pseudopodium
. . . Los Angeles

. . .

Recently received: Invitation to a wedding at the Wing Lam Kung Fu Studio. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for marriage, I have to admit that some weddings have been fun:

. . .

Cholly's just back from Los Angeles, and the big news in the LA Weekly seemed to be cosmetic surgery, which takes up as much space as the Web and sex combined in San Francisco papers: thirty large ads before the movie listings. Breast implant before-and-after shots, skin abrasion, nose breaking, bone scraping, hair reshaping, wrinkle stuffing, lip puffing, liposuction, hard questions ("Incision - Underarm vs. Nipple Vs. Bellybutton?"), and one thing so awful I don't even know what it is and I don't think I want to, either:


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This is the most disturbing mystery I've wanted to keep mysterious since reading the conclusion of Chinese Gastronomy's entry on "live monkey brain of Kwangtung":

"Any sauce?" we asked. He just shrugged. "The usual soy sauce and ginger." He went on to the description of another small horror called "Three Peeps" -- a descriptive name which requires no further elucidation. It was served with the same sauce.

. . .

More news from the L.A. Weekly: When asked whether he reads poetry, noted spritual guide Michael Tolkin responded, "I'll read whoever gets published in The New Yorker or the London Review of Books or whatever intellectual journals have poetry in them. I don't know what it is about poetry, but I like it. I like geniuses. In collected works, I'm drawn to the last 15 pages or so. I like seeing what people wrote before they died."

. . .

Irony Watch: Cholly and his lovely chaffeuse spent their first night in Los Angeles at a Douglas Sirk double feature. This being L.A. and all, there was a Special Live Guest: a German actress who had studied with pre-cinema Sirk in the 1930s and who had appeared in Sirk's best-known theatrical production: The Silver Lake, by Georg Kaiser and Kurt Weill, which opened a month after the Nazis took power and closed after thirty noisy performances.

Wandering past the concession stand between shows, Cholly found the Special Live Guest engaged with a couple of audience members and quickly took pen and pad in hand. After all, how many chances do you get nowadays to talk to an actor from the Weimar Republic?

Alas, we all get plenty of chances nowadays to talk to boring blowhards, and the audience member who held the floor (fittingly, an architect by trade) was determined to keep it by demonstrating, over and over again, his astonishing command of film history and style. And alas again, Cholly was much too befuddled by fatigue to figure out a way to reposition the conversational spotlight, finally giving up and returning to Tarnished Angels when the architect informed the actress that Quentin Tarantino admired Douglas Sirk's style and then began explaining who Quentin Tarantino was.

Earlier, the architect had explained that Sirk's Universal pictures were worth watching because of their "irony," and graciously invited Cholly to agree with his opinion. A last alas, for, although the "happy ending" of All I Desire and the cold-blooded spiritual vampires of Magnificent Obsession positively glow with irony, irony is not the principal achievement of Sirk's weepies: Sirk doesn't exactly approve of movie romance, but neither does he keep his distance. What he finds of interest in romantic melodrama is its unique ability to diagram the inevitable misunderstandings and failures resulting from the human need to connect: the clashes of familial, social, and sexual duties; the unresolvable conflict between the abjection of neediness and the desire to be worthy of love; the cocoons that digest their inhabitants. And he diagrams those tangles full-out with every aspect of the film from narrative structure through set design to composition of individual frames -- although, OK, not so successfully with the soundtrack music, but that's always been the curse of post-1939 Hollywood production....

. . .

Drink

DREAM

EVERYONE'S . . .

. . . ANYTIME

INGREDIENTS ON CROWN
CONTENTS 6 1/2 FL. OZ.
BOTTLED UNDER LICENSE OF
THE DREAM COMPANY
LOS ANGELES, CALIF.
LICENSEE'S NAME ON CROWN
Drink DREAM everyone's ... anytime Martha Soukup is an excellent writer. She's also nice to her friends, which is why her "DREAM" bottle went to me rather than to eBay.
The DREAM that Martha gave me was battered, chipped, and empty. All as expected per licensing terms of THE DREAM COMPANY, LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- I'm not complaining! But I couldn't help but wonder....

