The 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate is one of the best political thrillers of all time. (The Jonathan Demme remake is pretty good as well.) It was pulled from circulation in the wake of the Kennedy assassination by star/producer/former JFK pal, Frank Sinatra. The story has a few superficial similarities to Oswald's but many, many more differences. But it was still wise to pull the movie when the country was numb over the events in Dallas.
Here's an early cover of Richard Condon's 1959 novel:
Here's the poster for the re-release of John Frankenheimer's brilliant 1962 film:
It's trailer time:
2012 Ashley award winner and all around nice guy Lamar White has written a great and highly personal post about 12 Years a Slave. It turns out that Lamar's aunt, Sue Eakin, was one of the editors of the 1968 LSU Press edition of Solomon Northup's memoirs. Here's a link to Lamar's post at his swell blog, CenLamar.
No, for once I'm not pimping my own stuff. This is the lovely Mary Donnelly's new book:
Few acts have as mythical a history as the Illinois power pop band Shoes. From their legendary living-room-produced breakthrough Black Vinyl Shoes, through the trio of gems recorded for Elektra Records, and back to their DIY roots, Shoes’ path has not always been straight, but they have nevertheless managed to create some of the finest records the genre has ever produced. In Boys Don’t Lie, pop blogger Mary Donnelly and Moira McCormick breaks through the myth to tell the real story. With a naïve faith in themselves and their music, Shoes set out to make the kind of records they liked, finding themselves accidentally part of a movement that both fed and swamped them. Withdrawing from the scene, they settled in to form their own studio and label, sharing their distinctive DIY ethos with the next generation of alternative artists. Now elder statesmen of the alt-pop scene, Shoes continues their enduring legacy of friendship and music.
This book traces the history of this unusual and influential musical group. More than just the history of a single group, Boys Don’t Lie explores the broader history of the music industry over the last forty years: the technological and commercial upheavels that have buffeted both the major labels and the independents.
Yeah, I know that calling The Desperate Hours pulp fiction is a bit of a stretch. It starred cinema icon and Oscar winner Humphrey Bogart. It co-starred one of the greatest actors of the day, 2-time Oscar winner, Fredric March. It also features Oscar winning character actor and Adrastos favorite, Arthur Kennedy. And it was directed by "prestige" director and Oscar winner, Willy Wyler. It is, however, about a home invasion with Bogie going all bad ass like some of his earlier characters such as Mad Dog Roy Earle and Duke Mantee. Hostage taking is in right now, y'all.
There was a remake in 1990. I never saw it. For one thing, I have a policy of avoiding movies with Mickey Rourke. For another, I hate remakes. Speaking of which, they've remade Carrie? Really?
Here's the lobby card:
The Desperate Hours was based on a book by Joseph Hayes. I've never read it and am not terribly interested in doing so:
Back to the movie. Here's the trailer:
Every once in awhile I get offered freebies by PR people hoping to get plugged on First Draft. Most of the time it's for stuff I'm not interested in: books on the supernatural, right wing tracts, stuff like that. Occasionally, I ask for the free book, dvd or whatever, give them my snail mail address and never hear back. I don't care enough to call them out specifically but I dislike people who offer something and blow you off.
That endless opening paragraph leads up to this: I got an email from Simon & Schuster offering me a copy of Tip and The Gipper by Chris Matthews and they actually sent it to me. I know some of my fellow bloggers aren't Tweety fans but I quite like him. Yes, he can be deeply annoying but he's very human unlike many of the robotic newspeeps on one's teevee screen. He's also a blurter, which means you never know what's going to come out of his mouth. Spontaneous thy name is Tweety.
As to the book itself, I really liked it. I'm a big fan of the "staffer as fly on the wall" memoir genre and this is a good one. Tweety is actually harder on Reagan than some of the punditry I've read would suggest: the back and forth between Reagan and the book's hero, Tip O'Neill, got very heated at times because they both had strong beliefs and convictions. Did they compromise in the national interest? Yes, but some of the book's strongest passages are about the Speaker's spirited opposition to Reganomics and his idiotic and damaging Central Amercian policies.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tip O'Neill several times during the period covered by the book. By the time I met him, he'd stopped underestimating the Reagan appeal and had learned how to deal with it. I was in awe of the Speaker. He was a hulking bear of a man with hands that could have palmed a basketball and an iron grip. My father was convinced you could judge a man by his handshake and Tip O'Neill passed with flying colors.
