Saturday, April 25, 2015

Zomby (briefly) Returns: This is what creative desperation looks like

The first new "Zomby" cartoon in nearly two years. So, um, enjoy, I guess.

Zomby, a zombified parody of Tom Wilson's long-running newspaper cartoon series Ziggy, used to be an important recurring feature at Dead 2 Rights. That was before Ed Wood more or less hijacked this blog and (posthumously) made it his own. The premise was exceedingly simple. I'd take that day's Ziggy panel, turn the title character gray in Microsoft Paint, and change the punchline so that it was about a reanimated corpse who feasted on the living rather than a sweet, bumbling loser who couldn't get decent customer service. The joke, I guess, was that even in this supposedly-terrifying form, Zomby was just as much as an ineffectual, put-upon loser as Ziggy was. It was a way of taking some then-trendy monsters who were dominating films, TV, and video games and removing everything that made them cool or threatening. I did dozens, maybe hundreds, of Zomby panels and then just sort of stopped. Apart from a few stray shamblers in Plan 9 from Outer Space and Orgy of the Dead, zombies are no longer the focal point of this blog, despite its George Romero-inspired name. So Zomby disappeared. He hasn't been seen around here since 2013.

But today, I was trying to think of something I could post to Dead 2 Rights and thought, "Hey, why don't I try to do another Zomby cartoon and see if I can still get back into that mindset." So I Googled today's Ziggy panel and found that it was one of the series' most familiar tropes: Ziggy going to a diner and getting predictably lousy treatment. (The uncouth chef tells Ziggy he's too late to get the "breakfast of champions" and will have to settle for the "brunch of also-rans." Get it? Because Ziggy fails at everything and should totally just kill himself. HA!) It reminded me of another reason I abandoned Zomby: monotony. Ziggy only does five or six basic things, over and over. He watches TV, he takes abuse from his pets (a dog, a cat, and a bird), he tries to obtain goods and services without success, etc. I was going to call him out on this, until I realized that Ziggy's life was actually more varied and interesting than mine. I mean, he has a parrot. I don't. He goes fishing (or golfing or mountain climbing) sometimes. I don't. He freely walks around in public without pants. I...  well, that's none of your business.

Anyway, I realized today that the part of my brain that could easily come up with Zomby jokes must have died a couple of years ago. And unlike Zomby himself, I don't think it can be revived.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A pantry full of hate

This is a picture of clutter, in case you don't know what clutter looks like.

The kitchen in my apartment has a pantry, but I don't cook so I use it as a storage closet instead. Being the lazy, indolent sumbitch that I am, I have allowed this pantry to become laughably, even shamefully cluttered. Recently, I was trying to fill out my 1040 EZ for the benefit of good old Uncle Sam and thus went rummaging through the aforementioned closet in search of a large manila envelope upon which the fateful words "TAX SHIT" are scrawled in Sharpie. It took me a while to find, and so I resolved to finally sort through all the useless stuff in there and throw out or recycle anything I didn't actually use or want anymore. Last weekend, I actually went through with this plan, and it felt kind of good for a while. The pantry is still pretty much a mess, but now at least it's a somewhat more manageable mess.

The reason I bring all this up is that my mind is a lot like that pantry. It's cluttered up with a lot of useless junk. You know what takes up an inordinate amount of room? Grudges. Man, I am the king of grudges. I have grudges going back decades. I'm still mad over shit that happened before I was even in kindergarten. There are slights and injustices I can still remember from every phase of my life, and with only a little effort, I can still dredge up the hurt they caused me at the time and make those incidents seem freshly painful again, as if they just happened yesterday. I'm sure lots of good things have happened to me over the years, but my memories of the bad things are so much more vivid in my mind. Four long decades of birthdays and Christmases blend together into one big, blurry blob of indistinct experience. But if you teased me at recess even once in the third grade, you can bet I still hold onto that memory with a vice-like grip.

