Thursday, December 29, 2022


It Was a Good Idea in Principle

A good idea to make a modern film version of "Frankenstein" that was much more true to the original Mary Shelley novel than were the horror films of our youth.  But the narrative would run so strongly against all expectations that the money people would get nervous.  Heavy hitters would have to be brought in to the production so that the money would be there and, one hoped, the audiences as well.  The celebrated would become more celebrated in the process.

Francis Ford Coppola would supply artistic cred, but only as producer, or co-producer.  For the great Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh, the project would, on the other hand, be a labor of love, with him playing the title role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and also directing the film.  

Father Frankenstein would be played by Sir Ian Holm, another impeccable Shakespearean.  For a love interest, Kenneth would have Helena Bonham Carter, as Elizabeth Frankenstein elevated to a near normal height by a mountain of brown hair with the texture of steel wool.  (She and Victor were raised from a very young age as brother and sister, you see, but at puberty or just thereafter their passion for each other would explode, prove unquenchable, and so a possible sequel -- "The Bride of Frankenstein" -- had to be squandered, embedded rather in the original.)  

But a crucial decision was left.  Who would portray the Creature charged with driving the narrative along, like the cruelest of coachmen?  Danny DeVito was too short.  Jim Carrey would be unable to stow away his trademark grin for the duration.  John Cleese was willing, but he had already signed on to the film in the role of the professor of medicine who admonishes Victor, in the presence of his peers, "not to fool with Mother Nature."  (As a fallback admonition, he might have advised Victor to "make the sutures a little smaller.")

In the event, a player with immense star power lurched out of the snow, eager to further stretch his possible personae past, inter alia, Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta and Rupert Pupkin.   Yes, Robert De Niro.

In a key scene, the Monster, who can speak and "think" and even read at a third-grade MCAS level, arranges for an icy tete a tete with his creator after having wreaked all kinds of havoc in the near neighborhood.  He explains to Dr. Frankenstein that there are two competing forces within him -- an overpowering love and an overpowering brutality.  For the latter to be tamed, he says, he must be given a bride upon whom he can lavish the love.  If Victor will fashion such a love sponge for him, then the couple will go up to the North Pole, on foot, keep themselves in protein by snatching one of Santa's elves from time to time, and leave everyone in the village henceforth the hell alone.  Victor tells his creation that he will take the request under advisement.

Victor takes some serious steps towards fashioning the lady friend, but when he seems to equivocate, the Monster takes things into his own hands in literal truth by ripping Elizabeth's heart out of her chest.  At that point, Victor in a panic uses the machinery in his attic to bring her back to life, for him not for the Monster.  But for a young woman so wrapped up in her own beauty, it is a hard and fleeting return to life.  Her hair is a mess, and she looks like she went through a dozen windshields in a series of terrible car crashes, or was fired by a circus cannon through one of those offshore wind turbines that have decimated our migrating bird populations.

In the end, everyone who matters is destroyed, but not before the Creature gets off a few more lines with just a hint of a New Jersey palooka accent in them.

Indeed, the film would have been improved if it took a tip from Peter Sellars in "Being There," if, that is, under the rolling credits, we were shown out-takes of De Niro in full costume reprising Travis and Jake and Rupert and unable to contain his own laughter.


Question Mark and the Mysterians

It was Question Mark himself who advised us, organically as it were, that 96 tears were "too many teardrops for one heart to be crying."  Truer words were never said.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022


The Winter Solstice Is Upon Us

In "A World Lit Only By Fire," William Manchester attempts to pull us back into the grim blackness of this time of year as it was experienced by peasants in Medieval Europe.  He was a great writer; his memoir of combat in the Pacific, for example, is certainly one of the best of the genre.  But in this endeavor he is less compelling.  I remember only that the people slept with their pigs and goats in order to keep warm and that, like me, they broke up the winter nights with long periods of musing in the dark.

Catastrophic household fires must have been epidemic.  Indeed, epidemics were epidemic.  We had for sources of hope only the Birth of Jesus, the Star of Bethlehem, the Magi, the straw in the cradle, "pret a manger" by the goats and the camels, who were calmed preternaturally by the spiritual light.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022


My Dear Relation

I will not refer to her by name.  But when she was a little girl, her mother taught her to refer to her vagina as her "shame-shame."


When There Is No Impression Left of Me

I mean no impression.  Not a blade of grass bent under my boot.  Not a plastic proxy brush tossed in my bathroom waste basket.  Not a juvenile bald eagle now high in a tree, gorging himself on a dead bass that I swung over my head, then flipped head over tail to him out of an ancient canoe, into the waters of the Big Lake in Maine.  

