. . . 2001-03-18 . . . The Hotsy Totsy Club
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"Psst! What'd you answer for number 2?" Department

"The editors of Tin House asked some of their favorite people the following five questions.... 2) What is your least favorite film adaptation of a book?"

Robert "Pinky" Pinsky
Robert "The Brain" Hass

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There are, however, two worthwhile things in the Winter 2001 issue, both of them originally pointed out to me by Judith: the Hollywood studio photographs excerpted from John Divola's plunder, and Jonathan Lethem's excellent "Defending The Searchers."

. . . 2001-03-21

Shortcut Journey into Night

Photoshop's "Auto Levels" color correction can undo traditional Hollywood day-for-night with a single click. Make your own "Making of..." feature!

"Something wrong with your eyes?"
"Yes.They're sensitive to questions."

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Word of the Day: Did you know that "Long Day's Journey into Night" is actually redundant? It's true! And if you guessed that it's because "journey" derives from the Middle English journee (or "day trip") -- well, not quite! It's because everything written by Eugene O'Neill is redundant!

. . . 2001-03-31

The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Fatal Glass of Beer

  It is a sad song
"It is a sad song...."

Nonsense is what closes before the theater gets rented. I've read folks who claim that's because nonsense is an anarchistic blow against the rigid patriarachy, but they usually have such poor taste that I can't trust them. More likely, not that many people enjoy nonsense. Even to achieve decent cult status, it has to hide beneath a pretense of parody: Andy Kaufman's and Steven Wright's contrasting parodies of stand-up comics, Robert Benchley's parodies of inarticulate bureaucrats, Marcel Duchamp's parodies of gallery art, Ulysses's parodies of all kinds prose, The Simpsons' parodies of The Simpsons....

And once that small degree of success is attained, the pressure to eliminate all irrational thought really starts to build. Nonsense is not anti-form (good nonsense has beautifully controlled tone and structure), but it is in some ways anti-narrative, particularly the sort of transparent identification-friendly narrative that publishing and other entertainment industries are set up to provide. Sense holds together and makes "natural" what nonsense interrupts, distracts, and makes an arbitrary mess of. For the crafters of transparent narrative, nonsense's disruptions are most easily explained as toothless villainy: a generator of conflict and a delayer of the inevitably sensible resolution.

"In the theatre, he was a make-believe character playing in a make-believe world. In films, he was a real character acting in real stories.... If he must play a nasty old drunk and be publicized as a nasty old drunk in order to work on the Edgar Bergen radio show, then so be it.... it was after Fields escaped realism and returned to his world of make-believe that he made his best films."
-- Louise Brooks, "The Other Face of W. C. Fields"

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a return from exile, all right, but it's the return of a very tired 61-year-old in more dire need of Mrs. Hemoglobin than he might realize. And so my own favored glimpse of the ancient Fieldsian kingdom comes from the 1933 short, The Fatal Glass of Beer, a relatively straightforward filming of a well-honed stage parody of Yukon melodramas: there's little room for him to show off his physical grace, but the deadpan purity of his nonsense is all the more bracing.

"Long shot, medium shot, two-shot, or closeup, Bill performed as if he were standing whole before an audience that could appreciate every detail of his costume and follow the dainty disposition of his hands and feet.... As he ignored camera setups, he ignored the cutting room."
-- Louise Brooks

"It's certainly a bright moonlit night tonight."
  Although most of the attempts at "opening out" the sketch are typically Sennett -- the over-literal illustrations of Mr. Snavely's ballad and the close-ups of his dogsled's team plop in about as amusingly as a cowpie in the face -- one segment suggests what Fields might've achieved if he'd been (or been allowed to become) as engaged with the mechanics of film as he was with the mechanics of performance.

After Mr. Snavely goes out to milk the elk, we're treated to typical stock footage of a herd. Which then turns into badly done rear projection. And then (as the herd begins to gallop and the camera moves closer to them and Fields reproaches the loss of any possible suspension of disbelief with his usual mildness) goes on to turn into utterly absurd rear projection -- a cinematic approach to the legendarily polished ineptitude of his juggling act.

"The Fatal Glass of Beer" by Charlie Case, as adapted by W. C. Fields

MR. SNAVELY: You won't consider me rude if I play with my mitts on, will you?

