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All Things Thriller

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

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.

Memories of Naps, Cotton’s Dream…And Mrs. Hughes

When I was a kid I had to take an afternoon nap. And though I’ve always required more sleep than most, I hated it.

My mother was very strict about naps. (Apparently, if I didn’t get enough rest I would turn into a near demon, the transformation reeking havoc with my respiratory system.) She, or my sitter, Mrs. Hughes, would stealthily crack open the bedroom door. If caught reading a comic book or listening to my transistor radio with the ear piece, the items would be taken away, banished to the top shelf of the hall closet, temporarily, but still…

And I would be doomed to an even longer nap.

Consequently, I became an excellent fake sleeper. Mrs. Hughes was almost always fooled.

One time I rolled off the bed in my sleep. The loud thud prompted Mrs. Hughes to rush through my door where she found me, miraculously, fast asleep on the floor.

Never one to betray much emotion, I could tell she was worried when she sat me on my bed. She peered intensely into my eyes as she ran her large and meaty fingers over my scalp, an ever present cigarette dangling from her lips.

The ruse worked and backfired at the same time. I was allowed to get up, but I had to stay inside all day.

My mother–though far less gruff than Mrs. Hughes (in fact, not gruff at all)–was a harsher critic of my acting skills. But she had to earn a living, so Mrs. Hughes oversaw the “siestivities”.

You got what I did there, right?…siesta…”siestivities”…

Just making sure. Anyway…

The required duration was about two hours. In other words, an eternity. There was no clock in my room, though it wouldn’t have mattered if there was; I had trouble telling time. By the time I learned, I no longer had to nap.

I was off the clock.

But prior to that, there I would lay, miserable, with nothing to do. Perhaps I could have gone to sleep if I’d tried, but that never occurred to me. I had to resist. And resistance hinged on my ability to gauge the lapse of time.

Obviously, Mrs. Hughes enjoyed my naps more than I did, during which she ate lunch, folded laundry and rolled cigarettes–all while soap operas droned.

How much more she enjoyed them is debatable. Mrs. Hughes wasn’t the soap opera type. (When I was at her house she watched Gunsmoke and Wagon Train.) But we didn’t have cable so that was that.

That and PBS.

Of course, I couldn’t have cared less about soap operas if not for one thing…

At noon I ate lunch. I knew this because that’s when Mrs. Hughes would turn on the television. Hi Noon, the local afternoon news and “entertainment” show was on. I ate my lunch on a TV tray so I could watch Hi Noon regular, Roscoe the clown, draw clowns…and dogs, and cats, and cowboys, etc…

I didn’t like Roscoe, not because he was a clown–he wasn’t creepy–but because I just didn’t. Nonetheless, I pretended to. It would have hurt Mrs. Hughes’ feelings if she’d known truth. Her son, Travis, a surly high schooler who spoke all of five words to me, was a great artist (of that I can attest–I saw some of his cartoons; amazing and amazingly explicit.) Apparently, as a child, he was inspired by Roscoe.

After Hi Noon it was nap time. No sooner had Mrs. Hughes situated me between the the blanket and the top sheet ( I wasn’t allowed to untuck the sheets like I did at night) I would hear the those painfully pretty piano chords, then the dramatic counter chords, the swell of strings…and more strings…building…building…toward the bridge…

The Young And The Restless was on.

After The Young and Restless, there was As The World Turns. And then, The Guiding Light.

After that, I could get up.

The Killing of Two Lovers, a Film Directed by Robert Machoian, Starring Clyne Crawford; Drama

A marriage is a living thing–kind of like an entity, or a soul. Within are the experiences of two lives merged into one.

A birth. An infancy. A childhood.

Then comes the teenage years. And the young adult stage.

Many marriages don’t survive beyond this point, which is usually seven to ten years. Circumstance rears its ugly head; the unexpected looms large and then lowers the boom. The marriage is overcome. Neglected. Or just abandoned.

In this regard marriage shares more qualities with a mistreated pet than it does with a soul. It ages fast. Especially if there are children involved.

Even so, a marriage can live a long, long time. The phrase ‘until death do us part’ comes to mind.

Resilience is key. And commitment. And compromise.

And what of passion? Of love? One might ask.

One might…if one is young. At least, that’s the thesis of first time director/writer/producer Robert Machoian’s achingly quiet, visually stunning dramatic film treatise, The Killing of Two Lovers, in which journeyman actor Clyne Crawford (in a mesmerizingly compelling performance) plays husband, David.

