Menu Close

All Things Thriller

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

One To Watch: Actor, Logan Marshall-Green with an Introductory Shout Out to Inner Circle

So I’m going to begin this post with a shout out to my friend and fellow blogger Michael over at moonknight65.wordpress.com. Michael is a very good writer, a knowledgeable film buff and connoisseur of retro television. He also knows music and–if I’m not mistaken-has worked in the music industry.

Michael likes the band X, which makes him very cool in my book.

That being so–Michael has very questionable movie watching habits…

Okay. I’m just going to come out with it:

He’ll watch almost anything. I’m not kidding…He is the most indiscernible, educated film watcher I’ve ever known. He confounds me. And confuses me. That’s one of the reasons we get along.

Here’s a for instance: Michael watches Hallmark movies. Okay, I’ve seen a couple myself. Literally two. Michael watches them frequently. Then he’ll turn around and watch Midnight Meat Train. I’m serious. He is an independent film fanatic and a proponent of the micro movie. He savors the avant garde.

At the same time he’s very hip to the classics. Same thing with his reading material. It’s all over the place. Eclectic. Smart.

Michael is a searcher for the diamond in the rough, the unexpected; the little movie that could. He’s always mining for gold. Sometimes he finds it.

He inspired this this post. After all, Midnight Meat Train is early Bradley Cooper.

See… There’s that diamond in the rough I’m talking about.

Cheers, Michael.

Actor Logan Marshall-Green is a very handsome man. He has an interesting aura; it’s different. Quirky, yes. But not condescendingly so. More distinct than quirky, I think.

Like Mark Ruffalo. And Ryan Gosling.

Greene’s aura–presence, what ever you want to call it–is probably the most sincere and serene of the aforementioned. His eyes are kind.

Sometimes that can be distracting, like when he plays Mac Conway, a Vietnam Vet recently returned home from the war. Out of sorts. Jaded. Newly ambiguous. Conway becomes a paid assassin navigating the wiles of the Dixie Mafia circa 1972.

The series is Quarry. Stuck on Cinemax, where it can still be accessed, it survived only eight episodes. September 2016- May 2017.

Quarry is both interesting and uneven, potential follows it around like a lost dog. The acting rates a solid B–and that’s because the actors are trying too hard. They seem intimidated by the pervasive theme of 70s grit glam. As such, Quarry is interesting–to look at.

Set primarily in Memphis, Director, Greg Yaitanes is clearly taken with the ambiance, i.e., everybody sweats a lot as they perform their tasks–extraordinary and mundane–in buckskin and flared denim, with pecks and cleavage exposed. Oh, yeah…The hair…It’s greasy.

Everybody’s hair is greasy in Quarry.  And everybody looks like they haven’t bathed in two days.

See what I mean? Grit glam.

Too bad it doesn’t pass the smell test. At least, not to those of us who are actually from the South. We barely recognize the accents as they are on the end of the spectrum at extreme. Still, it’s worth a look–especially if you don’t know any better.

Logan Marshall-Green is better cast as Will, in Karyn Kusama’s brilliant and startling psychological horror film, The Invitation (2015). Set in the affluent, new age otherworldliness of Hollywood Hills, we are introduced to Will and his girlfriend, Kia (Emayatzy Corinealdi) as they are driving up the steep and winding incline of an estate. They are accompanied by dread. Kia urges Will to make the best of it.

The estate turns out to be Will’s former home and the woman of the house is Will’s former wife. Her name is Eden (Tammy Blanchard). She’s rich and she’s weird.

Dressed in a figure hugging floor length frock, Eden glides along like an an early forties ballerina on oxys. She radiates Stepford Wives. Her new husband, David, (Michiel Huisman) is too polite–too polished–in a too cool guy, kind of way. He flashes the glint of a control freak.

Inside the rambling Richard Neutra inspired house, there are more guests–all mutual friends of Will and Eden with the exception of  a clearly mentally ill, child-like, twenty’s something house guest, Sadie, who likes to walk around naked from the waist down. (I know, I’m exhausted too, but the sentence stays in the post.) She’s a friend of David’s.

Then there’s the backstory of Will and Eden’s relationship that comes crashing to the forefront, like an animal that leaps into your windshield on a road less traveled. They once had a son. Their son was murdered.

Will deals with his grief in a tragic, yet, normal way–he experiences anxiety attacks, hopelessness and cynicism. In other words, he experiences pain. He allows himself to feel it.

On the other hand, Eden is determined to escape pain. And she is so selfless and empathetic that she doesn’t want anyone else to experience pain either–especially those she loves–because the little pain that she has allowed herself to feel is just–well frankly– it’s too painful. (That’s Eden in a nutshell. You wouldn’t want to be trapped inside a car or a house with her, Richard Neutra or not.)

If you think you know where this is headed–you’d be right…And wrong. And that’s the  existential grey zone that Will finds himself wandering in for three quarters of the film. When that barrier is broken, all hell breaks loose and it’s brutal–and at that point it switches genre to thriller. I liked that flourish, you may not.

And that brings me to Leigh Whannel’s ambitious Sci Fi, body horror, thriller Upgrade, (2018.) This a superb film from start to finish. It achieves all of it’s objectives, e.g., an atmospheric cyberpunk current that binds up loose ends, special effects that hold up, (despite a paltry three million dollar budget) a mesmerizing color palate and soundtrack–and, this above all, a sexy everyman lead, (Logan Marshall-Green) that every man, woman and child can root for. Theoretically, of course.

I’m not going to delve into plot here, I’ll just reveal that it’s my favorite of the three exercises in Logan Marshall-Green. I’d be willing to bet that if you like action and can at least tolerate cyberpunk…If you like your violence with a dash conscience and and a smattering of humor…If a touch of medical espionage and body horror doesn’t turn you off…Upgrade is for you.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed One To Watch. And don’t forget to checkout Michael at http://moonknight65.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing Roulette With The Mob, Part IV: The Hitman

The guy was obviously scared out of his wits watching them destroy the duplicating equipment with bats. Most likely, he didn’t know about their MO; that they acted like marauders mainly for show, smashing the stuff to bits–cursing up a storm while they did it.

Moishe could imagine how the guy felt…Even cheap vinyl cutters cost an arm and a legPlus, powerlessness is a terrifying thing.

He was and expert on this because he had run away from home when he was thirteen years old. He lived on the streets of New York in the last two years of the Great Depression, in the days of breadlines a mile long and soup kitchen lines even longer.

People starved back then...Well, they didn’t really starve, but they got skinnyAt least poor people got that way...Poor people who lose everything always have it worse than rich people who lose everything…He knew this too, from experience, since he had been both.

It got so bad, during the depression, that he rode freight trains, so bad that he walked for miles and miles. It got so bad that he hitchhiked all the way to Florida to escape it…There were groves and groves of orange trees in Florida. Lemon trees grew in people’s yards there…

On the way he ran into some very bad people. He ran into some stand-up people, too. Yes, even some nice peopleBut mostly he just ran into suckers.

He became meaner. He learned to use his large, meaty fists better. He became more proficient with a knife. And he learned, this, the most important lesson of all: You have to have friends. Without friends, you’re toast.

By the time he was old enough to join the Navy, the country was smack dab in the middle WWII. But he was prepared…

Big Nate, Moishe’s bodyguard, doused the bootleg records with gas. The records were strewn all around the guy’s feet. The guy was tied to a chair. He was crying. Nate struck a wooden kitchen match.

“Whose paying you?” Moishe asked, evenly.

“Nobody!” The guy cried.

“Don’t lie to me.” Moishe said, raising his voice just a little. “Whose equipment is this?”

“Nobody’s paying me!” the guy cried louder. “All the equipment is mine.”

Then he told them how he was new in town. That his baby was sick and in the hospital. That his baby needed an operation.

Moishe nodded to Nate. Nate extinguished the match with his fingertips.

“You’d better not be lying to me,” Moishe warned, jabbing the guy’s chest with his wide, stubby fingers.

