Thursday, January 31, 2013

Star Trek "Forget"

Were we talking about William Shatner? Then we were talking about Leonard Nimoy (who, I must admit, is by far the more subtle of the two, playing a role where he can only emote by raising one eyebrow). This is a scene in which Kirk has found out that the love of his life is not only an android, but dead. (No one explains how an android can die if she isn't alive in the first place.) Now he must forget, and he can't forget. Spock is a fascinating character because of all his quirks, qualities and special abilities, like the mind-meld and the Spock pinch (most of which he invented himself). In this scene he seems to be able to induce a compassionate amnesia, giving the lie to McCoy's accusation that he knows nothing about love.

It is my all-time, absolute, nothing-beats-it, coolest, bestest Star Trek moment ever.

SHAT HAPPENS: What's William Shatner's secret?

I think one of my first Shat memories was on a TV program, not Star Trek at all (for I had just started watching it and had decided I liked Spock best,) but The Ed Sullivan Show, something we watched with religious regularity. It was just unthinkable NOT to watch Ed Sullivan (which meant we had nothing better to do on a Sunday night). 

Along with the plate-spinning acts, contortionists and Topo Gigio, there was the odd - very odd - monologuist, some ehk-torrr who got up there and recited something tony like Dylan Thomas or Shakespeare. This was the Culture part of the program, and there seemed to be some kind of quota. I vaguely remember Richard Burton, probably held up with some sort of stand, and David Hemmings (briefly famous after the movie version of Camelot) doing And Death Shall Have No Dominion with an orchestra playing  in the background.

Speaking of Dominion, that used to be the name of a chain of grocery stores in Canada, but it was never quite as popular as Loblaws. Which is why you see William Shatner doing a Loblaws commercial in this video in about 1978, a lean period when he supposedly lived out of his truck. But before all that, before the magnificent rise and fall, there was Shatner the young Shakespearian actor, and there he was on Ed Sullivan doing Hamlet's soliloquy.

Canned culture, for sure, but I remember my father looking at him and muttering, "This guy is supposed to be the next big thing in acting. Hmph." That "hmph" sealed it for me. If my father hated him, Shatner was officially "in".

I don't remember much about that reading, but I did find a YouTube video in which he does the same passage, "to be or not to be", on the Mike Douglas show. And - he's good. Actually, a little understated; maybe he needed to bring up the intensity a bit. But he did a creditable job and said all those antiquated words as if they actually meant something. 

It's funny, but I do not remember anyone complaining about his overacting during the 3-year run of the first Star Trek series. Nobody said boo because nobody thought he overacted. I've been watching those old Treks for the eleventeenth time (and somehow they must have enhanced them for HD, because they look a hell of a lot better now, except for Sulu's acne which is worse), and so far I'm not laughing or groaning. That's because I think he's good. 

All this Shatnerian overacting business seemed to be retroactive (so to speak). The parody came later, and Shatner sort of fell into it, went along with all of it because it meant more public exposure, more work. He has been criticized for ubiquity and self-caricature, but that's like criticizing someone for having fun with their job.  

Myself, I've begun to think that Shatner on Trek was just being true to Captain Kirk, who was always a bit of a drama queen. Like Anthony Perkins and a lot of other dreamy leading men of the period, the young Shatner had a slight peach-fuzzyness about him, appealing to be sure, but just a touch androgynous. And dynamite to young women.

Shatner always works, always has, and at 82 or something, some insane age like that, he's still at it, and will do anything it seems, even make a safety video about the dangers of deep-frying a turkey. He's just around and seems not to need to sleep. He has sort of enlarged since his fox days (and he WAS a fox, make no mistake, especially during his Twilight Zone years when he was downright painfully fox-ish). He doesn't seem exactly fat, just "blown up" or expanded in some way. He does not have the saggyness and seams and crinkles that all other old people have, nor does he look freakish like Mickey Rourke, so it's doubtful he has done too much to his face. So what gives here? His skin has gone kind of like orange peel, thicker, but not slack. He'd be harder to peel, so to speak.

Sometimes I think he's like that character on one of the old Star Treks, the guy who was a gazillion years old and had been all these different famous people on earth. (The only one I really remember is Brahms.) He must be doing something different, or. . . I don't know. He acts the buffoon so frequently that no one would ever suspect that he ISN'T "one of us", but comes from some other place or has been subjected to some sort of "treatment", experimental to be sure, but which in his case seems to have worked. Like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, he doesn't seem to know how to die. How will he look at 100. . . 110. . . 150? Has he sold his soul to the devil or made a bargain with the turkey farmers or what? 

