Saturday, February 21, 2009

Naked Boys Swimming
I was recently talking with my friend Lyle about the subject of locker room gym behaviors. We discussed the comfort levels of men who are comfortable being naked in front of each other. Some are quick strippers, down to the buff and on comes the towel (I fall into that category) but for the most part, I've gotten over my fear of being naked in the gym.
Some “if you got it flaunt it” guys. Mostly Koreans. Nudity means nothing and culturally is just natural. Some are prudish with putting a towel around themselves and slipping out of their clothes like they are doing a magic act.

I confessed that it took me a long time to get over my fears of the locker room; years of gym classes where even the slightest deviation from the status quo, from underwear to penis size, was cruelly mocked by the alpha males. When joining a gym in my 20's I remember the irrational fear of going in there and changing my clothes. As if some businessman was going to start to pick a fight with me or steal my underwear and throw it out of the room.

Lyle asked me if in High School I had to swim naked. "No one ever believes me when I say that all the boys swam naked in high school…" Talking about this brought back a flood of memories. I'm not sure if this is uniquely Chicago or if this happened in other parts of the country, but as a teenager, I was forced to undress in front of all my other male classmates and swim naked for an hour a day. It was as strange and humiliating as it sounds.

I believe the rationale behind this comes from a bygone era. The era that taught that it was good for boys to bond together naked; I remember my gym teacher telling us it was healthier for us to swim naked. The other rationale was that the school didn't have to pay for swim trunks for boys. Could it also have been that it was expected that after high school the boys would naturally be going into the armed forces and this would be a way to toughen us up. Whatever it was until I was 17 I skinny dipped at the public school pool.

I went to Kennedy High School which was a fairly new school relative to the other ancient structures in the city. It was built around 1962. Connected at one end of the high school, attached by a bridge, was Kinzie Elementary.  From age 4 until I was 18, those two buildings were where I grew up. Rumors about naked swim began to surface when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. And we knew it was true… because we could see them; The swimming pool's slightly frosted windows looked out on our playground. Year after year during recess and lunches we would watch the parade of naked boys walking past the window, occasionally they would lean back against the glass and we could see their squished buttocks. It terrified me. Someday I would be on the other side of that glass.

The legends spread through the grade school playground about naked swim. “They just make you stand there naked in front of everyone and then they push you in the pool. If you try to get out they poke you with a stick. If you start to drown they have a big metal hook that sticks through you to pull you out.” And we all believed them… how could we not? These stories were passed down from older siblings who were there in the high school and reported back to us. We were doomed!

I graduated to Kennedy High School in 1977. That summer was a nervous one as I fretted over the future of naked swim and showering in front of people in general. I would practice taking a quick shower and drying myself off with one towel and getting dressed as quickly as I can. Filled with as much fear as a teenager can hold, I started as a freshman.

High School Gym class seems to be the turning point for everyone's personal development. Stephen King depicted it well in “Carrie”; all of us who were shy or outsiders could feel her rage and would have easily used our psychic powers to destroy the gym and everyone in it. Janis Ian wrote in her song “At Seventeen” ' To those of us who knew the pain Of valentines that never came And those whose names were never called When choosing sides for basketball'. I look back on those gym classes with no nostalgia, but still a relief that they are over.

My gym teacher's name was Mr. Gaylord (no kidding). He was a tight, muscled, short man with thinning hair. Thinking back, he was probably pretty sexy, but then he couldn't have been more horrifying with his just out of the army, drill sergeant style of yelling, butt smacking, and name calling. We were being trained to go into the service you know, we needed to be made strong, and they only way you can make a boy strong is to break him first and build him up. And the way to break a pack of young boys is to strip them and make them all fall in line.

(the pool today)

The pool at Kennedy was huge. Olympic size, built in the early prosperous Kennedy years when physical fitness was one of the president's high priorities. We were all lead into the locker room and told to strip down and put our clothes in the locker; I was terrified to forget my locker combination and repeated it over and over for a week before school started. Trying it again and again like the shower tests so I could open the locker as quickly as possible. We all stripped and stood in a line. The showers were going full blast and Mr. Gaylord stood at the front of the shower with a squeeze bottle of some pink slippery goo that he was shooting out over each boy as he went into the shower. Sometimes he would rub the soap down the back of the boys. We had to shower before getting into the pool; it was the rule. The soap or whatever it was had a chemical smell; did it have some sort of insecticide to kill lice?

