Treacherous

And it’s Saturday, and my vacation is slowly but surely drawing to a close. Heavy heaving sigh,

It’s been lovely, actually, even if I haven’t been particularly inspired to do a whole lot this entire time. It’s always easy–and kind of a cop-out–to say, well, you needed the physical, intellectual, and emotional rest, but I really need to cut myself a break every now and again. The endless struggle between “feeling lazy” and “everyone needs a break” is an endless war inside my head; inevitably, the things I need to get done will get done and at some point, I’ll forgive myself for the rest.

I had a very strange inspiration for a short story the other day, which I scribbled down and have some vague idea of where the story will go; it’s called “The Sound of Snow Falling” and the first line is: It was the ice storm that finally broke him. I love that first line; whether it will wind up being a good story remains to be seen. But one thing I’ve never mined in my fiction is my utter hatred for cold weather; perhaps it’s time.

I actually worked on the book yesterday afternoon! It was lovely, and while it still needs polishing up some, I am confident that now that I’ve gotten past whatever the fuck it was that kept me holding back from working on it, I am certain I am going to get this done sooner rather than later–which is a very good thing, as time is running out very quickly. Today I have to run some errands, so I am planning on working on the book before I do that. The Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama) is today, and LSU plays Texas A&M tonight, so I need to try to get as much done as I can before the 2:30 kick off.

I did go to the gym yesterday and today my back muscles are sore and tight, so I am going to need to use the heating pad at some point today–probably while I drink more coffee and read some more of Night of Camp David, which is kind of scarily prophetic, given it was published originally in 1965. We also watched this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, which did a marvelous job of tying the show into the the original trilogy, the prequels, and the final trilogy–apparently, it also tied the show into The Clone Wars, which I’ve never watched (and perhaps should). We also found out the Child’s name–Gorgu–and as always, the show was enormously entertaining (also: a guest spot by Michael Biehn, of The Terminator and Aliens fame!) and visually stunning and splendid. It did occur to me last night that the show–in which the Mandalorian’s quest is to find Gorgu’s people–can’t ever really separate them, as their relationship is at the beating heart of the show.

The show is really one of the highlights of my every weekend, frankly.

We weren’t ready for bed yet, and were trying to find some stand-up comedian special to watch before hand–to no avail–when Amazon Prime suggested Porky’s to us. I had actually run across the movie when looking for things to add to my watchlist, and the film–from 1981–was a watershed moment in “teen movies”–when they turned from the unrealistic fluff from Disney or message movies to sex comedies. I assumed the movie wouldn’t hold up–I remember thinking it was really funny when I was twenty and saw it in the theater–and I was correct; the humor falls very flat in almost every case; the way women are treated–and the way they are expected to simply put up with it (and do) is horrifying, It’s a comedy predicated on the idea that high school boys are always horny and always trying to get laid–none of the boys have a relationship of any kind with any women–and the only female cast members exist only as potential sex partners–Wendy is the female equivalent of the boys, and despite her easy way with her own favors, (basically the boys see her as a willing sex partner who can be persuaded to have sex with just about anyone) she is actually popular and has a lot of friends. (This struck me as wrong when I originally saw it–she would have had a bad reputation-and none of the girls would have been friends with her) The other women in the cast are Miss Honeywell (a very young Kim Cattrall)–again, everyone calls her Lassie because she gets very aroused by the smell of the equipment room and howls loudly as she gets laid–and an uptight, overweight, gym teacher known as Beulah Ballbricker, that they all call Ball-breaker and I suppose her sexual repression and determination to keep the girl students safe from the lusts and perversions of the boys is played for laughs. She represents the sexual frustration and repression of the time, I suppose, that all the kids are rebelling against; but you also can’t help feel sorry for her in some ways.

The movie clearly doesn’t hold up–there are still some moments that are funny–but it depends entirely too much on very low sex humor for laughs, and its very vulgarity was what made it funny; it was shocking, and you would laugh back then because you couldn’t believe they were doing these things in a movie for laughs. Some forty years later, it’s no longer shocking, so it’s not funny anymore and it’s just plain vulgar. They also tacked on a subplot about prejudice and anti-semitism to, I suppose, give the movie a “serious” message about how stupid bigotry actually is in reality. And yet it–along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Animal House of a few years earlier–changed the teen movie forever, and paved the way for other movies of the 1980’s like Risky Business, Sixteen Candles, and The Last American Virgin. With the enormous success of this low-budget indie film, along with Ridgemont High and Animal House, Hollywood finally got the message that you can’t go wrong with sex comedies for teens–and teen movies, while still kind of extreme in some ways, began to more accurately reflect what life was like for teenagers, as opposed to the Frankie-Annette movies of the 1960’s and the Kurt Russell films for Disney in the 1970’s; or began developing films in which the teens were actually fully realized characters–I’m not sure how realistic the notion of running a brothel from your parents’ home in a wealthy suburb is. (Although now that I’ve said that, Risky Business was probably based on something that actually happened.)

There’s a really interesting essay or dissertation or even book there, methinks, but I’m not enough of a film expert to do such a thing–although it would make for interesting reading.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The caffeine is beginning to kick in, which is most lovely, and I am most anxious to get functional and to work on the book as quickly as I can. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Lover

And now it’s the day after the holiday, where Americans ignore all sanity and safety precautions and slam into stores long before sun-up for bargains and to get their Christmas shopping finished. I don’t know if this is actually happening this year or not–I flatly refuse to participate in the nonsense of greedy consumerism (the antithesis of the holiday they intend to celebrate) known as Black Friday; for years, this was the day I drove home to New Orleans from Kentucky. In these pandemic times, I have not bothered to find out what the retailers are planning or planned in terms of safety and so forth; there was no need for me to know, frankly, and at some point today I’ll go to some news sites and see the horrors that transpired for myself.

No thank you.

I finished reading The Hot Rock yesterday, which I enjoyed very much, and then moved on to Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel, which is also interesting. Knebel–I don’t know if anyone else remembers him, but he used to write political thrillers back in the 60’s and 70’s (probably the best known work of his would be Seven Days in May, primarily because it was also made into a film, and the subject–the US and the USSR on the brink of nuclear war–was timely and always in the back of everyone’s mind, right up until the day the USSR collapsed). I’ve never been a big fan of political thrillers, to be honest–political fiction has never really interested me too much, primarily because the reality is too much like fiction as it is, and for another, so much world building to do, even if you simply take the US government and political system as it is and simply graft your story and characters onto it–even if you use the actual history as the history of your new world. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–why get vested in a fictional world of American politics when the real world is right there in front of you all the time–but we discovered it one day when Bravo used to do the marathons all the time, and went back and watched it from the beginning, and it remains one of our favorite shows of all time.

So, it’s entirely possible I would thoroughly enjoy political thrillers after all–I’ve certainly enjoyed, or at least never minded, when thrillers (like those of Robert Ludlum) brushed up against reality or created their own fictional American political world.

Like I don’t have enough to read already, right?

