Articles by " Sean Gazzo"
9 Oct
2017

IT (2017)

SPOILERS!

I walked into work around 8:45 a.m.  I said out loud, to nobody in particular, "Hey! I saw the new IT!"  My coworkers gave me a strange look.  Adam, my manager, said, "Okay...how was it?"

"It was...good!"  There's a long pause after this.  My coworkers know me well enough to know that I'm not going to leave it at that.  Adam asks, "Is there any reason it wasn't great?"  And, in fact, there is a reason.  But the reason has less to do with the movie and more to do with the genre it occupies.

Let me get the short, fair review out of the way right now.  The 2017 movie is really good.  Bill Skarsgård delivers a much better rendition of Pennywise than Tim Curry.  The kids are hilarious and have great chemistry. The movie itself does a great job creating an incredibly tense and creepy atmosphere, and delivers plenty of jump-in-your-seat scares and gross-out scenes.  My experience was more than satisfactory.  There were a couple of moments where I was legitimately scared.  The scene with the film projector, in particular, had me grabbing my head with my mouth agape, letting out small whimpers.  Short answer: Go see this movie; you will not be disappointed.

I should probably get this out of the way, as well.  I'm not going to talk about the book.  The book is better than the swing-and-a-miss 1990 miniseries AND the new movie.  The general rule of film adaptations of iconic books still applies here.  If you are sitting in line at the DMV, or have a lengthy prison sentence coming up, I would recommend reading it (assuming the guards don't confiscate it.  The 1,000+ page novel is definitely big enough to be considered a weapon, even the soft cover).

This was the version my brother owned. I used to stare at it and wonder what it was about. Memories...

So I'm just going to compare the miniseries and the movie.  And, really, the deck is stacked against the miniseries.  IT (the monster) is a shape-shifting reality-bender who manifests itself as your greatest fears.  IT is a great antagonist.  But in 1990, the technology simply wasn't available to make IT look believable yet.  The miniseries relied heavily on practical effects, which is fine, but if you are going to have a character that can transform into your greatest fears, leaning heavily on digital effects isn't the worst idea.  The 2017 movie had decades of technological breakthroughs on its side, and used them to great effect.

The following clip puts scenes from each of the video versions side by side:

The creators of the movie also had the miniseries itself on their side.  A filmed adaptation of the novel acted as a guide for what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. The miniseries had the daunting task of turning a huge novel into a two-part television series without any visual aids other than storyboards and illustrations.

That's another thing to keep in mind.  2017's IT was given an R-rating and a theatrical release.  The miniseries was broadcast on ABC.  Looking at those facts alone as a consumer, which one would you like to see?

If there is one good thing to say about the miniseries, it's Tim Curry's performance.  A perfect blend of funny and disturbing, Tim Curry's rendition of Pennywise was almost universally praised by critics.  This can't be overstated. Any time he is on screen, it's hard to look away.  Director Tommy Lee Wallace said his job, basically, "was to give Tim the stage and not get in his way too much. He was like Robin Williams in the way he brought a spontaneous improvisation to the part."

So how does Bill Skarsgård's performance square up with the original?  Quite well, actually.  For one, he doesn't try to rip off Curry.  He interprets Pennywise in a much darker way. He's more menacing and less funny.  He's still goofy, but instead of relying on shtick and vaudeville comedy, he's more predatory.  And to be honest, I think it makes way more sense, considering that IT isn't a clown, but a timeless entity that poses as a clown in order to lure in its prey of choice, children.  Skarsgård's Pennywise just makes more sense, in general, even if he's a less-entertaining character than Curry.

The miniseries had one advantage, however, and I'd like to talk about it.  The miniseries didn't really feel like a horror movie.  The content was horrific, no doubt, but it caught you off guard.  The movie, on the other hand, felt like a standard horror film.  Even if you had no expectations walking into the theater, you knew within the first five minutes that frightening stuff was going to happen.  Everything indicates this.  The music, the lighting, the camera direction.  It all follows the conventions of modern-day horror movies.  The miniseries seemed more like an after-school special that was infected by some nefarious entity.  It may have been corny, but it had the element of surprise on its side.

I knew going in to the movie that it wasn't going to be a game changer.  It's a horror flick, and it has to answer to the people who funded it.  This means it's not going to be experimental.  It has to follow the conventions laid down by previous successful horror films so that it can make money.  If not, we may not get to see the sequel that the film sets up at the end.  Oh well, guess I'll keep waiting for the next Shining.