My main takeaway from Tweety's timely Tip tome is not the CW about the O'Neill-Reagan relationship, the whole "pals after 6PM" thing. It was both leader's ability to deliver their people because they reflected the views of their respective parties so well, like Nancy Pelosi and unlike the hapless John Boehner. O'Neill and Reagan were able to deal because their supporters trusted them to do the right thing even if it involved compromise. Today Reagan would be denounced as a sell-out by the wingers who claim to idolize him.
While Tip and The Gipper didn't send a thrill up my leg, it's a good read and well worth checking out.
Boy, howdy, we got us some dissolute hillbillies and/or rednecks. Yeah, boy:
Note: John Faulkner was a certain famous writer's kid brother, which makes me wanna shout even louder.
I've been doing a lot of re-reading this summer. Yes, A, it's still summer in NOLA, alas. I gleefully plowed through the entire Robert Caro LBJ series, and recently re-read The Great Gatsby for the first time in many years. This is my favorite passage:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Every time I deal with careless people, and I've done more than my share of that recently, I think about Tom and Daisy. Carelessness, like malakatude, knows no class limitations although being part of the 1% makes being careless even easier. I'm not the only one who's obsessed with this image. There's an entire book by Sarah Churchwell centered around Fitzgerald's careless people. Maybe I should read it before going to the movies and fuming about the douchebag who thinks live tweeting the new DeNiro/Pfeiffer flick is okay. That's either high tech or low brow carelessness, I'm not sure which.
That is all.
For some odd reason, my Facebook friends keep tagging me on pictures of prurient pulp covers. I cannot imagine why. Anyway, here are two that fit into the category of sleaze pulp art. The first one is courtesy of my friend Brian D:
The second cover was suggested by Wendy W:
I've come across a deliciously pulpilicious site, Pulp Covers, and I borrowed this image from them. Great title, swell image:
People have been "recycling" for a long time, including paperback publishers. My favorite book scan site has compiled quite a collection of twins. That's right, cover art that was used more than once. Here's a nifty example:
This book cover was brought to my attention by my friend and fellow NOLA blogger Charlotte of NOLA Femmes fame. It's tacky, tawdry, and has awesome tag lines. Who could ask for anything more?
A reminder that if you want to get your authentic Irish on, you can always purchase this book. Since you know the authors and all.
Mike will be signing up at the Village Vintner in Algonquin from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. I'll be there too, mostly to just drink. Come say hi if you're in the neighborhood!
When I wrote about Sam Raimi's cinematic take on the Oz mythos, I neglected to mention my own fondness for L Frank Baum's books, which I read as a laddie. Despite being aimed at children, their tone was considerably darker than the MGM film classic, which is one reason I remain fond of the books.
I used the google and found to my delight that Gore Vidal's classic 1977 essay On Rereading The Oz Books is online at the NY Review of Books' web site. Check it out, y'all. It's the Master at his best.
And now for today's book cover. How about a little fire, Scarecrow?
It's conclave Tuesday, y'all. The gathering of what Charlie Pierce loves to call the "cult of the red beanie." I have no red-hatted dog in this fight but I've gotten a kick out some of the pre-conclave spin. My favorite was this item about Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milano:
To illustrate that life is a journey, one of the Italian cardinals touted as a favorite to be the next pope doesn't just turn to the Scriptures – but also to Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy.
Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, is seen as Italy's best chance at reclaiming the papacy, following back-to-back popes from outside the country that had a lock on the job for centuries.
Quoting from Kerouac's iconic Beat Generation novel `'On the Road," Scola invited his audience of students to reflect on whether they `'were going to get somewhere, or just going." And he cited McCarthy's post-apocalyptic father-son journey in `'The Road," urging youths to consider the meaning of "destination" – a key theme in McCarthy's work.
`'The destination is a happy life, an accomplished life that doesn't end with death but with eternal life," the archbishop said.
