Thursday, January 31, 2019

Some Cats Know. . ., take two. . .

The old prospector's nose for gold 
The sailor who can read the sky 
The gamblers sense of when to fold 
The trick to making apple pie

These mysteries one can not explain 
This old black art, so queer and quaint 
Like making love or making rain 
Either you got it or you ain't

Some cats know 
You can tell by the touchin'
They don't come on a-huffin' and a-puffin' 
And a-grabbin' and a-clutchin' 

Some cats know 
How to take it nice and slow 
But if a cat don't know, a cat don't know

Some cats know 
How to stir up the feelin'
They keep foolin' 'round 'til you're halfway to the ceilin'

Some cats know 
How to make the honey flow 
But if a cat don't know, a cat don't know

Some cats know just where it's at 
They are not like some others 
I would rather one like that 
If I had my druthers

Some cats know 
How to play nice and pretty 

Nice and soft and soon you're off to Good Time City

Some cats know
How to take it nice and slow

But if a cat don't know, a cat don't know 

He just



Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Surfer girl: Caitlin in Lahaina!

Mental illness: Let's NOT reduce the stigma!

Every day, and in every way, I am hearing a message. And it's not a bad message, in and of itself.

It's building, in fact, in intensity and clarity, and in some ways I like to hear it.

It's about mental illness, a state I've always thought is mis-named: yes, I guess it's "mental" (though not in the same class as the epithet, "You're totally mental"), but when you call it mental illness, it's forever and always associated with and even attached to a state of illness. You're either ill or you're well; they're mutually exclusive, aren't they?

We don't speak of diabetic illness. We don't speak of Parkinsonian illness. We don't speak of - you get the idea. Although these are all chronic, ongoing disease conditions, we use different language to describe them that does not imply the person cannot be well.

Why should this matter? It's only a name, isn't - it doesn't change anything, does it?

I beg to differ. The name "mental illness" itself is problematic to me. It seems to nail people into their condition. Worse than that, nobody even notices. I have never in my life heard anyone object to or even mention it, because in the public consciousness, it does not exist. In fact, "mentally ill" is a compassionate term (so they say), if leaning towards pity and tinged with dread. But it is is definitely preferable to "psycho", "nut case", "whack job", "fucking lunatic", and the list goes on (and on, and on, as if it doesn't really matter what we call them). But it's still inadequate.

There's something else going on that people think is totally positive, even wonderful, showing that they're truly "tolerant" even of people who seem to dwell on the bottom rung of society. Everywhere I look, there are signs saying, "Let's reduce the stigma about mental illness."

Note that they say "reduce", not banish. It's as if society realizes that getting rid of it is just beyond the realm of possibility. Let's not hope for miracles, let's settle for feeling a little bit better about ourselves (hey, we're really helping the cause!) for not calling them awful names and excluding them from everything.

(Caption: To put yourself in another's shoes, you gotta first unlace your own.)

I hate "stigma". I hate it because it's an ugly word, and if you juxtapose it with any other word, it makes that word ugly too. "Let's reduce the hopelessness" might be more honest. "Let's reduce the ostracism, the hostility, the contempt." "Stigma" isn't used very much any more, in fact I can't think of any other group of people it is so consistently attached to. Even awful conditions (supposedly) like alcoholism and drug abuse aren't "stigmatized" any more. Being gay isn't either. Why? Compassion and understanding are beginning to dissolve the ugly term, detach it and throw it away.

"Let's reduce the stigma" doesn't help because it's miserly, not to mention miserable. It's the old "you don't look fat in that dress" thing (hey, who said anything about looking fat?) Much could be gained by pulling the plug on this intractibly negative term. Reducing the stigma is like reducing racism or sexism or gun violence - a spiritually stingy approach which only calls attention to the existence of the stigma.

So what's the opposite of "stigmatized"? Accepted, welcomed, fully employed, creative, productive, loved? Would it be such a stretch to focus our energies on these things, replacing the "poor soul" attitude that prevails?

But so far, the stifling box of stigma remains, perhaps somewhat better than hatred or fear, but not much. Twenty or thirty years ago, a term used to appear on TV, in newspapers, everywhere, and it made me furious: "cancer victim". Anyone who had cancer was a victim, not just people who had "lost the battle" (and for some reason, we always resort to military terms to describe the course of the illness). It was standard, neutral, just a way to describe things, and nobody objected or even noticed.But then something happened, the tide turned, and energy began to flow the other way.