But even though it's pretty much a standard horror film, it does an exceptional job.  The horror content is visceral and plentiful.  Solid acting, good story, good pacing, really good camera direction.  Well worth the money.  I'll probably see it again.

 

24 Sep
2017

Happy Birthday, Jim Henson

A totally not creepy painting of Jim with his two greatest creations, Ernesto and Kermesto

The guy who voiced Kermit the Frog was fired in October of 2016.  Steve Whitmire had taken over voicing the famous frog after Jim Henson died unexpectedly in 1990.  Many who worked with Whitmire on Muppets-related projects said this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and that the voice actor and puppeteer was difficult to work with.  The drama unfolding behind the scenes doesn't actually have anything to do with the public at large, but take a look at this. 5:05.  That's when Jim Henson's version of Kermit the Frog ended and Steve Whitmire's began.  And it's...odd:

Sure, the Muppets are much too great a franchise to let go of, and Kermit is not a character that belongs to Henson exclusively.  He's a public figure, and he belongs to his fans just as much as he belongs to his creator.  But there is something off about Whitmire's performance.  It's hard to put into words, but I'm not alone.

To be clear, Whitmire's version of Kermit wasn't terrible.  But it wasn't great either.  He did the best job that he could, but it's not unusual to wonder what the Muppets and other Henson productions could have been if Jim had lived longer.

Jim Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi.  He spent his early years in Leland, MS, before moving with his family to University Park, MD, when he was about 12.  When he was in high school, he was creating puppets for a Saturday morning children's show called The Junior Morning Show.  He took a puppetry class in college while attending University of Maryland, College Park, where he graduated with a BS in home economics in 1960.  While a freshman, he created the show Sam and Friends.  The puppets in the show were forerunners of the Muppets, and included a prototype of Kermit the Frog.  (Familiar territory)

Very familiar.

Henson also came up with techniques to allow for greater control and expression over his puppets. He made his puppets out of foam rubber instead of wood.  He used rods to control their arms.  He used an awareness of a camera's frame to allow performers to manipulate their puppets off-camera. In other words, Henson transformed the art of puppeteering.  He was an innovator.  Henson not only created the Muppets, but actually coined the term "muppet," a portmanteau of "marionette" and "puppet."

Jim Henson's accomplishments are too many to list, but here goes!  He and his wife at the time, Jane, created the Muppets and Sesame Street.  He helped work on the Star Wars franchise, masterminding the design and look of Jedi master Yoda (the Henson group subsequently helped create and puppeteer Jabba the Hutt and other incidental alien characters).  He co-directed and co-wrote the excellent fantasy films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, along with Frank Oz.  In fact, if you see a large budget movie that features puppets, chances are better than not that either Jim Henson or the Jim Henson Muppet Group had something to do with it.  This, along with countless Muppets and Sesame Street movies, television specials, and many other projects, has made Jim Henson a gargantuan cultural influence. Oddly enough, most people don't know what he looks like.

This is Jim Henson!

My first blog post for Kards Unlimited was for Kermit the Frog, which is interesting because in a way I was actually writing about Jim Henson.  The creation and rise of Kermit and the Muppets goes hand in hand with Jim Henson's success in the entertainment industry.  They don't just share an arc, they are pretty much the same entity.  Jim Henson has said that Kermit is just an extension of himself, one that could say the things he was too shy to say.

On May 16, 1990, Jim Henson died of pneumonia.  Many people blame his Christian Science upbringing for not going to the hospital, but according to my source (Wikipedia), he simply didn't want to bother anybody.

Oh, sure.  Of course.  I mean you're only Jim Henson, why would it be important for you to stay alive?  Ugh!  Oh well!  Hope Valhalla's nice!

Oh, and happy birthday, Jim!

9 Sep
2017

Wonderful Weirdos

Since I've started blogging for Kards Unlimited, I've written about plenty of weirdos, from Franz Kafka to Hunter S. Thompson to Steve Martin.  Indeed, probably the least weird public figure I've written about would be Kermit the Frog, an entertainment juggernaut made of green felt who carried on a romantic relationship with a pig (yup, carried.  Past tense.  They broke up).  It's fair to say that I am someone who admires weirdos.  And the weirder the public figure, the deeper my interest in them.

