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All Things Thriller

A celebration of thrillers, noire and black comedy in film and literature by Pamela Lowe Saldana

Making the case for the film 8mm in our Orwellian Landscape and for Nicolas Cage as an Actor, past and future

For me watching the movie 8mm is kind of like eating gas station nachos. (Okay. I’m sure you know exactly where I’m going here, but if you’ve read a few of my blogs then you also know I can’t resist this stuff. So…) I actually like gas station nachos. I don’t live on them by any means but, yeah, every now and then I get the urge for some florescent orange goopy cheese and super vinegary canned  jalapeno peppers over stale tortilla rounds. What can I say? Call me crazy. What I don’t like is admitting to it. It’s a little embarrassing. And sad.

Likewise, nowadays, it’s a little embarrassing to admit to liking a Nicolas Cage movie. I know I don’t have to expound on this, any discerning cinema lover has been dismayed, chagrined or amused–sometimes all three at the same time–by Cage’s performances and the movies he has chosen to perform in over the last decade. Here’s a bit of a rundown just to belabor the point: (Refer to the rather lengthy aside in the introductory paragraph here.) Ghost Rider. The Wicker Man. National Treasure. Left Behind. 

And yes, I’ve seen it. Hasn’t Everybody? (I’m referring the YouTube film clip mashup entitled Nicolas Cage Losing his Shit.) “NOT THE BEES!!! THEY’RE IN MY EYES!! MY EYES!! AAAHHH!!!” (Ha ha ha!…Whew!…Hilarious…And sad.)

There’s just one problem with my whole analogy though: I’m not embarrassed about liking 8mm. Nope. Not in the least. In fact, I think 8mm is a good–albeit it significantly flawed–film that has gotten a bad rap. But even more than that, I think it is a culturally significant film, especially in our current environment.

Yep. You read that right.

And Nicolas Cage? Well, he’s always been weird. Even back in the day when he was a hot commodity in Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas and Adaption–all of which he was great in, by the way–he was weird. Back then people called him quirky and adorable.

He even won an Oscar being weird. Remember that? And then he was nominated for another one being even weirder.

That said, there’s a difference between being weird, i.e., quirky and adorable and going off the rails, i.e., The Wicker Man. Of late the Nicolas Cage train has derailed and is in perpetual crash and burn. No doubt.

Still, that shouldn’t diminish his prior quality contributions to acting and cinema. I think not. Like so many of us, personally and professionally, Nicolas Cage is a mixed bag.

Plus his most recent film, the yet to be released Panos Cosmatos directed Mandy, is supposed to be superb. There is talk that this is the film to resurrect Nicolas Cage’s career. I, for one, am rooting for him.

Now here’s my case for 8mm:

Tom Wells (Nicolas Cage) is a family man. His wife, Amy, (Catherine Keener) is smart, lovely and loyal. His six months’ old daughter, Cindy, is adorable. Tom works in the yard and helps Amy with the baby when he’s not traveling around the country as a surveillance expert/private investigator. He’s good at what he does, dutiful and discreet. His clientele is high profile.

One day Tom is summoned to a sprawling steel magnate’s estate in Cleveland. The magnate is recently deceased and his widow, Mrs. Christian, has made a disturbing discovery in her late husband’s safe–an 8mm film that depicts the brutal murder of a teenage girl. But is it real?

Tom watches the film privately. It’s a grainy low budget affair set in a squalid room encased with plastic sheeting. Sure enough there is a teenage girl–not an actress pretending to be a teenage girl–and if she’s pretending to be terrified, she’s doing a damn good job. She is not screaming. No. Her face is composed in abject resignation to her fate. A burly man dressed in S&M bondage gear whose face is sheathed in one of those terrifying leather masks menaces her with a knife.

Here we become the apex voyeur–we simultaneously watch the film and Tom, while he watches the film. We see no thrusting knife, no spurting, splattering blood but we see Tom as he see’s those things. We watch him cringe impotently in his seat, grimacing, recoiling; a big man shrinking in every sense of the word. Similarly there are no ear shattering screams but we do hear the girl’s anguished cries—and whir of the film running through the projector. It is a powerful, gut wrenching cinematic sequence. Not just the visual, visceral aspect of it but what it says about us and our place in an increasingly voyeuristic, surveillance, camera crazy society.

Keep in mind that Joel Schumacher directed 8mm in 1999. When Tom is asked why he chose surveillance instead of law like his brothers did, he answers that he chose it because he believes it’s the future. How eerily prophetic that proves to be eighteen years later.

In our current society, it is appallingly easy to witness murder. All you have to do is hop on YouTube or Live Leaks where you can watch hours of actual murder caught on camera if you so desire. We are constantly surveilling; constantly filming;  constantly watching. But at what cost?

Tom plunges himself into a horrific, wretched underworld in order to defend the teenage girl in the film. He senses the film is most likely real. It is. That the girl is dead. She is. But still his outrage, his humanity demands that he risk everything–even his own family–to find out who she is was. To resurrect her existence and defend her identity and protect her personhood. He does. But the cost is almost more than he bear. The cost is what he sees.

 

 

 

 

Indian Camp, a “Nick Adams” short story by Ernest Hemingway; Abridgment and Analysis

Like Hemingway’s own father, Nick Adams’ father is a physician. This is just one of the many similarities between the recurrent fictional character Adams and Hemingway himself.

There are so many parallels, in fact, that Nick Adams acts as Hemingway’s alter-ego in a series of short stories that Hemingway penned between 1924 and 1933, roughly. The series, beginning with Indian Camp, is a fascinating glimpse into the psyche, upbringing and young adulthood of one of America’s most storied and influential authors.

Abridgment:

In Indian Camp, (1924) Dr. Adams is summoned to an isolated Native American settlement–most likely Ojibwe–in Michigan to attend a woman who has been in labor for two days. Dr. Adams takes his young son, Nick, and his brother, Uncle George with him. Two Ojibwe men from the settlement row the doctor, Uncle George and Nick across the lake bay.

It is predawn. Little is said on the boat ride. Nothing between the Native Americans and Anglo threesome. As they near the bank, Uncle George gives the Native American men some cigars.

They make the trek to the settlement and, along the way, are met by a pack of dogs. The Native Americans yell and scold, sending the curs scurrying toward the settlement. Finally they approach a row of shanties and are alerted to one by a light in the window and an elderly woman standing with a lamp outside the door.

Inside is a young woman in obvious labor and agony, writhing and screaming under a heavy quilt on a rough hewn lower bunk;  her husband, badly wounded from a mishap with an ax, lies in the bunk above her. Dr. Adams examines her and determines that it is a breech birth and it will require a cesarean which he will perform with a hunting knife and catgut sutures. He carefully washes his hands and sterilizes the primitive instruments.