Then they untied the guy and hustled him into Nate’s Cadillac. They drove him to the hospital…The guy wasn’t lying…Moishe paid for the baby’s operation.

The first time Tommy James got wind that something might be wrong was early in his  relationship with Morris Levy. Very early. It was 1966. He was in New York, promoting his record Hanky Panky, which was selling like hotcakes in his hometown of Pittsburgh. To his pleasant surprise, he got a few nibbles from some of the big record companies immediately.

But the independent label just down the street from the hotel he was staying at, Roulette Records, was less interested. They weren’t rude or anything–it was more of a don’t call us, we’ll call you vibe.

The next morning, when James showed up for his appointments, the same record executives who had been interested the day before, suddenly no longer were. They couldn’t get him out the door fast enough. “You belong to Roulette. You’re Moishe’s boy,” one of them blurted out.

By the time he circled back to Roulette, he had been roundly rejected. Morris Levy was waiting for him. The Brahman bull of a man was all smiles and back slaps. “Welcome to Roulette,” he said. Then he showed James around the offices and introduced him to the family.

Of course James was skeptical, but he wasn’t stupid either. And he was hungry. So he signed a contract with Levy and Roulette.

Thus began Tommy James and the Shondells years long association with the hitman… Well, the press actually labeled him the godfather of the record business, but James thought the former moniker fit him better. That’s because Morris just cared about hits and hits only. Albums were of little consequence to him.

And there was a reason for Levy’s penchant for the single that, at the time, James couldn’t fathom..And Tommy James was a pretty smart operator…

Yes, there was the cutout business that Levy had engineered with his own labels and with K-Tel records, (cutouts were hit compilation albums of old, previously released catalog material) but James got hip to that quick…

See, what Tommy James may have never known–In fact, what few people even know today–is the deal Levy had with International Tape Cartridge Corporation. ITCC they called it. Their CEO, Larry Finley, was at the forefront of the 8-track tape revolution.

That’s right. Clunky, clumsy 8-track tape, of all things, plays a big role in this thing.

In 1966, Ford motor company introduced the 8-track player in the Mustang, the Thunderbird and the Lincoln. The 8-track was an ideal medium for hit single compilations, just what Finley speculated that people wanted to listen to while they were driving. And Morris Levy owned catalogs and catalogs of hits.

Under the agreement, ITCC would supply the 8-track tape cartridges and Levy would supply the hits. By 1967, virtually every car on the streets would have an 8-track tape option…You do the math.

But back to Tommy James…In spite of a shady reputation and all of the even shadier characters that congregated from time to time at Roulette, (characters like Genovese crime family boss, Tommy Eboli and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, who headed the DeCalvacantes, the New Jersey faction of the Genovese family) Tommy actually got along very well with Morris Levy.

That is, until the former would work up the nerve and ask the latter for some of his own money. Morris would get very surly then.

Cut Tommy a check for ten thousand,” he would yell to his secretary, finally, after exhausting the singer with questions, badgering him with expenditures and stressing him out with thinly veiled threats. “You want royalties, go to England,” was another favorite Moishe saying.

Even more disturbing were the things Tommy James personally witnessed at Roulette. Like the ritual that would happen when Moishe got a call from his music industry friends (the big boys at CBS, Capital, RCA) complaining about record bootleggers:

Morris would call his bodyguard and business partner into his office where there were always baseball bats leaning against the wall. The same wall with the plaque that blasphemously read “Oh Lord, Give me a Bastard with Talent.”

“Let’s go,” Morris would say to Big Nate (the Korean War vet who ran Calla Records, a Roulette subsidiary) and off they’d go with baseball bats in hand. Tommy saw this with his own eyes…

And then there were the stories Tommy heard (some from Levy himself) about what happened to people who crossed him…And to people who badgered him about their royalties… And about the copyrights to their songs…People like Jimmie Rodgers…

No. Not the yodeling, Jimmie Rodgers. The other one. The rockabilly Jimmie Rodgers who did that terrible song Honeycomb…Yes, that Jimmie Rodgers. He got his head caved in by a crooked cop that Morris allegedly hired…Yeah, Jimmie F. Rodgers. He survived but was never the same. Brain damage…

Then there was Lloyd Price’s manager, Harold Logan…Lloyd Price did that song Personality. And he did Stagger Lee…Anyway, Harold Logan was involved with the mob. The scuttlebutt is that he owed Moishe a lot of money…He turned up dead. Shot to death…

And James Sheppard, of Shep and the Limelites…Shep riled up some of the younger artists–especially some of the younger Black artists–at Roulette. He spoke out, warning musicians to stay away…Shep got shot, too…Dead.

But, perhaps most significantly, there was this: Morris was good friends with Allen Klein. They were such good friends that he gave Klein’s son just about the most extravagant bar mitzvah gift anyone had ever heard of…Israeli bonds.

That’s right. Before Allen Klein ripped off The Rolling Stones and broke up The Beatles, he was the former business manager of Sam Cooke…

Guess who ended up with Sam Cooke’s catalog?..

No. Not Morris Levy. He was a small fish compared to Allen Klein. Klein bought the Cooke catalog from Barbara Campbell, Sam’s wife, for a hundred thousand dollars. That was his first huge acquisition.

Anyway, Tommy James knew virtually nothing about these things in 1966 when he was just starting out with Roulette. He had a number one record. (But it was really more of a novelty tune.) Levy was happy but he was pushing James hard on the road, where they toured in a stinky station wagon and in the studio where he pressured James for a quick follow up hit to Hanky Panky.

That’s when whispers, when rumors, began to circulate around Roulette about stuff going on in Los Angeles…About what really happened to Sam Cooke…And Bobby Fuller…

To be continued…

Playing Roulette with the Mob, Part III: The Bobby Fuller Four

You remember that kid? What was his name? The one from El Paso? Cocky, but quiet…Had an air about him. Not so much a strut but an attitude.

You know who I’m talking about…Cute. Played the guitar. Could sing too. Sounded a lot  like Buddy HollyYeah! That’s who I’m talkin’ about. He played at PJ’s…Packed the house and broke Dick Dale’s record. Pissed Dale off…

He did that song… 

Yeah! ‘I Fought the Law.’ That’s it! The Bobby Fuller Four! It came out about ’65 or ’66. That song was boss! Just good old rock and roll. Mia Farrow used to do the The Jerk to it…Yeah. She was a go-go dancer at PJ’s back then. Remember?…That’s where she met Sinatra. Everybody hung out there…Sam Cooke…

Too bad what happened to him…No…Well, yeah him too, but I’m talking about Bobby Fuller. Remember? They said it was an accident, but nobody believed it…

A kid like that huffing gas? Are you kidding? No way. He was murdered. Just like Sam Cooke…The boys got him. The M-A-F-I-A…

I heard it was about copyrights. Royalties…And he was so young. Twenty-one, twenty-two…So sad.

If nothing else, Bob Keane had an eye for talent. He spotted Sam Cooke when the singer was strictly gospel and signed him to his own label–Keen Records.

The song You Send Me?  He put that out. It sold well over a million copies. But he didn’t see a dime from it. His business partner (the Greek, they called him) John Siamas and Siamas’ brother, Alex, screwed him. Royally. So what if they financed the label? All three of them were partners. He found the talent; they put up the money. They had a verbal agreement. Shook hands on it. A lot of good that did.

At least that was Keane’s version of it.

But he rebounded from that. He found another investor and rounded up some more talent–did pretty good too. Well enough that he was able to buy out the investor and, once again, financed his own label. Del-Fi Records.

Then lighting struck again and he discovered another talent of a lifetime. The Chicano rockabilly star and fellow Angeleno Richie Valens. Keane loved that kid. He really did. He nurtured Valens’ career, acting as both manager and producer. Even got him to change his name; it was Valenzuela.

Things were going really well for him and Valens. They were making lots of money and putting out legacy making hits like Donna, Come on let’s Go and La Bamba. Then tragedy struck. Richie went down in a plane with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper.

