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We spoke of was and when

I've been trying to figure out why this particular celebrity death matters so much to me, in a way that none has since Jim Henson. Part of it, I think, is that David Bowie was more than his music. I mean, while I love his music I prefer his contemporaries, Pink Floyd. I own many Bowie albums, but all of Floyd's. Probably I listen to them more often as well and yet, when Syd Barrett and Richard Wright died, I just sort of raised a glass to them to thank them for their work. I expect I'll do the same when David Gilmour and Roger Waters and Nick Mason die, as well. I'll be sorry they're gone, but I'll still have The Wall and Wish You Were Here, and to me that's all they ever were. With Bowie, conversely, it was always as much about who he was as what he was doing. I don't know if there's any other artist I feel that way about; I consciously try to separate the folks who create the art I love from their work.

It's great that I have Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, The Man Who Sold The World, Scary Monsters, and Outside to listen to, but in this one unique case it really meant something that I was sharing the planet with him.

But it's mostly this, and this is perhaps slightly silly and perhaps even a little bit embarrassing: I think that, way down deep in my mind, I was convinced that he wasn't merely human. I guess I'd always sort of believed that he really was some kind of alien being who had watched us and decided to spend a few decades living among us. Someday he would say, “Well, I've really enjoyed experiencing your interesting human culture, but now I must return to my home among the stars,” and then he'd climb into a spaceship and fly away with “Starman” blaring from his speakers. It doesn't seem possible that he could have had something so mundanely human as cancer.

For these reasons, I so far simply can't believe that he's gone. But, as my friend Liam said when I expressed these thoughts to him, “That's just the cover story. I suspect your first line of thinking was correct. He's gone home.” Or, as Mama posted when she heard (quoting someone else), “If you're ever sad, remember that the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

What I've Written About:

Brain Works Funny XX

One of the reasons I’m glad to be home is that Richmond winters are pretty mild. They don’t last long and they aren’t generally the really real cold that I encountered when I lived in the Midwest. But now and then the temperature does actually drop, and tonight on the walk home it was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

This matters. I don’t function properly when it’s cold. The cold undoes my brain. Proof? I just came home, went to the kitchen, got the tea pitcher out of the fridge, poured myself a glass, placed the glass in the fridge, and carried the pitcher back to my desk. Which, I mean, okay. That could happen to anyone. But I didn’t notice ‘til I tried to put the pitcher on the coaster on my desk, and of course it didn’t fit. And I still didn’t get it right away, you understand; I kept trying to put the pitcher on the coaster for a few seconds before I realized what the problem was.

I really and truly need to live in a place where there’s no winter at all.

What I've Written About:


Facebook conversations are...well, sub-optimal. The site is good at what it does, but it isn’t great for really discussing things at length, for several reasons. One of them is this: even assuming that you and the person you’re talking to manage to be concise and still eloquent, a few days later that conversation has been flooded by all the other conversations you’ve had since, and it’s more or less gone forever. So, keeping that in mind, I’m doing two things here. First, I’m creating a new tab so I can find these things again. Second, I print here something posted in a group I belong to on Facebook (a closed group called Faith or Fact, but they might let you in if you tell 'em OgreVI sent ya), along with my response. I’ll hide the name of the OP just for the sake of decency.

* * * * * * *

K*** S******: Let me go ahead and start by saying/pissing some people off by saying I despise socialism in any shape, form, or fashion. But as much as I hate it, in some form, it will always be here. That said, here is my rant for the day.

I truly believe we should criminalize any and all luxury items used or possessed by anyone on ANY form of government assistance (EBT, WIC, food stamps, obamacare, welfare, assisted housing). And by luxury items I mean tobacco, alcohol, cable/satellite TV, and INCREASE ALL criminal sentences for those using or possessing a controlled substance who receive government assistance.

If it’s not necessary for you to live, get an education, or earn a living, then it is stealing from the rest of us who are paying taxes if you spend money on those items.

And before you think I am some elitist and have no heart or experience, this includes my own step-daughter, her baby daddy, and my two grandchildren. I have to tell my own children, who are 3 and 6, why they can’t live like their 18 and 2 month old cousins will be taught to live.

* * * * * * *

Rick Winters: Here’s the way I look at it: I used to have a pretty good job, and I paid my taxes, and my taxes went (in some very small part) to paying for food stamps and housing benefits and the like. Then, when I came back home in 2010, the good job I thought I was moving into fell through, and I wound up doing a kind of crappy job because that was all that was available. I made very little money, so I was eligible for food stamps. As a result, I didn’t have to give up my internet access while I was trying to get back on my feet (and that matters these days). I kept smoking and drinking, too, though I did it less, metered carefully to what I could afford.