OFFICER POSTLEWHISTLE: Not at all, Mr. Snavely. Not at all.

MR. SNAVELY: There was once a poor boy,
And he left his country home
And he came to the city to look for work.

He promised his ma and pa
He would lead a civilized life
And always shun the fatal curse of drink.

Once in the city,
He got a situation in a quarry
And there he made the acquaintance of some college students.

He little thought they were demons,
For they wore the best of clothes,
But the clothes do not always make the gentleman.

They tempted him to drink
And they said he was a cow'rd
And at last he took the fatal glass of beer.

  When he'd found what he'd done,
He dashed the glass upon the floor
And he staggered through the door with delerium tremens.

Once upon the sidewalk,
He met a Salvation Army girl,
And wickedly he broke her tambourine.

All she said was "Heav'n --" [RAISES HAND] "-- Heaven bless you,"
And placed a mark upon his brow
With a kick she'd learned before she had been saved.

Now, as a moral to young men
Who come down to the city:
Don't go 'round breaking people's tambourines.

OFFICER POSTLEWHISTLE: That certainly is a sad song.

MR. SNAVELY: Don't cry, constable. It is a sad song... My Uncle Ichabod said, speaking of the city: "It ain't no place for women, gal, but pretty men go thar."

. . . 2001-04-03

From "MODERN FABLES" by G.T.L., Harper's, 1882:


An Insane Teamster having placed the Cart before his Horse, the latter could not forbear a Horse-Laugh in his Collar as he beheld his Master standing up on his back, and belaboring the unfortunate Vehicle with the Whip. What, however, was his Surprise and Indignation when, the End of the Journey being reached, his Master backed him under a Shoot, and loaded him, from a considerable Height, with several tons of Rock Ballast which he had contracted to convey to a Vessel!

MORALS. -- This Fable Teaches us --

  1. That the Horse who boasts before he puts off his Harness is an Ass.
  2. That Nothing is more to be Dreaded than Consistency where a Man is arguing from False Premises; and,
  3. That Contracts for Public Works should never be awarded to Parties who are not Responsible.

. . . 2001-04-09

Critics rave

An anonymous reader informs us:

yo, yo mama, mama, mama oy oy
Coincidentally, some years ago someone I'd just met gave me an extra ticket to a Yo-Yo Ma concert. I don't remember what the music was, but he didn't either: he looked puffy and drunk, and his performance ranged from lackadaisical to frankly out of tune. He still got his standing ovation from the rich old Berkeley lady crowd of PBS supporters, of course; it was like seeing William Holden at a Sunset Blvd. convention.... On the other hand, the first time I saw Johnny Thunders, he weaved, collapsed, muttered incoherent obscenities, and all night all told gave his way-too-heavy-a-burden guitar a total of two resoundingly satisfying thwacks. Johnny Thunders was the better showman.

. . . 2001-04-16

Our Motto: (via June Brigman & Mary Schmich)
Your medicine

What with nostalgia for when I had more writing time and anticipating when I'll have it again and too many dampened spirits among my compeers and maybe even a trace of Joey Ramone sentiment, I feel like expressing less sheepishness than usual about these web ventures. Although deciding that one's desire is deserving of respect probably fulfills some nutritional need or another, audience members with weaker stomachs may wish to turn away.

Yeah, as another asshole said in the catchiest phrase he'll ever coin, occasional writings are advertisements for oneself. But the reason so many of my treasured friends write well is because they're also advertising something better than just self: curiosity, engagement, humor, anti-solipsistic passion.... It's possible to attract attention for a worthwhile purpose, like mutual satisfaction.

And yeah, the web is vanity publishing. But it's not only vanity: it's also an attempt to add to the evidence that love is other than career. If that's hubristic, at least it's in a tradition of not particularly destructive hubris: Virtually every piece of critical writing I care about came from "amateurs," and quite a bit of the art as well. As a reward for being an amateur at a time when the persistent and cheap publishing medium of the web is available, I get a heartening number of responses from working students and from working artists (although only once from a working academic, I wonder why) -- but the beauty of amateurism is that by definition numbers don't matter. The success of a marriage doesn't depend on how many priests attend the wedding.

