Saturday, August 31, 2013

Popeye and the exploding phallic symbol: don't read this post! Whatever you do!

Yes, in a strange sort of way. I remember this one freaking me out as a kid. I wondered why that car looked so odd, more like some sort of bulbous tank with a nose thrusting out in front.

I know now that this is one of those elegant cars of the mid-'40s. For some reason Popeye has to put air in the tires, and of course goes too far with it. Ohhhh, that swelling and swelling, the red bulges growing bigger and bigger and popping out with more red bulges that become transparent before the whole thing explodes!

I notice Popeye sounds different in this one, though Olive Oyl is likely voiced by Mae Questel as usual. The real Popeye may have been in the service or suffering from war wounds or shell shock.  Things were different in wartime. This is dated 1946, but who knows when it was made. At least it doesn't have a cartoon Hitler in it (though that tire explosion is pretty scary in itself - not for the faint of heart).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hottest scene in literary history! Don't read this post!

You wouldn't normally associate E. L. Doctorow's classic novel Ragtime (profusely adapted for both stage and screen) with eroticism. Would you? I don't know. Maybe. When I first read it, whenever that was (and you can tell something by the way the pages of my paperback copy have turned not yellow, but brown), a certain passage stuck in my head. So did a few others, and all of them had to do with sex.

Not that Doctorow is a pornographer or even an especially sensual writer, though he does have his moments. His strength is describing what's right in front of him, and I seldom feel his characters' hearts beating. But once in a while. . . 

Doctorow is a notorious name-dropper in this thing and keeps on referring to the movers and shakers of the day, people like Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, Admiral Peary, and - most notably - two women, famous or even infamous for very different reasons. I don't know much about Emma Goldman except that she was an anarchist and a rabble-rouser, and had a face like a rail fence. Evelyn Nesbit was considered a scarlet woman and spent her evenings sitting around on a velvet swing while men looked her up, or is it the other way around? 

I won't even try to navigate the ambitions of this book, because they are just so extreme. A novel is always a reduction of reality, but reducing this gigantic sprawl of history to any sort of pages is pretty remarkable, that is, without freeze-drying and removing all the juices in the process.

This passage has juices. It's just the kind of scene that my mind wanders to when.  . . oh hell, who has sexual fantasies at my age anyway? Life is full of surprises. I thought things would sort of dry up at menopause, but instead, wow, wowsa, wowsy, wow-wow-wow-wow!

So I still enjoy imagining scenes, toying with characters, even writing the stuff myself (see: The Glass Character, which has its share of erotic moments while Muriel Ashford hopelessly throbs for her dear, distant, impossible amour). The "explosive" conclusion of this scene is such a surprise that it initially kind of shocked me. I know men of that era were supposed to be almost as chaste as women, but I don't imagine too many of them could manage it.

I love costume dramas, the ones that go on in my head I mean, and I love Victorian and Edwardian scenes because the women's gowns are just ravishing, making practically anyone look graceful and beautiful, and are at the same time mortal prisons. It appeals to my innate sense of masochism. But wouldn't all those layers be perversely exciting? A man might have to take a course of study to undress his wife on his wedding night (and by the way, have you ever thought of this? In the past, a good many people, both men and women, knew nothing at all about the sex act when they married. And yet, they had these huge families. They must've figured it out, but how good was it? I mean, for her? Oh Jesus, just read the excerpt!)

Though it's not likely they ever met, Doctorow has fun with an erotically-charged encounter between Emma Goldman and Evelyn Nesbit. Writers can move the chess-pieces around any way they want, and manipulate their women figures like so many helpless dolls. One wonders if the author reacted anything like Mother's Younger Brother.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Four-figure Facebook: the ultimate load of crap

  • Four more friends and I hit 1,000-- will there be falling balloons, kazoos, confetti and champagne?

    This is an actual Facebook post from today. I've removed the name, but it's a writer with a book out. 

    OK, my issue is this: TWICE Facebook sent me a stern notice that nobody was accepting my FB friend requests. Then they told me I was friending too many people, and insisted (demanded) I know all the people I friended personally, intimately, face-to-face. They then cut me off from sending any more friend requests for two weeks, ominously warning me that if I didn't toe the line, I might be "out" (no doubt for good). 

    Everyone I sent a request to was, at very least, a friend of a friend, with in many cases over 100 friends in common. But somehow I had still stepped on the big guy's toes.

