Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

With the Italian giallo films, you can expect three things: breasts, blood and a title consisting of a string of words you would never expect to be the name of a film but which somehow works.

In many cases, the names vary with releases in different countries and sometimes even in the same country. Thus, l tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) is more title than most movies could ever support, yet it’s actually just one of the handful of titles under which the 1972 thriller was released. Here are all the alternate titles I could find for Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key:

Excite Me!

Eye of the Black Cat

Gently Before She Dies

O pyrgos ton dolofonon (The Tower of Murders)1

To mystirio tis mavris gatas (The Mystery of the Black Cat)1

Vicios prohibidos (Forbidden Vices)

Die Nympohmane Killerin (The Nymphomaniac Killer)2

I mean, based on the titles, shouldn’t these all be different movies? (France, for the record, just translated the Italian title directly into French: Ton vice est une chambre close dont moi seul ai la clé.) You may realize that none of these titles really give much of an idea what the film could be about. You may also wonder why foreign language releases would have discarded such a distinct, evocative title, which you may suppose has a direct relation to the plot, because why else would that be the title? But here’s the weird part: It actually doesn’t relate especially to the plot. It comes from a 1971 giallo that also stars Edwige Fenech — Blade of the Ripper (a.k.a. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh3), in which she receives a threatening note that contains that message. The title ties in with the film in only a vaguely thematic way, even though it sounds like something that would  directly figure into the story, I Know What You Did Last Summer-style.

It is at times like this when I trip over myself trying to figure out how people decide to name anything anything.

Here’s the trailer for this movie, whatever you want to call it:

And the whole film is viewable in one post on YouTube, in case you’re interested.

Two brief notes and one long one:
  1. If Google Translate knows its Greek.
  2. I don’t know enough about German to tell if this is The Killer Who Is a Nymphomanic or the The Person Who Kills Nymphomaniacs.
  3. But also a.k.a. Den djævelske kniv (The Demon Knife), Der Killer von Wien (The Killer of Vienna), Epikindynoi anthropoi (Dangerous People), Hartstochtelijke nachten van Mme Wardh (The Passionate Nights of Madame Wardh), Lâmina Assassina (Blade Killer), La perversa señora Ward (The Wicked Mrs. Ward), Les nuits folles de Mme Wardh (The Crazy Nights of Mrs. Wardh), Mannen med rakkniven (The Man With the Knife Missed Razor), O amartolos kyklos ton ekviaston (The Sinner Cycle of Extortion), Szerelmi vérszomj (Love Bloodlust), Uma Faca na Escuridão (A Knife in the Dark), and as it was simply known in the U.K., Next!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fun With Math and Outdated Rock Music

Math can be fun! Observe:

Aldo Nova's 1981 hit "Fantasy"


Lita Ford's 1988 song "Kiss Me Deadly"




Weezer's terrible 2001 song, "Hash Pipe"

And a hat tip to the A.V. Club's new feature: musicians and singers publicly shitting on the one song they just can't stand. The guy from The Gaslight Anthem picked "Hash Pipe," forcing me to think about it for the first time in a decade. But look where this thought took us!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Where Are All the Evil Princesses?

Being mostly an indoors kid, I saw a good number of princesses get rescued. Books, movies and video games feature a lot of captive princesses, to the point that you’d think princesses would stop wearing those tiaras and pointy tassel hats, just as a safety precaution. The royal damsel in distress is such a popular trope that by now it seems like it should have become popular to subvert it: Hero sets out to rescue princess but finds that she’s actually not the embodiment of goodness he thought she was. It seems like such an obvious twist to have the princess turn out to be the big bad, hiding malice and ambition beneath a ball gown and courtly manners, but when I actually tried to think of examples, I couldn’t come up a single one. In fact, I struggled to think of more than a few “bad” princesses in all of popular culture.