Keane was devastated–in fact, he never got over it–but undeterred. He put his nose to the grindstone, plugging away with Del-Fi and subsidiary labels Donna, Bronco and Mustang Records where he had success with some R&B acts and surf/hot rod bands. He developed a reputation as a creative producer with an open door policy. His motto: I’ll listen to anybody. If they can’t walk, bring ’em in on a stretcher.

That’s how he met Bobby Fuller. The guy just waltzed in off the street and played him some demos. Keane’s ears perked up. Boy could this kid wring the heck out of that Stratocaster. Could sing too. The band was tight.

Now this could be special, he thought.

And Keane was right. Bobby Fuller was special. He was an musical genius, able to read and write music, capable of playing any instrument from the moment he picked it up. Fuller produced his own records too, in a studio that he piecemealed together in the basement of his parents home in nowheresville El Paso where he was the biggest thing since sliced bread.

And this, perhaps the most important thing: Bobby Fuller was naive.

Important, because on the surface Keane was a successful recording industry impresario, possessing all the obligatory accouterments: expensive clothes, exotic sports car and money clip stuffed with C notes. He was on a first name basis with the staff at PJ’s, the mobbed up nightclub that catered to everybody that was anybody in Hollywood, and women–especially young, impressionable women–thought him quite attractive. But underneath the facade his personal life and finances were spiraling out of control. His marriage was on the skids and he was up to his neck in the triple D’s–debauchery, drugs and debt.

Even worse, because of the triple D’s, he was on the bad end of a bust out. Now he was little more than a figurehead of the record label he founded and his “silent” partners were very demanding. He needed a hit from a gullible, compliant artist. And he needed it fast.

Some people called Bobby Fuller arrogant. He wasn’t. He was sure of himself.

Some said he was stuck up. Not so. He was introverted.

So what if he was a bit of a contrarian? He was a rugged individualist who’d rather get run over by a bandwagon than jump on it.

Take that cross that glinted outside his collared shirts. The one that some people called a Nazi cross…

“It’s not a Nazi cross,” he assured his worried mother who had moved to Los Angeles to watch over her sons. “It’s a surfer’s cross.” 

Some of the guys in his favorite surf bands like The Chantays, The Ventures and The Surfaris wore them. They wore the cross for the same reason he did–as a symbol of solidarity among American musicians against the British invasion in general and The Beatles in particular.

Ah, yes…The Beatles. They were a sore spot with Bobby. He waged his own personal war against them–not that it did any good. By 1966, less than two years from their debut, The Beatles recorded an astonishing seventeen top ten hits–ten of them going all the way to number one. Turn on the radio in the mid 60s and it was pretty much all you heard. All Beatles, all of the time.

Despite this–probably because of this–Bobby soldiered on, insisting that The Beatles were overrated, complaining to anyone who’d listen that all their songs sounded the same. He got into lots of arguments about it.

“I don’t get it,” he’d say. “What’s the big deal?”

But he didn’t mean it. He was a musician extraordinaire. As such, he knew better than most just how special The Beatles were.

What he didn’t like–what he hated, as a matter of fact–was how everybody said they were the saviors of rock and roll.

The saviors of rock and roll?…Just what did rock and roll need to be saved from?

Ray Charles?…Link Wray?…Roy Orbison?

And then there was the way that just about every band in the world copied them. And how all the record labels wanted British invasion stuff and only British invasion stuff.

That really got on his nerves.

So yeah, despite what he said and how he acted, he liked The Beatles. How could he not?It was just that he liked Buddy Holly more. A lot more. Buddy Holly was his idol. That’s why he recorded I Fought the Law even though it was a cover.

I Fought the Law was written for Buddy Holly by his long time friend Sonny Curtis, who took over as singer and lead guitar of The Crickets after the superstar was killed. The Crickets, fronted by Curtis, recorded it in 1960 but the song and album went nowhere.

Bobby loved the album, especially I Fought the Law. His younger brother, Randy, the bassist of The Bobby Fuller Four, convinced him to record it in his El Paso recording studio. It took off and became a regional hit, even causing riots in some of the West Texas ballrooms they played in. When Bob Keane heard the recording he immediately signed them.

At first Bobby was happy with Keane. After all, he had discovered Richie Valens and The Surfaris. But it wasn’t long before the two began to clash.

Like most producers and A&R men, Keane had his nose in the charts. Bobby understood that. He also understood that Keane wanted hits. Shoot, he wanted them too, but not so badly that he would allow novelty song gimmicks in his music. No siree Bob Keane. He  fanatically rejected any technique that came  even remotely close to that.

Case in point, Phil Spector (yes, that Phil Spector) loved Bobby Fuller. He even sat in with the BF4, sometimes playing keyboard with them at the Ambassador Lounge and at PJ’s, where they routinely packed the house.

Spector talked with Bobby about producing him, with or without the BF4 and encouraged him to leave Del-Fi. Of course Bobby was flattered, but Spector’s style was just too different from his own. That whole wall of sound stuff went against his grain. He refused to do anything in the studio that he couldn’t duplicate live on the stage.

And if Bobby wouldn’t work with Phil Spector, he wasn’t about to follow any here today gone tomorrow music fads—and that’s just what Bob Keane wanted. He wanted the BF4 to do Motown sounding stuff.

What’s more Del-Fi records was in turmoil. Bob Keane was having trouble keeping people in the front office and the staff that stayed walked around on eggshells with worried faces. But nobody said anything. It was like they were afraid to talk.

Bobby and his brother suspected that had something to do with a record executive from Roulette Records that had been snooping around Del-Fi. Ron Roessler was his name. He was real chummy with Keane’s “silent” partner Larry Nunes.

Everybody in the music business knew about Roulette. It was owned by Morris Levy. And Morris Levy was a very dangerous man. He was mobbed up. Big time. Rumor had it that Levy had bodies on him. Yet Bob Keane kept assuring Bobby and the band that everything was groovy when it obviously wasn’t–which made it decidedly un-groovy. Which made it absurd.

Still, on March 12, 1966, I Fought the Law by The Bobby Fuller Four, on Mustang Records, reached number nine on the Top 40 charts. It was just what Bob Keane wanted, what he had to have–a big, glorious top ten hit setting right up there, on the same charts, with Nowhere Man by the The Beatles. But more importantly–at least to the finicky, ultra-talented purist from El Paso Texas–it was something to be proud of.

Though I Fought the Law would climb no further on the charts, it would sell well over a million records. Nowhere Man would stall out at number three.

And while The Beatles would chalk up fourteen more top ten hits before they disbanded four years later, Bobby Fuller would never hit the top ten again. Even so, I Fought the Law would become an anthem of rebellion to both rock and punk rock devotees. It would be covered by many bands, most notably The Clash. But it would be The Bobby Fuller Four version that would become iconic, ranked as one of the greatest songs ever recorded by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tragically Bobby would never know those accolades. In fact, he wouldn’t even get a whiff of them. That’s because less than six months after I Fought the Law charted, Bobby would be found dead in his mother’s Oldsmobile. His death was ruled a suicide and then, later, an accidental death–though nobody really believed that. 

Bobby Fuller was twenty-three at the time.

To be continued… 

 

 

Sicario, a Film Directed by Denis Villenevue (2015);Crime Drama

There are some police officers who become cops because they want to protect and to serve. Probably not too many, but there are a few. I’ve never, personally, known a cop like that, but I’ve heard of them. On the news.

And I’ve read about them…

I knew a cop, once…Well, I knew him before he became a cop. We went to school together. A nice guy. We were “sort of” friends. We didn’t hang out, but he was in my Senior English class.

Anyway, he didn’t get along with his dad. His dad slapped his mom around. Never any blood. Never a clenched fist. But there was pushing. And yelling. And slapping.

That’s why he wanted to become a cop. He didn’t tell me that, but I knew.