And eventually I did get back on my feet. Things still aren’t where I’d like them to be, but I can manage my bills and rent and groceries now. I’m no longer on any form of government assistance and now, once again, I’m paying into all the programs that kept me from starving or being homeless when I was down. I don’t complain about that, because there are tons of other people right now who are just like I was then, and maybe all they need is a simple goddamned break while they put everything back together. And I am very, VERY mindful of the fact that someday I might need that help again. How sure are you that you won’t?

What I've Written About:

Westhampton Requiem

Richmond doesn’t get much snow. I spent the first 19 years of my life here, and in that time we got exactly two real snowstorms, one in the late Seventies and one in the winter of 1986-7. Even when the rest of the Commonwealth gets hammered, we get nothing. A few years ago, all of Virginia was under a foot-deep blanket of snow; Charlottesville got more than twenty inches, Appomattox had an ice storm that killed every tree in my grandparents’ neighborhood, literally made 200-year-old trees simply collapse under the weight, and the City didn’t even get dusted. It’s just a weird thing, I guess.

This means that, as a child longing for snow to play in, I was largely disappointed. Of course, it also means that even an inch of snow is a major disaster here. As I write this, I’m remembering a day in 1980 or ‘81, when the threat of snow had closed the schools for the day. Pop was unexpectedly left in charge of me, and was at a loss for what to do until he discovered that a local theater was showing a double feature, The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone, movies he had loved as a boy. I was just at the right age to get caught up in the general war-ness of those pictures, the explosions, the courage, the dedication to duty and to fellow servicemen. I remember discussing the films with Pop afterwards at Hardee’s, and him explaining the complex motivations behind Alec Guiness’ character in The Bridge on the River Kwai. It was a high point in our frequently tempestuous relationship. Often when I think of him, I remember him being angry or frustrated with me (I was as unmanageable as a boy as I am now, and he was a demanding man), but that’s one of the treasured memories that I hold on to. It’s a day I think of when I want to remember him at his best.

The theater that had that double feature was the Westhampton, on the western edge of the city. It isn’t a grand movie palace like the Byrd; it’s just a nice little leftover from the Fifties that we used to go to a lot. You know the scene in The Blob where the creature starts oozing through the vents to attack the audience at a picture show? The Westhampton is that theater, basically. I remember seeing Chariots of Fire there and hearing Bony M playing on the P.A. when we left. I remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark there as well, and Mama covering Teddy’s eyes at the end, but I was out of her reach and got to watch Toht melt. When there was the big mid-Eighties re-release of the five films that Hitchcock had put in the vault to provide financial security for his daughter after he was gone, I saw most of those there. I’m sure I caught The Man Who Knew Too Much at the Byrd, but Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Trouble With Harry I saw at the Westhampton (I think I missed Rope altogether, I’m sorry to say).

It’s a place full of memories. So when I learned this week that it was closing, that mattered to me. I’m part of the problem, of course...it isn’t really within walking distance of my apartment (at a guess, I’d call it a two-hour walk, but it might be longer), so I haven’t been there since I moved back to town. It’s as much my fault as anyone’s that they’re going out of business. Also I know that nothing lasts forever, that the days of two-screen theaters are long since over and it’s amazing that this little place held on as long as it did. And of course, my memories will remain intact, and for me the place was little more than a memory anyway.

Still, it was a comfort to know it was there, to see it among the local theater listings (which I check two or three times a week). I’m not crushed that it’s going away, but it is still an occasion that cannot pass without mention. So tonight I raise a glass to Harrison Ford and William Holden and Grace Kelly and Gregory Peck and Vangelis, all of whom are forever tied to the Westhampton Theater, an oasis of my childhood. I don’t know what this is worth to them, but as long as I’m alive, they’ll never be forgotten.

What I've Written About:

Best (?) Picture

There have been, what, 85 or 90 Best Picture Oscar winners so far? Somewhere around there. And there have been 47 films that I’ve rated 10/10, a more select list and (if I may say so) a much better one. I flatter myself that most film fans would rather watch my tens back-to-back than all the Best Pictures, if for no other reason than my list is shorter, but it’s also more varied and interesting. (It’s the first 47 titles on this list, if you want to know)

Anyway, there’s very little overlap between the two lists. Only six films appear on both: All Quiet on the Western Front, Casablanca, My Fair Lady, The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs, and Shakespeare in Love. It’s possible that there will be another conjunction this year with Grand Budapest Hotel, but to be honest, I kind of hope not.

