Sunday, March 29, 2015

The 'Chinese Democracy' of various things

One of the most-anticipated and least-listened-to albums in rock history

This is what 14 years did to Axl Rose.
Remember Chinese Democracy? In case you've forgotten, it was a semi-popular 2008 album by Guns N' Roses. Previous to Chinese Democracy, GNR had not released a full-length studio recording since 1993's "The Spaghetti Incident?," so anticipation was fairly high when the LP first debuted. It only reached #3 in America, but it went all the way to #1 in Argentina, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, and even Thailand. It got mostly favorable reviews domestically, and the title track was a mid-sized hit as well, reaching #34 on the charts. In the seven years since its release, however, this noteworthy collection has largely been neglected. This is rather remarkable because, previous to its release, Chinese Democracy was one of the most infamous and written-about albums in the history of rock. The hour-long LP was 14 years (!) in the making, and by the time it came out, lead singer Axl Rose was the only original Gunner left in the lineup. The other musicians had either been fired or quit in disgust. For years, rock magazines such as Rolling Stone dutifully reported all of the delays, missed deadlines, and outrageously mounting costs of the mysterious album, all of which were attributed to control freak Rose and his single-minded obsession with making Chinese Democracy absolutely perfect. Some writers even speculated that the album would never see legal release. Finally, in 2008, Axl Rose proved the doubters wrong. What Rose had not predicted, however, was the implosion of the music industry, the decline of albums in favor of singles, and the general shift in audience interest away from heavy metal and towards pop and hip-hop. He'd made his masterpiece, but the general public had already moved on. After nearly a decade and a half of rumors and false starts, Chinese Democracy debuted to widespread indifference. Besides, no real album could possibly hope to compete with such hype and publicity.

Clearly, however, writers have not totally forgotten about Chinese Democracy, because they still use it as a metaphor for anything whose release is delayed for years and years. Some examples:


So in a weird way, Chinese Democracy did achieve a sort of immortality -- not as a piece of music, but as a figure of speech. Does that count as a triumph?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

This song somehow failed to bring an end to society as we know it.

The Fast Food Rockers, moments before they were executed for treason by the state. 

There will always be a place in our society for completely mercenary "bubblegum" pop songs which are designed to grab the public's attention with the grim determination of a rabid terrier sinking its fangs into a mailman's leg. Seemingly idiotic and naive and therefore "harmless," this kind of music is actually quite cynical and calculated, driven largely by marketing and not by creativity. The goal of these songs, which usually employ some kind of moronic gimmick and have a fiendishly catchy sing-song chorus, is simple: garner tons and tons of airplay within a short span of time, try to parlay that notoriety that into some quick sales, then cash in and get the hell out of Dodge before people get too sick of you. (Such songs, however, inevitably overstay their welcome, which is why the artists behind them have such truncated careers.) In years past, these kinds of tunes thrived on the radio.That's where we first found "Disco Duck," "Pac Man Fever," and "Barbie Girl." Now, I guess, such ditties go directly to the Internet, e.g. "The Duck Song" and its sequels. (Note: for all I know, "The Duck Song" may be completely sincere. Forgive me if it is.) For a while, this field of entertainment was dominated by CGI animals, like Gummybear and Crazy Frog. By not being recognizably human, these animated creations made bubblegum pop even more obviously mechanical and impersonal. At least groups like Aqua and Rednex were made up of human beings ... sort of.

You might think America has a sweet tooth for this kind of pop music, and you'd be right, but this is one area in which we simply pale next to Europe. In England particularly, they just live and die for this crap. The British pop charts are like some weird lottery where athletes, flash-in-the-pan celebs, and cartoon characters have as good a shot at success as any pop singer. Hell, the Smurfs topped the charts over there! No foolin'! Anyway, I thought I'd draw your attention to a particularly egregious UK hit from 2003 which somehow failed to cross the pond and make it big in America. It's something called "The Fast Food Song" by the Fast Food Rockers. Seems legit. The melody apparently comes from a Moroccan folk song, because of course it does. The song went to #2 (how appropriate) on the UK charts and thereafter became a staple on the lists of "worst singles of all time." Listen and judge for yourself. I'd say that, if you were looking for a soundtrack to your type 2 diabetes, you've found it here.



P.S. Still reeling from this song? Here's the antidote:


The Clearblue commercial makes a great argument for mass sterilization

"Oh my god, I think I'm gonna cryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!"

In their infinite wisdom, the gods who run the Internet have decided that I must sit through the Clearblue Advanced pregnancy test commercial several dozen times each day. Why, Internet gods, why? What did I do to offend thee? Whenever I click on a video or article these days, I brace myself for that insipid music, that stilted acting, that dreary dialogue. What? By some miracle, you haven't seen this abomination? Okay, here it is. Keep in mind, I have now seen this commercial more times than I've seen all my favorite movies put together. I should have it memorized by now. These, then, are the sounds and images which now dominate my nightmares:



The "mandatory" version of the ad which preloads before YouTube videos and such is a little different than the one embedded above. It mercifully cuts down the dialogue by a few lines, for example, but adds an uncomfortably long, text-only, oppressively silent disclaimer at the end explaining that this particular pregnancy test is not meant to take the place of a visit to a real doctor and that, if you use it, your child has a 40% higher chance of being born with either more or fewer fingers than what is considered "normal." Either way, you get the basic plot here: two textbook "basic bitches" sit across a kitchen table, and one reveals to the other that she is two weeks pregnant, causing the other to squeal with delight. And how does the baby-mama-to-be know the number of weeks? With the Clearblue Advanced Pregnancy Test with Weeks Estimator, of course! It seems pretty benign, and it only lasts 15 seconds. So why do I hate this ad so much? Let me count some of those ways.
This ad's color scheme: taste the rainbow.