I ran into him, a few years later, at an Aerosmith concert. We talked. He was working undercover, perusing the floor crowd. I knew immediately that he was a cop. That made me sad. Not his chosen profession. I don’t have anything against cops, per se. They have a job to do. Otherwise…Well, you know…Anarchy.

I was sad because he’d changed.

In Denis Villeneuve’s  crime drama, Sicario, we don’t know why Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) became a cop–there is no declaration over beers or reflective pillow talk explaining. There’s just Kate. Unadorned. Steady. Earnest.

She’s not an adrenaline junkie. We know because the first time we see her, we see her scared. Even so she’s the consummate pro. She subdues her fear. She’s under control.

Plus she’s wearing FBI tactical gear. The FBI doesn’t invest in scrubs. Or the mentally unstable.

Her partner, Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) is equally earnest. He is protective of Kate even though she out ranks him. He’s not condescending. He’s a friend, nothing more, who worries that Kate’s honesty might hobble her when her cunning matters most.

We are introduced to them when Kate leads a raid on a stash house owned by a wealthy Sonora Cartel lieutenant. There they stumble upon an unexpected cache—about fifty corpses entombed in the walls.

The camera doesn’t linger over the brutality. The violence is realistically hum drum. And horrible.

One body’s head is encased in plastic. Very little can be distinguished about the body. From the clothing, it is most likely male. Medium height. The face is obstructed by a hemorrhage of blood. The pressure of the plastic against bodily fluid and decaying flesh has left a big brown smudge. It has blotted out identity. The camera, reflecting images through Kate’s eyes, returns to this body–one among the many–again…And again.

During the raid, Kate performs with distinction and kills a cartel underling in the line of duty. The stash house it booby-trapped. There is an explosion. A FBI agent’s arm is torn off. He dies. It’s a big story. So big that it attracts the Department of Justice. Various federal big wigs convene and tap Kate to be involved in a multi departmental task force–about fifteen men, she is the only woman– designed to take down the man responsible for the plethora of immigrant corpses on American soil.

The feds don’t want Reggie. Kate does. She won’t go without him. She gets her way.

One of the lead feds is a guy named Matt, an oily character…Yeah, I know. You’re shocked. It helps that he is played by the magnetic Josh Brolin…

Anyway, this Matt guy is obviously CIA. How so? He wears flip flops. Apparently Reggie has seen other oily guys like him in Iraq where he was both soldier and lawyer; guys who brandish badges, the latest “it guns”, and dollar store shower shoes like ironic badges of honor. Matt’s character is a lighthouse beacon flashing Sicaro’s theme:

Here, things are twisted. It has always been this way. It is worse now. 

The here is the Sisters International, more commonly know as the El Paso/Juarez border. Matt and his ambiguous Mexican partner, Alejandro (Benicio del Turo), straddle the desert wasteland with steely cool and blatant impunity, escaping into each others country as the situation dictates. They come and go freely but not easily–especially on Mexico’s side. The government is cooperating, it seems, but the Sonora Cartel hierarchy are understandably upset. They arrange an ambush at a check point resulting in a bloody shootout.

The task force survives unscathed, annihilating the sicarios–Spanish for hitmen. They react like the lethal team of special ops that they are. But their ruthless efficiency unnerves Kate and Reggie. Something bigger than dragging a cartel lieutenant to justice is obviously afoot. Reggie wants them to bail out, but Kate keeps stumbling forward as if she is drawn to the mission against her will–as if she must see for herself evidence that they are real.

“You’re spooks,” she yells at Matt and Alejandro. “Watch and learn,” they say.

Along the way she forms an unexpected bond with Alejandro. It’s not romantic. It’s not even particularly friendly, but there is empathy. Though they prefer their own company, both are comfortable in each others presence. There are a few words shared now and then during cigarette breaks.

“Who are you?” she asks him.

“A prosecutor from Mexico,” he tells her.

“Where do you come from?”

“Columbia,” he says.

The fate of the task force hangs by a thread of legality. Kate is that thread. Her participation ensures the CIA’s jurisdiction is legit. She has been carefully chosen: a decorated, decent female agent, the perfect proxy to hide behind–and to sacrifice if need be for the sake of the real mission. Regime change.

Like Columbia two decades before Mexico has become a narco state. The Sonora Cartel has murdered and tortured it’s way to the top. Even so, it’s members of the board have no idea how to govern. They are too ruthless, even by cartel standards, and when they sanction a series of horrific crimes on the American side it incurs the wrath of the US government.

The government sends black ops into Juarez to assassinate the number three Sonora chieftain and make way for a new US sanctioned cartel to take over. And who is the new boss? The same as the old boss, i.e., the Colombians.

The plan is for the Colombians to resume the control they had in the old days, when they supplied the drugs and the Mexicans distributed them into the United States. In those days, Alejandro was a high ranking Mexican official. When the US disrupted the Medellin Cartel it created a vacuum in which the Mexican cartels were able to become both supplier and distributor. But they became too powerful too quickly–and there was too much competition. Consequently Juarez became the epicenter of unspeakable brutality that threatened to spill over into United States. Alejandro’s wife and daughter became pawns in that brutality and though he was able to escape into Columbia they were left behind to a terrible fate.

Now all that stands between Alejandro and revenge is Kate and her earnest resolve to do the right thing no matter the cost. And Kate can afford the cost because she is an island unto herself. How she became that way we do not know, but she shares the isolation with Alejandro. And the hollowness.

Some critics felt Sicario too laden to be a thriller and they were right. It’s not one. Nor is it an action film. Sicario is a crime drama with some high powered, brilliantly choreographed action sequences. The shoot out at the check point thirty minutes in is an exercise in white knuckles and coronary palpitations. Be that as it may, Director Denis Villeneuve is more interested in a twisted psyche than he is with plot twists and explosions.

Sicario seeks to make you think as it haunts you with ghosts made of flesh and memory. Mission accomplished.

 

 

 

A Shout Out To Some of My Favorite Bloggers

We all have our favorite bloggers. Some of them become our friends. Some don’t.

Some bloggers are part of our daily ritual. Others–like a favorite cousin that we rarely see–drop in sporadically. But we are always happy when they do. And we hope they feel the same about us.

Some bloggers teach. Some merely entertain. Some do both. A precious few inspire.

Here are three of my favorite bloggers in no particular order. Well…That’s not true. The first one, Beetley Pete is my favorite blogger of all time. After Pete, it’s completely random. Oh…And speaking of that…

It’s my intention to do a series on my favorite bloggers, kind of like the series that I do on great cinematic, literary (and TV) characters. So, yeah…I’ll be revisiting this topic…Lord willing.

It’s kind of like what a highway patrol officer told me, one time, when he pulled me over for speeding. I asked him, “What about those other cars that were speeding along with me? Why’d you pull me over and not them?”

“One at a time miss,” he said. “One at a time.”

…Or, in this case, three at a time.

BeetleyPete  Pete lives in the lovely rural area of Beetley,  hence the name of his blog. How do I know that it’s lovely? From pictures he shares. And from the stories he writes. Pete’s a former Londoner. That’s where he worked as a paramedic. He has retired, a plus for him and for those of us who follow him because now he writes. A lot. He’s also a very skilled blogger, treating his followers to: Tales from his ambulance days. Short stories with a twist of the macabre. Movie Reviews. And–my favorite–musings about him and his dog, Ollie, and their wanderings in the countryside of Beetley. Cheers, Pete.

Cinematic Coffee  I love the name of John Charet’s blog. I can’t think of many things that I enjoy more than having coffee and discussing cinema. And there are few who have more knowledge about the subject of cinema than John does. Whereas I am a movie buff, John is a cinephile. But don’t let that intimidate you. He’s very accessible and engaging. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of film without the residue of snobbery. Mucho props, John.

Becoming The Falme  DW always signs his name like this: dw. That’s the measure of the man. He is humble. He’s a Christian– in every sense of the word. He is kind. He is generous. He is honest. He’s also an artist–a beautiful poet and a marvelous musician. Whenever I visit Becoming The Flame I am nourished and nurtured by spiritual intellect; I am convicted by my own heart but never judged.