There are plenty of celebrities who would qualify as weirdos: Lady Gaga, Donald Glover, Tom Cruise, Gary Busey, Dennis Rodman (remember you guys?  HE WORE A WEDDING DRESS!!!! HIS HAIR WAS DYED GREEN!!!!! WHAAAAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?).  However, some wonderful weirdos stand out from the rest for their influence in society and extra dose of weirdness. So here's a few public figures who are important, influential, and most importantly, weird and wonderful.

There's probably another name in there that I'm missing

Prince, or, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, or, that weird androgynous symbol thing, or, Prince...again

Where to start? Well his music, as incredible as it is, is undoubtedly strange.  He made a point of mixing together of-the-moment pop sounds and catchy melodies with experimental textures that would make Lou Reed jealous.  He's also one of the few '80s pop icons that could seriously shred on guitar.  And then there's his enigmatic personality.  He changed his stage name four times.  His relationship with the internet when he was alive was tenuous at best and volatile at its worst, which might be why it was so hard to find any of his original songs or videos until recently.  Actually, if you want a good sense of Prince's quirky personality, Kevin Smith (another weirdo who I've written about on this site) has an excellent story about a documentary he was supposed to film about the music star.  (Here's the condensed version.  The editing is pretty stark, so if you can find the full version I would recommend watching that instead.)

I was actually supposed to write about Prince for one of my first blog posts for this site, but missed the deadline, so it's nice to kick off this list with a truly great, strange person.  At least I think he was a person.  Maybe an alien or some sort of trick of light and smoke.  A mass hallucination, perhaps.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe is a perfect fit for a weird and wonderful blog.  She's just...excellent.  At a very young age, O'Keeffe was an impressive painter.  In her twenties, she could easily replicate the styles of many famous artists.  Doing so, however, bored her (a good way to describe many weirdos could be "perpetually bored").  After spending a summer in New Mexico, she wasn't content to just replicate objects and scenic landscapes with her paintings.  Following the teachings of Arthur Dow, she instead painted natural scenes with an abstract edge.  A few of my favorites:

Yes.  The skull is my favorite.  Her early work with charcoal is also quite impressive:

It's hard enough to be strange in 2017.  So in 1910, it must've been close to impossible.  To quote O'Keefe herself: "I wonder if I'm a raving lunatic for trying to make these things."

Eh, maybe.  But thank god she made them.

David Lynch

Is Eraserhead from 1990?  No?  Late '80s?  Early '80s? No? Ok, so it's from 1977, but it has to be a foreign film, right?  It's American?  Ok, put a pin in that.

Ok, so who does the ear belong to?  What is that...laughing gas?  Why isn't he laughing?  What is he doing?  Oh my god...Put a pin in that, as well, I guess. (Also, Laura Dern!)

It's a murder mystery, right?  No?  Well, ok, so it explores the dark secrets of the residents of a small town.  What do you mean "not exactly?"  A doorknob?  Ugh...pin.

So, wait, it was all in her head?  And what were all those other scenes?  Ok, just...put a pin in that, too.

...what?

So yeah.  David "More Questions Than Answers" Lynch.  You'd be hard put to find an active director more original and bizarre.

Before I wrap this up, I want to quickly mention a lesser-known wonderful weirdo.

Yayoi Kusama

I'm not going to write Yayoi Kusama's biography.  Suffice it to say that she is a Japanese artist who has been active since moving to New York in 1957 (although she started making art at the age of 10).  Here are a few pictures of her work:

And my favorite for last:

If you would like to know more about her, I've heard that people use a website called Google to look up things that interest them.  If you live in the Pittsburgh area, you can see a few of her installations at The Mattress Factory in the North Side.

Now, let's wrap things up correctly:

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Heathen, Hero, Goblin King, Blackstar, David "What The Hell Man You're Never Allowed To Die We Need You Now More Than Ever ALMOST TWO YEARS LATER AND THIS STILL REALLY HURTS" Bowie

For a very different reason than with Yayoi Kusama, I'm not going to take a crack at summing up David Bowie's life in this post.  I'm not one to indulge people who were born and raised under rocks.  Again, Google is very popular.

What I will say is that David Bowie was a man who seemed to be a wonderful weirdo almost by default. He made being weird seem wonderful. And he wouldn't have had it any other way.  When he wasn't inventing genres whole-cloth he was taking established genres and making them incredibly strange and experimental.  He was, and continues to be, a gargantuan influence in the world of music and art.