Jack Kerouac? Crazy, daddy-o. The Cardinal actually quoted a notorious bi-sexual alcoholic drug user. Awesome. Does this make him a closet liberal? Unlikely. Perhaps he'll quote Ginsburg or Ferlinghetti next, which inspires me to suggest a possible name: Pope Beatnik I. The hipsters will love it and it shouldn't scare too many old ladies or altar boys. The latter, alas, are always scared and the former mostly admire the Cardinals for their red frocked finery.
I'll let Ian Anderson, of all people, have the last word, with this ode to the Beat Generation:
It's potboiler time at PFT again. This week's entry is a tribute to my friend Kevin who is an avid fan of PFT and trashy pulp artwork in general. He uses this tawdry magazine cover as his avatar at a certain social networking site whose name I will omit to protect the guilty:
Senator Aqua Buddha has spent much of today conducting an old fashioned talking filibuster in the Senate chamber. While I prefer an open display of filiblathering to the cloak room kind more typical of the Lott-McConnell years in the Senate, I have a request: enough with the Mr. Smith Goes To Washington references.
I realize that cameras came to the Senate fairly recently so there's not a lot of footage to show on teevee but the true face of the classic filibuster is this:
That's right, the real-as opposed to reel-face of the filibuster belongs to the arch-segregationist and disgustingly racist Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Thurmond, of course, ran for President as a Dixiecrat in 1948, was a pioneer Southern Republican and never stopped calling black folks "nigras" during his lifetime.Thurmond also holds the land speed record for the longest filibuster in Senate history: 24 hours and 18 minutes against the weak and watered down 1957 Civil Rights Act. Unless, that is, Senator Aqua Buddha breaks the old mark some 56 years later.
In the so-called "good old days of bipartisanship" it was Southern segregationists who used the talking filibuster as their main weapon against progressive legislation, not "noble" crusaders such as the fictional Senator Smith.
Additionally, as a film buff, I wonder how many people are aware of the bizarre political lineage of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Its star, Jimmy Stewart, was an ultra-conservative Republican who was well known for being "uncomfortable" around black folks. Its director, Frank Capra, was an ultra-conservative Republican in faux populist drag who was later blacklisted and became a friendly witness during the red scare. The film was written by Sidney Buchman who was a Communist who joined Capra on the blacklist but at least he was an actual scary red.
I haven't ranted here in awhile and that felt good. So, please, I'm begging you: retire the Mr. Smith references and I promise not to mention Frank Capra's uber reactionary politics again. Btw, his memoirs, The Name Above The Title was one of the best novels of the 1970's. He really knew how to sell that phony man of the people shtick. I ought to know: I bought it for many years until I read Joseph McBride's brilliant biography, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe Of Success. It's a must read tome, y'all.
That is all.
Odds Against Tomorrow is a beautifully shot and well acted late period film noir from 1959. It's a combination caper/social commentary flick produced by star Harry Belafonte. It features yet another skilled variation on Robert Ryan's villainous shtick as a racist sociopath. It's director Robert Wise's last edgy indie film before he went over to the mainstream dark side and directed <sigh> The Sound Of Music among others. Wise pulled out all the stops here and delivered a helluva film before donning lederhosen...
The movie is based on a pretty darn good pulp novel by William P. McGivern:
Here are 2 lobby card variations. One of them is kind of blurry but it's a great image so what's a bit of blurriness among friends?
Here's the trailer, which gets the release date wrong:
I just finished reading David Halberstam's great 1999 book The Children for the first time. I'm not sure why it took me so long to read it since Halberstam is one of my heroes and I'm deeply interested in the history of the Civil Rights Movement but better late than never.
The timing is also somewhat fortuitous because the SNCC "children" of the title were responsible for the Nashville sit-ins, the Freedom Rides and the Selma March, a series of epic events that helped lead to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That is, in turn,a big story today because the Supremes took up an Alabama case that wants to rip out the heart of that act, Section 5. Discrimination? What discrimination? We have a black President, what more do *those* people want? Sorry, for channeling Justice Scalia but his "crazy wingnut uncle who watches Fox News all day" shtick is contagious, y'all.