It seems weird, this scarcity of devious princesses, given how many stories have evil kings and queens or even scheming, power-hungry princes — just off the top of my head, Loki in Thor, Humperdink in Princess Bride, Viserys in Game of Thrones. But the notion of the pure-hearted maiden is such a fundamental one, I’m thinking, that it generally precludes evil twists on the character, even despite historical accounts of princesses who weren’t above getting blood on their hands. (In particular, China’s Princess Pingyang could give many warlords a lesson or two in raising a ruckus.) So even if I’ve never seen the Pretty, Pretty Princess character so subverted that she turns out to be the big bad, some pop cultural princesses or princess-like characters have come close. Here’s what I have.
  • Medea is the daughter of the king of Colchis, but she’s rarely referred to as a princess. She is one, technically, and she’s an icon of vengeance. Not only does she betray her family to help Jason get the golden fleece, even dismembering her younger brother to prevent her father from tailing her, but she also goes to town on Jason once their relationship goes all kinds of sour. In fact, she burns Jason’s new wife to death, kills Jason’s kids and peaces out on a dragon-drawn chariot. No, really. But she does all this in reaction to Jason’s cruelty, not, say, evil for the sake of evil.
  • In King Lear, the older daughters, Regan and Goneril, are pretty heinous, and their scheming ends up annihilating the entire family, and they stand in contrast to the youngest sister, Princess Cordelia. (I can forgive Goneril because what else do you do with your life when you have name that sounds like a venereal disease?)
  • Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon, a king, and she goads her brother to kill their mother, Clytemnestra, but she only does this because ol’ mom killed dad. So if anyone’s the big bad, it’s Clytemnestra. Electra is the Christina to Clytemnestra’s Joan Crawford, and if anyone wants to co-write a Joan Crawford-inspired retelling of the Oresteia — a good idea, now that I think about it — I’m all for it. Then again, having your legacy be the Electra complex seems ignominy enough.
  • But then again, there’s Elektra King. The Sophie Marceau character in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough fits the storyline I’m thinking of pretty closely, but she’s not a princess, even if her name is Elektra King — which, you know, subtle — and she’s the heiress to an oil empire. In the end, Bond discovers that Elektra has contracted a nasty case of Stockholm syndrome and become the lover and co-conspirator of the film’s big bad.
  • It was pointed out to me that the king’s daughter from “The Lady or the Tiger?” might work, depending on how you interpret the story’s ending. She allegedly inherited her father’s “semi-barbaric” qualities, and when she motions for her lover to pick one door over the other, there’s a fifty percent chance that she’s sending the guy to the hungry tiger and instant death. She loses him either way, you see, because should he pick the door hiding the lady, he has to marry her on the spot, so there is also a fifty percent chance that she is acting in a very un-Disney-like manner.
  • In the movie Return to Oz, the big bad is Princess Mombi, but it was pointed out to me that she’s not actually a princess; she’s an impostor. And the books don’t call her a princess. Instead, she is just a witch. Why not get technical about it?
  • In the DC Universe, one of the central Teen Titans, Starfire, inherits the title of princess of the planet Tamaran over her older sister, Blackfire, on account of the latter being lame and unpleasant. Blackfire holds a grudge, over throws the Tamaranean royal family, enslaves Starfire for a period and eventually becomes a major antagonist for the Titans.
  • There’s the obscure Capcom character Princess Devilotte de DeathSatan IX, who is to evil what drag queens are to feminine sexuality. She actually might be an exaggerated reaction to relative lack of characters like her, and that’s about as literary as anyone has ever gotten about someone with the name Princess Devilotte de DeathSatan IX.
  • The Batman villain Talia al Ghul sort of works, if you consider her pops to be a sort of king. It’s a stretch.
And that’s all I got. I’m sure I’ve overlooked some, but I think the takeaway is that princesses generally fall into the sunny, bright-eyed, singing-in-the-forest category. In fact, there’s not even an “evil princess” page on TV Tropes, and there’s a TV Tropes page for everything. Blame Disney if you want, but do tell me if you can think of any more.

In closing, please gaze upon this 1868 Frederick Sandys painting of Medea.

If that expression doesn’t read as “Do not fuck with me because I have ISSUES,” then I don’t know what does. Moo hoo ha, indeed.

EDIT: Bonus Mombi. Worst bonus, I know, but still.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

This Blog Is Now Ten Years Old

Hi. I started this blog ten years ago today, and while I’m happy enough to celebrate this anniversary by making fun of Lena Dunham, I suppose I should do something. Work and extracurriculars being what they are, however, I didn’t have time to put much special together. So this is what you get: my favorite photo ever.

It’s a dog sneezing. It’s the best thing. This is how I’m celebrating a decade of writing for free.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

With “It” Being a Winning, Hamstery Grin

A cool Google trick: Did you know that if you image search the phrase “little critter,” you get a bunch of weird drawings of Lena Dunham? It’s true! Try for yourself. I’ve lined up a few side-by-sides for you. See?

This all came about when my coworker directed me to Tumblr for this post, which posited that Lena Dunham looks like Christina Applegate’s stoner brother from Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. She kind of does:

At the time I thought the resemblance was strong enough to reblog it, but then someone who follows me on Tumblr tweeted at me — and yes, I realize how funny this sentence will sound in twenty years, but this is really how we used the internet in 2013, children of tomorrow — and she pointed out how Lena Dunham actually looks more like Little Critter. She was right. Oh, how she was right.

Until today, I didn’t know what Little Critter’s name was and couldn’t have located it on Google, since “overalls-wearing porcupine-guinea pig thing that learns lessons” isn’t an effective search term. They used to sell the Little Critter books at the carwash my parents used. I never bought them, but I know they attracted the same kind of people who liked that weird Suzy’s Zoo universe of clothes-wearing farm animals that seemed to be everywhere despite not being, like, attached to a syndicated cartoon. Once in elementary school, a girl who sat next to me explained the whole universe of Pekkle, and I think that was the first time I had the reaction, “I know I’m weird and nerdy, but you have it so much rougher than I do.”

In closing, if Lena Dunham reads this, I would like to think she’d make this face:

Which she can probably do pretty well. And just saying, but if she wants to don some overalls and put a frog on her head this Halloween, I’ll say, “Hey, she dressed up like that woodchuck thing I learned about! What was its name? ‘Litter Clittle’?”

Who Wore It Better?, previously:

Rome by Way of Portland

The best justification for the relevance of Italo disco? Gary Low's "I Want You," which this comment on the previous Italo disco-related post informed me is the origin of the sample used in Washed Out's "Feel It All Around," also known as the Portlandia theme song.

