The Year in Writing 2017

Though in different ways, this year was as tough as last year. Maybe that’s just what it is.

I wrote seven installments of Test Prep, my contribution to The Terror Test, a horror podcast made by two fellow English teachers. I wasn’t able to write as many as I wanted to, but I’m proud of the work I do for the show and it indulges my interests in both philosophy and horror. I’m working on my first column for next year and it’s about one of my favorite movies, The Brood (1979).

In March, Jasper Lee’s Mirror of Wind LP was released. I played bass on “Asleep a Hundred Years,” which is the last recording and live music I’ve done. Jasper is a fabulous visual artist and musician.

I can’t ever get away from music, even though I feel like I try to every few years. Now my kids are learning music, here and there. Next month, I won’t be playing, but I will be writing about music again. More on that soon.

Also in March, Territory published “Nextdoor,” a collaboration with Mark Ehling. Mark is a superlative whatever-it-is-he-does. Our piece took on another life as part of the “Grow Up” exhibit at Wild Goose Creative.

I interviewed two fantastic poets this year: Emma Bolden and Ashley M. Jones.

I worked with Jason on a new volume of The Outrider Podcast. It’s a work-in-progress, and I think we’re getting closer to hitting a natural stride with it. I enjoyed our conversations on the difficulties of resistance, including how to define it, and on meditation.

And recently, I was happy to be a part of the Matchbook Journal series through Small Fires Press.

As always, thanks for reading! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Some recent viewing…

Titles in bold are ones I particularly liked.

Animated

“Drums West” (1961)

Documentary

Art / Literature
Poetry in Motion (1982)

Music
Ornette: Made in America (1985)

Art House

Nostalgia (1983)

Horror / Sci-fi / VHS Weirdness

The Black Cat (1981)
Death Watch (1980)
The Alchemist Cookbook (2016)

Everything Else

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
That Most Important Thing: Love (1975)
Losing Ground (1982)
Sweetie (1989)
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
“We’re Going to the Zoo” (2006)

Some recent reading and other such…

Much of my weekend will be tending to children, grading essays, and writing curriculum. I might sneak in some other writing here and there, but I find that my school work often eats at those muscles and I tend to write less when the school year is fully flourishing. Plus, this is the second year in a row with two new classes that I’m building, which involves more work than simply refining a previously built course.

I’m excited that I’ll have a poem in a matchbook anthology made by Small Fires Press, a print shop and bindery in New Orleans. Their work is fantastic.

Nextdoor,” a continuing collaboration with Mark Ehling, is getting a new form of life in the GROW UP exhibition at Wild Goose Creative, a non-profit art and education space in Columbus, Ohio. I have some family roots in Ohio so I’m excited about this show for many reasons. I have to say thanks to Amanda Page who made us aware of the exhibit and who will now have to hang our art! Mandy continues to be…supportive…hee…

Recently, Jason Quinn Malott and I started volume two of the Outrider Podcast. We’re working with a few different structures, and this first episode may have even been the third in a series of recorded conversations about writing, reading, and life.

I’m drafting my next Halloween collaboration with artist Reed Randolph. Last year, we did The Coven of Lonely Gourds. This year’s project will maintain our indulgence in a kind of EC/MAD humor, but is also influenced by Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose demonology school I wanted to attend as a twelve-year-old.

Here’s some recent reading:

General Favorites 2017–So Far, Part II

Books that left traces.

Nonfiction

Auto/Biography
Two-Dimensional Man: Paul Sahre
Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002): David Sedaris

Psychology/Philosophy/Education/Religion
The Dhammapada
Taking the Path of Zen: Robert Aitken
The Book of Tea: Kakuzo Okakura
There Is No God and He Is Always With You: A Search for God in Odd Places: Brad Warner

Essays/Criticism
Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction From the ‘70s and ‘80s: Grady Hendrix
Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music: Michael Robbins
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments: David Foster Wallace

Film
Melinda Camber Porter In Conversation With Wim Wenders

Art/Comics

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Winsor McCay

Poetry

Best American Poetry 2017: ed. Natasha Tretheway

 

 

But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us: The AFI Top 100, Part IV

It’s been a while since I started this, but my attention had to go to the new school year and my oldest started school as well. I needed to finish an interview. Follow the links, if you’re interested, to Parts I, II, and III.