    I'm on a Facebook tightrope, folks. Once more, I've inadvertently blundered. Unlike others, I can't seem to capture that misty unicorn of social networking, the number 1000 (which I don't really want anyway and will never attain). What am I doing wrong? Are my school records out there or something?

    I have asked many, many people what the hell is going on here, and I get turned backs and a sense that they are embarrassed, if not downright offended. You mean you don't KNOW how this works? Why, as soon as you set up a new FB account, fifty people a day swarm to your page and beg you to friend them. All because they are close, personal friends, face-to-face buddies you meet and have coffee with all the time.

    I guess if THEY come to YOU, it's OK because it's a sort of checkmark on your popularity scale. If you have to go begging and actually ask people, that's another matter entirely.

    It's parroted time and time again that FB is NOT for personal advertising or bragging about your new book. We all understand that, yes, then violate this rule constantly, often coyly, as in "well, I just hate to bring this up, but. . . " or "I hope this doesn't look like shameless self-promotion, but. . . " This is followed by a flood of likes and congratulations, sycophantic gushing over so-and-so's good fortune, masking a bitter, teeth-clenching jealously, a sense of "yes, I'll praise him now because I want to cultivate his contacts, but sooner or later I'm gonna get that bastard."

    The puffery, narcissism and blatant verbal sandwich-board/billboard advertising on FB makes me queasy, but if you even suggest it is actually going on, the result is indignation, even disbelief. I've even been told "I'm speechless" (which, believe me, I wish most of them actually were). We know the real dynamics, sure, but we're not going to admit it. 

    Because, for God's sake, don't you know already? And if not, why not? And if you don't know, isn't THAT why no one wants to be your friend? Isn't THAT why you don't have a golden key to that exclusive club, Four-Figure Facebook, complete with pole dancers and your very own highly-prized, high-maintenance Park Avenue escort/mistress, the same one who got Edward Snowden's rocks off before he retreated to Russia or wherever-the-fuck-he-is?

    I know people in the Four Figure Club who have a thousand, two thousand, even three or four thousand, and a few have even maxed out at the ultimate five thousand upper limit that FB imposes on your very best, exclusive, heart-to-heart, have-coffee-with-every-day "friends". Since FB always prominently displays lists of "people you may know" who are in fact friends of your friends, I thought it was allowed to contact some of them, to invite them to be your friends. Apparently not, or at least not for me. One must attract friends with an invisible force, something you are born with, a giant magnet implanted in your solar plexus.

    Then there are those of us who have nothing but a big hole in our solar plexus, but don't we deserve it? Why aren't we one of the quadruple-digit crowd? Aren't we blue chip, aren't we Facebook Fortune 5000? If not, don't we deserve obscurity in the grubby, sad realms of the terminally unpopular?

    I'm just askin'.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The world is not respectable: favorite quotes

An artist, a man, a failure, MUST PROCEED. Proceed: not succeed. With success, as any world or unworld comprehends it, he has essentially nothing to do. If it should come, well and good: but what makes him climb to the top of the tent emphatically isn’t ‘a billion empty faces’. Even success in his own terms cannot concern him otherwise than as a stimulus to further, and a challenge to more unimagineable, self-discovering – ‘The chairs will all fall by themselves down from the wire’; and who catches or who doesn’t catch them is none of his immortal business. One thing, however, does always concern this individual: fidelity to himself.

- e. e. cummings

The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.

- George Santayana

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.

- Henry Miller

This is the greatest mystery of the human mind - the inductive leap. Everything falls into place, irrelevancies relate, dissonance becomes harmony, and nonsense wears a crown of meaning. But the clarifying leap springs from the rich soil of confusion, and the leaper is not unfamiliar with pain.

- John Steinbeck

So long as men praise you, you can only be sure that you are not yet on your own true path but on someone else’s.

–Friedrich Nietzsche

You wouldn’t be so concerned about what people think of you if you knew how seldom they did.

- Anon.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Found, lost, found, lost, and found again: a proverb

Egyptian Proverb:  The worst things: 

To be in bed and sleep not, 

To want for one who comes not, 

To try to please and please not.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 - 1940)

Why Hollywood has its head up its ass

I’ve believed  this for quite a while now. Let me explain. Until smartphones took over, every time someone in a movie was on the phone and the other person hung up, the person would rattle the phone-cradle in a way that would do absolutely nothing except assure that the phone was dead.

