesse from the “Before” trilogy, benefiting from oceans of dialogue, is more individuated than Mason, to be sure, and yet still flirts with becoming a statistically average member of Generation X. I had not heard of Linklater’s 1988 feature It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books until a couple of weeks ago. You can’t buy it on its own; you can obtain it only as an extra on the Criterion Collection edition of Slacker, Linklater’s breakthrough 1991 effort.
It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, shot on Super 8, is an almost entirely plot- and dialogue-free travelogue about a young dude, played by Linklater himself, who travels all over the western half of the country, mostly by train—he starts out in Austin (of course) and visits Missoula, Montana, and San Francisco, among other locales, before returning home.. Huge swaths of the movie were shot in train stations or aboard Amtrak trains.
Linklater employs two strategies that are very helpful to the novice filmmaker, being a commitment to ambient sound and an eschewal of reverse angles. The movie reminds me somewhat of Jarmusch’s first feature Permanent Vacation, although that movie was far talkier and unmistakably “downtown New York” in spirit. Atitudinally, Linklater is unsurprisingly gentle—you may not see the point of all the footage shot out of a train window, but it doesn’t make you angry, either. The train footage is reminiscent of Yvonne Rainer’s Journeys from Berlin/1971 as well as countless other experimental movies, while the emphasis on train stations reminded me of Chantal Akerman’s later D’Est (From the East).
It might be suggested that Impossible to Learn to Plow is a mix of Slacker and Before Sunrise. Given that Linklater himself kicks off Slacker by emerging from a bus station to narrate his multiverse dream to an indifferent taxi driver, it’s fun to imagine this movie as a prequel of sorts, ending a few minutes before Slacker begins.
The closest thing the movie has to a comedic scene is a bit towards the end in which the protagonist drives in a car and dips into a whole bunch of radio stations in a vain search for some good music (it’s the ‘80s, so he gets a lot of generic pop, although he does pass the Pretenders by). At the end, Daniel Johnston, of all people, pops up briefly to inquire after the protagonist what his shirt says (it turns out to be the movie’s title) and to give him a demo tape.
LInklater is said to have consumed 600 movies a year over a ten-year period, so one of the leitmotifs of It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books is the movie diet of our traveling hero. We see him watching Kubrick’s The Killing while perusing a recent obituary of Sterling Hayden with the suggestive subtitle “Actor loved the sea, loathed Hollywood” (Linklater might feel the same way). Later on he catches a few moments of another Hayden feature, I think it’s The Come On? He also catches bits of an old Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud and a Vincente Minnelli feature with Frank Sinatra and Shirley Maclaine called Some Came Running.