Remember last week and all that great weather and trips to the park? This week began in rain (and ended in rain) and a broken foot for our youngest who was just getting the hang of sliding down the “fire pole” by herself. She’s in a cast and a Franken-boot since it’s more dangerous for little ones to have crutches. I assume more dangerous to herself, but I have a feeling if she had crutches, we would be treating her older sister for a concussion or worse. We know she’s been in pain and sometimes it catches up to her, but overall she’s been so good about everything, despite what I titled this entry.

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It’s quite difficult to work with and respond to canonical texts without having the older work overtake the new one. Brown shows masterful control here. Where there are resonances with the Bible, the language never takes control of Brown’s own. He’s writing contemporary poetry rich in its own melody, yet rich in historical overtones.

I’m taking a break from the grind of the submission process, and to some degree a break from poetry writing itself. I’ve naturally fallen into nonfiction–it’s what I started writing back in sixth grade. And music is now taking up some of that time I used for writing and submitting. One of the benefits of this break is taking the time to read many of the contemporary poets I’ve been wanting to read. Brown’s name has come up a lot recently.

 

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I think this may have been the first time I watched Man with a Movie Camera (1929) as a whole. Anyone with an interest in film or film theory has likely seen images from it (like the Odessa steps sequence of Eisenstein). This is a fantastic film built on a montage of daily life and the creation of film itself. The “man” of the title is often filmed by another man with a camera. I watched this in relation to Peeping Tom (1960), another self-reflexive film that I’m writing about for my next Test Prep essay.

 

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One of my favorite movies is Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), so it’s strange that I somehow missed Escape from New York (1981). Overall, it’s a well-done popcorn movie. I liked the images of the city, blacked-out, skyscrapers green and hulking and empty. I also liked the palette for many of the night scenes: high contrast red and greens or cool blues (and grays and tans? if I remember correctly) played against the darkness (and Carpenter’s score).

Anyway, I’ve never noticed Carpenter use so many focus pulls.

Frank Doubleday’s creepy, oddball performance as “Romero” just about steals the whole movie, which is saying a lot for a film rife with scene stealers.

This week I’ve been listening to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1. It was his first published composition, but his only sonata. Berg wrote this as a student of Schoenberg, who developed the most lasting version of twelve-tone composition we have. I love the coloring of these chords and how within this context dissonance and consonance–or rather a traditional notion of these ideas–gets altered. I’m going to listen and pick through the score some, just to gain some understanding of what’s going on, though for the moment, staring at something like this:

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seems way beyond my comprehension at the moment.

Anyway, I’ve mostly listened to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of it, but I plan on listening through some other performances to hear how different players approach a work like this. Glenn Gould has also recorded it, so I’m interested to see how his compares to others. I really hated his Bach recordings for years, but they’ve grown on me.

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I’ve been working on the first Bach cello suite and had an insight that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. Maybe I will when I have the piece under my fingers again.

For sightreading practice I’m playing some of Haydn’s E Flat string quartet (No. 31) and playing the cello part on electric bass.

And for workouts this week I’ve been revisiting:
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Metallica’s music never made me interested in playing guitar, but Megadeth, especially Rust in Peaceinspired me to try more guitar playing. Great riffs and solos. A friend’s dad once described Mustaine’s vocals as like “a little, green head yellin’ at me.” Sure, some of that’s cringy–but Mustaine takes on characters at times, which was kind of a risk in thrash. I forgot how funny some of the lyrics were (“Immense in my girth, erect I stand tall” –C-mon, it’s about a missile!–“Launch the Polaris! The end doesn’t scare us!”). I remember enjoying the references to Roswell and general dystopian theme of this record.

I’m also trying to redevelop the walking bass chops I once had. I’ve also discovered some Paul Chambers isolated bass tracks, which I’m excited to learn from as well.

If I can ever get these essays graded.

We celebrated our oldest daughter’s birthday. She was excited that she got to hear her name over the intercom at school. She is still young enough that everyone in her class brings in cards and treats. The youngest was stashing candy and wrappers everywhere, a chaotic flurry of plastic and chocolate. Demanding pizza. Drawing on doors. Then being as sweet as anything.

I had a man express his unsolicited thoughts to me on the state of frozen pizza in Mal-Wart. Things aren’t good, but Red Baron is best. I grew up eating Red Baron and as much as I like a fresh pizza out of a brick oven, I love frozen pizzas, too. I wanted to suggest some of the newer, more expensive ones that are really good, but this wasn’t a conversation.

Lost Chords #6 featured an album I quite like, Screen Memories by John Maus. I wrote several paragraphs about the cover image and mediation that I removed. Maybe I’ll add to those thoughts later.

I also wrote about the profound effect Eraserhead has had on me for The Terror Test: Test Prep.