Boyhood must be the front-runner this year; it’s hard to imagine anything else winning. And I do love that movie, but I loved Grand Budapest Hotel more. Still, I recognize the amazing achievement that Boyhood represents. More than that, though, there’s a consideration that involves one of the other times that my tens have matched the Academy's choices.

Back in 1998 Shakespeare in Love surprised folks by winning the Best Picture Oscar that everyone assumed would go to Saving Private Ryan. At the time, I was pleased. I thought this was a rare instance of the Academy looking past an obvious, serious, Oscar-bait film and latching onto something that is light and beautiful and funny and smart and romantic and as nearly perfect as any film I’ve ever seen. However, for nearly twenty years now I haven’t been able to discuss this film without someone complaining that it beat Saving Private Ryan. It’s become one of those things that people thoughtlessly say, like the folks proclaiming that France has never won a war or that atheists can’t have morals or whatever.

It’s troubling to me on two fronts: when I talk about this wonderful film, I want to talk about it on its own merits, and not have to constantly justify it in comparison to another movie. Also, I can’t enjoy Saving Private Ryan anymore, because every time I watch it I think about all those people who hate my lovely movie because of it, and wonder why they can’t just appreciate both.

I’m aware that, although I adore Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood probably deserves the Oscar. It really is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’d like to still pull for the underdog, but in actual fact, I have to hope Grand Budapest Hotel loses. If it does, in twenty years I’ll be able to talk about how much I loved it without some mindless twit parroting everyone else’s complaint, “Man, how did this ever beat Boyhood?” And I’ll still be able to enjoy Richard Linklater’s excellent film without having to think, “Why can’t everyone see how much more fun Grand Budapest Hotel is?”

What I've Written About:

The Movie Gods Laugh

So there was the Monday Matinee today.

This week there were three movies I was interested in: Selma, Paddington, and Inherent Vice. Selma started too late for me to get to work on time afterwards, so that left Paddington and Inherent Vice. I decided last night upon Paddington, because after years of disappointment I’ve finally realized that Paul Thomas Anderson and I simply don’t get along. I suspect at this point that, although he’s a magnificent artist and his films are great works, he is simply incapable of making anything that I’ll actually enjoy.

So I showered before bed last night and this morning, when my alarm went off, I simply got up, got dressed in my ordinary comfortable clothes, brushed my teeth, and headed to the cinema. Paddington started at 11:10 and is about 90 minutes long, so I would get out early enough to walk back home, change into my work clothes, have a quick bite, and feed the cats before work. What I had forgotten, though, was that today was a holiday and Paddington is a kid’s movie. Every kid in town was out of school, and apparently all of their parents had decided to bring them to my local cinema. I had a bad feeling when I saw all the cars in the parking lot and the line at the ticket seller, but after all, the particular holiday is Martin Luther King day, and this is a largely black neighborhood. There was some chance that all those folks were there to see Selma, though of course the preponderance of children might have clued me.

Anyway, of course they were all there to see Paddington, and it was sold out when I got to the cashier. The obvious thing would have been to just go home, but dammit, I’d cut last night short and gotten up early to see a movie and I was gonna see one! So I went to see Inherent Vice after all. What I forgot until I was actually in my seat in the theater was that I didn’t merely have to get to work on time. I had to change clothes, eat, and feed the cats. Since I was watching this much longer film I wouldn’t have time for that, and these were responsibilities that I couldn’t just ignore. I mean, I could go without food and hope it would be slow enough at work for me to grab a bite, but I couldn’t just not feed the cats, and as far as showing up at work without my work clothes, well, they would just send me back home to get them anyway. I admit that the whole time I was in the theater, I was wondering whether I should just walk out and go home.

Anyway, I stayed for the whole thing, and was in fact about thirty minutes late for work. Also, it was really busy today and I haven’t had a bite to eat. Oh, and by the way, Inherent Vice? There are some very good things about it, but I can’t recommend it. It’s...well, another disappointing PTA movie. I’ve got to remember not to watch these things anymore.