So, at Juliet Clark's suggestion (she's been reading E. B. White's wartime essays about his small egg-and-dairy farm), I'm going to stop using all those more unpleasant names and start calling myself a "gentleman critic."

. . . 2001-04-24


"But things don't last forever
And somehow, baby,
They never really do.
They never really do."

Joey Ramone's is the first rock death since Lester Bangs to affect me personally, but the affect is happy-happy-happy. Not that I'm happy about Joey Ramone dying. It's just it makes me think about Joey Ramone, and thinking about Joey Ramone makes me happy. (And now maybe the solo album he's been talking about for twenty years will get released.) Anyway it would've been hard to maintain proper respect for mortality, since the two records I played after getting the news ended with "Why Is It Always This Way" ("Now she's lying in a bottle of formaldehyde") and "Every Time I Eat Vegetables It Makes Me Think of You."

The debut album was about sound and songwriting, the vocals merely a fantasy of strangled Liverpudlians. But when the boys left home, Joey's adenoids became true-blue all-American and I became a fan. ("Suzy Is a Headbanger" especially brings back those halcyon Kirksville days....) Later that year, I attended college and my first club show, where I was stationed directly in front of Joey. I remember feeling awed by the magnitude of his discomfort. The ensuing two days of tinnitus lent authority to "THE RAMONES ARE GOD" sign someone'd carried.

Unlike many of my compeers, I kept buying Ramones records after the Spector debacle, mostly 'cause Joey kept loping up the vocalese slopes (albeit sweaty and pale and looking like he was about to faint). At the pinnacle, he managed to cut the originals of both "Little Bit o' Soul" and "Time Has Come Today," which is more than Elvis or Smokey could say.

And through the years, as drummer after drummer was adopted by Ma Ramone and then disinherited, Joey's appeal proved bedrock. Shy, moody, with flowing locks, clammy girlish hands and generous hips, adorable and determined as a mangy abused mutant puppy, he was the ideal bubblegum heartthrob, an all-too-biological object of fascination that still managed to block any thought of physical contact.

A couple of weeks ago, "Space Ghost" re-ran a Ramones appearance. Johnny and CJ did the talking, but every time the camera showed Joey, obviously terrified and obviously delighted, like Daphne's geek brother escaping ravishment by turning into a blighted willow, my heart throbbed loud as ever.


Trivia: When Allan Arkush had Rock 'n' Roll High School's cast and crew spraypaint their choice of graffiti, Joey's contribution was "HELP ME!!!"

. . . 2001-04-26

Smile, Darn Ya, Smile

As usual when facing unemployment, I'm feeling as charmlessly chipper as a Bosko cartoon. But my friends aren't all so fortunate. For example, Henry Adams, currently journeying through 1891, writes:

If I were wildly amusing myself by travel, I should feel horribly selfish and heartless, but the single merit of travel is that it offers a variety of ways of boring oneself, whereas at home one is reduced to boring one's friends. I can at a pinch endure my own sufferings, but I cannot bear inflicting them on others. The English, when bored, kill something. I always feel as if I, too, were putting up a grouse or a pheasant when I stalk a friend to inflict my dreariness on him.

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And Anselm Dovetonsils mixes a bitter cocktail using equal parts George Clinton, Daffy Duck, and the National Enquirer:

Everybody's got a little light under the sun.

And wuddaya know! The little light? It goes off!


East Bay Dining: Caffe Mediterraneum

The only "Med" thing about the Caffe Med is the state of its toilet -- a little slice of Brindisi right in Berkeley!

Recently, while reminiscing over a fine scotch at the Club, international troubleshooter Juliet Clark told us of her most treasured Caffe Med moment. Trying to distract herself from other sensory input by reading through the typically-Telegraph-Ave. graffiti, she found in very neat very tiny ballpoint pen the message:


That was ten years ago and she's never been back.

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On a similar stream of thought, comics scholar Beth Rust mentions:

I usually follow "9 Chickweed Lane" for the Hallmarks-of-Felinity sub-series, but the April 25 strip touched on a theme familiar to many of us but, oddly, seldom dealt with in books or film...
I also follow "9 Chickweed Lane," because it looks good and because its creator is an old-fashioned leg man, as opposed to one of those noisome infants....

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

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2001 Ray Davis.