From something that was inevitably bound to stigma in the past, cancer came out of the closet in a big way, leading to all sorts of positive change that is still being felt. (We won't get into the obvious role of corporate sponsorship.) But first we had to lose terms like "victim", because they were unconsciously influencing people's attitudes. We had to begin to substitute words like "survivor" and even "warrior". 
The movement to change language gave rise to much more positive, life-affirming, even accurate terminology

That's exactly what needs to happen here. We don't just need to "reduce the stigma": we need to CAN that term, spit on it, get rid of it once and for all, and begin to see our mental health warriors for who and what they really are. They lead the way in a daring revolution of attitudes and deeply-buried, primitive ideas, a shakeup and shakedown of prejudice that is shockingly late, and desperately needed.

Why do we need to do this so badly? We're caught and hung up on a negative, limiting word that is only keeping the culture in the dark. When one person briefly illuminates their own story (and they're always called "brave", as in "you're pretty brave to wear that dress"), the light is  like fireflies, a brief burst of enlightenment before darkness closes in again. It's not even a candle against the night. When will the light come on that renders the entire concept of stigma dated, backward, offensive, and completely irrelevant?

POST-DATED. You may or may not recognize this piece, for I've run it a couple of times already. Today is Bell Media's "Let's Talk" day, in which one day per year is set aside for "mental health awareness". This 24-hour period takes up a few grudging minutes of media time, emphasizing over and over again the fact that people who are suffering need to "reach out for help". Never is it mentioned that their family and friends should consider reaching out to THEM - it's just too much bother, and besides, it makes them uncomfortable. I had considered, as I do every year, sharing my own story, then quickly decided it would just cost me too much. Experience has shown me again and again that it just isn't worth it. I still mean this, however, so I will post it once again.

Death-stare of a predator

This was an experiment using only three or four seconds of film. I made a gif out of it, ran it forwards and backwards, and slowed it down dramatically. 

Elizabeth Holmes has always had weird, scary, sociopathic facial expressions, with everything calculated for effect. Her recent days in court saw her discarding this elaborate technique, substituting vacant, staring eyes, a ducked head,  brown hair escaping a messy bun, and everything else that she might think would make her seem more sympathetic. The actual effect is disturbing: the eyes look almost like holes, and her habit of ducking her head and constant slight nodding is almost pathological. I have seldom seen anyone come across so badly in a courtroom.

The gif I used for facial analysis is from an interview in her early-ish days, when her hair was still carefully styled (longer on one side than the other) and preternaturally blonde. We see a lot of features of the Elizabeth Holmes facial repertoire, which is actually rather narrow. At first is the kind of level death-stare that often pops up as a micro-expression: people feel uneasy and don't know why, or just feel as if they are in the presence of someone/something magisterial and just a little terrifying. But prolonged, the microexpression IS terrifying, the dead-set, blank-eyed glare of a merciless, soulless predator.

Then comes the other set in the repertoire: the coy little smile with the half-moon eyes, which is on the surface of things almost charming, and certainly a manipulation of face which is calculated to charm. But the shiny blue crescents always seem a bit mad to me, glistening unnaturally. The smile is tightly restricted at first, but then comes the "pop" of very white teeth. But there's a funny thing going on here. Even vastly slowed down, the teeth show only very briefly before her lips close over them again. It's as if the smile is bitten off before it can bloom. 

Elizabeth is quite tight-lipped and often purses her mouth very noticeably. Along with the pursing, however, comes an unreadable expression, with her eyes looking down. The woman who never blinks is suddenly blinking, again and again. No more hypnotic stare here - it's as if she has something to hide. Is she, after all, afraid of getting caught? Or is this just blankness, the lack of feeling or soul or anything that makes a person vulnerably human?  But in the final analysis, it may just be boredom, the realization that the focus is not exclusively on her, one hundred per cent of the time. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Elizabeth Holmes: Her Day in Court

For Elizabeth Holmes, famous fraudster founder of phony blood-testing company Theranos, the fun is just beginning. The staring unblinking eyes, ducked head, rapid little head-shakes, and attempts to look like an innocent little girl are all part of the ruse. 

These snippets were taken from a Nightline news video and represent reaction shots. I didn't edit them terribly well, just strung them together, but you'll see a few yeses and a LOT of no's. The no's represent whether or not she knew what was going on in the company while it defrauded the public and sucked financial backing out of rich old white men to the tune of nine BILLION dollars. All the while putting the public at life-and-death risk by marketing medical equipment which did DOODLYSQUAT to test human blood with any accuracy at all.

No black turtleneck here, only a few blinks, but mostly round staring eyes that seem to indicate either extreme sleep deprivation, or a severe psychiatric disorder. To say the least, she is a creepy woman, and she is about to face the day of reckoning.