Young Nick holds a basin of steaming water while his father operates. He looks away from the spectacle, staring over his shoulder. “Can’t you give her anything, daddy?” he asks, disturbed by the woman’s screams and struggling.

“No. I haven’t any anesthetic,” his father said. “But her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important.” The husband in the upper bunk rolled over against the wall.

During the operation three Native American men and Uncle George hold the woman down. She bites Uncle George on the arm. “Damn squaw bitch,” he yells. One of Ojibwe men laughs.

The operation goes well enough, though afterwards the young woman is white as a ghost and so weak that she is delirious. Still, Dr. Adams is especially pleased with himself. The baby is in good shape.

He was feeling exalted and talkative as football players are in the dressing room after a game. “That’s one for the medical journal, George,’ he said. “Doing a cesarean with a jack-knife and sewing it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders.”

The good doctor’s exuberance is diminished when he decides to check on the husband in the upper bunk.

“Ought to have a look at the proud father. They’re usually the worst sufferers in these little affairs,” the doctor said. “I must say he took it all pretty quietly.”

The man is dead. It’s suicide in the most awful way: he has cut his own neck from ear to ear with a straight razor.

Dr. Adams orders Uncle George to take Nick out of the shanty, but it’s of little use. Nick has seen everything.

Unceremoniously Dr. Adams and Nick walk back down the logging trail towards the lake. Uncle George has disappeared. Dr. Adams apologizes to his son for bringing him along, saying that the trip turned out to be a terrible mess with the suicide.

Nick asks about the woman.

‘”Do ladies always have such a hard time having babies?'” 
Nick asked.

“No, that was very, very exceptional.'”

“Why did he kill himself, Daddy?”

“I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess.”

”Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?”

”Not very many, Nick.”

”Do many women?”

“Hardly ever.”

Nick and his father board the boat alone and row themselves across the bay. With the sun on the rise and the fish jumping Nick feels relieved and content. He is confident that he will never die.

Analysis:

Ernest Hemingway’s famed economical prose is at its most sparse in Indian Camp. It is told simply and straightforwardly from young Nick’s point of view.

While we do not know Nick’s exact age there are clues that he is very young. Perhaps seven or eight years old since he is ostensibly old enough to accompany his father but young enough to still call him daddy; he reclines against his father on the boat ride to the settlement. Dr. Adams tells his son that they are going to help and “Indian” woman who is very sick.

That there is no conversation between the Ojibwe men and Nick, his father and Uncle George is telling. This is an arrangement of necessity. There are entrenched boundaries that will not be crossed. The alliance is strained and transient. The Anglos have the upper hand from years of delving out and befitting from institutional racism, oppression and forced subjugation.

The Ojibwe have waited until they have exhausted all of their means of delivering the child. The old woman waiting outside the shanty signifies this. She and the other mature women of the settlement have been tending to the laboring woman for two days. They have given up in order to save the mother. This action represents Native Americans finally relinquishing their land and freedom to the interloping Anglos and the Native peoples retreating to squalid reservations in order to preserve their lives and a fraction of their heritage.

Dr. Adams represents 20th century WASP male entitlement and privilege. He has little regard for the Native American woman. There is no sensitivity for her modesty, he barges into her home with his son and brother and has them observe and assist him without her or her husband’s consent. He has no sympathy for her suffering. He does not bring anesthetic, though he may not have access to it; he does not comfort her in anyway. He is purely clinical with her in his manner. He never speaks to her.

Although Dr. Adams undoubtedly knows that the woman has been in labor for days, which is reason for him to suspect a breech birth, he does not bring  surgical instruments. He wants to test his skills on her. Can he pull off surgery on this woman in a primitive setting and with ordinary layman’s tools?  She is a mere guinea pig to him. He admits as much when he tells his son that he is immune to the woman’s screams because they mean nothing to him. Upon hearing this the husband turns away from the scene and faces the wall where he will commit suicide stealthily.

Later when Dr. Adams and Nick walk back to the boat, Nick first asks about the woman. He feels guilty–he is thinking of his mother and what she must have gone through laboring with him. His father assures him that this was an extraordinary case. But even here he has signaled to his son that a woman’s birthing travails are of little consequence when he decides to check on the woman’s husband, saying that men usually suffer more “in these little affairs.”

When Nick asks why the husband killed himself, the doctor intimates to his son that he couldn’t stand his wife’s suffering. But that is only partly true. The doctor’s disrespect of his wife and their home is more than the man can take. It is the tip–albeit a huge one–of the iceberg of an entire peoples suffering at the insolent, arrogant hands of American Anglo Saxons in general. It is the final indignation, one that he cannot abide.

Once Nick and his father are in the boat and rowing across the lake bay, Nick is calmed and reassured by the distance between himself and the Ojibwe settlement. He is back within his cocoon of WASP male privilege. He feels that nothing, not even death, can touch him there, but the ramifications of what he has seen loom in the recesses of his mind.

Ten Underseen or Forgotten Films That Every Movie Buff Should Watch at Least Once

Obviously I love to write about cinema. In fact there are few things I enjoy more. I can expound all day long on the intricate artistry of The Godfather, (yes, I prefer the original) Bad Lands, Blow Out and Night of the Hunter. I can go on ad nauseam about There Will Be Blood, The Third Man and Strangers on a Train. But, really, what self respecting movie buff can’t?

The following are ten really good movies, that most people–movie buff or not–haven’t seen. They are small films, mostly independent, made without extravagant budgets and A-list star power, that still manage to enthrall, provoke and entertain impressively. Two are masterpieces.

10. A Blast of Silence (1961) directed by Allen Baron – Existentialist film noir; an emotionally destitute hitman (Allen Baron) from Cleveland makes a business trip to the Big Apple at Christmas  and gets a life altering hankering for human connection. Ultra realistic depiction of depravity and soullessness against a non glam NYC backdrop. Fantastic opening sequence and voice over from veteran character actor Lionel Stander. A precursor to Taxi Driver.

9. Bad Company (1971); directed by Robert Benton – Revisionist Western; in the vein of McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Unforgiven, humorous deconstruction in a story of  two shiftless young men (Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown) dodging the Union Army draft and each other’s treachery during the Civil War. Witty screenplay and stunning cinematography complement a great follow up to then newcomer Jeff Bridges Oscar nominated performance in The Last Picture Show.