It's a secret. A William Shatner secret, and I doubt that he is ever going to tell it. But when he outlives all his children and then his grandchildren, the world is going to be asking some pretty tough questions.

You don't look like that at 82, you don't sound like that at 82, and you don't go around doing turkey videos unless you have something going for you that is very, very strange indeed.

This is my usual p. s., meaning I forgot a whole bunch of stuff. I am a big fan of Shatner's quirky series Weird or What, in which he explores a whole bunch of bizarre phenomena every week with his usual wacko wit. The self-parody here reaches the level of the sublime: when he points to a shelf full of books he has written, one of them is about synchronized swimming. And it is just so cool when he rides in on a horse. I don't know if I believe any of the stuff he examines on the show, but some of it is intriguing (like the signals from Russian cosmonauts that I blogged about a long time ago). 

Then there is that other thing, the thing that kind of shocks me now: there was a Star Trek episode called The Deadly Years in which everyone caught a horrible disease and began to age at a frightfully accelerated rate. The thing is, the makeup on this show was really bad, so no one really looked like an old person. Scotty looked like he'd stuck his face in a banana cream pie. Kirk, well. . . Kirk looked dumb, but absolutely nothing like his "old" self. Not even close.

When you think about it, it's all so - 

Have you ever seen. . . a Mondegreen?

Have you ever seen. . . a Mondegreen?

To me that sounds like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Or  something to eat, like a madeleine or a macaroon or a meringue.

Or a meringa? Marimba? Marembo? Now we’re getting off course.

The name of this bit of word-torture (which refers to a mishearing of a song lyric or a common phrase) originally came from a line of boring poetry, which some boring old person mis-heard:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual fourth line is "And laid him on the green”.

So what, eh? But there’s more. More weird names for things you’re not spozed to say, but say anyway cuz you’re an idiot. I will let Wiki describe it because I'm too lazy to:

The unintentionally incorrect use of similar-sounding words or phrases in speaking is a malapropism. If there is a connection in meaning, it can be called an eggcorn. If a person stubbornly sticks to a mispronunciation after being corrected, that can be described as mumpsimus.

Mumpsimus. Sounds like somebody from that Monty Python movie Life of Brian (i. e. Biggus Dickus), maybe with a  glandular condition.  I don’t want to believe it, but it’s in Wikipedia, so it MUST be right.

But before Wikipedia even existed, we had mondegreens: creative mis-hearings of things like hymn lines, which unintentionally led to brand new Biblical characters such as “Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear” and “Round John Virgin (mother and child)”.

I once overheard my kids singing O Canada (before a pretend hockey game played with stuffed bears) with the line, “Ah, tease a man” (rather than “God keep our land”, a much less imaginitive reading).

But the best-known merengues or whatever-they-are (marimbas?) seem to come from pop music, where the lyrics are so blurred by stoned musicians that even THEY don’t know what they mean.

Wiki quotes two classics:

     There's a bathroom on the right (the line at the end of each verse of "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival: "There's a bad moon on the rise")
    'Scuse me while I kiss this guy (from a lyric in the song "Purple Haze", by Jimi Hendrix: "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky").

Kissing “this guy” makes more sense than kissing "the sky", which is idiotic. But what about that line from the Beatles’ first hit, She Loves You?

“You know it’s up to you
I think it’s only fair
(blank blank blank blank blank)
Apologize to her”

When I sang this along with my gang of ten-year-old friends, we sang something that sounded like ‘Frighten her to do”. We got by with this, because no one cared what the words were anyway. Paul was so cute ‘n fluffy, and Ringo made us want to take care of him. John was scary and looked a little mean, and George was just the fourth man, but never mind, they were the other two legs that held up the table.

It was only years later that I thought to myself, “Frighten her to DO?” and had to look up the real line.

Which is!

“Pride can hurt you too.”

There’s a sort of “oh, of course” reaction when we finally hear the correct words, as in my revelation/epiphany over “that line” in Elton John’s Rocket Man. I always thought it was,
“Rocket Man, wearing out his shoes in Avalon” (or Babylon).

You will never guess in a million years where I heard the right line. It was on a video of the incomparable William Shatner (and I like William Shatner, by the way – that’s for another post), in which his diction still carried something of that Shakespearian clarity he had when he started his career with the Stratford Festival.

