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All Things Thriller

A Celebration of Thrillers, Noire and Black Comedy by Pamela Lowe Saldana

Full Circle

Under normal circumstances K.K. would have gone Unionville Parkway even though it made her commute ten minutes longer. That’s what everybody does. If you don’t go Unionville you have to take H27 South straight through Scottstown. And nobody wants to do that unless they have to get to the hospital–fast.

Scottstown is bad. Lots of gangs. Lots of dope. Especially over there by Memorial.

Lots of guns there too, but people don’t talk about that. Probably cause there are lots of guns in Unionville also.

Back when she lived at home, our parents forbade her from going anywhere near downtown Scottstown. “Girl, I’ll light you up if I catch you over there,” mother would warn. Dad just threatened to take her car keys; her whole life, he never laid a hand on her.

All the threats in the world didn’t matter though, when Sawyer, Toby and Lady T went dry at the same time. It was rare, but it happened.

When it did, K.K. and her best friend Becca would give Jeremey Johnson a dime bag of the choicest buds to ride shotgun with them. K.K. drove since it was her car. Becca rode in the back. It was Jeremey’s job to motion the fellas over to his window.

“Can you sell me a quarter?” he’d ask.

“Just got nickels,” the Scottstown boys would say.

“Give me twelve of ’em then,” Jeremey would say…

One time this guy flagged them down from one of the corners before you get thick into it.

“What are you lookin’ for?” the guy asked.

“Weed,” Jeremy answered.

I can get you the good stuff,” the guy said.

“Let’s see it then,” said Jeremey.

“I gotta take you to the car wash. That’s where my guy is.”

Jeremey looked to K.K for the okay since it was her car and Becca’s money. She said yes. Jeremey told the guy to get in the backseat with Becca. When he got settled, Becca asked him if he had a gun.

“No,” the guy said. “Do you?” Everybody laughed.

They followed the guy’s directions to the car wash. Sure enough an attendant sold them some nickel bags. It was primo.

And that’s the way it would go. Smooth as silk. Despite what everybody said they never had any trouble in Scottstown.

Bad stuff did happen there, though. Real bad stuff.

Like those UTAC kids that got abducted. They were tortured. Everybody was like, “what in the world were they doin’ down there?”

“Buyin’ dope,” K.K. would say.

“Surely they could buy it someplace else,” the conversation would go.

People just couldn’t believe that college students–real college kids, not juco–would buy dope off the street in Scottstown. K.K. was only too happy to educate them even if it that meant exposing her own bad behavior. There was just about nothing she liked more than uncovering hypocrisy.

Besides, she went to junior college herself. That’s how her nursing career started.

Working in Memorial’s emergency room jaded her, though. She already wasn’t the most patient person. And that’s before she witnessed a lot of bad stuff. Man’s inhumanity to man, she called it. She read a lot.

They’d stumble into the ER coughing up blood, shot in the belly, her patients. Or somebody would dump them off in the driveway.

The lengths the doctors and nurses–K.K. called them her team–would go to save a life. Cracking a chest, right there in the emergency room, to slow down the bleeding. It happened.

She talked about that stuff as a source of pride for the first few years. How hard they worked, how sleep deprived they were, how many units of blood they used, only to see those same patients–some of the ones they had brought back from the brink–brain dead from a gunshot to the head six months, maybe a year later.

It felt futile to her. She went through a phase of depression, but got over it.

And then Covid hit. And it was the same thing. Death. Senseless death, but on a massive scale. Like in a war. All these people gasping like fish out of water. Struggling for every breath. Gurney after gurney of them. She dreamed about it.

And it didn’t have to be that way. Not when there’s a vaccine.

Some of the Covid patients would tell her their last wishes before they went on the ventilator, messages for their wife or husband, for their children. She was entrusted because the family couldn’t be with there, even when the patients were dying…

At first K.K. tried to meet the moment, but there were too many patients and too many family members to keep up with. And sometimes the family members were hostile. They believed that Covid was a massive conspiracy orchestrated by the government so they could inject a “data chip” into the bloodstream…or that the government was trying to sterilize them. Crazy stuff like that. Sometimes the patients believed it themselves.

She got cursed at, threatened. A dying patient spent his last breaths trying to spit on her. That’s when she started carrying a gun.

A lot of good it did her. It was in her purse when she got carjacked.

No, the guy just wanted her car. He threw her purse out after he shot her. Two months later he shows up in the ER with Covid. That’s how they caught him. Surreal.

That makeshift memorial on H27…flowers, stuffed animals…candles. It’s huge. The media makes a big deal about it.

K.K. wasn’t a hero. She didn’t think of herself that way. She told everybody she got into nursing for the money. She liked the adrenaline rush from working in the ER until it got overwhelmed with Covid. She was good at her job.

If she was here she’d say, save your money people. No more flowers. No more teddy bears. Just get your damn vaccine.

The Beta-Test (2021), a Film directed by Jim Cummings, Staring Jim Cummings; Black Comedy

So, there’s this guy. He’s a total–I don’t like to use this word–douchebag. His name is Jordin. Jordin Hines. He’s the protagonist in director Jim Cumming’s black comedy, The Beta Test. He is played by him too.

Jordin’s a Hollywood agent with all the accoutrements of his profession–monochrome suits, Magnanni loafers, exacting haircut–but namely it’s insincerity and smarminess that he’s got down to a T. That and prominent canine teeth.

Just a few short years ago men like Jordin ruled the roost in Hollywood, but in the wake of “Me Too” they have become increasingly passe–at least that is what The Beta Test would have us believe.

And it’s not just empowered women who have broken these men’s–how shall we say it–asses. No.

It’s as if the whole entertainment industry is streaming, while they–the agents–are still on cable.