  • The music. I mentioned this before, but the background score is beyond wretched. There's no integrity to it whatsoever. I mean, just listen to it! It's this sappy, wussy, "la la la," frou frou frippery, the musical equivalent of low-fat yogurt with no fruit on the bottom. And I think part of the melody is swiped from the "Every kiss begins with Kay" jingle from Kay Jewelers. At least those ads have the decency to include Jane Seymour, a lady of character, rather than these two colorless ninnies. And speaking of color...
  • The overall production design. I know that Clearblue has "blue" in the name and that the company's business model is founded upon baby-making, but even so, the "baby blanket blue" color scheme in this ad is oppressive to my eyes. I mean, the clothes, the walls, the furnishings, and even the actresses' faces and arms have this pale, washed-out blue tint to them. This whole commercial looks like it got badly faded on laundry day. And, of course, the women in this world don't eat, so what do they do with their plates? Stick 'em on the wall, of course! Gah! What awful parallel universe is this? Because it certainly doesn't look like any place on Earth.
  • The acting. I can't decide whether the acting in this commercial is subtly brilliant or not-so-subtly terrible. If these women are supposed to be actual friends who really do care about one another, then the acting on display here sucks eggs. But, on the other hand, if the subtext here is that these women secretly hate each other and can barely disguise their contempt for one another, the acting is pretty good. Because that's what comes across when Not Pregnant Lady covers her face to deliver the commercial's big line: "Oh my god! I think I'm gonna criiiiii-yeeeee!" On the outside, she's pretending to smile. On the inside, she's screaming, "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" But I'm pretty sure these women are genuinely supposed to enjoy each other's company, so I'm going to say that the acting is lousy.
  • The women themselves. One of my favorite hobbies is making snap judgments about people based on just fleeting first impressions and very little actual evidence. So, of course, that's what I did with the women in this commercial. I've judged them and found them guilty on a number of charges. Specifically, I have decided that these two ladies are the poster children for "basic bitchery" in the social media era. Their lives revolve around yoga, North Face jackets, UGG boots, pumpkin spice, and their own smartphones. And what do they do to relax? Well, they sip overpriced coffee from giant white mugs in a hermetically-sealed kitchen and natter on about the joys of getting knocked up. 

So there you have it, folks. I think the evidence is all there. The Clearblue Advanced pregnancy test commercial is a flagrant and unmistakable violation of the Geneva Convention. Its cast and crew should be soundly horsewhipped for a period of no less than 15 consecutive hours. Thank you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

So that's what it's like to get stuck in an elevator. Hmm.

Sorry, Butt-head, according to Archer, that won't work.

It happened to Archie Bunker. It happened to Beavis and Butt-head. A couple of weeks ago, it even happened to the gang on Archer. And today, my friends, it happened to me. After a lifetime of riding elevators without incident, I finally had the experience of getting stuck on one.

Obviously, I got out alive and unharmed. I'm not blogging from inside an elevator car, in case you were wondering. My "ordeal" only lasted about half an hour -- perfect sitcom length -- and was not even that unpleasant. Disconcerting, sure, but not traumatizing. Anyway, here's what happened.

(Note: I use the word "happened" advisedly. Like most of my "stories," this barely qualifies as a series of events.)

My train into Chicago was actually running a little ahead of schedule, so I arrived at my place of business a good ten minutes early. I was actually looking forward to beginning my day in a leisurely manner, decadently sipping my artificially-sweetened tea without having to glance nervously at the little clock in the lower right hand corner of my computer monitor. I work in a 35-story skyscraper, so there are three big banks of elevators, and a whole mess of 'em seemed to arrive in the lobby at the exact same time.

I chose (unwisely, as it turned out) Car #3 simply because I could have it all to myself. For some reason, at 7:20am, I considered this a coup. Remember that Simpsons episode with the theme park employee greedily rubbing his hands together? "All for Silas! All for Silas!" That was me, Undisputed Lord God and King of the Elevator. I work on the fifth floor, so this should have been a short ride. Somewhere between floors 3 and 4, however, I had the sensation that my elevator car had just been hit by a Buick or possibly a Plymouth.

This was not entirely unexpected. The elevators in our building have been malfunctioning for the last few months, and reports of hapless riders getting stranded en route were common. But this time, it was happening to me and not some schmucks I don't even know. Therefore: relevant.

The elevator car came immediately to a stop. The "5" button was no longer lit. In fact, none of the buttons, including the blessed "Door Open," responded to my touch. The one button which did work was the one which contacted the security guard. A genuinely concerned-sounding woman told me that (by chance, I guess?) an elevator technician was in the building and would immediately start to work on the problem. She also asked if I was okay, which I thought was a nice touch. I said I was fine and thanked her.

From there, not having a copy of Hungry Hungry Hippos on hand, I had no choice but to play the waiting game. (Damn, that's my second Simpsons reference in one article.) It was weird and solitary, sort of Twilight Zone-y.

Does it add anything to my story that I've been repeatedly listening for the last few days to the soundtrack for John Carpenter's Dark Star, which includes a lengthy elevator-based suspense sequence? It's true. In that sci-fi comedy, set in the far reaches of space aboard a lonely scout ship, poor astronaut Pinback (Dan O'Bannon) is almost crushed by an elevator while trying to feed an uncooperative alien. Now, I was Pinback!

The "repair" process was halting and strange, from what I could tell of it. At one point, the power went out on the elevator, but this was very brief. The security guard -- who kept in fairly regular contact throughout the ordeal, bless her heart -- told me it was necessary for the technician to restart the elevator this way. None of the buttons were responding yet.

After a while -- and I deliberately refrained from checking my watch -- the elevator came back to life and started to move upwards, only to crash again. A few more minutes of silence later, the elevator started going up, up, way up, way past the fifth floor. I frantically pressed all the buttons. Nothing happened. This particular bank of elevators only goes up as high as the 12th floor, which is where the Car #3 finally topped out.