Not a ripple On Golden Pond.  Nor a single survivor, however broadly that may be defined, who has not likewise crossed the horizon of memory.

But will there be judgment still echoing in the void?

When they said "Repent! Repent!," I wonder what they meant.

When they said "Repent! Repent!," I wonder what they meant?

Wednesday, December 14, 2022


Pat Boone is Making a New Movie

How do I know?  He told me on TV.  It was in one of those advertisements for the pills that make all of your aches and pains go away.  They are what make it possible for him still to charge the net at 88, if in the stiff and halting way that is appropriate for a man of his age.  The pills are entirely drug free.

What will it be about?  It should be about moon and June, and for certain he will croon.  It will be about bobby socks and white Angola sweaters, from Angola.  I'm sure it will have a happy ending.  It will be a hit if everybody goes to watch it.  They will turn people away at The Bijou.  

Oh wait, there is no more Bijou.  (That was a long time ago.) Where did I put my glasses?

Sunday, December 11, 2022


Why Do We Tell Tales At All?

I am coming around to the perspective of Joseph Campbell, the philosopher of myth and legend whom we used to see in conversation with Bill Moyers of PBS many moons ago.  It has something to do with our capacity for empathy, and also the need for a narrative momentum in our own lives from which we surmise that we learn, and from which we grow, whether the narrative is a happy or a tragic one.  Set and setting are not so important as the odyssey, the odyssey that carries the protagonist forward, and we for a time in his shoes.

Three films that I have watched recently in quick succession.

In "1883," a beautiful, bold and headstrong young lady follows the Oregon Trail from Ft. Worth to Montana.

In "Electric Dreams," loosely based on Philip K. Dick's dystopian stories, a man played by Steve Buscemi grows bored of his day job, supervising the creation of hybrid pig/people, and makes covert plans to sail away to parts unknown on a wooden yacht that somehow has survived the long passage of time, between now and then.

In "Frida," we watch a tale unfold that we know quite well going in -- the bus accident that leaves young Frida Kahlo in pain for the rest of her life, her tempestuous marriage to Diego Rivera, her work at first in his shadow, but ultimately her work product to eclipse his own.

Without our capacity for empathy, these stories would be nothing.  We stand in the shoes of the heroes, transcending identity, time and place.

A fourth film, released early this year -- "You Won't Be Alone."  It was made by a young Macedonian-Australian by the name of Goran Stolevski.  It tells the tale of a baby girl in 19th century Macedonia who is struck mute and turned into a sorceress -- a "wolf-eateress" -- by the hideous "Old Maid Maria," herself a witch of the cruelest kind.  The film was met with "critical acclaim" per Wikipedia, but also failed at the box office, earning less than $50,000 in its second weekend.  The acclaim and the commercial failure stem from the same source I think.  The movie breaks new ground in throwing the viewer into an alien place and showing that place to him/her utterly from the perspective of the doomed protagonist.  It does have a narrative arc, and we do feel a certain empathy with the shape-shifting hero, but it is impossible to stand in her shoes for long; if one did, one would hurl oneself over a cliff to end the relentless agony.  She survives for as long as she does, apparently, out of nothing other than an animal instinct for self-preservation.

Is that Stolevski's message, contra Joseph Campbell?  If so, it's a radical one and we can applaud his ability to swim against the artistic tide, but likewise in that case he has made his movie.  There is no need to make another one.

Friday, December 9, 2022


Only the Tail

Only the tail of my coat was drawn into the chipper that morning.  As of the 1990's or thereabouts, all of the machines had a sensor and kill switch installed as a precaution, and this one by that design stopped as soon as it began to eat a truly "foreign object."  But it did flip me over on my back, and I lay in the bed of the truck, on a nest of rough branches, for nearly an hour, until my foreman Marvin came back from the convenience store with coffee, gum and a big package of jerky, beef and venison mixed.

Marvin and I had relations that you could call unfriendly.  I thought that he was weak of mind; he thought that I was the sort of person whose coat would get caught in the machine.  When he returned from his errand there was no one else around, and he could have turned the machine back on, overriding the safety, in which case it would have devoured me.  I was nearly certain that for all his faults he would not do this demonic thing, and it probably never crossed his mind.

As I lay there waiting, I thought of one cartoon motif from my childhood -- the evil banker with the moustache and the big hat (why a banker?) and Little Nell, tied by the banker to the railroad tracks.  Nell would scream weakly but hysterically while the banker twirled his moustache.  She would feel the rumble of the oncoming train through the iron; she would hear its whistle approaching relentlessly.  Always, at the very last moment, a big-jawed captain of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would whisk her away from what appeared to be certain death.