Then from there into the large room where the pool was, again in lines of four or five. Some of the guys were really natural with their nakedness. Wrestling with each other, shoving and pushing. I don't know when I first knew that something was different about me sexually, but I'm sure it when I was seeing guys that I had just sat next to in history and now we were front to butt with each other going to jump in the pool. Dare I say at age 14 I had definite stirrings, although I didn't know what they were? I don't think at that time I could have given it a name.  But we were all comparing ourselves to each other.  Big dicks, small dicks.  There were two obese twins whose genitals were completely covered by rolls of fat.  I can't imagine what this experience did to them.   Other boys with big members proudly knew that they had something special and would strut around with semi-boners telling of how they screwed their girl friends last night.

One good thing was I did learn to swim and I loved to swim. There is a freedom to swimming naked; years later I did it in Lake Michigan and it really does feel wonderful. If anything was making it strange it was Mr. Gaylord and his army-like tactics for the boys that couldn't swim. One of these kids was Nemick. Looking back now I think he had some mental issues. There were rumors that he had killed his neighbor's dog. Nemick was terrified of the water. We would have to line up and jump off of the diving board into the deep end and do laps as part of our test to pass the quarter. Nemick had never gone into the deep end and he would just stay in the shallow end slowly walking from one end to the other. Mr. Gaylord would yell at him “Look out Nemick, there's a shark coming…” Nemick's eyes would fill with panic and he would try as quickly as he could to get out of the pool. And the kids would laugh. Once he got an erection and he stood in the pool beating and beating his penis. Gaylord laughed with another gym teacher, “He's trying to beat it down…” Writing this now, I wonder does this shit still go on?

Being one of the weaker guys I was not exempt from bullying. Once my locker was completely kicked in and I stood naked freezing in the locker room unable to get my clothes until the janitor came with tools to take the door off. Another time my locker was pulled open (so much for the locks) and my glasses were stolen. I am practically blind without them. I had to wear my mother's old glasses for a month until my glasses were found at the bottom of the pool. I counted the days until swim was over.

OK. On top of everything else, there was this weird thing about naked swim: The ROTC room was in the basement of the high school. A dank, spooky room where guys who were planning in advance to make a career of the military would go to do gun twirling or play RISK or whatever they did down there. In that room was a huge Weeki Watchee picture window that looked into the swimming pool. Are there 8mm films of years of naked teenage boys swimming somewhere? The other thing was there was stadium seating that looked over the swimming pool. This was never locked and years later we learned that it was common for the girls to sneak up there and watch the naked boys.

This went on until 1979 when in my Junior year the gym classes were made Coed. No more naked swim. My prayers were answered. However, in my senior year, they had decided that they would do separate swim classes again, returning to the tradition. A couple friends of mine decided to take matters into their own hands and snuck in late at night, broke some glass bottles, and tossed them into the pool. The pool had to be shut down while they cleaned it. Once it was cleaned and ready for swim classes, they did this again! Hence avoiding having to swim naked.

We are all shaped by these experiences; and although I don't dwell on high school and how horrible it was… but I feel I did learn the truth at seventeen. And I never forgot it.

It also makes me wonder... for the last few years there hasn't been a gay film that hasn't had some swimming pool scene in it.

A note about Mr. Gaylord:  That summer, after my first freshman year, Mr. Gaylord was found dead in the pool. He was swimming and had hit his head on the side of the pool and drowned. I'm just saying…

A couple links to other experiences and views:

Swimming nude in Houston:  HERE
Male coach swimming nude with girls:  HERE 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

25 Things About Me...

or the List that Changed the World
It's been about a month since I joined Facebook and have been captured by that "Time Vampire". Besides feeling now that I have to do a few blog posts a week, I feel like a have to think of witty "What Am I Doing Now?... Status updates twice a day. Really though, it is fun in a "Don't you want to know all about me..." sort of way.

One of the biggest things on there right now is the 25 Things About Me... I spent about an hour trying to come up with 25 interesting things about me that people actually might not know... I thought hmm... let's do some double blogging and double post this on here... So for your consideration... Here is my list.

1. I didn’t eat Peanut Butter until about two years ago. I used to lie to people and tell them I had a peanut allergy so they would stop asking me to “just try it”. Now I eat it all the time.

2. I once ran across Midway Airport. Completely across. No kidding. The runways are huge; It felt like I was an ant crossing a sidewalk.

3. When I was a child I would compulsively pull my hair out of the back of my head. It’s called trichotillomania. My parents never seemed to notice or care. My hair is still thin back there.

4. When I was a teenager my father once caught me lip synching to a Barbra Streisand song into a broom handle. I can still see the shocked look on his face.

5. When I was a child I was obsessed by the Flying Nun. I made a coronet out of a card board box and would run around the yard convinced I would be taking off any moment.