Then it started descending slowly, slowly, and very slowly toward the lobby. I had that "car crash" sensation again when Car #3 eventually touched down. When the doors opened (and this was not immediate), I was rather surprised to see that the elevator car was not flush with the floor. In fact, the lobby floor was about at waist level or so, and I would have to climb up to it. It would be sort of like climbing up on your kitchen counter, if you're trying to picture it, i.e. easier for a cat than a person. But, lucky me, there was a guy in a blazer who extended his arm to help me up and out.

Of course, I still had to get to work, so I thanked the man and got in the next elevator car over. Knowing the rules of television as I do, I half-suspected that this second elevator would stall, too. It didn't.

So today, I had the experience of actually living through the plot of so many sitcom episodes. Minus all the jokes and plot complications and so forth. Now, I'm hoping to get bonked on the head and get amnesia.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An Ed Wood Wednesdays salute to Gregory Walcott, Plan 9's super-square

Actor Gregory Walcott, who portrayed pilot Jeff Trent in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

"The producer, Reynolds, said Wood is going to use pretty good special effects. I thought that would be the salvation of the film. It looked like they shot the thing in a kitchen. I told my wife when I got home, 'Honey, this has got to be the worst film of all time.' Thirty years later, it's come back to haunt me."
-Gregory Walcott

"Greetings, my friends."

Clint Eastwood and Greg Walcott
Way back in 1957, the self-styled mystic Criswell used those familiar, homey words to welcome viewers to an absurd, no-budget, half-Gothic, half-science-fiction concoction with the unlikely title Plan 9 from Outer Space. A quarter-century hence, that motion picture was dubbed "the worst film of all time." Quite sadly, we lost one of the last-surviving cast members of that classic American film. Actor Gregory Walcott, who portrayed stalwart American Airlines pilot Jeff Trent ("I can't say a word! I'm muzzled by Army brass!"), passed away at the age of 87 on March 20, 2015. With a career which spanned over 40 years, the North Carolina-born Walcott had over a hundred film and television credits to his name. He worked repeatedly with Clint Eastwood in the 1970s on such manly movies as The Eiger Sanction, Joe Kidd, Every Which Way But Loose, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. He also appeared in such acclaimed, Oscar-winning films as Norma Rae and Mister Roberts. Steven Spielberg even used him in The Sugarland Express. On the small screen, Greg put in his time on everything from Little House on the Prairie to Murder, She Wrote. Yes, Walcott's resume is truly impressive, attesting to the actor's durability in Hollywood.

But what was in the headline of nearly every obituary? Plan 9 from Outer Space, of course. I'd like to think Gregory Walcott could have had a good chuckle at that. The obituary writers were sympathetic. The Independent called him "the blameless actor who couldn't shake off being a part of the worst movie ever." The Hollywood Reporter likewise called him "the reluctant star of Plan 9 from Outer Space." Unlike actress-turned-screenwriter Joanna Lee, who played the alien Tanna in Plan 9 and forever after denied having anything to do with the movie, Walcott eventually came to accept -- if not precisely embrace -- his weird quasi-fame from having appeared in the infamous motion picture. If nothing else, he was the consummate "good sport" about it, agreeing to be interviewed in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. and appearing in The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr., Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The 'Plan 9' Companion, and even Tim Burton's Ed Wood, in which he portrayed a bemused potential backer who understandably gets cold feet about investing in Bride of the Monster. What else was he to do? People were going to keep asking about it. Might as well have some fun with it, right?

Eighty-seven years is a long time for anyone to live, and Gregory Walcott easily outlasted writer-director Ed Wood as well as just about everyone else associated with Plan 9 from Outer Space, both in front of and behind the camera. Nevertheless, his death means that yet another crucial link to the Wood-ian past has been severed irrevocably. How many Plan 9-ers are still around? Off the top of my head, I can think of only one: Conrad Brooks, who played a characteristically dim policeman. (His immortal pronouncement: "It's tough to find something when you don't know what you're looking for.") Almost everyone else? Long gone. Appropriately, death is a major motif throughout the film. Much of it takes place in a cemetery, after all, and funerals, crypts, tombstones, skeletons, and gravediggers all figure prominently into the plot. The film's ostensible "star," Bela Lugosi, had been in his grave for several years before Plan 9 ever reached audiences. Along with screen wife Mona McKinnon, Gregory Walcott represented the "life force" in Plan 9, the film's bastion of normality and vitality. And now, he, too, is gone from us. I, for one, will miss him. The actor's deeply sincere, profoundly humorless, and unmistakably Southern performance has become one of my favorite things about the movie. My short story, "The Secret Testimony of Miserable Souls," is principally intended as a tribute to Walcott. Truth be told, I wanted to hear it read aloud in the actor's Carolina drawl. Guess I never will now.

Programming note: Against all odds, my computer has finally been returned to me in (basically) good working order, but heavy work commitments have prevented me from writing a full-length Ed Wood Wednesdays article this week. I have what I hope will be a darned interesting one in the works, though. Look for that next Wednesday.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Meanwhile, at a drive-in theater in Utah...

Charlton Heston airs out his armpits in The Ten Commandments.

