Thursday, June 10, 2010

Taxidermia - With (Meaningful) Spoilers!

(This trailer is not safe for work, so don't play it there.)

What is it with Eastern European horror films? They are, ahem, a very different animal than American horror films, or J-horror, or the old Italian masters. They don't want to scare you, exactly, but they have no compunction about making your skin crawl and your stomach heave.

Take the Hungarian film Taxidermia, perhaps the most disgusting film I've ever seen. (Worse than Tokyo Gore Police even!)

It's the story of a family of weirdos, but (as I'll get to in a bit) it may be much, much more. The first act concerns a hairlipped pervert of a soldier, who's basically a mistreated slave to his lieutenant. He sleeps in a shack, masturbates a lot, and fantasizes about the lieutenant's wife and daughters.

In one scene, he's watching the daughters have a snowball fight through a hole in his shack. Then he starts lubing up the hole, and before you can think, "There's no way they're going to show him humping that hole," a little pink dildo pops and the wall starts shaking. To make matters worse, there's a chicken clucking around whose interest is, um, aroused. The chicken goes over to investigate and you can guess what happens next... The cock takes a shot at the cock. The perv screams so loud....

Later on, you're treated to a hardcore penetration (literally!) shot of this dude screwing the lieutenant's homely wife, only he wakes up to find he's been humping a slaughtered pig.

But hey, that's just the first act. The homely wife gets pregnant, the hairlipped perv gets shot, and the baby is born...with a pig's tail. Flashforward twenty years.

The baby has grown into a man, a big man. Three hundred pounds of man. And he's an eater, too. A competitive eater representing Hungary on the Communist speed-eating circuit. Right now, he's the canning factory champion, but his big dream? Training for when the IOC accepts competitive eating as an Olympic event.

Watching him in his first event is enough to make you lose your lunch. I'm gagging just thinking about it. They slurp up soup, these disgusting fat men, then they go and prop themselves over what looks like to be a kiddie swimming pool, and in between speaking their lines, they purge.

They didn't shrink from the having-sex-with-an-ugly-woman thing, so you know they're not going to flinch when a bunch of fat communists are puking up chicken noodle soup. Sooo gross.

Lucky for him, competitive eating is a co-ed sport, and he hooks up with the female champion from Hungary. Oh, it's beautiful. I'm kidding...but in a way, it is. You will never see two overweight people frolic like that in an American movie unless it's being played as a joke.

A son is born to them, a skinny kid, an odd kid. Flashforward again, and the kid's an adult. He's a socially awkward taxidermist. His mother is gone, out of the picture. His father is even more grotesquely fat than ever. He sits at home all day, talking about his over-fed cats and eating nothing but candy-bars and margarine, wrapper and all.

His son feeds and cleans him up and does the same for the cats, but the father doesn't really like him. Doesn't really appreciate him, or understand him. They bicker, and the son promises never to return. After keeping his promise for a while, he reneges and goes back, only to find his father an unfortunate victim of his hungry cats.

So what does the son do? What any normal person would do. He stuffs the father, then hooks himself into this strange contraption. What follows is a montage of surgery in close-up. You're not really sure what's going on. There's lot of tubes and scalpels cutting away what looks like real flesh, real organs. And at the end, the camera pulls back to reveal the son sewing up his own chest. He's been stuffing himself! He pushes a button and a sword swings out, cutting off his head to finish the job.

Later a man, who had come into the taxidermist's shop previously to order a custom-stuff fetus, returns to the shop and discovers the stuffed father, the stuffed and mutilated son, and he turns them both into an art exhibit, ala Body Worlds.

The End!

Now all of the things I've just described are disgusting, deviant, morally questionable, and a whole bunch of other adjectives, but like I said, it's not meant to scare you. Oh, sure, it's meant to make you queasy, but...

There may be a larger point to it all. What if the pervey soldier represented Hungary under fascism, specifically under Nazi occupation? What if the fat competitive eater represented Hungary under communism? What if the son represented Hungary's capitalist present?

What if? It's a theory I found in the forum on IMDB, and you totally fits. In fact, it puts the whole movie in perspective. It gives it a point, a point beyond merely entertaining your audience with sex, vomit, and guts. It elevates the material, and makes Taxidermia more than just a horror movie.

The Overton Window

Glenn Beck (or Glenn Beck and another author) wrote a political thriller! I can't wait to read it.

