Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil and Antichrist

Nietzsche shares the position with Marx in being the most (subsequently) pervasive and persuasive of 19th Century agitators calling for a "New Man," with attendant prescriptions, programs and forecasts of upheaval. A theme which energizes the early twentieth century, and also likely fuels an intellectual and creative retreat by century end.

The Antichrist
Thus Spake Zarathustra
Beyond Good and Evil

Snuff, Exploitation, Mondo, Gore, Gross Out: Synopsises

Here is a database dedicated to itemizing the dramatic minutiae in which the antichrist tendencies of modern film-making find their anecdotal grounding. The obliteration of the body stands in thematically for where once there were trials of the soul.

Obviously, this is genre film, meant for very specific connoisseurs. Still, the plainest way to describe a theological (-ish)--non-specialized--interest in this queasy and unpleasant material is to make the case, as in hardcore pornography, that the struggles of the soul, for us moderns, needs a physical correspondence. Gore describes suffering.

Particularly useful if one has not the heart to see all these masterpieces of splenetic auteurs, but for some perverse reason must still bear witness.

N Scariest Movie Moments N
N The Top 100 Most Violent Movies Ever Made N
N Video Nasties N
N Horror Tropes on the often droll TV tropes site contains various generic descriptions. N

Louis Ferdinand Celine Online (In translation)

Trifles for a Massacre

Jean Genet, Poems Online

The Prisoner Condemned to Death
Funeral March
The Galley
The Parade
Love Song
The Fisherman of Suquet
Dialogue Between the Sun And the Moon

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Killer Delinquents

Sources and General Interest Links
Kids Who Kill, Part one
Kids Who Kill, Part two


"Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned ... step by step ... inch by inch ..." By Rebecca Day


Tell a non-resident you're from Niagara Falls and the likely response will be, "Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned ... step by step ... inch by inch ..."

Where'd that come from? Some remember it as an old Abbott and Costello or Three Stooges routine. Others may recall it from an episode of I Love Lucy.

They're all right.

The skit, which was well known on the vaudeville circuit, goes something like this: A bedraggled man buttonholes a stranger and tells him a tale of betrayal and vengeance. A rogue seduced his sweetheart. He trailed the miscreant from town to town, finally catching up with him in Niagara Falls, where he pummeled him mercilessly. The hearer of the story haplessly says the magic words, "Niagara Falls," causing the man to turn on him and mete out the same punishment.

Sometimes a different town was the red-flag word. Abbot and Costello performed the "Pokomoko" version in their 1944 film, Lost in a Harem. The improbable storyline revolves around the pair traveling to Arabia to recover the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, which has been hypnotized into playing only for the villain. They pose as Hollywood talent scouts. At one point, they end up locked in a jail cell with a lunatic, who does the "Slowly I Turned" routine.

That same year, the Three Stooges incorporated it into their short feature, Gents Without Cents. In this episode, the Stooges are out-of-work actors who meet three dancing girls in similar circumstances. They all get a job in a show, where they perform the routine. The Stooges marry the ladies and honeymoon in (where else?) Niagara Falls. This time, Curly is the Stooge who exclaims "Niagara Falls!" making himself the target of Moe and Larry's wrath.

The venerable routine reappeared in an episode of I Love Lucy aired in 1952. Ricky needs both a ballerina and a comic to be in his floorshow at the Tropicana. Lucy, as usual, is clamoring to participate. He sends her to a ballet teacher. She klutzes it up, hurts her leg and hires someone to teach her a vaudeville routine instead. In a typical misunderstanding, Ethel tells Lucy that the show needs an emergency substitute performer. Lucy goes and performs a vaudeville routine in the ballet, walloping the dancers and causing general lunacy and mayhem.

This little skit, and its centerpiece phrase, have become so well known that its authorship would seem to be lost in the mists of time, like an old folk ballad.

Extensive research (i.e., Web-surfing) has revealed that comic Joey Faye claimed authorship of "Slowly I Turned" in its many formats. Born Joseph Palladino in 1909 on Manhattan's Lower East Side, he appeared in burlesque and vaudeville shows, usually as a sidekick to the star, often Phil Silvers. He was in 36 Broadway shows, including Man of La Mancha as Sancho Panza, and dozens of movies. He had his own series, The Joey Faye Frolics, in 1950, and appeared as well in other television shows, such as The Real McCoys, Perry Mason and Maude. His most recent claim to fame was as the green grape in the Fruit of the Loom underwear commercials. He continued to work until well into his 80s and died in 1997.

Finally, the mystery has been solved. But people will continue to use the phrase at appropriate moments and enjoy its several film performances without knowing or caring about its source. It has become an acknowledged part of American popular culture, and that is a greater accomplishment than having your name appended to a bit of comic business.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Torontopia in the Age of Ford

Carl Wilson's terrific encapsulation of Toronto's beleaguered civic moment. Source.