So there they are. Three of my favorite bloggers.

Have a good day.

 

Playing Roulette with the Mob, Part II: The Tex-Mex Invasion

When music historians write of the origins of rock and roll, most of them settle on Chuck Berry as the master architect and rightfully so. Berry was a singing, song writing, guitar playing phenom who bent the chords into twangy distortions that paid homage to the likes of, Webb Pierce, as well as mentors T-Bone Burnett, Muddy Waters and Johnnie Johnson. According to Etta James, Berry’s creative juices were fueled as much by ambition as they were by inspiration.

His songs were smart because, unlike most of us, he was aiming straight at white teenagers, the saddle show crowd. He had a marketing mind; he sang and wrote to sell. –Etta James

While Berry is arguably the greatest of the great, there were many other prominent architects and a hot bed of them, led by creative genius Buddy Holly, came from the red clay of the Panhandle and the barren western plains of the same state–Texas. In fact, another Buddy, hailing from the tiny farming community of Happy, Texas actually predated Holly’s success.

Buddy Knox taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar as a means of entertainment. Other than laboring on his parents farm and playing a variety of sports, there wasn’t anything else to do. His parents home didn’t have electricity.

It was the 1950’s. Stuff like that still happened.

Not that he was poor. Hardly. Knox went to college at a time when only 14% of the population completed a four year degree or higher. He went there with the intent of becoming an accountant.

At West Texas A&M he met bassist, Jimmy Bowen and Bowen’s childhood friend Don Lanier–both from Dumas. The trio began to experiment with the music of their youth, Texas swing and Tijuana music, mixing it with r&b. Together they formed The Rhythm Orchids and pioneered the Tex-Mex sound.  In remarkably short order, they had financial backing of a gentlemanly, well to do oilman, Chester Oliver. Oliver put them right in the recording studio.

You see, there was a gold rush going on in music at that time. And the gold rush (not the run up to the gold rush, which was also very important–but the gold rush) started in 1955 when Elvis Presley began touring the South and the Southwest. At that time Elvis only had a couple of regional hits That’s Alright Mama and Good Rockin’ Tonight, but he was rapidly becoming a sensation on the road. Jimmy Bowen saw Elvis at the Amarillo coliseum in ’55. He was a freshman in college.

The girls became hysterical when he came onstage, grabbed hold of the microphone and started to sing and gyrate. I could barely hear any of it above the shrieking and wailing, but what I heard–a mix of country, gospel and rhythm and blues–was unlike anything else around.–Jimmy Bowen

In truth, there was a lot of stuff like what Bowen heard from Elvis Presley around, only he and his contemporaries hadn’t heard much of it. That’s because it was r&b, or what white people called “race music.” Rhythm and blues was taboo. It was performed by Black artists who made their living on tour where they perfected high energy stage shows. Elvis Presley was a visionary connoisseur of this music. There was no r&b record ban in the Presley house hold in Memphis, Tennessee. Mr. and Mrs. Presley rarely said no to their son at all. He was so beautiful and talented.

Elvis mimicked the Black artist he admired. He spent hours and his parents hard earned money on Beale Street where the blues thrived. He also experimented with the hillbilly music his parents favored, putting his own unique spin on it.

So, yes, like Pat Boone, Elvis Presley introduced r&b to white teenagers; but the way he and producer Sam Phillips did it was vastly different. It revolutionized music. In fact it’s probably safe to presume that Elvis did virtually nothing the way Pat Boone did it. That was a big part of his appeal.

At any rate, The Rhythm Orchids viability was a by product of Elvis Presley’s huge success. It was 1956 and by now Elvis was a national sensation. All over the country, business minded people (especially business minded people with an ear for music), were on the look out to invest in the gold rush.

That’s how The Rhythm Orchids were able to fast track their rockabilly single Party Doll, recorded on their own label, Triple D Records at Norman Petty’s tiny cinder block studio, in Clovis, New Mexico. Roy Orbison recorded there. So did Buddy Holly and The Crickets, but The Rhythm Orchids beat them to the studio. They would have the have the first number one single too, but it would be the last time The Rhythm Orchids eclipsed Holly or Orbison.

Party Doll became a regional hit. Buddy Knox, Jimmy Bowen and Don “Dirt” Lanier became local celebrities. They got their first taste of good, fast money and good, fast girls. But it was Dirt Lanier’s sister, Teddie, that proved catalyst for the group’s short but eventful foray into the big time.

Teddie Lanier was a very beautiful young fashion model in New York. She was also friends with Morris Levy the owner of the New York Jazz club, Birdland. Charlie “Bird” Parker was the house act at Birdland–hence the club’s name. Harry Belefonte played there. So did Lester Young. And Miles Davis. And Ella Fitzgerald.

Billie Holiday played Birdland.

Levy had a genuine love for Jazz. He also had an ear for a hit record. It didn’t really matter the genre.

Always seeking to capitalize on his assets, he expanded into the recording business with his own labels, Rama, Tico and Roulette. Knox and Bowen were Roulette’s first artists. With Levy’s deep pockets and influential friends, Party Doll became an #1 American Top 40 hit for Roulette, selling over a million copies.

The Rhythm Orchids hit the road on an ambitious tour where they made good money–very good money that dwarfed their previous middle class sustenance. The sudden, dramatic influx of cash immediately changed their lives and the lives of family members and friends. There were new cars and flashy, expensive clothes. And there were lots of young women. They ate well and lived nice.

But they received no royalties.

As a powerful associate of the Genovese crime family, Morris Levy was quite notorious in NYC and in Florida. And while Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen were naive to major league mafia entanglements, some of the friends they made in New York were not.

Bobby Darin and Connie Francis tried to warn the two about Levy. It’s kind of funny how it happened. They were in a rehearsal studio near Times Square when a guy burst into the room asking if he could borrow a guitar for a friend. Knox let him borrow his. The guy’s name was Don Kirschner. The guy he borrowed the guitar for was Bobby Darin. Darin’s girlfriend was Connie Francis. They all became friends.

Understandably Knox, Bowen and Lanier had stars in their eyes. But they weren’t stupid, either. Since they all had studied accounting they were aware they were getting screwed sooner rather than later–and that was sooner than most of Levy’s artists. When the trio asked their new friends if they knew anyone–a lawyer, perhaps–who could help them get their missing royalties, Kirschner told them about his friend Allen Klein.

Accountant Allen Klein had gotten his feet wet working as an auditor for a prestigious accounting firm. There he got a glimpse into the music business while auditing a publishers trade group. Ready to advance his career into serious money, he started his own firm for which he invented the position of Entertainment Business Manager. Buddy Knox and his bassist, Jimmy Bowen, who also had a solo hit with the Rhythm Orchids, were two of his earliest clients. Other early clients were Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Llyod Price, Neil Sedaka and Bobby Vinton.

And just what did Allen Klein do for his clients? He found mathematical errors in their contracts. Then he convinced his clients that their record labels were screwing them over.

And that took zero convincing. Especially since that’s why he was hired in the first place.

Furthermore, his clients probably were getting screwed over by the record companies. Klein would ride in and recoup some of their money, which he would hand over in a large, glorious chunk. Then, ever dutiful, he would turn around and screw his clients even worse than the record companies after cannibalizing their assets through the restructured contracts that he drew up. But, before he did that, he got his clients outrageous front money. That’s how he got them hooked.

Seemingly, things turned out well for Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen–Levy coughed up the royalties. That’s the official story. Yet, in a 1989 interview with Gary James, Knox said:

I haven’t received a royalty check from Roulette in well over 25 years and my records are still on the market and I had 27 or 28 records on the charts over the years, so that tells me we have money due. We couldn’t do much about it in those days because we didn’t want the company to get mad at us. We got word back that Levy has been convicted on several charges, so talks have started again about getting back royalties and even getting our masters back.