8. Blue Ruin (2013); directed by Jeremy Saulnier – Thriller/Crime Drama; bloody revenge yarn about a drifter, living out of his broken down car, who exacts vengeance on behalf of his murdered parents while seeking self respect. Winner of the International Film Critics Award of the Cannes Film Festival 2013, made on a shoestring budget with a no name cast (except for Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch). Director Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room) is one to watch.

7. Cold In July (2014); directed by Jim Mickle – Thriller; a mashup of genres and influential films culminating in a story of intrigue, sex trafficking, serial murder, the Dixie Mafia, regret and retribution. Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson. Convoluted, action packed, thought provoking and far-fetched–a flawed but sparkling gem.

6. No Way to Treat a Lady (1968); directed by Jack Smight – Black Comedy/Thriller; a tour-de-force performance by Academy Award winning actor Rod Steiger playing a serial killer who is bitten by the theater bug while suffering from a bad case of mommie issues. Skillful mining of familiar tropes and good acting all around, (George Siegel, Lee Remick) but it is Steiger that elevates this to a must see.

5. Runaway Train (1985); directed by Andrei Konchalovsky – Thriller/Action; an ambitious, masterfully directed film with fantastic special effects and stunt work and especially, outstanding editing on a modest budget of $9 million. Jon Voight and Eric Roberts (both nominated for an Academy Award, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively) star as escaped convicts on a train, sans a conductor, headed for a suicidal curve and a nearby chemical plant. Rebecca De Mornay co-stars as an apprentice engineer hurtling toward death with two murderous men and no access to the engine room. Riveting.

4. Transsiberian (2008); directed by Brad Anderson – Thriller; yet another “train movie”. This one’s about a straight laced, American couple on the Trans-Siberian Railway who befriend  another couple–friendly, but there’s something a little off about them– who are transporting a collection of  rare dolls. The funny thing is the straight laced couple keeps seeing high quality (identical, really) knockoffs of the dolls in souvenir shops. Starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara and Ben Kinglsley. A Taunt, yet intricately plotted, movie that keeps you guessing.

3. Mystery Road (2013); directed by Ivan Sen – Contemporary Western/Crime Drama; Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) an Aborigines detective in the Australian Outback investigates the murder of a teenage indigenous girl amidst corruption and not so subtle racism. Quiet. Atmospheric. Seamless. And then all hell breaks loose. Director Ivan Sen wrote the screenplay, the musical score and acted as editor and cinematographer. It is a gorgeously shot film. A landmark feat of filmmaking. Aaron Pederson–charismatic, handsome and gifted–should be an international star.

2. The Proposition (2005); directed by John Hillcoat – Revisionist Western; Australian film about a marauding band of bushwhackers and rapists, The Burns Brothers Gang, who terrorize the outback. Guy Pierce stars as Charlie Burns, commissioned by the military Marshal of the territory (Ray Winstone) to track down and kill his older brother and leader of the gang, Arthur, (Danny Houston) whereupon simpleminded younger brother Mickey–who is facing the gallows–will be released. Brutal, barren and unforgettably oppressive, John Hillcoat’s film is also steeped in truth and is eerily beautiful. With the screenplay and music written by the fabulous Nick Cave and famed French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme behind the camera, The Proposition is a little known masterpiece.

1. One False Move (1992); directed by Carl Franklin – Thriller/Southern Gothic; before Sling Blade there was One False Move. Billy Bob Thornton cut his teeth on the screenplay along with Tom Epperson and co-stared. Veteran television character actor and director Carl Franklin was tagged for the project with an estimated budget of two million dollars. Accustomed to directing sitcom episodes, commercials and shorts, the shoestring budget actually gave Franklin some unfamiliar wiggle room–and boy, did he make the most of it. Rarely do I describe a film as perfect. One False Move is one of those wonderfully odd exceptions.

The story is a relatively simple one: Three ruthless drug dealers/killers (Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) are on a cross country crime spree, or so it would seem. But perusing detectives get wind that the female member, Fantasia, (Cynda Williams) has a son in a spot in the road town of Star Arkansas. They alert the hick town sheriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), who is excited about the prospect of rubbing shoulders with big city policemen and tracking down the two male killers. But when Fantasia is caught on surveillance tape killing a Texas Ranger, a skeptical Dale is confronted with the evidence and things get complicated. Dale knows Fantasia and her family. He likes them. They’ve gotten a raw deal in life to which Dale is all too aware.

One False Move is an absolute piece of cinematic art and superb storytelling at every level. They hardly ever make them like this. Now. Then. Or ever.

 

 

 

Cabaret, a film directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, 1972; Musical

I am a product of many components if you will. Some good. Some bad. The juxtaposition of that good and bad depends on who you talk to. But one thing I am not is a blasphemer. I do not take the Lord’s name in vain. I just don’t. Won’t.

So when I ask, Dear God, how could they do it? Or, more precisely, God how could they allow it to happen? I’m literally asking God how could the Wiemar Republic (pre Nazi Germany, 1919-1933) and, yes, especially, the German people allow the Nazis to overrun their country?

It’s a question that has been asked thousands upon thousands of times over the eighty-five years since it happened. Many–dare I say–hundreds and hundreds of books have been written on the subject. I’ve read a few myself. But, for me, the closest I’ve come to understanding how it happened is by watching Bob Fosse’s landmark 1972 musical drama Cabaret.

The film setting is 1931 Germany. The Nazis–Hitler’s fiercely devoted sycophant, Ernst Rohm’s, Brownshirts, especially–are making the big push. They are everywhere in German society, little pockets of them. They bully. They harass. They beat and kick and stab and vandalize. They rail against the press and torment homosexuals. And, of course, tragically, they have an especially purulent, cancerous hated for Jews. As a consequence of their vile behavior, most Germans have nothing but contempt for them. They snicker at the Nazis–behind their backs, of course.

Burlesque performer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) thrives in this environment. Don’t misunderstand, she’s definitely not a Nazi. In fact she is very upfront with her sexual debauchery, something that early Nazism supposedly frowned upon. She makes a living from it day in and day out at the Kit Kat Klub where she, along side the master of ceremonies (Joel Grey), is the featured attraction.

Now the rub against Liza Minnelli has always gone something like this: She’s a try hard performer. She pours out her heart and wears it on her sleeve in a shameless display of love me…Love Me…Please! I’m begging you! LOVE ME!! 

To this criticism I say simply say..

Yes. It’s true. Liza Minnelli tried hard. Exceptionally hard. She worked her ass off. She cared. She gave the people their money’s worth. When she was onstage, she owned it. No matter how garish or stark the background, how magnificent the props and lighting or how instep the other dancers–all eyes were on her.

