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The Hotsy Totsy Club

1999-11-01. . . Cholly Kokonino reporting

Things that scare me: When it comes to The Blair Witch Project, Need To Know has my number:
Americans must *love* passably competent executions of moderately original ideas.

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Errata: It must be time for another Patricia Highsmith adaptation.... Casualty estimates for last month's Paddington train wreck were doubled thanks to passengers who hoped they'd be presumed dead and ran off to pursue a new identity, and to spouses of non-passengers who hoped that they could get good solid death certificates without benefit of corpse:

"We came across some very complicated relationships, and people not always being helpful," Deputy Police Superintendent Andy Trotter said.

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The Miracle of Digestion (via Cardhouse): What finer way to celebrate Halloween than with a prepared foods professional convention?

This most recent association of vodka and vitality was probably suggested by the renaissance of the Finnish film industry.

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You know you'll never write anything for GettingIt when... you realize that you watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for the sake of its script.

. . . 1999-11-02

My fellow movie loons should do their utmost to preserve Turner Classic Movies' upcoming broadcasts of Howard Hawks's The Big Sky. Which is to say, Howard Hawks's The Big Sky. Here's how Hawks told the story:
It opened in Chicago at a very good theater and was doing fabulous business. They asked me to fly back there and we looked out the hotel window to the theater and there were lines that went clear around the corner and down the street. They said, "We wanted you to see this because if you'll take twenty minutes out of it, we can get another show in." And I said, "You take twenty minutes out and I don't think you'll have a show. You can't do it and have the same picture." But they had the right to cut it and they did. Within a week, those lines dropped to nothing. The picture did, too.... The scenes that made the relationships good were gone, so all of a sudden you were hit with this strange relationship and you didn't know where it came from.
As befitted his producer-director position, Hawks tended to be a bit of a blame-passer, so I had my private doubts about just how much he could have overcome the central miscasting of Kirk Douglas, always more convincing as slinking creep than as virile life-force. But that was before, without any fanfare whatsoever, TCM's wonderful researchers found a copy of Hawks's original cut and used it to add 17 minutes to the film.

Non-fellow-movie-loons should be aware that this isn't so much a restoration as it is a series of insertions: the footage from the rare print is in noticeably unpristine shape, and it repeats some voice-over narration that was re-recorded for the trimmed version. But Hawks was a master of rhythm, and with the original rhythm of the storytelling back in place, the movie is transformed. What was a muddled collection of wannabe-big scenes is now an organically structured oral history shading into folktale. What was an artificially inserted romance turns real and necessary. And the laughably tough heroes gain vulnerable Hawksian flesh: now it seems to take months for these guys to heal.

. . . 1999-11-03

Critics rave: "With the authority vested in me by the heavenly powers themselves, I hereby name you 'Cutest Egomaniac of the Zodiac.'" -- Rob Brezsny

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Bringing out the Dead confirms that Martin Scorsese should stick to black comedy, that Paul Schrader should shut the fuck up, and (insight via Juliet Clark) that Nicolas Cage is the only possible choice to play Andy Kaufman in a bio-pic.

And -- wow, you know, we're all so used to hearing "Shut the fuck up" (I am, anyway), but it looks kind of odd in print, doesn't it? Like maybe it could be from a gangster movie instead of "Rub the snitch out" or from like a sea chanty:

Shut the fuck up, boys,
Oh, shut the fuck up,
Heigh! ho! shut the fuck up....

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As if they weren't in enough trouble, Beth Rust tells us that Amazon is now competing with drivers-ed films and Variety box-office predictions:

The link is to Dead Men Do Tell Tales, one of my favorite forensic-anthropologist-memoirs books. The auction suggestions that came up?

. . . 1999-11-04

Reuters brings us this uniquely reassuring analysis:
Russian authorities have said the vast nation will not suffer computer chaos after the clock strikes midnight on December 31, promising that citizens would experience only small changes in their lives.

"Russia already lives in a situation which Western experts have described as the most deplorable results of the 'Problem 2000'," Andrei Barkin, project manager at the Y2K resource center of government agency USAID, told a news conference.

Many Russians already battle with an unreliable telephone system in which calls often fail, while power cuts and hot water shortages are common in some far-flung regions.

These are the type of problems which many other governments are trying to prevent after December 31 when the millennium bug might strike, scrambling systems that cannot read the two final zeros [sic] when the date changes to 2000.

