Thursday, April 21, 2011

I don't have a new Pony, but I do have a new Hobby

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

Forget the burgeoning baseball season, forget rereading Raymond Chandler or keep reading Steve Erickson, forget the Boston Globe sports page, forget continually listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage, forget obsessively filling the backlog of my unseen Gunsmoke episodes, forget making lists of the top ten Warren Oates’ character names, forget buying every single ripped-off, repetitive, and badly recorded Johnny Thunders recording evah, forget checking a few more outré film noirs off the grand list, forget finishing that piece about the stony greatness of Pynchon’ s last book, forget about finally beginning that new David Foster Wallace kinda-last-maybe-baby novel. Fuggedabouit, I’ve acquired a new hobby, another fresh and fertile landscape to explore, somehow a totally new (and astonishingly original) slab of pop cult meat to vulture on.

I do indeed own dogs, and dig those dogs (Boston Terriers named Francis and Alfredo), but I’m not a drooling beastie lover like so many I know, fighting back antic urges to spew baby animal smack tawk or tackle and pet and roll in the dirt with four-leggers behind cages or fences or sticking their heads outta passing car windows. Nor do I go hog wild over the Animal Planet show choices (truth be told, haven’t watched or desired to watch one show on this specialized cable network, so much that even when I was sick and could barely manipulate the clicker I passed it bye-bye), or read any sorta book that has anything to do with wild or tame beasts, or even considered the real life touching or petting of animals that don’t reside in my very own household. Nope, not me, and although I didn’t wanna admit it way back when, I didn’t even dig the whole Lassie scene, never mind the horribly monikered Rin Tin Tin.

Hardy-har-har, the funny part is the whole too-cool-too-be-true hobby kinda centers around animals, although they are as dead as the proverbial doornail or like Barry Goldwater’s corpse. Other killer aspect is that I can do a whole lotta boning up on the art/craft/science of my new hobby, and I don’t usually go near the science thang. (A sign of maturity, perhaps. Somebuddy tell my wife.) Other topnotch debating point: I’ll join a cult of few rather than more, and I’ll jump straight into the gonzo weirdness, immediately staking out the point-of-view of a verified hipster connoisseur and commentator, and that’s tough to do at my age. Further bonus: I also get to apply my finely honed critical skills into a pop culture sidebar that combines photography, absurdism, redneckism, and you just can’t beat the combo, even my pop cult guru Mr. Hull of PopKrazy can’t, and he was born and bred in the South and recklessly celebrates his heritage.

What I am talking about? Forgive me, but I haveta exhort and counsel you all (notice the southern verbiage, although please don’t discount this all those of who reside in Michigan)) about perhaps the greatest blog I’ve come across yet in the grand, vast, empty slop-bucket blogosphere—Crappy Taxidermy. I’m long gone, I’m hooked, I’m over the top, and I sincerely guarantee you that those you’ve long admired—like Lux Interior, Harvey Pekar, Elisha Cook, Jr, Russ Meyer, and RL Burnside—were on to this from the very beginning, no kidding at all. That means something. Trust me bro’s and sis’s.

It’s Crappy Taxidermy, and it should be all the time—stroke those thumbs and go straight onto

You won’t regret it, no way Jack (or Jill) or Rover.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gender Games

Reprinted from PoP--An Emporium of Popular Culture

Pop Eye
By Scott Duhamel

Ken and Barbie have long stood as among the ultimate consumable manifestations of baby boomer gender definers, yet the 50’s and 60’s were abundant with pink vs. blue masculine/feminine boundary settings, emanating from all corners, whether they be comic books, toys, TV shows, or plain old board games. What shall I Be?, manufactured by the Selchow & Richter Company, fits right into those quaint and uninformed times, with “The Exciting Game of Career Girls” arriving in 1966, followed by (note the change in verbiage) “The Exciting Career Game for Boys” in 1968.
SelRight Co. was a fairly big board game player, founded in 1867 in Bay Shore, New York, initially purchasing the licensing rights for Parcheesi in 1874 and Scrabble in 1952, and also producing a wide variety of games, from the known (Anagrams, Jotto ), the little known (Go for Broke, Whodunit, Meet the Presidents), to the truly unknown (Assembly Line, Cabby, Huggin’ the Rail.)

Both versions of What shall I be? are recommend for ages 8-13 and center around the pursuit of adult careers. The boys can aspire to be (yup), a Doctor, Athlete, Astronaut, Scientist, Engineer, and, ahem, Statesman, while the girls (lucky them) get to be a Teacher, Ballerina, Nurse, Model, Actress and Airline Stewardess. As you move around the board cards with character traits are acquired, providing board game guidance to those wonderful careerist aspirations. You get too excited—that’s bad for Astronauts, Doctors, and Statesman and equally bad for Nurses and Airline Hostesses. You are unfriendly—that’s bad for Statesman and Doctors, implying that it’s good for the others and perhaps explaining all those unfriendly astronauts we’ve all run into. You are emotional-that’s good for models and actresses. You are a slow thinker-fuggetaboutit for Astronauts, Docs, and Athletes and equally bad for (once again) Airline Hostesses and Nurses.