Understandably Jordin is quite nervous about the state of his career, but he has never developed the necessary people skills to carve out a niche or possessed enough common sense to map out an exit strategy. He hasn’t because he hasn’t had to; he’s an early 30s, white, middle class male. Duh.

Instead he doubles down on rehearsed cliches and ramps up the jittery ticks of failing entitlement. Think of a mime on freebase.

Or Jim Carey.

Incredibly, despite Jordin’s abundant weirdness, he has a perfectly lovely, a perfectly normal fiancé named Caroline. Caroline is dutifully planning their wedding, a mere six weeks away. She asks very little of Jordin–only that he compose and send a few emails. He stalls around about doing it.

One day, Jordin gets a purple envelope embossed with gold lettering in the mail. It appears to be an invitation of some sorts.

He opens it. Lo and behold that’s what it is. And it’s not just any old invitation either. It’s a no strings attached sexual tryst with a stranger invitation. To say that Jordin is interested is putting it mildly.

Of course he doesn’t have the moral clarity to resist, so when he throws the invitation in the trash we know he will soon be digging it out. And we’re right. He’s wary as a weasel doing it too. He reconnoiters. He schemes. He scurries. Amusingly. Cringingly.

Meanwhile, people all over the place are getting these invitations. And there are ramifications. Murders even.

In fact, that’s the way The Beta Test opens–with a particularly brutal, especially disturbing murder scene. Well, it happens in the first ten minutes of the film to be accurate, which is perfectly consistent with it being a black comedy.

Calling The Beta Test a black comedy, though, is like calling a hamburger a sandwich. It is, technically, but that doesn’t really cover it. It’s a social commentary, too. And an erotic/techno thriller. Shoot, there may even be some neo noir mixed up in there.

But I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a mashup. The Beta Test is too aloof for that. Therein lies the film’s vulnerability; it’s confusing and snobby.

There is one thing that the film is crystal clear about, however–Jordin. He’s a creep.

Accordingly, cinematographer Kenneth Wales films him up close and sweaty, while Los Angeles gets the wide swath, tilt angle framing so it looms, hungrily, over the squirming little lickspittle, giving him what he gives secretaries, clerks, wait staff and his fiancé: no respect and a very hard time.

Worth Another Look: Mike’s Murder (1984), a Film Directed by James Bridges; Erotic Neo-Noir

From time to time, I like to revisit films that I don’t like, but that I should. For instance, let’s say the movie got good reviews, has an actor that I really like, is about a subject matter I’m interested in– theoretically I should like it, right?

Right.

Only sometimes I don’t…for whatever reason. Same for just about anybody who likes movies, I presume.

Then sometimes it’s just the opposite–the movie didn’t get good reviews, it has an actor that I really don’t like, so on and so forth…

And for whatever reason, I like it. Go figure.

So this is the first of a series I’ll revisit from time to time–Lord willing. I’m calling it, Worth Another Look.

Betty has a thing for Mike. Even though they’re very different–she’s a respectable, responsible mid twenty’s adult; he’s the same age, but emotionally immature–the chemistry between them is palpable. It’s noticeably more intense for her.

Their relationship is casual. They hook up. Occasionally.

Mike is Betty’s tennis instructor. He is also a petty drug dealer operating on the fringes of the early 80s gay subculture. Betty doesn’t know all the sordid details of Mike’s private life, but she knows he’s shady and that, even in small doses, he’s not good for her. Still she can’t resist him when he summons, and she pines for him when he doesn’t.

Then one day Betty gets a call from a photographer named Sam, a vague acquaintance and a close friend of Mike’s. He tells her that Mike’s been killed–no, it’s worse than that–he’s been murdered, brutally.

Betty recognizes an ache, a jealous lover’s taunts inside Sam’s unsettling voice. Even so she accepts the invitation to his apartment so that they can commiserate. “There are things Mike would want you to have,” he begrudgingly tells her.

Once there, Sam gives her the rundown: it was a drug world hit and the hitters were sending a message. The rest he doesn’t know and doesn’t understand. He tells her that Mike was small potatoes, not important enough to warrant such brutal treatment.

Then he asks if she knows Mike’s friend, Pete. Betty recalls talking to Pete once on the phone, but she’s never seen him face to face.

“Good,” Sam says. He tells her to keep it that way.

Betty’s older friend, Patty, tells her the same thing…pretty much. Patty lives voyeuristically and vicariously through Betty’s adventures, particularly her sexual ones, so she’s not keen on wet-blanketing her friend’s initiative–but, seriously, how dumb can Betty be? Does Patty have to scream it?

“Damn, girl! Cut him loose. It’s not worth it! He’s literal dead weight.”

But Betty can’t. She’s numb without Mike’s electricity. So she starts asking questions. Her inquires lead her further into the labyrinth of Mike’s other life where his was and hers is cheap.

In 1984 Mikes Murder was a commercial failure and a critical flop. Of it, New York Times reviewer Vincent Camby wrote,

“… a case might be made that Mike’s story is a cautionary one, that his fate represents the corruption of innocence, but this movie appears to be less interested in fate than in making Los Angeles low life seem as exotic as it is dangerous.”

Ouch.

But perhaps Mike’s Murder had the misfortune of being judged by another, much more stylized erotic neo-noir of the 80s, Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat. (Just go along with me here…it’s possible.) Whereas Body Heat is unquestionably the better film, it is also on the opposite end of the erotic neo-noir spectrum.

Mike’s Murder is a quiet, under-stated film that comes to a slow boil. Director James Bridges unobtrusive style does not objectify his subjects or exploit their circumstances, but that is not to say that the film isn’t hot, it is. And while it may straddle the boundaries between noir and thriller, it is unabashedly erotic.