If you're one of the very few people reading this, it's likely that you're someone I have known for years. And if you're someone I've known for years, it's almost certain that you have caused me some real (or imagined) grief and that I'm still angry about it. I don't like that about myself. I never meant to become so bitter. It just sort of happened, failure by failure, disappointment by disappointment. I don't know what to do with all this bitterness. It's never done me a bit of good, and yet I can't bear to get rid of it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Larry: A short story by Joe Blevins

This is the huge, orange face America eventually grew to love.

Prefatory notes by the author: "Larry" was actually written back in 2008 when there was such a thing as Larry King Live on television. The way it came about was that I was browsing through CNN's website and found some old Larry King transcripts there. Reading through them, I realized that Mr. King's particular brand of rambling, disjointed insanity was even funnier when soberly transcribed word for word. Believe me, what you're about to read is only a mild exaggeration of an actual King interview. Also, back when I wrote this, I actually was a professional transcriptionist and spent many hours and days and weeks of my life listening to recordings of focus groups and telephone surveys and converting them into text documents. So I was in complete sympathy with the person who had the task of transcribing Larry King Live. By the way, woodchucks are funny to me for some reason. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 59: 'Cult Movies' No. 11 (1994) [part 2 of 2]

In 1994, a mere $4.95 (or $6.95 in Canada) would buy you the latest ish of Cult Movies magazine.

"My dear Professor Strowski, twenty years ago I was banned from my homeland, parted from my wife and son, never to see them again. Why? Because I suggested to use the atom elements for producing super beings, beings of unthinkable strength and size. I was classed as a madman, a charlatan, outlawed in a world of science which previously honored me as a genius. Now here in this forsaken jungle hell I have proven that I am alright. No, Professor Strowski, it is no laughing matter."
-Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster (1955)

Eddie's image was upgraded somewhat in the 1990s.
Ed Wood's ironic postmortem anti-fame arrived in at least three distinct phases or waves, as I see it. What this means is that there have been separate and identifiable eras during which the name of Edward D. Wood, Jr. has possessed some pop cultural clout in America. For the last few decades, Ed's name always meant something to people, but exactly what it meant depended on the tenor of the times. Wood's first wave of after-death notoriety occurred in the early-to-mid-1980s and was spurred by the publication of Harry and Michael Medved's The Golden Turkey Awards. Only the rudiments of Eddie's life and work were widely known at the time, so the first wave was marked by mockery and derision. Wood was merely a cross-dressing clown who made cheap and incredibly amateurish flying saucer flicks. For many, this is still the predominant public image of Ed Wood, thirty-plus years later, so we can safely say that the first wave was the most influential and durable of the three. During this wave, Eddie's most famous films from the 1950s (the "big three": Glen or Glenda?, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and Bride of the Monster) were staples at rep houses and campus theaters, where they were loudly and joyously jeered by hip audiences. The second wave happened in the early-to-mid-1990s and was centered around Tim Burton's Ed Wood and its literary progenitor, Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy. It was, in a way, a response to the first wave. Second wavers sought to rehabilitate Eddie's image somewhat, while still snickering at his life's work. Much more information about Ed Wood's life was known by then, including his debilitating alcoholism, his war record, his prolific career in pornography, and his tragic and poverty-stricken final years. Appropriately, Eddie was treated with more sympathy and understanding by second wavers, though he remained a figure of fun to them. Wood was still a clown, but now he was a tragic clown; he'd been upgraded from Bozo to Pagliacci, so to speak. Besides Burton's film and Grey's book, the second wave was notable for the appearance of several loving yet cheeky and irreverent documentaries (typified by Ted Newsom's Look Back in Angora) which sought to put Wood's cinematic lunacy into some kind of understandable context while still having some guffaws at his expense.