What INGREDIENTS were on that missing CROWN?

What LICENSEE'S NAME was on that missing CROWN?

To my curiosity's relief came eBay -- yes, the very eBay that I'd cheated out of Martha Soukup's DREAM! -- with an unopened DREAM for sale and a close-up photograph of that DREAM's CROWN.

The INGREDIENTS are "ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR & COLOR"

The LICENSEE'S NAME is "ORANGE SODA"

I don't deserve my life.

DREAM

. . .

John Williams did good with the background music for The Long Goodbye, though, supplying a dozen or so genre workouts of a single dopey song: cool blues to grocery store muzak to bad piano bar to doorbell chimes to Mexican funeral band.... It wasn't so much the song's ubiquity as the way the ubiquity went uncommented on that skewed the movie's reality in the appropriate direction: only a (more) thoroughly notice-nothing version of 1970s Los Angeles could have Philip Marlowe living in it.

Ironic hardboiled updates must be therapeutic for bombastic composers. The only thing I've ever enjoyed by Andrew Lloyd Webber was his blast-on-and-off-like-a-motel-shower over-the-top melodramatic foreground music for Gumshoe....

. . .

Movie Comment: Chuck & Buck You got a friend

(concluding our Sexual Degradation Special)

So I wanted to finish up with a couple of male sexual degradations, you know, just for variety's sake, but I couldn't remember any, mostly 'cause I don't think it really counts as degradation if the guy is paying for the service. (Feel free to submit your own suggestions in the upper right corner....) There are those great male sex symbols of the 1920s and 1930s, but one of the reasons they're sexy is that they all seem so cheerful, like big happy puppy dogs (ref. yesterday's episode).

The best I can come up with is Hollywood's more-revived-than-ever interest in ugly, sweaty, stupid, disgusting, and utterly isolated homosexual characters. You know, the kind of thing junior high kids and other morons have in mind when they say stuff like "That's so gay." As far as I know, this was re-initiated by Boogie Nights, which posited a 100%-heterosexual porn industry in which an actor with a twelve-inch dick somehow became a star. Huh. Anyway, the one homosexual in the porn industry (heck, in all of California!) was, of course, very lonely.

The tradition continues with Chuck & Buck, which is powered by a lot of pleasing Albert-Brooks-style squirm humor but which wants to show off its indie muscles by going all "dangerous" on us. And what's more dangerous than a gay guy? Gee, how about a gay guy who actually manages to ever encounter even one other gay guy in Los Angeles? Yeah, I know, that would defy credibility....

Personally, I think the story would've worked a lot better if it had been about the degrading relationship between a Hollywood producer and a Hollywood writer.

. . .

There's no denying the mythic catchiness of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. And there's no admitting his possibility. Just where would a glib dumb prissy pushy tall dark handsome breast-beating alcoholic intellectual low-brow heterosexual urban nostalgic two-fisted prose stylist idealist spring from? Los Angeles? Regretfully, no. And how would he make a living? As a private detective? I think not. Marlowe can only be explained as a self-loathing writer's pastless futureless power fantasy, who springs only from a book and makes a living only in books.

Which entices moviemakers into a dried river bank surrounded by giant ants, n'est-ce pas, cherie? Movies are supposed to be able to handle detectives; it says so right here in my Popular Culture Handbook. But how can the movies straightfacedly present such an unjustifiable character? ("With Cary Grant" is the best answer, but Chandler didn't manage to talk the studio into it.)

The first successful Chandler adaptations saved themselves by keeping some snappy lines and imagery and ditching the leading man: Edward Dmytryk's "Marlowe" reverts to sleazy Hammett-style professionalism and Howard Hawks's "Marlowe" anticipates James Bond's irresistable aplomb.