It’s compelling, too–and terrifying. The last 20 minutes comprise one of the most on the edge-of-your-seat endings in all of cinema.

But it’s the camerawork of famed cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos (Major League, A Bronx Tale, Risky Business) snaking through the neighborhood haunts of Los Angeles as Betty drives–mostly in broad daylight–that brands Mike’s Murder with genre defining atmospheric dread. (We are unaccustomed seeing L.A. this way–cookie cutter middle class–at least those of us who have never lived there are.) And it’s Debra Winger’s performance as, Betty, the girl next door, mourning the tragic death of a young man gone before his time and her own, all too brief, sexual awakening that hurts and haunts.

The Cuts That Cure, a Novel by Arthur Herbert (2021); Medical Thriller

It would be hard to commit yourself to the practice of medicine, especially as a surgeon–a general surgeon to be exact. You would have to dedicate–I don’t know–at least fifteen years to schooling. And that’s just the tip of the ice burg.

All the stress. The browbeating from superiors. The tightwire dance between life and death. The dodging bullets of malpractice because everyone, no matter how brilliant, makes mistakes. The “we did everything we could” talks with the family. The sleep depravation. And so on.

And so forth.

But the “honor” of handling someone’s intestines, of piecing a liver back together, of stemming a hemorrhaging spleen, yes, of saving life and limb makes it worth it. And if not that, then the money and the prestige should do the trick…except when they don’t. That’s the predicament character Dr. Alex Brantley finds himself in within the roughly three hundred pages of Arthur Herbert’s–himself a general surgeon–medical thriller, The Cuts That Cure.

Better suited as a general practitioner than a general surgeon, Dr. Brantley is burned out and in deep medical school debt. Then, to add serious bodily harm–torture, really–to insult, a badly burned baby turns up in the E.R. and it’s evident that the child has been purposely scalded. It’s the final straw. Dr. Brantley quits, but not before he disfigures the white trash baby mama/daddy car with a tire iron.

And he’s just getting started.

Alex–don’t call him Dr. Brantley anymore–checks into a no-tell-motel and attempts suicide, only to wake up disappointed in a psych-ward. He does his mandatory time in said psych-ward before making his way to a small town in the scrubby draw of the Texas hill country. There he settles in an efficiency apartment above the garage of a kindly old land lady, but not before he rescues a dog–24 hours away from euthanasia, of course.

He hires an attractive lady lawyer to help him wiggle out of some of his medical school debt and pays the rent as a high school science teacher where one of his students happens to be a burgeoning serial killer. The kid’s name is Henry.

Okay. Now we’re cookin’ with Crisco.

Only we’re not.

That’s cause author Herbert keeps takin’ the damn skillet off the damn burner. He kills Henry off with about another one hundred fifty pages to go.

Sure, there’s sub plots and parallel narratives, stuff like that going on. That’s the problem. The plot thickens to the point of embolism.

Let’s see, Alex takes up with a dubious real estate lawyer–not sexually, everybody’s respectfully heterosexual here; besides that, the lawyer has a paunch–who introduces him to a notoriously evil cartel lieutenant and the elegant but even more evil jefe of the cartel. (Yeah, you guessed it, the cartel boss is long winded. He likes to tell stories.) And, well, you know…every cartel needs a doctor on the payroll.

So you can pretty much guess where this is going, some whiplash inducing twists and turns notwithstanding. Hey, it is a thriller–and a medical one at that.

Herbert does a respectable job, especially considering that this is his first published novel; he is a surgeon after all. Nonetheless, though his hands are deft with a scalpel, no doubt, perhaps he should dial it back on all the plot juggling until he has a bit more experience. Just because you can pull off a laparotomy and a face lift at the same time doesn’t mean that you should.

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018), a Film by Sara Colangelo; Psychological Drama

So my Halloween entry this year is not conventional in terms of horror (I don’t know why I intimated “this year”; I’ve never done a Halloween post before) that is, unless you are a parent of a gifted child. (That’s not true. I know exactly why I intimated. I’m being conversational. Anyway…) If you are–a parent of a gifted child–prepare to be terrified.

I would like to think that my children are gifted…they are grown…

My youngest qualifies, I’m quite certain. She’s a classically trained artist. She did a portrait of her hero, Lee Van Cleef, as the character “the bad” of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, that is so good it made me weep. She captured the hardness in his eyes and his bird of prey-like nostrils and septum exquisitely. (She rolls her eyes when I say it’s my favorite. “I did that years ago,” she says.)

My oldest is a gifted arguer. She would have been a great debate coach, or possibly, even a lawyer. She’s certainly smart enough. For instance, she keeps me up to date on all the things that I say that nobody’s saying anymore. Yeah, she’s still doing that…but now it’s because what I say is so horrifically offensive as opposed to just being “uncool”. She’s a stay at home wife (and, I hope, a soon to be mother.)

So yes, both of my children are gifted.

But I digress.

In director Sara Colongelo’s 2018 drama, The Kindergarten Teacher, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gylenhaul) fits the “those who can’t do teach” trope to a T–within her own mind. And that’s a tragic thing, because when we meet her she is interacting with her charges so effortlessly, so gloriously that it is born to her–she, the sublime guide to a magical, mystical world where children imbibe their senses with paint, with songs, with shapes. With wonder and laughter, too.

As Ms. Spinelli, the teacher, Lisa does not dictate knowledge, she invites it in. Fittingly, she loves poetry and is a perfect judge of it, though sadly, unbeknownst to her, she is an example of it too.

Lisa takes an evening poetry appreciation class. There, her poems are dissected and deemed unremarkable by a tediously abstruse professor (Gael Garcia Burnal) a diagnoses she mercurially expects and accepts.

