Friday, November 30, 2007

The Week That Was (11/26 - 11/30)

Bergman Rocks the Casbah II: Configuring an account on the YouTubes is not a self esteem boost. (See above). However, I endured the task in order to interview KingGidora, the wit behind the mash-up of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal and The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" (about which I posted here last week). KingGidora was unable to reply to my inquiry by my initial self-imposed publication deadline, but I have updated the original post with his comments as to the origin of and labor behind his amusing and fun creation. Enjoy.

Quiet Riot: "I don't really have any special love for Quiet Riot . . . but their loud, angry sound marked the dark and dangerous end of . . . my musical spectrum as a grade school kid. . . . Quiet Riot burst onto the scene with 'Cum on Feel the Noize' and somehow helped to make me understand why bad was sometimes good and how angry sounds could somehow feel liberating. Quiet Riot played a pretty cheesey version of Top 40 style heavy metal, and I guess they stole some of their biggest hits from Slade, but they were just the band that was there in the 'scary, angry, heavy metal' slot at the moment that such things began to enter the constellation of my thoughts. . . . There's something absurd and yet still awesome about a bunch of middle class, white, elementary school kids rolling through our suburban neighborhood in our yellow school bus and singing at the top of our lungs about how we were going to get, 'Wild! Wild! Wild!' Ahhh, the 80's . . ." - Steanso, commenting upon the death this week of Quiet Riot's lead singer, Kevin DuBrow, in his post, "Untitled," The Adventures of Steanso, 11/26/07 (internal links omitted).

Quiet Riot represented an era and a trend in music but was destined to have but a song or two remain in the public memory. These days, if a music listener owns a Quiet Riot song, he or she likely does so by virtue of a compilation album featuring a dozen similar songs from wonders forgotten save for their one hit. Few trek to the record store to purchase a Quiet Riot album; but anyone familiar with the music of the 1980s knows this band. But not many could say much about the members of the band, until this week, when lead singer Kevin DuBrow died.

Quiet Riot's 1983 album, Metal Health.

We in the present have the benefit of knowing the legacy of a hard rock band like Quiet Riot and can rightly place them in the correct spot in the annals popular. For example, Steanso's post drew the following comment from one user calling himself The Pope, who noted:
In the grand scheme of things, Quiet Riot were never as dangerous or original as Diamond Dave era Van Halen or Jane's Addiction, but never as goofy as the Crue or Winger or Poison. And they were essentially a 2 or 3 hit wonder (depending on how you feel about "Metal Health"). But damn....when that song first kicks in. That, my friends, is RAWK and ROLL.

But to some, in the foreign land we call the past, Quiet Riot was just a new band seeking to capitalize on a decade old hit by another band, Slade. On September 20, 1983, writing on net.records forum, Gene Spafford (now known as an Internet pioneer) noted:

The song by "Quiet Riot" which is entitled "Cum on feel the noiz" or some such misspelling was originally done by the British Rock group "Slade" in the early to mid 70s, I believe. Someone borrowed my Slade albums a few years back and never returned them due to a bizarre set of circumstances so I can't go check. In fact, does anyone know if members of Slade are in Quiet Riot? The vocals sound awfully familiar.

(Emphasis added).

Just a few hours later, John V. Smith replied to Spafford's post:

"Cum [on] Feel the Noize" by the group "Quiet Riot" was indeed done by a British group called "Slade" around 1974-75. Quiet Riot's version sounds very similar to the original except for some flashier guitar work. The first few times I heard this song I thought it actually was Slade. I thought, wow, Slade is finally going to make it in the states. No such luck. But the lead singers of both groups, at least in this song, have very similar voices. I had to go home and play my "Slade Smashes" (greatest hits) album a few times before I could tell the difference. The next time I heard the song on the radio I found out it was Quiet Riot and once again let Slade slide off into oblivion. Too Bad!

Reached last night via email, Spafford notes: "I never did get my albums back." And so it goes.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Dennis Rodman Lawsuit

J'accuse Rodman!

Last week, a Nevada woman sued former NBA basketball player and 1990s relic Dennis Rodman for assault and various other causes of action. In early 2006, Sara Robinson, the plaintiff, worked as a bartender at Cuba Libra, a restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In her complaint, she alleges that Rodman appeared at the bar and "began making a scene," "attempted to climb on top of or over [the bar]," "grabbed her, pulled her towards him and rubbed his body against hers" and ultimately "assaulted her by reaching down and slapping her open handed on her bottom." She claims to have reported the incident to her employer and was told that Rodman would not be allowed back into the hotel. However, she claims Rodman resurfaced at Cuba Libre in mid-April of 2006 and caused yet another scene. Robinson claims that she was terminated after pointing out the inconsistency to her employer.

According to this story by the Associated Press, Rodman may be in familiar territory:

Rodman, 46, is no stranger to lawsuits in Las Vegas. In 2001, a state jury awarded former Mirage craps dealer James Brasich $80,000 in a case against Rodman.

Brasich said Rodman humiliated him by rubbing dice on his head, chest, stomach and genitals during an October 1997 craps game. Rodman appealed the verdict, and both sides later reached a confidential settlement.

That Rodman is entangled in such a lawsuit is hardly surprising considering his antics of the 1990s, an era of which he is most certainly an artifact. But the intrepid master of the rebound is distinguishable from modern "famous for being famous" celebrities and heirheads as it was actual talent that initially brought him his fame. He began as an excellent, though rowdy and disrespectful, basketball player before descending into the curious drama of pseudo-celebrity marriages and reality shows. These days, most fame seekers throttle straight for a reality show, bypassing the former initial requirement of talent before self parody.

Robinson's attorney is Elizabeth M. Ghanem of the Las Vegas firm of Ghanem & Sullivan, L.L.P. According to her biography, she is no stranger to Nevada's federal courts. She clerked for U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan of Nevada (who has the historical distinction of being nominated to his post on September 10, 2001). Mahan will not hear this case; it has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones (who previously ruled for the Google in a copyright infringement lawsuit over its caching of websites) and U.S. Magistrate Peggy A. Leen (who made News of the Weird earlier this year for her handling of an issue). Whether Ghanem's experience will prepare her for a deposition of Rodman remains to be seen.