Yesterday, the Twitter account Historical Images tweeted a rather remarkable -- and seasonally-appropriate -- image which caught my attention. It shows a drive-in movie theater at twilight. Above a blueish-looking sea of mid-20th-century automobiles looms a huge screen aglow with the image of Charlton Heston as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's biblical super-epic, The Ten Commandments (1956). The caption reads: "Charlton Heston, as Moses in the The Ten Commandments, on screen at a drive-in theater in Utah, 1958." I don't know if that's true or not; Twitter accounts of supposedly "historical" vintage photographs are notoriously inaccurate. I grew up well after the heyday of drive-in movie theaters, so I've only been to such an establishment once in my life. (For the record, I saw The Crow that way.) I know that they were controversial back in the 1950s, though, since they were considered (by frustrated prudes) to be hotbeds of teenage sexuality and juvenile delinquency. Some people even derisively called them "passion pits," because the horny adolescent customers were presumably having sex in the relative seclusion of their vehicles, totally ignoring the actual movies. So how odd to see a morally-upright film like The Ten Commandments playing in a drive-in. And in Utah, no less! This is the very epicenter of Mormonism and, by far, the most uptight of all the 50 states! It figures that this is what would be playing in a Utah drive-in in the '50s, rather than a cheesy horror or biker flick. Anyway, here's the pic:

The Ten Commandments plays to an attentive Mormon audience.

Pretty cool, right? But something seemed off about it to me. The image on the movie screen, of course, comes from the film's most famous scene: the parting of the Red Sea. But it doesn't look like Moses is getting great results at that particular drive-in theater in Utah. That "sea" of cars I described earlier doesn't seem to be parting one bit. What's the deal? Is God taking a snack break? If so, He's making His buddy Moses look like a real chump out there, like a comedian who's bombing. That didn't seem right. Moses can part a sea, but he can't clear a path through Mormon traffic? So I crudely "fixed" the image in Microsoft Paint. Here's that:


Now Moses can get to the snack bar unimpeded.

Ahhhh.... that's much better.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ed Wood Extra: The great Ed Wood auction of 2015 has ended

Ed Wood and Dolores Fuller in a still which will not be making its way into my collection.

Homer: Is this a happy ending or a sad ending? 
Marge: It's an ending. That's enough. 
-from The Simpsons, "Rosebud" (1993)

This bad boy? All mine, baby.
Well, that was certainly something other than else, wasn't it? RR Auction's sale of items related to Edward Davis Wood, Jr. has ended, after having garnered media coverage from, among others, ABC News, Rolling Stone, and the A.V. Club. Internet bidding concluded on Wednesday (how appropriate), and there was a surprisingly informal and chatty live auction today, which I followed remotely from my cubicle at work. I was not, alas, the winner of Lot #3026, a monogrammed leather briefcase and two suitcase-like trunks belonging to Ed Wood himself. This lot was especially enticing, as it also included a treasure trove of Eddie's personal papers, including production stills, publicity photos, and theatrical programs. I was in the running for this item until Tuesday, when the price jumped from about $4000 to $10,000. I had been told the final price could go as high as $30,000, so I bowed out. When all the bids were in, this collection of priceless Wood-iana went for a remarkably cheap $11,000. I won't lie, citizens. This one stung a bit. The memory of Lot #3026 will probably take up residence in the back of my brain for quite some time. The one that got away. The white whale. Damn. I was also not the winner of Lot #3027, which contained a script for Night of the Ghouls, a program for The Blackguard Returns, and actor Don Nagel's scrapbook. This, too, got out of hand on Tuesday. Way out of hand. I was prepared to pay a few hundred bucks, but this jumped up into the $4000 range, and I backed off quickly.

I wanted to get something out of the auction,  however, and I managed to do that. I bid on two smaller items for which I had some personal affection. One was a vintage one-sheet poster for Glen or Glenda? (1953) under the alternate title I Led 2 Lives: Based on the Lives of Christine Jorgensen. Another was a set of Mexican lobby cards for Plan 9 from Outer Space. I chose these two items for special reasons. Glenda, as I have stated many times on this blog, is my favorite of Eddie's films, so I wanted to have some memorabilia affiliated with it. And Plan 9, of course, is the movie which initially attracted me to Ed Wood's body of work. I chose the Mexican lobby cards because Spanish was my minor in college. Plus, the cards look pretty cool, as seen below:

Six of the eight lobby cards of which I am now the proud (?) owner.

So is this a happy ending to the Ed Wood auction or a sad one? Like Marge said, it's an ending. That's enough.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Strangers on a train... platform

"So... do you utilize public transportation around here often much?"

Can I tell you about my morning? Don't get your hopes up. The story I'm about to tell you would not even qualify as a story in most people's lives. It barely qualifies as one in mine, but it was something out of the ordinary which happened to me, and I wanted to write it down for posterity's sake. Okay? Here goes. Be forewarned: I'll probably tell you way more than you wanted to know... which I'll assume is nothing. You can skim the first few paragraphs if that helps.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Tsk, tsk, tsk: The allure of the scolding pop culture editorial

That thing you enjoy? Well, you shouldn't. Shame on you!

I think I have discovered the truest gauge of success in  America today. You know that your movie, TV show, book, album, game, or podcast is a hit when someone is inspired to write a scolding, humorless pop culture editorial (or SHPCE for short) about it. You'll recognize it instantly when it happens, because the article will be called "The Problem With ______" or "The Trouble With ____." Generally, the objections will be one or more of the following.