Here's Low's 1983 track "I Want You," which is definitely more on the disco end of Italo disco. Enjoy all eight minutes of it, but listen for the twinkly sound effect at the twenty-second mark.

And here is Washed Out's "Feel It All Around."

I wonder if Fred Armisen had something to do with this.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

At the Same Time, You Are Crazy Mind, Crazy Mind

I have a confession to make: I like Italo disco. I once appreciated this genre of music from the safe perspective of “Ha ha — it’s funny because it’s so bad,” but at some point I crossed over and began to genuinely, unironically enjoy the synth-heavy dance tracks produced in Italy and other European nations in the mid-80s. I really can’t explain it, because most of it doesn’t line up with what I would deem good music, though I have theories. It’s possible that I simply got tired of listening to the stable of songs that we post-80s children have come to associate with the era. (I can happily proceed with the rest of my life without hearing “Maniac” or “Tainted Love” again, but I feel like the world isn’t listening to me on this one.) And occasionally, I can squint and imagine some throughlines between these songs and current bands. (Clio’s “Faces,” a.k.a. the song that sounds like the inside of Lisa Turtle’s brain, reminds me a bit of CSS or Yelle, and Mistral’s “Jamie” sounds like early Goldfrapp.) Whatever the case, my intro to this strange genre of ESL dancepop was “Happy Song,” and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to click this link because you may have not asked “what the fuck?” enough today.

You may be surprised to learn that most Italo disco and Euro disco songs feature English lyrics. This is a wonderful thing, because the neither the songwriters nor the singers necessarily have a firm grasp on English, and the songs therefore end up as nonsense garbled out over a dance beat. This is probably most true with the 1987 song “Crazy” by the band Daydream. It so adroitly challenges comprehension that it may qualify as a form of surrealism. After listening to “Crazy” in my car more times than I care to admit, I decided to find lyrics. None appear to exist online, so now I’m cornering the market on weirdos who think too much about the song by posting what I think the lyrics are, plus some commentary that I hope demonstrates why this song is a strange, awful, wonderful sin against logic and sentence construction.

If you want, follow along:

So this song begins by laying down some synth, and the first few seconds could really belong to any track produced in the 80s — American or European. But then there’s what I call the Horror Movie Voice, a deep, creepy voice that pipes in throughout the song. It simply says “Crazy. C-c-c-c-c-crazy,” and repeats itself several times. And that is weird. Then there’s a secondary, more danceable intro that kind of reminds me of Miami Sound Machine. And then 42 seconds in, the actual lyrics start. Here is my best guess at what the hell the lady is trying to sing:
She had enough inspiration to it
It’s maybe too late to change it
Somebody looks at me
I feel something’s at fault
This is the picture
I don’t want to be in the dark
I don’t want to take your love
This is the daydream of the human being
This is the spirit in my living room
I’m not confident about most of those lyrics, and you may have better guesses, but the ones I’m most sure of are the last two, and that’s weird because I would really rather “This is the spirit in my living room” wasn’t an actual lyric.
I turn to me, I escape to me
To whom I think “He got it!”
Me (echoes)
I don’t want to be in the dark
I don’t want to take your love
Everybody more or less are gaily cyber
Everybody more or less are gaily cyber
Everybody more or less are gaily cyber
He must be crazy
No, I don’t know what it means to be gaily cyber, but I could make a few guesses.
At the same time, you are crazy mind, crazy mind
Get off my back; you are the spirit in my hat house
At the same time, you are crazy mind, crazy mind
Get off my back; you are the spirit in my hat house
If I may, I’d like to point out the oddness of a song using the phrase “as the same time,” which is a transitional phrase that a person would use in a logical argument, and then going on to accuse the addressee of being “the spirit in my hat house,” which would be something done by someone making a rather illogical argument. So then there’s a dance breakdown, then a second, different kind of dance breakdown, and then more of the Horror Movie Voice. And then it all repeats, giving you a second chance to mishear whatever she’s trying to say. Then there’s yet another dance breakdown. And then at 4:55 comes the absolute best part: when she raps. Some people may say that what she’s doing maybe isn’t technically rapping, but I’d argue that you could call this “rapping” as much as you could call the rest of the song “singing in English.” In this section, the non-italicized parts are the Horror Movie Voice speaking to the singer.
Who are you [unintelligible — sound like “Bee Bee Gas-a-meaty”]
Want to give this version to me?
The polarizer; I know the frank
I do crazy; I do drunk with that that
Who you think I’m crazy?
I don’t know but get in my butt
Hey you, butt — get in my butt
I don’t know but get in my butt
Okay, I know, but it really does sound like she’s repeatedly saying “get in my butt.” I’m straining to her anything else. I got nothing.
Don’t be afraid
Who is that?
It’s taken her to the 5:11 mark to ask “Who is that?” and I feel like if she doesn’t know who’s been talking to her this whole time, then we’re really fucked, narratively speaking. Like, you should know who’s in the recording booth with you.
I have given you something like your dream
I have found the inspiration

Come. You can beat it.
Don’t be silly.
Just to summarize, she went from “Who is that?” to “Don’t be silly” in the space of a few lyrics.
I have given you something like your dream
I have found the inspiration — the inspiration!
And then the song returns to the “At the same time, you are crazy mind, crazy mind” part and basically does that for a full minute before fading out. I realize that the people who made this thing exist probably didn’t get together and code a hidden meaning into these lyrics, but for the same dumb impulse that prompted ancient man to look up into the stars and see shapes, I hear this jibbertygooble and want to think that someone thought it meant something, or at least that they really did think they were talking to a ghost who was haunting the living room. (Does that happen?) And if anyone who’s made it this far in the post has any guesses — what the hell this song is supposed to be, what the hell these lyrics are supposed to be — do tell.

