Beauty and the Beast

Holiday Monday, which is celebrating Juneteenth (if you want to know more about the holiday, this is a great place to start). It’s hard to believe, and more than a little sad, that it took until recently for this to become a federally recognized holiday. Honestly.

Better late than never, I suppose–which is hardly any consolation, really.

But it’s nice to have another three-day weekend (I can’t remember which holiday we gave up for this one at my dayjob, but we only are allowed no more than eight holidays for some reason), and I slept late again this morning. The cappuccino yesterday morning had no effect on my sleep, so I am having another one this morning, which is lovely. I really do love the way they taste; I just wish making them wasn’t so complicated and dirtied up so much stuff. I made Swedish meatballs yesterday afternoon and that mess still needs to be cleaned up as well. Heavy sigh. What can I say? I got caught up in watching television once the meal was ready and stayed in my easy chair until it was time for bed. We watched the new episode of Becoming Elizabeth, which isn’t bad but it’s not overly compelling either–which is weird, because the period between Henry VIII’s death in 1547 and Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1558 was very fraught and very dangerous (Anya Seton brilliantly captured this period in her seminal novel Green Darkness, which I highly recommend along with the warning “it’s quite long”); but it’s not really translating to the screen very well in this production. I also spent some more time with John Copenhaver’s marvelous The Savage Kind, which I hope to do again today.

We also started watching an amazing show on Netflix that originally dropped in 2020 and whose second season was endlessly delayed by the pandemic (I checked it out on-line as we watched) called The Defeated starring Taylor Kitsch as a Brooklyn homicide detective who is “loaned” to a small precinct in the American sector of Berlin in 1946 to help rebuild their station along American police standards; which is a challenge. None of the people working as cops there have any experience in being police officers; some are young boys while the majority are women. The Germans aren’t allowed to have guns, so they have an “arsenal” where they keep their bedposts and other wooden sticks; the Russians are horrible; and Kitsch himself is looking for his brother, a soldier with mental problems who’s gone AWOL and whom Kitsch suspects is targeting and murdering Nazis. It’s extremely well done–think Babylon Berlin but only in another twenty years–and it also asks a lot of ethical and moral questions that really don’t have answers. The woman who runs the station, is the “superintendent” or captain of the squad–wasn’t a Nazi but her protestations about “we weren’t all Nazis” have the same credibility of a prisoner at Angola claiming innocence: no one admits to being a Nazi once the war was lost, after all. At one point she says, very poignantly, “The war is over and the entire world hates us because of what we did, or allowed, and who can blame them?” This seems particularly poignant given the current political climate in our country; I know it seems extreme, but I’ve seen other people comment on Twitter and other social media about how they feel sometimes like “they are living in Weimar Germany and it’s just a matter of time.”

I know I’ve certainly felt that way at times.

We also watched a classic old Bette Davis film, The Letter, which I’d realized I’d never seen yesterday so I pulled it up and started watching. I had read the original short story by Somerset Maugham a few years ago for the Short Story Project, and enjoyed it tremendously. The story is told from the lawyer’s point of view, while the movie certainly shifts the focus over to Leslie Crosbie, wife of a Malaysian rubber plantation owner, who shoots and kills a man she accuses of trying to rape her. Everyone believes Leslie…but you see, there is this letter that exists that contradicts her story, and the more lies she tells, the less her lawyer believes her–although he ultimately pays a blackmailer to get the letter back so she escapes conviction. In the story it’s all from the lawyer’s point of view; she’s merely the wife of a friend he is taking on as a favor, and he doesn’t know her well…but as he (the lawyer) discovers the existence of the letter and recovers it, he slowly begins to see through her lies and to see her as she really is. He doesn’t expose her–he allows her to escape her punishment–but he confronts her with the letter after the verdict and she confesses everything…only to return to her loveless marriage at the rubber plantation. The story and the movie both are steeped with the Imperialistic and racist overtones of the time the story was written and the film made; the ending of the movie is different than that of the story because of course, for the Hays Code of the time she couldn’t be seen as not being “punished” for her crime; she is murdered at the end by the Eurasian widow of the man she killed (his marriage to this mixed-race woman is what sets the tragedy in motion) during a party celebrating her verdict. There was one scene in particular that really made me shake my head: after she has told her story of being almost raped and committing murder to protect herself, she makes dinner for her husband, a friend of the family, and the local police magistrate and they sit around eating and talking about things like nothing’s happened. As we watched this season, Paul–who had no idea of what the movie was about–said, “Oh, he didn’t try to rape her, did he? She’s a cold-blooded killer.” GREG: “It’s Bette Davis, what do you think?”