And, yes, she wanted to be loved. All the great one’s do. That’s why they do it. Show business is an industry of narcissism. At least Liza Minnelli gave as much as she took–that’s the distinction that made her special. She was a great singer. No doubt. But there have been better. She was an amazing dancer. Undeniably. But, even here, there have been better. Goodness knows that there have been better actors, that’s not even up for debate. No one, though, has ever been a better performer because no one has wanted it more.

That’s a noble thing. That takes guts. That’s what made Liza Minnelli and Sally Bowles one.

Let’s take a look at Sally:

She is striking, but not pretty. She knows this and isn’t entirely comfortable with it–she wants to be beautiful–so she plays the exotic to the hilt. Green sparkling fingernails. Flamboyant costumes in the club and outside of it too. Her hair is severe. Cut short over her ears with wisps that curl toward her face. She has a window’s peak chopped into her bangs. Her eyes are big and black–expressive–made even bigger and blacker with lots of mascara. Everything is big with Sally. Big laughs. Big gestures. Big tears.

Onstage she is all raunch and debauchery. No nudity, but tantalizingly close at times, her act drips with prurient fetish, greed, corruption and all manner of excess. That and talent. Oh, yes. She is talented. But does she know it? Is she desperately trying to convince herself? It would seem so.

Now let’s look at her partner in the onstage debauchery, Joel Grey as the master of ceremonies:

He is demonic. Truly, there is no better word for him. Thin, precise, he is in full blown white pancake makeup with a little red cupid’s bow of a mouth painted on just so and rouge rounds on his cheeks. His hair is immaculately plastered to his head, parted down the middle. His costumes are crisp and clean. His teeth are yellow.

Provocative. Suggestive of all manner of averice. He is unquestionably male with flourishes of vile, festering femininity. He is MC, stage manager and narrator in song and dance. He cracks the whip. If hell has a burlesque club, the Kit Kat Klub is it, and the master of ceremonies is the proprietor.

The master of ceremonies does not exist outside the Kit Kat Klub, but Sally does. She lives in a boarding house. There she befriends Brian (Michael York), her bi-sexual British next door neighbor.

Brian is repressed and decent and smart. He is working on his doctorate and is teaching English on the side. He finds relief in Sally’s free spirit although he is sometimes troubled by her irresponsibility. When she comes onto him like gangbusters he gently rebuffs her. He finds her quite seductive he assures, but he’s never had much luck with women–literally getting lucky with only three in his entire life of twenty-eight years. She accepts this and shows him around town, and, of course, she takes him to the Kit Kat Klub. Gradually, tenderly, they fall in love.

Onstage Sally proclaims her love in the uncharacteristically hopeful and beautiful song Maybe This Time. She is radiant and at peak form. Unabashed sincerity transforms her into the magnificent performer she longs to be. But the audience response is ho hum. They don’t want hope. And they damn sure don’t want Sally Bowles to be happy. Neither does the orchestra, the dancers and especially the master of ceremonies.

Sally and Brian become involved with Maximillian Von Heaune (Helmut Griem) in a collusion of sex and soul killing indifference. Like his impressive name implies, Max is aristocracy. He buys whatever his taste and predilections will allow. He buys Sally outright when she proudly displays herself on the auction block. He seduces Brian.

It’s not that Max isn’t fond of Sally and Brian, he is. But they have entered into a contract with him. There are many, many strings attached and only Max possesses the means to cut those strings, because only Max has the will–and the money.

When Brian confronts Max with the violence of the Brownshirts, he merely shrugs his shoulders. They’re are just expendable thugs he says. The Wiemar Republic will use them to control the Communist (who Max is more afraid of because they pose a greater threat, superficially anyway, to his opulent quality of life). He is unconcerned because his money insulates him. But does it really?

Of course Sally and Brian are expendable too. When he tires of them he leaves, dropping off a letter of affection and some money; a rather pitiful amount really, considering what Sally and Brian have squandered, but at least it’s something.

In Bob Fosse’s brilliant masterpiece, Cabaret, all four major characters represent segments within the Wiemar German society. It is one big, fat metaphor of a movie, if you will.

The Sally Bowels character represents the typical German citizenry. They are not Nazis. But they are scarily self-absorbed with the issues of the day. And, yes, they were burdened: Unemployment. A loathsome and dire Depression. The crippling ramifications of the failed Versailles Treaty. The populace were, understandably, desperate for distraction. And distracted they were. They hardly noticed when six million of their fellow citizens were starved, tortured and annihilated. That is what they said.

We didn’t know!!!

Brian represents the German intelligentsia. He should know better and he does, but instead he intertwines himself with Sally and Max. He should be the brakes of the relationship, just as the German press should have thwarted the rise of Nazism, or a least rang the hell out of the warning bell, but he is seduced into complacency and normalcy.

Max’s metaphor is an obvious one. He represents the aristocracy who are only concerned with their wealth and position of power. They rub shoulders with the common folk (Sally), and the intellectuals (Brian) and the Nazis when it suits them. Otherwise they are aloof and insulated by their money and the comforts it can buy.

But what about the most vile, repugnant and evil character of all, the master of ceremonies? Who does he represent? The SS, perhaps? Could it be Hitler?

No.

The master of ceremonies represents Fosse’s beloved community of artists. This contemptible monstrosity is: The actor. The dancer. The poet. The sculptor. The painter. The film director.

Fosse derides his community unmercifully. He holds them responsible. He makes no excuses for them. His moral indignation, his humanity, vomits all over them.

There is one other community that Bob Fosse thinks so little of that he doesn’t even include in his scathing commentary. Did he simply overlook them? Did he find their contribution to the demise of the moral compass of German society insignificant? I wonder even as, and because, first and foremost, I count myself one of this community. I ask the question that Fosse didn’t bother to.

Dear God, where were the Christians?  

 

 

 

 

Killing Eve, a television series, Season one, 2018; BBC America; Espionage/Crime Drama

I admit I’m little behind the times with pop culture. I’m pretty busy. I have two daughters and a business to run. And then there’s the gym and stuff. (Okay. My daughters are twenty-six and twenty and my husband and I operate our business out of our home. He does most of the work. But still there’s the gym…And stuff…)

Anyway, I’m sure most of you who love crime based entertainment like I do already know about BBC America’s great new series Killing Eve. As for me, I just found out about it yesterday and though I’ve only watched the first two episodes, I’m enthralled.

That’s pretty unusual. The last television series I was enthralled by was Fargo Season 2. Before that, there was Fargo Season 1 and True Detective Season 1 or whatever it was. You know, the one with Mathew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. (I’ve yet to run into the person who says “You know, the one with Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell.” Now that would be something.)

