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  The Hotsy Totsy Club 2000-05-15. . . Cholly Kokonino reporting

Hollywood Insider

The troubled Eyes Wide Shut production continues to suffer delays, according to sources within a dream I had last night:

"First, there's no sex. Second, it's being directed by some woman I never saw before who got into a long argument with the production designer over how a plywood box should be painted.

"After that, I had to spend hours trying to figure out the most efficient path to take across the park and back.

"And when we were finally ready to start filming, the news came in that Zimbabwe had declared war on the Republic of Ireland. At first I thought it must be a joke, but a number of cast members had relatives in Eire and were pretty upset about the situation.

"That's when I quit in disgust. Years later, I ran into one of my fellow extras in a bar and wanted to ask her how things had turned out, but something else happened and I forgot."

. . . 2000-05-16

The twentieth century established its characteristic tone in 1901 with publication of the two sickest novels the English language had yet produced: Henry James's The Sacred Fount and M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud.

I don't know what to counsel for the former, but patience is counseled for the latter, since it lurches off like Jules Verne or something. Be assured: the mood then sinks like a pearl through Prell, from H. G. Wellsian to Edgar Allen Poetic and down, down, down to a really bad mood.

In the purple cloud, Shiel not only foresaw Prince's classic breakthrough soundtrack album of the 1980s but also the neutron bomb. More than forty years before Little Boy dropped, the novel described what a modern reader can only interpret as world-girdling fallout and radiation poisoning.

And what does the Last Man on Earth do after the proto-neutron-bomb delivers all that prime real estate intact into his hands? Well, what does anyone do with unlimited power? Blow things up real good! As a tribute to the eternal domitability of the human spirit, the book's only rival is Joanna Russ's We Who Are About To...; as a nightmare of premonitory guilt, I don't think it has any rival at all.

Not sure why the Bingo-Bango-Bongo-I-don't-want-to-leave-the-Congo redemptive ending didn't bug me more. Like a lot about The Purple Cloud, it reminded me of Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, which bugged me lots. Maybe it's because Shiel's version of Eve comes by her puddin'-headedness natural, having been raised by wild dust motes. Maybe it's because the relationship is played dysfunctionally enough to fit into the rest of the story. Or because the hero backslides and foreslides so often that I don't have to take his "ultimate" redemption at full CA value.... Had to end somewhere, after all. Everything does.

. . . 2000-05-17

Goodbye to All That

A long essay on a difficult writer: Laura True-Teller and Other Fairy Tales.

. . . 2000-05-18

Tireless researcher Beth Rust comes through again, with pointers to:

. . . 2000-05-19

Sleepy and Happy The Secret Language of Ducks

On a research trip to Vancouver environs a couple years back, Hotsy Totsy representatives (through no fault of our own) ended up in a beautiful stretch of forest nipping into a lake.

There, a coterie of ducks lingered.

We lingered as well. After an hour or so, one of the ducks very hospitably joined us. And that's when we learned...


Most of us (if I may presume) have heard the usual duck quack: panicked, bossy, querulous, much like the boy-o himself.

And some have heard the domestic squabble duck quack: more Donald-like, down-pitching and muttery.

But the absolutely contented we're-all-just-ducks-here duck quack is something completely else. More of a purr, or a trill; kind of between a dove coo and a quizzical cat, which isn't where we'd usually want between.

Being monkeys, we imitated the sound. Successfully! (NB: Ducks don't have ears.) Soon we were surrounded by cozy ducks, like some kind separatist post-patriarchy fantasy or nineteenth-century French naturalist or something.

And, not wanting to break the mood, we didn't cook them. Mmmmm, duck....

The weird thing is duck-speak is universal (or North American, same thing). 'Cause not long ago one of the Club members was down in Redwood City visiting an Oracle worker at the Oracle lake and she demonstrated the Secret Language of Ducks and the duck she demonstrated it on followed her all the way to the Oracle parking lot to get cozy. Very embarrassing.
Seduced and abandoned Please be careful with the Secret Language of Ducks.

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calamondin's latest entries make me miss New York more than I even usually do....