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A good friend of mine brought Amphibian Man (1962) to my attention. He’s been on-and-off researching the history of horror in Soviet and Russian film and mentioned this. It’s hard to describe, but it’s about a mad scientist who gives his son gills. The son falls for a lady much in the same way the Gill-man falls for one in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). There are familial and societal roadblocks to their love affair. There are shades of Victor Hugo, Beauty and the Beast (and other fairy tales), and Frankenstein, and it has a look somewhere between Forbidden Planet and Star Trek. An obvious precursor to The Shape of Water, and  possibly to films like Starman or The Man Who Fell to Earth–as told by Powell/Pressburger.  It’s on Amazon Prime if you’re interested.
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Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017)  is a fantastic documentary for fans of rock music, American music, and folk traditions. Highlights disturbing laws and violence against American Indians and also traces the thread of their musical cultures though American vocal music, blues, and rock. I’m hoping to read Like a New Sun, a collection of new indigenous Mexican poetry.

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Jon Ronson’s Lost at Sea collects various articles and essays from throughout his career. Indigo children. Psychopaths. Frank Sidebottom. I wanted each chapter to be a book of its own. The audiobook is fantastic partially because he reads it. Hearing this in his own voice is addictive. I wish Zadie Smith would record her novels.

My five-year-old and I went to her first concert this week. We saw Marker, a group of younger musicians led by Ken Vandermark. She loved it but wanted to leave 20 minutes in because she was tired. It was cool to finally see the Jaybird (Hi Burgin!), which houses the Alabama Zine Library. I’ve seen Vandermark in several live settings and he’s always focused and committed to whatever work he’s performing.

In March we are planning on seeing a performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming. I’m probably more excited than she is.

Earlier this week I wrote about Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now” and Macbeth for another round of Test Prep for The Terror Test. She is someone I look forward to reading more of soon. I wrote about 13 pages and cut it to <2K words. At some point, I want to revisit and extend the piece.

 

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If you don’t know the story of the horror boom that began in the late ’60s and early ’70s and lasted until the ’90s and are interested in it, then this is a great book. It’s still pretty good, if you’ve been reading that story for years. I’ve been reading books about horror since I could read. I read magazines like FangoriaGoreZone, Deep Red, and others. Reading some of these stories today though comes with a little sadness. So many of these folks are gone, a few very recently: Romero, Craven, O’Bannon, Hooper, Blatty, etc.

 

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Fantastic graphic memoir about the immigrant experience, Vietnam, America, and much more than that suggests. I grew up with many friends who were first and second generation Vietnamese-American and later I tutored Cambodian monks. I loved hearing about Angkor Wat and would love to see it in person some day. Many told powerful stories about fleeing war or the Khmer Rouge. These communities always treated me like family. Bui gets at not only the complications of these larger societal difficulties, but also the complications of family. I read it in one sitting and will likely read it again.

 

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A friend mentioned The Color of Pomegranates (1969) by Sergei Parajanov to me this week. I hadn’t seen it in years, not since my days of renting dusty library VHS copies. Discovering that libraries had films was a revelation. In middle and high school, I grew up on an island (not as exotic or as fun as it sounds–I worked at a seafood restaurant) and the nearest library was about an hour away. I should have checked out the Bookmobile that came down maybe once a week, but instead, I ordered books and movies through catalogs. There was no where else to spend that restaurant money anyway.

My friend and I laughed about how awful reds looked on VHS (lots of red in Pomegranates). Anyway, FilmStruck/Criterion has a restored version for streaming and it has the highest quality in which I’ve seen any of his films.

Pomegranates is gorgeous. Every frame is like a painting or collage and is in reference to aspects of poet Sayat Nova’s life or work, which I only know from this film. There are excerpts of poems read, but if I remember correctly, there is no dialogue. Characters communicate through gesture, action, and facial expression. Parajanov, at least what I’ve seen by him, made visually dense and symbolic films. He influenced Tarkovsky and they grew to be friends.

Not a movie for everyone, but possibly for fans of Deren, Buñuel, Jodorowsky, Švankmajer, Greenaway, Resnais, and other arthouse or surreal short films.

The week began with some semi-restful snow days. I don’t believe anyone in our home was permanently damaged, though a few tears were shed and more than a few markers bled.

The almost-four-year-old sang while we were discussing dinner plans. Her song began, “Tiki masala / I need a dolla.” Not bad.

I wrote about the new Sparks record for The Drunken Odyssey. I also wrote about one of my favorite movies, The Brood, for the new semester of Test Prep, part of The Terror Test podcast.

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Frank Herbert’s Dune has been on my to-read list for over twenty years. I liked, and still like, the David Lynch movie, which introduced me to Herbert’s mythology.