6. My first kiss by a girl was on the same day that Bobby Brady got his first kiss on the Brady Bunch. Even then I thought it was a strange coincidence.

7. Religion-wise I’ve been a Born Again Christian, an NSA Buddhist and I studied witchcraft. I just consider myself a spiritual mess.

8. I believe in angels, but I’m not sure about God.

9. I haven’t had cable or regular television in four years. I’m completely clueless about new shows until they come on DVD.

10. I obsessively watched every Dark Shadows over a period of two and a half years with my friends Erica and Thax Douglas. All 1100+ episodes. After we finished the last one This American Life sent me to the convention to do a piece about it.

11. If I start watching something like a TV series I have to watch every episode, even if I don’t like it. I mean I watched all of the Children of the Corn movies, because I had to.

12. My mother was so upset that I was going to prom that she ran out of the house before I went to pick up my date; she didn’t talk to me for a week afterwards.

13. I hate fish, and get sick even from the smell. But strangely I love tuna. My only explanation is that I used to go on fishing trips with my parents when I was small; I’d watch them gut the fish. But Tuna isn’t really fish… because it comes in cans.

14. After the stem-cel transplant my brother has my exact DNA in his bone marrow. If he were to commit a murder I could be convicted on the DNA evidence. I heard CSI did a show about this.

15. I moved away from home when I was 23. Since then I’ve always lived alone except for one year when I moved in with a friend. It was a terrible mistake.

16. I have vivid dreams, and often they include celebrities. For a while I had reoccurring dreams with Peggy Lee.

17. I love to sing, but I can’t stand the sound of my regular speaking voice or my laugh.

18. I would rather watch a bad old movie, than a good new movie.

19. I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since 2000. Patrick Hughes introduced it to me at a party.

20. I’ve have an allergy to cats, but I’ve had two cats over the last 14 years. Both with bad additudes.

21. I was beaten up (bashed) on my 21st birthday by a gang of neighborhood thugs. I remember as I was being kicked in the stomach thinking that it was a crappy way to spend my birthday.

22. The first song I ever sang in front of an audience was “You Needed Me” the Anne Murphy 80’s hit. It was at a community college as part of a music class.

23. The ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life” always makes me cry. Even thinking about it now I’m tearing up.

24. I’ve a black spot on my ankle from when in the 2nd grade I put a pencil in my shoe and the tip of it broke off in side of my left foot. I never told anyone about it because I knew I would get in trouble. The mark from the pencil is still there.

25. I’m proud of myself for finishing this list and not putting one filthy, sexual fact about myself in it. Hurray. I’m all grown-up.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

RIP Chicago Eddie Schwartz

In the 1970’s I used to be a big AM radio listener. With my little black transistor with the white earplug I would for hours scan the AM dial seeing how far of a signal I could get. Chicago AM radio consisted of news on WBBM, and rock music on WLS and WCFL, or country on WMAQ. On WIND was what we would today call Talk Radio. This was before talk radio became synonymous with right wing political talk. Talk Radio then had a quieter, less confrontational demeanor. (No matter what your politics, I don’t know how anyone listens to Limbaugh or Hannity or even some of the Air America hosts. Everyone is so constantly angry.) Radio was much more intimate, and the listeners relationships with the hosts much more personal.

The biggest name in Chicago in the 70’s was Eddie Schwartz. An unlikely radio show host who was an obese man with a wheezy, high reedy voice. Chicago Eddie Schwartz, as he was known, did overnights on WIND. His show was a combination of light conversations about the goings on in the city, show business interviews and hours of him playing tracks from his comedy album collection. It was great at that hour of the morning when there was ‘nothing’ else on. This was also at a time when television stations would go off at 2 AM, so when I say ‘nothing’, I mean nothing! If you had insomnia, it was Schwartz or a hot water bottle and a good book.

Growing up I must have logged hours and hours of time listening to Eddie as I would sneak my transistor radio under my pillow and lay with my plug in my ear. My biggest memories of listening to him were his comedy albums; it was the first time I heard Stan Freberg or Allen Sherman. It was exciting listening to Eddie during big snow storms as he would take calls from reporters treating our Chicago winters like they were the crash of the Hindenburg. Big stars like Bill Cosby and Phyllis Diller would routinely call if they were in town to promote their local shows. Believe me in 1974, this was a huge deal at 2 in the morning.