What I've Written About:

Ups and downs of the Oscar nominations

Ordinarily, this is the time of year when I complain about all the films, actors, or technicians who didn’t get Oscar nominations. I’m usually arguing out of ardor more than knowledge, though; until this year I hadn't really gone to the movies a lot since the early 90s, and have watched things as they came out on DVD. Since the industry likes to save the things that it thinks will get nominated for the end of the year so they’ll be fresh in the voters’ minds, and therefore those films aren’t available on home video yet, usually there are a lot of films I haven’t seen when the nominations are announced.

This year is special, though, because this is the year I started the Monday Matinee. That means that I’ve actually seen almost all of the nominees, and weirdly, that leaves me unable to write too much right this minute. See, I want to write a story listing my OWN nominees, and I feel like I can’t in good conscience do that until I’ve seen Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. Those performances have just gotten too much press to ignore. It’s a bit of a fluke that I haven’t seen either; both kind of slipped through my fingers despite my best intentions, but the fact is that they don’t come out on DVD ‘til next month, and I won’t feel right about a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actor list ‘til I’ve seen those films. I’m so close to having an informed opinion that I just can’t do it. It’s funny that having missed two films slows me down more than having missed twenty.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the story I’ll be writing next month, so I won’t get too into the honors that I think were overlooked by the Academy, or praise too highly the ones I agree with. Even so, there are a few things I noticed about the official list that was released earlier today that I had to comment on (and I promise they aren’t all complaints):

1. OUTRAGE #1: Everybody knows how brilliant Meryl Streep is, but that doesn’t mean she automatically deserves a nomination every time she shows up, and she’s nothing special in Into the Woods. I won’t say who I think should have had that fifth nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but it’s an indictment of the way the Academy works that Streep is on this list.
2. OUTRAGE #2: It is insane that The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature. Not putting down any of the other nominees, and I’d hate to have to pick which one would get left out, but The Lego Movie is clearly the year’s best, and I say that as a man who loves both hand-drawn (Princess Kaguya) and stop-motion (The Boxtrolls) animation far more than computer animation. I would be prepared to accept either of those films winning the actual Oscar, though I would disagree. But for The Lego Movie to not even be nominated? Utterly bizarre.
3. OUTRAGE #3 (and this one actually hurts the most): Under the Skin had an amazing, unique, haunting score that suited its movie as well as any I’ve ever heard (and I’m a man who takes film scores very seriously). I know this is not the kind of movie the Academy likes, and I know also that they are cowardly and conservative in their music tastes (just ask Daft Punk or Clint Mansell), but Mica Levi deserves this award, in my opinion, more than any other contender in any category. I’m really pissed off about this.
4. The Academy totally nailed the Best Cinematography nominations, though. Credit where it’s due. Ida is one of the most beautifully-photographed movies I've ever seen, Birdman is an extraordinary accomplishment, and Grand Budapest Hotel and Mr. Turner would both be good enough to win most years. I haven’t seen Unbroken and don’t plan to, but given that they nominated the film that I would vote for and three others that definitely deserve consideration, I’m willing to go with them on that one.
5. Only slightly less surprising than The Lego Move not being nominated for Best Animated Feature is Snowpiercer not being nominated for Best Production Design. Although I did like it, I found that movie disappointing overall, but I don’t know how anyone could fail to appreciate the artistry of that train.
6. I knew it wouldn’t get nominated, but I do want to say that the editing in Oculus, while the story is jumping back and forth in time and realities, is pretty amazing. I was holding out hope for it. I didn’t need it to win, but a nomination would have been nice.
7. I’m giving Best Makeup to Grand Budapest Hotel just because of how amazing Tilda Swinton’s old-age makeup was.
8. The Lego Movie might have gotten overlooked, but I’m happy that “Everything is Awesome” got its much-deserved nomination for Best Original Song.

Okay, that’s all my notes for now. Give me a couple of weeks to patch the two gaping holes in my film-watching, and I’ll have more to say. I just couldn’t let the day pass without saying something.

What I've Written About:


Kind of pleased, but also slightly embarrassed, tonight. Two facts are responsible for this:

Fact one: Catch-22 is one of my all-time favorite novels. If you asked me to name the mythical Great American Novel, I would say Catch-22 every time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. Mama just bought me a lovely hardcover edition as a Bogey Day present, and so I’m re-reading it for the eighteen-dozenth time or whatever.

Fact two: I can’t actually speak German, but I’ve studied the language and can generally decipher it. In fact, I have often described it as the easiest of all foreign languages for an English speaker to learn. And so among other things I truly do know the German words both for “shit” and for “head.”