The book was a blast. Not only is it a satisfying sci-fi/fantasy adventure story,  but it also delivers beyond action. I particularly enjoyed the use of multiple texts contributing to the story as history, the Machiavellian political machinations, and the variations on religious teachings. If you’ve even contemplated reading it before, I recommend it.

I’ve heard the first three books in the series are worth reading. I’m going to consider that, but I find I am often as bad about completing a book series as I am about finishing a TV show.

 

 

I’ve only just seen Margarethe von Trotta’s fantastic work. While she has her own style and subject matter, there are shades of Kieslowski, Bergman, and Tarkovsky. She’s associated with the New German Cinema movement, which includes work by Wenders, Herzog, and Fassbinder.

She’s as good as anyone on that list.

Sisters, or The Balance of Happiness (1979) and Sheer Madness (1983) are the two most recent films I’ve seen by her. Both films focus on difficult interpersonal relationships, societal expectations, and suicide.

Last year I watched her first feature, The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1978), along with Kathleen Collins’s Losing Ground (1982). They were both revelations. It’s argued whether or not Collins is the first or second African American woman to direct a feature. Unfortunately, the film only played a few festivals, Collins died of cancer soon after the film debuted, and she left a great deal of work unfinished. A biography was recently published about her and it’s on my reading list for this year.

I watched Losing Ground because I saw Duane Jones in the cast list. Jones is the lead in the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the main reason that movie, I think, stands out as not just a good horror movie, but a great film. Notoriously, he seemed embarrassed by it and did very few movies after that, but was well-known and respected on stage and as an educator. He died at 51 in 1988, the same year as Collins. I wish I could have seen him on stage. NOTLD and his performance have meant so much to me over the years that I choked up a little seeing him on screen in a different role. Some of that may have been Romero’s recent death as well.

I’ve seen a few episodes of Tales from the Darkside: Season Two and I’m excited that Monsters has now made it to Amazon Prime. I love these mostly dreadful (and not in the expected sense of the macabre) horror anthologies.

 

I think I’ve garnered more rejections in the last year than I’ve ever received. The takeaway from that is that I’m submitting more than I used to.  Sometimes that makes the process seem easier and sometimes it doesn’t.

Lost Chords and Serenades Divine #2 is available for your perusal.

 

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Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932)
Not my favorite Renoir, but I’ve seen little of his work, though Le Grande Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) are fantastic, and all of these films are only part of his output in the ’30s, in a career that stretched from the ’20s to 1969.

Boudu is a tramp, sometimes brute. He’s a little bit Monsieur Hulot and a little bit of Johnny, the misanthrope of Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993). I’m usually more engrossed by the performances of the co-stars who have to respond to the don’t-care-flair of the main character.

This was later remade as Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986).

 

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Torso (1973)
A giallo (Italian precursor to slasher films) that has all the elements you expect and a few surprises for those who love the genre. I’m wondering if these releases are now unedited. When I was growing up and watching a lot of horribly dubbed VHS tapes, there was never a lot of blood or nudity. This was partially why Argento’s films stood out. Maybe he had enough umph to get proper releases. Torso, also released as The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence (!), has been one of those films I heard about, but couldn’t ever find. It’s hilariously bad, and if you like this sort of thing, probably just plain hilarious, a pizza-and-beer movie.

Evidently there was a clothing shortage in Italy when it was made. A women’s clothing shortage I mean. Many seem to have had to rely on thin, transparent fabrics or scarves in which to wrap themselves. There are several times during the day, sometimes sort of sunbathing, where women just forgo clothes altogether.

The film has the typical psychosexual motivation for the killer that gets revealed in a bit of sweaty exposition. There are tires squealing…on grass. There is a fight scene featuring actors trained at the Shatner Stage Combat Academy complete with sound effects from low budget martial arts movies.

Spoiler: Like you care! Ha! In traditional genre terms, you could count this a comedy! Whatta hoot!

 

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“The Mesmerist” (2003)

Despite my love for cinematic atrocities like Torso, my two most-frequently watched directors last year were Shirley Clarke and Maya Deren, both fantastic artists and most often described as experimental or surrealist directors. Art film, basically. (Check out Shana Moulton if you like this kind of stuff!)

Bill Morrison is a new director to me, though he’s been working for at least two decades. He’s done a lot of collaborations with some of my favorite musicians. What I’ve seen of his work fits the experimental/art film side of things, though much of it also seems to be about restoration. He frequently reinterprets pieces of lost films and gives them a kind of retelling using a variety of what appear to be chemical effects. I did not expect to like this as much as I did.

Discovering Morrison’s work is as exciting as when I discovered Guy Maddin’s, or any of the filmmakers listed above. They create distinct, strange worlds.

 

Most of the week was taken up with getting the second semester of school under way. That and the continual fight with the dryer. I will now have to hire a true mercenary after four troubleshooting attempts that have exhausted my limited handyman artillery.