(Oh yeah, I love Life in Pieces too but it’s about as thriller related as…a Dorthy Parker short story.)

So here’s the dealio: Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is an underutilized M15 agent. She’s a desk jockey, but that doesn’t mean she’s not smart. She is. Really, really smart. She’s also polarized by bookoo red tape and gobs of facts that must be sifted through and stored. And then there’s the heavy handed, brow beating male bureaucracy that she has to wrestle. You get the idea.

Eve is happily married to a really cute guy named Niko. They’re an adorable couple. Compatible sense of humor. Sexy banter. He doesn’t get mad when she promises him sex and then reneges.

Everything considered, Eve’s just a cool lady, i.e., gets along with her colleagues and her nice but semi curmudgeonly, bureaucratic boss begrudgingly respects her and will go to bat for her too. But that doesn’t mean she’s happy with her work. No sir. She is not.

Then on the other hand you have her nemesis Villanelle played by Jodi Comer. (Check out the name “VILLAN-elle”. Clever huh.) She loves her work. Well, I’m being a little too loose with my emphasis here. Allow me to clarify: She loves her work as much as a psychopath can love anything. She’s a Russian assassin. And she’s pretty cool too (ice cold to be exact) aside from being totally evil. (She smiles grotesquely when she’s in the act of murder.)

Villanelle is a fascinating character if you are interested in psychopathy. She is a chameleon of emotion but she feels very little. Instead she studies peoples reactions and then mocks and or duplicates them so as to appear normal. And, of course, she’s very good looking and exceptionally fit. Her skin is so porcelain and perfect that it looks almost like a mask. (Jodie Comer’s fantastic by the way. Watch out for her. You’ll definitely be seeing more of her.)

Eve, within her limited M15 scope and expertise, connects the dots of many, many murders across the globe. Now she and Villanelle are on a collision course, though Eve doesn’t have a name to fit with the face. Villanelle, however, knows who Eve is. She’s amused and intrigued by her. There’s definitely the makings of a girl crush going on here.

So, anyway, recently I watched the movie Revenge that’s getting a lot of buzz. I wasn’t that impressed. I found it more depressing than invigorating or empowering though it is touted as a feminist revenge motif and, ostensibly, that should appeal to me, at least on a base visceral level.

Killing Eve does for me what Revenge was supposed to do. It appeals to my feminist leanings, yes, but without requiring me to take a bath in every single man on the planet’s blood. It’s provocative and fun. And Sandra Oh is oh so good. (Forgive me, I just couldn’t help it. I was inspired by Villanelle.) Her portrayal is empathetically relatable and real. I’m all in.

If you’re not watching, you should be.

Frailty, a film directed by Bill Paxton, 2002; Thriller

It takes a certain kind of faith to watch a movie. For the duration of, let’s say, an hour and thirty minutes or so we are asked to suspend skepticism and buy into an artistic vision. It is a contract, if you will, between us and the director and whether or not we keep that contract is a testament to his or her skill as storyteller.

Sometimes we have to break the contract, because the director is asking more of us than we are willing to give. For instance his or her vision might be too unbelievable, an insult to our intelligence, as it were, or there may be too many inconsistencies that we just can’t get past; the themes too abstract or too literal, too much gravitas or not enough.

Sometimes the movie just isn’t our cup of tea. And sometimes the movie just isn’t good. Either way, it comes down to a matter of perspective.

Irrespective of all that, I find it fitting that the late Bill Paxton, a prolific practitioner and disciple of the cinematic art form acting in over fifty films that spanned a forty year career, would explore faith as a motif in Frailty, his 2002 directorial debut. Why? Well, although I don’t know his opinion on religious matters, he always came across as a sincere and decent man in an industry that is typically disinterested in those values.

And while he certainly profited from his profession–his estate is valued at over forty million dollars–he was never an A list leading man, though his performances–One False Move and A Simple Plan come to mind–were always solid, often stellar and more diverse than he was credited. His reputation, he claimed, was a result of misconception and came at the expense of his artistry–“I get kind of tired of reading that,” he said of his nice guy image and everyman persona, “I’ve played a lot of people.” Yet, whether he liked it or not, some of his best work came from his portrayals of men that were similar to himself–masculine stalwarts of humility and grace.

In Frailty, Bill Paxton stays within the perimeters of his wheelhouse with a character referred to simply as Dad or as Mr. Meiks. The single parent of two boys–Fenton (Matthew O’Leary) is about twelve, his younger brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) is around seven or eight–Mr. Meiks works long hard hours as a mechanic and then heads straight home to a simple life of church on Sundays, prayers before supper and good natured rough housing in front of the television set.

He is a religious man but not fanatically so, there is no illusion of perfection or inappropriate propriety. He doesn’t cuss but he will have a drink and a smoke. His boys are well fed, have clean clothes and good manners. They live in a modest house behind a rose garden that is their small Texas city’s flagship attraction. It is late 70s Americana. Life is good.

Then one day, Mr. Meiks has an epiphany. He is under a car (a Mercury Cougar, actually, I’d say about a ’68 or a ’69) and the canopy of nuts and bolts, pipes and metal suddenly dissolves into a heavenly apparition. A fiery angel appears with a christening sword.

At home he describes the events of the day to his sons, if not matter-of-factly, then earnestly, and relates the reason for the visionary visit: There are demons, disguised as humans, living among us who are responsible for all the vilest acts in society. They are the child predators, the rapists and murders. The Lord has chose them–Mr. Meiks and his sons–to be the dispensers of justice. They must annihilate the demons precisely–first rendering them unconscious with a steel pipe, abducting them, and then dispatching them in a shed on their property with an axe engraved with the moniker OTIS.

Adam–the more gullible, less guileful of the two–is rapt with a sense of purpose and a little afraid. Fenton is mortified. Nevertheless he loves his dad. He hopes, at best, that it’s all a bad dream, he’ll wake up and it’ll go away; at worst, that his dad is suffering from temporary insanity, he’ll wake up and it’ll go away.

It doesn’t.

The day of reckoning mercifully doesn’t come immediately but unmercifully, for Fenton anyway, it does come finally when Mr. Meiks loads up an old cargo van with the weapons of destruction and his two sons, dispatching them to a parking lot. There they stakeout an even older immaculately preserved vehicle awaiting the owner-operator to return. Fenton clings to hope that somehow, someway–perhaps the hand of God will reach down and halt his dad–the plan will go awry.

It doesn’t.