Less successful as film but more interesting as critique, two later adaptations tossed out the easy stuff like Chandler's dialog in favor of Chandler's essential oddity. Proving again that hostility towards one's source material is the healthiest stance for a director, Robert Altman's attempt to destroy Marlowe is cinema's first real tribute to the character. The Elliott Gould "Marlowe" could be an aging trust-fund kid who's retreated into fantasy, but there's no way of knowing for sure; the movie preserves his inexplicability while giving it a believable presentation (this Marlowe is as passive, inarticulate, threadbare, and isolated as most self-deluded personalities) and environment (this Los Angeles is too universally self-absorbed to take notice of any particular citizen's delusions). And Sterling Hayden's towering and toppling "Roger Wade" is just the self-loathing powerful writer to shove the Chandler subtext explicitly into our face and down our throats where it belongs.

The only movie ever influenced by The Long Goodbye was The Big Lebowski, a hoot-and-a-half in which Altman's ego-gored hostility is replaced by the Coen Bros.' aimless playing around. Since Jeff Bridges' character pretty much shares their attitude, the result is the most warm-heartedly engaged take on "Philip Marlowe" yet, even if there's not much Brotherly affection left over for any of the other characters....

For a long time -- like, a really long time, let's not even go there -- I've dreamt about my own fully explicated version of a Chandler detective: he's a paranoid schizophrenic who's assigned cases by the voices in his head and whose secretary / leg-man is his pet parakeet. But I have a hard time writing fiction so I've never committed this dream to print. Probably just as well.

Perhaps a similar dream prodded at young Jonathan Lethem, who came up with an admirably tailored science-fiction-y explanation for the Chandleresque narrator of Motherless Brooklyn: Tourette's syndrome. The gap between the narrator's careful prose style and his hit-me-harder banter? Tourette's syndrome affects speech and not writing. The narrator's weirdly monastic dedication to the case? Tourette's syndrome is associated with obsessive-compulsive behavior. His inability to sustain a sexual relationship? Say no more. If anything, it's too well-tailored: even the narrator eventually notices the snug fit, but, of course, is able to explain that explaining his every trait as a symptom of Tourette's syndrome is actually just another symptom of Tourette's syndrome. Clothes make the man if you're selling clothes, syndromes make the character if you're selling pop psychology, but a novel's air gets kind of stuffy by the end....

Which also counts as a Chandleresque effect: Chandler's The Long Goodbye was more like The Long Squirm in a Pinching Suit (but in an interesting way, if you know what I mean), and I could never spend more than a couple of minutes in Playback without rushing back outside for a breather....

. . .

One of our Brooklyn/Toronto readers queries:

It would be a great help to my current project if you'd get back to me with your idea of the two or three greatest LINER NOTES of all time.

1. One-String Eddie Jones & Edward Hazelton - One-String Blues
The original 1964 liner notes are unsigned (and typewritten); some quick web research reveals the writer as folk music collector Samuel B. Charters. However, in the great tradition of Anglo-American fiction, Charters is only a framing narrator. The next-level-down storyteller (and illustrator) is "a Los Angeles designer and artist who has for many years been seriously interested in ethnic music of every kind," Frederick Usher Jr. ("with assistance by Roderick Usher"). The innermost stories, told by Jones and Hazelton on the recording itself, integrate with the frames to form an overwhelmingly resonant narrative about American class structure, race, and the limited power and unlimited enticement of art. I think about this package all the time.
A One-String

Where is Foot Foot   2. The Shaggs - Philosophy of the World
The jacket is a beautiful work in its own right and an essential rounding out of the aural experience: have you ever heard anyone talk about the Shaggs without mentioning the backstory?

3. The complete works of Pedro Bell & Associates
If I have to pick a single example, I guess it'd be his wildly offended and offensive Electric Spanking of War Babies for Funkadelic. But I got to specially mention the Funkcronomicon panel where Bill Laswell gets eaten by a skanky demon girl.
  I'm DEEP

. . .