At home Lisa is happy enough with her chubby hubby, Grant (Michael Chernus) and their teenage children Josh and Lainie–it’s just that none of them care to share the lens that she sees the world through. To be fair, Grant makes an attempt to. It is not lost to him that Lisa is way hotter than he is, but that’s not why he indulges; it is his nature. And he loves her.

Their son, Josh, a handsome athletic senior who wants to join the Marine Corps, loves her too, as does daughter Lainie, a whip smart honor student, seemingly destined for the Fortune 500. Their feelings, clearly evident but sometimes selfishly, normally, expressed, are inconsequential to their mother. They keep their noses in their phones and prefer the company of their peers, behaviors that Grant sees as typical, which is precisely why Lisa finds them so offensive.

One day, she observes a student walking back and forth, composing verse:

Anna is beautiful. Beautiful enough for me.

The sun hits her yellow house. It is almost like a sign from God.

The student is hers, a smallish boy with pensive, yet intrepid black eyes. His name is Jimmy. He is already her favorite.

Enamored, Lisa feverishly jots down what he recites. She presents it to her poetry class as her own, not to steal it, but to test its greatness. The professor and the class love it. She repeats the process with a another of Jimmy’s poems, The Bull. It too, is enthusiastically received.

Lisa draws nearer to Jimmy, enveloping him in her powerful wings. She steals him away to the bathroom where she prods him to expound upon all he sees. She gives him her cell phone number and tells him to call her Lisa.

Meanwhile, Meghan, the teacher’s assistant, notices Lisa’s attempts to isolate Jimmy. She is wary, but unsure; Lisa is discreet.

Then the nanny discloses that Jimmy’s father, a successful nightclub entrepreneur, has enrolled him in T-ball. Lisa is convinced that the boy’s artistry will be stamped out, if not for the sake of athletics then for commerce. She connives permission from the father for some alone time with Jimmy.

The Kindergarten Teacher is an elegant study in the intrusion of obsession, by way of depression, in an otherwise beautiful and enigmatic psyche. Be warned. It will steal you.

Game Day Recap:Titans Beat Bills in a Bruiser — Titan Up(s) & Downs

The Titans held the fort in a thrilling victory at Nissan Stadium Monday night. After Derrick Henry scored his third touchdown of the evening with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, putting the Titans up 34-31, Josh Allen methodically worked his talented receivers over the middle down to the 12 yard line. […]

Game Day Recap:Titans Beat Bills in a Bruiser — Titan Up(s) & Downs

Some of you who follow my blog may know that I enjoy football, i.e., the American version, the NFL. Actually, I don’t enjoy it. I love it.

In this regard I am a product of my environment. I grew up in Odessa, Texas, the setting of the Buzz Bissenger’s Pulitzer Prize winning non fiction book about high-school football, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream. (I have no interest in high school football whatsoever. College either. I attribute this to my environment as well.)

Anyway, for the last month or so I’ve been working on a new blog. And, yes, it’s about the NFL, the Tennessee Titans specifically. It’s called Titan Up(s) & Downs.

The blog title is a play on words. The phrase “tighten up”, that’s the Titans mantra, but it’s Titan Up…and there’s the song “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells…and the ups and downs of a football season…and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th downs in football…and, whew! That’s a lot of ellipses!…

So here’s one of my posts. In addition every week I do an audio version of my game day recap so I’m including it too.

And by the way…please don’t feel pressured to follow my new blog, etc…I know a lot of people don’t like sports and some just don’t like football. I understand.

No really, believe me: I get it. I’m from Odessa, Texas, remember?

The Many Saints Of Newark: An Exercise in Nostalgia

One of my favorite things to play is “remember when”, or as it is otherwise known, “remember the time”. I play it with my friends and family whenever we get together over the holidays and such.

I’m sure you play it too. Everybody does.

Sometimes we’ll play it when were talking about our favorite movies. For instance, somebody will say, “remember when they were on the boat and they were all getting drunk and Quint told that story about the sailors in World War II who got eaten by a school of sharks?” And that will spawn a discussion not only about Jaws, but about the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis…which will lead to a discussion on the Navy and, then, the military in general…and, hopefully, somebody will change the subject because it’s getting too close to the politics danger zone.

It’s an exercise in nostalgia. It bonds us even as it, sometimes, strains those bonds.

Essentially, that’s what The Many Saints of Newark is too, which is great, in theory. The problem is it’s centered around a character that we don’t have an invested interest in: Dickie Molisanti.

For those in the know (and, theoretically, for those who aren’t) Dickie is the father that Christopher Moltisanti–the quasi-nephew of Tony Soprano, heir apparent to the family criminal enterprise and habitual thorn in his uncle’s side–never knew, aside from the stories he has heard around the family dinner table. That’s all we know of him too-those of us who have faithfully watched and re-watched the series.

Perhaps that would be all right if writer and producer David Chase and actor Alessandro Nivola had fleshed out the character of Dickie Moltisanti more. But, as it stands, we are never privy to what makes Dickie tick, to what–in the parlance of an actor–motivates him. And so, when he breaks down and cries, when he goes into a rage, when he sturdies himself for whatever unpleasantness he’s about to do, we don’t care because we don’t believe him.

Dickie’s paramour ( goomah) Giuseppina, an immigrant from the “old country,” really gets the short shrift when it comes to substance. And that’s a big mistake for a pivotal character that bridges the film’s racially fueled parallel narrative and is the catalyst of Dickie’s consuming guilt.