In closing, I want to dance to this song at my wedding. You probably guessed that.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I Swear to Betty Crocker

You know that thing where you’re reading Wikipedia and you start seeing some weird stuff and then you’re like “Oh, see, someone just screwed up the page as a joke and I saw it before the editors came and cleaned it up. Mary Todd Lincoln didn’t actually pepper her speech with the word bajingo.” Well, I wish I could say that this was the case for the Wikipedia page on Etta Candy, Wonder Woman’s best friend. It is not. Someone actually wrote all of it with the aim of dispensing accurate information.

Some highlights, lifted directly from Wikipedia:
Throughout her adventures with Wonder Woman she is known for her moxie, her love of candy, and for her trademark call “Woo! Woo!” — a catch-phrase derived, in part, from exclamations associated with comic actor Hugh Herbert.

Other familiar characteristics included her junky car nicknamed Esmerelda and a variety of sassy interjections, such as “For the love of chocolate!”

Her father, Hard Candy, and mother, Sugar Candy, lived on the Bar-L Ranch in Brazos County, Texas, which provided the setting for cowboy-themed adventures.

Holiday College was the setting for science-driven stories and it was at nearby Starvard (portmanteau of Stanford and Harvard), where her boyfriend, the gangly but very loving Oscar Sweetgulper, studied.

She was shown to be brave and even stormed a Nazi concentration camp armed with nothing but a box of candy to rescue captured children.

She was aware of her weight but never let it bother her.

[In DC’s Silver and Bronze ages,] she was still portrayed as insecure and weight-conscious, and although she no longer said “for the love of chocolate,” she was known to swear by Betty Crocker.

When Etta finally collapsed due to a lack of food in front of Wonder Woman while trying on wedding gowns, Diana advised her to take better care of herself and maintain a sensible diet. Since that time Etta has gained her original weight back.

She is now African American and depicted as young and ambitious.
It remains to be seen how black Etta Candy feels about her trademark lumpiness. I hope black Etta Candy’s family still owns the dude ranch. By the way, had that horrible David E. Kelley Wonder Woman TV show become a thing, the role of Etta would have been played by Tracie Thoms.

To conclude, here is one more depiction of Etta Candy. See if you can count how many things are wrong with it.

Conclusion: Wonder Woman is such a bitch.

Comic book characters, previously:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Heavenly Bodies, Perfect Movies, Lycra-Clad Memories

One weekend night in college, when we'd decided to drink at home rather than venture out (or perhaps on a weeknight when he just drank, because those seem like equally plausible scenarios), we finished a movie, and when we switched the input from the DVD player to cable, something glorious happened: lycra-covered bodies were suddenly before us, gyrating and jazzercising in beautiful synchronicity, all to a thumping 80s soundtrack. Words were few, but limbs flailed gloriously. All the action, all the dancing, built to a final showdown between a sylphlike brunette and a blonde with short hair, if my drunken memory is correct, and it always has been. Without any backstory or dialogue and without having seen the first four-fifths of the film, it became clear to us that the brunette had to best the blonde in this dance-off, and that the fate of something major -- possibly the dance studio itself -- hung in the balance. Of course she did, since all 80s film heavies with villainous blond hair must be crushed in the end, and before we could process what had happened, the credits were rolling.

We did some Googling and determined that the film was the 1984 Cynthia Dale vehicle Heavenly Bodies, and IMDb told us that our deduction about the plot was, in fact, dead-on.
A small "Dance-ercize" studio fights for its existence against the unscrupulous owner of a rival club. The conflict boils down to a "Dance Marathon" to settle the score.
YouTube didn't exist back then, and I realize how old that makes me sound, even as I'm making fun how heinously dated Heavenly Bodies looked. But as a result of the primitive internet of 2002, we couldn't immediately watch it. Now, about ten years later, I happened across the trailer on YouTube. It's exactly as I remember it. Please enjoy.

The French trailer actually improves on the American version, obviously.

And the neat thing is that you don't have to watch the film yourself, since the trailers basically give you all the lycra and jazzercise that you'd need to get what the film's about, and besides, I already spoiled the ending for you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

When Saints Are Both Things

Once again, let’s talk saints and the horrible ends they met.

via wikipaintings
Not long after I posted about ol Captain Flaps — and considerably longer after I posted about St. Agatha’s boob plate, St Lucy’s disarming stares and the cephalophore — I received a letter from a reader who brought up a good point. Why are saints depicted as both things? Here, read:
so, I know I'm the art historian whatever, but you're the recovering large-c Catholic (you never recover from being a small-c catholic, it's too all-permeating) so maybe you know:

why are saints depicted as both things?

like, why does st bart hold his skin but also, mostly, has skin? and why does st lucy have eyes, and also hold her own eyes? it's not like cephalophores (you know, those fish they thought were extinct)(ahem. head-bearers.) have a head...and also a head to carry. There's clearly no leaning away from gore in Catholic iconography, so what gives? why the hesitation?
I hadn’t thought about it, and I lack the background in art history to give a definitive answer. But I could take some guesses. My response:
You bring up a good point that I had considered but which I have no good reason for. It doesn't really lend itself to Googling -- believe me, I tried -- so I can only offer you this.