  Peace on Earth, Mistrust towards Man
Photos by Juliet Clark
The Elves of Teegeeack 3

Scariest sight during last month's visit to Los Angeles was the line of normality-starved families waiting to visit The L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland ("Santa's Home in Hollywood").

Department store Santas are disturbing enough; can you imagine the MEST-scarring trauma of a Scientology Santa? "Well, Jimmy, your free personality test indicates that Santa will bring you EVERYTHING YOU WANT FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY if you'll just stuff these copies of Dianetics in your parents' stockings...."

In Hubbard's holiday homily, note his characteristic replacement of wishy-washy "love" with manly paranoid "trust." That was the true meaning of Christmas 2001, all right: No telepathic mind control, no peace!

The nicest sights were at the Getty Museum's Devices of Wonder exhibition. Gadgets through the ages isn't that novel a curatorial idea, but not many curators get to plunge fist-first into Getty-sized pockets: a Chardin, for example, is casually thrown on as illustrative spice....

As usual in high-concept historical surveys, the contemporary work included seems an ill-advised afterthought. I'm not even sure what they were afterthinking: our investment-oriented rhetoric-privileging high art world pointedly shares neither intent nor craft with infotainment manufacturers. Better to just borrow a corner of the Exploratorium, or fill a plastic tub with boing-boing-ed swag.

On the other hand, the Joseph Cornell boxes fit right in, especially the knock-down twist-around pick-me-up gorgeous "Beehive (Thimble Forest)" -- with silver bells/boughs sadly frozen, though, by the conflict typical of such exhibitions: the fine art museum relies on preservation whereas the artifact relies on manipulation, and they compromise in mere display. Perhaps deep pockets somewhere sometime might be persuaded to provide replicas in the gift shop...?

Beehive (Thimble Forest)

. . .

"weird"

 
... later he will tell the story, upstairs in Elvis's private "superstar" suite. Sammy has taken the night off from his own show at the Sands to party with his third wife, Altovise, a handsome black dancer who was once a member of Sammy's troupe, and with Donald Rumsfeld, President Nixon's aide and director of the Cost of Living Council, who is staying at the Davises' with his wife, Joyce.

Tonight is the finale of the Rumsfelds' Western swing that took them from the Republican National Convention in Miami to Los Angeles, to attend the Republican-sponsored party there for prominent entertainers, and then to Las Vegas, to lounge around Sammy's private pool and play a little tennis....

Outside the superstar suite, Sammy pauses in the corridor to do an impersonation of Elvis on stage, mimicking Elvis's catatonic stance and what Donald Rumsfeld calls his "weird" smile. The impersonation is successful; Joyce Rumsfeld takes him by the shoulders, shakes him playfully, asks, "What are we going to do with you, Sammy?"

"Well," he says, "you're stuck with me for the next four years."

- from "Sammy Davis, Jr., Has Bought the Bus" by James Conaway, The New York Times Magazine, 1974,
quoted in The Sammy Davis, Jr., Reader ed. Gerald Early
 

. . .

Another waffling Democrat!

From "Dean's straight-talking image is getting tarnished By Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times":

Dean, a 54-year-old physician by training, had a more moderate record during his 11 years as Vermont governor than his current favor among liberals would suggest. He was a friend of the environment and signed landmark "civil union" legislation that granted gay and lesbian couples all the rights and benefits of marriage. But at the same time, he supported gun-owner rights, cut taxes, capped spending and consistently balanced the state budget, leaving enough for a rainy-day surplus that has spared Vermont the fiscal trauma facing most other states.
Yes, as a liberal, I insist that rights go unsupported, that budgets be unbalanced, that governments maintain no surplus, and that spending always increase. In fact, the persnickety fiscal competence of the Reagan and Bush and Bush adminstrations is the very thing that turned me against them. No deficit, no peace!

 

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.