Saturday, April 30, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of Colonel Nivin's Memoirs"

"The Adventure of Colonel Nivin's Memoirs" establishes its conflicts in the recent-as-of-the-setting vicissitudes of World War Two, as well as the still-building Cold War. When the episode aired, more recent history involved Watergate and the Vietnam War. The episode, consciously or not, injects some of the issues of 1975 into its 1947 setting.

Now with very few exceptions, cop shows and detective shows tend to draw on an older, more conservative audience. That being the case, you might expect a prime time whodunit examining Watergate-era betrayals in a post-WW2 setting to be muddled in some places, simplistic in others. Unfortunately you'd be right, which is why this isn't one of the stronger stories. Has its charms, though.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Inside the Gipper

Well, I'm certainly not going to tell Patti Davis not to feel the way she does. Only human. Still, this movie project sounds interesting.

Of course many people not related to Reagan by blood or remarriage still take him very... I was going to say personally, but that's not quite it. He quickly became a plaster saint for the bulk of the conservative movement.

So a movie like this might not be makeable, that is possible to finance or release without theatres being burnt to the ground, for a few generations. Look for it on automated floating cube.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Yes, chameleons

Jemmy the Chameleon from Wayne Carlisi on Vimeo.

Just having a little fun here, juxtaposing the real chameleon with the animated one. There's an exaggeration, but it's not that big.

Of course if you're a house pet loose in the house, it might be better to be seen. Sometimes, anyway.

Monday, April 25, 2016

April is the cruelest month etc

Spring is a time when young people come out of their shells, and do so en masse. Which means they start partying, so you're walking along or you're at home and you all of a sudden hear them. It's a more abrupt change than the one into summer. During summer school is out - for most at least - but it's already been warm for a while.

And indeed more power to them. I do find that the hibernating months seem more "me" though.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of Miss Aggie's Farewell Performance"

"The Adventure of Miss Aggie's Farewell Performance" is a 1975 episode of a short-lived television show set in the now long disappeared world of radio drama, during the Truman administration, featuring central characters introduced in 1929. You wouldn't expect it to feel contemporary in 2016. Yet in a lot of ways it does.

Part of it is the casting of Betty White. While most of the people who appeared in this episode have passed on, White has only loomed larger in the nation's culture in the ensuing decades. Just a few short years ago she became the oldest host in Saturday Night Live's history after a viral campaign on Facebook. And she does have a couple of bravura scenes in this episode as a fairly snotty talent agent.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Good night, sweet...

Does Rock 'n' Roll Heaven need to expand for tax purposes or something? Damn.

This song I actually wasn't familiar with, but I'm glad the scramble to find Prince-related content brought me to it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Adios, Andy

Looking at the $20 bill currently in circulation, I can see the appeal of Andrew Jackson on a visual level. With that wind-teased hair of his, he practically invented "stylishly invented" at least for American men. That and the cravat and the Travis Bickle expression all add up.

Not a great president, though, even if he did lead a colorful life. Thomas Jefferson is increasingly maligned in the Hamilton era, but he did do other stuff besides own slaves - Louisiana Purchase, inventing the dumb waiter. Most of Jackson's "accomplishments" would land him on trial in the Hague.

So yeah, you could say I'm Ready for Harriet.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Say the word

Apparently the word for Tuesday is "slithy." Meaning "Smooth and active; slimy; slithery." It's of course from the opening of "Jabberwocky", which if it isn't the best-known passage in Lewis Carroll could be his most famous bit of original poetry.

I think I'll try to work it into at least one conversation. If said conversation doesn't die on the spot it will come back stronger.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Queen Watch: The Adventure of the 12th Floor Express

This one is something of a mixed bag. On the minus side the culprit is pretty easy to figure out. I don't mean that it's easy to figure out Ellery's actual, step-by-step solution. That's fairly arcane. But the prima facie case, the person with the right mix of means, motive, and opportunity, presents itself relatively early. So when Jim Hutton's Ellery turns to the audience in that charming way of his and asks if we've got it figured out, you may just be waiting for him to fill in the details. Of course if you're like me you won't mind at all the concept of this person doing a lengthy prison stretch.

On the plus side, this is very well-directed by Jack Arnold. Arnold was in the main a TV director, but he had some good B-movies under his belt too, having helmed The Incredible Shrinking Man and High School Confidential in the fifties. The same year as this episode he also directed a Fred Williamson movie called Boss Nigger. The seventies were weird. Anyway, it's not a showoffy directing job, but he uses the medium very well. There's a moment at the Queen home where Ellery figures out a piece of the puzzle - not the whole thing, not yet - and the camera moves in a way that clues you in to what he's thinking.

