Thursday, April 30, 2009


I love this song.

house of the devil

This movie looks good. Old school horror. I'm too poor for Tribeca tickets but I hope it will be picked up for distribution soon.

Here's an interview with the director Ti West.

reebok pumps

I'm really excited about the return of Reebok pumps. They were always my favorite shoes.

Here's a commercial from the early 90s.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

sears, circa 1972

I loved this jezebel post that scanned photos from a 1972 summer / spring Sears catalogue. The clothes are so wild.


Suddenly in the current outbreak of swine flu, Michael Jackson doesn't look so odd with his mask. He did buy a creepy mannequin though on this shopping trip.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

women on the edge of sanity: the snake pit & nurse betty

It's a coincidence that I watched Nurse Betty and The Snake Pit back to back. I see how both films were risky as mainstream studio productions in different eras. Even though they aren't perfect pictures, there's something admirable about their conceptions. It's interesting to see how their narratives are led by characters who are insane--one funny and one harrowing. de Havilland and Zellwegger both play women living out of reality and who, in the avoidance of their traumas, go on emotional journeys, eventually coming into their own.

There is one scene in The Snake Pit that is a powerhouse: a mental hospital ward is serenaded to the song "Goin' Home." Knowing that many there will eventually die where they are, the song has a sad resonance. Although the film's protagonist (played by Olivia de Havilland in a superb performance) is at times emotionally difficult to relate to, Anatole Litvak's movie should be admired overall for its courageous depictions of mental illness (especially by Hollywood's standards). Based on the best-selling 1946 (not autobiographical) novel by Mary Jane Ward, who thoroughly researched a state institution and produced by Darryl F. Zancuk (who previously produced successful serious issue pictures like Grapes of Wrath and Gentleman's Agreement), The Snake Pit shows the grim deterioration and eventual recovery of a woman, Virginia, after misplacing the guilt over her husband's death.

Throughout, there are many slick stylistic moves--most notably in the shot alluding to the film's title. Alfred Newman's score booms in place of the noise of shock therapy. Virginia's sessions can be insistent, a little pat and dated. And yet, despite its flaws, the film is relentlessly unsentimental. We can see its influence in later works such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted. The film is also populated with great actors in small roles. One of the most haunting performances is played by Betsy Blair as the mostly mute Hester.

The film--originally turned down by all the major studios until courageously picked up by Zanuck--was nominated for six Academy Awards and won one for Best Sound. Unfortunately de Havilland lost Best Actress to Jane Wyman (who was solid but not nearly as commanding) for Johnny Belinda. ***

Nurse Betty is Neil LaBute's darkly comic portrait of a waitress (Renee Zellwegger) from Kansas who, after witnessing the gruesome death of her husband, suddenly becomes delusional and believes she is the ex-wife of her favorite soap opera character (played by the charming Greg Kinnear). She leaves town with, unknown to her, a load of heroin in the trunk of her car and heads to L.A. in hopes to win back his heart. A father (Morgan Freeman) and son (Chris Rock) are on her heels to claim the drugs.

What makes the film work is the cast. Freeman is mysterious and in control of a bizarre part. Allison Janney is excellent as always as a droll soap opera producer. Zellwegger, usually a hit or miss actress really shades the likeable role well here with her bouts of confusion and wide-eyed innocence. Rock is the only one who is uneven and out-of-his-league against Freeman and only really shines when it seems like he's improvising.

There are many jokey references from Doris Day's "Que Sera Sera" to Betty's Dorothy-esque gingham garb. Yet despite its slyness and some clever satire on show business, the film never really elevates much higher than its silly premise. There is nothing very interesting about the production values. And its score by Rolf Kent is cloyingly sweet and tonally wrong for the picture. There is a troubling racial element that the film can't shake out with its tacked-on sans Prince Charming-Cinderella-ish happy ending. It's disappointing that the only black men in the story are the cause of Betty's trauma and also her saviors. In turn, Betty becomes a sort of white damsel in distress. It leaves a bitter aftertaste that I couldn't tell was intentional or not. **1/2

james franco & gay poetry

James you are too much.