I have such crystal clear memories of Eddie’s frequent guest Richard Crowe, a local ghost hunter. This was a good 15 years before the advent of Art Bell or Coast to Coast radio. Eddie would dedicate usually a full six hours of talk about ghosts and local hauntings. I would sit and listen completely utterly petrified, unable to move as I listened to the callers tell of how their brother’s wife’s cousin actually saw Resurrection Mary. I recall that I was in my room listening on my transistor, while in the basement I had a reel-to-reel going at the slowest possible speed. However, even at the slowest speed the tape would run out around 3:15 in the morning. I had to gather all my 14 year old courage and go downstairs and turn the tape over. Even now I don’t know how I did that… (See download below)

As the years progressed Eddie became more popular and he moved to the bigger and more prestigious station WGN. During the 80’s he was a Chicago legend and easy fodder for the new shock jocks who were taking over the FM dial. Steve Dahl and Gary Meyer were merciless in their taunting of Eddie and his weight, high pitched voice, and old fashioned style. The odd thing was that Eddie made a decision to leave his cozy AM radio WGN and move to FM and the WLUP where all the young shock jocks were on during the day. It didn’t work for him; Eddie’s audience was older and conservative and I’m sure would never even think of tuning into an FM station.

It was around this time that my friend Randy, whom I’ve mentioned before, got a job as Eddie’s producer. Randy and I had spent many a summer night listening to Eddie. I couldn’t believe I was one degree of separation from this local icon. Randy found the experience less than glamorous. Eddie was bitter and extremely obese. During the day the shock jocks would mock him, including Danny Bonaduce. One jock Kevin Mathews even did a daily character based on Eddie and called him Ed Zeppelin; He continued doing the character for years after Schwartz had left the airwaves. At night Eddie would come on and continue to do his regular AM show with interviews with aldermen or has-been celebrities. Randy’s job consisted of pulling together the guests and making sure that Eddie had his cart with various stomach acid aides. “Go down to the Walgreen’s and get me more TUMS and some Diet Coke.” I would hear his daily horror stories about working the overnight show; how creepy Bobby Vinton was in his crushed velvet jumper hitting on the female interns; or once when I got a phone call in the middle of the night, “I’m putting you on-air in 30 seconds. Ken Barry is on the show and we are dying. No one is calling… Ask him a question about Mayberry R.F.D.”

I would listen in my roach infested studio to Eddie berating Randy for not having the cart to a commercial ready or some other on-air mistake. It was surreal. My favorite Randy/Eddie story was when Bob Hope was in town for some benefit. Eddie wanted Bob on the show. Randy worked for weeks to get Bob’s manager to give him ten minutes on the air over the phone. Randy personally delivered flowers to Bob the day of the broadcast as a thank you. That night I made sure I was listening. Eddie’s voice at this point I would describe as wheezy, slurred and a little unintelligible. Bob was probably in his early 90s and I think more than a little hard of hearing. The interchange went something like this:

Eddie: Mr. Hope I’m so happy you could join us... (garble, garble, wheeze)

Bob: Wonderful…love Chicago

Eddie: You are in town for the Heart Association Benefit. Have you been involved (garble, wheeze, wheeze, cough) with them for a long time.

Bob: Wonderful…

Eddie: Will you be doing anything else while you are in Chicago?

Bob: I’m at the Heart Association Benefit… Wonderful organization…”

Eddie: (cough, wheeze) Is that in the suburbs?

Bob: Wonderful love Chicago.

I got a call from Randy… “Are you listening to this…? Are you listening…? Bob can’t understand Eddie at all…”

Randy ended up leaving the show and going back to his airline job after not getting a raise. I think he was only making $17K a year as his producer. So much for show business.

The last few years of Eddie’s life were sad. He left WLUP with low ratings and broken spirits soon after Randy left the show. I don’t know if Randy leaving the show had anything to do with the end of his radio show; Randy was trying to produce the show like the ones we used to listen to in the 70’s with lots of celebrities and lighter topics. After he left the shows were mainly Eddie complaining about local politicians. And he never did regain his initial loyal listeners who were probably still listening to whomever was on WGN overnights on their transistors to AM radio.

Eddie wrote for a while on a local paper but his health and weight finally caught up to him. He spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home virtually penniless and recluse. As an ironic twist all the shock jocks who mocked him for years threw a big fundraiser for him when they learned that he needed money to pay for his medical bills.

I was truly sad when I heard he was gone. Another piece of the city I knew growing up was gone forever.

The links below is the full Eddie Schwartz show from some hot summer night in the mid-70s. It runs about 3 ½ hours.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's Minus 8 degrees this morning!

This winter reminds me of being a teenager in the 70's. Winters then always seemed to be this long and cold. I found this January 1977 Post in my diary to prove it, here.