He lounged in a world-weary fashion, smoking a cigarette, each line drawn out for about thirty seconds, with as much histrionic emotion and wild inflection as a rollercoaster. This was one of his first self-parodies, though the audience (this was in about 1978) took it seriously and applauded his performance wildly.

So what’s the real line?

“Burning out his fuse up here alone”.

Who'd-a thunk it?

Mondegreens can become malignant, as when they mestastasize into foreign-language stuff.  I remember seeing something called Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames which only made sense (sort of) when you read it out loud:

  1. (In case you didn't get that the first time - and by the way, how stupid can a person BE? You mean you didn't GET it? What the hell is the - oh well. Here it is again. Read it out loud, will you?)

    Et qui rit des curés d'Oc? 
    De Meuse raines, houp! de cloques. 
    De quelles loques ce turque coin. 
    Et ne d'anes ni rennes, 
    Ecuries des curés d'Oc.

Makes me want to go put on my old recording of Inna-Gada-Da-Vi-Da.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There is always one more. . . doll

I don't know what gets into me, I really don't. I can't leave it alone, and I never could.

A few posts ago I was talking about fan art, which I've never done before, mainly because I have no artistic sensibilities whatsoever and can't draw or paint to save my life. Once during a manic phase, I did a lot of abstract painting and was convinced it was REALLY GOOD and went around scanning it and sending it to everyone. Unfortunately, it was shit. I had no idea why everyone seemed so embarrassed.

I don't know how artists do it, except through true talent and determination.

I can't leave it alone. These dolls, these alabaster time-travellers created by the mysterious genius Marina Bychkova (a Vancouver girl, I'm happy to say) pull something out of me, something equally strange.

I want to unjoint them and take them apart and see how they work, or at least dress and undress them. Why? What's the matter with me? I hated dolls as a little girl.

I didn't even have any, except an execrable Debbie doll with a big head and permed black hair like my mother's, and an even worse one called Miss Debutante. Does the average eight-year-old know or care what a "debutante" is? It's a strange term at the best of times, and like "chatelaine" it has no male equivalent. I used to call her "Miss De-BUT-ton-ty", when I called her anything at all.

I did mummify my Barbie, and got some strange looks for it, even from my schizophrenic brother Arthur who seemed to be from some other planet. What can I say, I loved mummies and hated Barbie and it seemed like a good solution.

I can't play with dolls even now, I can't afford one as good as these, and feel a bit silly prowling around doll shows where people just hoard them. So this is my only way of playing. 

I have to reveal a secret: while I played with images today, I worried about a medical test I'm having in a week. I don't feel well and I haven't for some time, though as usual nobody has a clue about it because "you seem fine to me". When you've hidden depression and other kinds of wretched imbalance for nearly 60 years, you get awfully good at it.

This seems to be "physical", meaning "not my fault" and "not something I'm just making up to get attention that I could snap out of any time I wanted to, except I don't want to". It's weird, because part of me hopes there's something wrong, or at least something they can locate, so it won't be one of those vague situations where you KNOW there is something wrong but no one in the medical community will acknowledge it.

It seems a bit idiotic to say, "Gee, I sure hope they find something wrong."

But I do.

I have another secret, and now I will reveal it. I wanted to use one of those hideous birds by Hieronymus Bosch in my "fan art", but discovered it really wasn't do-able, any more than my equally bright idea to make my own Russian nesting dolls. But I did find this, some sort of hawk making that screaming noise they do. What struck me is that its mouth was a perfect mother-of-pearl-looking heart, so I used that as a basis for my fan art, or desecrations, or whatever they are.

It just worked so perfectly. 

EXTREMELY RARE: world's most idiotic cat food commercial!

I have noticed that if you put EXTREMELY RARE in a title, everyone reads the post. Or something.

This ad is, I will admit, extremely bizarre, with the "p-p-p-p-protein" and the dog chasing the three cats into a barrel (with an obvious break to get the freaking cats out of there). 

Cat food ads have always been way stupider than dog food ads. We had Morris, who used to complain endlessly in that smarmy voice. (In spite of his addiction to Nine Lives, he died.) We had "chow-chow-chow" and that weird running-the-film-backwards dance that no cat would do if they were starving to death. And we had the incomparable telephone-proficient Baxter ("Don't answer it, Frank"), whom I thought was lost forever until I dug up a couple of the commercials on an advertising site. 