This bizarre behaviour mysteriously migrated to the general population who routinely did the same thing when they lost a connection. Why? It was in the movies! Everyone did that! If the phone went dead, then, rattle-rattle-rattle, and it would come back! Never mind that it never happened that way in human history. People even did it with that brontosaurus of communication, the pay phone. (As a sideline, have you thought of this? With the phasing out of phone booths, we lose one more venue for steamed-up, hasty vertical sex.)

This technique might have worked during the era of Alexander Graham Bell and the crank-operated phone. The rattling was meant to connect you to the switchboard operator who sat at a giant panel with 100 other “girls” pulling out and pushing in little plugs and saying in a twangy nasal voice, “Num-ber, pleee-aaase.”  I don’t know exactly when this was phased out, but it was likely sometime after World War II.

There’s more. Until very recently, writers were always portrayed a certain way. They hid out in the attic with a manual typewriter and banged away, ripping the finished pages out, crumpling them up violently, and tossing them into the wastebasket in the far corner of the room. Hitting the basket meant it was a good writing day.

I remember this in Wonder Boys with Michael Douglas, in which he wrote a thousand-page novel without carbons (remember carbons? If you’re under 60, you won’t), so that by the end of the movie the one existing copy blew out to sea.

Update, Hollywood, update. Don’t show people slapping a hysterical person. Would YOU like to be slapped if you were hysterical? I’d be tempted to rip the person’s throat out. But hey, if it’s done in the movies, that’s what we need to do. It must work.

Woody Allen, now. (My fingers invariably stumble over his name and call him Woody Alien.) We all know he IS that writer who sits in a little nook in his palatial home banging away at a manual typewriter (and who must have his ribbons handmade for him in Thailand or somewhere). In his latest venture, Blue Jasmine, a tour de force vehicle for Cate Blanchett who plays a sort of latter-day Blanche DuBois, there are some clangers that are not only puzzling but downright offputting. One wonders if Allen has been living in a cave all these years.

Phones are the worst of it, though that’s not all: Jasmine’s low-rent sister Ginger has a wall phone with a cord which her badass boy friend predictably rips out of the wall and hurls, presumably in order to cut her off from all human contact. It’s the equivalent of taking an axe and cutting the phone line. Grrrrrrrr.

Though Jasmine spends a lot of time jittering around on her iPhone, she claims to have no technical experience whatsoever and decides to take a “computer course” so she can study fashion design online.  This is one of the most awkward, embarrassing things I’ve seen in a movie in quite a few years. The computer course is generic, its purpose unnamed, but it reminds me of the things senior citizens used to take in the early ‘90s to reduce their terror of technology.

The people taking this course aren’t seniors, but appear to be college-age students of a generation that grew up surrounded by technology, swimming in it like fish in the sea. My own kids, who are practically middle-aged by now, experienced computers as a fact of life and naturally became more proficient as the technology blossomed, then boomed. My son moved into a career as a techie without any sort of awkward transition and has thrived in it as naturally as a superbly-trained athlete in competition.

So why all these 25-year-old people taking this baffling “computer course”? Because no one dares tell Woody Allen that it’s a clanger of monstrous proportions. It really does get in the way. I’m not a particularly  tech-savvy person and for the most part stick to basics, but I doubt if navigating an online course would tax my abilities because it’s all pretty simple and straightforward.

Allen missed a chance for a splendid visual joke: he could have shown a roomful of seniors desperately trying to get the hang of this, while Jasmine looks around in chagrin. But his pride probably would not have allowed it.

When I saw these painful anachronistic jolts in a movie that is otherwise brilliant and extremely well-written, it pulled me so violently out of time that I sometimes wondered if the movie was supposed to take place in the early ‘90s. I am actually surprised that Blanchett didn’t try to rattle the nonexistent cradle on her iPhone or take a Pitman shorthand course at the local recreation centre.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

More Lloyd synchronicity: brought to you by your Uncle Marty!

(Facebook-surfing can either be very boring, or. . . very boring. But I found something tonight. Then lost it, then found it again. It's an interview from this past spring for Humanities magazine, featuring everyone's favorite Italian uncle, Martin Scorsese. Then I get to the end of it and find a Lloyd double-whammy. OK, so when do I get the third one?)