  • The thing isn't as good as it used to be. This used to be a much more common complaint, but it has waned in recent years. Why? Well, it requires someone to actually wait a few years, rather than a few weeks, before writing a SHPCE. Where's the fun in that? If you want to get on your high horse and complain about something, you don't want to actually wait around and accumulate years worth of actual evidence, do you? Hell, no! By that time, hundreds of other TV shows, movies, books, and podcasts have already come along and stolen the national spotlight away. The choice, then, is clear. You have to write your SHPCE while the PC in question is still hot. If, by some chance, the PC object in question is still at peak popularity after several years, then you can write this kind of story if you really insist on it. It's an Internet classic, after all.
  • The thing is just derivative of some other, better thing which came before. Now, this takes a little more research, but it can be quite satisfying if you have enough evidence to support your thesis statement. Of course, you can apply this to TV shows or movies or whatever you'd like, since everybody's always copying everyone else anyway, but it really works best for music. Pop music does a lot of the work for you, since much of it is really derivative and lazy. As evidenced by the the recent "Blurred Lines" lawsuit, pop musicians don't really even try that hard to keep their influences hidden. It's not difficult to take whatever's at the top of the charts currently and find something from ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago which sounds just like it. I mean, have you heard "Uptown Funk" a few dozen times yet?
  • The thing has some logical loopholes or plot inconsistencies which render it worthless. I'm not sure why, but this seems to be the especial domain of Cracked.com and about half a million different hyperactive YouTubers. An army of Comic Book Guy wannabes (except slimmer and better groomed), Cracked's ever-snarky writers seem genuinely outraged when fantasy films with completely impossible plots somehow fail to conform to rigorous fact-checking and logical scrutiny. Time travel doesn't work that way, they tell us! Elves would never say something like that, they want us to know! Even if the central premise of a work is complete, made-up bullshit involving magic and super powers, the plot needs to be airtight. Or so the angry nerds of the Internet would have us believe.
  • The thing may seem good now but will have problems in the future. Oh, this is just perfect for first-season TV shows. If a show is just starting to gain momentum, here's how to let the air out of the tires pronto. What are they going to do when so-and-so grows up, for instance? Huh? What then? And that running joke seems hilarious now, but will it seem hilarious after 40 or 50 episodes? Can the show possibly keep all its narrative plates spinning? Probably not. And it'll probably get cancelled before they've resolved everything anyway. You might as well just give up on this show now.
  • (by far the most popular and definitely the one you should use) The thing is somehow sexist, racist, classist, ageist, homophobic, xenophobic, or in some other way prejudicial (often in a sly, non-obvious way) and will, therefore, cause any viewer, listener, or reader to become prejudiced as well. Ah, now we're cookin'. This right here is the heart of any good SHPCE in 2015. There is no horse higher than this one. Netflix's The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is deeply offensive to Native Americans. The podcast Serial promoted stereotypes about immigrants. And Mike Judge's Idiocracy? Well, buddy, if you've ever even watched that movie, you've more or less endorsed Hitler's final solution, because that's what that movie was really all about. I learned all of these things through deeply-impassioned, progressive-minded SHPCEs. Thank god, right? I mean, without the guidance of these enlightened editorial writers, I might have been swayed by the evils of popular culture and become a gay-bashing, woman-abusing Nazi plantation owner. It's a good thing I clicked on that BuzzFeed link, huh? That was a close one!
And there you have it. You may think of the pop culture you consume as mere entertainment. Your favorite TV show or game or whatever may just be a little day-brightener for you. But the authors of SHPCEs know better. It's racist and derivative and just all around evil. In short, you should not be enjoying that thing you enjoy. And, frankly, you should feel ashamed of yourself for ever having enjoyed it in the first place. There. Now don't you feel just terrible about yourself? Good. Mission accomplished. Once again, the Internet has saved the goddamned day.

And now, I'll conclude this little post with a completely chauvinist, reactionary, regressive, repressive song. Shame on me.

Haven't posted this here yet, so I might as well...

A recent Mary Worth comic, as reconfigured by your humble blogger. The "POOF" is from Wizard of Id.

Dr. Jeff Porky.
This is another doctored Mary Worth comic, crudely reconfigured by me in tribute (?) to John Woo's Face/Off. It features sixtysomething widow Mary Worth, an advice-slinging gentlewoman of leisure, and her long-time, long-suffering boyfriend, Jefferson "Jeff" Cory, MD, a retired chief of staff from the local hospital.  Mary and Jeff are both residents of  Santa Royale, CA, a sleepy, pastel-colored burg where Mary lives in a plush condo community called Charterstone. (I think Jeff lives in Charterstone, too, but I'm not 100% sure on that. It doesn't matter, since everyplace in Mary Worth looks the same.) The reason I know any of this is because of Josh Fruhlinger's marvelous Comics Curmudgeon blog, where I'm a near-daily commentator and where Mary Worth, currently written by Karen Moy and drawn by Joe Giella, is one of the strips routinely up for discussion/ridicule. Of all the strips regularly featured on Comics Curmudgeon, Mary Worth is perhaps closest to my heart. It's even funnier than Mark Trail and Apartment 3-G, which is saying a lotThere's just something so endearingly square about it that I can't help but love it -- the stilted dialogue, the glacial plots, the questionable fashion choices, and the bizarre-looking food. (Who can forget Mary's famous salmon squares?) In all, Mary Worth is one of the fleeting pleasures which help make life worth living, which is apparently why I decided to morph Dr. Jeff with Porky Pig in that picture you see off to the right. Maybe it's because Jeff and Porky really know how to rock a blazer.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hester Prynne is dead!

Lillian Gish goes to the scaffold once more in an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Thomas Bowdler's legacy
You might have noticed some cosmetic changes here at Dead 2 Rights lately. Allow me to explain them, as they represent some not-insignificant alterations to the site's content as well. First of all, this blog's flirtatious previous mascot, late pinup model Fran Gerard (aka Miss March 1967), has been replaced by the stern, unsmiling visage of one Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), an English physician best known for producing The Family Shakespeare. Bowdler's infamous tome, first published in 1807, was a volume containing expurgated -- which is to say "cleaned-up" -- versions of William Shakespeare's plays. "Nothing is added to the text," proclaimed an 1819 advertisement, "but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." So Lady Macbeth's "Out, damned spot!" became "Out, crimson spot!" Because of The Family Shakespeare, Bowdler's name became forever synonymous with censorship. To bowdlerize something is, in essence, to remove the naughty bits. Thomas Bowdler's intentions were not altogether -- or even chiefly -- evil. He lived in a more prudish time than ours and simply wanted a version of the Bard which he could share with his wife and children. Because of Bowdler and his book (or, rather, series of books, for The Family Shakespeare was a franchise), the teaching of Shakespeare to younger children became more acceptable. Other editors had gone much further than Bowdler, actually tacking on happy endings to some of Shakespeare's tragedies. Bowdler's work was meant to counteract that sort of desecration. But no matter: Thomas Bowdler was rendered a villain by history, a sour-faced scold who dared to censor the greatest writer in history. Tough luck, Tommy.