I was reminded of Knebel and his work back sometime during the past four years, as some website (maybe Crime Reads?) did a piece on this particular book, which had returned to print, and focused on a president who was losing his sanity, and the only person who really was aware is the first term, junior senator from Iowa, whom the president has taken a liking to, and keeps inviting to Camp David for late night conversations where the president tells him his insane, Fascistic intentions for his second term. (Yeah, can’t imagine what triggered the publisher to bring this back into print, can you?) I had never read Knebel back in the day, but reading this piece made me curious, not only about this book but about Knebel in general. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also reminded me of the deeply cynical political fictions of the time (I really want to read The Manchurian Candidate)–so many thrillers set in or around politics back in the day–and, of course, conspiracy theories flourished. (The true heyday of the JFK conspiracy theories was clearly the 1970’s.)

All in all, yesterday was a highly enjoyable, relaxing day; today will be more of the same. Sure, I did some cleaning–I cleaned out two of my kitchen cabinets, reorganizing them to make them more functional–and of course i made a turkey roast in the slow cooker, which was quite marvelous. We finished watching season one of Mystery Road, which was quite good, and then moved on to the first three episodes of the HBO MAX series, The Flight Attendant, which was based on a Chris Bohjalian novel, and stars Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory in the lead. Cuoco is tremendously appealing and quite talented. Working the first class cabin on a flight to Bangkok, she becomes involved with one of her passengers, played by Michiel Huisman, and agrees to go to dinner with him in Bangkok. She blacks out during the evening–she’s an alcoholic and in severe denial about it–and wakes up next to his bloody, dead body (his throat was cut) and has absolutely zero memory of the evening before. It’s an interesting mystery, and as I said, Cuoco is terrific in the lead, and is surrounded by a terrific cast.

There really aren’t enough books–particularly crime thrillers–built around flight crews, frankly. I kept thinking about that last night as I watched; I have a short story in progress about a gay flight attendant called “The White Knuckler”, which I’ve never finished, and it also reminded me of how much I love the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? At some point I need to get to the gym, and of course the kitchen is in ruins. I am probably going to clean up the mess in the kitchen this morning, then move onto my easy chair to read some more, and then I am going to write all afternoon before going to the gym. Since we watched all the episodes of The Flight Attendant that are currently available–there won’t be a new one again until Thursday–we’re going to need to find something else to watch tonight to entertain us. Which can sometimes prove challenging, but there are worse things.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Dress

And it’s Thanksgiving, and a holiday! Huzzah for holidays! Thanksgiving isn’t really one of my favorites (other than the obligatory four day weekend that results; I wonder who had the brilliant idea to have the holiday fall on a Thursday instead of Friday in the first place? Give that person a Nobel Prize, please, even if it’s posthumous), but I’m really not much of a holiday person now, nor have I ever really been.

For me, it was always about time off–from school, from work, from responsibility–and now as an adult? I just appreciate paid time off from work, which is always welcomed.

I actually slept late this morning, too–almost all the way to nine thirty, without waking up once and looking at the clock and thinking oh go back to sleep for a bit. This is, obviously, unusual; I must have needed the rest, frankly, so I am not going to question it at all. I am taking the day off from everything guilt-free–it’s a goddamned holiday, so my guilt can just fuck right off–and in a moment, once this is finished, I am going to take my cappuccino into the living room and embrace The Hot Rock and some short stories.

I am making a turkey breast roast (that sounds just wrong) in the slow cooker today in a nod to the holiday–it’s a very simple recipe and then when it’s done I shred the meat with a fork, so it’s really pulled turkey–and yes, I make boxed stuffing because a) it’s perfectly edible and fine and b) if you use chicken broth instead of water, it’s even better. Plus, it’s easy. And the older I get, the more I embrace easy. (I still, however, will make a cheesecake from scratch because it’s so much better.)

I try not to engage much on Twitter–tempting as it may be, the amount of trolls there is truly amazing, and I certainly don’t have the time to bother with keyboard warrior trash– but at the same time, Twitter can be highly entertaining. (My standard rule of thumb for engagement is this: if I start writing an angry and/or snarky response to something someone has tweeted, I either report the original or block the person. It’s enormously cathartic.) I remember being riveted last Christmas, for example, by the massive meltdown of RWA (hard to believe we haven’t reached the one year anniversary of that, isn’t it?).

One of the most enjoyable things I’ve watched/read/scrolled through was the conservative reaction, led by Grifter Supreme Candace Owens, to Harry Styles appearing on the cover of Vogue in a dress. Harry, obviously, doesn’t have a fuck to give about pearl-clutching trash like Owens and her audience; it’s actually lovely to see such a handsome young man with a big career secure enough in his own masculinity to don a dress on a major fashion magazine cover–and it’s also historic, as he is the first male to ever grace a Vogue cover (something Owens herself will never do, but the thirst for it is fucking real). As RuPaul has famously said, “we’re all born naked and everything else is drag.” Fashion and styles change all the time–and it really wasn’t all that long ago that men wore make-up, wigs, heels, and tights. So, apparently, Owens doesn’t believe the Founding Fathers were masculine enough for her?

Anyway, it was thoroughly enjoyable watching her get dragged for the filth she is on Twitter. Like so many on the right (and let’s be honest–there are some on the left as well) she’s in it for the grift; being the go-to female black voice for the right is apparently lucrative enough for her–married to a white male whose own “masculinity”, as defined by the right, is questionable–to continue being a sideshow barker trying to stay relevant and keep the cash coming in.

And speaking of grifts, Ann Coulter certainly has become irrelevant, hasn’t she? (I am NOT complaining. Back in the day, I used to read her books–I used to read a lot of right wing polemics passing as non-fiction political tomes because I thought it was important to not only see what they were actually selling and saying, but to try to understand their position. All it did was convince me that they were sideshow hucksters hawking snake oil and grievance, so I abandoned that around 2003. And trust me, if you’ve read one Ann Coulter pack of lies from cover to cover, you don’t need to read any others.)

There’s only so much toxicity one brain can handle, frankly.

We started watching an Australian series on Acorn last night, Mystery Road, which stars Judy Davis and a lot of indigenous Australians (which is awesome); it’s interesting and entertaining, and I would imagine is going to have a lot to say about Australian racism and how the indigenous there are treated. Judy Davis is always marvelous in everything (I can never watch the Renee Zellweger Judy Garland film because I’ve already seen a definitive Judy Garland, and that was Judy Davis’), and the rest of the cast are quite good as well. The premise is very simply that two young man vanish in the middle of a wasteland–taken from their vehicle, with the doors left open and the motor running–and it also is taking a look at the community itself; I suspect the show is a slow burn. They also bring in police detective from elsewhere who is indigenous himself (played by Aaron Pederson). The two boys who disappear are a white backpacker and a local indigenous soccer hero; it’ll be interesting to see where the show goes. (I had to look up the actor, and apparently the second season is set elsewhere, with Pederson working with a new local cop in a different location)

I’m not sure how we’ll spend today, but whatever we do, it will be relaxing and chill.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

How You Get The Girl

Friday morning and all is right in my world–at least so far so good, one would think.