David is young, in his early thirties, but he and his wife, Nikki, have been married for years. She too is young–his age. They have children–a teenage girl and three young boys.

As high school sweethearts in a tiny town they’ve never left, they had their daughter, Jess. For David, Jess is the catalyst of their marriage; for Nikki, she is the reason.

Their story and their images are woven into a stark, purposeful vision that fixates, from a distance, on the expanse of prairie land, of unencumbered skies and tumbleweeds, of the loneliness of barren roads and a windswept playground, sweeping over the desperation of peeling paint, of a crushed cup littering a discount store’s parking lot.

Nikki has grown tired of this life. An aspiring paralegal, she has only recently tasted the first fruits of a career as opposed to a job–they are sweet. The possibilities are sweeter still. A lawyer in the building where she works encourages her to aim higher. They begin an affair.

David knows about it. Even if Nikki wanted to, it would be impossible to keep it secret in a tiny town.

But she doesn’t hide.

She and David have agreed to a separation which means that he lives in his old bedroom of his father’s house, just a short jog down the road. They have also agreed that they can see other people.

Nikki asks if he’s thought about getting his own place.

Still, David clings to hope. He adores his family. All he’s ever wanted to be is Nikki’s husband and a father to their children.

Well, almost. David’s a decent singer songwriter. He was once in a punk band, but he let go of those dreams and never looked back. Nikki’s audience is enough. He loves her.

She loves him too, but differently, gently, even as she steers him toward the roaring waters of divorce. When, during an argument, he is barely able to contain himself, she scolds him, careful to protect his impetuous inner child, though it’s the child she’s grown weary of.

Daughter Jess is weary of him too. David knows this so he coerces her to spend time with him, but spends it romping around with the boys, buying them expensive toys the family can’t afford…rockets. He buys one for Jess also.

When her rocket fails to lift, he doesn’t understand why she storms off. His love for her is oceans wide. Why can’t it be enough?

Funny how it’s not enough to stop him from stalking Derek with a gargantuan pistol, ready at the reach. And it’s not enough to startle him out of blowing Nikki and Derek’s heads off with it either–a toilet flushing thankfully does the trick–when he finds them sleeping together in the home where his children lay. He slinks away as Nikki and Derek barely stir, only to act as if nothing happened when he stops by later to walk the boys to school.

So yes, it’s complicated.

Yet despite David’s dance with murder and Nikki taking her lover into the marital bed, there are no monsters here.

No Jezebel. No Mr. Hyde.

Just David. Just Nikki. Their children. And their marriage.

Therein lies the tragedy. And the movie’s battered, but still beautiful soul.

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic, Conclusion

THIS IS A STORY BASED ON THE TRUTH. IT FALLS WITHIN THE GENRE OF HISTORICAL FICTION. THE NAMES OF THE CHARACTERS, THE LOCALE AND MANY OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE HISTORICAL AND FACTUAL. I HAVE TAKEN LIBERTY WITH SOME INCIDENTALS AND THE DIALOGUE, BASING THEM ON THE ERA, THE SITUATION AND THE CHARACTERS INVOLVED.

CONCULSION

Par for the coarse; that’s what Vito Genovese thought about the whole Little Augie thing. The way he tried to hide behind a woman in the end…par for the coarse.

And Janice Drake?

He didn’t think a thing about her. She was incidental as opposed to accidental.

Now, if she’d been accidental, there’d be hell to pay. Especially if she was a “nice woman”…a “God fearing woman”, like Donatella, his first wife; God rest her soul. So young and beautiful, she died from tuberculosis because she was such a saint…

It’s true. She took the sacraments of the holy church very seriously. Not only that but she went above and beyond the sacraments; she did good deeds. During the Depression, she volunteered in soup kitchens and homeless shelters where unemployed Italian laborers and their families suffered the often slow death of depravation…that’s what his Donatella did…the mother of his Nancy.

That’s how she got sick.

He wanted to forbid her from her volunteer work, but he feared standing in her way. It was one thing to assist in the commission of sin. It was another thing to obstruct the commission of good.

She contracted mililary tuberculosis, which, under a microscope, appears as hordes of tiny concave millet seeds. It’s like cancer. It can spread from the lungs to other organs until a person is consumed by it, that’s why they call it “consumption”…or they used to call it that…so he gave her the biggest funeral New York had ever seen.

Yes. Even bigger than Frankie Yale’s.

But she wasn’t a nice woman…Janice Drake wasn’t.

She wasn’t like Donatella at all. She was more like his second wife, Anna, who trotted out their dirty laundry for everyone to gawk at…

Her lovers. Men and women.