I woke up this morning and for some reason I was worrying about all the birds and squirrels that usually run outside my bedroom window... Stay warm little creatures.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Very Odd(s) and Ends Ads
Circa February 1929 Photoplay Magazine
I Thought I Had Bad Self-Esteem Until...

It's just common sense that in collecting these women's magazines from a bygone age that most of the ads will be about women's special issues.  But to see the number of ads you'd think menstruation was all women ever thought or talked about.   

This ad is particularly disturbing.   Can you imagine working in a office and having the Personnel Manager start talking about your period.   The look on the employee's face says it all, "First I'll kill her by smashing this typewriter over her head and then I'll jump out the window..."

Actually this ad needs Aaron's razor sharp tongue to tell this woman where to go...

But not to leave out the men... I give you The Man I Pity Most

Here Earle Liederman "A Muscle Builder", takes pity on the modern man with his weak muscles and organs.    I found this odd that there was an ad aimed at building up men's muscles in a woman's magazine.  The other ads are almost exclusively about women's health and beauty needs.  Then I read the last sentence...  It contains 48 full page photographs of myself and some of my prize winning pupils I have trained. Look them over now and you will marvel at their present physiques.  

Muscle magazines are well known as coded as 'pink' in the day.   I'm assuming they were trying to appeal to the Joan Crawford fan base.

Because the text of this ad is in .5 type... I'll recreate this homoerotic tone poem below:

POOR OLD JONES.  NO one had any use for him.  No one respected him.  Across his face I read one harsh word - FAILURE.   He just lived on.  A poor worn out imitation of a man doing his sorry best to get on in the world.  If he had realised one one thing, he could have made good.  He might have been a brilliant success.  

There are thousands of men like Jones.  They, too, could be happy, successful, respected and loved.  But they can't seem to realize the one big fact that practically everything worth while living for depends upon STRENGTH, upon live red-blooded, he-man muscle.

Every you do depends on strength.  No matter what your occupation, you need the health, vitality and clear thing your big strong virile muscles can give you.  When you are ill, the strength in those big muscles pull you through.  At the office, in the farm fields, or on the tennis courts, you find your success generally depends upon your muscular development.

Here's a short cut to Strength and Success

"But" you say, "It takes years to build my body up to the point where it will equal those of athletic champions" It does if you got about it without any system, but there is a scientific short cut.  And that's where I come in.

In just 30 days I can do things with your body you never thought possible.  With just a few minutes work every morning I will add one full inch of real live muscle to each of your arms and two full inches across your chest.  Many of my pupils have gained more than that but I GUARANTEE to do at least that much for you in one short month.  Your neck will grow shapely, your shoulders begin to broaden. Before you know it, you'll find people turning around when you pass.  Women will want to know you.  Your boss will treat you with new respect.  Your friends will wonder what has come over you.  You'll look ten years younger, and you'll feel it, too. 

But I'm not through with you.  I want ninety days in all to the job right and then all I ask is that you look yourself over.  What a marvelous change! Those great squared shoulders! That pair of huge lithe arms! Those firm shapely legs!  You'll be just as fit inside as you are out too, because I work on your heart and your liver, all of your inner organs, strengthening and exercising them.  Yes indeed, life can give you a greater thrill than you ever dreamed...


But don't worry ladies... weight loss is so much easier for you.  Just ten minutes will roll the fat way and absorb it into your body.  Keep the fat in the places you want it and roll it to where it will do the most good.  

Then send away to the Psychology Press in St. Louis (a hotbed of psychology in the late 20's) and find out just what you should avoid to get your man.  You'll learn the secrets to a man's mind with the booklet "Fascinating Womanhood".

Just remember not to have exposed or irritated skin.   "They just don't belong.  They express bad form more clearly than an ill-fitting frock..." 

And finally A New Skin.   Never again "suffer humiliation nor take a 'back seat' in society, business, or love affairs."    All around an amazing ad worthy of any art museum or tee-shirt.  

Peace... stay warm... 

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Worst Movies I watched from Netflix in 2008

Per my ying and yang of Netflix reviews … I wanted to conclude with some thoughts on some horrible movies I sat through this year. It actually was not that bad for my Netflix picks. Maybe I've just gotten a little more savvy about what I should be watching. I'm only including eight films instead of the traditional ten. I could have included The O in Ohio, which wasn't so much bad as not funny and disappointing. And the She-Beast, which was an awful movie, but partly because the print was so bad I could barely see it.