"The term Torontopia was coined in jest in 2002 by some recent college graduates who were playing Fototag, a game in which one person runs through a public space, say the tunnel network of malls and bargain-luggage shops and food courts downtown, chasing a bunch of other players with a camera – anyone successfully photographed then becomes It. During it, one of them (exactly who is now forgotten) told the young artist and musician Steve Kado that he was thinking of starting a magazine called Torontopia, which would feature enthusiastic tributes to all the shitty, inadequate things about Toronto – its inherent dullness.

Kado laughed and swiped the term to apply to the bands and other art projects he saw on the scene around him, which he considered kind of parasitical means of living on the wormy flesh of the traditional, bloated, self-doubting, bank-and-WASP-dominated, widely hated institutional weight of Toronto – then aptly misrepresented by Mayor “What Is the World Health Organization?” Mel Lastman. As Kado later told music journalist Michael Barclay, it was a punk, DIY, “our band could be your life” kind of rhetorical gesture, the kind of defiant but un-self-serious pride every  hardcore punk community exercises when it proclaims in a fanzine that the Pittsburgh or Orange County scene is the best.

In 2004, Kado and Blocks put out a compilation record called TORONTO IS THE BEST! full of groups shouting over Casio keyboards and iPod loops (not exclusively, but notably). There was a full-day launch show in a bike shop during which a comic pretended to be a high-school athletics coach, yelling at the audience to do calisthenics between bands. A lot of the songs were really great ones, but the conspicuous chintziness of many of the means of production ensured they radiated from a place of humility, maybe even humiliation. (The 2006 Bad Bands Revolution compilation took this another leap.)

One of my favourite representations of that aesthetic was in local comedian and performance artist Jon McCurley’s 2009 play Double Double Land Land, in which Toronto was represented as a mediocre, mutated and impoverished place that was located right next to the wealthy and prosperous Tuba City, which is of course also Toronto – and, at a second level of meta-theatricality, the play ended when what the audience believed was a real wedding party in the building next door crashed the performance in tuxedos and party dresses and smashed champagne glasses all over the set. The creeping realization that the interruption was staged made me laugh longer than anything else in the past decade. The moral? We are our own worst enemies and, really, that’s the best thing we’ve got going for us.

A Future Toronto (large)
A Future Toronto, Mathew Borrett, Source.

This double-double-edged aspect of Torontopia is the part that got forgotten. And the reason, I think, is that right in the midst of its inception and popularization, a confusing, counter-intuitive thing took place: In 2003, David Miller was elected mayor. No one anticipated a sympathetic-minded, arts-loving mayor (who would do things like take part in a debate at Trampoline Hall right in the middle of his campaign) vanquishing what was then a deeply corrupt City Hall (remember that scandal involving computers and stuff? it seems almost prehistoric, or at least pre-Facebook).

Its coincidence with the Torontopian moment certainly helped spread the gospel, but it also distorted its course – our tongue-in-cheek cultural movement got all mixed up with the Jane Jacobs-quoting, organizing-and-lobbying stuff of standard progressive urban activism. All of that stuff is of course worthy and important and needs to be fought for in every city all the time. But it is different than the more perverse imp that is Torontopianism.

That change of context made Blocks Recording Club’s slogan “Don’t try, do!” sound more like “Just do it,” when what it really meant was not to allow the near-certainty of “failure” to be a deterrent – do and fail, fail hard and big. It was about supplanting “productivity” with something more like processitivity, and participation for participation’s sake. It was anti-bystander, anti-consumer, anti-spectatorship. It was not built to win elections.

Elections, of course, are gloriously un-utopian. This is their great virtue, but the continuous letdown that is democracy requires the subversively impractical counter-weight of utopian thinking if it is to be borne. Your utopia can never be lost to the pendulum swings of civic moods and political cycles and garbage strikes. It can only be neglected to death, especially in those infrequent and unlikely occasions when real life on the ground threatens to get really good and you actually start to believe that Toronto’s deep attachment to the half-assed is a thing of the past.

On that level the Ford era is indeed our rebuke. But it’s also a welcome reminder that we’re still here, in the familiarly crappy heart of our half-assedness, which means that we are home, in the place that still relies upon us, its voluntary or involuntary children, to imagine it into being, a job no one else can or would want to do. Let them put some idiotic NFL stadium on the waterfront and more, more, more hideous condo buildings. As the poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” And in these dark, idiotic times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing, about the idiotic times – probably into half-broken game consoles we scrounge at pawnshops.

Appropriately enough Double Double Land is now not just an imaginary but a real location, a busy performance space hidden down an alleyway in Kensington Market, and everywhere in the city there are these obscure utopian efforts that will probably never set the world on fire but can be settings where we huddle together, fan the flames and enjoy our symptoms. May a million bloom, and wilt, and bloom. There, as Darren O’Donnell put it in his next-level-Torontopian 2005 one-man show A Suicide Site Guide to the City, “We will not refer to our revolutionary plans – but we will look at each other deep in the eyes and we will know who we are. And we will exchange email addresses. And we will build the future.”"