Rodman and the corporate hotel defendants have not yet filed an answer in the proceeding. However, Rodman completists (if such persons exist) can review Robinson's complaint and supporting evidence as follows:

1. Plaintiff Sara Robinson's Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial [PDF]
2. Summons to Dennis Rodman [PDF]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Off Duty VI

The perils of my professional career keep me from authoring a substantive post today, but I expect to return to regularly scheduled programming in time for tomorrow's installment of Chronological Snobbery. However, if it is snobbery you crave today, you might investigate the very, very new and entirely unrelated blog, Adventures in Literary Snobbery, authored by one Calliope of New York City. That blog has but two posts, but its most recent entry concerns Kevin Brockmeier's haunting novel, A Brief History of the Dead (about which I myself previously blogged here). In the novel, the afterlife is a city filled with everyone who is specifically remembered by someone - anyone - who still lives. But Calliope writes that this city of the dead may actually be preferable to those in which we dwell while alive:
You die and wake up in a giant city. The city is very much like the ones found on the Earth you knew in life: apartment buildings, divey diners, giant corporations, mom ‘n pop stores, bums on the sidewalks, overflowing trash cans. But somehow, this city – The City of The Dead – is better than anything you experienced while you were alive.

There’s a “what if” game that’s fun to play: What if you could go back to high school (or “your twenties” or “elementary school”) with everything you knew now? What pitfalls would you avoid? What mistakes would you correct? What encounters would you risk?

In The Brief History of the Dead, this is exactly the sort of scenario Kevin Brockmeier envisions for his version of Heaven; not eternal perfection, but knowledge and second chances.


The trappings of a universal and perfect heaven are disregarded as illogical; because how could “perfection” be universal? These tiny happinesses are only exist for each individual character and are made all the sweeter because they were given the chance to choose their happiness.

Ah, second chances.

Nostalgic popular culture posts will return tomorrow; thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming (1995)

"I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now. I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory, and I didn't have a good time," - Max (Chris Eigeman), declining a social invitation, in the 1995 film, Kicking and Screaming, written and directed by Noam Baumbach (who would achieve further acclaim a decade later with 2005's The Squid and the Whale).

Before Will Ferrell appropriated the movie title for his nonsensical soccer comedy, Kicking and Screaming was solely the name of Baumbach's 1995 indie feature. Typically, at arthouse theatres in the 1990s, cinema goers could find three varieties of films: foreign imports, heist films, and dry, talky, relationship flicks in which the characters marveled not only at their own understandings and misunderstandings of interpersonal relationships but also popular culture. There was a whole genre of films in which twenty-somethings did nothing other than pursue themselves romantically and offer postmodern dialogue about pop ephemera. Viewers can blame Quentin Tarantino for many perpetrators of the second and third categories, but Baumbach wrote and directed three from that last category, those being 1997's Highball, that same year's Mr. Jealousy, and, of course, 1995's Kicking and Screaming.

Above: Grover (Josh Hamilton) in his undergraduate writing class.

The film featured Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, Eric Stoltz, the lovely Olivia d'Abo and the Queen of the Indies herself, Parker Posey (whose credits by 1995 included, or were about to include, Dazed and Confused, Party Girl, and The House of Yes). If Posey was the queen of independent film in the mid-1990s, the dry comic Eigeman was almost certainly its clown prince. Between 1990 and 1998, he appeared in three films by Whit Stillman, three films by Noah Baumbach, and a 1996 episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street" directed by Stillman. Essentially, though, Kicking and Screaming is the story of two young lovers, Grover (Hamilton) and Jane (d'Abo), one of those with-it college couples that was meant for each other in that crazy and young way that could never survive the perils of graduation.

Above: Jane (Olivia d'Abo) in her undergraduate writing class.

As the film begins, the Pixies' "Cecilia Ann" (from the band's third album, 1990's Bossanova) plays, as the characters interact at their college graduation party. The narrative takes place in two separate time periods, the first being the time of graduation and the months that follow, the second being the earlier dawn of that same fateful senior, when Grover first met Jane in a creative writing class. Thus, viewers bear witness to the birth and death of the Grover/Jane relationship. When the meet in class, Jane is the only student to offer criticism of Grover's short story, which irks him. Later, Grover happens to find himself at the same local coffee shop at which Jane works as a barista. The two connect. They bond. They marvel at the coincidence of their chance second meeting. They reveal cutesy personal details about themselves, like Jane's habit of paying people for their time when an anecdote she shares turns out a dud.

Above: Jane (Olivia d'Abo) working as a barista.

And they talk about their parents. My, do they talk about their parents.

She tells him:
I've always thought that my parents were part of a trickle down method of parenting, you know, like reflection on the Reagan years. Looked good to a lot of people but basically I'm paying for all that neglect now.

He replies:

I guess my parents have sort of a Lyndon Johnson feel to them, like there's no satisfactory reason why they became parents, like my real parents were assassinated and these people were next in line for the job. They fight a lot, but they'd never split.

These two students were fortunate to have these bon mots at the ready, lest their new relationship might never have existed. (An aside: Grover's parents do ultimately divorce.).

Above: Chet (Eric Stoltz) sharing his views during a book club discussion.

Graduation brings with it an opportunity Jane cannot ignore; she travels to Prague to both find and better herself. Meanwhile, Grover becomes a complacent ghost of his adolescent self, eschewing future paths and haunting the hallways and campus bars of his recent alma mater. With him always are his friends the sardonic Max (Eigeman), the naive Skippy (Jason Wiles), and the silly Otis (Jacott), all of whom cannot liberate themselves from the routines that defined them during their undergraduate years. So they seek salvation in their former activities and past times in a quest for a distraction. Old habits threaten the feasibility of any new tricks they attempt to teach themselves. Grover, unable to admit that he misses and needs Jane, finds himself in the dorm room of a frisky freshman, Amy (Perrey Reeves, who would later play the role of Ari Gold's wife on HBO's "Entourage").

Above: Amy (Perrey Reeves) and Grover (Josh Hamilton) wait outside a club.

As the young Amy shuffles her friends from her room in order to be alone with Grover, he calls Max. The exchange is typical of those had by the recent graduates during the film:
MAX: Hello?

GROVER: Max, when Josie and the Pussycats were in outer space, what was the name of the puffy guy who flew?

MAX: Bleep Bleep.

GROVER: Great, thanks. It was bothering me.

MAX: Are you drunk?


MAX: You got a message from your ex-girlfriend.

MAX: I should call her

AMY: Got a quarter for me?

MAX: Who's that? Jane II: Electric Boogaloo?

AMY: Yep.

MAX: Where are you?

MAX: Nowhere. What are you doing?


GROVER: I gotta go. I gotta sleep with a freshman.

Directs Amy: "Be romantically self destructive with me." Did college freshmen speak in such a fashion, in 1995, or ever? Alas, Baumbach succumbs to the great flaw of contemporary screenwriters: he writes not as how people actually speak, but how he wishes they would speak if they were all as clever as he fancies his characters to be. Thus, throughout the film, his dialogue ranges from the occasionally witty to the outright awkward. Chet (Stoltz) is the philosopher bartender who has opted for the existence of the professional student. To a local barfly, Chet muses that "[i]f Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini." Later, he opines that there is a certain "laughability to Kant," an observation which receives no reply. Max, upon learning that the young student he recently befriend will soon turn 17, says only: "[n]ow you can read Seventeen magazine and get all the references."