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Jaws (1975)
Jaws is more important to me than Star Wars (1977). I had never thought about that before. I might be considered better-adjusted if the opposite were true. Growing up, I wrote every paper on sharks until sixth grade, where I started writing about horror movies, Edgar Allan Poe, serial killers, and Delta Blues. There was one paper in third or fourth grade about the Lakota Sun Dance (a ceremony with at least one variation that involves a warrior being pierced and hung by the skin). I learned about that from watching A Man Called Horse (1970) with my grandmother. All those shark papers came from Jaws. I wanted to be a marine biologist so I could study sharks. I watched the few pre-Shark Week docs available at the time like Blue Water White Death (1971).

As a kid, I watched this movie for the shark. As I get older, I admire how a fairly young Spielberg deftly handles the human element of the film. It’s this element that can get saccharine and off-putting in his later films, or films of this ilk, like Super 8 (2011).

After shark scientist, the next two jobs I thought about were either comic book artist or stop-motion special effects artist, like Ray Harryhausen. Later, I wanted to be Tom Savini. I’m just realizing how much time I’ve put into movies and movie culture.

I watch Jaws every summer, on the Fourth of July if possible. Admittedly, this year felt different. Maybe when the kids get older, we’ll have fun watching this during summers.

Here’s a quote from the book: “Hooper ladled chum, which sounded to Brody, every time it hit the water, like diarrhea.”

You’re welcome.

 

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Nashville (1975)
I’ve never been a fan of the large ensemble Linklater work like Slacker (1991) or Dazed and Confused (1993). Around the same time, I saw Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), which I liked pieces of, but didn’t like as a whole. I had tried to find Nashville for a while, though I didn’t have much hope for it. All of these movies were ones I wanted to like, by the way, they had all come with encomiums by various friends. It’s like most performance or conceptual art, I suppose, the idea seems great, but often watching or standing in front of these things isn’t. I still admire the concept of Slacker, though I don’t enjoy the film.

I don’t think Nashville is a perfect film, and it’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s my favorite of these large ensemble pictures so far.

 

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Network (1976)
Here’s a 40-year-old movie that seemed ahead of its time and maybe seems quaint now that we have a part-time TV host and all-the-time businessman in office and Nazis marching in the US. Maybe it can still help us understand the media and money machines we now have. Maybe. Either way, it’s worth the performances, particularly of Ned Beatty and Peter Finch.

 

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Rocky (1976)
So all that I said about disliking sentimentality in Spielberg and then I go and put Rocky in this list? Yeah, I know. Though it’s not really an equivalence, I regularly watch more Stallone than Spielberg, including Death Race 2000 (1975), Nighthawks (1981), First Blood (1982), Rhinestone (1984), Cobra (1986), Over the Top (1987), Rambo (2008), and Creed (2015).

 

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Unforgiven (1992)
As a fan of spaghetti westerns, and evidently of westerns in general, since they keep coming up on this list, I had little to no interest in this film when it came out and just forgot about it over the years. A friend who was slightly interested in my viewing projects, recommended Unforgiven and brought it to me. I watched Pale Rider (1985) and this back-to-back and about a week later watched Gran Torino (2008). There are interesting ways that these films talk to each other, but that’s for another time. I’m sure plenty of others have beat me to that anyway.

Gene Hackman delivers one of the saddest and funniest lines I’ve ever heard: “I don’t deserve this. To die like this. I was building a house.”

 

The Complete List of My Top 20 of the AFI Top 100+

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
City Lights (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
King Kong (1933)
Stagecoach (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Fantasia (1940)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
High Noon (1952)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Vertigo  (1958)
The Last Picture Show (1972)
Jaws (1975)
Nashville (1975)
Network (1976)
Rocky (1976)
Unforgiven (1992)

If I do what you tell me, will you love me?: The AFI Top 100, Part III.

Here are the next five in chronological order. You can read the original posts here and here.

Also, the “featured image” for this post on my menu is courtesy of Jason Munn. Check out more of his often minimal and geometric work at his website. Great stuff!

My Favorite 20 of AFI’s Top 100+

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High Noon (1952)
Like Stagecoach, this film was another immersive experience for me. I guess what I mean by this is largely the shut-off of the intellectual valve and a willingness to invest in the world onscreen more viscerally. It’s the pure joy that cinema can bring sometimes. The film experiments with “real time” leading up to a showdown at….well, you get it. Evidently presidents are quite fond of this one. Supposedly Bill Clinton screened it a record number of times at The White House. Reagan and Eisenhower both considered it a favorite.