"Y2K is a civilized problem, meaning that if a country is more civilized it poses more of a problem," Barkin said.

. . . 1999-11-07

Although the pacing's a bit stodgy, 1936's Mayerling wins on performances, especially from the youthful-but-still-middle-aged Charles Boyer as Prince Rudolf: dissipated, undisciplined, and 100% tragically noble. I would say that Boyer was over-the-top great, but one of the reasons Boyer was always middle-aged was that he was never over-the-top. Under pressure, he just got more impacted.

Besides instigating this woman's marriage, Mayerling's other great achievement was getting me interested in the history of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. 'Cause, I've read Robert Musil and listened to Arnold Schoenberg till the cows came home, but not even the cows ever had the decency to tell me about Only Heir to Empire Dead in Double Love Suicide!, and, brother, that's what I call news.

Well, allowing some elbow room for glamor and the use of French actors, it turns out the movie actually does present the semi-official version of the story pretty accurately. Alas! for romance, it also turns out that not that many people ever believed that version of the story -- what's more likely to hit a Hapsburg: romance or assassination? -- and now it's been thoroughly disproved.

Even after learning that love means nothing, the "what happened next?" factor was still strong, especially since the next thing I found that happened next was the assassination of Prince Rudolf's mother, the Empress, less than a decade after the murder of her son. And by then we're getting close to the Great War.... Would I have to, like, go buy a book or something to work all this out?

No fear of that, because the Atlantic's already bought a book (coincidentally also from 1936) and put it up on the Web: Rebecca West's big dummy's guide to the Balkans, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I remember when its posting was announced as a public service during one of the more recent genocides, but of course it took an old movie to attract my attention....

West works a well-established mainstream genre -- travel notes alternating with history lessons -- but you can't beat the combination of Balkans history and fascist-era travel for human (i.e., morbid) interest, and in its smoothly mainstream way the series builds to near hysteria by the time it reaches Sarajevo in Part 4:
'So when the poor mayor began to read his address of welcome the Archduke shouted out in a thin alto, "That's all a lot of rot. I come here to pay you a visit, and you throw bombs at me. It's an outrage." Then the Archduchess spoke to him softly, and he calmed down, and said, "Oh, well, you can go on." But at the end of the speech there was another scene, because the Archduke had not got his speech, and for a moment the secretary who had it could not be found. Then when it was brought to him he was like a madman because the manuscript was all spattered with the aide-de-camp's blood.'

At that moment the young man smashed his fist down on the table and cried into Constantine's face, 'Judas Iscariot! Judas Iscariot!'

'No,' said poor Constantine to his back, 'I am not Judas Iscariot. I have indeed never been quite sure which of the disciples I do resemble, but it is a very sweet little one, the most mignon of them all.'

Marie Vetsera
I'm a little worried about West's preoccupation with obesity, though. Would you agree with her that "Marie Vetsera was a very fat and plain little girl"? Ess, ess, Rebecca!

. . . 1999-11-12

Big business monkeys: An office job is a lot like agreeing to be put in cold storage for a year.

Except without the refrigeration.

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Every morning the BART train to Union City is full of quiet somber commuters. Every evening the train from Union City is full of clinically deranged whoopers, taunters, and declaimers. I can't help wondering what Union City does to these people during the day. But some fearful premonition prevents me from finding out for myself....

. . . 1999-11-13

November 1999 will be remembered as the month that e-commerce-based art collecting finally came of age, what with Buddy Ebsen's "Uncle Jed Country" series (via Robot Wisdom) and the Delft painting of Charles Krafft (via Beth Rust).

Speaking of Folk Art, a couple of friends during our freshman year in college developed a concept for a TV show to be titled "Buddy Ebsen with an Axe in His Head":

The pilot episode begins deep in Greenland. Towards the camera through the frozen wastes trudges dapper Barnaby Jones. Cut to the top of a hill some distance off. A Viking warrior observes the tiny figure below, pulls from his furs a photo of Uncle Jed, examines it, and grunts: "Buddy Ebsen." Back to a medium-shot of Barnaby Jones, who suddenly pitches forward with an axe in his head. Behind him the Viking strides away. For the next twenty-five minutes the camera is fixed on Barnaby Jones's body. And for the next two seasons' worth of shows.

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 1999 Ray Davis.