Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Old Testament Style

I love some of the Old Testament stuff. By that, I mean to say that I enjoy the way people who adhere to that way of thinking consider the world of their God.

To further clarify: they think of God not as a thing or an idea or a nebulous icon about which morality and dogma is applied, but as an actual person. Yes, a person. They see God as an individual. They speak to Him. They cry out to Him. What I like most about these folk is that they sometimes get mad at God. This harkens back to that stuff you read about in the old book--the rending of garments; the pulling of hair; the gnashing of teeth. If God was messing with them, then they felt obligated to let Him know that they were pissed off about it.

Nothing has illustrated this more for me in modern times than the actions and speech of the character E.F. in the Robert Duvall film, THE APOSTLE. This is a man who, while loving his God and professing the teachings of that God, still feels bound to express his feelings to Him when he feels angry about the direction the world has taken against E.F..

"I have always called you Jesus, and you have always called me Sonny."

I like this kind of film and can understand this type of religious fervor. And it doesn't matter which religion. There is that personality of the god and his relationship with his adherents. It's powerful stuff for these folk, and I understand it.

The Apostle E.F.

Another film (and novel) that displays this fervor in a different way is THE CHOSEN, an excellent movie made in 1981. This one features a friendship that forms between two young Jews, one an orthodox Jew who is a member of the more secular world, and the other a brilliant Hasidic Jew steeped in the deepest traditions of the faith.

I look for these kinds of books and films from time to time. It keeps me from feeling too smug about those who look upon the world in a different way than I do.

I listened to an interview with Rod Steiger concerning this scene. And he said that his intent here was to portray the Rebbe doing his best to seduce G-d.

The best performance I've ever seen from Robby Benson.

You can watch the entire film THE CHOSEN on Hulu. I highly recommend it.

Daryl Dixon is Really...

In the past, I've written some brief essays on Jesus figures in popular media. I was thinking of this recently in relation to the popular cable TV series THE WALKING DEAD.

I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but I have watched that series since its premiere. I'm pretty sure that I've seen every episode, even though it's often a truly awful TV show in just about every way. And so, why do I watch it? Well...because zombies! It's not that I like the idea of zombies in popular media--to the contrary. I have grown to actually hate zombie fiction and zombie films and zombie comics and zombie games and zombie toys, etc. I find the whole scene truly disgusting.

So, then, why would I continue to watch THE WALKING DEAD?

I have to say that I watch it partly out of morbid curiosity. Just the fact that it exists fascinates me, and the fact that it prospers is just bizarre. There are other cable TV horror shows, and I don't watch those. I sometimes look at the others, but I'm not dedicated to them, at all.

So, just to get all of that out of the way, I can't really say why I watch THE WALKING DEAD, but I do keep up with it. Let's just leave it at morbid curiosity toward what I hope is a brief cultural phenomenon and let it go.

The point I wanted to get back to is that I noticed some Jesus imagery when it comes to the supporting character of Daryl Dixon as played by Norman Reedus. And why would I even notice something like this? Perhaps because the Jesus story is so often used in modern films and fiction. Writers keep finding new ways to tell the story. Over and over and over. As I said, I've briefly covered some of these reinterpretations in the past, so it is something I think about when I begin to see it.

What's different about Daryl Dixon as Jesus is that it is something that has slowly emerged and I wonder if the writers have held this idea all along, or if it's something that they decided to do late in the game. I'd like to ask them. I'd also like to ask the show-runners if it's even true, or if I'm reading tea leaves that aren't there.

Briefly, I've begun to see the character of Daryl as a Jesus figure. There have been all sorts of little clues. His rough life as an outcast. The way he feels compassion when there is no real reason for it. His capacity for kindness when he should feel something else entirely.

Carry that cross.

Then there are the physical clues left behind by the creators of the show. Daryl's ever-present crossbow that he carries like a burden. The wound he suffered in his side. His near-death by a stream where he was seemingly saved by the ghost of his brother. If that wasn't a stand-in for a baptism by a cruel, Old Testament philosopher and Daryl's emergence as a man with a new way of explaining the world, then I've not seen it at all. And then, after the baptism/rib wound, he is all but shot in the head and survives what should have been death.

Badass John the Baptist.
For the fans of Daryl (and they appear to be legion), they shouldn't worry. I don't think he'll be killed the way so many other characters on the show have met their ends. But he will go. I don't think things will end well for him. But when he does finally croak...I think it'll be as some sort of ultimate sacrifice.

"This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Stay tuned...

(Images copyright by AMCTV.)

Monday, March 02, 2015

The End is Near!

I hate to sound like one of those old religious fanatics that the media used to parody back in the 50s and 60s. But the end really is near.