Doing these lists can be dangerous. People get so emotional about their movies. If I recommend a movie to someone and they don't like it, the worst that might happen is they'll not trust my advice again. But if I tell you I hated your favorite movie an argument might ensue. I am pretty confident that these films are no one's favorite movies…

The Neptune Factor: Take one part Poseidon Adventure, one part Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and mix with large helpings of the early 70's craze for aquariums and you have The Neptune Factor. This movie is so dull that it's almost a zen-like experience. The seafaring threesome (Ernest Borgnine , Yvette Mimieux , and Ben Gazzara take a diving bell down to where no man has gone before. That is unless you are not counting that plastic diver at the bottom of your fish tank. The plot follows our stars as they try to save some fellow marine biologists who fell into a crack in the sea floor during an earthquake. There they find giant fish of the same variety that you can find at any Pet Smart. Best scene: Borgnine being attacked by lion roaring Angel Fish. I swear the cast was looking at their watches waiting for the movie to end.

Doomsday: Occasionally I like a good futuristic Apocalypse story. I loved the 28 Days Later films and I'm not against the occasional violent, zombie blood bath.. But this film was one gigantic headache. Filled with screaming heavy metal music, it's nearly non-stop like someone just left a CD playing in the editing room; horrible violent mutilations and death scenes, and poor, poor Malcolm McDowell who should have done a sequel to Caligula instead of having any connection with this overblown, faux video game of a movie. Worst scene a bloody execution while Fine Young Cannibals song She Drives Me Crazy is played in the back ground. The director is supposed to be some new wunderkind. Egads learn how to put your camera on a tripod Mr. Marshall.

Days of Darkness: As I said, I love a good zombie movie; but when a zombie movie goes bad… they go terribly bad. The plot is standard: A group of people are trapped in a military base in the desert while zombies wander around trying to get in through the barbed wire fence. But they aren't really zombies they are dead people with aliens in them; Follow the zombie rules people! That wouldn't be bad; but the real purpose of the movie seemed to be just an excuse for the actors all run amok with improv'd dramatic scenes about their lives. It's the Pasadena 'Lil Theatre on the Mall's Players' big chance to read that monologue that they've been saving up for ten years. The repentant porn star with the virgin daughter, the sickly Christian preacher, the gay guy who watched his partner devourer their adopted Chinese daughter… Argh… Even the zombies looked bored.

Macbeth (2006): This year I made an effort to watch at a filmed version of a Shakespeare play every few weeks. One of my favorites was Roman Polanski's Macbeth. Just brilliant! This version takes the classic story of Macbeth and his lady and envisions it as a two hour Mazda commercial. It's not really bad, just insanely disconnected as the extraordinarily attractive actors spout the Bard's dialogue. Out, out damn spot.

New York, New York: I've been wanting to see this film for decades. Martin Scorsese, Liza Minnelli, great 40's big band songs. How could it fail? Oh man… I felt like I was being dragged through a field of broken glass by the end of the second hour of its three hour running time. Very colorful broken glass mind you, but it is painfully uninteresting and irritating. Liza actually fairs the best and it could have been really something if Scorsese had actually written a script in advance. According to the documentary I watched on it; he decided that he wanted a movie that would look like a 40's musical, everything else would be modern and 70s. Such as not having a script. And when actors don't have scripts they resort to yelling and screaming at each other. Even Liza was told not to sing like herself, but to develop a high reedy voice that would be in keeping with the 40's big band singer style. Unfortunately she just sounds out of tune. Note: There is an amazing last number called Happy Endings that steals the show. And Note again: It was cut when it first was released. Also the closing number is pretty spectacular. But you have to wait three hours for it to happen. At the same time I rented NYNY I also got a Showtime's Master of Horrors episode that I watched the next night. It was about how George Washington was really a cannibal. It was awful, disgusting, sophomoric. But after it was over I thought, well it was better than New York, New York.

What the #$*! Do We Know!?: I've been interested in this new found theory about "vibrating"and willing success into your life. It's recently found a new blast of fame with "The Secret". This movie take that theory and adds quantum psychics and then tries to explain it's theory by having poor Marlee Matlin get drunk at a wedding. All the while these new-age BS "scientists" give some mumbo-jumbo theory about how if you visualize that you have a car it will appear in your life. I was offended, confused and overall completely bored by the whole thing. To top it off that 80's channeler Rhamtha had something to do with the making of the movie. I shouldn't even put this movie in this list because technically I just watched half of it; the rest I skimmed through at 2x the speed. If anyone tries to talk you into watching this movie be very suspect.