Probably the best- known was the Meow Mix jingle, with the original subtitles reading, "I want chicken, I want liver, Meow Mix, Meow Mix, please deliver." There were infinite varieties on this, with the words gradually making less and less sense ("I want lightly-grilled sea bass, I want roast turkey with razzleberry dressing," etc.).  My all-time fave, which I think I already posted at some point, was the "Close Encounters" Meow Mix commercial of the mid-'80s: a cat is pictured gazing heavenwards and meows four times in the familiar Meow Mix "frequency". A huge spaceship appears and echoes the meows with "BOM BOM BOM BOM". All that's missing is Richard Dreyfuss digging up shrubs and having a nervous breakdown from sheer intensity.

I'm glad to find these things again, because they're fun, and my grandkids whoop and scream over them. They don't make ads like that any more, with those stupid cats, or rather, those stupid advertising copywriters. Paging Freddy Rumsen!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

One!. . . More!. . . Time!

If your whole life somehow
Wasn't much 'til now
And you've almost lost
Your will to live

No matter what you've been through
Long as there's breath in you
There is always one more time

And if your dreams go bad
Every one that you've had

That don't mean that some dreams
Can't come true

'Cause it's funny about dreams
As strange as it seems
There is always one more time

Oh turnin' corners
Is only a state of mind
Keeping your eyes closed
Is worse than being blind

If there's a heart out there
Looking for someone to share
I don't care if it's been
Turned down time and time again

And if we meet one day
Please don't walk away

'Cause there is always one more time
There is always one more time

Blogger's note. Why do I spend so much time doing these things? Something to help the video down, I guess. Something to force me to concentrate so I won't sink ever deeper into depression and despair. What? I'm not happy all the time? Of course I am! It's just that I have this bad case of reality. Plus my Kicked post with the Cole Porter lyric (very mysteriously) got something like 400 views!

When I first heard this song in the movie Bowfinger, I was riveted. Then I forgot all about it. Then I saw Bowfinger again, but this time I was actually able to look it up and hear it again. I think it saved my life (at least for now). 

Thursday, January 24, 2013


You know, I'm always a little intimidated when the first thing I read on an unfamiliar web site is a detailed and very long list of rules.

I was particularly astonished when this headspinningly complex list (below) appeared on a fan site about that rascally social rebel, that mascara-eyed Caribbean ne'er-do-well, that stereotype-shattering gender-bending Ed Wood of the modern cinema, Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp is a fox- let's get that out of the way first - and ever since my then-teenage daughter told me breathlessly about a painfully-gorgeous young hunk on a show called 21 Jump Street, he has taken on interesting parts, the sort of roles that a Gary Oldman might choose (or a Danny DeVito or a whoever-is-a-subversive-character-but-not-especially-good-looking-or-over-the-height-of-four-feet-one-inch-tall).  And he has made a go of it for a very long time, decades in fact, an unusual thing for a slightly off-the-wall leading man.  And he has attracted female fans everywhere. Especially me. 

Do I have a favorite? I do.  Though the movie Benny and Joon is not especially good in story line, and not much acting ever takes place, I love Depp's nearly-mute amalgam of Chaplin, Keaton and even my beloved Harold Lloyd as he swings from a rope past the window of his girl friend who is incarcerated in a mental institution.  He's all in, as they say.

So I was kind of, well, ah, er, taken aback when I investigated the web site I recommended at the end of my post about automatons. When I finally looked at it in detail, I found this, this, this - edifice of rules, this - this boarding school, this itchy crinoline, this Little House on the Prairie bonnet of restriction! Compared to this, my Grade Four grammar teacher was a raving slut. 

Yes, I appreciate the fact that the comments have to be written in complete sentences. Most of my sentences are complete, and if they aren't, it's 

I can see ruling out those lols and rotfl and grmlds and stuff like that. I hate them and fear that the language will become irreversibly eroded if they take over any more than they already have.  I can see ruling out abusive language and blatant Depp sexual fantasies, although. . . 

Although. People can't express feelings about him, share dreams or fantasies, or post fan art or Johnny Depp coloring pages or anything like that. No good steamy gossip or "hearsay" is allowed, nor can you quote those scumbag entertainment sites.  It's completely sexless, devoid of the giddy joy these Hollywood gods are meant to provoke in us mortals.  This fan site is under such tight control, it only has something like 33 followers, all of whom seem deeply intimidated when they approach the Headmistress with their timid questions.