Above: Max (Chris Eigeman) upon being distracted from his crossword puzzle.

But leave it to Skippy, the inarticulate doofus, to diagnose the cadre's new malaise. Perhaps frustrated with their reliance on their tired conversational mannerisms, perhaps angered by his recent discovery that his long time girlfriend Miami (Posey) cheated on him with Max, Skippy expresses his disenchantment with the status quo which can no longer be perpetuated. At the group's favorite bar, he lays it out on the table and identifies their problem as a group.

Skippy's philippic in some ways inspires Grover who, after procrastinating for several months, finally decides to visit Jane in Prague. He makes a mad spontaneous dash to the airport which, in 1995, was probably a much easier task that in would be in the days of the TSA. He arrives, only to be told by Rana, the flight attendant, that the last flight of the day is fully booked. Thereupon, Grover makes one of those impassioned pleas that only occurs in the last fifteen minutes of a film; he explains the fateful importance of the moment and the devastation of having to wait just another day. How can he seize the day if the airport's flight booking system will not allow him to do so? Convinced by the soliloquy, the ticket agent, Rana (Jessica Hecht of "Friends" fame) secures Grover a seat and all is well until Grover realizes that he does not have his passport. There is no time to return home to retrieve it. The audience is left to wonder whether he travel to Europe the next day or again succumbs to complacency.

Above: Miami (Parker Posey) confesses to Skippy that she cheated on him.

There are some fun moments not related to the main narrative. Otis, wanting to stay in town, secures a job at a local video store. The manager, Zach (Dean Cameron of 1991's Ski School and 1990's Men at Work), is an aspiring filmmaker who has taken it upon himself to subdivide the store's titles into as many sub-genres as possible. Thus, Otis must learn not just the broad categories typical of such stores but also "Dog Buddy Pictures," "Terminal Illness," and of course, "Insane Doctors." The careful viewer will also spot Marissa Ribisi, future wife of Beck. Max's 17 year old love interest, Kate, is played by Cara Buono, who would later play Chris Moltisanti's wife, Kelli, on "The Sopranos" over a decade later. (Along with Reeves, that makes at least two actresses from the film later to appear on HBO series in the new millennium.).

Above: Kate (Cara Buono) and Max (Eigeman) at the airport.

On October 4, 1995, Janet Maslin of the New York Times reviewed the film and observed:
Like baby birds with brand-new college diplomas, the four graduates in Noah Baumbach's "Kicking and Screaming" are having trouble leaving the nest. They prefer a pleasant limbo filled with witty asides, trivia contests and hair-splitting arguments about matters of no consequence. Girlfriends notice this aimlessness ("the characters in Grover's story spend time discussing the least important things," says one young woman, criticizing the film's would-be writer), but they don't really mind. Audiences won't either, since "Kicking and Screaming" occupies its postage-stamp size terrain with confident comic style.


The film succeeds in finding something sweetly romantic and visually fresh in Grover's flashback memories of Jane, along with allowing Grover plenty of room for wisecracks. "Prague! You'll come back a bug!" he says contemptuously, complaining that Jane's plan to go live in the Czech capital has trite overtones, even without the Kafka.


Skippy, meanwhile, misses the fact that his girlfriend (Parker Posey) is drifting away and likes posing trivia tests for his friends. In this narrow universe, the tasks of naming "six empiricist philosophers" or "eight movies where monkeys play key roles" are given equal weight.


[The film] benefits from an appealing cast and Mr. Baumbach's keen recollection of what it's like to be smart, promising and temporarily adrift.

Maslin accurately captures the tone and purpose of the film (although her review was no doubt overshadowed by the coverage of O.J. Simpson's acquittal, which came the day before its publication). Perhaps one of the difficulties of the film, however, is that the graduates' descent into complacency and routine is played for comedy. Maslin notes that it is "easier to make a character like Max funny than to make him emotionally engaging, but Mr. Baumbach manages to do a bit of both." That may be the case, but the comedy comes at the expense of some level of emotional engagement, both for the character of Max and that of Grover, the ostensible protagonist. The film attempts to tale the tell of the transformation of Grover and how he, as a senior who thought that his life was falling into place, can be jarred into romance by a chance encounter with Jane, a beautiful and intelligent fellow student. The viewer never sees their relationship at its zenith; only the encounters that lead to its initial formation, and an academic year later, its end and aftermath. Playing with time in such a way, Baumbach could have said much more the human condition and the temporal effects thereupon. For example, throughout the film, Grover and his compatriots hang out, night after night, in the same college bar. But in one of the later flashbacks, we learn that it was Jane that introduced Grover to the establishment, which only a year before was a joint only frequented by "townies." How time affects who we are, what we become, and who we choose to be with are universal themes; they are made less so with promiscuous references to cartoon characters and ape movies.

That said, it's hard to complain about the cynical wit of Chris Eigeman, who essentially played the same character in most films in which he appeared in the 1990s.

Kicking and Screaming was released on DVD in August of 2006 by the Criterion Collection.

Above: The trailer for 1995's Kicking and Screaming.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quentin Tarantino on All-American Girl (February 22, 1995)

Above: Title card from the 1994-1995 television sitcom, "All-American Girl."

After achieving massive commercial and critical success with 1994's Pulp Fiction, a 31 year old Quentin Tarantino appeared on a 1995 February Sweeps episode of ABC's "All-American Girl," the short lived sitcom starring his friend, Korean-American comedienne Margaret Cho.

Above: "Pulp Sitcom" mock title card.

The episode in question was called "Pulp Sitcom," which originally aired on Wednesday, February 22, 1995. The episode was the season's second to last, and ultimately, the penultimate episode of the series (which would be canceled later that year after a period of limbo). More an extended comedy sketch than a true situational comedy episode, "Pulp Sitcom" recreates a number of the more famous scenes in Tarantino's magnum opus, all in the context of Cho's Valley Girl-like protagonist's relationship with Tarantino's pop culture obsessed character.

Above: Desmond (Tarantino) and Benny (Kusatsu) look in the briefcase.

The episode's plot is as follows: Desmond Winocki (Tarantino) is the video supplier to the retail book establishment of Benny Kim (Clyde Kusatsu), the father of the sitcom's protagonist, Margaret Kim (Cho). Winocki walks in to Kim's store to deliver a briefcase containing some videos he had requested. Desmond places the briefcase on the table, and he and Benny open it. Light shines from the interior of the brief case just as it did Pulp Fiction. From it, Desmond hands Kim a copy of Dorf Goes Auto Racing and a reading light, revealed to be the source of the mysterious glow. Thereupon, Margaret enters the room and is introduced by her father to Desmond. The two briefly discuss movies, leading Desmond to say, with proper irony, that the film Speed (released the previous year), was "a little violent for my tastes."