The weather has been truly spectacular here these past few weeks–despite dipping into the “almost too cold for Gregalicious” category after the sun goes down–and I’ve been really enjoying it. LSU is playing tomorrow–although I don’t have very high hopes for the game, since the program is now in turmoil, not only from having a surprisingly bad season but from allegations of sexual assault from players and ensuing cover-ups, which is despicable, frankly–and of course the Drew Brees injury has things looking rather bleak for the Saints as well. Ah, 2020 football season–so much worse than I’d ever thought it could be for fans in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

I reluctantly came to the conclusion yesterday that I am not going to try to get my story finished for that “monsters of Christmas” anthology. Much as it would be fun to be in the book if accepted, while the pay would certainly be lovely and welcomed, and I also loved the idea of trying to get a story written and publishable (maybe) in such a short period of time–despite all of those things, I really shouldn’t take time away from either the book or the other story already in progress that is developing nicely. It’s not the smartest thing in the world to do, and can I really spare the necessary time to get it done? Probably not, so while I am not crossing it off my to-do list entirely, I am not going to pressure or push myself to get it done.

My back is still sore this morning–but sitting in my easy chair with the heating pad while making condom packs certainly helped dramatically. I’m still not entirely sure what I did at the gym to cause this soreness, and the last time I went to the gym I didn’t feel it getting worse as I went through my workout, so who the hell knows? More heating pad today, and hopefully when I go to the gym later it’ll be okay.

Yesterday I watched two films while making condom packs, and while both fit squarely into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the other also crossed over, theoretically, into the Halloween Horror Film Festival–or would have, had it not been so incredibly terrible.

The first was Deliverance, which was an enormous hit on its first release, made Burt Reynolds a bonafide movie star, and has added so much to the common vernacular that people probably quote it without knowing the source material. While I knew the whole “squeal like a pig” thing came from Deliverance, I did NOT know “he’s sure got a pretty mouth” also came from the film. My parents took my sister and I to see it at the drive-in (and in retrospect, what in the name of God were they thinking? That movie is definitely inappropriate for junior high school students), and while I do not recall the other movie that played with it (which might have explained the choice better), I was pleasantly surprised in some ways by Deliverance. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot in the back woods/mountains of Georgia–breathtakingly beautiful. James Dickey wrote the screenplay based on his only novel–he was primarily known as a poet, and was also an alcoholic–and I’ve tried several times to read the book; I have a copy on my shelves somewhere right now. The film definitely fits in that paranoid 1970’s sub-genre of city people discovering how truly terrifying the country can be, despite the entire American mythology of the country and rural communities being the real America (which still rears its ugly head from time to time today). I could write an entire essay debunking that myth, frankly, as I am rather surprised no one has ever written (doesn’t mean someone hasn’t) an essay or a treatise about this entire sub-genre of film and fiction novels.

Deliverance is also an interesting exploration of 1970’s masculinity; the concept of masculinity, and what is traditionally masculine, was already starting to change and shift around the time the book was written and the film made; in its four characters we see the four masculine archetypes of the time, and how they compare/contrast with each other. The basic premise of the story–a river is being dammed to create a lake, and the dam will provide hydroelectric power for Atlanta, while the lake will flood towns and force communities to relocate away from land held in their families for generations, so these four men decide to canoe down the river one last time in a kind of “back to nature” type weekend thing that was becoming more and more popular with city-dwelling men whose city lives were beginning to make them think they were soft. Burt Reynolds, with his rubber zip up sleeveless vest, with the zipper strategically unzipped enough to show off the thick black pelt of hair on his chest, stood in for the masculine ideal; a strong man who, despite living in the city, only truly comes alive when pitting himself against nature in a game of survival; he is also the only member of the party who understands the dangers of the wilderness–the other three men in the party all think of it as a fun lark. He keeps referring to the Ned Beatty character as Chubby–he’s out of shape and not as fit; out of his element in the wilderness and often complaining and unable to meet the physical demands of the trip. Jon Voight, still at the height of his blonde youthful beauty, is prettily masculine–overshadowed by Reynolds’ machismo, but able to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. The fourth member of the trip–played by Ronny Cox–is yet another soft city type, definitely out of his element; while not seen as useless as the Ned Beatty type, also not as useful in a crisis as he could have been. The film’s bottom line is ultimately about survival, and who will survive when a fun weekend goes wrong. Deliverance also plays into a lot of the stereotypes about poor rural Southern white people–in fact, I would go so far as to say that Deliverance is responsible for cementing a lot of those stereotypes into the public consciousness. It’s a very good, if slightly bizarre, film; it certainly has to be one of the first films to depict male-on-male rape (and that’s one of the flaws in the film; why on earth did that happen? Why did the two rednecks attack them? Maybe it makes more sense in the book), and one of the reasons I always wanted to read the book was to see if there was more information, more explanation, to make the story work better. But I never have been able to get past the first chapter–Dickey was also one of those hard-drinking macho bullshit Hemingway-type writers, oozing with toxic masculinity, and that really comes through in the first chapter of the book, which is as far as I’ve ever gotten without putting it aside with a wince. But there’s an interesting essay to be written about masculinity and how it is portrayed in the film; reading the book and including it, with a comparison/contrast, could be enlightening.

The second half of my double header was Damien: Omen II, which is now available on Amazon Prime–but wasn’t back when I rewatched The Omen and The Final Conflict, the third part of the trilogy. Damien is just a bad movie, from beginning to end; it opens shortly after the conclusion of the first film, and the archaeologist in the Holy Land, Bugenhagen, telling a friend that Damien Thorn is the anti-Christ, proving it by showing him a newly excavated wall where a medieval monk who was visited by the devil and went mad, painted the images the devil showed him; amongst those images are the anti-Christ at numerous stages of his life–and he looks like Damien Thorn. Bugenhagen also has the ritual daggers that must be used to kill Damien…which is interesting, since he gave them to the Gregory Peck character in the first film, who was trying to use them at the end when he was killed; how did the old man get the daggers back? Was there more than one set? The rest of the movie is about Damien slowly learning who he is, while people continue to die around him, including his cousin/best friend. Damien was taken in by his father’s brother and his second wife, played by William Holden and Lee Grant (and just like in the first film, they are way too old to have thirteen year old sons), and the movie makes no sense, isn’t scary in anyway, and just really comes across as a pale imitation of the first, which wasn’t very good to begin with.

I also read a short story last night, from The Darkling Halls of Ivy, and while I did enjoy reading the story, “Einstein’s Sabbath,” by David Levien, in which a Princeton student after the second world war, one who was on the ship that sent the planes with the atomic bombs to Japan, comes to Professor Einstein’s home to blame him for the use of the bombs, and their creation. It’s an interesting story, but like the Jane Hamilton, not really a crime story per se; which is the only real problem I had with it.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Half of My Heart

And now it’s Friday. It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost Thanksgiving already, but the initial pandemic shutdown also seems like it was more than a million years ago–when dinosaurs roamed the earth–rather than a mere eight months or so ago. Eight months we’ve been dealing with this; even though it seems more like eight fucking decades. But I’ve noticed that time has sped up lately–for the longest time it felt like time was dragging and was taking forever to pass, but now…now time is flying.

I suspect it’s the looming deadlines and being behind on everything, quite frankly.