Although it did make me think about false accusations of rape again, which is one of the myriad of reasons women generally tend to not be believed about being assaulted. There’s probably a really good essay to be written about that.

I also wrote yesterday, which was really lovely. I managed to get the first chapter of that manuscript written; I plan to look at it again today and tweak it a bit. I have a lengthy errand to run–must go over to the North Shore–and when I get home, I plan to write for a while before retiring to my easy chair with my Copenhaver book (I am really enjoying it, y’all) before we finish watching The Defeated (y’all, it’s really good). I’m not sure if what I wrote yesterday is actually any good or not; it remains to be seen, I suppose, and let’s face it, I am not (nor have I ever been) the best judge of my own work. But we shall see today, I suppose. It felt good to be creating again and it felt good to be finishing something, even if it’s just a shitty draft. I’d like to be able to get a lot more written today, if I can…

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Talk soon, Constant Reader!

It’s So Hard For Me to Say Goodbye

That isn’t really true. At least not completely, at any rate. I have walked away from a lot of people in my life, nearly all of them toxic in one way or another (in some cases, multiple ways). It sometimes takes me much longer to get rid of toxic people than it might–I will inevitably always excuse behavior, because I always think I deserve on some level to be treated like garbage (thanks, homophobic world in which I grew up! Hugs and kisses!) and so I always take the blame whenever there’s an issue.

But I do inevitably wake up, the proverbial scales falling from my eyes, because that toxic behavior will eventually continue until I’ve been pushed too far, and then–you’re dead to me. Literally. I mean, when you’ve pushed me that far there’s really nothing to discuss, and your behavior has to be pretty heinous, repeatedly, for me to walk away. It also means you’ve probably apologized for that behavior several times before–but you don’t change that behavior, and I no longer want to deal with it.

In other words, when the aggravation you provide outweighs whatever pleasure I get from knowing you–and I’ve also reached the point where I no longer care what you think about me, or what you say about me to people we both know, it’s time for you to go. PAST time for you to go.

I slept very well last night, which was marvelous. I stayed in bed an extra hour after waking up this morning, napping on and off until the call of the coffee became simply too strong to ignore anymore. The coffee also really tastes good this morning, which is weird–it’s not like it could be stronger or anything, since I have a Keurig and every cup is theoretically the same, the only difference being the kind of roast or whatever I use–do you call different kinds of coffee flavors, even though they have flavored coffee? I actually like Starbucks brand, to be honest–their French and Italian roasts, Cafe Verona, and Sumatra, as well as Folger’s Black Silk, and some generic store brand darks aren’t bad, either. I usually alternate between them all morning so as to never get burned out on a taste I like. But for some reason–the rest? –the flavors are more noticeable this morning. I knew–or was pretty certain–I was going to sleep well because I got very tired at the office yesterday afternoon. I felt fine all day, but right around three o’clock I hit the wall and was very exhausted. I came straight home from the office, did some chores around the house, and then retired to my easy chair to watch some World War II documentaries on Youtube before switching over to Ukraine war coverage on MSNBC. The eerie similarities between this conflict and the start of World War II are, while not exact, still troubling: Russian takeover of Crimea=Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland (a brazen land grab the rest of Europe allowed to “keep peace”); the invasion of Ukraine=invasion of Poland (but it’s not going as well and as easy for Putin as it did for Hitler, obviously). The US armed and loaned money to the Allies for over two years before being drawn into the conflict; we are currently supplying and loaning money to Ukraine.

And while Putin and his “intelligence” clearly underestimated the resistance and will of the Ukrainian people, they also didn’t count on Volodymyr Zelenskyy becoming, in the face of one of the greatest crises any leader can face, the true heart and soul of his country. Talk about rising to the occasion! We all like to believe we would stand up in the face of such a crisis…but would we?