 

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Students often ask me about music. What kind of music do you like?, they’ll ask. Almost everything, I’ll say. Ask me about a type of music. A common response is that a student will say, Me, too. I like everything, but rap and country. I’ll say, well, I like rap and country, too. I can’t imagine music without Public Enemy and Hank Williams. Musicals seem to inhabit that land of “rap and country.” This movie is not just a great musical, but great cinema. I’ve mentioned before that one of the benefits of lists is that they introduce me to work that I may have ignored left to my own devices. This is one of those cases. The “Make ‘Em Laugh” section is not too far from classic Jackie Chan. Grace. Athleticism. Goofiness.

 

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On the Waterfront (1954)
Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando give two spectacular performances. It’s worth watching for that alone.

 

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Vertigo (1958)
Before the age of ten and for years after, if asked, I would have said that Hitchcock was my favorite director. The Harryhausen films had introduced me to Bernard Herrmann’s music, but, honestly, if you dig into his filmography, even the amazing scores he did for Hitchcock are just scratching the surface. His film scoring career begins with both Citizen Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) and ends with Taxi Driver (1976). What!? I am curious to delve into his pre-film radio career, if any of it is available.

Saul Bass’s poster design is incredible. Lots of iconic imagery from this one, and interestingly, reactions to this film and Hitchcock in general seem to go in cycles of appreciation, elevation, and devaluation. Ultimately, that’s probably a good thing.

When I was younger, I was always excited to see a Hitchcock movie because I knew I would see something, usually technical, that I had never seen before, some sort of new camera movement or lighting technique. It was the same way I approached Dario Argento’s work. Maybe that’s why it took me years to notice his bizarre form of storytelling. I was too busy looking at the wallpaper that a set designer (or Argento, you never know with that guy) chose.

 

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The Last Picture Show (1972)
A bildungsroman that showcases mood and atmosphere as much as character and story. It evokes the experience of growing up in small town America and discovering oneself, while also feeling stuck or stalled. The ending is like a long, pained exhalation. I mean that in a good way.

 

The list so far:

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
City Lights (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
King Kong (1933)
Stagecoach (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Fantasia (1940)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
High Noon (1952)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Vertigo  (1958)
The Last Picture Show (1972)

We Interrupt This List Already in Progress to Bring You Another List Already in Progress.

After I posted about watching the AFI Top 100, a former student asked me about recommendations from the Criterion Collection (Hello Lydia! Hope all is well! Hope you find something you like here!). I’ve seen a small percentage of the Collection, and as a film obsessive choosing one to watch can be mentally crippling, much less trying to rank them. Luckily, despite what these lists may seem to indicate, I like a well-rounded film diet, one that includes Neil Breen and Street Trash (1987) as well as Maya Deren and Agnes Varda, so I’ve watched only a portion of what the collection offers.

I made a few rules. I did a top five from each decade, with the occasional short film as a bonus. I also didn’t include any film that appears on my AFI list. Also, like I told my student, I skew towards horror and surrealism, so, again, I don’t mean this as a “best of” but a list of favorites.

 

Quick Reference:
My Top Ten Through the Decades

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Orphic Trilogy (The Blood of a Poet/Orpheus/Testament of Orpheus) (1930-1959)
Black Narcissus (1947)
Ikiru (1952)
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Eraserhead (1977)
Dekalog (1988)
Dreams (1990)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

 

The Full List

The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Häxan (1922)
Safety Last! (1923)
Body and Soul (1925)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

The Orphic Trilogy (The Blood of a Poet/Orpheus/Testament of Orpheus)
M (1931)
Vampyr (1932)
I Was Born, But ….(1932)
It Happened One Night (1934)

The Great Dictator (1940)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
Cat People (1942)
Black Narcissus (1947)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Ikiru (1952)
The Wages of Fear (1953)
Tokyo Story (1953)
Godzilla (1954)
Diabolique (1955)

Bonus short: “The Red Balloon” (1956)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
8 1/2 (1963)
The Naked Kiss (1964)
Red Desert (1964)
The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Bonus Short: “La jetée” (1963)

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Grey Gardens (1976)
Eraserhead (1977)
House (1977)

(Yeah, that 5 equals 6, but I couldn’t remove any of those films.)

Videodrome (1983)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Mala Noche (1985)
Dekalog (1988)
Do the Right Thing (1989)

Dreams (1990)
The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Crumb (1995)
Breaking the Waves (1996)

George Washington (2000)
Y tu mamá también (2001)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Brand Upon the Brain! (2006)

I didn’t include the 2010s because I’ve only seen two in the collection.