Bowie only had two late career releases.  The Next Day was a very pretty outing with one song in particular, "Where Are We Now?", that I liked very much.

I heard Dave Grohl say in an interview after hearing the song something along the lines of "the song is so sad.  I remember thinking 'man...is he dying or something'."

Well, he was.

David Bowie blew our minds one last time by releasing an album detailing his own demise.  Blackstar is an out-of-this-world experimental jazz/rock/morbid-as-hell release that almost proves that Bowie was more than just a man or even an alien.  He was more a deity, shining a light through the darkness of status quo mediocrity and artistic compromise.  He told the truth.  Even as cancer was ravaging his body and death was months away from extinguishing his flame.

So I will leave you with a video that can only be described as...I dunno.  Strange and marvelous, I guess.

15 Aug
2017

Wish This Jerk a Happy Birthday

Read these jokes aloud:

  • "Don't have sex, men. It leads to kissing and pretty soon you have to start talking to them."
  • "I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy."
  • "I believe you should place a woman on a pedestal - high enough so you can look up her dress."

What do you think?  Funny? Not so funny? Corny? Sexist? Read them again in Steve Martin's voice.

They become funny again; at least I think so.  And it's not just these jokes.  Indeed, the bulk of Steve Martin's material is composed of unfunny jokes.  They are corny.  Like unfunny-uncle-corny.  You know which uncle I'm talking about.

I can actually hear your eyes rolling

These jokes aren't the exception.  They are the rule. Watch any of his stand-up specials and you'll find these terrible jokes all throughout.

When I was a kid, plenty of people talked about what a genius Steve Martin was.  Even at 11-years-old, I considered myself pretty savvy when it came to stand-up.  My brother introduced me to George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks (by way of Denis Leary), and many others.  Comedically speaking, I was quite adept.  Steve Martin, however, vexed me.  Why is he wearing an arrow through his head?  Why are his jokes bad?  And most importantly, why is everyone falling over laughing at this (my family included)?

When I watched The Jerk, a brilliant anti-comedy starring Steve Martin as Navin Johnson, a white man who was adopted by an African-American family, it all came together.  Martin's jokes aren't meant to be funny.  He's a jackass.  His character is a dumb person who believes himself to be the smartest guy in the room. So when he's on stage, he's actually playing the role of an entertainer who is mediocre but believes himself to be quite good.  If you think the jokes above are sexist and unfunny, it's Martin saying 'most stand-up comedians are sexist and unfunny.'

His stand-up isn't as simple as "get up on stage and tell unfunny jokes ironically," though.  His show is wonderfully deconstructionist.  The pacing is manic.  He works with props briefly.  His rhythm is completely different than anyone else who came before him, ditching the traditional formula of 'set-up/punchline' for sporadic, random bits that tricked the audience into laughing.  Or, to quote the man himself:

"What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension?"

If anyone else did this, they would look really foolish.

This is from his autobiography, Born Standing Up.  If you want a thorough account of Martin's life, I would recommend reading it.  If you don't have time, however, here's a short, not-so-thorough version:

Steve Martin was born August 14, 1945, in Waco, Texas, and raised in Inglewood, California. He is the son of Mary Lee and Glenn Vernon Martin.  After attending Garden Grove High School, he went on to study drama and English poetry while attending Santa Ana College.  His comedy career began when he landed a writing job on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he and his fellow writers ended up winning an Emmy.  He went on to write for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.  On top of his many stand-up specials, Martin has acted in many movies, including The Jerk (which he also co-wrote); The Man With Two Brains; Three Amigos; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; and, most recently, It's Complicated. Martin is also an accomplished author, including his aforementioned autobiography, Born Standing Up and his novels Shopgirl, The Pleasure of My Company, and An Object Of Beauty (available at Kards Unlimited!).

The list of Steve Martin's accomplishments goes on and on.  I literally don't have the time to write about it all.  He plays the banjo, he performs magic, he wrote a play.  He's prolific, to say the least. And he is undoubtedly intelligent.

Genius at work

His apparent intelligence is what made me not give up on Steve Martin; what made me dig deeper and drove me to understand his comedy style.  On its surface, the material is really shallow and stupid.  If you read the jokes above in, say, Andrew Dice Clay's voice, they fall flat and come off as disgusting and misogynistic.  Through the filter of Steve Martin's thick sarcasm and satirical persona, however, it becomes a biting commentary on mediocrity in the entertainment business.  I had to put in the work and it paid off.