The sun is bright this morning in my eyes and I cannot find my baseball cap–it’s probably stashed somewhere I thought I’d remember where it was–so I’ve had to move my chair and I am writing this while sitting at a weird angle to my desk. I’m working at home again today, and will be walking to the gym for today’s workout when I am finished with this afternoon’s work. Yesterday for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival I watched The Boys from Brazil and The Towering Inferno–more on those later–and I think that for today I might just dip back into some more Halloween horror. We also started streaming Mr. Mercedes, which is now available on Peacock for free–I am actually impressed with everything they are offering; it’s very similar to HBO MAX, but am still not willing to pay for another premium service yet–and I have to say, I am enjoying this adaptation. It’s fairly true to the books–at least as I remember, although I don’t remember the neighbor Ida, played by the amazing Holland Taylor–and I have to say, the three Bill Hodges novels (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) have been my favorite Kings of this century thus far; Mr. Mercedes very deservedly won the Edgar for Best Novel some years back, and as much as I loved the books, I was very sad when I reached the end. King himself was an executive producer, and the television series adaptation was written by David E. Kelley, who has also been responsible for a lot of good television over the years, including Big Little Lies and The Undoing, which we are greatly enjoying as well. There are three seasons of this adaptation, and I assume each season covers one of the books.

The Boys from Brazil is an interesting film, and very much of its time. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, both book and film were very much of the 1970’s, and also encapsulated that cynicism and paranoia of the decade perfectly. It was also one of those stories that permeated the zeitgeist; everyone knew what”the boys from Brazil” were without reading the book or seeing the movie. The movie is a very close adaptation of the book–Ira Levin was known for his brevity as a writer, so rarely did things need to be cut out of the books for the screenplay. The Boys from Brazil was actually Levin’s longest novel–I could be wrong, but I don’t think so–and the film has some impressive star power, with Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason in leading roles, and an incredibly impressive supporting cast, including Rosemary Harris, Anne Meara, and Uta Hagen. The film also opens with a focus on a young character played by an extremely beautiful young Steve Guttenberg (whatever happened to him? He was a big deal in the 1980’s and then just kind of faded away) as a young Jewish-American man who goes Nazi hunting in Paraguay, and is actually the one whose investigation tips off the big Nazi hunter played by Laurence Olivier about what’s going on and kicks the film into gear before he is, of course, caught and murdered by the Nazis.

It’s hard to imagine now that the 1970’s were forty years or so ago now; the world has changed so much…but the 1970’s were also only a few decades removed from the second world war and Nazi war criminals were still being hunted down worldwide by the Israeli secret police. (The Germans were also hunting them down for trials; the Israelis were killing them.) The Lieberman character played by Olivier (he got an Oscar nomination; ironically, he also got one for playing an escaped Nazi war criminal in Marathon. Man a few years earlier) was based on Simon Weisenthal; does anyone even remember Weisenthal today? (Weisenthal was one of the people who helped track down Eichmann.) It’s no secret that many Nazis escaped to South America after Berlin fell, and Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in particular; so much so that it was so much a part of the zeitgeist that everyone knew and a casual reference was easily picked up on. Levin took that, decided to make Josef Mengele, the escaped Nazi “angel of death”, and put him at the center of the story. And the scene where Leibermann finally realizes what Mengele’s plans are–that is the scene that earned Olivier the Oscar nomination. The film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop that the book does–probably because by the time the film was released, most people knew what the title referenced and what it was about (Levin was a master of the huge surprise twist), which killed some of the suspense. Gregory Peck isn’t very good as Mengele, either; paired with his listless performance in The Omen, Peck was clearly phoning it in for the most part in the 70’s and cashing the checks.

And as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains. The two best Indiana Jones movies have him fighting Nazis; you just can’t come up with better villains–having the opposition be Nazis alone immediately makes your hero pure of heart and decent and makes you root for him. (The Vatican, however, is an excellent fallback choice.)

There’s also an excellent essay to be written about The Boys from Brazil, comparing and contrasting it to Robert Ludlum’s The Holcroft Covenant, which is also about an attempt to resurrect the Third Reich, with the the seeds planted in the waning days of the war.

The Towering Inferno was part of the big wave of disaster movies that was a thing in the 1970’s, spawned by the huge success of Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. Like all disaster films, it boasted an all-star cast chock full of award winners and household names–Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, and Richard Chamberlain, to name a few–and a terrible script that was focused more on the adventure than the actual characters. (It’s also jarring to see O J. Simpson in a supporting role; and to remember he had a fledgling acting career before he murdered two people) Disaster movies inevitably fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival because they are always about preventable disasters that wind up happening because of greed and people in positions of power that invariably shouldn’t be; there’s always one scene where the person in charge of cleaning up the mess and solving the problem sanctimoniously lectures the person they feel is responsible for it: in this case, fire chief Steve McQueen lectures architect Paul Newman about the irresponsibility of building skyscrapers from a firefighter’s point of view (and having witnessed 9/11….yeah, watching the scene made me squirm more than a little bit)–but Newman, you see, is the hero; the fire and the building’s failure to be properly prepared isn’t his fault; construction manager Richard Chamberlain cut corners on the electrical wiring and so forth to stay on schedule and under budget to please building owner (also his father-in-law) William Holden. I watched the movie for the first time several years ago–and couldn’t make it all the way through on a rewatch. The acting is too bad, the writing too awful, and the story not compelling enough. It was nominated for like seven Oscars, including Best Picture–which should give you an idea of what a bad year that was for film. It was based on two novels, published around the same time, that covered the same ground–a fire in a new skyscrape–so the rights to both had to be secured to prevent lawsuits: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern, and The Glass Inferno, by by Thomas Scotia and Frank Robinson, with their titles blended into The Towering Inferno.

Around the time I originally watched The Towering Inferno I rewatched three other big disaster movies of the time–Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake–and none of them really hold up. There were scores of other disaster movies of the time too–several Airport sequels, a movie about killer bees, etc.–but if the BEST of the time don’t hold up, the ones that weren’t considered good at the time must be really horrific.

And on that note, it is back into the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow.

The Way I Loved You

I feel so much better that I’m almost afraid to trust it, frankly.

Last night I fell back into the Internet wormhole about the protective forts built to safeguard New Orleans years ago–there are more of them than you might think, and sadly, most of them are either unsafe to visit or hard-near-impossible to reach (Fort St. Philip particularly; only accessible by helicopter or boat). I’m thinking of debuting my fictional interest in Fort St. Philip in a short story–the idea came to me last night, and while it’s not fully formed, it’s there–but while making notes (as I did madly yesterday, and not just about Fort St. Philip but about the other forts protecting the city) it started coming together for me. We’ll see–I still have to work on the revisions of “The Snow Globe” and I still need to finish writing “A Dirge in the Dark”–and I am not entirely certain how one would define the story in the first place.

I slept really well again last night, which was lovely I am apparently adapting (at long last) to this “get up early” schedule, which is, while emotionally an unappealing thought, rather satisfying. I am hoping to be really productive today–have to go to the gym tonight after work–and then back to the story. We got caught up last night on this week’s episode of The Undoing, which I am finding more and more interesting with each episode–although my initial suspicion was the plot twist at the end of this week’s episode.

I’m feeling better now than I have in a very long time. I’m not entirely certain why that is–perhaps I am finally getting used to life in a pandemic? And while I am not entirely on board with the idea that I am used to life in a pandemic–it’s not something I think any of should have to get used to, intellectually–it is what it is, and I of all people need to get out of this weird stasis feeling I’ve had since March and get back to working on my writing and getting this apartment back under control. I also would like to get back into my reading groove; I’ve not read anything in novel form in quite some time and I really do need to get back into reading again. Reading always inspires me and helps get me into my writing groove, and The Hot Rock, cleverly written and intricately plotted, should prove inspiring.