On one hand, Catholics believe that losing, like, a limb in life doesn't mean you'll be an amputee in heaven, so it's possible that this artistic meme results from the belief that the martyr, having ascended into heaven, gets back the things the lost on earth -- eyes, skin, boobs, nose (probably there's one this happened to) -- but they're proud of their martyrdom and so they're showing off their lost body part like it's a kind of trophy.

My other guess, which seems less likely to be true, is that some people just weren't good at depicting the insides of bodies and therefore just didn't. But this wouldn't account for, say, a lack of breasts, which doesn't seem that hard. And let's face it: Most of the people living in these eras probably did see bodies torn apart, since that was reality TV back then, to say nothing from the constant farm accidents that I imagine claimed ranch hands of yore left and right.

Surprise third guess that I just thought of: Perhaps certain depictions were not meant to be gory, or would be posted in a location where gore would have been unacceptable -- like a children's room??? -- and they therefore did a sanitized version of the dead saint, so as not to offend. The cephalophore, conversely, would have been shown in a place where a decapitated person would have been, like, fun and edgy.

Do any of these seem reasonable?
Now what do you think? I’m genuinely curious if there’s consensus about this. I mean, I suppose it makes about as much sense to show St. Bartholomew simultaneously with and without his skin as it does to pose St. Sebastian (pictured above) like he’s a gay pin-up despite being punctured by arrows. (That takes quite a bit of composure, really.) But clearly the artists made some aesthetic decisions, and they must have had reasons for making them.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Sherpa Jacket of Shame

Hello. My name is Drew and I own a sherpa jacket. It’s corduroy with lining that may remind you of an elderly, nut-brown cocker spaniel. I bought it back when sherpa jackets were a thing, but I stopped wearing it outdoors for the following reasons:
  1. I eventually realized that a lot of the same people who were wearing sherpa jackets were the ones wearing UGGs in public.
  2. Upon close examination, sherpa jackets, with their fuzzy lining, were basically UGG boots for your torso.
  3. I didn’t like being lumped into the same category as the UGG crowd.
  4. More than once I’ve seen girls wearing UGGs at Coachella, and I’ve been forever repulsed by the thought of their feet squishing around in the soaked UGG lining, frothing up a cocktail of sweat, desert dust and the kind of bacteria you get in a place where drunk people mix with port-a-potties. This point may seem neither here nor there, but to me it seems pertinent to my line of thinking.
  5. Once, while wearing the sherpa jacket during my “This is okay to wear outdoors” phase, a man riding shotgun in a passing car leaned out the window and yelled “WHAT’S UP, PUSSY?” at me. My immediate reaction was that he was commenting on my decision to wear a jacket designed for Nepalese mountain climbers during weather that was only cold by coastal California standards. Upon further reflection, however, I can’t say for certain what made me seem like a pussy to the point he had to make a comment. It could have been any number of pussyish things.
My point — which, I admit, doesn’t especially warrant writing this all out, but here I go anyway — is that I’m wearing the jacket now while working in my apartment on a night that’s cold only by coastal California standards. I’m warm and comfortable, though, and I realize how comfortable and functional this jacket is, passé status notwithstanding. It’s times like these that I wish I were the sort of person who could just blithely wear whatever, like the kindergartner who dresses like Robin Hood every day or that one chick who doesn’t wear a bra because “STARLA DON’T WEAR BRAS. AND I’M STARLA!” But today I saw a girl wearing UGGS and sweats that had words on the butt, and I feel compelled to do what I can to distance myself from her, even though I envy her for her impenetrable, opinion-deflecting force field superpower. So I don’t wear what I want because I care too much to look like the sort of person who doesn’t care, whom I both disdain and envy.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Stephen King Meets Super Mario

So here’s something I didn’t expect to write ever.

For you who don’t follow video games, a quick preface: 2002 saw the release of Super Mario Sunshine, the Hawaiian shirt-wearing black sheep of the series that sent Mario off to face all manner of tropical danger during an island vacation. One of the areas Mario must hop through is Sirena Beach, which exists in a state of perma-sunset and which is home to the Hotel Delfino and more than its share of ghost problems. In fact, Mario’s first mission in this area pits him against this weird, manta ray-shaped shadow that emerges from the ocean and slowly slimes over the whole resort. Mario can only kill it by repeatedly attacking it, breaking it down into smaller and smaller mantas until the smallest of them die for good.