Today is my work-at-home Friday. There is data to enter, condoms to pack, and chores to be done around the house. I need to finish editing a manuscript, I need to work on a short story and perhaps edit a few more, and of course there are the general weekend errands that need to be run. It’s kind of gray outside today, and the forecast is for really horrible weather later this evening–tornados and high winds and heavy rains–so tonight is going to be the perfect night to curl up with the new Alex Segura novel. I am saving it as a reward for getting everything done this weekend that I need to get done; although I will probably crack it open to get started tonight. Yay!

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Y’all have a great Friday, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Take a Chance on Me

I got my boosters shot yesterday; other than some arm soreness, I seem to be okay–no gills have developed, no wings, and no scales–but the day is young. The weather here turned very cool yesterday, which was incredibly lovely; fall and spring are so divine here, it makes us forget the swampy hell of the summer every year. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day; I managed to get a lot of work-at-home duties done, while watching Foundation (I am all in on the show now) and then started, of all things, Peacock’s original series adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol (more on that later). I have quite the busy day ahead of me now; lots of work at home duties and as always, the Lost Apartment is a disaster area. I am actually up much earlier than I have been getting up on my non-going-into-the office mornings, and it kind of feels good. The light outside is different than it has been–another indication that the world’s turning has shifted and daylight savings is looming on the horizon (next weekend)–and it’s a nice morning here with my coffee here in my kitchen-office.

The house was power-washed this week, and despite the fact we’ve been living here on this property since 2003, I had always thought under all the accumulated grime from the air here (our air quality is something I try not to think about very often, but it’s hard when you see how much of it gets on your car and windshield) the house was painted a pale blue; turns out it is pale coral. Who knew? They also power-washed the concrete sidewalks around the house; the difference is very startling. I am taking the power-washing as a hint that the apartment needs an even deeper dive cleaning. There’s no LSU game tomorrow (thank God, really; I am dreading the Alabama game next week), so I have the entire day free. There are some good games airing, but there’s no need for me to sit in my chair and spend the entire day watching college football, either. There is a Saints game on Sunday–Tampa Bay and Tom Brady–but that’s late enough for me to watch so I can get things done during the day; and a 3:25 start time is also a nice time to call it a day on everything else I am doing around here.

I haven’t started Scott Carson’s The Chill yet, either; ironically I got a copy of his new release. Where They Wait, this week (as well as a copy of Lucy Foley’s The Guest List), so I should probably crack the spine of The Chill at some point today. Scott Carson is the name Michael Koryta (one of my favorite authors) uses now to write horror (he used to write it under his own name. Not sure why the switch/rebrand, but probably has something to do with Koryta being branded for top notch crime fiction; seriously, check out his work if you haven’t. I recommend starting with The Prophet, and if you’ve not read Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, they pair together very nicely).

I also really, really need to write this weekend. I need to write a lot. I also have to do the page proofs for #shedeservedit, but they aren’t due until a week from Monday, and I think the more time I take away from that manuscript the better job of proofing I will do on it. I am a shitty shitty shitty proofreader, which is probably why there are more mistakes in my finished books than there should be in anyone’s printed books. But at least there’s time for me to let them sit and percolate before I jump on them; I am usually so heartily sick of any book at the proofreading stage that I don’t pay as close attention as I might. On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that I am being too hard on myself, which is something of which I am frequently guilty. No one is as hard on me as I am on myself. At some point in my life I pretty much decided if I was super-critical of myself, other people’s criticisms wouldn’t hurt me as much as they had before–and it became deeply engrained into my psyche, and it’s actually more damaging to me than accepting criticisms from others.

Many years ago I decided to stop being unkind to writers and their books on my blog. If I read a book I didn’t care for, I wasn’t going to dis it on the Internet–because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, primarily, and I am not always highly receptive to negative nastiness about my own work. (I tend to say “I’m not the right audience for this book” now.) I didn’t want to be become like those professional reviewers who hate everything, and make their reviews about how smart the reviewer is and how bad of a book they are destroying in print. At the time I made that decision, I also decided there were two exceptions to my rule: Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown. What was my small voice, after all, in the chorus of critics and readers worldwide who loathe their writing? It did strike me as hypocritical from time to time, and so I stopped even doing that. They are, no matter how much success and money they have, still human beings with feelings, and there’s a sense that mocking and insulting their work, no matter how small my platform or voice, is just piling on.