LEACH: How big was the transition from silent to talkies? How did it affect comedies?
SCORSESE: It all became verbal. The comedy stars in the thirties were Laurel and Hardy, thankfully, and W. C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers. Then after the war or during the war, Abbott and Costello, which was really language, old vaudeville routines. And then postwar it’s Martin and Lewis, which was a kind of manic craziness and kind of reflection of the freedom after the war.
LEACH: Two foils.
SCORSESE: Yeah, exactly. But in the silent era, it’s all physical and visual comedy: Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charley Chase, all these people we’re restoring. There’s a lot of them that are being restored. It’s quite remarkable seeing these on a big screen.

Young people, when I show it to them, they ’ll ask, Do they talk in this movie? I say, they don’t talk in this one, but you might find it interesting. And they do.
LEACH: I’ll bet.
SCORSESE: The great silent dramatic films really worked extraordinarily well. I mean, they still do if you’ve seen them restored, meaning at the right speed, the right tint and color, because everything was in color, but toned and tinted. In any event, they did have their own international language. Murnau wanted to use title cards in Esperanto. He said, this is the universal language, cinema. And then when sound came in, it changed again completely.
LEACH: The movie industry is America’s greatest presentation to the world in terms of public diplomacy. For instance, Charlie Chaplin was truly universal. You didn’t have to translate it into any language.

SCORSESE: Norman Lloyd, who was a great actor and producer, he worked with everybody: Hitchcock and Welles and Chaplin. He’s in his nineties now. He was just talking on television the other night on TCM, and he was saying that Chaplin is universal, probably the greatest, because he kind of told the story of the immigrant. And anywhere around the world people could identify with it.
LEACH: Well, we thank you.
SCORSESE: Thank you.

(Post-blog revelation. Don't ask me how I find these things. The above shot of the demented old man in the Shriners fez really is Harold Lloyd hanging off the Space Needle in Seattle when he was something like 76 years old. I would've doubted my eyes except, when I looked closely at his right hand, I could see that it was missing thumb and forefinger. How and why he'd do this is anyone's guess, but maybe he was thinking in terms of going out with a big splash.)

The gospel according to Woody Allen

(A big p. s. The above quote has also been attributed to George Carlin and Andy Rooney. Pick one. To be honest, my bet's on Carlin.)

Friday, August 23, 2013

BUSTED!: the Imaginary Architect

This a.m. I got the following Facebook message which left me reeling with I-don't-know-what: distaste, revulsion, even a tinge of fear?

Hello pretty, My name is (xxx), 57years old single man, l am living here in Toronto Ontario, I work as an Architect and i have been in this profession for over 32 years. I have traveled to so many countries and to every major cities of the United States and Canada, including some part of Asia. I live alone since i lost my wife about 6year, and i have a 19 years daughter in nurse school. I like music, sunset and rise, walk at the beach, hiking, swimming, camping etc. I would like to meet a gentle soul that wants a gentleman as a best friend and love. I came across your wonderful profile and it caught my attention and I viewed your charming, lovely and beautiful picture i became astonished that is why i decide to write to you,i like your hair style and out looks. I will like to meet a very nice lady like you,maybe we can have a date and get to know each other, I have a lot to say but i will wait till i hear from you, are you single and ready to start relationship that will lead to marriage. Please feel free to tell me little about you. 

I felt a little queasy about being a target for some creep looking for a "nice lady" to get married to. But what really amazed me is that my friend Matt Paust got exactly the same message!

We all know Matt's a hunk, that goes without saying, but "pretty" does not seem to do him justice. "Gentle soul", well - sometimes - maybe he meant "Gentile". The "charming, lovely and beautiful picture" that made him so "astonished" is only part of the deal: he also likes his hair style (which is, admittedly, pretty cool) and "out looks". Sounds like something that might work in a pride parade.

So what's this all about? If it's just some robot, why can't they get a robot that can spell? Is this a way of getting vulnerable women in their 50s (maybe widowed) to part with their money by praising their pictures in the most awkward and  ridiculous manner possible?

Maybe I should answer this guy, string him along for a while. Tell him I'm well-endowed in the chest department and throbbing with anticipation. Might be fun. I'll arrange a meeting with him in some trendy bar, wearing a wire of course.  As his hand furtively sneaks thighward and his dog breath melts the ice in my Monkey's Dick cocktail, a coiled figure will suddenly pop out from under my chair and proclaim: "I'm Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC. You are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO busted!" 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Glass Character: Make up the clowns!