The owner of the vintage car, an older man with a sweater vest, a paunch and a comb over, finally makes an appearance. He looks like he would be at home behind the counter of a trinket store. He is tricked by Fenton (forced to comply by his father, of course) who pretends he is looking for a misbehaving puppy under the man’s car. When the old guy bends down to help, Meiks whacks him in the head with the pipe.

Back at the family shed, Meiks confronts the man while Fenton cringes and cowers in the corner. Meanwhile Meiks recoils in near convulsions every time he has to touch the man. “Did you see it boys?” he asks all wild eyed. “Did you see the vision when I touched him?”

A terrified Fenton doesn’t see anything other than his father menacing a bludgeoned, gagged and duck-taped old man. But an impressionable Adam does see, or claims he does anyway. “I saw it Dad,” he says resolutely. “I saw what he did.” With that, and much righteous indignation, Meiks goes to work on the man with OTIS.

And, of course, this is only the beginning. Mr. Meiks has a little spiral notepad, the kind men used to keep in their shirt pockets and women kept in their purses. In it is a list of names. Meiks tells Fenton and Adam that this is a list of demons who are hiding behind the names and in the skin of ordinary looking people.

Fenton is horrified by what he sees. It’s a pretty long list.

Like the actor himself, Frailty is an underrated gem. Paxton uses a deft hand bridging the related but still distinct genres of mystery, thriller, suspense and horror with Gothic highlights and tinges of noir so that the end production is strangely beautiful, in the vein of the lush Gothic horror classic Night of the Hunter. In lesser hands, Brent Hanley’s terrific script could have become just another grindhouse mashup.

But perhaps more than anything else Frailty owes its verve and vitality to its director’s rightfully deserved reputation as an all around good guy, though he would be chagrined to consider it. Who else could have assembled a veteran cast with fellow Texans Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe and a virtuoso crew featuring famed cinematographer Bill Butler (The Conversation, Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) on a budget of a mere eleven million dollars?

In Hollywood it goes without saying, often times things aren’t quite what they seem. Bill Paxton was different; what you saw was what you got and that was a good thing. The same could be said of his film Frailty, but in the present tense, of course, with this caveat: Sometimes the truth is simply what the truth is…And the fastest way to get there is in a straight line.

The Nice Guys, a film directed by Shane Black, 2016; Black Comedy/Farce

Warning: The following content is a virtual ticking time bomb of literary devices. It is especially loaded with ellipses and asides. (Just so you know)

When I was a kid my brother and I would visit our dad in El Paso for about six weeks every summer. I usually looked forward to this because my dad was very permissive (we got to do all kinds of stuff like hike the Franklin Mountains without parental supervision and sunscreen) and my mom wasn’t, i.e., we had a babysitter until I was twelve and I had to take naps until I was eleven.

We stayed in a lot of hotels with my dad, and he was gone most of the day so we’d have run of the place. It was fun. We’d go swimming and check out the spa and eat in the restaurant and roam the grounds and we watched a lot of TV too, just like at home, only we had cable so I watched a lot of movies I wouldn’t have otherwise. One of those movies was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Now that movie made a big impression on me because it was all slapstick and farcical and silly and then all of the sudden, I mean out of nowhere, there would be a horror sequence with Dracula or Frankenstein or this evil, seductive female surgeon that wants to transplant Costello’s brain into the skull of Frankenstein. See what I mean? Fiendish.

So fast forward about forty years…I’m watching The Nice Guys and I realize that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the template for this movie! And Wow! I’m lovin’ it! (Exclamation points because I really don’t care too much for Abbott and Costello; too vaudevillian.) It’s the best comedy I’ve seen in a long, long time! (Plus it’s got Ryan Gosling in it and I like him. He’s a very nice looking young man. And he’s a really good actor.)

Anyway, back to The nice Guys

Here’s what I mean about the Abbott and Costello comparison: The movie starts off with a gorgeous sweeping night time panorama of  Los Angeles and then the camera swoops down onto a very ordinary, middle class house and focuses on this cute little white mutt in the backyard that wants to be let in. The dog is kind of forlorn and antsy, like they get before a really bad storm’s about to hit. A kid in button up pajamas–he’s about twelve–opens the back door and obliges the mutt.

We follow the kid down the hallway of the house where he slips into his parents bedroom–they’re asleep–and crawls halfway under the bed where he snatches one of his dad’s porno magazines. (It’s the 70s. Porno was in magazines back then and only men/boys looked at it. Ahhh…the good ole’ days.)

Then–quiet as a mouse, mind you–the kid sneaks out the bedroom, shuts the door and skips back down the hall to the kitchen. He pours a glass of milk and leans against the counter next to a big picture window. As he’s leafing through the magazine ogling the centerfold, we catch a glimpse through the window of a car that runs off the road. It careens down a hill heading straight for the house. Horrifically, it crashes into it–plows right through it even–and plummets down a ravine, averting the kid and his dog by a mouse whisker.

And the driver? She’s the porn magazine centerfold. Yes, the very one the boy was ogling only forty-seven seconds before. She’s dead as a dormouse now. ( I know. I know. It’s dead as a doornail but I’m going with this mouse thing as an extended metaphor, so…)

The whole movie is like that. It’s a lighthearted, slapstick, physical comedy of errors and hijinks and then–Bang! Boom! Pow!–out of nowhere, sudden, bloody violence hijacks it D.B. Cooper style and we are charmed.

Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, a goofy, disenchanted private investigator whose wife was killed in an accident that was his fault. He has a freakishly bad sense of smell and, hence, was unable to detect gas fumes which resulted in their house blowing up. He also lacks follow through so he didn’t investigate when she complained about the smell.

Holland has a wise beyond her years but still idealistic thirteen-year-old daughter, Holly, (a terrific Angourie Rice) who saves him from being a complete failure and utter alcoholic. She is a classic case of the child parenting the parent, an unfortunate phenomenon not exclusive to the 1970’s but one that flourished in them none-the-less.

Then there’s Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe) who’s also a private investigator…Umm…Well, not really… He’s more like a leg-breaker for hire, but he’s no monosyllabic Neanderthal. In fact Healy’s actually quite smart–but he’s going to seed and he knows it. When he happens onto Holland’s operation he’s intrigued with the possibility, but his own brand of integrity and a fondness for Holly keeps his ambition in check. (He does break Holland’s arm though.) The three of them team up to investigate a convoluted conspiracy involving–get thisporn stars, the Department of Justice, the EPA and catalytic converters. (Oh well, three out of four ain’t bad.)

These tropes prove fertile ground for writer/director Shane Black who penned the scripts for Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodbye. He obviously likes his action/buddy films.

But similarities aside, The Nice Guys has a very different vibe than those movies. It is much more like the appallingly underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) which he also wrote and directed.