Okay, so I don't want to read it. But I do want to read an excerpt. I want to thumb through it looking for clunky dialogue and cardboard characters and bad sex scenes. It sounds like a very unimaginative polemic, The Da Vinci Code for the Tea Party set.

From the Amazon description:
For Noah Gardner, a twentysomething public relations executive, it's safe to say that political theory is the furthest thing from his mind. Smart, single, handsome, and insulated from the world's problems by the wealth and power of his father, Noah is far more concerned about the future of his social life than the future of his country.

But all of that changes when Noah meets Molly Ross, a woman who is consumed by the knowledge that the America we know is about to be lost forever.
Oh, poor "America we know." Every few years or so, it's lost forever!

Remember when ATM fees were a buck? Gone, never to return!

(I dig this Molly Ross name, though. Is she related to Betsy or did Beck decide that would be a little obvious?)

There's more:
She and her group of patriots have vowed to remember the past and fight for the future--but Noah, convinced they're just misguided conspiracy-theorists, isn't interested in lending his considerable skills to their cause.
This Noah guy doesn't sound very bright. I don't know any "misguided" conspiracy-theorists. I do know a few batshit insane ones. And what kind of considerable skills can a PR executive bring to a fight for America's survival? Rhetorical flourishes?

But get this:
"An unprecedented attack on U.S. soil shakes the country to the core..."
You mean, like 9-11? That kind of unprecedented attack that shakes the country to the core?
...and puts into motion a frightening plan, decades in the making, to transform America and demonize all those who stand in the way.
That would be the ACLU deploying the SEIU thugs to turn your kids gay. Or maybe it has something to do with Muslims...

It doesn't matter really. What's important is that the "misguided conspiracy theorists" are right! America's under attack, and only Noah can stop it by...
Exposing the plan, and revealing the conspirators behind it.
Oh, if only saving America was so easy! You expose the plan, reveal the conspirators, and every thing else just falls into place. Just like, you know, on Scooby Doo. (Surely Beck remembers a guy named Osama Bin Laden...I seem to remember something about his plan and his conspirators. Weren't they in Iraq or something?)

Theodore Sturgeon once said that good fiction isn't about ideas, it's about people. This is why books chockful of ideas, but bereft of recognizable people, are not that interesting. Maybe you want to listen to John Galt go off on a thirty page soliloquy about his philosophy, but I'd rather listen to Atticus Finch cross examine a witness.

What are the chances that Glenn Beck wrote a story instead of a sermon? Very slight, I'd say...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Woke Up This Morning

So having just finished watching The Sopranos for the second time, I'm watching a featurette on the last disc about "The Music of The Sopranos" and David Chase mentions...just mentions, like it's no big deal...that the song has a Howlin' Wolf sample.

O RLY, I thought. The whole "Woke up this morning" thing reminded me of Howlin' Wolf, but then again, Howlin' Wolf is always singing about waking up in the morning. One day he's so mad this morning he doesn't know where in the world to go. Another day he's getting up in the morning and dusting his broom. The next he's getting up in the morning and hitting Highway 49.

So I listened with new ears. And sure enough, the Wolf is there. He's the one doing the call out after the "blue moon's in your eyes" line. Listen for him.

Speaking of waking up in the morning, this song is what I wake up to every morning. Not this version --I've never heard this version until now-- but I love this song.

I love this dude. I love his music.

PS. This is the version on my alarm clock. Yes, Hubert Sumlin's fingerpicked lick is the first thing I hear every day. And it never gets old.

Wiped Out

All digital theaters make Jimmy a busy boy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

All About the Drums

Gene Hoglan has a drumming DVD coming out. I hope Netflix picks it up because even though I'm not a drummer, I want to know his secret.

Speaking of drummers, I saw this video of a wedding band and the drummer is hilarious. Even with all the histrionics, he never misses a beat.

And just for good measure, one of the greatest drummers who ever lived: Gene Krupa.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Other Books

The good thing about library sales is that you can pick up some books that you can't find in bookstores. They may be old, or not have much commercial potential, or be big glossy books from a museum or university, text books, reference books, books on so narrow a subject that you didn't know a book had been written about it.

A selection of some that I picked up.

Home Country by Ernie Pyle

Pyle's famous for his writing during WWII, but this book is all about traveling around America. It's the 1947 edition, published posthumously of course, but the great thing about it is that at the time, it wasn't a history book. Now it is.