Above: Margaret Kim (Cho) attempts to draw a square.

Desmond then asks her on a date, to which she reluctantly agrees. She explains her initial hesitance to her father, noting that Desmond is, as they say, a square. To illustrate her point, she mimics Uma Thurman in Pulp by drawing a square in the air. She inadvertently creates a trapezoid instead. But the date is set, and the initial plan is to go to dinner and then return to Desmond's apartment to watch his new "favorite" film, Tim Burton's Ed Wood.

Above: Desmond (Tarantino) and Margaret (Cho) dance at the Fantasy Diner.

The two venture to Fantasy Diner, a send-up of both TV's "Fantasy Island" and Pulp's Jack Rabbit Slim's, complete with a Ricardo Montalban maître d', a crew of mimes, and an Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini waiter. They discuss actress Debralee Scott (who played Hotzi Totzi on "Welcome Back, Kotter" and Cathy Shumway on "Mary Hartman, Marty Hartman"), leading Margaret to remark that she "wouldn't have taken you for such a culturally aware guy." She orders the Warren Burger burger and the Pam Grier coffee, while Desmond orders a Hudson Brothers burrito. As a disco song comes over the restaurant's sound system, the two take to the dance floor and perform a number of silly dances, from the electric slide to the robot.

Above: Desmond (Tarantino) gives Grandma (Hill) a Watchman.

Smitten, she takes him to meet her extended family for a dinner at home. He is not unprepared. To her doctor brother, Stuart (B.D. Wong), he brings gourmet coffee, to her adolescent brother, Eric (J.B. Quon), he brings a football, and to her grandmother, Yung-hee Kim (Amy Hill), he brings a Watchman television. Doing his best Christopher Walken impression, he relates to her the great lengths to which he went to obtain the Watchman from a relative trapped in Grenada. When Margaret's mother, Katherine Kim (Jodi Long) needs assistance determining the temperature of the turkey, he raises a meat thermometer over his head and stabs the turkey just as John Travolta did with the syringe into Thurman's heart.

Above: Desmond (Tarantino) explains the perils of a life of crime.

But there's a catch: Upon a second trip to Fantasy Diner, Margaret discovers that Desmond is actually a criminal: he sells bootlegged videotapes, which risks both himself and her father. Cho and her two friends, Ruthie Latham (Maddie Corman of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane) and Gloria Schechter (Judy Gold) worry about the implications of his sinister endeavours. He convinces Margaret to accompany him on his sales route before terminating the relationship, and on so doing, she notes that she feels like she is in "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol." Along the way, Desmond stops at the home of an elderly man (the late Patrick Cranshaw, who played the part of Blue in 2003's Old School) to deliver some tapes. But he knows there are consequences to his life of crime: "You get caught moving a hot Yentl, you go to jail."

Above: The Kim family reacts to Desmond's despondency.

Margaret decides the relationship must end. She tells her father of the ordeal, who asks merely, "What do you mean, I'm selling hot Cool Runnings?" But Desmond appears at the Kim home and offers to give up his life of video piracy to be with Margaret. While there, he spills tomato juice on his shirt, leading to Mr. Kim, inexplicably wearing a tuxedo, to assume a Mr. Wolf like roll to remove the bright red substance.

There is only one problem: Average Tony (Robert Clohessy), Desmond's mobster employer who cannot be convinced to allow an employee to leave, has suddenly appeared at the doorstep with two of his 1970s style goons (dressed like Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega).

Above: Average Tony (Robert Clohessy) and his goons at the Kim house.

Frightened, Grandma Kim ventures down into the basement to find a weapon, choosing first a baseball bat and other options before settling on a samurai sword. Meanwhile, Margaret attempts to reason with Average Tony, who has implied that violence will be wrought unless Desmond returns to his employ. But there's only a few minutes left in the episode, so it turns out that it is just a giant misunderstanding and that Average Tony would never hurt someone over something as insignificant as video tapes.

But it is too late; the police have been called, and Desmond must flee. He makes his escape, pausing to kiss Margaret goodbye before vowing to someday return. Their relationship must have been true. After all, throughout the episode, Desmond refers to Margaret by a variety of nicknames, all deriving from popular breakfast treats: Post Toastie, Crunchberry, Pop Tart, Apple Jack, and Sugar Bear. By episode's end, Margaret calls Desmond her Boo Berry.

Above: Grandma (Hill) confronts the gangsters in her living room.

After the narrative ends, and as the closing credits roll, Tarantino and Cho chat with each other out of character. Tarantino exclaims that he will do "no more episodic television." But then Cho mentions the possibility of his becoming a "recurring character." "Like Ted Bessell on 'That Girl,'" he asks? No Cho replies, "like Bookman on 'Good Times.'" The episode ends.

Above: Desmond (Tarantino) makes his appearance early in the episode.

On the DVD, Cho offers a commentary track for the episode, although she remembers very little of its specifics. Instead, she generally shares a few general anecdotes of her friendship with Tarantino and her embarrassment of her 1995 hairstyle. ("I look so strange to myself," she says at one point during her commentary.). Other details were difficult for her to recall; she could not remember the name of the young actor who played her teenage brother on the program. (The commentary was recorded sometime in mid-to-late 2005; Cho references both her 2005 film, Bam Bam and Celeste, and Tarantino's stint as guest director on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which aired in May of that year.).

Above: Desmond (Tarantino) bids farewell to Margaret (Cho).

Describing "Pulp Sitcom" as an "unusual departure" for the program, she notes that the episode did not address issues of ethnicity and immigrant life, staples for the series. She describes Tarantino as "very good friend of mine" and notes that he was "such a good sport for doing all of this" and that it was "such a coup to get him." Cho praises him for "start[ing] a whole new way of looking at violence" and making cinematic violence "cartoonish" and "fun." (That was also a popular criticism of Tarantino then, as now.). She lamented that he "would never tell us what was in briefcase" but speculates that he himself did not know what was contained therein. (By February of 1995, there were certainly enough theories floating around on the Internet.). She relates a story of worry that took place at the initial table reading of this episode's script. Tarantino was tardy, and those affiliated with the show thought that he, as some sort of "weird bad body of cinema," would stand them up and be difficult. From Cho's commentary, we learn that Desmond's car is Tarantino's own; the 1964 Chevelle Malibu convertible was also featured as Vincent Vega's vehicle in Pulp Fiction. Cho waxes nostalgic about drives through Beverly Hills and "being very young Hollywood" with Tarantino in those days.