Here’s a video of the manta monster in action:

Note that the music is appropriately creepy and David Lynch-y. I though this would be the extent of pop-cultural connections to be made, but that’s apparently not the case. The “cloudbush” thread, an ongoing NeoGAF message board discussion that’s been trying to find “mind-blowing” video game trivia since 2008, makes an interesting point about the Super Mario Sunshine manta. (It’s not the first surprising connection it’s made, and this isn’t the first one I’ve noted on this blog.) Basically, the whole scene could be a riff on The Shining. At the end of the book, when Wendy and Danny are fleeing the burning Overlook with Dick Halloran — remember, the Scatman Crothers character doesn’t get axed to death like he does in the movie — only Dick looks back, and when he does he sees something odd... even in the context of everything else that happens in The Shining.
From the window of the Presidential Suite he thought he saw a huge dark shape issue, blotting out the snowfield behind it. For a moment it assumed the shape of a huge, obscene manta, and then the wind seemed to catch it, to tear it and shred it like old dark paper. It fragmented, was caught in a whirling eddy of smoke, and a moment later it was gone as if it had never been.
These creatures aren’t the same, and the message board post incorrectly calls the Shining manta “paper-thin,” when it’s actually the Mario manta that gets called that. The Shining text does eventually compare its manta to paper, however. And both mantas fragment into nonexistence. Debatable physical qualities aside, how many giant manta shadows can you think of that are associated with pop culture hotels that have serious ghost problems? That’s a fairly specific condition, you must admit. I have no idea whether the similarity might be intentional, but on coming to your own conclusion, please consider about these two points. First, I would have never thought that a Legend of Zelda game would have been inspired by Twin Peaks, but it happened, and weirder things have inspired video games. Second, Nintendo loves obscure references. Even Super Mario Sunshine is full of them. The whole Sirena Beach map, for example, is designed to look like a Gamecube controller. See?

The controller of the system you’re using to play the very game is less out-of-nowhere than The Shining, as far as references go, but I feel like the hidden controller at least shows that Nintendo sometimes operates on a subtle level. Someone just casually playing the game probably wouldn’t notice either — the hidden controller or a debatable nod to a Stephen King novel. I’m not sure who at Nintendo could say with any certainty “Yes, it’s supposed to be The Shining” or “No, who are you and how did you get past security?” but at the very least, this must be a very specific, very strange coincidence a double ghost hotels and oversized mantas that have both fragmentary and papery qualities.

Video games weirdness, previously:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Just Tell Me That You Want Me

For the second time in a few months, I have been listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” over and over again.

The first go-around, I was inspired by the very solid Fleetwood Mac tribute album that came out this summer. This time, I’m only slightly embarrassed that my inspiration was the pilot to The Americans, which uses an extended version the song over an action sequence. The A.V. Club posted a short piece about the song — less so about its effectiveness in The Americans than its overall intriguing strangeness. An excerpt:
It’s a song at odds with itself, the various voices all tugging at the tune in different directions until everything unites when the vocalists scream the song’s title, an enigmatic moment that means… what, exactly? This relationship was doomed to begin with? These people are going to kill each other eventually? All love has violence inside of it somewhere?
Good points, I guess, and it seems entirely likely that this song is another musing on the complicated romances existing between the members of the band, an angry spirit that maybe didn’t get exorcised on Rumors. Or it may not mean anything. That seems to be what Rolling Stone was getting at in Stephen Holden’s original review of the album. Holden writes, “But Buckingham’s most intriguing contribution is Tusk’s title track, an aural collage that pits African tribal drums, the USC Trojan Marching Band and some incantatory group vocals against a backdrop of what sounds like thousands of wild dogs barking. ‘Tusk’ is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Revolution 9.’” I’m still thinking about it. What’s with the title, which was apparently meaningful enough to also become the name of the album? Could it just be a penis reference? And if the song is just about relationships and penile thrusting, what’s with weird breakdown — at the 1:53 mark in the above clip — where the drumming cuts off the chorus? Is that musical cock block? And why film the video in an empty Dodger Stadium?

I’m genuinely curious to hear what any of you have to say. At the very least, some Fridays are good for listening to Fleetwood Mac.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Best Days of My Flerm

One week later, I realize there are some 30 Rock characters I wouldn’t have minded seeing in the final season. In order from plain ol’ beloved to sorely missed:

Josh Girard

Phoebe of the Avian Bones

Avery Jessup

Liz’s terrible agent, Simon

Astronaut Mike Dexter, who appears in more episodes that you might think

Angie Jordan


Diana Jessup

Any of the Jong Il clan as portrayed by Margaret Cho

Dr. Drew Baird

Jenna DeCarlo, a.k.a. the alternate universe Jenna Maroney and the role Rachel Dratch was supposed to play before my favorite show did something awful to her.

But good on the show for giving us one last moment of Kathy Geiss and no harm in skipping over Danny. And one remaining 30 Rock question: With the exception of Dennis, all of Liz’s boyfriends’ names are puns of one sort or another — Floyd DeBarber, Wesley Snipes, Carol Burnett, Criss Chross. But what joke is Jon Hamm’s character supposed to be making with the name Dr. Drew Baird? Is it just supposed to be Dr. Drew?

Finally this, still good, a full week later:

The complete lyrics to the “Rural Juror song are posted over at Vulture, by the way.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Things You Should Know Before You Get an MRI

First off, it’s loud — louder than you might guess. Imagine that you’re trapped in a broken pachinko machine, and that comes close to the thumping and clicking and buzzing electronic pulses you hear. The noise follows certain rhythms to the point that it occasionally sounds like the intro to some techno song. In fact, I’d be shocked if someone who took a knock to the noggin didn’t later attempt to translate the MRI experience to music. Understanding MRI-matrons about as well as I do ball lightning or parthenogenesis, I can’t imagine why it needs to make so much noise. But I guess if machines make noise in proportion to the importance of the job they perform (working theory), then it measures out that this contraption should be so much louder than my dishwasher. I received earplugs. They didn’t do much.