In fact, most of Chase’s characters are rigidly anemic; sadly, even those we know so well: Sil, Paulie, Livia, Janice, Junior and, yes, even Tony himself, are confined to mere aspects of their physical likeness, their ticks and mannerisms, if not their humanity. The exception is Leslie Odom Jr. who portrays Harold, a numbers runner who grows tired of squirming under the thumb of mafia and decides to strike out at the disparity he see all around him by starting up his own criminal enterprise. Odom puts some meat on the bones of a character that is rather inconsequentially–albeit unintentionally–written. And that is a testament to Mr. Odom’s craft in this, otherwise, exercise in nostalgia, if not futility.

March 17, 1979: Elvis Costello Calls Ray Charles The N-Word And All Hell Breaks Out

Bonnie Bramlett was deliberate in her watchfulness of him, this incarnation of the latest thing, this critics darling, as he swaggered to their table. Once there, he went straight to the bottle. Her faced beamed like a flop-house blub, I am not impressed, not that he knew who she was (he most likely didn’t) and not that either one of them cared (his giant horn rimmed glasses, tight stovepipe pants and late 70s cropped hair said he did, just not about her.)

She contemplated him as she had so many others: talented, indeed, this sour drunk with a brogue thick tongue, dripping condescension as hot as his breath, so quick with the turn of a phrase. He smelled of dry-cleaned sweat. Nothing of America pleased him…and she was newly sober.

How dare he say Buddy Holly wasn’t worth a damn when he emulated him?

What unmitigated gall calling Elvis a joke when he had co-opted his name…

“What about Ray Charles then? And James Brown?” she asked.

“What about them,” he smirked. “James Brown is a jive assed nigger. And Ray Charles is a blind, ignorant nigger.”

This proved too much for the former “Ikette”–in fact, then, the only “white Ikette”–the Tina Turner worshiping-Ike Turner apologist, partisan of Stax recording studios, half of the blue-eyed soul duo Delaney & Bonnie, friend of George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and, at one time, herself a critic’s darling. She hauled off and smacked him–openhanded, but hard. He fell off his barstool onto the Holiday Inn’s carpeted floor where Stephen Still’s roadies attacked him.

A skirmish between the entourages ensued. The bartender came out swinging a miniature bat.

Later, he limped to his room, defeated, with a dislocated shoulder.

Bonnie Bramlett, on the other hand, was long gone. But her mission had just begun.

George Harrison, Bonnie Bramlett, Dave Mason and Eric Clapton

Amid death threats, concert boycotts and a seething press corps that relentlessly stalked him, Elvis Costello decided to, finally, confront the ugly racist remarks he had made to Bonnie Bramlett in Columbus Ohio on March 16, 1979 while touring for his Armed Forces album. On the morning of Friday, March 30 invitations went out to the New York rock press, asking them to meet Costello at Columbia’s Manhattan offices.

Here is a record of that press conference, as reported by Uncut magazine and writer, Allan Jones, in the June, 1997 issue.

“I never… ever… thought I’d be in this position…hey — I tell you what…do you think you could lay off the flashes until I finish talking, yeah? I don’t mind if you take pictures when I finish speaking…”

It seems that it’s necessary for me to come here today to make just one statement, which is that I am not a racist. Now, in Wednesday’s Voice, I believe it was, there was a report of an incident which occurred in Columbus, Ohio … an argument, or a brawl, whatever you want to call it … between me and another artist, a group of artists. And the details of it were somewhat confused, understandably, and I was misquoted out of context in it. I don’t really want to get into a trivial feud with another act, but I think it’s necessary to point out in what context these remarks, which, although they weren’t strictly correctly reported, were made …”

“In the course of this argument, it became necessary for me to outrage these people with about the most obnoxious and… offensive… remarks that I could muster, to bring the argument to a swift conclusion and rid myself of their presence. It worked pretty good. It started a fight.”

And that was the main thing,and it was at that point I did say some things. which, quoted out of context, appear really offensive towards the people, you know, whose names I was taking, I suppose you might say, in vain …”

“What was the context?”

The context…Well, let me just finish what I’m saying first of all…” And he begins again. “These people now seem to have chosen to seek publicity at my expense by making it a gossip item. And it’s getting understandably confused and I expect it will get misquoted even further out of context as time goes on. And it worries me that people are gonna pick up on words that have been said and presume that is my opinion. It was in a context of an argument that I used certain words, and that is not my opinion and that’s what I’ve come to say today.

“I mean, as I said before, I don’t want to get into a trivial feud with other acts. At the same time… I am sure… that if any of the artists who were mentioned in the Voice article ever read about this, they might wonder what the hell was going on, because I’m sure everybody shares the high esteem towards Ray Charles and James Brown and anybody else that might be added to the list, which I’m sure there will be as it gets more and more out of hand.

“And also… I’m sorry. If people got needlessly… uh, angry… about it. And I’m sure there have been, because there’s been already some picketing and phone calls to the clubs we’ll be playing in the next couple of days.

“Really, I’ve just come here to kill it stone dead now, and say that I’m NOT a racist, and if anybody wants to ask any questions or wants me to clarify it any further, that’s all I can say…”

Costello barely has space to catch his breath after making this final point before the entire room is in uproar. Everyone has a question and someone is shrieking, “MISTER COSTELLO, MISTER COSTELLO!” Obviously, he wasn’t off the hook yet.

“Hang on, hang on,” Costello pleads, asking for some order here.

Can you be a little bit more specific about the circumstances that made it necessary for you to say something so outrageous?” he is asked.

“Yeah… I’m sure…Uh… these cameras are really bugging me,” he snaps. “After a couple of reels, it all looks the same… yeah, I’m sure that everybody’s had occasion to go to absolute extremes… in order to, you know… even to say things that you don’t believe, you know. Ask Lenny Bruce.”