Happy birthday, Steve Martin, you wild and crazy guy!

2 Aug
2017

Happy Birthday, Kevin Smith!

I think I was about 12 or 13-years-old when my mom told me my cousin, Joe, was coming to stay the night. “He’ll be staying in your room, if that’s okay.” I was more than okay with it. I loved my cousin, Joe. He’s about 3 or 4 years older than me and I really wanted to impress him. It was pretty clear what I had to do.

He came over and I popped in my VHS copy of Clerks. It was perfect. The crude humor and awesome dialogue of Kevin Smith’s premiere film entertained Joe for the first time, and me for the 50th. I like to think that it made the awkward situation much easier on both of us.

I’ve been a fan of Kevin Smith ever since my brother showed me Mallrats and Clerks when I was 12 years old.   Smith had a Tarantino sense of dialogue and my sense of humor (filthy).  But it wasn't until he made Chasing Amy that I started to really appreciate him as a filmmaker.

Kevin Smith was born on August 2, 1970, in Red Bank, New Jersey.  While attending high school (as a B and C student), he would film his school's basketball games and create sketches in the vein of Saturday Night Live.

On his 21st birthday, he saw Richard Linklater's first film, Slacker.  The movie, which lacked any clear plot and focused instead on dialogue and the quirky characters of Austin, Texas, inspired Smith to be a serious filmmaker.  "It was the movie that got me off my ass; it was the movie that lit a fire under me, the movie that made me think, 'Hey, I could be a filmmaker.'"

After attending Vancouver Film School for four months, Smith left halfway through the semester so that he could save money to shoot his first film, Clerks.

The film follows a day in the life of Dante Hicks, a convenience store worker, and his slacker friend, Randall, who works at the video store next to him, though he is rarely seen working.  The film explores such subjects as infidelity, necrophilia, hockey, pop culture, and complacency in the workplace (as well as in life).  Smith shot Clerks at the convenience store he was working at in Leonardo, NJ.  He would work at the store during the day, and then shoot at night, which afforded him about an hour of sleep each night.  Because most of the movie is set during the day, he shot in black and white and kept the shutters for the store window closed so the lighting wouldn't be as prominent.

Clerks was a financial success.  With a budget of about $27,000 (mostly from maxed-out credit cards), the film grossed over $3 million despite a limited theatrical release.  The success of Clerks launched Smith's career as a filmmaker.  He went on to write, direct, and co-produce Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Clerks II, and many more.

It's hard to talk about Kevin Smith and his career without bringing up a few key movies.  After Clerks, many in the film industry had great hopes for Smith, believing him to be a voice for generation X.  His next film Mallrats, though not as successful, kept the same tone and explored much of the same subject matter that Clerks had explored.

His next film, Chasing Amy, was described by Quentin Tarantino as a "Quantum Leap forward" for Smith.  The contents of Chasing Amy share some similarities with his previous efforts.  It was still raunchy and dialogue-heavy.  There were plenty of pop culture references. Even the cast was similar to Mallrats, both featuring Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and Joey Lauren Adams. But Chasing Amy still stood apart from everything Smith had made.  It was mature, thoughtful, and more emotionally-developed than his previous work.  Even now, I can't think of a movie that better explores the themes of sexual identity and friendship, with a balance of delicacy and bluntness.  If you've never seen it, you should.  Like, now!  I'll wait.

In the meantime "What's a Nubian?"

There's something incredible about Smith as a filmmaker.  In the same way Slacker made him rethink what was possible in film-making,  Smith's films (especially his early work) helped me realize that the only difference between a casual movie watcher and a filmmaker is a camera and a typewriter (um, computer).  You don't need a great deal of money.  You don't need a plot.  You don't even really need an audience.  All you need is a camera and a vision.  You might not make money doing it, but it can be done.  If the movies that exist in your head are better than the movies that are currently out there, do yourself a favor, and make the movie in your head.