 And in Rough Mix (1997), Jimmy Bowen’s memoirs about his prolific career in the music industry, he writes about this time:

In the end I hired an aggressive music industry lawyer named Marty Machat, who had worked for James Brown and knew his way around the business. He managed to negotiate a little more money and avoid a costly lawsuit we would have never won. It was time for us to move beyond the madness with Morris, get on with our lives and make some more music.

Strange that Bowen barely mentions Allen Klein in his memoirs. And the one time he does, he describes him as just the accountant. But that is disingenuous. Bowen knows full well that Klein was the power broker, not Machat.

It would seem that, when the dust settled, Knox and Bowen received very little, if anything, from their royalties with Roulette.

So if they didn’t get the money, who did?…

Well, yes, Allen Klein certainly did get some it…But the crux of the money stayed right where it was in the first place. It stayed in the family.

In the end Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen made out pretty good, considering what happened to a fellow Texan who was negotiating with Roulette right after Klein ripped The Rhythm Orchids from Levy’s grip. Bowen did especially well and he took his friend Dirt Lanier with him…But Buddy Knox did alright too. He got about eight months of the high life and 10,000.00 cash, which equals roughly 90,000.00 in today’s money and place in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

And he got out with his life. And that’s a lot better than Bobby Fuller, of The Bobby Fuller Four, did.

To be continued…

Playing Roulette with the Mob, Part I : Sam Cooke

The attractive brunette at the bar of Martoni’s was all of twenty-two years old, but she looked older. Well dressed, of Asian and Caucasian decent, her conspicuous maturity gave her an air of sophistication even as it threatened her from a distance.

The brunette’s name was Elisa Boyer. She was a prostitute.

Martoni’s was a nice restaurant in San Fernando Valley. Not necessarily stuffy–as was still the trend in early 60s fine dining–but nice. Lot’s of music industry people hung out there.

She sat with three men. They talked discreetly. She knew how to handle herself.

On the contrary, the man that had walked into Martoni’s shortly before Elisa and her companions arrived, was anything but discreet. Not that he was loud–loud as in the vernacular of the early 60s; vulgarly conspicuous, flamboyant. He wasn’t. He was exquisitely tasteful. Perhaps too much so. Some said he was too handsome.

Elegantly slim. Cool. Fluid.

Everything was easy with him. His laugh. His smile. His razor sharp wit. The way his perfectly creased slacks brushed against his cashmere socks. The fine leather of his shoes.

His voice…

Yes, more than anything else, his voice.

He was the quintessential interpreter of soul–then and now–with 26 top 40 hits. Some of those hits, e.g., You Send Me, Wonderful World, Chain Gang, Cupid, Bring it on Home to Me and A Change is Gonna Come would become iconic. What’s more, he owned the copywrites and masters of his songs. He even owned his own label, a precious, rare thing in those days for any recording artist. Almost unheard of for a Black artist.

Though married, he was also a notorious letch about town, fathering three children by three different women by the time he was twenty-two. His friend, record executive Bumps Blackwell famously said of him, “He would walk past a good girl to get to a whore.”

Naturally, when he walked into Martoni’s that night with record producer Al Schmitt and Schmitt’s wife Joan, he owned the room. It was like that wherever he went. And it was all too predictable that Elisa Boyer would gravitate toward him. Everybody else did.

Soon, he had ditched the Schmitts and the two were in his red Ferrari speeding toward PJ’s Lounge, another industry hang out only minutes away in Los Angeles. It was December 11, 1964. The last night of Sam Cooke’s life.

 

Sam Cooke in Death

 

There are photographs of Sam Cooke lying in repose. It is December 18, 1964, Chicago. Over 200,000 people have come to view him. He is in a glass covered casket. The photos are in black and white but you can still see the lump and bruising on his forehead that stage makeup failed to cover.

What you can’t see is that his nose was misshapen and obviously broken. And just by looking at the photos, there’s no way to tell whether or not he was internally decapitated, i.e., the ligaments that attach and stabilize the skull to the neck are severed.

 

Sam Cooke in Repose

You can’t tell that…Nor can I…But his friend–the late, great r&b singer Etta James–said she could. She was there. At his funeral. She viewed his body early, with the family, before most people arrived. She wrote about it in Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story.

But, you can see, in one photograph, that something is clearly wrong with his hands. That’s apparent. Etta James said that Cooke’s hands were crushed. The above photograph is consistent with her claim. And that’s strange, considering the person who gave him such a vicious beating was a fifty-five-year-old woman by the name of Bertha Franklin.

Plus, there is a photograph of Ms. Franklin taken by the police shortly after she fatally  shot him in the chest. Unlike Sam Cooke, she looks only a little worse for wear considering the life and death struggle that she had just engaged in. To be fair, there are what appear to be little splotches of blood on her blouse and a nasty bruise on the inside the bend of her left arm that are consistent with her version of events. Bertha Franklin.jpg

Franklin claimed that she did not know who Sam Cooke was when he checked into the Hacienda, a flea bag/brothel motel where she clerked. She said Cooke was a little disheveled and had obviously been drinking but that he complied when she told him that he and his companion would have to register as husband and wife per motel regulations. He signed the registry Mr. & Mrs. Sam Cooke. Franklin told police that the young lady who was with Cooke didn’t appear to be in distress.

A short time later, according to Franklin, the same young woman was at the office door, frantically knocking, begging to be let in. Franklin peered out the window but didn’t answer. The knocking subsided.

Then Franklin said she heard the deep rumble of a car engine and the screech of brakes followed by more banging on the door and yelling. This time it was Sam Cooke who was causing the commotion. Franklin, who was on the phone with the motel’s owner, told her she was afraid that he was going to beat the door down.

And that’s just what he did. Or, rather, he kicked it in. At least, that’s what they said.

“Where’s the girl?” Franklin said Cooke yelled. “Where’s my money?”

Except for a sports coat and one shoe, he was naked. Then, according to Bertha Franklin, he lunged at her, grabbing her arms.

“We tussled,” Franklin told the police. She got away from him. “I ran for my gun.”

Meanwhile, the motel owner, Evelyn Carr was listening to the struggle on her phone. When she heard gunshots she hung up and called the police. Unbeknownst to her, Elisa Boyer had already called them, claiming that she’d been kidnapped and sexually assaulted.

“Lady, you shot me!” were Sam Cooke’s last words, according to Bertha Franklin. Then, she said, he lunged for her again. He missed. She grabbed a broom and struck him over the head with it.

He straightened just a bit, looked up and then slid down a wall. That was it. He died.

During an inquest it was determined that Bertha Franklin had acted in self defense. Elisa Boyer testified that she asked Cooke to take her home after the two left PJ’s but he took her to the Hacienda Motel instead. She said Cooke forced her into the motel room against her will, that he pushed her on the bed and began tearing off her clothes. She said she knew he was going to rape her–maybe worse.

Inexplicably, Cooke interrupted the assault and went to the restroom. According to Boyer, that’s when she escaped the motel room, taking his clothes with her. No mention was made of the huge money roll that Cooke was seen flashing at Martoni’s and PJ’s. It was never recovered.

The attorney who represented Sam Cooke’s interest barely spoke a word at his clients inquest. Witnesses said that he seemed timid and afraid of the judge. It has also been reported that Cooke’s business manager Allen Klein hired the guy. Technically that is true. But Klein and that attorney, his attorney, Martin J. Machat, did business together. It was a lawyer client relationship–yes–no question. And, as such, they engaged in business matters. Of course. Generally speaking, Allen Klein’s clients were Marty Machat’s clients.

But it was more than that.

Machat was Allen Klein’s fixer. His legal sledgehammer. He was a very shrewd, extremely capable lawyer who counted boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and recording artists The Coasters, The Platters, The Drifters and Clyde McPhatter as his clients.

Even so, he was a light weight compared to his client Allen Klein.

Business manager Allen Klein was friends with the powerful record and promotional impresario Don Kirshner. And–yes–he had famous celebrity clients, too, but his most valued associations were with the behind the scene movers and shakers of the recording industry.