“MISTER COSTELLO. I haven’t heard the album Armed Forces but, according to the Soho News and the music review there, they’re talking about your album Armed Forces, and you refer to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, ‘itchy triggers’, ‘white niggers’, ‘Palestine’, ‘Johannesburg’, ‘darkies’. Things like that. Is that in your record? I haven’t heard it.”

“Yeah…but in the context of the lyrics…once again, those words have been taken totally out of context. That’s what I’m saying… if you use emotive words in a song or in conversation, if you’re then quoted out of context, it can make you look anything from an angel to… you know… Adolf Hitler.”

But, then, you have a history of saying this. If you say it in a record, it just comes out naturally.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t make me offensive,” Costello counters.

But you have said it on a record?”

“Yeah.”

“I haven’t heard Armed Forces.”

What’s your point?” Costello asks, sharply.

“I said you have a history. This isn’t something that just came up. You have a history of referring to ‘niggers’ and ‘Johannesburg darkies’.

“I have a history of referring to lots of things,” Costello says, and you can feel him starting to seethe. “I think that’s really irrelevant.”

That’s all I wanted to know. Thank you.”

“So far,” someone else observes, “you’ve said that you’ve been quoted out of context. You have not yet told us what the context is.”

“It was basically just to make them mad. I chose the one thing that I thought would be the most offensive thing I could say to them.”

What happened?”

What?

“What happened to cause the fight?”

Basically, it worked,Costello spits, and he’s beginning to sound abrasive, worked up. “I just wanted to get rid of them.”

“What happened to cause the fight? What caused the argument?”

The argument,” Costello says, exasperated “was just being in the bar with the people…”

“Were you drunk?

“We all were… had… were drinking…”

“So you were drunk?”

“I’m sure we were. I’m sure they were as well,” he goes on. “Judging from the way they reported what I said, I know they don’t have it any clearer than I did.”

“I talked to Bonnie Bramlett,” someone announces, and Costello’s heart must have sunk at the mention of her name, “who does not drink, and she said that basically everything that has been reported was true.”

“Well, I dispute that,” Costello offers, unconvincingly.

“Well, that’s what she told me. I have not yet finished with my question…I still would like to know what was said, why, and to whom. Because you are asking us to discredit or not pay any regard to something that was in the Voice, and that’s fine, but I would like to see the other side of it so I can make a valid decision.”

“I don’t quite understand what you mean. What I’m saying is, I made remarks… if they’d been art fans, if I’d said Toulouse Lautrec was a dwarf, you know, just to piss them off — do you understand me now? Am I making myself clear enough?”

No, you’re not.”

Well, I’m sorry,” Costello says, annoyed and showing it. “I can’t make it very much clearer than that.”

“How is that word used, if not to piss people off?” they want to know. “What would be a legitimate context to use that word?”

I don’t think it has a legitimate context,” Costello explains, carefully, patiently, wanting this to be made clear. “That’s the whole point.”

But isn’t that what you’re claiming? That the context makes it legitimate?”

No… no,” Costello huffs wearily. “I’m not going to argue semantics with you.”

Isn’t it a racist word whenever it’s used?”

Uh, no…”

Haven’t you made racist remarks?”

“NO. I’d dispute that.”

“What made you so angry that night?”

Well, there’s plenty of things that make me angry about America.”

But that particular night?”

“It was just in the course of a conversation.”

“Could you have got up and left?”

“I suppose you can ‘always get up and leave, but they didn’t leave,” Costello says, sounding bitter, harsh. “But when you’re involved in an argument… I never expected that they would start talking to the press and making a big deal out of it. It was an argument between them and me. They are the ones who have chosen to make an incident out of it.”

What was the original argument about?”

“I suppose we were just talking about conflicting opinions, about music and about the way we work,” Costello says, “usual bar room talk, you know. I’m not saying it was a profound conversation. That’s why I’m saying that it’s so ridiculous that you’re all here, and I’m answering questions about this thing. Which was basically just a conversation that went on in a bar in Columbus, Ohio. I can’t think of anything more ludicrous.”

Do you have a low view of America?”

No, I have American friends. I don’t have an overall low view of Americans,” he struggles on. “There’s a lot wrong with America, there’s a lot wrong with England. There’s a lot wrong with the world.”

“Could you give us a couple of specifics?”

“NO,” Costello snaps, angry, temper on the blink, seeing red, “because I’m not here to criticise America. I’ve come here to explain these things because it’s getting out of hand…”

“There’s a quote here saying, ‘We hate you.’ referring to Americans, ‘we just come here for the money.’ Now is that TRUE?”

It can be true one minute, and not true the next, can’t it?”

I don’t know. CAN it?”

Well. yeah.” Costello says, not backing down. “It can.”

“In what respect? When do you hate Americans, when don’t you?”

“When I’m made to feel that I’m only here for the money.” Costello answers. “Some days you feel great, and others you don’t.”

“Excuse me.” and this is yet another voice, “in an interview in the New Musical Express, you said you were not — I’m going to quote you exactly–but then again. I’d agree with them, you know — ‘I’m not a balanced, mature person as far as I’m concerned.'”

Yeah,” Costello is quick to point out, “but nobody says that to make records you have to have a certificate that says you’re a nice and wonderful person.”

Yeah, but there’s being nice and wonderful and being balanced and there’s working with a full deck of cards.”

“All right, I’ll just go home, then. WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

“Were you crazed when you made this statement?”

“I think I’m crazed all the time.”

Oh, well.”

How does the band feel about this?”

“The Attractions? Well, they’re disturbed that our gigs here are going to be placed in jeopardy. I mean, we’re just here, doing a job.”