We didn't think much about PTSD back then; Nell didn't, and I didn't.  In the event, I developed no hostility to mulch or mulching.  My wounds went much deeper than that; in fact they will not heal completely until all of my memories, and all of my memories of memories, have been erased.


The Big Y

That's where Schopenhauer and Nietzsche used to stop for vegetables, when they happened to be in the Greater Springfield area. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022


Contrary to Fact; Contrary Even to Fantasy

I dreamed that "Alice in Wonderland" was written not by Lewis Carroll but by a young woman who was a fixture in London high society, and that I was carrying on an open and notorious affair with her.

We were just getting up from the table at a restaurant that was in fashion in literary circles.  There were six or eight of us.  She was not in black from head to toe, but from neck to toe; but for a necklace she might have been thought to be in mourning.

She said to no one in particular "Sexual passion is wonderful when it is good and it's wonderful when it is bad.  It is even wonderful when it is indifferent."  From within the dream, it was an aphorism worth noting and remembering, and I was enthralled with her.

Saturday, December 3, 2022


A Most Frightful Form of Fatima

In UFO circles -- yes, among those people -- there is complete consensus that the US government has known about alien visitations since at least 1947, when the Roswell crash took place in New Mexico, but has hidden the evidence, and continues to do so to this day, even as the Navy has released video footage of the "Nimitz encounter" as well as other compelling evidence of non-human intrusion.

Why the cover-up?  Here the consensus disintegrates, but a dominant theme is that those in the know fear that the truth would drive mankind into chaos and confusion.  Of course, the danger of that depends in part on what it is that may be exposed.  If the Intruding Other is an ET of the Spielberg sort, or an Oracle come to save us from our own primitive and self-destructive ways, then perhaps people will be able to "take it."  Less likely so if the Intruders are indifferent to our fate or downright malevolent.  

Some conspiracy-minded types speculate that there is a fundamentalist Christian circle within the Pentagon that sees the Intruders as "demonic" as that term is used in the scriptures, and in the main just wants us not to throw away our bibles after the news breaks.  Others speculate that the chaos and confusion would redound to the detriment of some Corporate Cabal that runs everything.  (This is an idea or prejudice that I have always dismissed because, having been deep inside many big corporations, including some in the defense industry, I have rarely seen them thinking or acting in lockstep even when it might be in their interest to do so.  They are too obsessed with their own internal challenges and problems to join together behind some curtain in a secret committee to rule the world.)

My own answer to the "why?" has undergone a subtle shift lately.  I used to think that the cover-up continued in large part because it would be too difficult and shameful to admit to the American people that lies have been added to lies for 75 years ("heads will roll!"), and also too humiliating to admit that at bottom we don't know what is going on and that we are helpless to control it.

Now I think that many of those in the highest circles who are "read in" to the presence of the Intruders know enough to be truly and legitimately frightened, and therefore that they may have acted in good faith in scrupulously guarding their secrets.

The new view is informed by a conviction that various phenomena of "high strangeness" have a common origin.  Saucers, TicTacs, orbs of light, cubes within spheres, massive triangular craft, mutilated cattle, Sasquatch, Dogman, the airships of 1897 (look it up), Ezekiel's angel and yes, the Spinning Sun and the Radiant Woman of Fatima!  They all come from some other dimension or dimensions.  And we are like blind mole rats, completely unable to distinguish between red and green, or to see anything at all for that matter, until the Intruding Others decide to tear the veil and make an appearance in our world, for reasons that are inscrutable to us.  When they make an appearance, they can be cloaked as variously as the Blessed Virgin Mary and a mantis with an anal probe, knowing that we will react very differently to the former and the latter.

Consider the following thought experiment.  As more and more evidence leaks out, a small but growing cult evolves around the UFO phenomenon.  On the same night in January of 2030, in Daytona Beach in Florida but also much further to the east in Cabo Frio, Brazil, a few thousand enthusiasts gather on the beach to await the sunrise.

But the sun does not rise.  In its place rises the enormous, radiant red face of a Grinning Goblin.  It rises and it continues to rise, all over the world.  Our light and our temperature are as before.  There are no signs of hostility or disruption other than the fact of the Grinning Goblin itself.  This could be said to be a phenomenon very much like Our Lady of Fatima and her Spinning Sun in its high strangeness and inexplicability but, of course, we will not interpret the Goblin as our intercessor with God or as our friend.

The Goblin does not exist, but those in the know may legitimately fear that Disclosure will trigger manifestations with the same potential to throw us all into a global "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

UFO enthusiasts often characterize their work as "exciting, thrilling and fun!"  That it may be, and we may indeed have a "need to know" about all of this that knows no caveats.  But how many myths and stories have cautioned us over the centuries not to pop the cork on that particular bottle?