Nearly two centuries after Bowdler's death, writers and artists must still contend with the prevailing moral attitudes of their time. This blog, for instance, has been created on the Blogger platform. Blogger, in turn, is owned by Google. And Google has, I can assure you, an absolute horror of sex. They're not alone. Lots of people have a horror of sex. It disturbs them to a greater extent than any act of violence ever could. For many of these people, nudity and sex are synonymous. The image of a bared female breast is, for these people, a source of great discomfort. That's just a reality. It's how people think. So what does this mean for me? Well, for the last few months, it has meant that my blog has had a "Content Warning" screen that readers had to click through before they could read whatever I'd just written. I opted to put one on there myself so that Google wouldn't do it for me. That would have been far too embarrassing. To be honest, though, I hated that warning, even though it was self-inflicted. I cringed every time it popped up on my own screen. Yes, even I had to click through it to reach my own blog. Even though I have never profited one dime from Dead 2 Rights, that warning made me feel like a pornographer. Like Hester Prynne, I was wearing a badge of sexual shame. Hers was red, mine was orange.

So this week, I did what I felt I had to do: I bowdlerized the holy hell out of Dead 2 Rights. In essence, I performed an exorcism on this blog... or, perhaps more accurately, a sexorcism. As far as I can remember, not a word of the text has been altered, though some links have been removed, as have some embedded videos. Most crucially, over 50 images have been voluntarily altered rather than excised. Exposed breasts, vaginas, penises, and even asses have been dutifully blacked out. As you might imagine, this almost exclusively affects the Ed Wood Wednesdays series. I'm very proud of the work I have done on those articles, and I want them to remain easily available and accessible. If that means putting black rectangles over some boobies, so be it.

Thanks for understanding,

Joe

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 57: The Auction of Lot #3026 (UPDATED!)

This suitcase full of Ed Wood's shattered hopes and dreams can be yours.

"Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49."
-Thomas Pynchon

"Auction houses run a rigged game. They know exactly how many people will be bidding on a work and exactly who they are."
-Jerry Saltz

I've done some dumb things in my time, citizens. Made a lot of mistakesprofessionally, personally, romantically, financially, you name it.

Totaled a car or two. Accepted jobs I had no business accepting because I was completely unqualified and unsuited for them. Nearly got arrested once for drunk driving while stone-cold sober, mainly because I was motoring down a country highway just a few notches under the speed limit and then was so physically uncoordinated that I actually had difficulty walking a straight line by the side of the road when asked to do so by an officer of the law.

I've said things I shouldn't have said and eaten things I should not have eaten. I've asked out people whom I should not have asked out. I've blatantly failed to take advantage of opportunities that came my way, mainly because I was too oblivious to even recognize them as opportunities at the time. Yep, the blooper reel stretches on and on.

And that doesn't even take into consideration the Titanic-level screw-ups, like that time in 2001 when I tried to kill myself to get out of being a customer service rep. (Don't worry. I survived. Spent some time in the ICU, though.)

But this week, dear readers, I was tempted to do perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever done in my time on this planet: drop a good chunk of my life savings on some battered old suitcases and yellowing pieces of paper, simply because these trinkets once belonged to Edward Davis Wood, Jr.

Let me explain.

A few months ago, well into doing this project, I finally got the bright idea to sign up for a Google Alert on Ed Wood so that I'd get regular updates in my e-mail inbox whenever something Wood-related popped up in the news. Now, that probably seems like a no-brainer to you, but there is no such thing as a "no-brainer" in my world. Even something as simple as this was a "some-brainer" for me. It took about a year or so before that particular neuron finally fired in my brain.

So, anyway, these last few months, Google has been dutifully sending me Ed Wood stories, sometimes about the man himself and other times just about the 1994 biopic that bears his name. For example, when that film's director, Tm Burton, reunited with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on another quirky biopic, Big Eyes, I received a slew of links about it. That's to be expected.

Google has also been telling me a lot about the recent Plan 9 remake, so much so that now I feel vaguely obligated to review it. (I kind of don't want to. I'd be perfectly content to let that particular sleeping dog lie, you know?) And when a theatrical troupe in Las Vegas turned Glen or Glenda? into a stage show, well, I heard all about that, too.

None of this has been too terribly earth-shattering or paradigm-shifting, even though this kind of news is most welcome. Last week, however, I had an e-mail alert with a headline that shook me to my core: "Director Ed Wood's belongings up for sale."  Quoth (the weirdly British-seeming, yet American-named) Hollywood.com:
A Plan 9 program.
A collection of director Ed Wood's belongings will be auctioned off later this month (Mar15). More than 200 items which once belonged to the iconic moviemaker are up for sale, including a briefcase containing photographs from his 1959 movie Plan 9 from Outer Space, a page from a notebook featuring Wood's notes on sexual terminology, and a programme from one of his first plays. The briefcase is the most expensive item in the collection with a starting bid of $2,500 (£1,600) while the signed programme is up for $300 (£190). Items from Wood's personal Hollywood memorabilia collection are also up for sale including actress Greta Garbo's 1938 immigration card and an array of candid backstage pictures from various movie shoots. The Hollywood Lifetime Collection Auction is to be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 19 March (15).
Now, how could I pass up something like that? (Garbo's green card? Are you shitting me?) Obviously, this required some further investigation.