Like the traditional buddy team cliches that Black is a prominent architect of, Holland and Healy are mismatched arch-types with their own version of rouge charm. What differentiates them and the director/writer Black from the screenwriter Black is his characters refreshing, invigorating sense of humility, humanity and vulnerability…That and a rather strong, unexpected dose of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

 

 

 

Big Blonde, a short story by Dorthy Parker, 1929; Classic American Literature; Essay and Anaylis Concluded

Conclusion:

There was no settled, shocked moment when she first thought of killing herself; it seemed to her as if the idea had always been with her.

Mrs. Morse occupies a dark, morose space with very few distractions. The maid Nettie does the cleaning, the cooking, the errands while she sleeps till afternoon and then prepares herself for night life. Glamour no longer resides here, but convenience does. She has become little more than a convenience herself.

It is a shriveled, shrunken life–from her apartment to the chop house, to the tavern and back again–that is all about recuperating from the night before, the upkeep of the outward appearance and, more than anything else, the illusion of vigorous spontaneity. She must be frivolous, silly, accommodating, available at the drop of a hat–everything her benefactors wives are not.

In this environment she loses track of how many men there have been; they come and go. Some she likes, others she doesn’t which is neither here nor there as long as her bills are paid.

Then one day on her way to the tavern to meet Art, her current “friend”, she sees a sight that shakes her to her core:

…a big, scarred horse pulling a rickety express wagon crashed to his knees before her. The driver swore and screamed and lashed the beast insanely, bringing the whip back over his shoulder for every blow, while the horse struggled to get footing on the slippery asphalt. A group gathered and watched with interest.

When she breathlessly tells Art why she is late for dinner and upset, he doesn’t want to hear it.

“What’s the idea of all the bellyaching? What have you got to be sunk about?…Pull yourself together will you? Come on sit down, and take that face off you.”

But this time she can’t outrun the shakes or numb them either. Later at her apartment she examines vials of sleeping pills she’s been hoarding and her reflection in the mirror.

“Well, here’s mud in your eye,” she said. 

Big Blonde is a cautionary tale. Like all literary works with a capital L it is multifaceted.

Within in its approximate twenty pages, Parker explores a life steeped in alcoholism even before the catalytic onset. Hazel Morse is not an organic alcoholic if, indeed, one even exists. She becomes one while trying to medicate herself in the presence of problem drinkers and alcoholics. For them any infraction or malady is cured with another shot and some laughs.

Early in the process she uses alcohol as a means to loosen up, to make herself lively and uninhibited at the behest of her husband Herbie. She finds it does more than that. It evaporates her depression. It allows her to be what others want her to be, to win their approval, so she drinks more. But of course her relief is only temporary and so is her marriage.

At first glance it is easy to assign Herbie Morse the villain of Big Blonde, but a longer look puts him in a less glaring light. Herbie has been played by his wife. He never asked for traditional domesticity of the day, of house slippers laid out and supper on the table when he gets home. Instead he wants her “dolled up” and waiting for them to go out on the town. He wants her to be fun, like she’s always been and when she’s not, when at first, she slips into one of her moods, he is concerned.

At first, when he came home to find her softly tired and moody, he kissed her neck and patted her shoulder and begged her to tell her Herbie what was wrong. She loved that. But time slid by, and he found that there was never anything really, personally, the matter.

This is Hazel’s fatal flaw. She always opts for the easy way. It’s not that she’s not legitimately, yes, even organically depressed. She is. And, yes, depression was misunderstood in those days, as it still is (but especially then); the crux of the problem is that Hazel is not above using her mental illness as a means of getting what she wants, which is to be forever babied and pampered on her own terms. And Herbie is not that guy.

As is almost always the case in tragedy, the protagonist is his/her own worst enemy. Hazel Morse is a classic example of this device. She enters into an ill advised contract with herself with no gun to her head. Willingly, she will never come into her own; she will sacrifice her self respect, her sexuality, morality, ambition and happiness (the superego, if you will) at the alter of convenience and self indulgence. Therefore, it is not Herbie, or the many men who enter into this contract of destruction with her that are villain, nor is it the serpent alcohol, but it is Hazel Morse herself that is the architect of her demise.

And, even in that, she ends up failing herself.

 

 

Big Blonde, a short story by Dorthy Parker, 1929; Classic American Literature

PART TWO:

A Mrs. Martin moved into the flat across the hall. She was a great blonde woman of forty, a promise in looks of what Mrs. Morse was to be. They made acquaintance, quickly became inseparable. Mrs. Morse spent her days in the opposite apartment. They drank together, to brace themselves after the drinks of the nights before.

In the company of her new friend, Hazel is known only as Mrs. Morse, though there is no mention of Herbie. It is assumed that he is always away on business–the same with Mrs. Martin’s husband.

Mrs. Martin throws poker parties with her friend and admirer Joe. Joe has several friends–the boys, he and Mrs. Martin calls them–who attend. There is, of course, lots of drinking and uproarious laughter at the poker parties. Hazel–ahem, Mrs. Morse–is instantly popular with the boys, she allows herself to wallow in the levity of her old charm, and the pall of failed domesticity lifts. With the help of Scotch she becomes an expert reveler. She tells some jokes now rather than just laughing at them. One of the boys, a successful business owner who travels, is bedazzled. His name is Ed.

He was married. He showed Mrs. Morse the then current photographs of Junior and Sister, and she praised them abundantly and sincerely. Soon it was accepted by the others that Ed was her particular friend.

Still, she doesn’t give up entirely on Herbie although he is hardly ever home. On the rare occasion that he shows up, Hazel doesn’t cross the hall to her friends. But things never go the way she hopes they might; Herbie is not only immune to her charm, he is determined to eviscerate it. Self preservation numbs her to him. When she comes home from a poker party early one day to find him packing she is neither surprised or mad or even more than a little hurt. She pours them a good stiff drink.

He took his highball. “Well,” he said, and he gave a sudden, uncertain laugh. “Here’s mud in your eye.” “Mud in your eye,” she said. They drank.

Herbie takes the elevator and the six o’clock train to Detroit. Hazel traipses back across the hall. She is older now–still pretty but heavier (then there’s the drinking)–and no longer a candidate for stout women’s fashion modeling. Herbie has left her the contents of their bank account but that won’t last forever.

Ed swoops right in. He walks with her across the hall to her apartment that very evening after poker. Hazel is lost to her. Now she will only be Mrs. Morse. She invites him in.

“Got a little kiss for me?” he asked. He wrapped her in his big arms and kissed her violently. She was entirely passive. He held her away and looked at her. “Little tight, honey?’ he asked anxiously. “Not going to be sick, are you?”