That's what Smith did with Clerks.  I revisited the movie a little later in my life and was surprised to find that it holds up pretty well. The dialogue, which I had thought was genius when I was younger, is a little juvenile. It also kind of insisted on itself, like Smith knew that what he was writing was clever. The drama of the film, however, is pretty solid, as is the camera placement and the editing.  But more than anything, it's a unique voice in the world of film.  Smith had never seen a movie that depicted the doldrums of day-to-day living in the working world.  Everything from the annoying customers to the cheating partners, to discussions about helpless independent contractors working on the Death Star, Clerks shows that the day-to-day lives of two store clerks can be just as dramatic and entertaining as anything else in theaters.

Happy Birthday, Kev!  I assure you, we're proud of you!
18 Jul
2017

Go Gonzo: It’s Hunter S. Thompson’s Birthday

July 18 is Hunter S. Thompson's birthday.  It seemed like it would be easy to write about Thompson when I first volunteered for this blog entry.  His writing is so abrasive and so human that it's hard to ignore, easy to consume, and, ultimately, difficult to digest.  Understanding the "why" of Hunter S. Thompson is much harder than simply observing the spectacle he created.  Many of us know what he did.  Several documentaries, op ed pieces, biographies written by friends, and a certain movie have rendered Thompson into a consumable public figure.

Hunter S. Thompson was born July 18th, 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky.  He was the first of three sons of Jack Robert Thompson, a public insurance adjuster, and Virginia Ray Davison, head librarian at the Louisville Public Library.  He was 14 years old when his father died of a neuromuscular disease known as myasthenia gravis.  After his father's death, Thompson and his two brothers, Davison Wheeler and James Garnet, were raised by their mother, who began drinking heavily.  While attending Louisville Male High School, he was accepted as a member of the Athenaeum Literary Association.  While a member, he contributed articles to the club's yearbook, The Spectator.  However, he was ejected from the club in 1955 after being charged with being an accessory to robbery (he was in the car with the perpetrator).  He was sentenced to 60 days in Jefferson County Jail and served thirty-one.  As a result, he was not allowed to take final exams and did not graduate high school.

Thompson first came to prominence with his book, Hell's Angels (1966).  He had spent a year observing and living with the infamous motorcycle gang.  His writing was completely different than anything else written about the Hell's Angels, deciding to humanize the gang and give insight into their rituals and philosophy rather than simply reporting on their exploits.  He paid a price for embedding himself in the group.  He was assaulted by a member of the gang after expressing his dissatisfaction with the gang member's treatment of a woman at the scene.  Pictures of his bruised face accompany the book towards the end.

Hunter's face after an altercation with a Hell's Angel

When Thompson wrote "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," he changed journalism.  After being asked to cover the Kentucky Derby by Scanlan's Monthly, Thompson and his friend, illustrator and collaborator Ralph Steadman, attended the event but could not cover it since they couldn't see the race from their seats.  Having to adhere to a deadline, Thompson tore pages out of his notebook, numbered them, and sent them in to the publisher.  Instead of talking about the race, he decided to focus on the behavior of the crowd and the general atmosphere of the venue.  A sports article turned social commentary, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" was where the term "Gonzo journalism" was coined. In response to the article, Bill Cardoso, editor of the Boston Globe, wrote to Thompson saying, "This is it, this is pure Gonzo. If this is a start, keep rolling." Gonzo is slang for bizarre or crazy.

Ralph Steadman's illustration of the Kentucky Derby, 1970

 

From that point on, Hunter S. Thompson spearheaded the Gonzo journalism movement.  Writing from a subjective perspective, involving himself in the story to a large degree, and mixing together elements of fiction and non-fiction, he wrote many great sports articles, political pieces and books, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear And Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and The Rum Diary.

After a few decades of erratic behavior and a less-than-stellar output of material, Thompson committed suicide in his Woody Creek, Colorado, home.  He was 67 years old.

Plenty of terms can be used to describe Hunter S. Thompson:  Drug addict, gun-nut, psychotic, genius.  I know that my first impression of him came from the Terry Gilliam adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Johnny Depp's portrayal of Thompson was endlessly entertaining and brilliant, but I didn't realize until after seeing documentary footage just how accurate Depp's performance was.  Thompson was a human cartoon, and matching up his personality on camera to his writing gives tremendous insight into his writing style.  He was a man who believed that the truth was dead in front of you, even if all the facts weren't.

Happy birthday, Hunter.  Here's hoping there's endless football in heaven.