A quick search for "Hollywood Lifetime Collection Auction" led me to this: a tantalizing, blow-by-blow description of  Lot #3026 - Ed Wood's Personal Collection on a site called RR Auction. Now, you might be wondering, how did Ed Wood even have a "personal collection," seeing as how he kept getting evicted from different residences and was thus forced to throw most of his precious mementos away?

Unsurprisingly, the answer was provided by superfan Bob Blackburn, the fellow who befriended Kathy Wood in her final years and became the co-keeper of the Ed Wood flame, so to speak, after her death. On the Ed Wood Facebook group, Bob recently explained: "I actually own the one suitcase that Ed and Kathy had when they were evicted from their Yucca St. apartment in December of 1978, which is identical to one that is included in this lot. The one I have, Kathy had kept the manuscript for Hollywood Rat Race in and the script for I Woke Up Early The Day I Died." Sounds like a choice item.

But what about the suitcase being auctioned off in 2015? Bob again: "This was from the Bekins Storage up on Lankershim [Blvd. in North Hollywood]. They put their stuff there at one time, and it got sold off. There's stories that some of the film canisters that Ed had were also in that unit." 

So there you have it, folks. Decades before Storage Wars, Ed and Kathy Wood put some belongings into a storage unit and then just couldn't keep up with the payments, so their possessions became somebody else's possessions. And now, that stuff is available to the highest bidder, which could be you, dear reader.

According to the official site for the Ed Wood sale, these rare items come from the James Collings Collection. Based on his official bio, Collings, who passed away in 2012, seems like an interesting character in his own right: an obsessive, hippie-ish memorabilia collector, numismatist, and autograph hound who met his wife in a 12-step program. (For hoarders, one wonders?) From what I can glean, it's Jimmy's widow, Merlyn, who's authorizing this auction. According to the bio, she "seamlessly embraced her husband's insatiable lifestyle." Meaning, I guess, she enabled his addiction while he was alive and now wants to make bank on all that junk he accumulated over the years. Good for her. I don't blame her a bit.

So what have we got here? Let's go over some of  the juicier items in detail:
Ed Wood's briefcase
  • For many, the main item of interest in this sale is a light-brown, cowhide-leather, Rexbilt briefcase that was personally owned and used by Edward D. Wood, Jr. If the photo can be trusted, there's even a fading "EDW" monogram in the lower-right-hand corner. This is a fantastic-looking item. I can imagine Eddie toting this around with him when he went to meetings with potential publishers or backers. Gotta look the part, after all. Accessories make the man. "Anybody carrying that kind of briefcase must know what he's talking about! How much do you need, Mr. Wood? One million? Two million? Is cash all right? You certainly have room for it in that magnificent briefcase of yours!"
  • Then, there are two further pieces of luggage the auctioneers are describing as "trunks," which maybe makes them sound bigger than they are. You can see one of them at the top of this article. These are boxy, suitcase-sized jobs, one of which was manufactured by "Travelgard Vancouver Trunk & Bag Ltd." That company, which dates back to the 1930s, seems to be long gone today. Pity. I can't help but think back to a 1996 Simpsons episode entitled "Bart the Fink" in which a cash-strapped Krusty the Clown has to auction off his possessions. One item in particular is "a handmade leather suitcase carried by the Krustofski family upon their arrival at Ellis Island in 1902. A priceless heirloom and historic piece of Krustyana." It goes for a whopping 40 cents to Marge Simpson's chain-smoking sister, Selma, who buys the cherished keepsake just to soak her feet in it. 
  • There's a whole mess of Plan 9 promotional items, including a few pressbooks, stills, and behind-the-scenes photos, complete with (apparently unheeded) suggestions for alterations by Ed Wood himself, who wanted Bela Lugosi posthumously added to a cast portrait along with "smoke" and "special effects." Touchingly, one of these items bears a dedication to Wood's longtime cinematographer, William C. Thompson, "the cameraman who made it all possible!!"
  • I'm guessing that the 1965 autographed glossy photo of Ed Wood "on a film set with his camera in the background and a script in his lap" derives from the production of Orgy of the Dead, given the year and the fact that it's signed "To Steve, My friend a thousand times over." Who could that be but Orgy director Steve Apostolof?
A program from The Casual Company.
  • For me, maybe the most interesting item in the entire auction is a program from The Casual Company, the autobiographical, WWII-set play Ed wrote, directed, and costarred in after moving to Hollywood in 1947. I've said before that Eddie's 1940s theatrical career has not been properly documented, and this ultra-rare document helps to fill in some gaps there. It reveals, for instance, that the show was performed by a troupe called "the Sad Sacks," which included Ed himself and future Night of the Ghouls producer and Atomic Productions co-founder, Maj. J.C. Foxworthy. Moreover, the show is much less serious than it is depicted as being in Tim Burton's Ed Wood. The cover describes it as "A Farce in Three Acts," and the characters have such Beetle Bailey-worthy names as "Pfc Elbo Joints," "Pfc Jim Nastics," "Pfc Lemmy A. Dime," "Ilene Sideways," and "Mary Widow." Eddie gave himself the rather-more-dignified-sounding role of "Corporal Anthony," while his buddy Foxworthy played "Capt. J. Sleepingwell Gutter." Make of that what you will. Unlike what Burton's movie says, by the way, the cast and crew does not include such Wood regulars as Dolores Fuller, Conrad Brooks, Paul Marco, or Bunny Breckenridge. Eddie likely hadn't even met those people yet.
  • You've gotta have some Tor Johnson stuff in this auction to make it official. Luckily, there are three Tor-autographed photos here, including one from 1961 in which the Super Swedish Angel refers to Ed Wood as "my favorite producer." The auction people warn bidders that "all signatures are extremely faded, with poor contrast," but they also point out that "Johnson played iconic roles in Wood’s most notorious films and represents an exceedingly rare horror autograph." Take 'em or leave 'em, folks.
  • The only item that competes with the Casual Company program for sheer Wood-ian intrigue is a "lined notebook page of Wood's typed and handwritten notes on sexual terminology." In the 1960s and 1970s, in addition to writing novels and short stories, Wood also wrote (often under pseudonyms) many, many, many volumes of non-fiction, usually sexual and salacious in nature. (Bloodiest Sex Crimes of History is a good example.) Although such works were pure hokum with no scientific validity, Eddie took these publisher-mandated assignments rather seriously. From his earnest entry on aphrodisiacs: "Spanish Fly is probably the most talked of aphrodisiac, but it is actually a diuretic." Good to know. Furthermore, such supposed love potions as absinthe "are merely intoxicants." And that's something about which Eddie was truly an expert.
  • In a strange coincidence, the auction also includes "a magazine layout for Wood's short story 'Howl of the Werewolf,' framed to an overall size of 22 x 28." In case you're just joining us, I devoted the entirety of the previous Ed Wood Wednesdays to that particular story of a lusty lycanthrope and his most-unfortunate female victim, a stressed-out secretary who should never have vacationed in the woods during werewolf season. As such, I can attest that the unsigned artwork accompanying the story is quite eye-catching. And now, here it is, coming up for auction. Small world, am I right?
On the set of The Sun Was Setting.
And there's more, too. Much more.