The plot concerns a newspaper publisher, Henry Manners, who gets onto a private express elevator in his paper's building and who has been shot dead by the time he reaches his floor. So this episode is set in the world of big city journalism, which in media going back a ways often does overlap with crime and police work. Think of Hecht and MacArthur's play The Front Page and its movie adaptations. Not too surprisingly, this episode marks the return of Gazette reporter Frank Flannigan, boisterous and excessively pleased with himself. And it's also arguably the first locked room mystery on Ellery Queen. If the murder of a man on an elevator no one else could ride doesn't seem impossible, what crime does?

Another thing to note about this one is the way it's rooted in the show's period setting. The pilot movie and most of The Adventure of Auld Lang Syne The rest of Ellery Queen's first and only season take place in 1947. The Cold War is in its very early stages here. But not so early that suspected communists and subversives aren't already being blacklisted and otherwise abused. The Red Scare makes an appearance here in the form of a lawsuit being brought against the paper by an unseen luminary whom one of the star columnists has slimed in its pages. The columnist is played by Pat Harrington, Jr. which means that a week after Howard Cunningham as a shouty sexual harasser, the audience got Schneider as an insufferable redbaiter. Even regular viewers of One Day at a Time - which I wasn't - might have trouble recognizing him, though. As with the racism of the past, with McCarthyism - which admittedly wouldn't be called that yet in 1947 - the creator will want to put their heroes on the right side of history. The Queens are on the right side of history here, but it doesn't seem false because they're so obviously dealing with a fraud.

Speaking of history, 1947 was also not a particularly great time for career women. In fact you would have seen more women working outside the home 2-3 years earlier, due to the fact that so many men were overseas or otherwise relocated by Uncle Sam. Once the war was over, the pressure was on for women to go back to the way it had been. Seen in this context Harriet Quarters's determination to make it as a publisher is quite admirable. Yes, she goes into all-business mode as soon as her brother is murdered, which is what makes her one of the prime suspects. And yes, as a woman of means she has options that a middle class wife might not. Still, compare her to the weepy secretary who didn't see anything because her boyfriend was proposing to her. One's codependent, the other is concentrated.

All-in-all a good story, if not a spectacular one. Something much wilder is just around the corner.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Final Songs: Zebra

Album: 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields
So we got married in Venice in June
So what?
We circled the Earth in a hot air balloon
So what?
and the rest of our lives
is one long honeymoon
well, that doesn't mean we're in love
If you really loved me
you'd buy me a beautiful pearl
but you've already bought me
all of the pearls in the world
so there's one thing I crave
when my days become ho-hum and blah
I want a zebra
We've got so many tchotchkes
we've practically emptied the Louvre
In most of our palaces
there's hardly room to manoeuvre
I shan't go to Bali today
I must stay home and Hoovre
up the gold dust
That doesn't mean we're in love
If you really loved me
you'd buy me the Great Pyramid
Oh, I'm so forgetful, you already did
But there's one think I need
if you won't think I'm greedy, my dear
another zebra
Zelda looks lonely, I want a zebra 
69 Love Songs  The title is intended as a joke, yes. The number isn't exactly random. But there are sixty-nine songs. To be more specific it's a three disc set with twenty-three songs apiece. Okay, "song" might be stretching it in a couple of places. And of the ones that are songs, not all are necessarily good. "Meaningless" lives up to its title. Still, it's a monumental accomplishment.

Are they actually all love songs? Well, not all straight-ahead ones, and I think I can say that with some relief. They all touch on love. With a lot of cynicism and detachment, and not a little surrealism. Same-sex marriage wasn't a legal option in 1999, but I don't think legal marginalization accounts for why Stephen Merritt takes a skew approach to the subject, at least not directly. As far as the actual reasons go, for one thing, that many unironic love songs in one sitting could be pretty mind-numbing. Also, love doesn't always mean what it's supposed to mean. In many cases it means that a person has moved beyond "fuck you, I've got mine" to "fuck you, we've got ours."

And here, galloping through a veldt of absurdity, comes "Zebra." It's a spare recording. Claudia Gonson sings, and might be playing the very minimal drums. (She's the drummer, as a rule.) If I had to guess I'd say that Merritt is playing the harmonium or the like while Daniel Handler plays accordion. Yes, Lemony Snicket is a friend and associate of the band.