Crazy Nino has stopped caring about his public image as a judge who believe in judicial restraint. If he were *actually* a true conservative, he'd defer to Congress instead of going off like Archie Bunker the first time he met George Jefferson, but Crazy Nino is too far gone for that. Here's hoping that at least one of the conservative Justices can read the election results instead of trying to dictate them, and the Court upholds this vital provision.
Back to The Children. It's a must read. For me, reading (and re-reading) Halberstam is like hanging out with an old friend who writes long sentences and is obsessed with semi-colons. That may be contagious since I write some rather epic sentences and tend to be at least semi-high colonic as well. <rim shot> Anyway, nobody writes narrative non-fiction prose quite as well as Halberstam and his biographical snap shots of his "characters" are unsurpassable.
Dr. A and I saw Halberstam speak at the Louisiana Book Festival in Red Stick one year. It took place in the state house chamber and I halfway expected someone to offer me a bribe or to shake me down for one. As I said before, Halberstam was one of my idols so Dr. A suggested that I chat him up. I couldn't do it, I was afraid that I'd babble like an idiot a la Ralph Kramden going "humina humina." I wish that I'd given it the old college try but I did not.
One more thing about The Children. John Lewis is one of the central figures in the book. I didn't think it was possible for me to admire him more than I already did but it happened upon reading this book. I knew that he was a remarkable man but he is also genuinely humble as you may have noticed if you saw him with Rachel Maddow tonight. (When he told Rachel he was honored to be there, he meant it.) If I were him, I'd be a raging egomaniac but John Lewis remains the same modest kid who grew up in racist rural Alabama and became an American hero. Strike that. John Lewis is an American super hero.
One of my all-time favorite non-fiction writers, Richard Ben Cramer, has died at the age of 62. Cramer wrote one of the best political books-What It Takes-as well as one of the best baseball books-Joe Dimaggio: The Hero's Life-ever. He also wrote a lot of very amusing and very long sentences in his day.
I'll let James Fallows of the Atlantic have the last word on the remarkable Mr. Cramer:
I am shocked by the news just now that Richard Ben Cramer has died at age 62, of lung cancer.His book What It Takes is the first book I tell anyone interested in American politics, American culture, and American journalism to read. It is timeless but also timely, since its cast of characters -- those competing for the presidency in 1988 -- includes our current vice president, Joe Biden. It is also a remarkably empathetic and humane look at politics and politicians. If you want to understand what keeps these people going, how they can stand it, what they have to endure and why they endure it, this is what you should read.
Detroit Lions all-time great, broadcaster and actor, Alex Karras, has died after a long illness at the age of 77. Unfortunately, more people are mentioning his part on the junky sitcom Webster than his days as one of the fiercest and best defensive players of the NFL's early days. Karras' name also surfaced recently during the Saints bountygate clusterfuck since he and Paul Hornung were suspended for the 1963 season for betting on games but never against their own teams. That's probably why Karras is not in the football hall of fame but he should be since Hornung is in like Flynn...
If you've ever read George Plimpton's classic book, Paper Lion, or seen the Alan Alda movie based on the book, you know that Karras was an intelligent, articulate and funny man. If you're unfamiliar with Paper Lion, check it out: Plimpton practiced with the Lions, and even played QB in an exhibition game. No, not a pre-season game, they hadn't come up with that dread euphemism in the 1960's.
Since Karras was one of the first Greek-Americans to achieve national prominence, my late father offered his classic commentary about that fact: "He's Greek, you know. He's doing very well."
The main reason I am posting in honor of Alex Karras, however, is his indelible performance as Mongo in the Mel Brooks masterpiece, Blazing Saddles. I am prone to employ Mongo speak when it suits me, as I will now: "Mongo sad."
Because don't get me wrong, your first fall is always the hardest and oh my GOD, the Three Garridebs and the Granada version and the BBC series and even Elementary isn't terrible, but in answering Melissa's question I have to go with Michael Jericho:
I've loved Robert Lindsay since the A&E Horatio Hornblower series, in which he took a character that I'd never thought much about and made him the weight and conscience of the entire program, such that the Internets invented elaborate and varying backstories for him and the fanfiction had fanfiction, we all gave that much of a damn. Watch "The Wrong War" (or "Frogs and Lobsters") when he says he stands accused by his own conscience, and just try not to feel it like a punch in the gut.