Somehow, my friends, I didn’t realize until just tonight why the officer in Catch-22 who is so obsessed with parades is named “Scheisskopf.” I mean, another character even calls him “that Shithead,” with a capital S, but I never got it ‘til just now. I guess you do learn something new every day, but it would have been better for my ego if this particular revelation had come to me a bit sooner.

What I've Written About:

Macho Macho Man

I had a thought tonight that I felt the need to share. It’s about the legendary bad movie Battlefield Earth, the epic failure to adaptat L. Ron Hubbard’s novel. I could totally write a whole post about the flaws in this film, and prob’ly a separate one about its troubled production history, but that’s not my purpose here.

While discussing this movie tonight with someone who had never seen it, I was trying to explain what John Travolta’s makeup (he plays the lead alien bad guy) looked like. This is the description I came up with: “Imagine that the Village People had been a cop, an Indian chief, a construction worker, and a Klingon. The campy grinning Klingon you’re imagining right now is John Travolta in Battlefield Earth.”

I thought that, as a flash of inspiration, was worth saving.

What I've Written About:

And now, tonight's weather:

So there’s this podcast called Welcome to Night Vale. You may have heard of it; it’s sort of The Onion Radio News by way of H.P. Lovecraft, and it has become a bit of a sensation lately. If you don’t know it but wish you did, search the title at iTunes or just go here.

It’s kind of creepy and amazing and funny, and I got very into it very briefly a couple of years ago, but then somehow got out of the habit of listening to it. I recently remembered it, but of course by then I had missed dozens of episodes. So now I’ve just decided to start over at the beginning.

The podcast pretends to be a news and community information radio service for a little desert city that is ruled by the Elder Gods and periodically invaded by aliens or ghosts or werewolves or whatever. So of course it has the sort of things you’d expect on a local news broadcast, but they’re all a bit warped. Like, there’s a traffic report, but it’s always this sort of weird and disturbing free verse. There are public service announcements about how you can’t really trust your family and friends because you aren’t watching them every second of the day, and anyway they might have been replaced by shape-shifting aliens. Likewise, there’s a weather report in every episode, but the weather report is always a song by some lesser-known band, generally something a little off-center, to suit the mood of the podcast. Often, these are great songs for someone who likes music that’s a bit off the beaten path, such as your humble correspondent.

So what I’m doing now, as I go through the archive, is to make a note of the best songs and download them, so as to create for myself a “Night Vale Weather Report” playlist. The song that made me decide to do that was from episode...four, I think. It’s by a band called The Tiny, which (judging by this song) is sort of a piano trio, except instead of piano, bass, and drums, it seems to be piano, bass, and cello, fronted by a young woman with a very unusual voice. Here, listen to it if you like:

As I’ve said before, I have my all-time favorite songs, and then I have my right-now favorite songs, and right now, this is prob’ly my favorite song. I find myself listening to it over and over again. It’s fascinating. It’s so noir, isn’t it? It's a love song for damaged, creepy outsiders. I feel like there’s a whole story behind this song, and every time I listen I understand (or more accurately imagine) more of it.

There’s a former boxer who got hurt too bad in the ring to keep fighting. Once handsome and glib, now he’s ragged and pockmarked and slow-witted. He’s still big and strong, though, and he makes his way telling stories of the high life in speakeasies for drinks, and occasionally roughing someone up for a few bucks from the local loan shark. And there’s a former showgirl, a minor star twenty years before who was known less for her voice than for her pretty face and long legs. She has long since outlived all three, worn out before her time by booze and bad decisions. A ghost of former beauty like a flower pressed in a book, she still does a few torch songs in some Lower East Side dive, and now and then latches onto the older johns who know who she was, and are as desperate to remember being young as she is.

The two collect each other, sharing memories of better things, and also loneliness and self-loathing, the mutual feeling that neither was good enough for anyone else, and finding solidarity and even love in that humiliating truth. But now he’s gone; perhaps he got too rough with a mark and got sent up the river, or cheated some more brutal man, or maybe just the accumulated weight of his old injuries brought him down at last. Now, finally and completely alone, she sits on the stage in that little dive and drinks endless gin-and-tonics, and sings this song to him.

I met him when the sun was down, the bar was closed, we both have had no sleep. My face beneath the street lamp reveals what it is lonely people seek.

Or am I reading too much into it?

What I've Written About:


userpic, strawberries
the Man at the bar in the ugly pants

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