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I’ve been a lifelong horror fan and spent a lot of time reading horror fiction when I was growing up. By college, I was reading mostly other genres, but I have kept up reading horror classics I missed and I’ve slowly been re-reading Stephen King’s bibliography in order. After a few years, I’ve only managed ’74-’81 and am currently on Cujo.  By the time I finish it, he will likely have written three more books.

Recently, The Horror Show with Brian Keene announced a book club. Given that the choices were contemporary, I thought of it as a chance to read some decent books in the genre that I have missed. January’s pick is Primitive by J.F. Gonzalez.

Primitive is and isn’t a zombie novel. I don’t want to say too much about it because much of the joy of the book in Gonzalez’s fresh take on the zombie apocalypse. Similar to pulpy sci-fi, the enjoyment here is the speed of the narrative and the ideas that Gonzalez plays with in the novel. Also similar to pulp, the speed kills chances to slow down and get into world, character, and thought. An argument could be made that the fast tempo matches form to subject matter. Okay. On that level the book delivers.

I generally want a little more.

So as a pulp horror novel, it’s fun, but that means that there is a lack of finesse in places. There are odd repetitions–spots where characters would repeat lines almost verbatim within a few paragraphs or pages. The pace of the narrative also meant that there were awkward expository conversations.

After reading this, I looked at some reviews and some people don’t like the move Gonzalez made at the end of the novel. I like what he did with form.

Keene has started, as a continuation of a project Gonzalez began (he died in 2014), a History of Horror Fiction at Cemetery Dance Publications. So far it’s a great series.

Maybe next year I’ll have time to jump on the Bowie book club.

 

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This is the first book of Wallace’s short fiction and the first of the genre I’ve read by him. I can’t really give a proper review of Primitive in this space, much less this one. Wallace reportedly renounced much of the work here and, if I remember correctly, in his first novel The Broom of the System.

I’ve found both interesting, but Girl feels like a young writer swinging for the fences with both success and failure. I am especially interested in the various masks Wallace puts on and how it seems purposeful that there is both an author and a persona speaking at the same time and that the author is somehow commenting on what the persona is saying.

If anything, on a first reading I was surprised by the endings of these stories and how much work likely went into them. There are times when a story seems to have devolved into a post-postmodern metanarrative only to spiral into some kind of emotional truth or beauty that feels somehow universal and unstable at the same time. The book could be frustrating, but in interesting ways. Definitely worth a reread, but it’s not for everyone.

 

I’ve also started writing a music review blog for The Drunken Odyssey podcast. Enjoy! Or not!

Though I won’t write about it, I am currently listening to Rush’s discography. I don’t care that you don’t like them. My brain is full of the love that is like the view from Rush’s stage: thousands of air drummers in perfect, glorious synchronicity.

I’m also reading Dune, so I kind of feel like that kid in “Subdivisions.”  Then again, I’ve always felt like that kid.

Nothing new here except the year.

Along with trying to meet some deadlines, I’ve been getting time in with the kids and their wonderful goofiness. Even in winter, the three-year-old seems to be allergic to pants. I am also watching videos about changing dryer heating elements. ‘Tis the season, I guess.

Part of a conversation I heard last night:

3YO: *Leaps onto mom’s legs and recently dislocated knee.*
Wife: Get off my knees, please!
3YO: *Still on legs.* That rhymes!
Wife: Yes. Yes, it does.
3YO: That Grinch is nekkid.

 

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I recently finished My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 by Emil Ferris. There’s a lot to like about this book: the art, composition, and colors, just for starters. I love the meaningful incorporation of horror comics and art into the story and its themes. I can see why people are so excited about the next volume and disappointed in its delay. Here’s a great comic about how the book came about and is an example of Ferris’s unique approach to the form.

 

As a monster kid myself, I’ve long wanted to see some of Bela Lugosi’s non-Dracula roles, but they were difficult to locate growing up. I recently watched two: Bowery at Midnight (1942) and The Corpse Vanishes (1942). These are perfect late night low-budgeters, if you like that sort of thing. Both are mixed-genre horror films. Bowery incorporates detective/thriller elements (and one could say that it’s more a crime film with elements of horror, but, anyway–) and Corpse incorporates sci-fi and gothic devices. A favorite plot element of Bowery involves the dual lives of Lugosi, who still sounds like Dracula in both, but no one recognizes him as a professor because when he manages his soup kitchen (his front as crime boss, which I guess is really his third role, sort of), he doesn’t wear glasses.

It takes a certain type of person to want to sit through that and maybe even another type who loves it. Corpse had me at the summary that begins, “Lugosi revels in his role as European horticulturalist Dr. Lorenz.”

Both films are worth multiple viewings for B-movie fans.

I hope you enjoy your New Year’s weekend!