Will she do time for all this? The fact that Martha Stewart actually went to jail gives me hope. It might look more like a luxury hotel than a prison, but I doubt if black turtlenecks are going to be the standard uniform. No, Elizabeth, it's orange for you, because orange is what you deserve.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Gif of the week. . .

Troll makeover: trollies a-go-go!

Trolls being used to sell a line of makeup. Not sure what the deal was here, because this was meant as a tie-in to the Dreamworks animated movie Trolls. The so-called "trolls" in this movie looked like insects from someone's nightmare, nothing remotely like any kind of troll ever made. And yet, it was the Thomas Dam company who sold them the rights. Even stranger are the kind of trolls used here, whoring for M. A. C. cosmetics against their will. These are called Dark Horse trolls, and they were made under license from Thomas Dam  for only a few years. They were sold mainly at Comicon-type conventions and at comic book stores. They look like no trolls ever seen, with bizarre flourescent colors, sparkles embedded in the vinyl, fur-covered skin like velvet, metallics, and other odd un-troll-like effects.  

I thought, naturally, with all this troll hoop-la, if you actually bought some of these cosmetics, you'd either get a free troll (free troll. . . mmmmmm) or at least have the opportunity to buy one. These are, after all, relatively rare specimens, though a few are still floating around eBay. But no. There are pictures of trolls on the labels, but it makes no sense, because what does this have to do with eyeliner and lipstick and 47 shades of nail polish? Why even buy that junk at premium prices, unless it comes with a troll? 

There is a good side to this, as there is to some things. The M. A. C. video had some troll makeover/trolls a-go-go snippets in it which made a VERY groovy gif. I used just the best parts. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Harold and Bebe: spinning or slow?

This little snippet from Harold Lloyd's Young Mr. Jazz (1919) is meant to be comic dancing, a whirling-dervish sort of spin satirizing the jazzy steps of the day (though in 1919, this trend had barely begun). The bit at the end hilariously exposes Bebe's Daddy in a huddle with a sweet patootie he just picked up, a woman wearing a bizarre striped ensemble and a tall feathery hat. 

I couldn't help but take this gif and s-l-o-w-w-w it down, just to see how the mad whirl might look at a much slower speed. And look at this!

This is just about the most graceful dancing I've ever seen, more typical of Harold's natural skill as a dancer. Really, it doesn't look silly at all, does it? He's sweeping her off her feet.

But then. . . then I noticed something. It's possible that the original dance has been "sped up" just a little, by something called undercranking (literally, cranking the camera more slowly so that fewer frames per second are exposed, thus making it play back faster). Just look at the piano player - he's a jittery blur! In the second version, he appears to be playing at a more normal speed.

Everyone else in the frame is either carefully still, or only gesturing minimally. What made me think of this tweaking of speed was a tiny video I just saw on The Freshman, in which Harold does a fast-footed "jig" that becomes his signature. It goes so fast you can barely see his feet. I found out, with a bit of disappointment, that this too was tweaked to make it look faster than it was.


"Step right up and call me Speedy!"

"St-e-e-e-e-e-p  r-r-r-r-i-i-ght  up and ca-a-a-a-l-l-l me-e-e-e. . . not very Speedy."

I don't know why the use of special effects in a movie should bother me. It doesn't, except that dancing was one of Harold's natural skills, one of those things he didn't have to formally learn. To see it enhanced/messed with is a bit disillusioning, but Harold was a filmmaker, and the result was all. Harold's nickname (which I am sure he came up with himself) was Speedy, which kind of makes me shake my head a bit for obvious reasons. He always pushed himself to go farther, faster, longer, than anyone else, and was ferociously competitive. So if he couldn't dance fast enough to create a  blur, he would make it LOOK like he could. 

One has to wonder how much insecurity lay beneath that charming exterior. I don't think Harold was moody or broody (though his temper could be explosive), but for all his inspiration, I don't think he was introspective. He always moved relentlessly forward. At what cost, we can only guess, for the lives of his children were troubled. They had all the problems of rich kids who had come from desperately poor parents. Harold was determined to give his children "everything he never had", but was that what they needed? The question goes unanswered. We only know he could  dance. Reminds me of those old Westerns where some cowboy shoots at the feet of the town drunk, yelling, "Dance! Dance! Faster!"

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Maid of Orleans/Cool Cat from Queens

This is my montage of early Christopher Walken/Joan of Arc gifs, the latter taken from the 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Of course I do not mean to suggest they look alike, but there is something about the intensity, the luminous stare, the cheekbones. . . especially the cheekbones. 