The Sunshine Boys (Peter Falk/Woody Allen): The Sunshine Boys with George Burns and Walter Matthau is one of my favorite films. Matthau makes the word "Enter…" one of the funniest moments in movie history. So I was interested in seeing how it would be with the great Peter Falk playing the Matthau role and the always interesting Allen in the George Burns role. Add in Sarah Jessica Parker as their agent niece and I thought it couldn't be that bad. I had no idea it would be this complete train wreck. As someone wrote on about this pairing, "Falk and Allen are supposed to be a 50's comedy team, but they act like they are in two different movies. "Indeed one is left asking how if these two ever shared a coffee and a chat together, never mind a TV career" To top it off, they are supposed to have had this great career but you never see a second of their act. Absolutely one of the most needless remakes in history, that is until the release of Casablanca starring Madonna.

Charlie Chan: Curse of the Dragon Queen: Remember when there was this resurgence of Art Deco in the 70's. Everyone wanted to go back to the 30's. By the time this movie came out that fad had already died away. But I guess the director wanted to make sure that they nailed that coffin down tight. An amazingly spectacular 70's cast of has-beens: Peter Ustinov, Lee Grant, Roddy McDowall, Angie Dickinson, and a very young Michelle Pfeiffer. I had this year watched a slew of Charlie Chan movies; it was a passable series with some good mysteries. Except for the accent and the white suit there is very little connection with the original character, and the real mystery is how did this ever get released on DVD. The screenwriter David Axelrod's credits include The Dean Martin Roasts and it shows. Every joke is painfully overplayed. Poor Angie Dickinson who plays the Dragon Queen seems to be just passing through the film on her way to some costume party. Ustinov puts Asian American relations back a couple decades and Roddy McDowell plays the role in a wheelchair in order to make sure that there isn't a single group that isn't offended. The great character actress Rachel Roberts committed suicide shortly after the completion of this movie. I think Chan should solve That crime. Click Here for the trailer

I had to watch this movie in ten minute bits, I was determined to make it through. I think I might need an intervention.

I watch this abysmal dreck so you don't have to…

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Favorite Movies of 2008

I should start with one of my long winded apologies about not posting for a couple of weeks, but it seemed like none of the blogs I read were posting after December 20th.   Much like the streets and highways during the holiday season, the cyber highway was also pretty slow.   Even people that usually post every day were down to once a week.   

That said, I've had lots of ideas for year end posts that I never got to because of family obligations, out of town friends, and general malaise.   I hope everyone had a happy end of the year… 2009!  Argh every year seems more like I'm in a science fiction story.   2010 will be almost unbearable.   I say let's start a petition to put it off another year.   

Anyhoo… I've been a Netflix subscriber since October of 2000… Back in the day when I had to wait four days for my movies as there was only one hub in San Diego; back when my mailman stole every other one; back when the sleeves were a slippery plastic.    I had first heard about Netflix at a dinner party.  My friend Patrick talked about this movie subscription service where you got a movie and when you watched it and sent it back you got another one.   Impossible… what?  No it couldn't be…  I purchased my first DVD player a little while later and began an insane journey into film and TV series watching.  My first DVD was Sex and the City followed by the Judy Garland Show.   Hello Mary…!!!  Four years ago I upped my movies out quota to 8, cut off my cable and exclusively watch nothing but DVDs.   

For a completest like myself it's been a blessing and a curse.  I've watched all of Six Feet Under, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel… currently I'm plowing through the Doris Day Shows and the Naked City.   As my friend Sally once said, "Lord save me from the completest".  

This year I watched over 250 DVDs… about five a week… At times it feels like I have movie watching homework.  Right now I should be watching Love Story, but I thought I'd better pound out a post instead. One of my favorite features of the system is the ability to write a mini 300 characters review about the movies I've watched and send it to my Netflix friends.   I thought I'd modify that structure a bit and give you my 10 favorite Netflix movies of 2008. 

10.  Portrait in Black:  This year I had a renewed interest in Lana Turner movies (Postman Always Rings Twice, The Big Cube, Imitation of Life) but this one really made my camp bone tingle.  Not to give too much away but Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn kill Lana's dying husband and most of the movie is wondering how they are going to get away with it.  Sort of Colombo but with more Edith Head dresses.   I just love these outlandish melodramas with lush scenery, over the top performances, and insane twisty plotlines.   And you ain't seen nothing until you seen Lana try to drive down the Pacific Coast highway, in a rainstorm, a dead body in the back seat, all while wearing a black dress bedazzled with rhinestones, and after she tells Quinn, "I don't know how to drive"... Hilarity ensues. 