I'm just sayin'.  All passion seems to have been squashed down by one of those squashing-down things.

Once you've carefully read through ALL the rules, and don't you dare just skim them like you'd do on a surgical permission form or a divorce settlement or whatever, you discover there is in fact very little that you CAN do on this site. I wonder, then, why even have a Johnny Depp fan site, if indeed that's what it is? And what would Johnny Depp think about it?

I don't think he'd read a web site, to tell the truth. I don't think he would read one about himself, in particular. He'd be out there jumping into his next role, which is what real actors do. He'd be out there shattering the dull tradition of good-looking actors mainly functioning as backdrops on wheels.

But that's just me.

General Forum Rules and Guidelines
(For detailed information, please see next post)
  • All posts must be written in English.
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  • Use proper punctuation, capitalization and spelling.
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(Blogger's note. I only posted the bare bones of these rules! Herein is the expanded, complete version. I note that much of what they post on this forum consists of Johnny Depp jigsaw puzzles. Fan fiction is allowed, but it can't have Johnny Depp in it. Oh dear.)

All posts must be written in standard English.Please avoid "chatspeak," random mixtures of capital and lower-case letters, and/or text-messaging abbreviations. The goal is to make every post clear and easy to read; we have many members who are not native English-speakers, and they need words they can find in a dictionary or that can be easily translated by automatic-translation programs. So use "I" and "you" and "because," not "i" and "u" and "cuz." Use proper punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. A message written entirely in lower-case letters violates Zone standards; these and other types of chatspeak posts will be deleted by the staff without notice.

The Zone is a discussion forum, not a chat room.Every thread must introduce a subject to discuss about Johnny Depp. Threads like "Hi, I'm back!" or "Is there anybody there?" or "I'm so bored/depressed/lonely--please cheer me up" or "What's going on?" are inappropriate to the Zone and will be automatically deleted without comment. Threads which are started to discuss a personal problem of the member are also inappropriate; such matters should be discussed by email with one's friends, not posted on a forum. If you have the urge to chat about your private life, post onto the morning thread, which is where such messages are exchanged--along with the latest news about Johnny, of course.

Since this site was created by adult women for the enjoyment of other adults, a certain earthy, appreciative tone is often part of our conversations. But we do not allow explicit sexual references, or discussions of body parts; the tone is subtle and witty, never sleazy. The Zone is NOT an NC-17 site, and there are members as young as 13 on every forum. Please keep them in mind when you post, and be sure to leave plenty to the imagination.

Don't post obscene material on the Zone.Explicit posts about sexual acts and body parts, or images or artwork that would push an R-rated film into NC-17 territory, go too far. Avatars, locations, and signatures, since they appear with a member's every post, must be suitable for reading by all ages; keep these PG-13, please. No profanity, nothing sexually suggestive.

Don't post detailed sexual fantasies or dreams that involve the writer of the post and Johnny Depp, or a Johnny Depp character--that makes us feel icky. We also don't allow the real Johnny Depp to appear as a character in a Fanfic story (or in a "Johnny and me" fiction on any other forum).

Don't post material from the Zone onto other websites without giving proper credit.We request that you give credit to the Zone and the person who posted or created the material. That's only fair, and members who don't treat the Zone and their fellow Zoners fairly won't be members here very long. It is particularly despicable to take another member's personal artwork or personal photos or videos (of herself and Johnny at a meet-and-greet, for example) and post them on another Depp site (or anywhere else) without first seeking that member's permission and then graciously thanking her in the post on the other website.

Please Note: Zone members hold the copyright to their artwork, fanfic, and personal photos and personal videos, and those who post them elsewhere without the member's permission are committing copyright infringement. Even worse, they are betraying the friendship of a fellow Zoner who was kind enough to share with all of us. Anyone who would steal another Zoner's artwork, writing, photos, or video and post it elsewhere claiming "I just found this . . . I can't remember where" is both a liar and a thief, and will be immediately banned from the Zone.

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Don't write any posts which ask other members to send you their email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, or other personal contact information. This is a tactic frequently used by sexual predators and other criminals to obtain the home addresses of their victims. Never send your personal contact information to someone newly registered on the Zone. Only share it with people you know well.