Because this was February sweeps, and because Tarantino was cinema's hottest property at the time, the episode received a fair amount of coverage immediately before it aired. Critical reaction was mixed. Mark de la Vina of the Philadelphia Daily News, apparently desperate to make a throwaway reference to the New German Cinema, offered:
Obscure cinematic references aside, the episode is more Ralph Malph than Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Throughout the show, which at times runs like an excuse for Cho and Tarantino to swap '70s pop culture trivia, ''All-American Girl'' cast members ape various scenes from Pulp Fiction. However, the best poke at the movie is by Tarantino himself, especially his parody of Christopher Walken's now-legendary scene where his character explains how he hid a pocket watch when he was in a Vietnamese prison camp.1

Manuel Mendoza on the Dallas Morning News opined:

Too often . . . stunt-casting is a merely an exercise in self-indulgence, or worse, self-parody.

One of the clearest examples is Oscar-nominated director Quentin Tarantino's favor to his friend Margaret Cho - they have a pact that requires them to mention each other during their talk-show appearances. Wednesday, he's on her ABC show, "All-American Girl."


The nonstop references to Pulp Fiction and Mr. Tarantino's video-store background are for the most part forced, though the mocking of the movie's Christopher Walken watch scene and Uma Thurman wakeup scene are smile-worthy.

"That's it, no more episodic television," Mr. Tarantino says while credits roll. He must have seen his performance.2

Matt Roush of USA Today wrote:

What was funny in its brashness in Pulp Fiction is rendered feeble by this obnoxious, self-aware parody of the cult movie. It's almost as bad as a Saturday Night Live sketch. Quentin Tarantino, Pulp's trendy writer/ director, misguidedly guest-stars as Margaret Cho's new boyfriend, a spazzy video supplier who consorts with gangsters (one named "Average Tony"). The show spoofs Pulp totems - a glowing briefcase, a weapon in a basement, a dance in a retro diner, an incongruous tuxedo, a meat thermometer wielded like a hypodermic needle - without making them the least bit clever.3

Though the most caustic, the review by Eric Mink of the New York Daily News is perhaps the most accurate (and best stands the test of time). Mink wrote:

One thing is certain: If you haven't seen Pulp Fiction, you won't have a sliver of an idea what's going on in tonight's episode or why the studio audience is laughing. Given the use of laugh-and-applause signs, the studio audience itself may not have known why it was laughing.

I've paid to see Pulp Fiction three times, and I could be persuaded to see it again. I've seen tonight's "All-American Girl" episode once for free come to think of it, I was paid to watch it and I'm not likely to watch it again unless somebody manacles me to one of those A Clockwork Orange rigs where you're lashed to a chair with your head immobilized and your eyes held open with little stainless steel medical pry bars.


Yet even these scenes play with the same feeble sense of forced humor that marks the show on weeks when Tarantino is not present. None of the show's able cast is well served by this venture, Cho worst of all. She seems to have been sliced and diced through the Vegematic of network sit-commery and bears little resemblance to the bold, stereotype-busting standup she developed on the road in comedy clubs, college campuses and cable specials.4

So too were the denizens of Usenet worried. On February 20, 1995, just two days before the episode would air, Greg Sorensen, writing on bit.listserv.cinema-l, advised simply: "Be afraid, be very afraid . . ." Replying to Sorensen the following day was Melissa Agar, who attempted to explain:

Actually, Tarantino is friends with Cho and asked if he could be on the show. He is a tv junkie, according to an article I read, and would love to do more guest spots like this.

Apparently the whole thing will be filled with Pulp Fiction references.

FYI -- the character of Lance in PF is loosely based on a bit from Cho's stand-up routine.

(See also here for a March 1, 1995 post on the same subject by Marni L. Hager.). Reached by email over the past holiday weekend, Agar confirms that almost thirteen years after its airing, the episode has failed to remain fully in her memory. She writes:

I really don't remember his appearance all that much. I read the comment I made and don't even remember the things I make reference to. I do remember him being on the show (I was a fan of Cho's work even back then and watched that show religiously) and I was (and I suppose still am) a fan of Tarantino and do remember being really excited that he was going to be on.

It is likely forgetabble because "Pulp Sitcom," along with the series of which it was a part, are mostly forgettable relics of an era of mostly bad sitcom television. "Seinfeld" was at its zenith, but "Arrested Development," BBC's "The Office," and "30 Rock" were all years in the future. The true reinvention of the sitcom was not yet well underway.

Above: Tarantino, out of character, talking to Cho during the credits sequence.

Shortly after recording some commentary tracks for the "All-American Girl" DVD release, Cho offered some memories of the show on her official site's blog:
The problem with the show was that in the hysteria of this being the first Asian American family on screen, the writing was stuck in an identity crisis. If we are Asians, then are we funny? Are we racy funny or homey funny? Can we do this? Can we do that? Also, there seems to be a cast of thousands. I think it was because the idea of Asians on television was so outlandish that the executives thought to soften the blow by adding kids, parents, older siblings, twentysomething friends, cute white boys, and NO GAYS!!! Can you imagine???!!!

There were lots of people every week. I think I don’t remember a lot of it because I was not really there for any of it. Although it is ostensibly my show, my voice isn’t on it at all, which is a shame. I didn’t really have a voice then though, so my identity and race served as a makeshift ‘opinion.’ I think that is why there hasn’t been another attempt at an Asian sitcom, because the confusing conundrum of race as voice, of ethnicity as identity, prevails. I don’t watch shows because the characters are white or black. I watch for reasons that don’t factor in race. I know that sometimes people like to think that racism is over, but it isn’t. It is just far subtler and harder to identify.

Still, watching All-American Girl is pretty amazing, thinking of all the pressure we were under, and having no real vision of what it should be. It is like a pupu platter of jokes. One of everything, to please the uninitiated palate, an abrupt tutorial in Asian American life as seen by a bunch of innocent bystanders.

Cho echoes these sentiments on the "Pulp Sitcom" commentary, in which she observes that the show's producers simply "didn't understand the things I asked them to do." She also remarks that she "never understood the [sitcom] medium" with its various laugh tracks and that she didn't think she could do such a show in the present day.
Cho also addressed the life and death of her sitcom in I'm the One That I Want, a concert film.

There is no question that the sitcom was struggling both with the internal issues to which Cho refers in her blog entry but also external pressures from critics. Although it was second in its time slot at the time, it was 55th in the total ratings. Thus, the appearance by Tarantino late in the season during February sweeps may have been a last ditch effort to save the show. Tarantino did his part to promote his appearance. During an "Entertainment Tonight" interview, he quipped, "I'm thinking of giving up this feature film thing. Maybe this could be spin-off material."5 That, after all is what friends do for one another, and Tarantino and Cho were friends, if not more, during this period in the mid-1990s.

In fact, their friendship predated the episode and is what prompted his cameo. They met years before at the Snake Pit in the Melrose section of Los Angeles. ''We had the best time,'' Cho told the Philadelphia Daily News. ''We are just so connected in the ways we think about society and culture."6 On the commentary track, Cho recounts the times that she would watch movies in the Hollywood hills with Tarantino, who had just purchased the entire inventory from the video store at which he formerly worked in his pre-fame days.