Part of the third wave.
Third-wave Woodology (and, yes, I am hijacking this term from "third-wave feminism") is occurring right now, in the new millennium, and has no particular catalyst or obvious rallying cry behind it. If anything, it has been made possible by advancements in technology, including search engines and social media. These online breakthroughs have made it much easier for writers and researchers to access and disseminate information as well as stay in contact with other like-minded fans. What, exactly, made me decide to write a series of articles about this man, a series which has now grown to something like half a million words? Why him? Why now? I don't know exactly, but there must have been something in the air, because the Wood cult -- which had been largely dormant since the Clinton years -- began to rise from its slumbers in the 21st century with crucial new books (Ed Wood, Mad Genius; Blood Splatters Quickly), DVD reissues (Big Box of Wood; Ed Wood's Dirty Movies), and special events (the gallery exhibition of his paperbacks; a week-long New York film festival). Pvt. Wood has been officially called back into service. Hopefully, the third wave of Wood's fame will be the one which finally "gets it right" by painting the most complete and honest portrait yet of this surprisingly-complex man. Learning from the first and second waves (without letting our thinking be dictated by them), we third wavers can now use all the information at hand to accurately and evenhandedly assess Eddie's strengths and weaknesses, and we can identify what is still unique and fascinating about Ed's work, while not losing sight of its shortcomings or spoiling all its fun. Perhaps in this sense, time has been a gift to us. As Ed recedes further and further into the past, he can now get the fair day in court he has been denied for decades.

But now, me old beauties, it is time once again to revisit an artifact from the second wave of Woodology, specifically a fan magazine which was produced in 1994, right before the premiere of Disney-Touchstone's Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp and Martin Landau. A multi-million-dollar, star-studded, studio-financed biopic is the kind of honor normally reserved for those we call "heroes": chart-topping singers, record-breaking athletes, paradigm-shifting science whizzes. For such a biopic to be made about a so-called B-movie director whose films were neither critically nor financially successful in his own time was astonishingly, absurdly rare. And the fan community certainly took notice. Twenty-one years ago, when the now-mighty Internet was still a fledgling, fans of the bizarre and the overlooked expressed themselves not on the screen but on the page. And so, it is to the page that we now return.

(NOTE: In case you missed it, the first part of my Cult Movies coverage is right here.) 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Here, this ought to creep you out nicely

In Soviet Russia, The Great Gatsby reads you in high school! 

Not sure exactly why I did this. Just felt it needed to be done, I guess.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ed Wood Extra! The arrival of Lots #3028 and #3043

Here I am with my new Ed Wood poster, bathed in the greeny fluorescent glow of my small kitchen.

"And, for an example, let's take the recent unpleasantness."
-Mr. Turkentine (David Battley) in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This poster caused me so much grief.
Chalk up one more thing Ed Wood and I have in common. Eddie suffered for his (much-maligned, often-mocked) art. And I, too, have suffered for Ed Wood's art, though not for the reasons you might be imagining. While making my way through, let's say, the '70s softcore romps Eddie wrote for Steve Apostolof involved a certain amount of tedium, I cannot say that Wood's work has inspired in me the same kind of theatrical agony it seems to have caused other observers. No, my suffering has been of a different stripe. Since Ed Wood Wednesdays began back in July 2013, I have essentially been an indentured servant to a man who died nearly 40 years ago. In my quest to catalog the life and career of Edward Davis Wood, Jr., I have frequently forsaken such niceties as fresh air, exercise, and sleep. The sun may shine and the birds may chirp, after all, but this DVD of The Undergraduate isn't going to review itself! Like Mark Borchardt said in American Movie: "I have to adhere to this keyboard." Conservatively, I'd estimate I've put on 15 to 20 pounds in the time I've been writing Ed Wood Wednesdays. I chalk it up to all those hours I've spent hunched over my laptop computer, keeping my energy up with a steady intake of frozen dinners and prepackaged snacks. Hey, Eddie got a little doughy near the end, too. That's yet another thing we have in common, except his weight gain came from booze while mine came from gummi worms and microwaved pizza.