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Never use profanity in a thread title.Do not direct profanity or vicious comments at another poster, the Zone, or members of the Zone community. Other kinds of name-calling, and malicious/slanderous rants, will be deleted. Keep casual profanity out of your posts--this is not a community that curses, except in extreme circumstances. Use the "censored" board icon instead. Zone forums are friendly and always civil.

Don't post comments or complaints about receiving a "correcting" private message (PM) from a a staff member.PMs are private and the staff sends them to you privately rather than posting a list of "Here's who screwed up today," out of respect for your privacy and your dignity. It is in your best interest and the Zone's that anything that violates a Zone policy is corrected as soon as possible. That's all one of these PMs is—a reminder of what the rules are.

Don't post tabloid stories, unfounded rumors, or gossip.This includes any item which originates in a newspaper gossip column or a paper like the National Enquirer (U.S.). Do not post any items from These stories rely on sensationalized headlines and out-of-context quotes and rarely prove to be true. Items from unreliable sources will be deleted.

Don't post news stories from “inside sources” found on other websites, since the accuracy of this information cannot be verified.

Don't post hearsay--information about Johnny Depp that you "heard somewhere" (at work, at school, from a friend) that cannot be verified. The Zone is widely read (we have many thousands of visitors a day), and we have a responsibility to be certain that whatever we print about Johnny is accurate. The Zone adheres to journalistic standards for our Johnny Depp news; rumors about possible Johnny Depp film projects that appear in the press are clearly labeled as rumors (only), and we don't publish hearsay or gossip. Threads that make claims about Johnny but have no verifiable source for their information will be deleted or locked.

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Don't publish links to articles or websites that violate any of the Zone's standards and practices.This would include sites, including members' personal websites or pages, that feature sexually explicit material, profane language, name-calling or hate speech, gossip about Johnny Depp, pictures of the Depp children, aggressive attempts to sell merchandise, spam, etc.

Don't use a thread on the Zone to advertise another website or to urge Zone members to visit a different site or chat room. We consider this spam--an unfair harassment of the membership.

The Johnny Depp Zone web site may contain links to many other web sites. The Zone cannot guarantee the accuracy of information found at any linked site. Links to or from external web sites not owned or controlled by the Zone does not constitute an endorsement by the Zone of the sponsors of these sites or the products or information presented there.

The Zone staff reserves the right to remove any links in forum posts or members' signatures that we deem inappropriate for the Zone.

Include SPOILER warnings if you are writing about an unreleased film.If your news item has ANY reference to the plot, casting, or a particular scene or effect in a movie in production or pre-production, put SPOILERS in capital letters in the subject line of your post. Please also use the "SPOILER" code available on the message reply page to hide any spoilers. Many Zoners do not wish to know any details about Johnny Depp’s movies until they see them in the theater, and they deserve the right to go to the movie and be surprised and enchanted. Do NOT spoil the movie for them! Also be careful when replying to a thread about a movie in production; unless the thread says SPOILERS, don’t give anything away!

NOTE. I don't think it's fair to assume a fan site about Johnny Depp is going to have a Depp-like, devil-may-care disregard for social convention. But it just strikes me as strange, is all. It's so careful, careful, careful, and seems at odds with his rebellious and often very sexual persona. Oh, but we CAN allude to sex if it's done in an earthy, oh-so-English way ("Quite the ripper, is Johnny, eh, Honoria dear?" Assuming this site is English.) 

Anyway, I didn't write any of this, I'm just using it as an example of internet curiosa. Oh my God, I think that's a run-on sentence!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Oscar, Igor and Little Tich: degrees of separation

What got me onto this, I wonder - or was it the sight of all those automatons, eerie creatures from another time or even another level of reality?

Then I got a load of this guy, this Little Tich.  He seems to embody surrealism in a way that makes my heart glad, if a little scared.

And it helped me connect a few dots that I thought were light-years apart.

For several decades now I've been chasing down a Stravinsky album called Favorite Short Pieces. It had some gorgeously eccentric stuff on it and in my teens, when I was in the midst of a Stravinsky fit, I listened to it all the time.

All my internet sleuthing got me nowhere - if it existed at all, it was only on vinyl. But then today - a brainwave - if I got a playlist of the tracks on said album, couldn't I try to find the individual pieces on YouTube?

And by the holy - I did - I reassembled all seven works, not in any order or by any particular artists, but who cares, I have it all now. So how on earth does this connect to the video?  Ah.