But Michael Jericho ... it's not just the hard-boiled thing. Those are a dime a dozen. It's the compassion he shows towards victims and the cruelty he displays towards himself and those who love him the most, it's the intense race and class consciousness of the show itself. I've got a whole post somewhere about Law and Order: UK and the ways in which British crime shows deal honestly with divisions Americans like to pretend don't exist. (I've been watching Prime Suspect for the first time and holy shit.) Servants and employers, black and white, immigrant and native-born, gay and straight, the show jumps right into it and chews it all up and finds no easy answers.
Mostly, though, it's that Jericho is a story about people coming back from the war, and if you've been reading here since the Galactica days you know there's nothing I love more than a story about the aftershocks. Jericho and his partner, Clive Harvey, came back from World War II and the world they left didn't exist anymore. Jericho's one true love married someone else. Clive's wife and kids lived through the Blitz, but barely. All around them boundaries are blurring and the old rules no longer apply.
And everything they do, everything that happens to them, everything they do to one another, comes from the absolute disorientation you feel when it wasn't the world that exploded, it was you. The world is the same. You're the different thing.
I think this sort of thing demonstrates the inadequacy of our educational discourse. First, it really should give pause to anyone who is among the “blame teachers first” crowd; how can a teacher be blamed for the results of processes that begin, at the latest, during the toddler stage? But more to the point, it demonstrates that our educational outputs are conditioned by a host of factors that are really beyond society’s control. We don’t take children from their parents, and of course we shouldn’t. But a growing body of evidence suggests that parental input at the earliest stage of life have a huge impact on the success of children. How do we square that with our egalitarian aspirations, when we know that not all parents are made equal? I don’t have an answer, except for this: to protect all of our people from disadvantage through a robust and generous social safety net.
I can't tell you how important it is to be able to write. Not from an artistic perspective, but from a practical one when searching for jobs or doing those jobs. If your e-mail is entirely AOL kiddiespeak, or misuses words, you don't get to the next stage of the interview. If you can't fill out a form in plain language, or read a paragraph to understand insurance benefits or a doctor's instructions, or write a request letter, it stymies you in ways that go far beyond just the inconvenience of not expressing your thoughts clearly.
Part of solving this is equalizing the opportunity for exposure: better funding for libraries and musuems, especially in economically disadvantaged communities. Part of this is also making sure we close the digital divide; there are whole libraries online and I know the joke is that today's technologically connected kids don't read but reading on a screen is still reading.
And part of this is making sure there is time in which to read. It's easy to bag on parents who don't read to their kids, but if you're working two jobs and aren't home for bedtimes, if you're so exhausted when you get home that you've got nothing left to give to your family, if you're miles from a university or school of any quality or ambition and don't get paid holidays to take trips, if your every thought is about the rent and the phone and electric bills, where exactly are you supposed to find the reserves to pick up Dickens, or even Judy Blume?
I joke all the time that as the oldest of three I was the starter kid, and my dad, though working full-time, did stuff like taking me to see Star Wars when I was two and reading me The Hobbit when I was five and generally treating me like an equal when it came to culture from the time that I could talk. He just sort of popped me into a backpack and went on about his day, and as a result I got exposed to a lot of things we now consider luxuries, or think of as adult pleasures. We would take annual trips down to Chicago and spend the day wandering around the Art Institute looking at paintings. One night we stayed over in a hotel (exciting!) and after dinner happened upon a play that was just starting in a cramped theater upstairs in a college. It was To Kill a Mockingbird, and it blew my tiny little mind.
We could do things like that not just because we had (relative) money -- museums have free days and there's all kinds of low-cost theater options available even in small towns, and libraries too -- but because we had the time. Vibrant literature is evidence of free minds, and a great society is one that can support the freedom to expose oneself to great writing, the mental and physical space in the day to take it in. Quality child care, sensible family leave policies, living wages, all of those have as much to do with creating generations of readers and writers as anything that happens in a classroom.
What book changed your life?