And sometimes, my lovelies, this project has inconvenienced me in such silly ways that all I can do is laugh. Take today, for instance. You'll remember, a few weeks ago, that there was a massive auction of Ed Wood memorabilia. I chickened out on the big ticket items, including a suitcase and two trunks owned by Eddie himself, but I wanted to get something out of the auction so I bid on a few of the smaller items. I wound up winning two of these: a vintage one-sheet poster for Glen or Glenda? under the alternate title I Led 2 Lives (Lot #3028) and a set of eight Mexican lobby cards for Plan 9 from Outer Space (Lot #3043). Today, they are in my possession at last, and getting them into my apartment was a Sisyphean ordeal. It should have been easy. FedEx was scheduled to deliver them yesterday, but I knew I'd be at work when they arrived so I arranged to have Patricia, the lovely lady who manages the office of the apartment complex where I live, sign for them in my absence. My apartment, I should say, is literally next door to this office. We share a wall. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. My landlady happened to be dropping by the office when the FedEx guy arrived, and she prevented Patricia from signing for the package, reasoning that if they performed this simple kindness for me, a loyal rent-payer for 12 years, they'd have to do the same for everyone. My landlady, I can say from experience, is not someone with whom you can bargain... or reason. Through that thin wall we have in common, I have often heard her screaming at the maintenance crew. She's a fearsome woman. I just hope I didn't get Patricia into any trouble.

One of my nifty new lobby cards.
Meanwhile, of course, my package could not be delivered as instructed. So back to the FedEx pickup center it went. Luckily, this is less than a quarter-mile from my home, since I live in a busy commercial district dominated by strip malls, chain stores, and gas stations. The clerk there was only too happy to turn over my Ed Wood poster and lobby cards to me. But here is where the story turns into a Buster Keaton comedy. RR Auction sent these items in one large, flat cardboard box, and there was no way of fitting this into my cramped 2002 Chevy Cavalier. I tried every configuration I could imagine. Seats all the way forward. Seats all the way back. Passenger seat tilted as flat as it would go. Windows open. Trunk open. Nothing, and I mean nothing, worked. Here I was, stranded in the FedEx parking lot just a few minutes away from my apartment. I thought of temporarily ditching the car and just walking the damned thing back home. But, again, this is a busy commercial district, and my story was happening during rush hour traffic. How was I ever going to get across those busy, dangerous streets with this ridiculous cardboard box? If I held it in front of me, I couldn't even see the traffic coming. In desperation, I dragged the package back into the FedEx place and asked if I could just open it there and take the contents out. The lady behind the desk said fine, so I borrowed her scissors and cut into the package. And what tumbled out? More styrofoam packing peanuts than I have ever seen in my life. Dozens and dozens of the goddamned things accumulated at my feet. Mortified, I spent a good (read: bad) 10 to 15 minutes crawling around the floor of the FedEx pickup center in a frantic effort to retrieve every last one of those peanuts. The place looked nicer than my apartment, after all, and I didn't want to muck it up.

Eventually, though, I did manage to extract my purchases and get them into my battered, grungy old car. The Glen or Glenda? poster was swaddled in about eight miles of bubble wrap, so it was still quite a large item even outside of its cardboard cocoon. But at least it was now flexible enough to be (barely) wedged into the nearly-nonexistent back seat of my vehicle. I couldn't see a damned thing out the rear window, but then again, I didn't have far to drive. It wasn't 100% safe, but it was safe enough. Once I got back home, I had a devil of a time chasing after all the additional styrofoam peanuts which were falling everywhere. I'm kind of a zealot about littering, especially in my own neighborhood, so I didn't want to just leave a trail of those tell-tale peanuts outside the apartment complex where I live. It was a windy day, though, so this was tricky to say the least. I'm sure I lost a few soldiers today.