I have several other books on hand that I am interested in getting to read soon–which I will not do until I am finished with The Hot Rock–including a reread of The Bad Seed, which I’ve not read since I was a teenager, in addition to an old Fletcher Knebel story, Night of Camp David, and I do want to reread Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages–and of course, there are short stories everywhere.

The LSU-Alabama game this weekend is in question because of COVID positivity amongst the LSU team; if the game is cancelled, it’s just going to be cancelled, as LSU is out of bye weeks and has already had to reschedule the Florida game, and there simply is no more time in this abbreviated schedule to reschedule this game. I am not saying this wouldn’t be an enormous relief for LSU fans, but the way they team is playing, and the way Alabama is playing this year–well, it would be an extremely excruciatingly painful experience for the team and fans. It’s already questionable whether I would inflict such pain on myself by watching–the collapse of the LSU program this season has already been horrific enough to witness–but what kind of fan would I be if I gave up on them? I never gave up on the Saints–even in 2005–so it would be wrong for me to bail on this benighted season.

Yesterday, the preview trailer for the Hulu series adaptation of The Hardy Boys dropped, and as expected, right on cue, all the “fan pages” I belong to on Facebook went insane. IN-fucking-sane. (However I always find the collective outrage of fevered fan boys and girls most amusing.) My personal favorite was the person who stated that he “hates adaptations that don’t follow the book(s) strictly”–which made me laugh out loud.

Um…has any book ever been filmed and adhered strictly to the original text? Outside of Rosemary’s Baby and a handful of others….yeah, he must not watch a lot of adaptations.

I really need to write a Scotty book about kids’ series fans.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Innocent

Sunday morning, and I feel good.

Yesterday was quite marvelous. As a general rule, I refrain from talking about politics, primarily because I feel I don’t really need to; anyone who knows me knows where I stand. Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows my politics, or they do if they’ve read anything I’ve ever written–essay, blog, short story, etc.. I only talk about equality when I do talk about our country or our system; and my feelings about equality should make it abundantly clear that I am pretty far to the left, and move even further left the older I get. So, when the presidential election was finally called yesterday morning, I ran upstairs with tears in my eyes to tell Paul the great news, and I pretty much realized three hours later, after viewing as much of the celebrations and reading as many articles and so forth as I could in my thirst to make it finally all seem real to me, that I was going to get absolutely nothing done yesterday. And I didn’t, either. I didn’t cook anything, didn’t wash a dish, didn’t write a word; I didn’t read my book, I did nothing constructive at all other than joy-scroll through my social media. I watched football games that meant nothing to me, since LSU wasn’t playing–Indiana beat Michigan for the first time since the Reagan administration; Florida beat Georgia; Notre Dame beat Clemson–but it was all just background noise, really, as I kept going through social media and sometimes would switch over to the news while the games were on.

Could I really afford to take the day off and do nothing? Of course not, but I did precisely that very thing. I figured that since we won’t be electing the first biracial female vice president of the United States ever again, I was allowed to take the day off and bask in the knowledge that this was another historic election.

If someone would have told me, back when I was casting my first presidential election ballot back in 1980, that one day I would be voting for the first black man to become president (and doing it twice), and another day I’d be voting for the first black/Indian woman to become vice president, I would have laughed really hard, as such a thing was completely unimaginable back in those days. (Four years later, Geraldine Ferraro became the first major party female candidate for vice president; it would only take another twenty two years for another one to be a candidate, and another thirty-six years for one to actually win. And yes, much as I am loathe to give the loathsome Sarah Palin credit she does actually count as a historic nominee–even if she is now essentially a political pariah and yet another “Christian values” candidate whose marriage has crumbled into divorce. #Palinfamilyvalues.)

And watching the international celebrations of our election results was also a reminder that, no matter what anyone thinks, despite all of our flaws and mistakes and judgment errors, the rest of the world looks to us for leadership; and despite all the inequality built into our system by imperfect men who were well aware of their flaws and prejudices, we are what they aspire to–our political stability, our peaceful transitions of power, and yes, our freedoms. (Although when they think about our freedoms I rather seriously doubt the right to bear arms is at the top of their list…)

I’ve always believed that history was taught incorrectly; our history shouldn’t be taught as dates and places and battles–those are important, don’t get me wrong, but they are not as important as the progress, throughout history, of human rights and human freedoms. As for the battles and the wars, those should be seen through the prism of whether they pushed forward (or held back) human rights and freedoms. As interesting as kings and queens and emperors and tsars might be…what was life like under their rule? Did the people suffer, or did they prosper, or were they merely seen as sub-humans not really worth the divinely appointed King’s time or consideration?

Heavy thoughts on a Sunday morning. I need to get to the gym today, and I also need to make groceries–I don’t really need to get groceries, really–there’s only a few things we need and it could conceivably wait till next weekend–but I am all about getting things over and done with and out of the way. The Saints play later tonight–an evening game with the Buccaneers–and I’ll undoubtedly watch that until around ten, when I’ll need to go to bed to wake up in time for clinic tomorrow morning–but that also gives me this afternoon to try to get to all the things I never really got around to yesterday–Westlake’s The Hot Rock, any number of short stories that need writing, the book I should be writing, and lots and lots of cleaning–but I feel good today. I feel like I can breathe again. I also am aware the results of the election simply means the start of the great work required to right this ship–and it’s going to be a struggle–and there are going to be disappointments along the way, but I am going to allow myself to ride this wave of optimism and hope as long as I can….it’s been in far too short supply these last four years.

We finished watching The Murders at White House Farm last night, and it was really most marvelously done. There was also enough ambiguity left in the crime itself to leave the viewer wondering if justice truly was done–as is the case unless there are eyewitnesses or a confession–and this ambiguity is what makes these types of shows so interesting to watch for a crime writer. In our fictions, we cannot leave our readers with that kind of complex ambiguity–we can allow killers to go free, but the reader has to understand completely that there is a miscarriage of justice occurring. Most of criminal justice is shades of gray in reality; our fictions are allowed some shades but cannot be completely gray over all.

I did spend some time wondering about the short stories I am writing, and of course came up with the idea for another one, called “The Oracle on Orange Street” (Orange Street is one of those secret streets in New Orleans that only exist for a few blocks; it was named for the orange groves that lined it back in the day–the street I live on is another one of those, and so is Camp Place, which only exists for two blocks near Coliseum Square; Camp Place is the setting for another novel I want to write some day called Voices in an Empty Room) and while I am not certain what that story is actually going to be, I kind of would like to write about a psychic (yes, Scotty is also one, but I want to write about one who makes her living as one; I’ve considered resurrecting the psychic who told Scotty’s parents that he had the gift to be the lead character; Madame Xena. But, as I mentioned the other day, it’s really a matter of age. If Madama Xena was already a psychic with a good reputation when she spotted Scotty’s gift when he was a child…how old would she be now?), but on the other hand, I kind of also want to write about a phony psychic being used in a noir fashion to convince a believer of something that isn’t true…decisions, decisions. But I like that title, and at some point I’ll figure out who and what “The Oracle on Orange Street” is about and who she actually is as a person.

But for now, I will continue savoring that title. Hell, for that matter, Voices in an Empty Room is also a really good one.