“If you wanted to make somebody mad, couldn’t you find some other way besides insulting artists like James Brown and Ray Charles?”

“I just told you, at the height of the argument I picked the most offensive thing I could think of to say to them.”

Wouldn’t that be offensive to you, too. if you heard somebody say that?”

Plenty of horrible stuff is written about me, the same as it is about everybody else. I’m sure much worse has been said about people like that, and much more seriously. I mean, I’ve seen films of people talking about the nigger music, and all that. And those people in the Fifties, in Alabama, they meant it.”

What would you say to Americans to make amends for what you said?”

“I’m not trying to make amends. I’m not making amends. I’m not apologizing to anybody other than somebody who might misunderstand the context of what I said. I’m interested in clarifying it. It’s a personal statement: I am not a racist.”

And you’re not apologizing?”

As I’m not a racist, why do I have to apologize?”

“What would you say in order to change the image that you think has been created?”

“Well, I would have thought that’s up to you. It’s how you write it up now. It’s whether you think I’m telling the truth or not. That I said these things purely for the effect on that person… if I’d called the press conference now and said, ‘Look. all those things are in the Voice,’ and I’d said, ‘Look, this is what I want to say about black people today…’ and then read that out, then I’d be a racist. Because then I’d have called you all in here specifically to say that that’s what I wanted to say to you…”

“What is the purpose of this conference? Are you covering your own behind?”

Listen, I don’t really care all that much, you know. I can leave right now.”

“I’m just asking the purpose of the news conference. Why did you call it? Are you apologizing?”

“I don’t want people out there, hearing things third-hand from friends, misquoted even further out of context.”

You weren’t available for comment. I tried for hours to reach you.”

“Can you just shut up for a second.” Costello barks, “while I answer this?”

We tried for hours to reach you,” he barks back. “You were unavailable for comment.”

“I’M ON TOUR!” Costello shouts.

“You were not. You were in a place in Vermont. We were not given your number. We tried endlessly to reach you for comment. You made yourself unavailable for comment.”

No. I did not.”

Your entourage made you unavailable.”

“Well… that’s not my responsibility.”

Nothing evidently is.”

The quotations in the Voice this week are in essence accurate, but taken out of context. Is that true?”

Certainly…Uh… well, not verbatim… cos there’s all bits chopped out of it. I mean that you don’t remember, you know…”

That’s all Ray Charles is, an ignorant, blind nigger,’ you did say. Either in context or out of context.”

“I’ve no idea whether I said those exact words. Like I said, I tried to pick the most offensive thing I could think to say to them…”

“Do you believe,” another voice asks, “in the saying that a drunken mind reveals what a sober mind conceals?”

“No… no, I don’t,” Costello answers quickly. “But that was a good try.”

“Even if one accepted your explanation, which I’m in some ways inclined to do, one is left with the notion of the intensity of the hostility in this thing, and your anger. And, throughout your career, there have been innumerable reports of hostility. If that is true… to some extent true… does it bother you about yourself, your own self image, that there’s so much anger?”

“Well, no. Because the press are not infallible, and nor am I. So I understand there’s a certain amount of misinterpretation … that’s why… I mean, anybody here — I don’t honestly know you all by name, I know some of your faces — but anybody in the music press, at least here, pretty much knows our history with the music press is one of pretty much not talking to you, for very good reasons. You must understand that it seems important enough for me to want to come here myself and not make a press statement that could then be misinterpreted again. That’s why I’m here, so you can ask me questions about it.”

That’s not what I was talking about.”

“It is the point because any hostility towards the press has usually been because of misunderstandings or misinterpretations of things I’ve said, or doing interviews and then getting them in print and it not being anything that I’ve said.”

“It seems to me that there’s a misunderstanding here, that maybe could be clarified. What you don’t seem to understand is that by saying, ‘I am not a racist,’ you’re not going to convince many people in this room, especially the black people, that you are not a racist. That is not what constitutes not being a racist. But it does seem to me that, although you don’t want to apologize, because that’s not your style…”

No, no… no,” Costello interrupts, “you’re missing the point, man, you’re missing the point…”

“OK, let me finish. You have in fact said that you do not believe the things you were quoted as saying, even though you did say them. Is that right?”

Yeahhhh! How many times have I got to say this?

“Well, you never did actually come out and say that.”

“OK, well…I’m saying it now. All right? Have you got it down now? Have you? I didn’t say those things because they are my beliefs. How much clearer can I make it? I said them for the effect of the words on the people I said them to. It was not a statement to the world in general. Who cares what I think, you know? It’s only when people get offended by it being written in the press, when it was only intended to offend somebody in a bar.”

“I was called down here to find out your side of the story,” pipes up another correspondent. “You called this press conference obviously to explain what your intentions were, even if it was out of context, no matter what you say it was about, it’s still out of context to me personally, because I wasn’t there… maybe it’s trivial to describe the circumstances, but maybe you have to. Because I have to understand exactly what you meant when you said those things. so I can believe you…”

“What do you want me to do?” he asks, fuming. “Recite the entire conversation as far as I can remember it?”

“That would do it.”

That would make it all right for you?” he leers. “Well, I’m sorry, I can’t remember every single word.”

Why were you so angry at Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett? We haven’t been told …”

We just became entangled in an argument. It started off quite trivially. It escalated. And escalated. Until it became more serious.”

“Couldn’t you have found something that nasty to say about a white artist?”

“I found numerous things to say about white artists before that.”

“They weren’t quoted.”

“That’s not my fault,” Costello almost screams. “That’s not my fault, because it doesn’t make good copy.”

“And you were not available to comment when we tried to reach you! You made yourself unavailable!”

No. I did not make myself unavailable.”