The first book in the series, June 2011's Lancelot And The Wolf, was rereleased for the Amazon Kindle, where it raced up the charts. However, a torrent of one-star reviews on Amazon.com first tipped off Mirador publishers that the issue may be more than a coincidence. The investigation that ensued revealed that all the reviews were posted in the same short time period and had similar anti-gay connotations, describing the series as “Twisted” “Perverted” and “Disgusting.” Not long afterwards similar hate emails began pouring into the publisher’s offices and to Luddington directly.
I think 90 percent of our sex problem is the need to put everybody in a box, and say you are straight, and you are gay, and we are friends, and we are In Love, and the most important thing is where you put your bits so that we know how to categorize you. I can't tell you how many people argue that bisexuality doesn't exist, like it's just laziness or refusal to pick a side or something. What if there aren't sides? What if it's just love, either way?
I've actually read the original here, and I'm sorry, you tell me who Lancelot loved more. You tell me who Arthur loved more. The point is that they loved each other. Otherwise it's just two guys waving their dicks around over a chick, and not a tragedy. Things like that are just a mess, and everybody involved would be far better off with a threesome than this CHOOSE ME OR HIM bullshit, and also who the hell on earth has a vested interest in keeping Lancelot straight anyway? Like what is the inherent win there for anybody except maybe Guinevere?
This may not be the best, or even pulpiest, cover but dig the title of this tome by the hardboiled writer John D. MacDonald. It's also his first novel, which is both brassy and cupcakey:
I'm feeling a bit like the Grim Reaper lately, y'all. But I needed post about this one. What may be the last generation of public intellectuals continues to drop like flies. Robert Hughes, the acerbic, witty and brilliant art critic and historian has died at the age of 74.
Hughes was an Australian emigree to the US and disdained the g'day mate/Crocodile Dundee stereotype of *his* countrymen so beloved by *our* countrymen. He was the author of a brilliant history of his native land, The Fatal Shore. It also became a teevee documentary series, as did several other of his tomes including Barcelona and The Shock Of The New. The latter series was Hughes' ode to 20th Century modernism, and featured my favorite art historical quote from the Futurist Manifesto, "Oh, maternal ditch." I refuse to provide any context because, as Tom Stoppard once wrote, "my art belongs to Dada."
Here's episode one of The Shock Of The New:
Vidal week continues with this 2008 British teevee show:
Contrarians- particularly funny ones- can be the spice of life because they keep you on your toes and, most importantly, get you thinking. We've just lost the greatest contrarian of all: Gore Vidal who died at the age of 86.
I've been reading and re-reading Vidal for most of my life. His historical novels were not only very popular but they breathed life into the past as well as putting the story back into history. He was a master of mixing real people in with fictional characters and spinning a helluva yarn. His status as our national contrarian was perfected with the publication of Burr, which was an argument on behalf of one of the great scamps of our history, Aaron Burr.
His rather surrealistic novels such as Myra Breckinridge, Myron, Duluth and Kalki are underrated gems. Myron is one of the funniest books ever written in the English language; especially Vidal's use of Supreme Court Justice's names for bodily naughty bits. To paraphrase Tricky Dick's henchman John Mitchell, if you have them by the Whizzer Whites, their hearts will surely follow. Or was that Chuck Colson?
Much of Vidal's literary reputation lies in his essays; many of which started as book reviews for various publications but took on a life of their own. This is the body of the master's work that I have avidly re-read and poured over the most. Vidal's sharp wit and barbed prose is a major influence on my own humble work as an internet smart ass. Anyway, check out United States, which is the uber compilation of some of Vidal's finest essays.
In many ways, Gore Vidal was the H.L. Mencken of our time although the only thing the two of them would have agreed on was the power of the written word and the utter awesomeness of a good wise crack. Mencken was something of a conservative curmudgeon whereas Vidal was a man of the left always eager for a scrap with any and all comers. They were both, however, elegant writers with barbed tongues and sharp literary knives.
I haven't even scratched the surface of Vidal's importance as an openly gay writer (even though he preferred the term same-sexer) and the firestorm his 1948 novel, The City And The Pillar caused. I will leave that to others. All I can say is this: he will be missed.
Not really but I dig this crazy cover y'all. I also like the author: Kenneth Millar is Ross MacDonald's real name. I haven't read this one but he was hard to beat for hard boiled detective fiction.