3 Jul
2017

Exploring Kafka’s World

In his new book, But What If We're Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman explores the possibility that the greatest writer of our generation is yet unknown. In other words, it's quite possible that 20 years from now, the person who will be considered the greatest writer of their generation would be someone who isn't famous or even published, but in time becomes extremely well-known. Klosterman cites two examples of this actually happening: Herman Melville and Franz Kafka.

Although Melville published several novels, travel accounts, and volumes of poetry, he was not a popular author during his lifetime. The epic novel Moby Dick came to be recognized as a culturally important classic only after World War II.

On the other hand, Kafka, who was born on July 3, 1883, never published his own work. He never wanted to be recognized. He never wanted to be famous or culturally relevant. Indeed, he asked a friend to incinerate most of his writings after he died. Fortunately for us, the friend (and later biographer, Max Brod) abstained, instead publishing Kafka’s letters, short stories, and unfinished novels.

Next time you read The Metamorphosis, think of this guy

Perhaps Kafka wanted his life’s work burnt because he was ashamed of it. This would be fitting, since feelings of shame and guilt permeate his writing, passing on to us the traumas he suffered throughout his life. Kafka was raised by a domineering father who instilled shame and guilt into Franz from a young age. He described his father as "a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, [and] knowledge of human nature."

It's unfortunate that I even have to mention his father in this post. I in no way want to imply that a father's abuse crafted one of America's most influential authors. Yet, reading Kafka’s writing, there is an inescapable sense that perhaps it did.

Hermann Kafka, Franz's father

Kafka’s father deprived him of confidence, love, and for all intents and purposes, a home. The shame Franz felt nearly deprived us of some of his greatest work. His body of work was limited to a collection of short stories, the novella, The Metamorphosis, and three novels which he did not complete: The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika, originally titled The Missing Man.

The suffering Kafka endured as a child and a young man lent his writing a richly unsettling air of paranoia, guilt, alienation, and horror. Most interestingly, his work, surviving its intended cremation, lives on by request of the public at large (most, if not all of his works, are still in print), as well as in the mind of any one reader, as the force and potency of his writing leaves an indelible, and eerily personal, mark.

So here's to Franz Kafka, a man who believed that literature should be a tool for examining the ugly parts of ourselves that, though horrifying, need examined.  Or to quote the man himself:

"A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us."

And now to end this post on a much-needed positive note, the show Home Movies' rock opera about Kafka (and Louis Pasteur at the end for some reason).

 

 

21 Jun
2017

Go Skate!

June 21 is Go Skateboarding Day! For many people, skateboarding is a hobby, but for many more, it's a reason to exist.

And for many others still it's actually a job.  There is an entire industry dedicated to the production of skateboards and skateboard related material (helmets, grip tape, etc.) and the culture that surrounds skating.  This includes movies, television, sporting events, video games, and clothing lines.  Indeed, one of the biggest and most popular shoe companies of the past 20 years actually specialize in making skate shoes.

Perhaps you're familiar

Skateboarding has its roots in the 1940s and became particularly popular in the 1960s.  Originally referred to as "sidewalk surfing," skating competitions were mild in comparison to the large events held today.  Contestants were judged on simple tricks such as manuals and handstands.

Don't act like you're not impressed

This all changed with the Zephyr skate team, bringing the style closer to the ground, pantomiming surfing.  As the sport changed, so did the boards.  They became wider, the tails of the board became more pronounced, and new polyurethane wheels gave riders better traction and control.

Jay Adams of the Zephyr skate team exemplifying their influential surfer style.

Throughout the years, skateboarding's popularity waxed and waned until the 1990s, when its popularity surged.  Today, most of the world is familiar with the culture.  I recently read this excellent article on skater girls in Afghanistan, providing liberation for young girls in the area where doing ANYTHING as a female is at the very least frowned upon.

When I was a teenager, Go Skateboarding Day was treated like an incredible summer holiday.  It wasn't just celebrated by skaters, but by practically everyone our age.  We would pick a stairwell or a gap and just sit there all day.  Skaters would spend all day trying to jump the gap or grind the rail, and everyone else would just hang out and be a kid.  It was magical.  You would come home after hours of hopping over the same concrete gap, sun drunk, bruised and scraped, and  feeling incredible.  Pure bliss.

I would be remiss if I didn't share one skating video in particular that really converted me from being a casual observer into one of those kids hitting a gap all day.  I've since given up skating, but this video seems to transport me to those days.

 

Now get out of your house or apartment or hostel or hotel room or wherever, go outside and GO SKATE!