The lyrics are a burlesque of a wealthy person whose only desire is to have more, more, more. It's sort of like a New Yorker cartoon of the filthy rich. There's a certain innocence to it as well. Buying pyramids and letting wild animals roam the halls of your mansion is a child's idea of what it's like to be rich. Or it was. Children may be more sophisticated now. Gonson's phrasing is fully in character, conveying the ennui of the sitcom socialite.

In "The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure", another song from disc 3 of 69 Love Songs, the pioneering philosopher of language throws his hands up and declares "We don't know anything, I don't know anything about love." In ending the project with "Zebra" Merritt seems to be admitting the truth of this statement. There's not going to be any grand closing statement here, which is a kind of statement in itself. And there are hints on how to spot a gold digger.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sharpe objects

Don't know if you've heard of these guys. They did some guerrilla-style man (or woman) on the street comedy back in the early sixties. The subjects must have not known what hit them.

This I heard earlier tonight on the WFMU archives. It's got some deadpan funny lines, but is also in an interesting grey area, morally. They seem to be corroding the ethics of the woman they're talking to.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mention a name we know, we know

For the past few days I've been reading Megan Abbott's Dare Me. Yes, with the above cover. A close-up of lips being bitten is a pretty much universal graphic for women's magazine/website lists of sex tips, so reading it in public might have made me look a little pervy. It wouldn't help for observers to know that most of the primary characters are 16-17 year old girls. It's an interesting book, but I can't say I found it titillating at all. Then again, teenage girls with massive eating disorders aren't my cup of tea, which is probably a good thing all around.

It's been described as "cheer noir", which seems pretty accurate. The narrator is a cheerleader. Her best friend is the captain of the pep squad. They get a new coach and the best friend clashes with her. This escalates to blackmail and someone winds up dead, not necessarily in that order. I've read some Patricia Highsmith, and Abbott seems to be a writer in a similar vein.

The character of Beth Cassidy is rather fascinating. In plain narrative terms she escalates from troublemaker to villain. Really, though, she's a great antihero, someone with inspiring scale. Towards the end her dialogue even picks up Shakespearean echoes.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader"

"You can't be. Your chin's not right."
Phil Collins (not that one), "The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader"

Who are the suspects? Some overworked, underpaid comic book artists. A pretty secretary with pretty secretary problems. And... one Mr. Ellery Queen.

Stories where the hero is framed for a crime and needs to clear his (or her) name have long been a stock feature in crime dramas. And they still are. Jim Gordon - less than innocent in truth - was recently set up for killing a fellow cop on Gotham. But it's something of a surprise to see it coming up this early in Ellery Queen. Luckily it's done well, taking advantage of the unusual dynamic between sleuth and authorities in this case.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Just fell victim to a headache that came dramatically out of nowhere. Now subsiding, it has me thanking God and Man for the beneficence of ibuprofen. Still managed to get a little scribbling done. Knew what I wanted to write, basically.

By-the-by, if I ever skip over your comments and reply to other comments that came after, the odds are that I just need more time to process, respond, etc. Unless you're a spammer, in which case you're blissfully unconcerned with matters of blog etiquette.

Monday, April 4, 2016


From this report I see that Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz covered David Bowie's "Breaking Glass" last week. Here's the original for reference.

To me it seems an inspired collision of song and performer. Unfortunately no video seems to have been posted so far. I'll definitely keep looking.

In other news, Michael Stipe has pierced his septum, and it's not my place to approve or disapprove of that.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Chinese Dog"

"The Adventure of the Chinese Dog" is the sole episode of the Ellery Queen TV series set in the small, fictional town in Wrightsville. This ties it into the books, albeit in a rather paradoxical way.

Some background. Wrightsville was a New England town first appearing in 1942's Calamity Town. Initially it was a place for Ellery to get away and finish a novel without any other duties or distractions. (Calamity Town follows through to the point where he's initially referred to only by the pseudonym he's staying under. He only becomes "Ellery Queen" when one of the characters finds him out through detective work of her own.) But he becomes involved in a murder case. He goes back in later novels and it happens again. And these murders catch him off balance.  In New York and Hollywood he accepts homicide as an unpleasant part of life, one that can keep him occupied. The quieter reaches of America are supposed to be freer of vice. But beneath the surface violence rages on, resulting in tragedies even he can't prevent. Et in Arcadia ego

Friday, April 1, 2016

Springing(?) into the weekend

They're predicting a polar vortex will hit New York this weekend, with the cold and wet weather that implies. I'm curious as to whether we'll get any of that in New England. Certainly hasn't hit us yet. The radiator in the room I'm typing this is comatose.

Haven't done a Final Songs in a while, since I've been doing another heavy-composition blog series. Hope to do one sometime in the first half of April, though.