And now? Well, now the poster and the lobby cards are safely ensconced in my apartment. And you know what else? They're really lovely. I have no idea what I'm going to do with them, but they're lovely nonetheless. The Glenda poster is larger than I was imagining, the size of a small (admittedly very wide and flat) child, and still a satisfying shade of fire-engine red. Right now, still wrapped in plastic, it's leaning against the wall of my kitchen. I'll probably have it framed soon, but I think the kitchen is a good place for it. Much of Glen or Glenda? takes place in kitchens. Even Lugosi's lab where he creates life is a kind of kitchen. Every morning when I have my bowl of cereal, I can look up at Eddie smooching with Dolores Fuller, forever preserved in their 1953 glory. That's a nice thought. The lobby cards came in a thick, heavy binder of their own. I might just leave them that way. To be honest, I haven't given much thought to the items themselves. I've barely even looked at 'em. For now, I'm just happy they're home.

POSTSCRIPT: In my Clouseau-esque struggles to get the uncooperative poster and lobby cards into my vehicle on Wednesday, I somehow managed to injure my left leg rather badly. By Thursday, that leg was noticeably bruised and achy, making it difficult to walk. For the last two days, then, I have been limping to and from work. Now that I am at last in repose, attempting to recuperate over the weekend, the medicinal smell of a cheap, over-the-counter topical ointment is stinging my nostrils. So when I say I have suffered for Ed Wood's art, I mean it quite literally.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stan Freberg has died, darn the luck.

Stan "The Man" Freberg: Floats the jokes right down the drain! (And "pay radio" did come to pass!)

Somehow, I wasn't ready for the death today of Stan Freberg, even though the man was 88 and had been in failing health for years. All I know is that yesterday, there was a Stan Freberg, and today there isn't one. So today loses in a landslide. A comedian, satirist, radio star, voice actor, singer, songwriter, puppeteer, TV pioneer, and game-changing ad man, Stan was a wizard with words. But words are failing me now, as I try to describe what Mr. Freberg's work meant to me and why it was so important to the history of comedy. I don't want to fall back on that label of "influential." Yes, it's very nice that he was influential on several generations of fans, some of whom grew up to create music and books and movies of their own. "Weird Al" Yankovic is probably Stan's most famous acolyte, and the two got to work together in the 1990s on CBS' short-lived Saturday morning offering, The "Weird Al" Show. Many more Stan fans probably went into advertising themselves and enjoyed the creative freedom he helped make possible with his innovative "soft sell" campaigns. His ads still work! In particular, a decades-old spot for the Milky Way candy bar created in me an irresistible craving for Milky Ways, even though it's not a product I normally purchase. Stan should've gotten a commission on that sale.

But, still, I say phooey to that "influential" jazz. That word makes it seem like Stan Freberg's whole purpose on this earth was to provide an example for others to follow later, like he was a means to an end. Stan was not a means to an end. He was the end!. His work provides plenty of pleasure on its own, well beyond its historical importance. I should know. I have several hours of his material on my iPod, and it is rare that a week goes by that I don't listen to some of it. I hardly know where to begin in recommending his work to you. Maybe Three Little Bops, a jazzy little cartoon he voiced for Warner Bros in 1957? Something from Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, perhaps? (There, I'm partial to "A Man Can't Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days" with Stan as a curmudgeonly Ben Franklin with serious qualms about affixing his name to the Declaration of Independence.) I could point you in the direction of his brief-but-brilliant CBS radio series, The Stan Freberg Show or one of those masterful sides he cut for Capitol Records, like "St. George and the Dragonet" or "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" or even "Widescreen Mama." (Sample lyrics: "Widescreen mama, don't you Cinerama me!")

All of these things are Stan, and yet none of them "are" Stan. He was a complicated guy: multi-faceted, multi-talented, and multi-media, though he loved radio best of all. Maybe I'll just play you the record which turned me from a Stan Freberg fan to a Stan Freberg fanatic. It's called "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise," and it's a parody of a then-current hit by Les Paul and Mary Ford. He leaves the lyrics of the original song intact, more or less, and instead chooses to spoof the fussed-over, studio-perfected sound of the record. Here, just listen:

"Look out!!! The equipment is smoking!!!!! Run for your life!!!!'

