Ecstasy

It’s gray again this morning in New Orleans, and I have about six boxes of books to take to the library sale today. I also have five or six boxes of condom packs that will have to go back to the office on Monday; which, I suppose, is the easiest way to say that my living room currently looks incredibly cluttered and desperately in need of organizing and cleaning and so forth. I also have a lot of errands to do–the mail, groceries, etc. and need together to the gym today as well. I would also like to get some writing done today–at least a revision of a short story or something–so tomorrow I can primarily focus on the edits of Bury Me in Shadows….and maybe do a bit on Chlorine as well.

I was ridiculously productive yesterday–as mentioned before, I really did a great job of paring down the books last night while laundering the bed linens; Paul was out having dinner with a roommate for college (who was indirectly responsible for our meeting, actually) and so while I watched Smithsonian documentaries on World War II (The Battle of Midway, The Battle of Okinawa, The Fall of Japan, Normandy: 85 Days After D-Day) Started going through the boxes of books I have cleverly concealed beneath blankets so they sort of look like tables, in way, with more books and decor on top of them (we have far too much bric-a-brac in this house, seriously), and when Paul got home we watched the second part of the Aaron Hernandez documentary. (I think perhaps the saddest thing–other than the victims, of course–was how exploited he was for his ability; he was clearly trouble at the University of Florida, so they covered for him for three years and once they’d gotten their use out of him, told him he wasn’t welcome back on the team for his senior year and to enter the draft early; as soon as he was arrested and charged the Patriots–and their fans–turned their backs on him immediately as did their fans…which tells me everything I needed to know about how his coaching staff and teammates felt about him–that was an almost lightning like 180, and considering how many other players have committed crimes and not been abandoned….and while murder is pretty extreme, of course, they clearly knew there were issues there and yet no one did anything.)

I also watched two movies yesterday while making condom packs, and both were kind of terrible. The first, The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, was so unbelievably bad I came very close to turning it off numerous times, but figured you finished Carnal Knowledge, you can finish this. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, known for his violent and bloody films, and based on the novel by Jim Thompson (whom I’ve never read, and I need to correct that at some point), it basically is a dark story about a criminal whose wife gets him paroled by appealing to a corrupt businessman (with her body), so that they can commit a bank robbery and share the money with the businessman. Of course, there are all kinds of double crosses, and the bad guys are after them, as are the cops as well as one of their other accomplices they assumed was dead; there’s a weird subplot with him taking a veterinarian and his wife along with him on the chase for no reason (other than he’s banging the wife); interestingly enough, the vet is played by Howard fro The Andy Griffith Show and the wife/girlfriend (never clear) by Sally Struthers. It’s a mess, really; its only saving grace the chemistry between McQueen and MacGraw (who became involved) and that they are both ridiculously good looking; neither can act their way out of a paper bag (if they can. there’s no evidence of it here), and the score is also terrible and jarring. I know it was remade in the 90’s, I think; but as a noir film, or Neo-noir, it fails. I didn’t care about any of the characters and breathed a sigh of relief when the credits rolled. It’s a definite Cynical 70’s Film Festival entry; that was the time of the anti-hero and anti-establishment thinking…but I couldn’t help but think how much better the film would have been had it starred, say, Paul Newman and Ellen Burstyn, or Clint Eastwood and Natalie Wood, or even Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

In fairness, they were done no favors by the script.