De La Vina, writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, quoted Cho as follows:

''It's always hard to explain what our relationship is based on. I admire him so much. And he's such a good friend to me. And a real treasure. He's such a talent and he's just so intelligent and perfect - just everything that I want.''

Including a boyfriend?

Raising her eyebrows, Cho tossed off a knowing glance, yet remained mum.7

Despite her reluctance to confirm a relationship, Tarantino would take Cho as his date (or vice versa?) to the SAG awards that year. Cho certainly romanticized his appearance on her sitcom, calling it their"version of (the Jean-Luc Godard film) 'Breathless,' . . . [w]ith the two lovers on the run, you know, what it might be like, is 'Badlands.'''8 But in the end, even Tarantino could not save the show from cancellation, which it was after a hiatus in mid-1995.

Cho would later complain to Lydia Martin of Knight Ridder about the show's constraints, its future, and the revamp that was to occur before its demise was confirmed:

"I have been criticized very unfairly because of my ethnicity, because I am a woman, because of everything," Cho says. "They want the show to be the be-all-end-all. And that's really unfair."

While Disney producers wait to see if ABC will pick up the show for a second season, they have gone back to the drawing board, stripping Cho of her uptight family and moving her into a place of her own, which she shares with three guys.

If the revamped show airs, it will be kind of like a Four's Company, except Cho gets no Jack Tripper-style ogling from her roommates.

"I think the show will work better that way, because it's a lot closer to who I am," says Cho, who lived with two male roommates for years.

"When you are friends with guys for a long time, the whole gender thing gets lost. You become entities, like they don't consider you a woman at all."9

The members of the cast would go their separate ways. Wong would later appear on HBO's "Oz" with Clohessy. Cho would later appear in a failed pilot with Kusatsu in which she played his wife, as opposed to his daughter. Now a tattoo enthusiast, she has said that Margaret, Marisa Tomei's character from Four Rooms, was based upon her.10

"Pulp Sitcom" is available on the fourth and final disc of All-American Girl: The Complete Series (which was released on DVD in January of 2006 and available here via Netflix). That disc also features the immediately preceding episode of the series, "A Night at the Oprah," featuring guest star Oprah Winfrey and a young, pre-fame Jack Black.

1. Mark de la Vina, "Couple of Hot Prop-erties; 'Pulp Fiction' visits 'Girl,'" Philadelphia Daily News, February 22, 1995.
2. Manuel Mendoza, "Watch star go flying by: Sweeps guest shots aim at ratings boost," Dallas Morning News, February 21, 1995.
3. Matt Roush, "Critic's Corner," USA Today, February 22, 1995.
4. Eric Mink, "'Pulp' Parody's a Cho-Show No-Go," New York Daily News, February 22, 1995.
5. Leah Garchik, "Mirror Mirror, On the Wall, Who is Humblest of Them All?," San Francisco Chronicle, February 21, 1995.
6. Mark de la Vina, supra.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Lydia Martin, "Margaret Cho Hits the Road While ABC Decides Her Series' Fate," Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 1995.
10. Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith "Shore's Latest Flick is Reshot to Include O.J. Simpson Murder Trial References," Denver Rocky Mountain News, March 29, 1995.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Week That Was (11/19 - 11/23)

Bergman Rocks The Casbah: In 1957, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman released The Seventh Seal, which would become perhaps the most iconic foreign film ever to reach American shores. The film has all of the essential Bergman themes: the silence of God, the inevitability of death, and the struggle with faith; it would influence generations of film-makers to come. Viewers unfamiliar with Bergman's oeuvre will instantly recognize a very young Max Von Sydow (1980's Flash Gordon, 2002's Minority Report) as the knight who plays chess with the personification of death. The Seventh Seal is the Bergman film, indeed, the foreign film, to see.

In 1982, the English punk rock band The Clash released "Rock the Casbah," a single from its Combat Rock album and the band's only Top Ten hit. It would become of their most famous tracks; a video for the single was shot in Austin, Texas featuring, of all things, an armadillo. Combat Rock was to be the penultimate album by the band and the last to feature its classic line-up; Mick Jones would dismissed from the band in 1983 and went on to form General Public and then Big Audio Dynamite. Topper Headon, who had composed much of the music for "Rock the Casbah," left the band on the eve of its Combat Rock tour in 1982 due to drug addiction.

Finally, someone has put these two works of art together. Although initially placed onto the YouTubes in March of this year, I myself only discovered it this week (leading to its inclusion in this more frivolous Thanksgiving edition of The Week That Was). Swedish actors Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson can now jam to the work of Jones, Joe Strummer, Joe Simonon, and Headon; could there be any more satisfying mash-up of pop culture images? The mash-up appears to be the work of YouTuber KingGidora, although one can never tell the true authorship of such a piece by the account which has uploaded it. Best comment by a YouTuber: "Bergman puts a lot of hot bitches in his movies." Could Bergman film historian Peter Cowie have said it any better?

UPDATE (11/30/07): After being contacted via the YouTubes, KingGidora explains the origin of the Bergman/Clash mash-up. Hailing from the greater Washington, DC metro area, KingGidora (real name Alex) created the mash-up after about four hours of work and uploaded it the same day. Bergman remains his favorite director, and he remembers his father playing The Clash's London Calling album "pretty much every other Saturday afternoon" during his youth. So putting the two things together seemed natural:

I had just watched Persona, and after seeing it I was in the mood for more Bergman, so I popped The Seventh Seal DVD into my computer that my father gave me for Christmas a couple years ago. Because I have a terrible habit of trying to multi-task way too many things at once, I also had Combat Rock playing in the background. I was really struck by the imagery of the lyrics of "Rock the Casbah." The line referring to the plan to "drop bombs between the minarets" to silence the music which didn't confirm to the theocracy's strict code. In other words, the bombing of a mosque to maintain religious purity. So, while I was marveling in my new-found respect for the song, I still had The Seventh Seal playing in the background, and I noticed that they sort of synched together well in many spots. So I opened iMovie HD . . . and started playing around with clips from the DVD combined with the song.

The initial response to the video, Alex says, was "extremely slow" when he posted it in March of 2007. However, following a flurry of searches upon Bergman's death, the video became a minor net event with features on various blogs and hits in the thousands.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

November 22, 1963

Today is not just Thanksgiving. Forty four years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Half a century later, the nation is still enthralled with the JFK assassination and the issue of the complicity, or lack thereof, of Lee Harvey Oswald. As with all tragic anniversaries, today's newspapers are filled with memories and reflections, although perhaps less so today because no one meaningfully observes a forty fourth commemoration of anything. Nevertheless, that awful day gave birth to America's thriving conspiracy industry, which suggests that any nefarious deed is the product of a secretive government cabal.