Don’t blame it on the press, which you’ve been doing all afternoon here. It’s not the press, IT’S YOU! YOU said it, and you were unavailable to clarify it!”

I’m here now,” Costello snarls back, threateningly, like he’s squaring up for a fight. “TAKE ME!”

Would you be offended under other circumstances if somebody insulted Ray Charles like that to your face? Would you take umbrage at that?”

“I would probably defend them, yes, of course,” Costello replies, tired, but still simmering, “That was the thing. That’s precisely the point. If somebody said that to me and I thought they meant it… that’s the whole point. I was just trying to shake them up… if somebody said those same things to me about anybody like that, that I admired, I’d defend them or get angry…”

“What if someone called you a sawed-off limey poseur? What would you say?”

“I think that was something that was said that night, actually … I think there were several things along those lines …”

“Would you insult Frank Sinatra like that?”

“I might do,” Costello says.

“If you did, I don’t think you’d be here right now.”

“No… I probably wouldn’t. Like you said before, the lady down the end there, the things that have been printed are only the things about the black artists because they were the things that really annoyed them most of all. That makes good copy, right? That makes good copy. They didn’t print the things I said about Crosby, Stills And Nash …”

“What did you say about them?”

“I‘ve said enough.” He can’t, however, stop himself having one last dig at Bonnie Bramlett. “And they didn’t,” he snipes, “print the things where Bonnie said that all limeys are lousy fucks and couldn’t get it up anymore.”

“How would she know?”

“I dunno,” Costello laughs. “Anybody got any last questions?”

“How much damage do you suppose this has done to your career? Has it done any damage?”

“I would say it has.” Costello admits. “I mean, if the gigs are in jeopardy and if things get awkward enough — I don’t want to have a million bodyguards and stuff if threats start coming in and things like that…”

How many threats have you had?”

“I dunno,” Costello says. “Listen… I’ve had them before and over much more trivial things. That’s why it’s so important to come here today and try and make people see that this is not something worth getting excited about…”

“Is that the real reason for this press conference?”

“Yes…it is. No…no,” Costello protests. “It’s to prove the point. I told you what my point was. I AM NOT A RACIST. It’s to apologize. I’m not afraid of using that word ‘apologize’ to Ray Charles or James Brown. To anybody that might read what I said and presume that was my opinion of them. Because I don’t want them ta think that’s the truth. Because it ain’t the truth. And to anybody that has got unnecessarily wound up, anybody that’s kicked in the TV or burned their copy of the Village Voice in anger, it’s unnecessary. Because it ain’t the truth. And that’s all I’m gonna say.”

“The petty sniping over a few cocktails soon escalated from snide remarks to unspeakable slanders. I’ll have to take the word of witnesses that I really used such despicable racial slurs (about) two of the greatest musicians who ever lived. It took just five minutes to detach my tongue from my mind and my life from the rail it was on.” Elvis Costello–Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink

“Drunken talk isn’t meant to be printed in the paper.” Ray Charles



The Creep Horror Franchise, (2014, 2017) directed by Patrick Brice; Psychological/Found-footage Horror

So, director Patrick Brice’s Creep franchise isn’t really horror–at least not in the pedestrian sense. It’s not slasher, though from the title and the title cards you might expect it to be.

That or exploitation.

See what I mean?

And in my opinion, that’s a mistake. Not that I have anything against slasher or exploitation, it’s just that–for the most part–those particular (sub)genres aren’t very sophisticated.

(Relax. I said for-the-most-part.)

And Creep and Creep 2 are very…well, they’re more clever than sophisticated, but still…

It’s kind of like false advertising–the old bait and switch–and like any good sales agent will confirm, that can backfire on you. Hence, I’m not so sure that Creep has really found its audience.

If that’s the case, then that’s too bad. A lot of people are missing out.

The franchise falls into a hybrid subgenre that can best be described as psychological/found-footage horror (with a healthy smattering of black comedy thrown into the mix.) Much like the title character, the films are disquietingly approachable, yes, even weirdly–NOhorrifyingly, yet, adorably unique.

Cute even.

Confused?

That’s part of the fun.

Josef (Mark Duplass) is the creep, of Creep. He’s the kind of guy who lives to freak people out. Literally. That’s his job.

(Well, he’s independently wealthy so he really doesn’t have a job, but you know what I mean… )

For instance, he might tell you that his mom has cancer…or that he has cancer…and when you get all sad and empathetic, he’ll pull a Joe Pesci in Goodfellas on you. “You should have seen you’re face” is one of his favorite games. And he will go to elaborate extremes to pull you in. He’ll drop trou, trick you into confessing an embarrassing story, jump out of a closet and scream in your face…

And then there’s Peachfuzz.

Yeah. That’s him above.

Peachfuzz is a mask that Josef’s father designed, or so the story goes. Josef likes to scare people with it…he likes to make them feel uncomfortable…unnerved…like when he does this crazy little song and dance…

Hello, my name's Peachfuzz
I might look like
I'll eat you up
But I'm friendly as a rabbit

Scary. And funny. It really is.

I mean, even though the guy’s a real creep, you can’t help but like him. I’m serious. He has these boyish good looks and this mischievous charm, the way he just goes for it.

And there’s this alluring–I don’t know that I would call it a twinkle–it’s this impish glow in his eyes. That’s how he gets people to go along with his shenanigans even as they grow increasingly wary. And worried.

The people, not the shenanigans…

That and his money. He runs ads in search of videographers on Craig’s List, offering a thousand dollars a day.

And just what does he want videoed?

Himself, of course…just like any self-respecting malignant, psychopathic narcist would.

Stream Patrick Brice’s masterful horror franchise Creep and Creep 2 on Netflix. Skip it if you’re looking for gore.

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