Upon sliding in on the little corpse platform they make you lie on, you may instantly envision some horrible scenario in which the smocks who run the place forget about you and you spend hours and hours trapped in that thing. That probably won’t happen, but it might. Oh god, what if there were a fire? Or an earthquake?

Itching. Oh, the itching. All over your body, specifically for the spiteful reason that the itches know you are powerless to stop them. The word for this sensation, if you want to be technical about it and you know I do, is formication.

You will be struck with the silliness of spending a chunk of your waking day lying in a strange white tube, unmoving, doing your best to rest but really not resting in any way whatsoever. It will seem all the more surreal when you leave the MRI place and return to work and sit down at your desk as if you’d just run to the store to buy cough drops instead of participating in a scene that would have been science fiction not that long ago. Ridiculous, really.

You may think about alien abductions.

Perhaps for similar reasons, you may also think of the Gravitron. I did. This carnival ride might have been called something else where you experienced it, but it’s that one where you climb inside a UFO-shaped room that spins and the centrifugal force pins you against the wall. Then the spot your in rolls up the wall, and now that I think about it, how did girls not ever get their long hair caught in those rollers? But no matter, you’re on the Gravitron! Whee! You’re twelve and this is what you call fun! Anyway, aside from the limited body movement and the placement on a rolling platform, the MRI machine isn’t much at all like the Gravitron, which is all about a big, open room that moves a lot, so I don’t know why I thought of that, but I did. Hey, do you want to go find a Gravitron and ride around in it? I’ll bet not too many people do both and MRI and a Gravitron spin in the same day, and I want to feel special.

You may hallucinate a little. My mind tends to invent whole little journeys when I meditate, with the flashing lights I see when I close my eyes stretching into pictures and then whole locations with a foreground and a background. I accidentally meditated in the MRI machine, because I closed my eyes — so as not to see death looming above me — and started breathing deeply. This is how I get into a meditative mood, you see, and suddenly I felt the strange sensation of sliding backwards into the machine. Only where there should have been machine — and gears? buttons? mirrors? whatever they put inside these things? — there was dark space, something like a tunnel. I didn’t like the way that felt so I opened my eyes. Having not been able to move, I couldn’t tell you what was actually at the other end of that weird tube. I didn’t take the time to look inside it when I left.

This is what I think you should know.

Nine Facts You Need to Know About Le Pétomane

A preface: I am 100 percent not pulling your leg with this. I originally wrote “I am not shitting you,” but that seemed weird given the context and you’ll understand shortly.

One: There really, really was a man who in the late nineteenth century began wowing Parisians crowds with his farts.

Two: Okay, I know, but I swear this is not made up. His stage name, Le Pétomane is a blend of the French verb péter, “to fart,” and a suffix similar to our word maniac, so basically there were French marquees advertising performances by The Fart Monster.

Three: Though it may seem hard to believe, there exist more than one word to refer to this line of work — among them, flatulist, farteur and fartiste.

Four: Le Pétomane achieved his amazing feats of fart not though the means that we common men acquire our farts but through “inhaling” air into his rectum and then expelling it at will.

Five: He discovered this unique ability while swimming in the ocean, when he found that he could suck sea water into his body. And though that seems like a bad idea to invite sea water into any of your orifices, he did it repeatedly, expelling it out in high-pressure bursts to the delight of his chums.

Six: Upon explaining the newfound ability to his doctor, the doctor was all, “Nah, you’re cool.” And then he went merrily tooting on his way, and I mean that literally.

Six: He left his job as a baker to pursue a career onstage. What seems more notable, however, is that he apparently was not forced to abandon his job as a baker because the townspeople stopped buying fart-tainted fart pastries made by The Fart Monster of Fart Street.

Seven: He could allegedly imitate musical instruments. I wonder how well he could actually do this and if his fanny orchestra consisted of more than just horns.

Eight: Le Pétomane quit his career when World War I so saddened him that he no longer saw a value in farting onstage. I find this ironic, because it’s during trying times that a nation needs fart-based entertainment most.

Nine: And the real kicker, to me, would be that Le Pétomane’s given name was Joseph Pujol. It is perhaps the most apt aptronym ever, for what better way to underscore the fact that his path to fame led directly through his butt?

Source: Wikipedia. No, just Wikipedia. I know, I know. I did enough checking to determine that he really did exist, but I actually don’t care if the whole article is the result of an elaborate prank. I got more out of reading it — and then explaining it to you — than I have from most other text I’ve read in recent memory. I’m claiming no journalistic integrity here. I feel I don’t need to, see, because it’s about a man who farted onstage.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Conversation I Wish I’d Had at the Art Book Fair

Maybe you love the Super Bowl, and that’s fine. But for me, the Super Bowl represents a lot that I don’t like, and I feel about it the way a sixtysomething white man from rural Georgia might feel about the prospect of, oh, hosting a San Francisco-versus-Manhattan game of multienthnic dong-fondle on his front lawn — uncomfortable, superficially repulsed and secretly fascinated. That’s why most Super Bowl Sundays of my adult life have been characterized by strategic counterprogramming. I do what I like but what also feels like a solid candidate for being the antithesis of Super Bowl Sunday.