Friday, April 24, 2009

taking woodstock

I have to admit I'm a little underwhelmed by the trailer for Taking Woodstock. It looks more like Cameron Crowe territory than Ang Lee. But the premise, based on Elliot Tiber's autobiography, sounds good and I do love Lee and screenwriter James Schamus (who mixed comedy and drama so well in The Ice Storm). And Emile Hirsch is in it.

o, tonya

The recent Oprah interview reminds us all of the sad downfall of Tonya Harding. She still says that her ex and manager were responsible for attacking Nancy Kerrigan. You can see 2009 Tonya here courtesy of Jezebel.

Though I prefer to remember early 90s Tonya skating to Danny Elfman's music from Batman and Tone Loc's "Wild Thing."

I used to be (and still slightly am) Team Tonya. She had a good American Dream story, tacky bangs and outfits (even from an early 90s perspective), fun music, and natural athletic ability. I was not a fan of Nancy Kerrigan and her forced elegance, boring skating routines and songs. I think Tonya would have been one of our all-time greatest skaters if she hadn't of made the mistake she made. A pity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

younger than jesus

My friend Rick is the one covered with Post-its in this ad for the New Museum's current exhibit Younger Than Jesus which features artists born after 1976 from 25 different countries. I went last week and it's definitely worth a look.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

belle de jour

A young housewife named Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) escapes her dull marriage and becomes Belle de Jour, a high class prostitute, in Luis Buñuel's classic. The plot sounds like a straightforward potboiler but Buñuel's techniques create displacement--blurring the real and the unreal. Instead of a traditional music score, Buñuel uses the sounds of bells, clocks, sirens, horse hooves, and crashing waves to establish atmosphere, transition dream sequences and provide various symbolic meanings. In the final minutes of the film, there is a feverish rush of B-movie (and very French) moments that lead to a surreal and evocative ending which Buñuel himself stated that he didn't quite understand.

Buñuel's belief in the close relationship between sex and death is evident in Belle du Jour. The film is relentlessly cold and opaque in its treatment of sex and relationships. When Séverine asks her husband if he visited prostitute houses during the war, he admits that he did and that his experiences were enjoyable for a bit but left him feeling depressed. Furthermore, all of Belle de Jour's clients have eccentric sexual demands which have unsatisfactory endings. In one of the most bizarre sequences, a man takes her to his Gothic mansion where she forced to be dressed in black and laid in a coffin for his pleasure. Afterwards she is thrown out in the rain and asked to never be seen again.

Displaying a mix of passion, curiosity, vulnerability, and trepidation, Catherine Deneuve is memorable in the lead role. Much of her performance is carefully controlled by Buñuel. He often frames her in unusual compositions: at the edge of the frame or sitting or standing with her back turned. In one somber scene, she walks on a beach, looking down as a voice-over expresses indecision about her extra-marital activity. She wears beautiful Yves Saint Laurent-designed costumes which display her elegance and class but also button her up icily in black and red--providing a sort of armor against the real or imagined predators around her. She is iconic here.

The complexity of Buñuel's films often reward with repeat viewings. This one is no exception. There is something mystifying about Belle de Jour yet unlike other twisty films of its nature, its opacity is enlightening and apt rather than frustrating. ****

-Jeffery Berg

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

john david carson: whereabouts unknown

I used to be (and still sort of am) obsessed with Empire of the Ants.

It's an endearing, low budget 1977 movie loosely based on an H.G. Wells story about ants that get large from radioactive waste and attack and brainwash people in Florida.

It stars Joan Collins and my favorite Pamela Susan Shoop.

No one seems to know where one of the film's actors - John David Carson - has gone.

He can be seen here in Empire of the Ants with an unbuttoned shirt and Pamela Susan Shoop stumbling upon a colony of giant ants and the polyester remnants of a character named Mr. Lawson.

Since then, he appeared in bit roles on TV shows: "Charlie's Angels," "CHiPs," "The Fall Guy," "Falcon Crest."

He married and divorced Vicki Morgan who had a troubling, unfortunate story of her own.

His last film appearance was a brief one in Pretty Woman.

On imdb, a poster notes his where thinks he is as of 2007 ...

david_w_gibson (Tue Apr 8 2008 02:33:08)
For those of you looking for John Carson, he stayed at the Aztec Inn Casino in Las Vegas from about 1991-1998, after that he and my ex wife moved around a bit but the last I heard from a former employee of the Aztec, he and my ex are still together and staying at a small weekly hotel, I think called St. Louis Manor, on the corner of St. Louis and Paradise Rd. in Vegas. This was last summer that I got that info. He's a real scumbag and an alcoholic, set his room on fire in 1994 when he passed out drunk with a lit cigarette.