And she had the nerve to cry to the press about his unfaithfulness.

He felt bad for her kid, though…Janice Drake’s kid…

She had a boy…her and that comic.

The Drake Family in morning

The family of slain Janice Drake (l. to r.) June Hansen, her stepmother; Harold Hansen, her father; Harold Hansen Jr., her step brother; Alan Drake, her husband, and Michael Drake, her son. (Photo by Phil Greitzer/NY Daily News)

Drake was onstage at the Lotus club when he got the word. The front of the house manager came onstage and whispered in his hear.

“There’s a call for you backstage, Drake. It’s urgent.”

And that’s when he felt it, yet, again–a wave of nauseating revulsion that gave way to the briskly crisp, the startlingly clear shiver of fear. He knew, immediately, before he was told.

He chartered a flight to New York and took a taxi straight to the morgue. When the medical examiner pulled down the sheet he vomited on the floor.

The press awaited him as he left the morgue. “I just lost the greatest wife a man ever had,” he said.

If the sentiment fell a little flat, if it seemed too rehearsed, too canned–there were tears in his eyes.

It was pure Allan Drake.

Back in the day, back in the early 60s, Redd Foxx…Sanford and Son…yeah…he played Sanford...he got pretty tight with Allan Drake.

Redd worked this little club in Vegas. And he worked “blue”…he was a dirty comic…underground records…paper bag stuff, like a dirty magazine. Same time Lenny Bruce was doin’ it, Redd Foxx was doin’ it. Hell, he was doin’ before Lenny Bruce.

Redd Foxx got away with it though.

The word was, Redd got a lot of blow from Allan Drake. Cocaine.

That’s where a lot of Redd’s money went. Straight up his nose. And Redd was a big time player. He burned more money than Allan Drake ever made. He was a real talent. A pioneer.

But he lost everything. Even his house…and it wasn’t a mansion or anything…just a nice brick house. Ranch-style.

Eddie Murphy had to pay for his funeral.

To this day, people in the industry don’t like to talk about Allan Drake. That whole episode with his wife…it was scary.

Not a good guy. Sorry.

Things didn’t just dry up and blow away when Little Augie and Janice were killed. They didn’t just dry up and blow away because Drake kept his mouth shut and his head held high. He carried on with dignity.

People felt sorry for him. So he got plenty of work.

He became a journeyman of the small screen where he was a regular guest on The Jackie Gleason Show and a semi regular on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dean Martin Comedy Hour.

And, yeah, he was on Johnny Carson. Several times.

He showed up as a guest star on series, too, like Cheyanne, Get Smart, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Too Close for Comfort and even snagged a reoccurring role on Sandford and Son as Fred’s brother-in-law, Rodney Victor.

Of course he worked Vegas. He opened for some big timers : Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Martin and Vic Damone.

And then there were his side hustles. He was connected.

All and all, he made a nice living.

His son, Michael, grew up to be a physician.

One time, Drake was doing a show in Vegas and he had a heckler. This guy was giving him a real hard time. He yelled something like, “…don’t worry. I’m not gonna hurt you. I feel sorry for you.”

Drake walked right up to the edge of the stage. It was the 70s and he had some age on him, he was too heavy…but he was a big guy…an ex-boxer. He was wearing those big, thick frame glasses they wore then. So he takes them off and just stares at the guy. Stares at him a good…I don’t know… ten…fifteen seconds. Then he points at the guy and says,

“Don’t feel sorry for me, pal. Don’t you ever feel sorry for me.”

The way he said it. Cold. Quiet. His eyes got real black.

The guy shut up.

So did everybody else. You could have heard a pin drop the rest of the night.

“Allan Drake was just a comic, a funny man and… I’d rather not talk about the rest of it.” Lou Marsh (actor, comic, writer, Miami nightclub mainstay.)

There was nothing wrong with him. He was sweet. Kind of a hard guy, but sweet and charming.” Saul Turteltaub (writer, television producer, comic)

“I wrote for Allan Drake for quite a few years. I lost track of him. I did understand at one point he was selling cocaine toward the end of his career. A lot of the things that he did were scary, immoral things.” Sol Weinstein (novelist, humorist, sitcom writer, radio talk-show host)

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic, Part X

He bet on the wrong horse. It was as simple as that.

He bet on the wrong horse because he let himself be influenced by his emotions, by his likes and his dislikes. He should have just stuck with the odds. He was a gambler, after all.

Time and distance. That’s why Luciano’s word no longer had the influence it once did. People forgot how rich he made them. They resented it when the newspapers called him a genius.