9. The Host:  I loves me some big monster movie.  And this one took me completely by surprise.  
Funny, scary, and punch you in your gut emotional.  This Korean made film tells the story of a down and out lakeside vendor and his family as they battle a toxic sludge made monster.  It sounds pretty standard, but I was laughing one moment and holding back the tears the next.   Note: If you do get this, don't watch the dubbed version, go for the original with subtitles.  The dubbing is awful; I almost turned it off when I started to watch it the first time around. 

8. Killer Bait
I already wrote a post about this film.  See HERE.  However this was my year to do a Noir festival, The Big Heat, Naked City, Black Angel, Strange Impersonation, The Dark Corner, The Big Combo are all worth seeing.   What makes Killer Bait stand out is that it's so undiscovered.  Awful print, terrible sound, but Lizbeth Scott's performance just leaps out and pulls your hair out of its roots.  

7. Imitation of Life:  Amazing that two Lana Turner movies made my list, and more amazing that this film snuck by me for so many years.  This Summer my pals at Hell in a Handbag, put on a staged reading of a homage to this film at Hamburger Mary's called L'IMITATION OF LIFE.  Ed Jones' hilarious portrayal of Lana was spot on, and creative director David Cerda told me afterwards that most of the script was straight from the movie, the lines were so funny.   Such as when Lana tells her black maid/friend "I never thought of you as having friends…"    I put it at the top of my list.  I was expecting another camp fest, but the great Douglas Sirk once again took schlock and made it into art.  True there are campy parts, but it uses the melodrama format to punch home the message of the racial problems of the 50's.  The ending will leave you speechless and in tears.   Ironically I watched this instead of watching Obama accept the Democratic nomination. 

6. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer:  I read the book years ago and remembered nothing about it except I read it in about two days and loved it.   I recall when this movie first came out critics said it wasn't as good as the book, the book was impossible to film, etc… Maybe they should have waited a few years between reading it and watching it because I thought the film was brilliant.   The story of a man born seemingly without a soul but the ability to detect the slightest smell.  Seems like an odd subject matter for a film, but rarely have I been horrified and titillated at the same time.  Erotic in the best sense of the word.  And lushly beautiful. 

5. Tess of the Storm Country:  This year I've been watching a lot of Mary Pickford movies.   Poor little Mary Pickford… but if you haven't seen one then you are missing out on a major part of film history and some amazing films.   Mary was America's number one star and her films show why.  They are so well crafted that I can see them being watched 500 years in the future and they would still be understood.   Mary always plays the underdog, be it in modern times like in My Best Girl or as a street urchin like in Suds.  I picked Tess of the Storm Country not because it was the best of the films, but it was the one that I will remember forever.   It's a simple story of rich evil people trying to bring down the poor but hard working people.  Mary plays a simple girl who falls in love with the rich man's son, is betrayed and of course resurrected.   It's so extremely overplayed, over dramatized, over everything.  But soon I was caught up in the drama I was clutching my handkerchief rooting for poor Mary to win in the face of adversity.   It's simply a movie that has to be seen to be believed. A four hanky as my mother would say…  

4. Mephisto Waltz:   This is probably the only time I will ever say this, but Alan Alda was pretty sexy in the day. As those who know me know, I love TV movies.  This movie plays out with the same pace as a TV movie, but with big screen cash behind it.   It's a lovely 70's tale of devil worship and music.  Soul transference and I understand now why every man was in love with Jacqueline Bissett.    Plot: A aging brilliant pianist wants to take over the body of a young man to continue his career.   Reason to watch: A party filled with worshipers of wine and the devil and a dog wearing a William Shatner mask.

3. Brief Encounter:  Again, another movie that I can't believe I'd never seen.  Noel Coward's urban and sophisticated dialogue brings to mind how terrible screenwriting has become these days.   A short film about two people brought together out of ordinary circumstance and torn apart by their honor.   Just a simple, honest and unforgettable film. 

2. Hangover Square:  The great Laird Creger's swan song as a man who goes mad when he hears dissident notes plays like a great opera; An amazing score by Bernard Herrmann whose music makes this film.  Cregar was a giant of a man with the softest eyes in the world.    Linda Darnell plays a bitchy dance hall queen who almost steals the movie.  Reminded me of a combination of the best of Hitchcock and Welles.  Another classic film that should get much more notoriety that I've seen it have. 1. Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasens:  My favorite film of the year is this small documentary about the end of days for an L.A. restaurant.   Neatly paced with some lovely film portraits of the people that worked there for over 30 years, lots of stories about the where the elite went to eat.  Wonderful testament about the power our jobs have over our lives and how our lives affect others, even if it's just making sure they have a nice dinner.  I laughed, I cried, I really wanted to taste their chili.

Coming soon: My much funnier post on the worst movies I've seen this year…