Humans have been rending the ecosystems that birthed us for a long time. Our presence here wasn't a problem for Mother Earth until we developed technology. And it wasn't terribly complicated technology that started our rapacious destruction. Something as simple as stone spearheads and fire and organized hunting led to the first mass extinctions at our hands. You can track megafauna destruction across all of the continents (except for Africa) by following the spread of Homo sapiens sapiens as we moved into new territories outside of our native continent (the aforementioned Africa).

The removal of major species is bad enough, but since the 1800s we've been tearing at the actual fabric of the planet and the situation has reached a point where the systems just can't take any more abuse. We're now eating the crust of the planet and vomiting hundreds of millions of years worth of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. If you think we're going to just walk away from this crime with no penalty, you are mistaken.

These days it's not just a situation of us taking down the animal companions with whom we've shared the planet for the past 100,000 or so years. We continued to multiply and spread long after we'd exterminated the Mammoths, the Wooly rhinos, the Glyptodonts, the Megatherium, the saber-toothed cats, Diprotodon, Aepyornis, the Marsupial lion...I could draw up a list that would run into the thousands. The problem now is that we've passed a threshold and it's not just that we're killing everything that is wild and dependent upon untouched ecosystems. We've hit the point where the planet has changed and it's not just ceasing to support the animals--It's going to stop supporting us, too.

I keep reading about pipe dreams idiots have of going to Mars and terraforming it. Hell...we can't even care for the planet for which we evolved to live. What makes anyone think that we can take an already poisonous place completely inimical to life and exist there? The idea is insane, and part of the constant misdirection we have to suffer while Earth is ravaged and depleted for the benefit of such a few at the expense of so many.

I keep repeating this answer when people ask me (and a lot of people do ask me), why I spend so much time hiking and backpacking into wilderness areas. And it's because I want to see these places while they're still relatively intact. I don't mean to imply that I am going to live to see them all collapse around us, but they are going, and they are going quickly. If you haven't seen a truly wild place and the plants and animals that exist in them, then I suggest that you do so. Because they're coming apart at the seams. Everything that men do is destructive and if you wish to see it before it's too late...time is short.

Will your children or your grandchildren live to see a planet with no elephants, no tigers, no wolves, no butterflies, no bees, no redwood trees? Probably. And what then?

Briefly: We were warned. And quite frankly there's nothing to be done about it, now. Of course I've known this for many years, and it's why I will continue to do my best to see what's left before it's all gone.

As for your grandchildren...they're screwed. Remember to thank one of our energy corporations. But what you really need to do is drag those board members and executives out of their homes and hang them from the nearest power line.

The end isn't "near". It's already here.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Another Great Matthau Film

One year after A NEW LEAF, the film-going public was treated to a new Matthau film, PETE 'N' TILLIE. Directed by Martin Ritt, it's based on novels by Peter DeVries. In this one, Matthau plays Pete Seltzer, a womanizing bachelor who finally settles on marrying the virginal Tillie Schlaine played by Carol Burnett. As in A NEW LEAF, the stars turn in absolutely amazing performances and it's worth watching to see these two actors, both at the height of their skills.

Pitched to the public as a comedy, it is that, but I have always seen it as a very effective drama. The movie is permeated with sadness and despair. One aspect of the story that I always liked was how each of the main characters deal with the stresses of life--Pete's almost constant cheating, and a truly hideous tragedy that strikes the small family.

Here, we see these two figures--best known for comedic roles--showing their skill at portraying pure drama. It's something fans of these actors really need to see.

The comedy aspect of the film is present, though. Specifically in the form of Gertrude, one of Tillie's friends played by Geraldine Page. Page is absolutely funny in the movie, and there is one scene in PETE 'N' TILLIE that is among the funniest moments of any film I've ever seen.

Also, Rene Auberjonois does a great turn as Tillie's gay friend who even offers to marry her if being with her could make her happy. I think this role was the first obviously gay character I ever saw in a movie.

If you haven't seen this one...give it a shot.

I watched this movie with my mom once. I don't think I ever saw her laugh so much as when she witnessed this scene. I must concur with her judgment.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


For some reason a lot of people make fun of Walter Matthau. As if he was not a very good actor. I honestly don't know why this is, because I always quite admired his abilities as a performer and can't figure out why so much good work is discounted.

Most people know him, of course, from his role in the film version (and the Broadway play) of THE ODD COUPLE. And then later in life he did some films with Jack Lemmon that were popular (which is probably why I don't particularly like those films). And he did some things on TV toward the end of his career which were not that good; but I reckon you take what you can get when you are an aging actor and choices are limited.

However, he sometimes did movies that I have always figured were against type and which I thoroughly admire, partly because he was indeed cast against type in such films. These movies were also directed by people I quite admire and seem to be rather forgotten these days, but I like to recommend them to folk looking for a good movie to watch.