I also spent some time wondering about the next Scotty book–I know, I know, finish the two you’re already writing–and trying to figure out how best to write about this accursed 2020 Carnival season. There are also some things left over from Royal Street Reveillon that will need resolving in this book, and then I have to deal (in the next one) with the pandemic. It also begs the question, can’t you just pretend in Scotty’s world that it never happened?

It’s an interesting possibility, but in some ways for me it feels like copping out; like not writing about Katrina, or having it happen in Scotty’s world was just too easy an out. I get that people may not want to remember what it was like, or relive the horrible experience of 2020, but on the other hand I don’t see how, as series writers, we can simply pretend it never happened. I recognize that my world is fictional, and therefore theoretically in “my” world I can simply decide “no pandemic” and it never happened in this particular alternate universe; I’ve certainly never mentioned the Afghan or Iraq wars in a Scotty book, or 9/11 either for that matter (although the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security have come up, without explaining how they came to be in existence). There’s also some reluctance in actually tying a book to a certain year–although I did that with some of the earlier ones; after all, the Saints only won the Super Bowl for the first time one time–but again, sometimes when it comes to this sort of thing I am literally spinning my wheels and being indecisive because that leaves me in my inertia…always remember: a Greg at rest tends to stay at rest.

This morning my natural inclination is to blow off both the gym and making groceries, even though I know that neither is an option. The gym is only open until one today, and since the Saints game isn’t until much later, there’s no need for me to make the grocery run so early–gym first, groceries and gas up the car afterwards. I can spend the rest of the day writing or reading or playing intellectual games about my works in progress.

But last week I started feeling the old Gregalicious–the Type A one who gets a ridiculous amount done in a remarkably short period of time–starting to break through the cloud cover and start elbowing his way out to the front of my consciousness. This morning, I strongly feel like I can breathe and sleep and rest again….and soon I’ll be writing up a storm again.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines and get this kitchen cleaned up before I head to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Cornelia Street

I read a piece yesterday on Crime Reads about aging your characters over a series, and have to say it was interesting; certainly, it make one Gregalicious stop and think–muse, really.

I was–doubtless like any number of Agatha Christie readers–already aware that Poirot was already elderly and retired from the police force in his first case, The Mysterious Affair at Styles; by the 1960’s when he was still solving cases he would have had to have been, per the piece, about 130 years old. Likewise, Miss Marple was already an elderly woman when she debuted in the 1930’s in Murder at the Vicarage, and while later Marple stories talked about how old and frail she was, by the time her last case–Sleeping Murder–rolled out in the 1970’s she also would have been well past one hundred. (The piece also discussed how old Nero Wolfe would have been by the time his final case was published, if the fiction matched reality.)

This is something that has been preying on my mind for quite some time, because of course, Scotty was only twenty-nine in Bourbon Street Blues (published in 2003), which, if we follow linear time, would make him around forty-six now. That’s not terribly bad–he typed as he eyes his own sixtieth birthday coming the following year–but it’s not Scotty’s age that concerns me so much as the age of everyone else in the series. If Scotty is forty six and the youngest Bradley child, and Storm was old enough to be a senior in high school when Scotty was in eighth grade–that puts Storm firmly at around fifty-one, which would put Scotty’s parents into their seventies and his grandparents in their nineties–at the very least. Scotty is actually younger–I didn’t follow linear time in the series (Katrina forced me to start aging him; I had intended for him to be twenty-nine forever)–and so he actually was 29 in 2004 and turned thirty just before Katrina–but that only shaves about a year off his age. I’ve not wanted to deal with the deaths of his grandparents or his parents becoming frailer with age, so I just pretend when I write about them that they’ve not aged. Scotty has, but they haven’t–and also, Frank is pushing sixty himself now no matter how I arrange the ages and timing of the series, and still wrestling professionally. Again, I’ve not really wanted to deal with the age issues–he retired after twenty years of service with the FBI, as a matter of fact–retiring in the period between Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo, but I have intellectually accepted the fact that Frank is probably going to have to step away from the ring and the bright lights; it’s just a matter of when. I’ve always wanted to do a Scotty case built around the professional wrestling promotion Frank works for and will need to be retiring from; this was always going to be the premise behind Redneck Riviera Rhumba…but a Scotty book not set in New Orleans?

Anyway, I’ve really not wanted to deal with the deaths of Scotty’s grandparents, but I also know I am eventually going to have to–I can’t keep having them be just an amorphous age known as “old” and live to be over a hundred (although people do live that long, but it’s patently absurd that all four of his grandparents are remarkably long-lived; perhaps I’ll start killing off the Bradley side of the family first. I never liked the Bradley side, but have always had a soft spot for the Diderots.)

I can probably get away without killing the grandparents off for another couple of books, but…the clock is ticking. Although a Bradley death being the springboard for another case would be interesting. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I also discovered an interesting location in Louisiana yesterday, Fort St. Philip. And yes, while that may not be completely factually correct–I’d heard of it vaguely before as one of the Mississippi River forts below New Orleans that were built to help defend the city–I’d never really learned much about it, but yesterday I discovered this weird abandoned location was actually home to a religious cult from 1978-1989, when they all moved away. Interesting, no? I could easily do a Sherlock story back in the 1910’s set there, or even have it be a weird Scotty story, or even simply a stand alone; an abandoned fort once home to a religious cult is like the perfect setting for a horror novel as well, isn’t it? Hmmm. I could also do all three, frankly; a Sherlock story in 1916; a Scotty story in the present; and a horror novel at any time. SCORE.

I did watch The Conversation while I was making condom packs yesterday, and am really glad I did. The film was incredibly timely when it was released back in 1974; the Nixon administration was crumbling because of it’s illegal electronic surveillance of the McGovern campaign, and the ensuing cover-up–although Francis Ford Coppola knew none of that would be the case when he wrote and directed the film. It was also overshadowed by his other film release that year–The Godfather Part II–which is really a shame. The Conversation has a plot, of course–and a pretty decent one–but the film is really a character study of Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who works pretty much alone and is legendary in his field–which few people really know about. The entire film hinges on the performance of Gene Hackman in the lead, and it’s one of Hackman’s best performances, understated and nuanced and completely immersive; I don’t think he got an Oscar nomination for this but he definitely should have–and it should have been a very close race for him. The film opens with Harry and his team–mostly hirelings, as he prefers generally to work alone–following and recording a young couple (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) as they walk around a crowded Union Square. Harry is also haunted by one of his greatest achievements–he managed to eavesdrop and record a conversation between a corrupt union boss and an accountant about their embezzling of union funds; the boss assumed the accountant had talked and had people kill not only him, but his wife and children in a particularly brutal way. Harry looks at every job as a challenge, and his particular genius is conquering jobs most experts reject as impossible. But after those murders, Harry is beginning to question his own morality and his own ability to distance himself from what results from him doing his job…and as the film progresses, he begins to distrust his own client, and suspects the client (played by Robert Duvall and only ever known as “the Director”) is going to murder the young couple–the woman happens to be his wife. (A beautiful, very young pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford plays the Director’s assistant, and Harry’s contact–and his motivations are also murky and peculiar.) Harry is already paranoid–he refuses to have a phone in his apartment, and early in the film gets a post office box so no one will have his address–and watching the paranoia and fear build in him throughout the film is very impressive. It really captures the cynicism and paranoia of the 1970’s; it could be considered a defining film of the decade, and is definitely an excellent addition to your own Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