Having said that, I will admit I greatly enjoyed The Da Vinci Code when it was released, enough so that I went back and read the first Robert Langdon novel, Angels and Demons (which I actually thought was better). It was a great ride, and I already had some familiarity with the idea of the Christ bloodline, having read Holy Blood Holy Grail at some point in the 1980’s, with its outlandish (if interesting) claims that were eventually turned out to have been based in a great fraud. It combined a lot of things that tick off boxes for me: treasure hunt based in history, actual historical events, the Knights Templar, the Cathar heresy, the Crusades, and of course, making the Catholic Church the great villain of the story (the only better villains are Nazis, really). Was it greatly written? I honestly can’t say now, it’s been so long since I read it. But I did read The Lost Symbol, his follow-up, when it was released and absolutely hated every word of it. I tried to read the next, Inferno, and gave up after the first chapter. I’ve never watched any of the films–although now I am thinking it might be interesting to do so. When I saw the Peacock was adapting The Lost Symbol, I actually (thank you, faulty memory) thought it was the Brown novel I hadn’t finished. After I got caught up on Foundation but still had at least another couple of hours’ worth of condom packing to do, I decided to try The Lost Symbol. Even as I watched the first episode, none of it seemed familiar to me, and it wasn’t until they mentioned the painting “The Apotheosis of George Washington” (that may not be the actual name; but it’s the painting in a government building ceiling where it looks like Washington is being greeted into heaven as a god) that I began to suspect that I had actually read the book; by the time they descended into the tunnels below the city and met the Architect of the Capital I thought, oh yes I did read this and didn’t much care for it. But the show itself held my attention–it’s an adventure story, after all, and Ashley Zukerman was very well cast as Langdon. I look forward to continuing watching it–at least while I wait for the new episodes of everything else we are currently watching to be loaded for streaming.

And on that note, it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader–I’ll come back tomorrow to check in.

Ode to Joy

I went through a Robert Ludlum phase in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s; I don’t remember why exactly I began reading him–spy thrillers and international intrigue have never been of particular interest to me–but I know the first Ludlum I read was The Osterman Weekend, which I didn’t really follow or think was all that great, in all honesty; but I picked up a copy of The Gemini Contenders at a used bookstore and then I was hooked. I bought all of his backlist, and began buying his new novels in hardcover when they were released. I stopped reading Ludlum when Ludlum stopped writing his books–I don’t recall which the last of these was; I see that I am actually incorrect; I stopped reading Ludlum after The Road to Omaha–apparently he wrote and published three more, but this was when I was deep into reading only gay and lesbian fictions for the most part. I was always amazed at how intricately his books were plotted, and many of them–mainly The Gemini Contenders–were my favorite kind of thrillers: the treasure hunt. Ludlum was also where I learned that the best villains, second only to Nazis, came from the Vatican (Dan Brown made a shitload of money using that premise). Even as a fairly uneducated reader and writer, Ludlum’s overuse of exclamation points annoyed me–but I loved his intricate plots, his heroes, an he also wrote some really amazing women characters as well. I’ve been meaning to revisit Ludlum over the last few years–mainly because if I ever really do a Colin spin-off (stand alone or series), Ludlum would be a good author to study (along with LeCarre, of course) for plotting and structural purposes.

I’ve also always kind of wanted to do a gay Jason Bourne type story–which could also work for Colin as well.

Hmmm. I mean, maybe on one of his missions he gets amnesia? It’s a thought.

I had a pretty good day yesterday. I managed to get back on schedule with the book yesterday, which is great, and so today I am going to start going through it all, cleaning it up more and writing an outline as I go, and figuring out where to put the new things that need to go in it. I also need to do some writing rather than revise/rewriting; I’ve figured out a great way to bridge back story and build it into the book without having it be an actual part of the story/story, and it’s something that could easily build into another book or perhaps a series. Who knows? I also managed to work through my email inbox–the endlessly refilling inbox; it’s like Sisyphus or trying to clean the Augean stables or killing the hydra, I swear to God, and I have let it slide for far too long. I’m trying to get my life better organized–I don’t know what kind of fog I’ve been in, or for how long I’ve been actually in it, but I do know this: it’s gone on for far longer than I should have allowed it to, that’s one thing I know for certain. I also don’t know how long this “non-fog” situation will last (probably it will come to a screeching halt on Monday when the alarm goes off at six in the morning), but I need to take full advantage of it while I can. I also need to get to the gym today and groceries need to be made. After I finished work I watched a history program about a woman who was a Union spy in Richmond during the Civil War, which also talked about a young slave girl she raised and loaned out to the Davises so she could also spy on them and report back. What an interesting novel that would make–for a Black author to take on. I’d love to see what a writer like say, Kellye Garrett or Rachel Howzell Hall or Colson Whitehead could make of the story…history is chockfull of wonderful stories to be told, and after I finished watching that we watched Framing Britney, which was kind of chilling…I’m not sure what’s going on there, but the documentary made a very compelling case, and the thought that someone of her stature and stardom was essentially blackmailed into giving up control of herself, her career, and her money (they held their kids over her head) and she cannot break free of the conservatorship is truly frightening. I said to Paul at one point, “People always thought she was stupid but she wasn’t–she’s very smart; she just had a thick Southern accent and so, of course, that meant she was an idiot.” It also reminded me of an idea I had a while back of doing a modern-day version of Valley of the Dolls set in Las Vegas; a Britney-type filling in for Neely, more of a tragic role than Susann’s monster-in-training.