For instance, he was close to client and record producer Jimmy Bowen. And Jimmy Bowen was close to Frank Sinatra. Bowen produced some of Sinatra’s most successful records. He was also the trusted producer for Frank’s daughter, Nancy Sinatra.

And though Sinatra was certainly a celebrity (he was, in fact, “the celebrity”), he was more than that. He had friends in very high places.

In any event, perhaps, the greatest testament to Allen Klein’s power was his total subjugation of Roulette Records founder and CEO, Morris Levy.

As a boyhood friend of Genovese crime family enforcer, Vincent “Chin” Gigante, Levy operated with near impunity, routinely and famously robbing his artists of their royalties. It is said that the character “Hesh” of HBO’s famed series The Sopranos is based on him. Yet when Levy was approached by Klein, who was acting at the behest of his clients, rockabilly pioneers Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen, the Genovese front man couldn’t cough up the missing royalties fast enough.

Sam Cooke was introduced to Allen Klein by his friend Jocko Henderson. As “the Dick Clark of r&b in New York City”, Henderson became a power broker by booking and promoting concerts for Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater. The Apollo was the gateway to the big time for r&b artists. In addition to his television program, his radio program Jaoko’s Rocketship Show was broadcast on several major East Coast stations. He and Klein formed a promotion partnership for which they booked concerts for venues in Philadelphia.

Henderson told Cooke about what Klein had done for Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen. Cooke was impressed. For years he had been trying to get a deeper look at his contractual obligations per RCA Victor, as his calculations of his label’s cut into his fortune differed from theirs. Yet, RCA Victor wouldn’t open the books. So he hired Allen Klien as his business manager. Klien used Machat, to legally threaten RCA Victor into exposing those books to his forensic lens.

And he found errors.

So many errors that RCA Victor renegotiated Cooke’s contract. And it was a rich contract, not just rich for an African American artist rich, but white artist rich–truly, a ground breaking feat in 1964 America.

Klein wasn’t an attorney. He was an accountant, though not a certified one. He didn’t bother to show up for his CPA’s exam. He was, however, a mathematical genius.

Only a few months after Klein’s hire, Sam Cooke was shot dead at the Hacienda Motel on a hookers stroll in Los Angeles. He was thirty three.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

5 Sweet, Family Films That I Actually Like—A Lot

5. My Bodyguard (1980); directed by Tony Bill; coming of age drama.  A portrayal of boyhood and friendship that manages to be realistic and poignant without wading into sexual pranks and gross-outs.

Normally sardonic character actor Martin Mull interacts effortlessly with the two unknown leads, Adam Baldwin and Chris Makepeace, both outcast, in a spin off the Of Mice and Men dynamic. Matt Dillon exudes the thuggish sensuality that made him an object of desire to women my age. Like with Rocky, we cheer for what we want without shame–or the intrusion of irony. Refreshing.

4. The Incredible Journey (1963); directed by Fletcher Markle; Walt Disney Productions; live action, family drama. A beautifully photographed natural drama about a Bull Terrier, a Golden Lab and a Siamese cat who become separated from their family and embark on a 250 mile trek back home. Along the way, they encounter an angry mother bear, a raging river and a hungry lynx all the while battling cold and hunger with the help of kindly strangers. Rex Allen–the Arizona Cowboy–masterfully narrates.

3. That Darn Cat (1965); directed by Robert Stevenson; Walt Disney Productions; family friendly thriller. Cute flick about a sleek and indifferent Siamese cat (a.k.a., D.C.) that belongs to two sisters–one a teenager, Pattie (Haley Mills) and one a young adult, Inkie. (No, I’m not kidding. It’s Inkie, played by Dorthy Provine.) To all intents and purposes, D.C. belongs to the whole upper middle class, artisan white bread, neighborhood. Everybody either feeds him or admires him.

Sooooo…D.C. starts hanging out with a couple of bank robbers and their bank teller hostage. (Yeah, they’re hiding in plain sight in Leave it to Beaver land, which is, actually, pretty darn smart.) The hostage exchanges D.C.’s collar with her wrist watch, but not before she scratches “HELP” into the back of it. Pattie discovers it and becomes convinced that the watch belongs to the kidnapping victim that’s all over the news. And guess what? Nobody takes her seriously. And you know what else? Somehow director Robert Stevenson pulls it all off. Saccharine, but good. Kind of like an occasional Nu Grape soda.

2. Pollyanna (1960); directed by David Swift: Walt Disney Productions; family drama. Wholesome production about an eternally optimistic, orphaned daughter of missionaries (Haley Mills) whose wealthy namesake aunt, takes her in out of duty instead of love. Pollyanna makes the best of her situation, befriending the townspeople including, even, the notoriously mean Mrs. Snow.

Everyday, Pollyanna, passes lavish empty bedroom suites as she trudges up and down servants steps to and from her attic living quarters, more befitting the servants. Being a precocious, adventurous child, she climbs a magnificent oak tree as a short cut to her room. One day she falls and critically injures her spine. For the first time her sunny disposition is threatened just as her emotionally distant aunt realizes what a…well, you know…she’s been. A life affirming film and suitable bookend to Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful World.

1. La La Land (2016); directed by Damien Chazelle; musical. Pure joy. A treasure. A marvel in cinematography and score, Chazelle’s brilliant, exuberant film has an opening dance scene that ranks with Gene Kelley’s athletic frolicking in Singing in the Rain and Liza Minnelli’s no hold’s barred revue, Liza With a Z. Ryan Gosling is predictably charming and earnest and sexy. So much so that we can forgive his middling dancing. But it’s Emma Stone’s show. She’s fantastic…And then there’s the love story…And the jazz. Choreographer Mandy Moore gets the slow clap.

Great Cinematic (TV) and Literary Character Series: Christopher Moltisanti (as portrayed by Michael Imperioli); The Sopranos

 

Most of us have known a kid like that. A kid who didn’t bathe every night. (Or–even–every other night.) One who didn’t have clean clothes and never wore socks…A kid with a constant fever who ate a lot of cereal.

A kid like Christopher Moltisanti was.

See, that’s what’s wrong with Christopher now. He’s never had much of a chance in life. His mom had a lot of problems…Still does, but she especially did then…When Christoper was a kid. Too many boyfriends. Substance abuse. Except for being pissed over the “whole inconvenience of being a mother thing” she was always unconcerned.

His dad wasn’t any better, though Christopher likes to think so. The guy was just another low life hustler with mob connections. He got whacked by a dirty cop who was doing a favor for those same mob connections.

There’s no tellin’ what would have happened to Christopher if Tony Soprano hadn’t taken him under his wing. It was a cool thing to do, especially since Tony was a teenager and Christopher was just a snot nosed little kid. Tony started calling him “nephew”–even though he’s not; he’s Camella’ s second cousin- and letting him tag along with the guys. That’s why Christopher is so loyal to Tony.

Well…He’s loyal..Up to a point.

Just like Tony treats him like a son…Up to a point.

Just like he finally belongs somewhere…Up to a point.

It’s no wonder he’s always getting clobbered by his own angst. And angst is one thing. Angst is cool. James Dean had angst.

But Christopher’s main problem–if you boil everything down to it–is insecurity. That’s why he struts around like he does. That’s why he dresses the way he does–showy, like a black velvet painting in a gold leaf covered frame. That’s why he medicates himself–with heroin.

And that’s why he’s so hair triggered. So dangerous.

There was one person, though, who soothed Christopher’s angst and tamped down his insecurity. Adriana La Cerva. She was totally devoted to him, dressing just like he wanted her to. Plus she listened to him. She believed in his dreams of being a screenwriter and filmmaker.

Christopher rewarded her for that.

Get this–he listened to her. It turned out Adriana had dreams too. She wanted to promote rock bands. So he invested in a band she believed in and let her take over one of the clubs he had busted out. That’s huge.