My first awareness of Little Tich (who sounds like he has some sort of skin condition) came from reading the liner notes of Favorite Short Pieces. Stravinsky wrote them himself, in his usual dry, droll manner. He claimed that the second movement of his Eight Instrumental Miniatures for Fifteen Players was inspired by "the manifold eccentric appearances of the celebrated English clown, Little Tich." 

And that was all that happened, until I began to read about Oscar Levant.

Stravinsky, Oscar Levant. Little Tich. . . hold on, these dissonances do relate. There was a great tidbit in the fascinating but painful-to-read bio of Levant, A Talent for Genius. Levant liked to hobnob with (some might say suck up to) musical geniuses such as Gershwin and Copland and Horowitz, hoping something would rub off. His encounter with Stravinsky was memorable. This is a long quote, but worth transcribing:

"One day Igor Stravinsky visited the Warner Bros. lot and dropped in on Oscar Levant during a break in the long workday. Wearing black tie and tails and balancing a cup of coffee on his knee, Levant received the composer of Le Sacre du printemps in a quiet corner of the movie set. Levant greatly enjoyed the spirited, fiercely opinionated Russian. Between takes he had been reading a life of Ferruco Busoni, the Italian pianist and composer, so he knew that Stravinsky had met Busoni only once, despite the fact that they had lived just five miles from each other in Switzerland during the First World War.

"Why did you visit Busoni only once?" Levant asked Stravinsky.

"Because," replied the composer, bristling slightly, "he represented the immediate past and I hate the immediate past."

It's the kind of remark you like, but you can't quite determine why.

Anyway, about Little Tich. . . I was chopping my way through Levant's Memoirs of an Amnesiac - a fascinating and nearly unreadable book, the last fourth of which takes place in a series of mental institutions - and I came across the name again - I couldn't believe it! It was Little Tich! Not only hadn't I heard the Favorite Short Pieces album for over 40 years, I hadn't heard one mention of this creature and had come to think of him as chimeric, maybe a product of Stravinsky's fevered imagination.

I wish I could find the exact quote, but you're going to have to trust me that he did talk about Little Tich. I wish I remember exactly what he said: memoirs don't have an index and I've already chopped through enough of it.  I don't want to fall into the Levant memoirs again: the man had talent to burn, and he burned it. Not only that, the name-dropping is deafening. He seemed to have an almost pathological need to align himself with the "greats", even if it was only the likes of Frank Fay or Shirley Booth (or the nightmarish Al Jolson).

I just have to tell one more story - I shouldn't, and I know I already told it many posts ago. Levant was playing the sidekick in a movie called Humoresque, starring the ferocious man-eating diva Joan Crawford. He noticed she always brought knitting on the set with her and worked at it furiously between takes. She regaled the cast with amusing stories about her obsession: oh, I knit at dinner parties, I knit on airplanes, I knit in restaurants, I. . . 

"Do you knit while you fuck?" Levant asked.

The two never became friends.

CODA. When I got up this morning, I thought: damn! I have to find that reference to Little Tich. You know, the one in Oscar Levant's Memoirs of an Amnesiac. I KNOW it's in there somewhere (probably near the beginning of the book). So I went page by page, and on page 31: JACKPOT!

This is one of his charming, hair-raising mental hospital anecdotes, particularly heartbreaking because he demonstrates the same eccentric, devastating wit that made him so famous:

I remember one patient, a little girl who had a horrible splash of acne on her chin and always carried a box of Benson and Hedges cigarettes. She would jump into my lap like Little Tich (and that`s regressing to before I was even born) and make a big fuss over me.

There was one nurse of whom I was very fond. Her name was Nan.

I guess Little Tich (fortunately I forget her real name), who was so fond of me, resented Nan because she was very attractive. One day she hauled off with all her might and slapped Nan`s face. Nan didn`t move; she didn`t hit back - some of them do.

Little Tich was like a bantamweight version of Tony Galento. Later she got to hate me. We had to use the same toilet. God! The choreography that went on in there! She was the craziest kid I ever saw, but she also had more perception than the other patients. Sometimes the more ill you are, the more perceptive you are.

Oh yes.

CODA TO THE CODA. Poking around, you always find out more. I loved this little Stravinsky anecdote:

Stravinsky's unconventional major-minor seventh chord in his arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" led to an incident with the Boston police on 15 January 1944, and he was warned that the authorities could impose a $100 fine upon any "rearrangement of the national anthem in whole or in part". The incident soon established itself as a myth, in which Stravinsky was supposedly arrested for playing the music.


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look