These are the cheekbones of a saint.

Similarly, his Deer Hunter suicide scene with its implication of self-immolation/self-annihilation is Joan-like as he sacrifices himself to the dark forces all around him. I couldn't use later Walken, because later Walken is a whole different man. He looks like his own grandfather now, and it's kind of disappointing to me to see such a supernatural fox turn so weary-looking. Only the flashbulb smile with that searchlight sweep of the room is the same as before. But you don't see it often, and his face is so saggy and lacking in tone that he looks almost depressed. Most distressingly of all, he has developed a whistle in his speech, one of the most irritating things in existence. I have seriously wondered about him, since someone recently made a comment on one of his YouTube videos about how "the Alzheimer's is affecting him". He played a musician with Parkinson's a few years ago, and the nearly-expressionless, masked look of his once-expressive face made me wonder.

But perhaps we expect too much, expect a Dorian Grey-like supernatural beauty that lasts forever. This is, after all, a 75-year-old man who has given his whole life to performing. Perhaps it has cost him more than we realize. It amazes me how little vanity he has, how little sense of self-importance or entitlement (and he's refreshingly un-crazy for a child star). I remember the old-style stage performers of the past, Jack Benny and Ed Wynn and all those down-to-earth guys who'd come on Ed Sullivan, and he seems to belong to that old-fashioned era, just here to do his job, and always grounded by a sense of his own (human) limitations.

That said, early Walken is supernaturally beautiful, and so charismatic he leaps off the screen at you like a predatory animal. You simply cannot ignore or forget him.

I still feel that we are looking at two men, but that can't be true! I've read somewhere that Walken smokes, and that could account for the haggardness, which is surprising in light of his extreme early fox-hood. Hey, William Shatner is still a good-looking man (if a tad rotund - but who's complaining?) and surprisingly un-wrinkled at nearly age 88. And his energy, speech, and mobility (not to mention his unquenchable enthusiasm) belong to a much younger man. Maybe it's just a trick of genes, though Walken should have this advantage as well. He has gone on record to say his parents lived to be nearly a hundred. Who knows, maybe he's a living Dorian Grey, with his old self taking on all the slings and arrows his face never revealed when he was young.

POST-BLOG OBSERVATIONS. Because of the weird phenomenon of YouTube, with its vast bulletin board/everything-coming-at-you-at-once quality, it's possible to see Walken at every age, moment-by-moment or even second-by-second as you click from one movie excerpt or interview or hosting gig to another. There are some shocking entries, like this 1962 clip from the TV crime drama Naked City, and in some places he's even younger, not quite grown to his full foxhood because of his boyish softness of face. Here he looks as if he's not even shaving yet. This pastiche/jigsaw effect is relatively new, and in the past we had to go and see a whole movie at a time, or watch a whole TV interview, without this capacity to jump around. I LIKE jumping around, myself, because it satisfies my curiosity and lets the detective in me work fast. But it shocks me to think that I've seldom seen a Walken movie all the way through. I think Communion was one of the only ones, and I only stayed with it because I could not quite believe how bizarre it was.

POST-POST. I began to feel a bit guilty about Christopher Walken. Not that I know the man, or ever will, but I think I was a bit hard on the fact he has let his looks go as stringy and baggy as nature intended. I had thought of assembling a before-and-after of wretched plastic surgery among male celebrities, but ended up compiling this horrendous assortment of short gifs. You know who they are anyway, so I won't bother labelling them. A freakier lot you never saw, though they once all looked like human beings. I don't know who butchers these people, celebs who have all the money in the world to get it done right. Facial muscles get pulled so tight that as the person ages, everything starts to pull in the wrong direction. The face begins to fight itself and squirms weirdly as the person talks. Fixed noses shrivel and cave in, or go oddly sideways. Cheek implants threaten to explode, pushing out so aggressively that they show through the skin. Mouths slash horizontally across the face and look Muppet-like, and eyes sink right into the head.

It ain't working, folks. We're not buying it. You're old, and we know you're old. 

Christopher Walken, meanwhile, is jarring in another way, because in the past couple of years he seems to have aged about twenty. I didn't watch him as Captain Hook in Peter Pan Live (and a more miscast Hook never walkened the earth), but apparently he kept forgetting his lines, letting his Walken-ish pauses drag on forever. And that was five years ago.

Why should I worry at all about a celebrity? Who knows. They're like popcorn. We consume them, they amuse us for a little while, until we go on to the next one. That's just how it is. And they must always keep their shiny side out, the only side we can ever see. 

(Unless you're Alec Baldwin. Then you get to punch people.)