The cover graphics spell it out clearly—the boys version depicts a Paul Peterson-type inside a picture frame (or mirror), hand resting firmly on cheek with blue eyes gazing firmly and hopefully forward as he envisions a Doc bathed in white light at the operating table surrounded by concerned hospital help toiling alongside in the shadows, a fullback applying a stiff arm while he thunders down the open field, and an astronaut tethered to a capsule as he floats above a crated and dented surface, all of it boldly inked in a kinda of continuous splash across the oblong box cover. The girls version has within its small frame (or mirror) a young ribbon-attired lass with one finger tentatively inching towards her slightly parsed lips under eyes wide with uncertainty, as an Archie Comics-styled tableau of six costumed woman appears in her quivering imagination, four outfitted with skirts lined right to the knee, all (with the exception of the blond long-trussed actress garbed in what appears to be some kind of Elizabethan sheath) with short, tight, or pulled-back hairdo’s, none of them looking prepared to turn and face the ch-ch-changes that the tumultuous decade that birthed them would eventually bring.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Wherefore Art Thou, Nicky Baby?

The following column is reprinted from the March issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

While observing Charlie Sheen’s down-the-torpedoes meltdown, and listening to the various theories ascribed to his transcendentally deer-in-the-spotlights behavior, I can’t help but reflect upon the vast and often galvanizing storied history of Hollywood-styled bad behavior, engagements with law enforcement, and just plain public burn-outsthat some many Tinsletown players have undergone—always feeding the trough of public desire-from Fatty Arbuckle to Mel Gibson, from Errol Flynn to Robert Mitchum, from Joan Crawford to Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Equally intriguing to me are the on-screen contretemps often evident when one peers behind the lens of various box office bugaloos; when an actor or actress off-screen neuroses, real life back story, or overall bad acting somehow peeks out from the façade of costumes and settings, plot line or role playing, shining a weird inner light on the big screen thespian’s inner life, as most obviously manifested in the off and on-camera antics of Marlon Brando, the crown prince of Hollywood looniness.

Case in point in one Nicolas Cage, our long time fave-rave Nicky Baby, our own contempo harbinger of big screen noxiousness, who has easily surpassed a near legion of contenders that include (to name a select few) Val Kilmer, Nick Nolte, Sean Young, Vincent Gallo, Crispin Glover, and once kingpin Mickey Rourke. Nicky Baby is once again delivering the damaged goods, back front and way left of center with Drive Angry, a wacky throwback that might even be seen as a high-spirited homage to 70’s drive-in movies if it weren’t so virulently dreadful.

True, Nicky Baby has largely shed himself of real life baggage (obsessive comic book collecting, Brat Pack partying, big league tax problems, a marriage to Lisa Presley), yet he is seemingly hell-bent on forging one of the most implosive and corrosive career paths of anyone regularly working in today’s movies with their name above the title. Face it, if a movie features Nic Cage you can be assured that it will be filled to the brim with a creaky plot framework, misspent and unfulfilled ambitions, and (best of all) full scale glazed-ham acting. To his everlasting credit Nicky Baby seems to sign on these projects with an undeniable (and possibly fevered) work ethic, and then emitted with a ravenous on-screen style that resembles nothing more than an ember-eyed fox circling the open gate of a well- populated chicken coop. Nicky Baby always commits. The question becomes how low can he go?

Let us not forget that, once upon a time, Nicky Baby was considered a committed and highly quirky player, displaying a consistentversatility and continually demonstrating a robust sense of adventure. Nicky Baby ‘s early and middle work was characterized by cool projects and memorable impartment—Rumble Fish,Birdy, Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Wild at Heart, Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Bringing Out the Dead, all capped off by the wonderful double turn in Adaptation in 2002. Since then, what hath Nicky Baby wrought? National Treasure, The Wicker Man, GhostRider, Bangkok Dangerous, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Season of the Witch, and of course the captivatingly gonzo The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans a non-sequel/sequel with a title as off-putting as Cage’s mesmerizingly off-kilter performance.

One of the essential elements of a Nic Cage performance is the choice of hair. To Nicky Baby, it always seems to begin with the hair, and in Drive Angry it’s blond and spindly, the better to accent his character’s grim (and angry) countenance. Nicky Baby is one John Milton (yet another nod to the movie’s subversively high intentions), and he’s a (angry) granddad in hot pursuit of his grandchild, who has been kidnapped by a satanic cult, led by a punkabilly ringleader named Jonah King (Billy Burke). Nicky Baby is soon joined by that drive-in staple, a comely young waitress (Amber Heard), who sports two eye-raising attributes, denim short-shorts and a cherry 1969 Dodge Charger, and they are in turn pursued by cooler-than-thou professional known as “the Accountant” (William Fichtner), a guy seemingly invulnerable to every sort of weapon of mass or minor destruction with the exception of an antique gun that Nicky Baby stows alongside his changes of underwear and comb collection.

Drive Angry boasts one of the greatest scenes in recent Nicky Baby history, wherein he puffs up a cigar while swallowing dollops of whiskey and picking off a pack of cultists armed with gardening tools while having sex. Trust me, that’s a cinematic conception that needs no such frothy underlining like special effects or effective acting.

I’d personally like to see Nicky Baby reunited with his equally downward spiraling uncle, Mad Francis Ford Coppola, to add to the legacy that they have already begun, collaborating before on Rumble Fish, The Cotton Club, and greatest of all, Peggy Sue Got Married. With their potent mix of deteoriating taste, talent and all out chutzpah, they may indeed be capable of carving out a spot in the annals of directorial-acting partnerships, joing such luminaries as John ford and John Wayne, Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock, or Marty Scorsese and Robert DeNiro.

For now we simply have Nicky Baby in all his glorious and unabashed badness, keeping it unreal in Drive Angry, a movie so overtly dumb, so inscrutably wacky, so blithely idiotic that it’s virtually bad cinema nirvana. In 3-D, no less.