In its November 22, 1993 edition, Newsweek employed a team of writers and researchers to offer their own explanation for the plethora of conspiracy theories. Oliver Stone's JFK had been released only two year earlier, and Gerald Posner's Case Closed, an excellent 1993 book rebutting many of the assassination conspiracy theories, was receiving scoffs from anyone who considered himself or herself outside of the established order of thinking. Published on the assassination's thirtieth anniversary, Newsweek's piece offered an interesting rationale for the behavior of U.S. government officials in the immediate aftermath of JFK's murder: benevolent negligence. In the wake of Oswald's violence, various government agencies and officials tried to secure the public calm and quell any fears, attempts which conspiracy theorists later seized upon as evidence of a vast wide ranging conspiracy of which high government officials were a part. Introducing that series of articles, presidential historian Michael Beschloss observed:

Nervous at the prospect of pursuing the investigation wherever it led, [America's government leaders] instead sought to ensure that the American people's suspicions were put to rest as soon as possible. Their motives were both self-protective and honorable. [President Lyndon B. Johnson], for instance, was justifiably worried that if Americans promptly learned the depth of Oswald's apparent connections to Moscow and Havana, they might demand that he retaliate with force that could lead to a third world war.

The effect was to purchase short-term political calm at the price of thirty years of doubt, not only about John Kennedy's murder but about the integrity and ultimate purposes of American government. During these years, presidents developed such a tendency to conceal or rationalize government failings in the name of national security that the public has been encouraged to suspect a plot behind every act of American statecraft. Thirty years later, if we can wring any moral out of John Kennedy's murder, it is that, in the long reach of American history, the rewards of full disclosure tower over its immediate perils.1

Certainly, though, these government officials and their underlings had a slight ulterior motive as well: to avoid blame for any possible mistakes or omissions and immunize themselves from accusations of negligence. In the lead article of the series, journalist Evan Thomas concluded:

In the hours and days following the assassination, America's leaders feared that a hysterical public would demand revenge for the death of their president. At the very least, they worried, the small steps Kennedy had taken toward detente would be dashed. With remarkable speed and unanimity, officials at the top levels of the U.S. government decided they must convince the country that the president's death was the work of a lone madman, not some vast communist plot. In the context of the time, this strategy was well intentioned, certainly understandable. But as a method of discovering the truth, it was deeply flawed.


In the end, the Warren Commission was probably right: Kennedy was killed by a lone nut, who in turn was killed by another lone nut. But conspiracy theories die hard: more people believe the wackiest conspiracy theory of all -- the CIA-LBJ-Pentagon cooked up by the movie producer Oliver Stone -- than they do the Warren Commission, the combined effort of senators, statesmen and Supreme Court justices.

The irony, of course, is that in their desire to reassure the public that the institutions of government would persevere, the worthies of the Washington establishment produced the opposite effect. The rush to judgment left many Americans wondering if their government was telling the truth.


In the end, the story of the American government and the assassination of John F. Kennedy is a tale of human error and parochialism, not of conspiracy. More likely than not, the men of the establishment were right about Oswald. But because of their mistakes, the public will never believe what really happened.2

The American psychology also comes into play in this arena. No one wants to believe that a single individual, acting from a place of malice, can so dramatically alter the course of a nation by killing its leader. Cynicism is also a culprit; it serves well those who are generally ignorant of the facts of the JFK assassination. Why bother to read the Warren Commission report, Posner's mighty tome, or anything else when one can fashionably hide behind a veil of doubt and disdain? If one can veto explanations with an air of cynical derision, one need not read any source material. But cynicsm and ignorance are not the only motivators for the conspiracy industry. There is another motive: profit. Conspiracies sell. Sinister cabals meeting and smoky corridors sell more books and films than a lone gunman acting alone and without aid of government conspirators. From series as popular as The X-Files to films as obscure as 2002's faux-documentary Interview with the Assassin, Hollywood adores conspiracy. By the same token, purported non-fiction books offering the latest bizarre explanations would not continue to appear were there not a buying public interested in reading, or at least purchasing, such things.

In the end, the Newsweek piece offers lessons to government leaders in times of crisis; they would do well to heed them. Rather than scurrying about in the aftermath of tragedy to reassure the American public at any cost, government leaders can and should be a bit more straightforward about such things to avoid the cluttering of the historical record. Now, just as in the 1960s, some people question the official government response to national tragedy and cite any initial uncertainty or reticence as proof positive of sinister machinations. But the goverment can't prove a negative; it cannot establish for the record that there was no American government involvement on November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2001. It shouldn't have to. All that it can do is remain reasonable and responsive and avoid offering the type of "children's history" that Newsweek rebuked as being provided to the Americans of four decades ago.

1. Michael Beschloss, "The Day That Changed America," Newsweek, p. 60-62, November 22, 1993.
2. Evan Thomas, "The Real Cover-Up," Newsweek, p. 66-95, November 22, 1993.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (2005)

Timothy Treadwell immersed himself in the habitat and world of bears; it proved to be his undoing. 2005's Grizzly Man, narrated and directed by famed German director Werner Herzog, profiles Treadwell's adventurous life and horrifying death at the hands of the very bears he sought to protect. He was an idealistic and self-styled savior of bears who spent thirteen summers in the vast expanses of national parks in Alaska. In so doing, he surreptitiously camped in forbidden areas and disobeyed rules about interactions with animals, all the while capturing his fanciful misadventures on film. On or about October 4, 2003, Treadwell, and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed by a bear.

From Treadwell's many hours of self-shot footage, Herzog assembled the bulk of his documentary, which is, quite simply, fascinating. At times stern, at times understanding, Herzog, as narrator, paints a striking psychological portrait of Treadwell. He sympathizes with Treadwell the amateur filmmaker but also appears baffled by Treadwell's willingness to ignore the potential for peril. Treadwell was certainly no nature or bear "scholar" in the formal sense of the word. He had no sponsor, no grants, no Ph.D. dissertation to complete on those subjects. But he wielded a strange and disarming charisma that no doubt made those he encountered forget, at least for a moment, that he had no formal education or credentials. He seemed to need to save the bears, not just for their own purported sake, but for that of himself, as well. He craved not just the mission, but his status as missionary to the bear world. The film chronicles his quest for affirmation (of himself, of his viewpoint, of his place in the world) and how it ultimately led to his and Huguenard's deaths in late 2003.

Treadwell's bizarre behavior, and his justifications for it, prompt serious questions which can now never be answered. Why did he fixate on his self-appointed mission to save bears? What was the basis for his belief that bears were unsafe in federally protected national parks? Why did he risk his life (and that of Huguenard, his girlfriend) in his overzealous commitment to that task? Why did he portray himself as being alone in his video footage when he was with her during his last summer visit? Were these treks really about saving the bears or about finding himself? What was the source of his paranoia, which prompted him to hide from other park visitors and spy on those he thinks are there to thwart his mission? What kind of a person spends five minutes effusively thanking a small fox for being his friend? We'll never know.