“Me?” she said. “I’m swell.”

Mrs. Morse wants for nothing with Ed. He moves her out of her old flat to an apartment close to the train station, far from Mrs. Martin and the boys. He hires a maid for her and they frequent a tavern called Jimmy’s where she makes friends of women of her own ilk and girth. They all are kept women.

The aim of each was to have one man, permanently, to pay all her bills, in return for which she would have immediately given up other admirers and probably would have become exceedingly fond of him; for the affections of all of them were, by now, unexacting, tranquil, and easily arranged.

Ed had a good year, increased her allowance and gave her a sealskin coat. But she had to be careful of her moods with him. He insisted upon gayety. He would not listen to admissions of aches or weariness.

Their arrangement lasts three years. Then, suddenly, he has to move to Florida and can no longer travel to New York so freely. Ed gives her a hefty check and some shares in his stocks. He is sad. There are even tears in his eyes as he says goodbye. On a rare occasion he slips into town for a visit.

She was always pleased to have him come and never sorry to see him go.

One of Ed’s friends at Jimmy’s, a guy named Charlie, is enamored with her. He has an irritating habit of maneuvering in conspicuous ways so he can touch her.

Charlie picks up where Ed has left off, but Mrs. Morse isn’t very fond of him. She describes him to friends as “not so bad.” He will do until another comes along. And another one does.

And another…And another…

 

Big Blonde, a short story by Dorthy Parker, 1929; Classic American Literature (with an introductory aside regarding Janis Joplin)

INTRODUCTION:

I’m a big Janis Joplin fan. My high school theatre teacher turned me onto her when I was fourteen. I have every album she ever recorded. I even own the “special 24-karat Gold Disc” Master Sound Series of her seminal album Pearl. My husband paid a fortune for it back in the day when CDs were cool. It was an anniversary present. I was delighted, though that was some time ago. He knows my taste in anniversary presents has changed.

Janis Joplin was a great singer. Just listen to her tough yet tender rendition of the Bobby Womack penned Trust Me on Pearl and try not to be swept away by the pain and the poignancy. The urgency. The sheer pleasure of it. Go on…Listen..

Okay. All that is interesting–or maybe not–depending on your opinion of Joplin. Some folks do not like her. Her fandom usually comes at the price of acquired taste, as it did with me. But, irrespective of that, what does she have to do with Dorthy Parker? Fair question.

When you talk about Janis Joplin it’s easy to get sidetracked by her life, the shortness of it; the obscenity of it. Her bombastic style. The drugs and drinking. The fatal overdose. So much so that her voice, her artistry, yes, her greatest gift is often assigned to the backseat.

I’m not going to do that with Dorthy Parker. I’m not going to quote her quips or expound on her seat at the Algonquin Round Table. You won’t hear details of her marriages, romantic trysts, Communist sympathizing or her admirable contribution to the NAACP from me. It’s all very interesting. Fascinating even. I urge you to read up on these things and many, many more details of a rich, often troubled, but always colorful life. You won’t be disappointed. Despite a myriad of problems and systemic alcoholism she did not flame out at an early age like Joplin did.

But here, in this singular outlier of a post, I’m going to focus on Dorthy Parker the writer and her composition Big Blonde for which she was awarded the O. Henry Award for best short story of 1929. Big Blonde is a testament to the breadth and depth of her talent.

And yes, of course, it highlights her wit. Absolutely, without question, it does–and her sardonic underpinnings too. But more than that it flaunts her easy way with words. The flow. The rhythm. Her uncanny ability to turn on a dime within the whim of economy and summon a tale from the distance of sympathy and the intimacy of empathy. It is her best known short story.

I think it’s her best. Period.

PART ONE: 

Men liked her, and she took it for granted that the liking of many men was a desirable thing. Popularity seemed to her to be worth all the work that had to be put into its achievement. Men liked you because you were fun, and when they liked you they took you out, and there you were.

This is sum of Hazel’s life. She is the party girl who does not drink. She is the life of the party who doesn’t tell jokes. Instead she consoles and cajoles her drinking companions and is audience for their jokes–especially the jokes of men. She laughs and flirts for a living while being a plus sized model on the side.

But don’t get the wrong idea. Hazel’s no floozy. She wants to settle down into the bliss of domesticity and Herbie Morse is her kind’a guy. Smart, industrious–on the smallish side–Herbie’s a well dressed ball of nervous energy. He loves raucous hilarity and lots of stiff drinks. They are handsome couple, each on opposite ends of the scale, ample and svelte sliding toward each other. Together they make the rounds of the neighborhood hot spots. Hazel is a good sport. Herbie decides to make an honest woman of her.

She loved the flat, she loved her life, she loved Herbie. In the first months of their marriage she gave him all the passion she was ever to know.

Hazel grows comfortable as wives and husbands often do–too comfortable, perhaps. She feels free to finally be herself, to be moody sometimes, to cry. The fact is, she suffers from depression. Nothing debilitating but little things can set her off. A movie. A poem. An orphaned animal. She grows sentimental and likes to stay in at night. This is not what Herbie signed up for. He feels stifled and put upon. What happened to the enabling, accommodating girl he fell in love with?

“Ah, for God’s sake,” he would say. “Crabbing again. All right, sit here and crab your head off. I’m going out.” And he would slam out of the flat and come back late and drunk.

Commitment is important to her. Marriage is what women of her time aspire to. It is the barometer of their self worth. So she takes up drinking to save it even though she’s repelled by the taste and smell of liquor.

After experiment, she found that Scotch whisky was best for her. She took it without water, because that was the quickest way to it’s effect.

Herbie pressed it on her. He was glad to see her drink. They both felt it might restore her high spirits, and their good times together might again be possible. “Atta girl,” he would approve her. “Let’s see you get boiled, baby.”

Now she is a conspirator in the debauchery. Things might start off innocent enough, they might even have some fun, but it is short lived and liquor fuels their mutual resentment. They quarrel incessantly. Then it turns physical.

There were shouted invectives and pushes, and sometimes sharp slaps. Once she had a black eye. Herbie was horrified next day at sight of it. He did not go to work; he followed her about, suggesting remedies and heaping dark blame on himself. But after they had had a few drinks–“to pull themselves together”–she made so many wistful references to her bruise that he shouted at her, and rushed out, and was gone for two days.

She commenced drinking alone, little, short drinks all through the day. It was only with Herbie that alcohol made her nervous and quick in offense. Alone, it blurred sharp things for her. She lived in a haze of it. Her life took on a dream-like quality. Nothing was astonishing.

∼∼∼

 

 

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