And they were tight bastards, too.

Little Augie knew all of this and, yet, he bet on the wrong horse…that’s how much he hated Vito Genovese.

The first time Genovese called him, after the botched hit on Frank Costello, he didn’t go. He disrespected Genovese. But Anastasia was still alive then.

The second time Genovese called him, Little Augie had to go. There was nobody standing with him.

When Drake had the opportunity to help out some comic in over his head with a bookie or a drug dealer, he usually would. He was shrewd about it though, because he didn’t want to aggravate Little Augie by asking for a bunch of favors. So he went into his own pocket.

Sometimes, Drake was the one the comic was in trouble with and he would let it go. He didn’t push his weight around like he could have.

Stuff like that got around.

So when things started going south for Little Augie, Drake knew all about it because people told him things he wasn’t supposed to know. The trouble was, he didn’t know what to do about it.

It’s not like he could quit. You don’t quit the mob.

But when Anastasia got hit, that’s when it really hit home. Little Augie was no longer the benefactor; he was the albatross. Drake knew he and Janice had to get out of town before Little Augie made him his driver again.

That’s when he started hording cash and hiding it around town.

Janice was getting ready for a night on the town with her girlfriend Madeline when she got the call from Drake; that was part of her job, to make herself available. Drake called from D.C. where he was headlining a show. He sounded frantic. It bristled her.

“Steer clear of Little Augie,” he warned her. “He’s hot as a firecracker.”

“Yeah, sure,” she agreed, but what could she do? Make an excuse? Feign an illness? When you’re in the game you have no choice but to play.

She told her son to answer the calls that came in while she was away; he was twelve at the time. She told him to tell every caller that she was out for the evening and to ask if he should take a message. Any caller that he called uncle or auntie, he was to tell them that she was at the Copa.

If she and Drake were going to skip town they had to keep their cool about it, she reasoned. Go on as usual. Then they would lay low in some Podunk town, like Fayetteville, until things settled down. Drake would leave a good chunk of their assets behind for the vultures to pick through until they showed back up…like nothing ever happened, of course.

That was the idea, anyway.

At the Copa, Janice and her girlfriend, Madeline, ran into a stock broker friend of theirs, Irving Segal. Originally they were supposed to meet up at Mariano’s with Segal and his wife for dinner, but the wife couldn’t make it.

Nonetheless, they welcomed him to their table…that meant he would be picking up the check. They were having a grand old time when Little Augie sauntered by.

Of course they made it a foursome.

Little Augie suggested that they have a few more drinks and head over to Marino’s for dinner. Everyone agreed.

Since he made the suggestion it was presumed that he would pick up the check.

Nobody knows for sure who made the call to Marino’s that night…and if they do know, they’re not saying. The Maitre d’ most likely knew who it was. He’s the one that took the call. He’s the one who came to the table and whispered in Little Augie’s ear–in the middle of dinner.

According to Madeline Unger, Janice’s girlfriend, Little Augie went as white as a sheet when he left to take the call. When he came back to the table he was a little shaky, like his feet weren’t under him. He made a slapdash excuse–that he and Janice were called away to watch a closed circuit televised boxing match.

Janice said she really shouldn’t go…that she needed to get home to her son whom she had left alone. Little Augie said he’d drop her off before going to the match.

Irving agreed to make sure Madeline got home all right.

Little Augie and Janice made their way to the auto lobby.

I’ve heard this is how it went down…I don’t know that it happened this way, but if it didn’t, I’m sure it’s pretty damn close:

So, Little Augie and Janice got into the elevator which took them to the garage. Somewhere, between the time they got into the elevator and the time they contacted the valet driver, they were intercepted by fellow capo, Anthony Strollo and Bonanno crime family hitman, Tony Mirra.

They were warned not to make a scene. When the valet brought the car, Little Augie and Janice got in the front. Strollo and Mirra got in the back.

The valet was paid off. He told the police that only Little Augie and Janice got into the car.

Around 10:30 that night, a ’59 Cadillac was discovered in a deserted section of Queens, by the airport, with the engine running and the headlights on.

Anthony Carfano and Janice Henson Drake were found slumped inside the cabin, both shot dead with a 22 round in the temple and neck.

To be cont’d…

 

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic Part IX

Amongst Friends

So everybody’s heard it, that saying about “there’s no honor among thieves.” And, well, that’s a very ambivalent statement. Because it’s true, up to a point, like everything else. It depends on how you look at it.

The deal with Lucky Luciano, they were very loyal to him. The whole mafia. The whole syndicate. And that’s two different things, by the way–the mob and the syndicate.