I mean, it could work.

Its gray and foggy this morning in New Orleans; with a bit of a chill in the air as well. I am going to drink some more coffee and then kickstart my day by going to make groceries before coming home to go to the gym and then getting cleaned up and probably working on trying to finish responding to my emails and putting away/cleaning up my desk area before rereading the first ten chapters of the manuscript I have revised and doing a hard edit–these revisions were pretty simple, really–and catching the things I know I was noticing when I was revising: duplications, saying the same thing in different chapters (this is my worst habit, repeating myself–which is a direct result of writing books a chapter at a time and then not remembering what was in previous chapters, or if I’ve said something before. It’s also trickier because I’m writing it in the present tense, and there are flashbacks and memories that have to be written in the past tense, which is going to undoubtedly give my editor fits. The present tense for the things happening in the present works much better than the past tense I usually write in; but not having a lot of experience with present tense is making this much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Perhaps I should consult Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style? After all, I do have a copy sitting here on my desk in easy reach; mayhap after the gym and getting cleaned up I shall retire to my easy chair with the manuscript and that copy of Strunk & White.

I also slept really well last night, which was lovely. The bed was most comfortable, and it was probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite some time, which is, of course, lovely but begs the question, why did I sleep so much better and restfully last night than I have in quite some time? I did have some Sleepytime tea before I went to bed, which could have had something to do with it…I always mean to have a cup before bed but always manage to forget; I will definitely have one again tonight. The problem is that my body will adjust and adapt to almost anything relatively quickly; so it’s not like the tea will work every night…but if last night was indicative, I need to make more of an effort to have a cup more regularly than I have been doing.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader. I certainly intend to do so.

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.

I Know Places

This has really been a most unsettling year.

Remember as 2019 was coming to a close and we were all looking forward to that hellish year ending and a brand new start in 2020? Yeah, that’s why I am pointedly not looking forward to this year ending and a different year beginning for 2021. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.

And at least in 2019 we had the greatest LSU football season of all time to enjoy from September through January. (And yes, I still go back sometimes, when I am feeling down, blue, or depressed, and rewatch games from that wonderful season. And I won’t feel bad about it, no matter how much you try to shame me, primarily because I’m not ashamed of it.)

Today is a strange day, in which I am either working at home or taking a personal day of some sort; I haven’t really yet decided what I am actually going to do today; I have condom packing supplies and as long as I have Internet access I can do work-related things. I wasn’t quite sure what precisely I was going to wake up to this morning; the dreaded Cone of Uncertainty kept shifting gradually more and more to the east as yesterday progressed, until when I checked before going to bed New Orleans, and in fact all of southeastern Louisiana, was no longer in that dread Cone anymore. That bullseye was squarely on the panhandles of Mississippi and Alabama, and the storm had also slowed; landfall moved from the wee hours of tonight/tomorrow morning to tomorrow evening, possibly Wednesday morning. My heart breaks for that stretch of the Gulf Coast, and my friends in harm’s way–and of course, we still don’t know what to expect here. Ah, the lovely, unbearably bearable stress and suspense of hurricane season–and there’re even more systems out there in the Atlantic basin.

Hurray!

But now that I’ve checked, I see that we are going to be missed; it continues to creep forward with now landfall projected to be sometime tomorrow night, and we’re back down to merely a tropical storm warning. It’s a relief, of course, but horrible for where it’s coming ashore, as I mentioned earlier. The weather here is weird and hazy, yet still sunny; the sun is behind some haze, making it seem grayish-yellow outside my windows this morning, but there you have it.