This is an excerpt from my third novel, The Glass Character, which features the legendary silent film comedian Harold Lloyd and his complex, decades-long relationship with an actress/writer named Muriel Ashford. In this scene, Harold is making his first venture into talkies in what he calls the "circus picture" and is experimenting with clown makeup, with surprising consequences for Muriel.

When he turned around, I felt a literal thrill run through me: he had painted on a new face, a clown mask both classic and modern, designed along the lines of his own features but with a tinge of exaggeration that brought out a slightly wicked quality I had never seen in him before.

This was the Harold that wouldn’t, couldn’t be bested, the Harold who had to win. The curve of the mouth was almost sensual, the eyes a little fierce. But it was a clown face nevertheless: and how could we ever be afraid of such jollity, such crazy eagerness to take a pratfall? This was yet another incarnation of the Glass Character, Harold at the Big Top, pushed down again and again, discouraged, despairing, until that magic moment when his never-say-die courage makes him leap to his feet and win the day.

I was absorbing all this (and by his expression, he was obviously pleased) when he did a suprising thing.

“So, Muriel. It’s your turn now.”

“My turn?”

“Of course. Can I paint your face? It’s such a lovely face, I’m sure you’ll make a very pretty clown.”

In his long history of strange behaviour, this was the strangest thing yet. Here was this slightly menacing Pierrot with a paintbrush, asking to turn me into a different person. His artistry was obvious, but I was a little uneasy about the results.

But I succumbed, sitting in the makeup chair which he turned away from the mirror. I began blushing almost instantly as he pulled my hair back and tied it, then laid down a base coat of cold cream. First came the clown white, which he spread on with deft fingers (using both his left and his right hand, which he had learned to use with surprising dexterity). Then he began to work on me: his concentrated expression was fascinating to watch, as this was an area of mastery for him, a talent that even predated his movie career.

As he drew lines and smudged them, touched my lips with carmine, created false lashes and brows, I could not help but respond to the sensuality of being painted. I wanted to believe it was an act of love, but I knew I was fooling myself: this was just another area in which Harold shone, in which he was the best because he had to be. Nor had he ever had any instruction: as with everything else in his life, he had figured it out for himself.

He carefully applied a beauty mark, looked me over one last time, smiled. “Ready, Muriel?”

“I suppose so.”

“Behold!” He turned me around so rapidly my head spun.

Shock! Harold had found me out – had looked inside my cringeing, vulnerable, childish soul, found all my mooning romanticism and false courage, my hopeless ambition and desperate loneliness – and somehow, he had painted it all over my face.

My eyes looked huge in the dead-white skin, full of fear and a strange kind of awe. They were pretty eyes, almost doe-like, yet not timid. Somehow they had the glassy, faceted look of a dolly with blinking eyelids. He restrained himself from painting on a single tear, but the effect was the same. And yet, there was also a heartbreaking hope in them, a willingness to go back for yet another round of pain and rejection.

Ye gods, Muriel: and you thought Harold didn’t understand you? The problem is, he understands you all too well!

“Look at us. Are we a pair?” he asked with an antic grin.

“I suppose so. But I look pretty serious for a clown.”

“Sad clowns remind us how precious happiness is.”

“And happy clowns?”

He looked a bit confused. “You’re a touch beyond me, as usual, Muriel. I’m a simple soul, just offer what I have and go home. I leave the analysis to others.”

The strange thing was, it was largely true. Harold was a roll-up-your-sleeves type, and not easily daunted. He didn’t sit up at night agonizing about his art. He wanted to make people laugh because that was his job, and he was very good at it. Just lately he had been faltering, and it terrified him, though he was not about to admit it. There was nothing for it but to try again. There had to be a way – another way – it was just that hadn’t found it yet.

For your copy of The Glass Character, click on the link below!

The Glass Character: Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Separated at. . . oh, you know

Yes, I know I've been through this 

(and through this) before. 

But bear with me.

When an actor plays someone famous, 

such as - uh, er, Ashton Kutcher playing 

Steve Jobs - we expect a startling physical 

resemblance and not much else. The 

"oh, doesn't he look like" phenomenon

 lasts for about 15 minutes.

But after a while you need some acting chops to carry it through. 

And it is VERY important not to aim for caricature, or you could ruin the whole thing.

When you look at these two, it gives you the sense of some kind of blood kin, however distant. 

I just find it interesting, is all. 

I do. 

Not that the two of them really have anything to do with each other. Or with me.