Okay. So it didn’t work out. That’s not the point. The point is–he cared. He even asked her to marry him and put three carrot diamond ring on her finger.

But here’s the thing with Adriana. And it’s something she never knew. Sometimes, when Tony and Paulie and Sil would be holed up with their gumars (girlfriends) at some fancy resort or whorehouse, whatever…Sometimes, he wouldn’t hang out with them. Not that he didn’t have a few girls on the side now and then. He did. But most of the time he’d rather be with Adriana.

He loved her.

But Tony ruined that for him. Tony made him choose between “the life” and life with Adriana. And that’s no choice at all. That’s like when the Godfather tells Tom Hagen, “we’re gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

So you can’t really blame Christopher for resenting Tony. Or even hating him.

Still…He loves Tony… And Tony loves him…Up to a point.

 

Antisemitism: Jack the Ripper’s Accomplice Hype: His Disguise

 

He may have left Poland because of persecution. It was tough to be Jewish in the latter part of the 19th Century, especially in Eastern Europe and its bordering areas of Central Europe. There were lots of tensions.

To boil things down to the skeletal remains, a burgeoning movement of the moment was catching fire, i.e., Communism. It beguiled the intelligentsia and fueled the resentment of the serfs. At the same time it headbutted its more moderate kin, i.e., Socialism. Both ideologies railed against the status quo and splintered into simmering subsets.

And everybody blamed the Jews.

In the eyes of many Russians, Emperor Alexander II was lifting too many sanctions,  rules and regulations on the Jews who lived in the conquered land of Poland. To these Russians no Jewish infraction was too small. These Russians were loud with their verdicts and pronouncements. They influenced people. They fanned flames.

Unsurprisingly, the Jews became the common enemy of an increasingly fractured Russian populace. Then Alexander II was assassinated. Sweeping riots targeting Jewish settlements broke out. Jews were beaten. Robbed. Killed. Some of them fled their homeland to other lands that did not welcome them.

In any event, Aaron Kosminski would have been young when he left Poland. From there his family most likely settled in Germany, but only briefly. Somewhere along the way his older sisters wound up in London and sent for him. He lived with them in the slums of the Whitechapel district when he wasn’t roaming the streets, sleeping in doorways and eating out of the trash. At the time he was twenty-three years old.

Kosminski was very obviously, very seriously, mentally ill. He was in the throes of schizophrenia at a time when it–like syphilis and gonorrhea– was a terminal disease. There was no medicine for these conditions. No satisfactory treatment. People routinely died from strep throat and were locked away in crude mental facilities just for being depressed.

It is reasonable to presume that there were times when Aaron Kosminski teetered on the brink of normalcy. Schizophrenia waxes and wanes. He was a barber. He had knowledge of sheers and razors.

It is also pretty safe to presume that he harbored a deep seeded resentment of women independent of, though informed by, his disorder. Schizophrenics are rarely violent.

That’s pretty much the gist of the backstory. By Information Age standards, they didn’t keep the best records in those days but when prostitutes started showing up in the gutters and alleyways of Whitechapel in stages of disfigurement to disembowelment, they–i.e., the press–became very particular with dates, locations and gruesome details even though the victims were desperately impoverished, living on the fringe of society. Such was the case September 30, 1888, the date of the so-called Double Event.

The Double Event was almost “just”another double murder. Almost, but not quite. The crimes were two different murders, separated by a block and forty-five minutes, committed by the same killer. Most historians and police officials have theorized that the reason there was a Double Event was that the killer was interrupted before he could eviscerate prostitute Liz Stride to his liking.

There was a witness who initially came forward and identified the killer, then quickly recanted his statement. He later refused to go on record or to testify about what he saw on the early morning of September 30th.

That witness was probably Israel Schwartz. Schwartz happened on the scene as the murderer was likely killing Liz Stride; her body was still warm when found. He admitted to the police that he observed Stride talking to a man–a dirty, disheveled man. At the time, the press reported that Schwartz could not identify the disheveled man.

Unable to fulfill his escalating modus operandi the murderer had to satisfy his sick blood jones with another victim. Catherine Eddowes.

With Eddowes, the murderer took outrageous risks. Even though he had been very nearly caught in the act only minutes before, even though there was panic in the streets, he took his time with her.

The serial killer’s M.O. was to approach a prostitute, lure her into a dark corner of the street, slit her throat, mutilate her body, masturbate and then disappear into the shadows. (Whitechapel was very dark, not just from London fog, but from the excessive burning of coal.) With Eddowes he ripped open her abdomen, pulled out her intestines and removed her left kidney, taking it with him.

Typical of the homeless, Eddowes wore many layers of clothing. Some of it was left strewn around her body. Incredibly, a policeman picked up Eddowes’ shawl thinking that his wife might like it. When he presented it to her she was predictably horrified. It was stained with blood and, as it turned out, other bodily fluid.

The wife boxed it up and put it away. Over many decades it was handed down and finally sold to author Russell Edwards who submitted it for mitochondrial and epithelial DNA testing in 2014.

On October 16th, 1888 the killer sent a letter and a portion of a human kidney–a left human kidney, medical science was then able to conclude– to George Lusk, the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Group. The letter read:

From hell.

Mr Lusk,
Sir
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
signed
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

The news spread like wildfire. Wildfire is known to jump creeks and rivers. News of the Double Event, the letter and the kidney jumped oceans.

The whole world was riveted and unnerved as it speculated about grandiose suspects like: American physician and con artist, Francis Tumblety, famed artist, Walter Sickert and Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert. All of these men enjoyed varying degrees of wealth. All of them snazzy dressers.

There was another witness who might have identified the killer and recanted. According to press accounts, Joseph Lewende saw Catherine Eddowes either talking to or scuffling with a dirty, disheveled man right before she was killed.

It is reasonable to presume that both Lewende and Schwartz knew the murderer. He was a notorious character from the slums they all three lived in. Lewd, filthy, he was known to bother women. But the witness(es) knew even more than that.

The witness, whoever he was, knew Aaron Kosminski and Jack the Ripper were one and the same. But he could not tell. He could not tell because he–like Kosminski–was Jewish. And the Jews of Whitechapel were the most marginalized of the marginalized.

Assistant Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson of the Scotland Yard wrote in his memoirs that “Jack the Ripper was a low class, Polish Jew.” Colleague and lead Ripper investigator, Chief Inspector Donald Swanson wrote in the margins of his copy of his boss’s memoirs, “Kosminski”. This was in 1910.

“If nonsense were solid, the nonsense that was talked and written about those murders would sink a Dreadnought. The subject is an unsavoury one, and I must write about it with reserve.

But it is enough to say that the wretched victims belonged to a very small class of degraded women who frequent the East-End streets after midnight . . . one need not be a Sherlock Holmes to discover that the criminal was a sexual maniac of a virulent type; that he was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders; and that, if he was not living absolutely alone, his people knew of his guilt, and refused to give him up to justice. . . . The conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews; for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their number to Gentile justice.

And the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point.

For I may say at once that undiscovered murders’ are rare in London, and the Jack the Ripper crimes are not within that category.”

Sir Robert Anderson

The Lighter Side of My Life

While the witness, Sir Anderson and Chief Inspector Swanson lived with the terrible truth, Mary Kelly did not…Live, that is.

She was murdered by Aaron Kosminski, November 9, 1888. She is probably his last victim. Hers was the most brutal murder.

After the Kelly homicide, Scotland Yard put Aaron Kosminski under near constant surveillance until he was forcibly admitted into Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum on February 7, 1891.

One hundred twenty-eight years later, March of 2019, results of the 2014 mitochondrial and epithelial DNA testing initiated by Russell Edwards were confirmed by scientists from the prestigious Liverpool John Moores University. Results from the Moores scientists testing were published in Journal of Forensic Sciences. Edwards wrote a book about his research and testing entitled Naming Jack the Ripper.

He wasn’t Hannibal Lecter. He wasn’t even Ted Bundy.

He was Aaron Kosminski.

 

Older Posts