I also watched an old horror movie from the 1980’s called Witchboard, which I had enjoyed at the time but now–well, calling it “terrible” is actually a complement. The script is bad, the dialogue is bad, the cast has no chemistry together, and none of the relationships make any sense. The cast, led by Todd Allen (who is supposedly hot and sexy–okay, 1980’s straight masculinity), Tawny Kitaen (perhaps best known for the Whitesnake music video for “Here I Go Again”, for dancing erotically on the hood of a car; this film definitely answers any questions anyone might have about Kitaen’s acting abilities–they are virtually non-existent) and Stephen Nichols, who would go on to great fame on soaps like Days of Our Lives (as Patch) and General Hospital (as a Cassadine in love with Genie Francis’ Laura Spencer), but is frankly terrible in this. It came in late for the Halloween Horror Film Festival, but dear Lord, it is terrible. I have yet to decide which films to watch during today’s condom packing adventures, but I did find some more interesting looking 70’s films–along with some really terrible-looking horror movies from the 1970’s on.

And of course, there is always a lot of writing for me to do; volunteer work, and so forth….but I intend to really enjoy this weekend as much as I can. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, as I put on my helmet and once again head to the spice mines.

Enchanted

Daphne du Maurier has long been one of my favorite authors–ever since I discovered her short story collection Echoes from the Macabre when I was eleven or twelve; the first story in that collection, “Don’t Look Now,” remains one of my all time favorites; later in my teens I finally read Rebecca, and it has remained one of my favorite novels of all time, getting the periodic reread. One of the things I loved about du Maurier, as I tore through several of her other novels in the wake of Rebecca (The King’s General, The Flight of the Falcon, Jamaica Inn, and Frenchmen’s Creek) was that her novels subverted expectation; her books were marketed, or at least so it seemed to me, as romantic suspense novels and/or historical romances; yet the books were anything but that (whenever someone refers to Rebecca as romantic suspense it’s all I can do not to laugh in their face). The King’s General, for example, based on actual history, does not have a happy ending at all; and even the others aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. About seven or eight years ago I finally read My Cousin Rachel, at the recommendation of a friend who couldn’t believe I’d never read it; once I had, it immediately shot to the top of my list of all-time favorites.

I’ve not finished the du Maurier canon–not because I don’t want to, but primarily because she’s dead and I know at some point, I will run out of du Maurier fiction. I know this is silly; I should, now that sixty is just on the horizon, start finishing the canons of my favorites because it would really suck to die and not be finished with them. (But then we always think we have more time than we actually do, don’t we? It’s sometimes very difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I am, indeed, as old as I am.)

But watching the film of The Other made me think of this particular du Maurier, and I decided to give it a shot.

I left the car by the side of the cathedral, and then walked down the steps into the Place des Jacobins. It was still raining hard. It had not once let up since Tours, and all I had seen of the countryside I loved was the gleaming surface of the route nationale, rhythmically cut by the monotonous swing of the windscreen wiper.

Outside Le Mans, the depression that had grown upon me during the past twenty-four hours had intensified. It was inevitable, always, during the last days of holiday; but this time, more than ever before, I was aware of time having passed too swiftly, not because the days had been overfull but because I had achieved nothing. The notes I had written for the lectures I was to give during the coming autumn were scholarly, precise, with dates and facts that I should afterwards dress up in language designed to strike a spark in the dull minds of inattentive students. But even if I held their flagging interest for a brief half hour, I should know, when I had finished, that nothing I had said to them was of any value, that I had only given them images of history brightly coloured–waxwork models, puppet figures strutting through a charade. The real meaning of history would have escaped me, because i had never been close enough to people.

It was all too easy to lose oneself in a past half real, half imaginary, and so be blind to the presesnt. In the cities I knew best, Tours, Blois, Orleans, I lost myself in fantasy, seeing other walls, older streets, the crumbling corners of once glittering facades, and they were ore live to me than any real structure before my eyes, for in their shadows lay security; but in the hard light of reality there was only doubt and apprehension.

There are very few writers who can write so poignantly about depression and dissatisfaction with life; the dark night of the soul, as it were. This is where the hero of The Scapegoat finds himself at the opening of the novel. John, our thirty-eight year old hero, is an Englishman who teaches French history, is fluent in French, and is becoming incredibly dissatisfied with his life. Although his French is flawless and spoken like a native, his fascination and love for France has slowly become disaffecting for him–he feels like he doesn’t belong there and doesn’t quite fit in as he is not actually French; his life is humdrum and routine and lonely; he has no family, few friends, no loves. He has stopped in Le Mans on his way to visit a monastery, and as he walks around the rain-drenched city, he feels his difference very deeply; and then something strange happens: someone mistakes him for someone else, and then very shortly thereafter he runs into his mirror image–and his life is never going to be the same again.

The double, Jean, the Comte de Gue, is also dissatisfied and bored with his own life, and the two men have a few drinks. Eventually they repair to a disreputable looking hostel for another drink–and then our hero, John, passes out, only to wake up more than fourteen hours later to find that “his” driver is there, waiting for him to take him home. He soon realizes all of his things–passport, wallet, ID, car keys–are gone; he has two choices open to him. He can either tell this fantastic story of his to the police and to the driver, who will most likely judge him insane….or go along with the pretense, and slip into the life of his double.

Naturally, since this is a du Maurier tale, he chooses the latter.

In the hands of a lesser writer this contrivance–obviously, without making this decision the rest of the novel cannot happen–would be too glaring, too crazy, too much, really; but du Maurier does such a magnificent job of capturing his own boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction with the dull, plodding life he has made for himself that it actually almost makes sense for him to made this insane decision, for how can he possibly hope to pull off such an imposture? The look-alike story has been done to death over the years, and its overuse on soap operas–generally used when a popular actor has left the show, was killed off, and wants to return; or the double is evil and is taking over the good character’s life (they did this on Dynasty, poorly, with a Krystle look alike)–has made it seem trite and boring and over-used, as well as ridiculous. But Dickens used it for A Tale of Two Cities (even making his dopplegangers English and French, as du Maurier did), and of course, Mary Stewart’s brilliant The Ivy Tree also used the look-alike trope quite ingeniously. (Apparently Josephine Tey did the same with Brat Farrar.) Du Maurier does make this work–ironically, the only creatures who doubt that the Comte is actually the Comte are dogs; but then again, even when he behaves out of character for his look-alike or doesn’t know something he should, no one has any reason to doubt him or believe that a double has replaced their Jean. Would you suspect someone you love and know quite well has been replaced by a twin? There are also some wonderful subplots, regarding the real Comte’s relationships with his family, and while there really wouldn’t be much consequence if he is caught out, a lot of the thrill of the book comes from him not just uncovering the truths behind the fraught relationships with his relatives and the darkness of the past, but also figuring out ways out of situations where he would be found out.

And du Maurier’s writing style itself is the real star. There’s a hypnotic, dream-like quality to her voice; she weaves her words and sentences and paragraphs together softly but beautifully; there’s a melancholy to her style that always hypnotizes her readers into buying into the conceits of her stories and plots.

I greatly enjoyed this read, and am now looking forward to finishing the du Maurier canon.

