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.

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.

What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)

SATURDAY!

I slept in this morning gloriously, and it is apparently already above seventy degrees outside; I see nothing but blue sky when I look up, and the sun is shining through my filthy windows. I will undoubtedly have to get out the ladder and do the windows today. My plan was for today to be my day off; cleaning, of course, doesn’t count because as weird as it sounds, I actually like to do it.

I might start some preliminary editing on the secret project as well. But don’t hold me to that, okay?

Yesterday, a conversation with friends somehow ended up on the subject of the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which I saw in the theater when it was first released but haven’t really seen much since then, other than the clip of “Little Bitty Piss Ant Country Place,” which was de rigeur at Lafitte’s on Sundays for tea dance. I liked the movie when I first saw it, and some of the music was quite catchy. But there was always something a bit off about it. Last night I decided to stream it, watch it from a modern-day perspective, and yes, the movie is quite disturbing on many levels.

It seems funny now, but back when the film was released many television stations couldn’t say the word “whorehouse” on air; many newspapers wouldn’t print the word, either. (I don’t know how they reported on actual whorehouses; I guess they called them ‘houses of prostitution’ or something like that) And the tone of the movie…well, I guess it could be best described as “Hee Haw, only with whores.”

And that was really what the problem was for me, on this rewatch. Prostitution is prostitution; whether you think it should be a crime or not (for the record, I think it should be legalized and taxed) turning it–and sex–into this ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ cutesy musical just doesn’t work. And there’s also an underlying cynicism to the movie that clashes with the cutesy-ness: the governor is a politician who doesn’t really care one way or the other whether the Chicken Ranch is breaking the law or is a boon to the economy of the town but only about popular opinion–making his decision only when the polls come in; Melvin P. Thorpe, the Houston news sideshow who breaks the story and gets the Chicken Ranch shut down is a snake-oil salesman of the worst kind–a phony and a liar and an anything-for-ratings shyster; likewise, the political structure of the town is perfectly fine with the existence of the Chicken Ranch and taking Miss Mona’s money until things go south and they all abandon her when the spotlight is shone upon the town; and so on and so forth. All along the whorehouse, Miss Mona and the sheriff trying to protect her as shown as the heroes/victims of the story while law-and-order/politicians/the news are shown to be slick hucksters and really of lower character than the whores–begging the question, ‘who are the real whores here? The girls are selling their bodies but the others are selling their souls.’

There’s also the political subtext of city vs. country; a very popular political subtext in our so-called liberal popular culture, in which city people are seen as buffoons and the country people are the voices of reason and common sense–this thread has frequently run through film and television and even in literature to the point where politicians will feed on it: Sarah Palin’s “real America”, etc., ignoring the fact that the urban centers are the engines that drive the economy and where most of the population live. In this story, the ‘city folk’ from Houston are seen as the villains, not understanding something that the ‘country people’ see as not a big deal, making a big fuss over something that doesn’t bother the country people, and ultimately, telling the country people how to live their lives.

The fact that this movie is based on a true story makes the fluffy film even more unfortunate. Looking into the original non-fiction piece “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” that ran in Playboy, the film pretty much actually follows the trajectory of the movie’s story. They did take poultry in exchange for services during the Depression; the business did exist as long as it did in the movie; the sheriff did refuse to close it down despite being ordered to by the Attorney General of Texas; the house operated pretty much the way shown in the movie.

As I watched the movie again, I couldn’t help but wonder not only what happened to the girls after the Chicken Ranch was closed, but where they came from to begin with. I almost wish the movie had been made based more closely on the original article rather than turned into a musical–although the musical was a Tony-winning hit on Broadway. Also, casting Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in the leads was also a mistake. Dolly was coming off her debut in 9 to 5, which had made her a bona fide movie star, and Burt Reynolds was one of the biggest male stars in the world at the time, which resulted in a lot of sanitization, which kind of hurt the movie. Burt and Dolly have chemistry together, and charisma to spare…but you never forget it’s Burt and Dolly, rather than Sheriff Ed Earl and Miss Mona. Burt and Dolly being cast also resulted in an adaptation to the original story which turned them into romantic interests, and a schmaltzy scene where they go on a picnic and stare up at the stairs and Miss Mona talks about her religious faith–having to explain Jesus to the sheriff in such a basic way that makes it clear that Ed Earl has somehow, as a small town Texas sheriff, never set foot in a church or watched a religious epic movie. I find that rather hard to believe.

There’s also a delicious irony in the fact that in a movie about a whorehouse, there is only one brief flash of bare breasts. The majority of the nudity in the movie is male–and it’s all in the post-game locker room scene, where the Texas A&M football team, having won their annual rivalry game with Texas, is excited about going to the Chicken Ranch (the winning team’s seniors are rewarded with a trip there). There are lots of great bare dancer bodies, even bare butts as they perform “Aggie Stomp.” (When I first saw the movie, I greatly enjoyed this scene as there were very few places to see the bare male form in popular culture at the time, or that many bare male forms at the same time. But even then I thought the guys weren’t bulky enough to be football players, and there certainly were no men big enough to play on the line.) The song itself again is one of those ‘wink-wink’ things, because we are supposed, as an audience, to believe that for college football players, being taken to a whorehouse was a treat–because football players never had access to women’s bodies for sex otherwise.

Riiiiiiiiight.

Of course, the Chicken Ranch is supposed to be closed until things settle down, but Miss Mona risks opening for the football party–which is, of course, when Melvin P. Thorpe and his camera crew break in and film. There’s also, if you pay attention in this scene, some subversive sexuality going on during the Aggie party–we see two players in bed with one woman; two guys and two women together; etc.

The movie now seems much sillier than it did at the time; terribly dated, more than a little misogynist, and like I said earlier, that ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’ approach to sex and sexuality now reads as annoyingly and insultingly coy.

I would actually love to read a non-fiction history of the Chicken Ranch, to be honest.

And now, back to the spice mines.