. . . 2000-05-20

Behind the Scenes, with correspondent Elmer Phd:

Many "prop"s and "shouting"s go to prized Hotsy Totsy informant Kristina Youso for having successfully smote the UCB Art History Department with the jawbone of a 1000-page doctoral thingmajig. Coming soon: our popular new classic feature, "Ask Doctor KY"!

. . . 2000-05-21

Free and direct discourse Krazy's diary

Was writing, considered as external memory storage, truly a revolutionary leap in cognitive evolution?

It was an advance in shopping list technology, sure. But, considered as very long-term external memory storage, writing relies on the kindness of strangers almost as much as that other external memory storage, oral culture, does. Look at how few "immortal masterworks" since the invention of writing have survived to reach us. Whether kept in the noggin or kept on parchment or kept busily transferring from one mechnically-interpreted-medium-of-the-decade to the next, words' persistence and accessibility are almost completely dependent on interested individuals. Parchment just has an edge as far as dumb luck goes.

Similarly, the contractual use of writing as external evidence of intent wasn't a revolutionary leap in social development. Forgeries can be made and denounced; libel is only slightly easier than slander; witness's depositions are just as unreliable as their oral testimony....

But writing's use as external object is another matter, and not one that gets mentioned much in the cognitive science texts.

Person-to-person, we use language to express and to manipulate. To have one's words be understood is an ambition that's hard to even describe without the assumption of distance. It's not the noisy-channel-between-transmitter-and-receiver described by information theory. It's a channel between transmitter and object, followed by a completely different group of channels between object and receivers, channels whose "success" can't be measured by eliminating the middleman and totting up the error rate because the middleman is the point. I'm not standing behind my words to guarantee them; I'm standing there because you're not supposed to see me. I'm no longer the "message source"; I've handed that status over to an inanimate object, and that object can't be queried as to the success of the transmission.

Signed Ignatz
We empty the bottle and stick a note in it. We toss the brick over the wall hoping for a kat. The most novel aspect of writing is its status as artifact, its separability from the inchoate author, our signature no more important than any other indexable aspect.

. . . 2000-05-22

Biographical Dictionary of Film: "Skeets" Gallagher
I don't remember "Skeets" Gallagher showing up in The Celluloid Closet. I don't remember him in "The Sissy Gaze in American Cinema," either, but that's because he wasn't really a sissy.

And that's what makes his small sidekick roles in Possessed and Riptide so interesting. They display all the usual signs of movie homosexuality (snappy dresser, urbane, soft-spoken, sneaky peeks at men, best friends with women but never making a pass...), except for twittering ninnyness. As far as I know, Gallagher played the only non-obnoxiously-queeny nice gay guys to appear in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Memorable dialog:

Norma Shearer: "He looked my way once in New York."
"Skeets" Gallagher: "Lucky you!"

Saddest might-have-been (via the American Film Institute Catalog):

"According to the Hollywood Reporter, in early August 1931, Come On Marines! had been scheduled to start production with 'Skeets' Gallagher as the lead, but by 12 August, production had ceased." Simper fi....

"Skeets" Gallagher
(Photo via Juliet Clark)

. . . 2000-05-23

Only 17 Shopping Days Till Bloomsday

A couple of years ago I wrote, to a guy much smarter than me, about Bob Perelman's The Trouble with Genius:

Perelman's insistence that only English department martinets are interested in difficult work is a blatantly received notion, unworthy of him: as late as the mid-'70s, Joyce and Stein were still the happy huntingground of eccentric amateurs, despised by New Criticism and dismissed by most academics I met. (I suppose the last manifestation of that era would be professional entomologist and amateur Finnegans Wake expert Roland McHugh.) I have yet to meet an English professor who's interested in Zukofsky. Really, that whole line of attack felt uncomfortably like the "Well, I read for entertainment" argument that anyone with eccentric ideas of entertainment gets hit by much too often.
Well, just like garage rock and gross-out right-wing comics, Joycean amateurs keep coming back. Witness your inspiration and mine, Jorn Bargers.