Like I said, limited time.

Come In With The Rain

And just like that, we somehow made it to Friday yet again. Good for us all! Seriously, at this point survival is about all we can hope for these days–what with the world aflame, all the hatred and divisiveness in our society and culture, a pandemic, and all this economic uncertainty. I’ve noticed on social media a tendency for people to be hesitant about terrific things that are happening for them, whether personal or professional or both, and to them I say shout it out from the rooftops! We all need to find some joy in this life and world these days, and for heaven’s sakes, don’t feel guilty because good things are happening for you during tough times!

And anyone who looks at your good news and finds it inappropriate or whatever–really should take a long, hard look at themselves and their values, because if you have reached a point in your life where you cannot be happy for other people’s good news….maybe you shouldn’t be on social media at all and need to withdraw to heal yourself for a while.

I’ll take any joy or happiness I can find anywhere in this year 2020.

We all should, frankly.

Wednesday I saw a notice on social media–link, post, whatever–about a television reboot of the old Burt Reynolds/Sally Field film Smokey and the Bandit, which was the second biggest money-making film of 1977 (behind Star Wars). I can’t imagine this happening, to be honest; Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason were fairly definitive, and if we’ve learned anything from the Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard, Burt Reynolds is kind of hard to replace. Smokey and the Bandit was a surprising hit–I don’t think anyone involved thought it was going to be as huge as it was–and it was fairly definitive of my senior year. We only had two movie theaters in Emporia, Kansas–one was the Twin Cinema, with two screens, which showed new releases (albeit months behind their arrival in major cities and markets; Star Wars opened in June but didn’t get there until August) and another, old classic theater style place, the Granada; one of those wonderful old movie theaters with the marquee that came out over the sidewalk. It was primarily used for art films and special occasion films and things like that; midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, that sort of thing. Anyway, Smokey and the Bandit opened at the Twin the weekend before Star Wars, and both stayed for months, rather limiting teenage high school weekend dating options for kids in town and from the rural surrounding counties. I think I saw each of them about eight times each, at a minimum; there was literally nothing else to do. (There was also a late, after prom showing of Smokey the following spring, which, of course, my date and I attended because I clearly hadn’t seen the movie enough times.) I never saw any of the sequels, primarily because I was so burned out on the movie after my senior year; I rewatched it recently–several months ago, I think–and it was kind of a weird time capsule. Burt Reynolds was the sex symbol of the 1970’s for women–he never really did much for me, but I always conceded he was incredibly charismatic and probably a lot more talented than anyone gave him credit for–the open shirts, revealing a thick mane of chest hair; the mustache; the tight jeans; the big warm inviting smile that, whether he actually meant it or not, indicated a sly amusement at life and the world in general. It also reminded me that back in the day sales of Coors beer was illegal east of the Mississippi; that illegality was the driving force of the film’s plot. (Whenever we drove from Kansas to Alabama for our annual visit to the relatives and home, we always ‘smuggled’ cases of Coors for relatives–who primarily only wanted it because they didn’t have access to it.) Everyone drank Coors in Kansas; it was usually the beer on tap in bars, and there was never any question about, when making a beer run, what beer you’d get. I used to drink Coors all the time, and thinking about Coors reminded me that Coors was the first business I ever boycotted because of an anti-gay stance. I don’t exactly remember what it was–I think Colorado passed a horrific anti-gay law; Coors helped bankroll it; and the company itself was deeply homophobic. I stopped drinking Coors and have never had it since–even though Colorado has long since stopped being the ‘hate state’ and Coors may have even apologized and become more gay-friendly; I don’t know, I don’t remember, and I don’t drink beer at all anymore so it really no longer matters anyway. But boycotting Coors was my first-ever personal activism against homophobia, and thus kind of a step in my own growth and acceptance of who I am.

Wow, I really digressed there, didn’t I? Anyway, Smokey and the Bandit actually fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival because it is, after all, essentially a “fuck the law” comedy; if ever a spirit inhabited films of the 1970’s if was definitely fuck the law. The movie is about bootlegging, essentially; smuggling beer illegally across country, while breaking all speeding laws along the way–including being chased, and evading, the police. There’s actually an essay in there somewhere…it was also a time when CB radios were enormously popular, or at least they were in Kansas. Practically everyone had one in their car or truck (we didn’t) and I was always amazed that anyone could understand anything being said; whenever I was in a car with a CB and the driver would talk on it, I could never understand what was being said in answer over the radio.

Maybe that was the first sign of my hearing issues. It’s certainly the first time in my life I remember not being able to comprehend what I was hearing.

My lovely Apple adapter arrived yesterday and yes, it works and yes, I can now access my back-up hard drive again…which makes me so incredibly happy, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I feel settled again, if that makes sense, and now everything at my home work station is back the way it was, even if the screen is tiny and I keep getting annoying messages about my memory being depleted. But I can now make an appointment to take it in and have them look at it, and tell me what I need to do–or do it with an on-line Apple rep–and now all feels right in Gregalicious-world again. I also picked up my library books–Montgomery Clift: Queer Star and Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Most Notorious Scandal Magazine–both of which are research for Chlorine.

Quite marvelous, really.

While making condom packs yesterday, I watched the original Fright Night for the first time. It may have been good when it was released, but it really hasn’t aged well–despite a clever concept. Chris Sarandon is great as the vampire next door, and Roddy McDowell as the horror actor/vampire hunter is terrific (despite some bad aging make-up; but in fairness, Roddy McDowell was good in everything), but everyone else is….meh. I was interested to see Amanda Bearse playing the female lead/love interest/reincarnation of the vampire’s old love (shades of Dark Shadows!); she was fresh off her role as Amanda, Liza Colby’s sidekick on All My Children, and years away from coming out as a lesbian. But yeah, it doesn’t hold up. I am wondering if that was why it was remade in 2011? But I’m not going to bother with watching the remake. Also–weirdly enough, in looking up information on the film, one of the supporting actors, playing the character of Evil, apparently went on to be in gay porn…an interesting career choice.

I also discovered full episodes of the syndicated Friday the 13th–the series on Youtube; the first season used to be on Amazon Prime but was unceremoniously yanked before I could finish rewatching. Back when the show was airing in the 1980’s it was great fun–Ryan and Mickey inherit an antique shop from their long lost uncle Lewis Vendredi; only then his old friend Jack Marshak shows up, tells them Lewis made a deal with the devil and everything in the shop was cursed–and they need to get every object back. It’s a great idea for a horror anthology series. It ran for three seasons and yes, it’s clearly made on a low-budget in the 1980’s, but it’s entertaining enough and I watched the first two episodes while finishing the condom packs yesterday.

Today I have to focus and get things done. When I was finished with work yesterday, Paul also finished with work and came downstairs, and we started watching another series on Apple Plus, Servant, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and it’s creepy and weird and dark and interesting and we definitely were sucked in. It’s plot is kind of complicated and weird–but essentially a nanny with a lot of secrets comes to work for a couple who also have a lot of secrets…and each secret as it is revealed is an eye-opener and changes the story almost completely; Lauren Ambrose is extraordinary as the mom/newscaster/wife. It apparently aired the first season last year; the second season is coming in December. It’s weird and off-putting and perfect for October viewing, really.

And on that note, best to get to work. May your Friday be marvelous and wonderful.