The mob is basically another word for mafia. The syndicate is all organized crime, whether Mafia, or Dixie Mafia, or Bloods, or Crips…American organized crime.

It’s different in Italy…in Columbia..in The Philippines.

Different, but the same. Funny how that works.

You see, Luciano was in a very unique position. He was the boss of all bosses, but he refused to call himself that. In fact it’s the only time in American organized crime history that there really was a boss of all bosses.

Oh sure, there have been heirs to the throne, but in name only. Luciano’s the only boss who had absolute power.

And during a very small window of time, from 1931 to 1936, he ruled with impunity. Restrained impunity–which betrays a trait of genius.

That’s right, humility is a trait of genius…when you can reign in your own appetite…when you can have anything you want…but, he got himself in a serious jam, did a long stretch in the joint and got deported. Even then, he was immensely powerful.

And then, bam! Just like that, he wasn’t.

Well, to be fair, it happened over several years, but, when it did happen, it seemed like it came out of nowhere…like when Kennedy got killed. And that whole thing was years in the making.

But that’s the way life is. You’re up. You’re down. It’s a roller coaster ride.

The fact is, Luciano expected to be taken care of. And why not? He couldn’t earn. The feds watched him like a hawk, even when he was in Italy. It didn’t matter. They still watched him, so everybody pitched in. But not like Luciano wanted.

Frank Costello. Joe Adonis. Albert Anastasia. Little Augie. They were on Luciano’s side.

Everybody else was on Vito Genovese’s side. Vito wasn’t big on kicking up to Luciano…and he was in that little group that went all the way back with him, so he had clout.

Then Adonis got deported to Italy and Luciano expected him to be his benefactor. Joe got sick of picking up the check all the time…

So that’s when they all got together and put out the hit on Frankie because they knew he would never go against Luciano…that bullet just about took Frank’s ear off. Chin Gigante was the hit man.

He missed.

Costello wasn’t stupid. He retired in style. He was on good terms with everyone because he refused to identify Gigante. He got to keep his money and his life.

Anyway, then they went after Anastasia. They got him, famously. And nobody cared.

Everybody was pissed because of the way he handled the whole Lepke Buchalter thing. Lepke had a lot of friends. Plus, Albert Anastasia was a nasty guy. He really was.

After that, it was Little Augie’s turn.

I Heard it in a Movie : A Podcast about great Needle Drops in Cinema

Recently I started a podcast. My intentions were to start a true crime podcast about a missing persons/serial murder case that I have been researching (trying to solve) for the last two years.

But as I know next to nothing about podcast, I decided to get my feet wet in the podcast world with something I’m a little more familiar with–and so I settled on what I know best: music and cinema.

So my podcast is about the cinematic needle drop, that’s where a film sequence is accentuated with pop music–like in Goodfellas when Jimmy Conway, as portrayed by Robert De Niro, gets ultra-paranoid about loose lips regarding the Lufthansa heist and starts whacking his accomplices right and left…and the camera lingers on the dead bodies after the purge, going from one chilling death scene to the next as Derek and the Dominos, the piano coda from Layla, plays serenely.

That’s a needle drop.

And that’s what my podcast is about…music and commentary from and about various film soundtracks.

I will embed podcast episodes in my posts from time to time. You can also find my podcast on Podbean; I’m in the process of getting it on more sites so that it will be more accessible.

The episodes are an hour long.

Cheers.

I Heard it in a Movie: A Podcast about Music and Cinema Musical Confetti
I Heard it in a Movie : A Podcast about Music and CinemaElectric Eclectic

Hand in a Pocket

My husband and I held hands yesterday as the Chauvin verdict came in. When the verdict was read, my husband released my hand; he began to clap. Not me. I just felt empty.
I remembered a post about this cruel tragedy from my friend Stacey. It expressed what I could not.
Rest in peace, George Floyd. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

Laughter Over Tears

melancholy

The timing of my last blog, Acting While Black, was a little ironic, coming as it did shortly before the latest incident of police brutality/murder in the U.S.

The premise that black characters rarely survive in movies of certain genres seemed absurdly laughable and it felt worthwhile to jog down that road a little bit, stopping at the glitziest and shiniest of hilarious examples.

After the past week, the humor of Acting While Black has soured in my mouth pretty much. The past week has been a case, for me, of tears over laughter instead of the other way around. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if this is the beginning of the end or not.

But I know one thing. I know that a pocket wasn’t meant to hold a quiet hand while a heart stopped and a voice asked for his mother.

The casualness…

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