One of these films is A NEW LEAF. It was written and directed (and co-starred) Elaine May. Matthau portrays Henry Graham, a playboy who has realized that he has burned through his inherited millions and is facing poverty. He talks a hateful uncle into advancing him some money so that he can continue to pretend to be rich for a few more weeks so that he can find and marry a millionairess (the idea of marriage having heretofore been an idea repulsive to him).

Pretty much everyone in the film turns in amazing performances, including James Coco as the vengeful uncle who does extend the loan but who does so only because he thinks Henry will fail. Elaine May cast herself as the heiress he finally lands and she, too, turns in a priceless performance. In no time, Henry (who has no intent to remain married) begins to plot his wife's murder. Will he go through with it, or will some shadow of conscience cross his mind?

It's a great movie. Give it a shot. (In a day or so I'll list another such fine Matthau film that remains obscure.)

"Don't let 'em out!"

Friday, February 27, 2015

Gettin' Old!

Yes, getting old is not all fun. But as I have always said, the only other option is not an attractive alternative. The aging body just can't do the things it used to do. I get tired faster. I'm not as strong or as fast or as durable as I used to be. As a laborer, this particularly sucks because I have to walk so very many miles per day while lugging a heavy load on my shoulder. My goal right now is merely to make it to retirement in good enough shape so that I can enjoy my time in the outdoors tramping on trails (yes, I realize how ironic that sounds) and seeing Mother Nature before She's killed off by stupid, greedy humans.

A few weeks ago I had to have an out-patient procedure for which I had to be put under sedation. (No, nothing serious.) They used Propofol to knock me out. That's the shit Michael Jackson was using to go to sleep every night. Holy crap, that stuff is magic! Carole was sitting by my gurney as I woke up and snapped my photo when my eyes crept open. I don't quite recall saying it, but she said that the first words out of me were:

"Damn. Propofol rocks! Now I know why Michael Jackson liked that stuff!"

"Propofol rocks!"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Is a Kindle Good For?

As long-time readers here will recall, I am not a fan of ebooks and I am absolutely and irrevocably disgusted by the self-publishing scene. About a year after I got my Kindle as a Christmas gift I stopped using it to such an extent that I lost track of it. I didn't even know where the goddamned thing was and really didn't care, except for the fact that it was a gift from my wife, and that I sometimes used it as a tablet to access the Internet when I was traveling.

So, what was it for, really?

I wasn't getting any real use out of it. I admit to occasionally buying ebooks that were written by friends, but after a solid year of reading self-published novels that ALL (yes, every single one of them) turned out to be utter shit, there was no way that I was ever going to use the Kindle for buying such trash again. Why was I keeping it?

Yeah, it makes for a half-assed decent tablet for Internet content if I can find wifi service while on the road.

But was that it?


Finally, after having the damned thing for a couple of years, I did discover a good use for it, and one for which the form is uniquely suited:

Classic literature and otherwise out of print books. I have now downloaded many hundreds of such texts. Essays, novels, old news items, political tracts from the past, and such. And--I mentioned this long ago--it's a good way for authors who have regained ownership of older novels to get works back into circulation once their lives with traditional publishers are over. There is a tremendous amount of great work now easily at hand that I would otherwise be unable to locate or only find after months or years of searching in second-hand bookshops and library sales.

So, for that, the ebook format is good. I still don't prefer it as a method of reading, but I will take it to get my hands on Turgenev, or M.R. James, or some of Mark Twain's forgotten essays, amusing science fiction from past decades, and the list is vast and growing.

Best of all, this stuff all seems to be completely free. All I have to do is locate it online in the correct format and push a button. Zing! It's mine.

But, to paraphrase a now-famous article, 'No, I will not read your fucking self-published novel'.

Ivan Turgenev
(And, yes, I produce this expression when someone asks me to read their fucking self-published novel.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Another Kirby in the Wall

I bought a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #18 for my collection. The list is getting narrower. I'm about to get into mega-expensive territory (unless I can land some bargains).

This was one of my favorite early issues when I was a kid. The introduction of the Super Skrull. As all Fantastic Four fans know, the Skrulls were an alien race who first appeared in the second issue of Fantastic Four and would reappear now and again. This time, though, they brought along their big bruddah, the Super Skrull. Not only could he shape-shift (as all Skrulls can), but he had been given the powers of all of the Fantastic Four, but in spades. He was stronger than Ben Grimm (by several factors), could stretch farther than Mr. Fantastic, could burn hotter than the Human Torch, and could become invisible like Susan Storm.

How can they possibly defeat him?!! You'll have to read this issue to find out! But get your own. This copy is mine, and I ain't sharin'!

My copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #18.