Broken Promise

And here we are on Friday yet again. The nights this weekend are a return to the frigid climes of earlier this week, but the days promise highs in the 50s, at least, and it’s supposed to get back up into the 70’s next week…or so it said the last time I checked. I generally tend not to look at weather forecasts more than a few days out, primarily because New Orleans weather is completely unpredictable and defies expectations all the time. It feels chilly this morning–I’ve not checked the temperature yet–but the space heater is on, as always, and I am shivering a bit under my layers and considering going to get a blanket. The HVAC guys were here yesterday, but there’s still no heat and there’s also no sign of them outside this morning. Which is fine; I can huddle under blankets as I do my work-from-home duties this morning. Okay, I checked, and it’s thirty-five with a high of 48 predicted. Yikes! Sometimes, methinks, it’s better not to know some things.

The forecast for next week looks much better. It’s simply a matter of getting through this last blast over this weekend.

We finished watching season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and it was…well, it was a bit disappointing. The season wound up diverging significantly from the book it was based on (End of Watch, the concluding book of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy), and while the middle of the season was compelling and impossible to turn away from, the last two episodes, for me and Paul at least, significantly went off the rails. The third season starts airing on March 4, based on the second book of the trilogy, and we’ll watch because we really like the characters–and I think Book 2 was my favorite of the trilogy–but now It’s a Sin has dropped and so has something else we wanted to watch as well, but right now I can’t think of what that other show might be. Oh, yes, The Luminaries with Eva Green.

I also watched, while making condom packs yesterday, the original film version of The Amityville Horror, which fits into both the Cynical 70’s Film Festival as well as the Halloween Horror Film Festival. I actually saw this movie in the theater when it was released all those years ago, and just like then, I found it unimpressive, not particularly scary, and farfetched. I had read the book, of course–I think I bought it off the wire racks at the Safeway in Emporia on 6th Street–but the book wasn’t very well written and the story–theoretically something that actually happened–wasn’t convincing and, I thought, pretty poorly written (and I wasn’t a particularly discerning reader back then, either). It was, however, a phenomenon; a huge bestseller and the movie also made a ton of money, spawning numerous cheesy sequels (none of which I watched). Horror made a big comeback as a genre in the 1970’s; it could even be seen as a “golden age”–there was a glut of films and movies in that decade, and the demand didn’t taper off until the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Amityville was a big part of that–following The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie; it was the decade when both Stephen King and Peter Straub’s careers are writers took off, and there were a lot of books published….a LOT. (I do highly recommend Grady Hendrix definitive Paperbacks from Hell–it will trigger a lot of memories for you if this was a period when you were actually alive…it certainly did for me.) But the movie is still bad, after all these years–James Brolin was certainly handsome, coming off his years on Marcus Welby and before he spent the 80’s managing Arthur Hailey’s Hotel on ABC. (Although I couldn’t help thinking, “wow, of someone would have told me back then Brolin would marry Barbra Streisand and live happily ever after and his son Josh would become a major star, I would have laughed and laughed and laughed.”) Margot Kidder plays his wife, Kathy, and this is the best, I think, she’s ever looked on film–they are a handsome couple and have some chemistry together, even though both performances eventually descend into one note, repeated over and over again. Rod Steiger also has a supporting role to which he brings all his Method bombast in a role that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, nor does what happens to him. The movie’s end, like the book’s, explains nothing other than the family abandoned the house and never returned. (Of course, the house has changed hands with people living in it for decades and none of them have experienced anything the Lutzes claim to have. Even cynical teenager me, when reading the book, thought, oh, you bought a house you couldn’t afford and dreamed up a crazy story to try to get out of the mortgage..the movie only convinced me further that I was correct in my theory. I looked it up on line, and the lawyer for the kid who murdered his family in the house later admitted he and the Lutzes, “over many bottles of wine”, came up with the story…to not only get them out of the mortgage but to try to get his client a new trial. The Lutzes still claim it all really happened. *insert ‘sure Jan’ GIF here*)

I think I bought another copy of the book several years ago–still in print all these years later!–to reread and see if it was as bad, if not worse, than I remembered. I have yet to get around to it…but watching the movie made me think I need to reconsider that urge to reread it.

But the 1970’s were, as I have said before, a weird decade of transition and change. Conspiracy theories were running rampant everywhere about everything–the JFK assassination in particular was talked about and theorized about a lot–but this was also the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, when UFO’s really became a topic of discussion, when The Late Great Planet Earth truly began shifting certain sects of Christianity into doomsday prophecy and end-times philosophy, and of course, we cannot forget the existential threat of Communism that had some people seeing Russian agents everywhere and there was the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation.

Although there are times, too, when I think about the 1970’s as the last gasp of American naiveté and innocence. The one-two punch of Vietnam and Watergate made everyone start distrusting the government…and HIV/AIDS was just around the corner.

Hmmm. Some pretty heavy thoughts on a shiveringly cold Friday morning in New Orleans.

And now back to the spice mines. Stay warm, everyone, and stay safe.

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.

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.