The Parable of the Tribes by Andrew Bard Schmookler (What a name, huh!)

It's subtitle is "The Problem of Power in Social Evolution," which probably means that this isn't going to be one of those "light reading" experiences. It may, however, be extremely informative. Unfortunately my copy seems to have been owned by a college drop-out. The first two chapters (and only the first two) are covered with the kind of extensive high-lighting and marginal notes that no true student would ever mark into a book. Seriously, people. Put...the...highlighter...down.

Red Blood and Black Ink: Journalism in the Old West by David Dary

This is what I'm talking about when I mention books with no commercial potential and narrow subjects. You can make money writing about the Old West, and you can make money writing about journalism. But journalism in the Old West? It ain't getting on the bestseller list unless it's a novel and it's got lots of romance. But still, considering how the journalism of the time shaped our view of the Old West, it seems this is a subject worthy of a book. Indeed, it may be a treasure trove of writerly ideas once I do read it.

In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great by Michael Wood

I got this because I'm a big fan of Michael Wood. He makes documentaries, mostly, and the books are supplements to the films, but man, the dude knows how to tell a story. If you've ever seen his documentaries, you'll know what I'm talking about. He's standing under the ruins of an Incan fort and says something like, "And here the last Manco's warriors stood on these rocks, armed with a European sword, throwing the Spaniards off, and in the end, when it was clearly hopeless, he threw his weapons down, stuffed his mouth with dirt, scourged his face, and threw himself off the rocks, fulfilling his vow to die before surrendering to the Spanish." That kind of thing turns me into a little kid at storytime. Tell me more, tell me more! If you've seen the "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great," it's the same kind of thing. "Here, Alexander and his men..." did something totally awesome!

China: A New History

I went to the Jefferson County Library book sale yesterday --a bag of books for $5!-- and got a book called China: A New History by John King Fairbank. Being interested in Chinese history and wanting to know more about it, I eagerly scooped it up.

But upon getting open and cracking it open, I wonder if I might have made some kind of mistake. The second paragraph of the introduction --yes, the second paragraph of the entire book-- displays a condescending anti-Americanism that makes me wonder what kind of writer I'm dealing with.

Take this:
(China) is now trying to achieve economic modernization without the representative political democracy that Americans view as their special gift to the world's salvation.
The sarcasm drips off the page. I guess I expected a little less sneering from a straight history book.

Of course, maybe I just need to keep reading. Or maybe I just need to skip the introduction where the author tells us what Americans think and get to the this-happened, that-happened accounting of China's history.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Song of the South

When I was growing up, you heard a lot of Alabama being played in the house. Not the state, the country band. I recently downloaded a couple old classics, and was struck by the political content of one in particular. We live in a different age, because I'm not sure a song like this could be a hit with today's country audience.

Take the following lyrics:
Cotton on the roadside, cotton in the ditch.
We all picked the cotton but we never got rich.
Daddy was a veteran, a southern Democrat.
They oughta get a rich man to vote like that.
"We all picked the cotton but we never got rich." Man, ain't that the tale of the working man.

But check the FDR hagiography:
Well somebody told us Wall Street fell
But we were so poor that we couldn't tell.
Cotton was short and the weeds were tall
But Mr. Roosevelt's a gonna save us all.
Context would help. The next verse provides it.
Well Mama got sick and Daddy got down
The county got the farm and they moved to town
Papa got a job with the TVA
He bought a washing machine and then a Chevrolet
The TVA would be the Tennessee Valley Authority, "a federally owned corporation in the United States created by congressional charter in May 1933 to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly affected by the Great Depression."

FDR signed the act that created it.

Glenn Beck would call this a socialist song. The poor farmer getting chewed up by the rich, that's Marxist propaganda, man! Voting for a communist-fascist like FDR and looking to him to save your ass? Talk about paternalism. And then look at Daddy, collecting his fat federal paycheck and fat federal benefits, just a moocher living on the government's dime. And what does he do with it? He buys luxuries like washing machines and cars. Should have bought a barrel of dry rice and saved the family farm, you idiot...

Anyway, I think it's a good song, even though when it gets to the chorus, it's a bit jarring.
Gone, gone with the wind
There ain't nobody looking back again
Yeah, think about the next time you hear about something like Confederate History Month or repealing the Civil Rights Act.