The second part of my double feature was John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, based on the Carson McCullers novel and boasting a cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Julie Harris and Brian Keith. I read the book several years ago and didn’t much care for it, to be honest–again, maybe I simply missed the point, but I didn’t care about any of the characters and that also translated into the film. There’s never any sense of why they do the things they do, and it’s kind of just a story about sexual hang-ups and frustrations, set around a military base somewhere in the South. Both Taylor and Brando sport really bad Southern accents, and Julie Harris is the only one who really pulls off her role–that of a sad woman who never got over the death of a child and has formed an unnatural attachment to her (incredibly racist and homophobic depiction of a) Filipino houseboy. She also apparently cut off her nipples with garden shears; she’s clearly not well, and yet all around her no one, especially her husband (Brian Keith), who’s sleeping with Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is married to Brando, who chews the scenery at every opportunity (as I watched I couldn’t stop thinking considered the greatest actor of his generation, wow) who is an extremely repressed gay man who becomes obsessed with a young enlisted man who likes to ride horseback in the nude as well as lay out in the sun in the nude. The enlisted man is obsessed, in his turn, with Taylor, breaking into their house at night and watching her sleep while he paws through her underwear and nightgowns, sniffing them but never touching her. Brando becomes convinced the young man feels the same attraction to him, and at the end, sees the young man sneaking up to the house in the dark out a window. Thinking the young man is coming to him, he becomes enraged when he sees the young man–Elgee–sneak into his wife’s room, so he gets a gun and shoots him dead. The credits roll as Elizabeth Taylor screams. The movie is pretty true to the book, which kind of goes to show how not every book needs to be made into a movie. Most of the book is internal, which doesn’t translate to film very well–and I didn’t much care for the book. The movie could have been good–great cast after all–but overall, it fall flat for much the same reasons The Getaway did; I couldn’t muster up even a little bit of investment in any of the characters, other than Julie Harris, who is the only one who comes across well in the film. It did make me want to revisit the novel again, though, so that’s something. And while this is from 1968 or 1969, I do include it in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–as there were many films in the late 1960’s that actually began what I consider the cynical period in American film, where the heroes were now who would have been the villains under the old Hays Code–neither Bonnie and Clyde nor The Graduate (both from 1967) could have been made under the code; certainly Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) couldn’t have been.

I may have to take a break from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival for a bit. The last three films were terrible, and while I am kind of glad I saw them–always wanted to–I don’t know if I can stand watching another dated bad movie.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the Halloween Horror Film Festival.

And since I finished The Man with the Candy, now it’s time to pick something new to read. I came across a copy of Dan Jenkins’ Semi-Tough, of all things, while pruning the books. I read it when I was a teenager, along with Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty, which are two completely different books about the same subject: pro football. Semi-Tough is comic; North Dallas Forty (which I preferred) is dark and almost noirish; the two books came up in conversation on Twitter recently; someone tweeted asking for people’s favorite sports film. I responded with Brian’s Song, and Laura Lippman professed her love for North Dallas Forty. I would really like to revisit the Gent novel and was also thinking I should reread the Jenkins; so having it turn up while pruning the books seemed to me like a sign. I’ll probably hate it–just looking at the first page there are some racial slurs already, and there’s nothing I hate more than the contract sumbitch, which was prevalent in the 1970’s; in theory, it’s how Southern people say “son of a bitch” with their accent. It annoyed me because everyone in my family, excepting my sister (and her children and grandchildren) and I, has a very thick accent…and not one of them ever says sumbitch. It became extremely popular in the 1970’s because Jackie Gleason, playing a corrupt Southern sheriff, says it all the time in Smoky and the Bandit…and I’ve always hated it, and never minded that it went gently into that dark night and no one bothers with it anymore. Being reminded of it sets my teeth on edge, frankly.

I may not, in fact, be able to get through the book. I know it’s meant to be funny and satirical, but….I just opened it at random and the narrator was talking about how it’s very important that we understand that he’s white because most running backs aren’t and….

Yeah.

I can only imagine the misogyny. Sigh.

All right, I need to get this mess under control so I can get everything done. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Too Late

Hey there, Friday, how you doing?

A thunderstorm woke me up around six this morning, as one has the last three days or so, as well as a downpour. It has since stopped raining since I got up–well, at least it’s not a deluge as it was when it woke me up; now it’s just kind of sprinkling–and again, this makes me rather happy that I don’t have to leave the house today. I do need to make groceries and get the mail, but this can wait until tomorrow if need be; or after I finish working today if the weather has cleared up.

Last night I finished reading The Man With the Candy, and the story continues to fascinate me–and the dead boys haunt me. It’s amazing to me also how little there is out there about the case–John Wayne Gacy, being caught alive and tried, essentially erased Corll from the public imagination. Had there been 24 hour news channels in 1974, there would have been so much coverage it would be impossible for the Candyman story to so utterly and completely disappear from the public consciousness; I only know the story because I lived in Houston about fifteen years after Corll was killed, and people in the city still remembered. The book will get its own review post at some point–it’s very well done–but I also can’t help but wonder if all those boys would have been murdered had society not been so homophobic at the time….but I suppose I can talk about that when I write about the book.