How could I help but love something like that? For more on Stan Freberg, please see my review (a love letter from start to finish) of A Child's Garden of Freberg.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 58: 'Cult Movies,' No. 11 (1994) [part 1 of 2]

Some of the back issues of Cult Movies, including one about Ed Wood.

"Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose." 
-Zora Neale Hurston

"Google is my best friend and my worst enemy. It's fabulous for research, but then it becomes addictive. I'll have a character eating an orange, and next thing I'm Googling types of oranges, I'm visiting chat rooms about oranges, I'm learning the history of the orange."
-Liane Moriarty

There was, believe it or not, a time when the answers to most of life's throbbing questions were not a mere mouse click away. That's an especially sobering thought for me, because I could not possibly write a research-heavy series of articles like Ed Wood Wednesdays without the invaluable aid of the Internet. Obviously, this blog only exists online; there is no paper equivalent of Dead 2 Rights, apart from the yellow legal pads I've filled up with my notes. (And these get recycled as soon as they're no longer needed.) In fact, Dead 2 Rights started as a spin-off of a podcast, another distinctly 21st-century form of entertainment. My blog's content, which I desperately hope you enjoy, is chiefly made possible by the Internet as well, in more ways than I can describe to you. In short, this wondrous and technically-inexplicable series of tubes has allowed me to connect with other Ed Wood fans and pop culture experts and has given me access to all kinds of reviews and news articles I never could have found on my own. And when it comes to acquiring books and DVDs to review for this blog, well, the vast majority of these have come to me through online vendors, both legit and gray market. In short, I sure am glad the Internet exists. No 'net, no Ed Wood Wednesdays. (On the other hand, I'd have my Wednesdays free.)

This is what research used to look like.
But what about the movie geeks of a previous generation, the ones who had to explore the avenues of film fandom back when the Internet didn't even exist.. or when it existed but still sucked? Well, folks, I have been there. Oh, have I been there. I can recall the Dark Ages -- you may remember them as the 1980s -- when even the most-obvious Ed Wood movies, such as Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda?, were not available at a second's notice the way they are now. You had to hope a TV station, revival house, or campus cinema would show one of them. Or maybe the local video store would have an actual, physical copy of them on hand. And if the movies themselves were hard to come by, then information about them and the people who made them was even more scarce. You had to rely on whatever books your local library carried. There were newspaper and magazine articles, too, but these required mastery of such arcane technologies as microfilm and microfiche, not to mention a certain amount of agility with the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. That's why video guides like the one put out by Leonard Maltin were such a godsend. There, in one convenient place, you could at least find titles, cast lists, names of directors, and other basic release data. It was the nearest thing I had to the Internet Movie Database back when I was in junior high and high school.

Famous Monsters
One aspect of pre-Internet movie fandom I've largely been ignoring up to now is the importance of fan magazines. The cult of Ed Wood actually began in the pages of such publications, which served as a precursor to the Internet message boards of today. Of course, such evergreen titles as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Cinefantastique, Fangoria, and many others have played a vital role in the lives of countless horror, sci-fi, and fantasy film buffs. Along with these major titles, which were widely available at drug stores and bookshops, there were many smaller, more-niche publications, as well as a whole array of homemade, xeroxed 'zines. It just depended on how specialized the publication wanted to be and who its perceived audience was. Unfortunately, the very existence of actual printed, paper fan magazines is threatened these days. Sales are down. Printing costs are up. Shelf space is disappearing as book retailers go out of business. And nobody in the "free download" era wants to actually pay for reviews and articles about their favorite movies. That's a shame, because now writers have less incentive to actually produce this kind of material. As I've been doing research on the life and career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., I've come across many references to fan magazines. And in particular, there were many mentions of one specific issue of one specific magazine. So I did what anyone in 2015 would do: I found it on Amazon, charged it to my credit card, and had it mailed to me. In the interest of science, I wanted to see if there were things about Ed Wood I could find in print that even the Internet could not offer.

Which leads me to...