Obsessive, cranky, isolationist, down-at-heels, and prickly as all hell in (mercifully, only) one of the great traditions of the amateur scholar, Barger proves that Joyce studies, web browsing, and flame wars can all still and simultaneously serve as happy huntingground.

--Ten years, he said, chewing and laughing. He is going to write something in ten years.

--Seems a long way off, Haines said, thoughtfully lifting his spoon. Still, I shouldn't wonder if he did after all.

+ + +

Benign? (via Rebecca's Pocket) Guess it's the old '70s feminist in me, but I can't see someone making a fake sex-change so's they can express something gender-inappropriate as anything but a move to save gender stereotyping.

Not that I'm above resorting to such measures, as cultural critic Sadie Vary and my fiction can testify.

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In a pathetically transparent attempt to bolster our sagging ratings, we're proud to announce the exclusive publication of two new (nouvelles) poems by Anselm Dovetonsils:

. . . 2000-05-25

Movie Comment: Prix de Beauté

Miss Europe   Louise Brooks's international career was effectively washed and summed up at age 22 by Prix de Beauté: exhilarating innocent and amoral vamp and tragic Typhoid Mary of lust ("The Girl Can't Help It so we'd better kill her") all in one variably bouncing package. Even the title manages to do some summing up: as world traveller Juliet Clark points out, it can be translated as either "Beauty Prize" or "Price of Beauty."

No long black limousine door ever swung shut more solid than the final shot of Prix de Beauté, the eternally radiant Brooks trilling above her thrownaway husk in as definitively cinematic a moment as Maggie Cheung's resurrection in Actress or Buster Keaton's simiantographer in The Cameraman....

And, while laying Brooks to rest, Prix de Beauté premonitioned the decade to come: Miss Europe dreams of glitter, is shoved into grinding poverty, and is finally blown apart by resentment.

These reflections are occasioned by the recent restoration of the silent version of Prix de Beauté. Like in the early 1960s recording industry's mono-stereo transition, the late 1920s saw the movie industry making both silent and sound mixes, and like in the early 1960s, the old-style mix was almost always better.

Well, plus any restoration is gonna have hindsight and research and new prints on their side.

The point is you shouldn't run right out and look at the crummy semi-bootleg videotapes of the sound version, you should wait and support your local fancy-shmancy moviehouse when they show the silent version or wait till the silent version comes out on home video. Here's me to tell you why!

Thanks, me. Here's why:

  1. Like with a lot of "Continental style" silents, the characters are meant to be annoying and abrasive. OK, but having already pushed that envelope as far as it could stretch, the envelope busts like an overheated can of beans when annoying abrasive voices are added.

  2. In particular, Louise Brooks couldn't possibly play Miss Europe (née Miss France) with a Kansan accent ("New York Herald Tribune!"), so it's probably not her voice in the sound version, and she's the biggest star, so I feel ripped off.

  3. Like with a lot of "Continental style" silents, Prix de Beauté relies on clear crisp photography for much of its impact -- can't really appreciate all that grime and glimmer without clear crisp photography. Restorations tend to be clearer and crisper than crummy semi-bootleg videotapes.

  4. Most of all, the sound version blunders structurally in a big way. The second oomphiest sequence of the movie takes place in an urban carnival: crowded, obnoxious, irredeemably ugly, a fun time for Brooks's awful boyfriend but a headache for Brooks. I hate carnivals, I hate fairs, I hate parades, and I like this sequence.

    In the sound version, it's positioned before Brooks gets her crack at fame and fortune and seems pretty much inexplicable, although it's powerful enough that viewers are willing to work hard to explicate it.

    In the silent version, it's positioned after Brooks is dragged away from fame and fortune by "true love," and after "true love" proves so insanely insecure as to insist that she even stop fantasizing about fame and fortune. There, the sequence makes perfect sense: this is the reward that "true love" is willing to return her for her sacrifices: the honor of watching frantic clowns make assholes of themselves around a bunch of other frantic clowns.

    The old organization makes the movie front-heavy (where the front's the weakest part) and leaves Brooks unmotivated in the second half, where the new (and presumably older than old) organization builds logically and satisfyingly.

Close-ups of mute loudspeakers are a small price to pay.

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.