There's something haunting about his world and his anonymity in Vegas. Maybe he was frustrated with his career and what he wanted to do as an artist. From time to time, I think of a scene on the windy beach of Dreamland Shores where Pamela Susan Shoop asks about his life and he flicks a cup of wine and says, "plastic like everything else."

UPDATE: It seems there is an internet rumor that John David Carson has passed. If anyone has any further information, please let me know. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I have a few old New Yorker magazines from 1954 once owned by someone with the initials CWR. For some reason, I envision CWR as a woman -- sort of a loner type.

On the cover, she writes the date when she completed reading the magazine.

Inside, she puts check marks next to every article and books she's read, shows and movies she's seen. In this issue, she hasn't seen Dial M for Murder yet, but in the next issue, she'll have a check mark next to it.

She also puts check marks next to advertisements. I take these as products CWR is particularly fond of. She is a Schewppeswoman (a female lover of Schweppes).

She also chooses Ansco Color Film.

Maybe she took the Ladies Home Journal advice about how to meet a man in church.

I wonder what's become of CWR. If she was my age in 1954, she'd be 84. But based on her taste in American Express Travelers Cheques and Sanka coffee, something tells me she was older and likely no longer with us.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

dear ralph lauren,

I have been a little out of the loop with new poetry books and I just discovered Iowa poet Robyn Schiff's Revolver. It's one for my wishlist. I love the language and images in the poems I've come across.

Here's a link to one of them, "Dear Ralph Lauren," published in Jubliat.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

steve mcqueen

I recently watched 1972's The Getaway and 1968's Bullitt and it got me thinking that there are no movie stars like Steve McQueen. In both films he is believable and electric. He is an action star but also a very good actor--especially in the physical sense (he did many of his own stunts). He is good looking but is also sort of rugged and real.

Bullitt is best known for its car chase sequence which remains an exciting technical marvel today. The film won a well-deserved Oscar for Film Editing. However much of the film is methodical and psychological.

McQueen plays Lt. Frank Bullitt who tries to piece together a crime and nail a Senator's (wickedly played by Robert Vaughn) involvement. The plot may seem sort of a weak and predictable by today's standards but it was influential for coming films like The French Connection and Dirty Harry. There are many gritty and gory crime, hospital and morgue scenes which show the effects of violence and death on character. The name Bullitt itself becomes ironic. Much of the film's realism can be attributed to McQueen who wanted his action films to be as realistic as possible. Today only independent films take this approach--most Hollywood action films are overly glossy and high-tech and hardly resemble the America we live in.

George Clooney's performance in Michael Clayton reminds me a little of McQueen's in Bullitt. They play anti-heroes who are not very emotive but filled with tension and complexity under the surface. Both films are crime dramas with convoluted plots which reveal corruption in powerful institutions. And both films have memorable cathartic showdowns (in a much more violent sense in Bullitt) and open-ended situations for their lead characters who have been put through the ringer.

Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway is an odd picture focused on the relationship of two characters ex-convict Doc and his wife Carol (played by real-life couple McQueen and Ali MacGraw) who are on the run from the law after escaping a botched bank robbery. It seems to owe a lot to Bonnie & Clyde in tone, style and content but feels authentic as a caper of its own time period. The film also reminded me of the recent No Country for Old Men in its depictions of violence and rural Texas. I haven't come across any evidence of the Coen Brothers being influenced by Peckinpah for that film but they have to have been clearly aware of his work.

There is one truly great scene where the two leads hide in a trash truck. When the truck unloads in a landfill, they tumble out with the trash in slow motion. It's a memorable and beautiful shot and a turning point in the film: Doc and Carol have now been through it all together and are reborn in a way to start anew.

It's rumored that The Getaway was made purely for money but Peckinpah still leaves his artistic stamp on it. His films are ambivalent: they revel in violence while simultaneously finding violence repugnant. The female leads (like MacGraw here) usually seem stiff and slow-witted and are treated badly (McQueen memorably slaps her here) but are usually smarter than their male counterparts. The film was a huge hit in its day and yet relatively forgotten now. Perhaps because like Bullitt there's a slowness to it, a sort of authentic drabness to the setting and a close attention to the characters' psychological journeys.

I enjoyed McQueen's performances in both. He was noted as being difficult to work with and an egomaniac but his artistry is reflected in these films as being subtle and true.