We started watching a most delightful Mexican dramedy last night on Netflix: The House of Flowers, or La Casa de las Flores, and it is absolutely wonderful. We probably would have stayed up all night watching; fortunately, Paul had the strength and fortitude to stop the binge in its tracks.

As I was making condom packs yesterday afternoon, I continued with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, watching American Graffiti and Marathon Man. That might seem like an odd pairing, and one might not think American Graffiti actually fits into the Festival, but I remembered the one time I saw the film, decades ago, and remembered it being rather a dark film. It’s debut brought on a wave of nostalgia for the 1950’s in the 1970’s–the music, the clothes, the things the teens did in the movie–but the movie was actually set in 1962, not the 1950’s, but most of the music was from the 1950’s. American Graffiti‘s success led to another revival, for example, of the Beach Boys; eventually led to the series Happy Days (which also starred Ron Howard–although in the movie he was billed as Ronnie Howard, a holdover from The Andy Griffith Show); and sparked that 50’s nostalgia trend I mentioned earlier. The movie really doesn’t have much of a plot, other than it’s the last night in town for Steve and Curt, who are leaving the next morning for college in the east somewhere. Steve is dating Curt’s sister Laurie, who is head cheerleader and will be a senior when school starts, Curt is having second thoughts about leaving for college; Steve cannot wait to get away from the unnamed town, which was director/writer George Lucas’ hometown of Modesto. These three are played by Thomas, a very young Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams. Basically, the movie follows them and a few of their friends throughout this last night, as Steve and Curt decide about their futures. It’s really about growing up and making decisions about who you are and what your life is going to be, and while rather light-hearted in tone for the most part, there are dark elements to the movie as well–and the end, with Curt flying east, and as the plane is silhouetted against the clouds, a scroll lets us know what happens to the four male characters: Steve is an insurance salesman, Curt is a writer living in Canada, Terry is missing in action in Vietnam, and John was killed by a drunk driver. There’s a definitely 50’s feel to the movie, even though it’s set in 1962–some say the 50’s didn’t really end until the JFK assassination–but it’s not as “feel-good” as one might think. There’s sadness and poignancy in the movie, as well. And of course, it’s the film that launched numerous careers, including Lucas’; the afore-mentioned stars, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Somers, Harrison Ford, and Kathleen Quinlan, among others. It wasn’t as heavy drama as The Last Picture Show, which was another dark film about teenagers in the 1950’s, but it’s still darker than most people think of it.

Marathon Man definitely belongs in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. William Goldman adapted his novel for the screen–I read the book, never saw the movie (although the sadistic dentist scene is legendary; it was much worse in the book)–and now that I’ve seen the film, there’s no question about it. The film opens with an old man going to a ban and checking his safe deposit box; his car stalls, which starts a road rage incident with another old man, with the two men swearing at each other in German and the second man realizing the first man is anti-Semitic, if not an actual Nazi, and so begins a car duel between the two that ends with both of them crashing into a fuel truck and being killed. The film then cuts to Dustin Hoffman, who is training to run a marathon. He is also working on his PhD in history, trying to clear his father’s name–his father was smeared during McCarthyism in the 1950’s and ruined, finally killing himself. Because his brother, played by Roy Scheider, works for a mysterious secret agency for the government (doing the things in that gray area between the FBI and CIA), is somehow involved with actual Nazis who escaped from Germany at the end of the war (we never really learn why our government helped those Nazis escape–although that’s actually true; in most cases it was scientists we set to work on the space program), Hoffman actually becomes involved peripherally with this case through no fault of his own, and people are now trying to not only kill him but torture him as well, trying to find out “if it’s safe”, and he has no idea what they are talking about. This is the ultimate paranoia/conspiracy movie: an innocent person being stalked and his life threatened and he has no idea why, and all he can do is try to stay alive and figure it all out (this is also the underlying story of some of Hitchcock’s best films, and many Robert Ludlum novels), and there is quite literally no one he can trust: not the woman he is seeing, not his brother’s fellow agent, and certainly not any of the Nazi henchmen. It’s a good thriller, but I don’t think it would make it today because of the pacing and the slow developing plot, but once it starts rolling it really goes quickly.