Lot #3026 includes stills, press clippings, lobby cards, and publicity photos related to Jail Bait (aka The Hidden Face), The Sinister Urge, The Bride and the Beast, Crossroad Avenger, Bride of the Monster, and Fugitive Girls, among others. Basically, this is the exact stuff to which I have devoted the last two years of my life. If you could fit the last twenty-four months of my existence into two steamer trunks and a suitcase, it would look like this. What really surprises me is that there are even some items connected to obscure or semi-forgotten Wood projects, like The Lawless Rider, Final Curtain, and The Sun Was Setting. That's some Ph.D-level, Advanced Wood-ian Studies material there, folks. Who knew that publicity photos from these productions even existed anymore?

The auction people, by the way, want us to know that Lot #3026 is "accompanied by several letters of provenance from notable figures, including Maila Nurmi (Vampira), Wood's biographer Rudolph Grey, David Ward, and Dennis Phelps." Not being familiar with the memorabilia biz, I'll admit that I did not immediately know what a "letter of provenance" is. Based on my limited understanding of the subject matter, though, I'll surmise that it's basically a letter attesting to the authenticity of an item.

The bidding on Lot #3026 begins on March 12, 2015. That's tomorrow, if you're reading this article the day it goes out. It continues for a week. The minimum opening bid, as you already know, is $2500. Yes, I will be bidding on this.  Don't worry. I have no chance of winning. Bob Blackburn says that the final price should be in the $30,000 range. That's a little rich for my blood. Hell, that's a lot rich for my blood. Thirty-thousand smackeroos. That's a chunk of change.

I can't help but shake my head at the bitter irony of this. After all, this entire auction is possible because Ed Wood was so profoundly broke he couldn't afford his North Hollywood storage unit anymore. If Eddie were around today, there's no way he hope to buy back his old suitcases full of faded memories. There's no way I can buy them back, either, but I'm going to make a token effort nonetheless. For loyalty's sake.

A taste of Lot #3027, the second best thing in the auction.
Incidentally, if there's no way you can possibly afford Lot #3026, there are a number of less expensive items that are being auctioned off separately and that may be in your (and my) price range, including vintage one-sheets for Glen or Glenda? (under the title I Led 2 Lives), Plan 9, Bride and the Beast, The Sinister Urge, Jail Bait, and a collection of eleven of Eddie's sexploitation films (including Love Feast, Beach Bunnies, Drop Out Wife, and others). The minimum bids on these are generally $200 apiece, though Plan 9 is starting at $300, presumably because it's Ed's most famous creation.

Additionally, there are some Plan 9 and Bride of the Monster lobby cards up for bids, too, plus three of Vampira's excellent self portraits (in black and white with red accents). RR Auction is also including under the "Ed Wood" category some titles that have only a little bit to do with Eddie, including Mesa of Lost Women, The Unearthly, and Beast of Yucca Flats.

By far, the most interesting item other than the already-legendary Lot #3026, however, is #3027 Signed Ed Wood Program and Script. Starting bid: $300. What you get here is a program for The Blackguard Returns, a 1949 play in which Ed portrayed a sheriff, and a script for 1959's Night of the Ghouls. Why these items should be paired, I do not know, but they are accompanied by a "four-page scrapbook" from actor Don Nagel, who was a regular in Wood's films during the 1950s.

The auction is shaping up to be the single biggest Ed Wood-related story of 2015, just as the release of Blood Splatters Quickly and the new DVDs from Alpha Blue Archives and After Hours Cinema were the most important developments of 2014. As evidence, I point you to this excited article by John W. Barry from Ed Wood's hometown paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal. It includes some exultant comments by RR Auction's vice president, Bobby Livingston, who says that the sale offers "a peek into who Ed Wood was" and calls the auction "one of the most incredible things I've ever seen." Local Ed Wood fans are also interviewed in Barry's article, including Joe Mendillo, who is part of the effort to raise $30,000 to build a statue of Edward D. Wood, Jr. in Poughkeepsie. He sees the auction as a good thing. "The more enthusiasm," states Mendillo, "the more likely Poughkeepsie will get its statue."

It's understandable that some of Ed Wood's fans were hoping that the auction would remain fairly obscure. Fewer bidders mean lower prices, after all. But it now appears that the toothpaste is well out of the tube on this one.

Get your checkbooks ready.