Although Grizzly Man certainly provides a sense of who Timothy Treadwell was in the years preceding his death, there is little information about how he became that person. He had changed his surname, changed professions, and generally lived the life of a dilettante until taking up the cause of bears. Unfortunately, How did he become the man that he was? How was he influenced? Herzog offers brief interviews with Treadwell's parents (Val and Carol Dexter) but we never learn what made him become the self-styled ambassador to the bear world, perhaps because there was no meaningful way to establish such facts.

As fate would have it, Treadwell's video camera was running at the time of his death and captured the audio of his and Huguenard's last moments. The lens cap had not been removed meaning that, thankfully, there is no video footage of the two terrible deaths. At the time of its release, many reviewers remarked upon Herzog's decision not to air the audio of the last moments of Treadwell and his girlfriend (who was also killed). In the film, Herzog shows himself on screen listening to the audio himself on headphones, and viewers gauge his troubled and then horrified reaction. (He instructs Jewel Palovak, Treadwell's former girlfriend who now possesses Treadwell's many video cassettes, to cut off the tape before it finishes.).

Immediately thereafter, the following exchange takes place:

WERNER HERZOG: Jewel, you must never listen to this.

JEWEL PALOVAK: I know, Werner, I'm never going to.

WH: And you must never look at the photos that I've seen at the coroner's office.

JP: I will never look at them.

WH: Yeah.

JP: They said it was bad. Now you know why no one is going to hear it.

WH: I think you - you should not keep it. You should destroy it.

JP: Yeah?

WH: I think that's what you should do.

JP: Okay.

WH: Because it will be the white elephant in your room all your life.

Herzog's advice is sage. It should be followed. If not, Palovak might someday compel herself to listen to it, which would be extraordinarily regrettable. But it apparently wasn't followed. In June of 2005, at a panel discussion on the film held during the Silverdocs Film Festival in Washington D.C., Herzog and Pavolak were asked what became of the audiotape. They replied:

Jewel Palovak: I didn't take Werner’s advice in the film [to destroy the tape] so I still have it. I think it may have historical value. It’s also possible that a forensics expert can hear other things on the tape that we didn't.

Werner Herzog: Jewel has physically separated herself from the tape—it’s now in a safe deposit box. I remember when we filmed that scene Jewel was worried that the screams would leak out of the earphones I was wearing and be picked up by the boom mike. But I promised her that if I detected even the slightest sound I would erase it from the film’s soundtrack. She trusted me. No one will ever hear that tape.

(Excerpts courtesy of this transcript by John Suozzo of the DC Film Society).

Certainly, from a narrative standpoint, the airing of the ghastly audio would have overshadowed the story of Treadwell's life and transformed the documentary into a Faces of Death for the Sundance set. What is interesting is how Herzog uses the horrifying audio track as an opportunity to define his view of the role of the documentarian. Certainly, it is a dramatic moment; the viewer watches Herzog as he listens but also Palovak, Treadwell's friend and former lover, as she watches him listen to something she (rightly) can't bring herself to hear. But if the audio tape has the potential to overshadow the narrative, then why do more than mention that it exists? Does Herzog do his own documentary a disservice by featuring himself listening to something which by all accounts should not continue to exist? Does it become an unnecessary distraction, indicated by all of the reviews which fixated upon that decision?

Necessarily, a documentary film-maker must serve as a filter; he or she must take an entire universe of information (in Herzog's case, all of Treadwell's many, many hours of video footage and the accompanying original interviews) and distill it down into a completed project of generally less than two hours. Complicating the matter further is that Palovak is the co-executive of the documentary (perhaps because she is the owner or possessor of all of Treadwell's footage.). But is it the role of the documentarian to offer wisdom to the subjects of his documentary, especially when it deals with the destruction of part of the record of the subject of the documentary? In so doing, has Herzog stepped into the film as a participant in its narrative, rather than just a chronicler of events and interviewer? At what point does the documentary filmmaker cross a line and begin to influence his subjects more than he should? Should the documentarian befriend his subjects and offer them helpful advice or should he monitor them and prompt them for insight? Perhaps there are risks in allowing one of the subjects of your documentary become its co-executive producer (although likely, without Palovak's participation, there might be no documentary). Or, perhaps, when a director decides that something is not worth including in a documentary, it should truly be omitted.

UPDATE (12/6/07): Several weeks ago, I had contacted Dr. Franc Fallico, Alaska's chief medical examiner and the coroner who performed the autopsy on Treadwell. In the film, he provided a particularly dramatic interview to Herzog for the documentary. I very recently received Dr. Fallico's response to my missive, and I have included the unedited Q&A below.

1. Looking back two years, after all of the press and publicity that the film received, what do you think of it and your role therein? Is there anything that you feel was cut, or that you would like to add, that was not included in your portions of the film?

I like the role and I think the Director did a great job getting the dramatic effect from me, although at the time I didn't realize that. I thought I would act in a more formal manner, like a conventional medical examiner, but Herzog's direction was essential in making me more of a dramatic and expressive actor.

2. Did Mr. Herzog give you any special instructions on how to tell the tale of Mr. Treadwell's last moments? Your delivery was vivid and dramatic, and I was curious about the context of that scene.

Yes, his direction emphasized the depth of Treadwell's personality and confusion between his being the man of nature and almost "becoming"the bear. Treadwells' choosing of his fate by transgressing from thes afety of the observing human to (almost) becoming the bear was suggested.

3. What lessons can be learned from the film and Mr. Treadwell's experiences depicted therein?

Lessons include the fact that Nature, especially in the Alaskan wilderness, can become very unforgiving, and the hunter can quickly become the hunted. Another lesion is the fate of going for a ride with the forces of a strong seductive personality like Treadwell's, and being dragged into an impossible situation that can't be controlled (Ms. [Huguenard].)

4. Finally, do you believe that Ms. Pavolak, Mr. Treadwell's former girlfriend and the current owner of the audio tape which captured Mr. Treadwell's death, should heed Mr. Herzog's advice and destroy it?

No, I don't think she should destroy the tape. The tape is awful but its mere possession is not sinful or wrong in any way. It is my understanding that the tape was somehow put on the Internet, so it's out there anyway. I have no information about that, and I certainly did not do it. Don't know who did.

It appears that Herzog coached Dr. Fallico to tell the tale of Treadwell's death in the fashion that he did. While this may be a mechanism of reaching some semblance of truth, it seems apparent that Dr. Fallico would not have shared his knowledge in that fashion without prompting by the documentarian.