It also reminded me that another element of the 1970’s was actual Nazis; Israelis were still hunting down and exterminating war criminals, and the war and the Holocaust were still in recent enough memory that it was still very much in the public consciousness. War novels still proliferated (this was the decade Herman Wouk published both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance), it also brought forth William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Ira Levin’s brilliant The Boys from Brazil. Ludlum’s career also got rolling in the 1970’s, and one of his first novels dealt with Nazis–as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as villains, with the Vatican a close second; one of my favorite Ludlums, The Gemini Contenders, used both.

And now back to the spice mines.

The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.

I Know There’s Something Going On

Yesterday I got notified that one of my favorite comic book runs, DC’s 1988-1992 Starman, is now available digitially on Comixology. I may have squealed like an excited little gay boy. This version of Starman, which came after the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, was one of my absolute favorite comic series of all time. As a birthday gift to myself, I bought and downloaded the first two issues. I am really looking forward to reading this series again in its entirety. I hope it’s as good as I remember. It never really took off, and was eventually cancelled for low sales, which was a real pity. I’m curious to see what I think about it now that I’m older.

Yesterday was one of the most miserably hot and humid days in New Orleans that I can remember. I took a shower after my workout yesterday morning–and then another after running errands. The thing about humidity that you tend to forget is how it sucks the life right out of you; it’s exhausting navigating and operating and trying to function in it. I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for those who have to work outside in August in New Orleans–meter maids, mail carriers, construction workers, etc.

And last night, we went to see Dunkirk.

Dunkirk_Film_poster

The story of the mass evacuation of the Allied forces at Dunkirk is one that has always stirred me; had the evacution/rescue of the British/French forces there not happened, the war would have been over and Nazi Germany would have won. The way the ordinary British people stepped up, in the face of incredible danger and possible death, and sailed personal boats across the English Channel to help rescue their army is one of the greatest war stories of all time. As soon as I heard that Christopher Nolan was making a film about it I knew I wanted to see it.

And while it took a while for me to go, we finally saw it last night.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more affecting film about the horror of war before.

Nolan’s film is a completely immersive experience, and everything about the movie is designed to keep you anxious and on the edge of your seat the entire running time of the movie. There are only a few, brief moments where you can actually sort of relax; and those brief seconds of respite immediately fade into another rush of tension and adrenaline and anxiety. There is very little dialogue in the movie, and almost all of the emotion is conveyed by the faces of the actors, which is even more affective than over-the-top histrionics would have been.

One of the things I learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was that the reality is far harsher and much more horrifying to witness in person than to see on television or on film; the reason Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke is so affecting is the film of the aftermath, after the water was gone and what was left behind, triggers the memories inside my own mind from when I returned and drove around to see the  devastation for myself. A film camera is limited–even in IMAX–to how much it can capture in a shot; the reality of the flood aftermath was immersive; you couldn’t look another direction and not see horror.

As immersive an experience as Dunkirk is, it therefore stands to reason that the horrors faced by the soldiers and sailors and the British citizens in their pleasure boats sailing the channel and watching as war planes flew overhead, witnessing ships being bombed and torpedoed in front of them, was at least a thousand times worse than watching a fictionalized film version in an IMAX theater in Harahan. The choice to show the story from three different perspectives–a soldier wanting to get home, an RAF pilot, and the crew of the private boat Moonstone crossing the channel to answer the call–and to not show those stories unfold in the usual timeline but rather at different times–was a calculated risk that could easily could have failed, turning the movie into a mess that made no sense–but superb editing and cross cuts made it quite effective in unsettling the viewer and ramping up the tension and terror. (I predict many, many technical Oscar nominations for this movie–from sound editing to editing to cinematography–and it will probably win more than a few of them.)

It’s an amazing achievement in film.

Is it historically accurate? Probably not; it leaves the viewer with the sense that it happened over the course of a day or so when it was really a little over a week; all the soldiers and sailors seen on camera were all  white; and obviously some of the characters, if not all of them, were fictional. But…when the credits rolled I was emotionally drained and exhausted, and I am still processing the images I saw.

It also occurred to me, as we drove home in a downpour, if ever there was a time for TCM to schedule a World War II film festival–after the events of the last week or so, it’s now, as some people need, apparently, to be reminded of the horrors that were Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Have a lovely Sunday, every one.