This year, I selected the L.A. Art Book Fair. But when I left the event space, I carried with me not an expensive, limited-edition art book, but something more valuable: a lesson.

If you’ve never been to an art book fair, know that it’s basically like any trade show, only instead of selling products, the vendors inside are selling the right to look down on others who didn’t have an extra $200 to spend on a bound collection of Xeroxed anuses. I was really looking forward to this event, not only because it seems like fuck-you to the Super Bowl but also because I like art and I wanted to get inspired by someone else’s creativity. I couldn’t. The confines of this book fair didn’t let me enjoy art the way I want, which is on my own. Instead, there’s just a foot-wide folding table separating you from the vendor — or, even more troublingly, the artist — and you have to squeeze to the front of a crowd for the right to flip through the wares while in the presence of the person who’s trying to sell them. For me, that’s a lot of pressure. I have plenty of opinions, but I shy away from telling people “Sorry, I think this is not only too sucky to buy but also too sucky to continue to flip through,” which is exactly what I feel like I’m saying when I close the book, place it back on the table and then smile awkwardly as I slide back into the sea of Fred Armisens and Kimmy Gibblers from whence I came.

This reluctance to actually interact with the book-peddlers has prompted what you’re now about to read.
(Standing at a table at the book fair, Drew flips through one of the books on display.)

Drew: I don’t understand this.

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: It’s a series of original, full-color Sunday Peanuts strips that ran between 1987 and 1992, reproduced with enormous genitals drawn on the characters. In case you need to know, 1992 was the year my psyche broke.

Drew: (pointing at one particular page) So what’s this then?

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: That’s a dick.

Drew: It looks like a tree.

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: It’s playing off the idea of Mother Nature, but maybe the mother is hermaphrodite?

Drew: Why did you give Lucy a dick when all the other female characters have vaginas?

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: (bobbing for no reason) I was tired and dicks take less long to draw.

Drew: Okay. I see its only twelve pages long. Why are you charging so much?

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: (pressing right ear to right shoulder for no reason) I’m a nonprofit.

Drew: How are you a nonprofit?

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: (stares over Drew’s shoulder without speaking)

Drew: I’m not going to buy this.

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: On the back cover I have poetry where I used Google Translate to put news stories about third world atrocities into to their native language and then back into English so that’s poetry now. I called it “Schroeder Pissing on Woodstock. You’re Woodstock.”

Drew: I can’t tell you how much that isn’t an incentive.

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: I also have a series of kids’ mazes. They’re unsolvable. And the whole stack of them come in a sealed mylar bag that if you open it ruins the value of the book. It comes with a pen that’s out of ink.

Drew: That’s not even a book.

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: No, it’s an art book. You’re at an art book fair. I’m raising the price because I don’t like you.

Drew: Okay, well, I’m leaving.

Glasses w/ Statement Hair: Okay, $179 and not a dollar less.

Drew: (runs toward the exit)

Like I said earlier, I did leave the art book fair having learned a lesson: I may not be a Super Bowl Sunday person, but I’m also not an art book fair person. I haven’t figured out what this means yet, but I’m hoping there might exist a third group of people that I’d fit into, one that exists somewhere between the (apparent) poles of “Are you ready for some football?” and “No one ever told me to stop, so now I’m calling it art.” Either that or I just don’t deserve a group, which would be bad news, I suppose, but at least I know where I stand: far away from the art book fair.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Princess Will Forever Be in Another Castle

Call it a testament to Mario’s mettle: He passed through seven of the wrong castles before he at last found that princess he was looking for.

And this all went down back in the 80s, when she still went by the less-than-regal named Toadstool, so really who knew what Mario was going to find in that last dungeon? A spuming fungal bloom? Some nightmarish mushroom with gender-specific genitalia? Fortunately for Mario, she ended up being a pixelly, kid-friendly babe with Farrah hair, but he did a bad job of keeping her close by. She’d be forever removed to some far-off corner of the world, even though he presumably hopped through the entire world in every previous adventure. She got the joke.

I feel like he didn’t, based on his irrepressible enthusiasm. It turns out there’s a word for this whole situation.
princesse lointaine (PRIN-sess LWAN-tayn) — noun: an ideal but unattainable woman.
Translated from French, it’s “distant princess,” which makes sense enough, if you consider it in the contest of dungeon-hopping and damsels imprisoned in towers. But A.Word.A.Day explains that we have this as a literary trope — or, really, a real-life trope, depending on your lifestyle choices — thanks to Edmond Rostand, who wrote Cyrano de Bergerac but also La Princesse Lointaine, a play about Jaufre Rudel. Now that I read the Wikipedia page on Rudel, it’s clear he was some kind of stalker, but I suppose that to a hopeless stalker, the desired woman might as well be locked away in some tower, guarded by a dragon who suggests “Dude, come on — just move on.”

If we get down to it, I’d guess that Mario spends most of his extra lives overcoming lines like “Thanks — really, thanks! — but I think I need some me time after all this. So okay bye.”

Previous words of the week after the jump.