We also started watching an Oxygen documentary series about Aaron Hernandez last night, another case that has long fascinated me. While I always tend to reserve my sympathies for the victims, Hernandez never really had a chance, given his abusive childhood, his sexual molestation as a child, his homophobic father and then becoming a professional athlete in an incredibly homophobic sport (well, almost all the professional and amateur sports have a certain level of homophobia built into them as part of the toxic masculinity so rampant in our country as well as the systemic homophobia we still fight to this very day); not to mention all the brain damage he sustained playing football. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him, despite his crimes; how different would his life have been had his father not been an abusive homophobe, had he not been sexually molested, and had the society and culture he was raised in been so horrifically homophobic, forcing him to play the toxically masculine role of the stud athlete?

I suppose that’s the case with so many criminals, though–had it not been for this or that, perhaps they would have had a productive life that benefited society.

Speaking of toxic masculinity, yesterday while making condom packs I watched a Mike Nichols film from 1970, Carnal Knowledge, starring Jack Nicholson and Arthur Garfunkel (of all people; I’m curious how he wound up being cast in this). The opening sequences, with the two men playing roommates and best friends named Jonathan and Sandy respectively, was kind of amusing; it’s easy to forget that as recently as the 1970’s it wasn’t uncommon for actors to play high school or college students when they were clearly way too old (see The Way We Were); but it’s also difficult to find actors young enough to play them as college students while looking enough like them to be believable as well as being able to act as well as the stars. My prime away takeaway from this movie was, well, anyone who ever wonders why the Women’s Movement was necessary and needed should just watch this movie. To say that it hasn’t aged well is a MAJOR understatement; and while it seems the entire point of the movie (and this may just be my modern reading of it) is to point out how societal expectations and sexual mores of the time not only punished women but also poisoned men with toxicity. The movie opens with the two men at a mixer when an incredibly beautiful young Candace Bergen arrives; both are interested, but since Sandy “saw her first” she’s his for the taking (boom! not even five minutes in and we are already exposed to the sexist, misogynist notion that a young woman belongs to a man she’s not even met because he saw her first…no consideration whatsoever to what she may want or need) and she reluctantly begins to date him, although it’s fairly obvious she doesn’t really feel anything for him. We never get any understanding of her or who she is, nor do we get any sense of why Jonathan pursues his best friend’s girlfriend or why she sleeps with him. He eventually demands that she choose, and she chooses Sandy. We then follow the two friends through the years, as Jonathan becomes even more toxic and distant, unwilling to get married and unwilling to commit to any woman; Sandy’s marriage ends in divorce and he begins seeing another woman whom Jonathan also pursues, eventually convincing Sandy to “swap” with him; at this point Jonathan is living with Bobbie (played by Ann-Margret; a really terrific performance) a model/actress who moves in with him and quits working and slowly begins to crumble emotionally–he’s also abusive; we never actually see him strike her, but the verbal and emotional abuse is horrific. Sandy goes into the bedroom only to find Bobbie has overdosed on pills…which finally gets Jonathan to marry her. The next scene we see, they are already divorced and he is living alone; Sandy is visiting him with his new girlfriend (a very young Carol Kane), who is horrified by who Jonathan is and his attitude towards women–he shows them a slideshow of every woman he’s been involved with, calling it the Ballbuster Show; Susan (Candace Bergen) briefly appears on the screen and he quickly clicks past her. Appalled by him, the Kane character leaves, and the two old friends go for a walk. Sandy talks about how she is teaching him how to love and how to love himself, and that he hopes cynical Jonathan can find someone who will teach him the same lessons. Jonathan scoffs, and the final scene of the movie shows him going to a prostitute, Rita Moreno, with the hopes that she’ll enable him to get hard this time–impotence has been an issue for him going back to college, which is apparently caused–the script infers–by his inability to be vulnerable or to connect emotionally with women. And that’s all, folks; credits roll.

This definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival; it’s probably one of the darkest films I’ve ever seen when it comes to relationships between men and women. Perhaps that’s what Nichols and screenwriter Jules Pfeiffer were trying for; I certainly hope so, as that was the end result. There were several times while watching that I couldn’t help but think, this is a Rona Jaffe novel only from the men’s perspective rather than the women’s, which just goes to show how fucked up we were as a society back in those “good old days” of the 1950’s conservatives keep wanting us to go back to–no fucking thanks, for the record.

And on THAT note, tis off to the spice mines with ME. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.