Sunday, February 28, 2010

Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast" (1982)

Ah, the power of progressive heavy metal, if that's what you want to call it. Although they weren't as popular on MTV, there were once hard rock bands who aspired to compose songs about more than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Imagine! Some of them even wrote about literature, religion, and 1960s British television shows. In the 1980s, Iron Maiden was such a band. Most children of the 1980s remember them more from their album covers, or rather, their over protective parents shooing them away from record store displays featuring their album covers. Like so many bands from the 1980s that remain together in 2009, Iron Maiden is now a parody of itself, releasing hits collections and live albums to capitalize upon once, but not future, fame.

1982's The Number of the Beast had all the makings of a record that Tipper Gore and the PMRC would despise: an evil and ominous sounding album title, an album cover featuring both a devil and a demon of some sort, and hard guitar oriented power metal. Catchy, and a little self important, the album was the first to feature Bruce Dickinson as the lead singer (a fact I did not know until I began to prepare this article). Apparently, Dickinson would also take an extended leave of absence from the band in the 1990s, although that was well after the band lost any claim to relevance in the realm of popular music or heavy metal. Whatever the case, the album is upbeat and enjoyable, even if it is bent on creating some type of literary or artistic metal. Further, it's nice to see something from this genre not focused on sordid sexual excess.

Most fun, of course, is "The Prisoner," a song quite clearly based on the 1960s psychological suspense television program from Britain. (Iron Maiden would revisit this TV show in another song, "Back in the Village," on their 1984 album, Powerslave.). The album's title track is apparently still a staple at the band's live shows, all these years later.

Looking back, it's difficult not to compare and contrast the power and ambition of Iron Maiden's rock with the anemic modern rock that would follow it a decade later. Although the purveyors of cool cast their glances of disdain upon bands such as these, one thing is for certain: Dickinson could sing, and his guitarists could truly play. How can one say that the guitarists from say, Pavement, were superior to those of Iron Maiden? How can one say that the vocalists from, say, the Flaming Lips, was superior to Dickinson? Looking back, the hipsters can only say that they weren't as "cool," but that's all the hipster ever say, isn't it?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (Austin Premiere, 2010)

Rumor has it that Ryan, author of the now defunct pop culture blog The League of Melbotis, has scored four tickets to see the Austin premiere of Birdemic: Shock and Terror, the brainchild of the auteur James Nguyen. This is a cause for great envy. Alas, though, as he is no longer a blogger, we will have no way of knowing how truly wonderful this event was. Perhaps he'll dash off a quick summary of the film for publication at this site. We'll see. (See here for a bit more info on the Austin premiere of this bad movie gem, which will include an appearance by Nguyen himself.).

Friday, February 26, 2010

High Strung (1994)

High Strung (1994), directed by Roger Nygard, is by no means a great film. But it has its moments. I first saw this comedy, the bizarre tale of Thane Furrows (Steve Oedekerk), as a freshman in college, late at night, at party full of slightly intoxicated film students. Featuring Steve Oedekerk as Furrows, this film has some genuinely amusing moments (even more so if the viewer is aided by alcohol), even if the film's pacing is a bit uneven at times. Oedekerk's Furrows is an angry and bitter fellow with little patience for the compromises we are all forced to make with the world. That type of attitude makes him not the best at his profession as a greeting card writer. Throughout the film, he offers us his views on life and the universe, including this gem:
Relationships? They shouldn't even call them relationships. They should have a more descriptive name: Painland.
Wisdom, indeed. Joining Oedekerk in the cast are Jim Carrey (who plays Death, in a role before he was Jim Carrey, Hollywood megastar), a young Kirsten Dunst, Thomas F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from Star Trek: TNG), and last, but certainly not least, Jani Lane, the lead singer of Warrant. That's right; the guy who sang "Cherry Pie" in 1990 is in this movie. Despite the fact that it features actors who later became much more famous, the film has never been released on DVD. The original home video release is long out of print. Diehards can find copies on, gasp, videocassette by searching eBay and the like. As far as early 1990s comedies go, it's fun and sometimes clever, certainly something that should be readily available for rental or purchase considering the actors in it who later became famous. But it is apparently not to be. (See here for more on this film from Oedekerk's official site. It appears that he, or his web site administrator, originally had grander, but unfulfilled plans, for the page on his site dedicated to the film.).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Off Duty XVII

All things being equal, I'd rather be in Otisburg. I'm taking the day off from blogging today, as I suspect that I am soon to be under the weather. Allergies, or illness, thwarts a blogger's diligence. So, dear reader, thank you for your patience and concern. I shall return anon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" (1995)

Listening to Radiohead's "The Bends" record, and to the "Fake Plastic Trees" song in particular, takes me back to 1995, when I was attending a large public university. Music certainly has the ability to take us back to the past in a powerful Proustian rush. Of course, like most, I had come to know Radiohead several years before with the release of Pablo Honey, which featured the single "Creep," the song with crashing and crunching guitar. But at that time, most people assumed that Radiohead was simply destined to be an alternative one hit wonder. With the release of 1997's OK Computer, I officially rediscovered the band and was hooked. With that album, Radiohead became RADIOHEAD (bold, underlined, starred, et cetera).

But before all of that, there was "Fake Plastic Trees." Its slow and perfect wistfulness really does bring me back to the mid-1990s, although unlike some songs, I don't associate it with a particular person or event. I do know, however, that I have listened to the compact disc so many times that I had to purchase it again because my original was scratched to hell from repeated use. How many records besides The White Album can you say that about?

In sum, this is the perfect rock ballad. (Should I say power ballad, or is that song forever associated with the despicable likes of Poison and Warrant, who appropriated the term for their own nefarious and talentless purposes? And I have condemned myself to rock critic hell for mentioning Poison and Warrant in the same paragraph as Radiohead, by far the best band of the 1990s?) Regardless, the song begins with light, acoustic guitar accompaniment, and with each succeeding verse, more instrumentation is added, until finally, we hear a symphonic arrangement of electric guitar as the song reaches its ultimate crescendo. All of this, led by lead singer Thom Yorke's hauntingly melancholy voice, and you have a recipe for one of the better singles released at that time. Really, were there any worthy competitors in 1995?

Oh, and if you haven't heard the acoustic version of this song (which appeared on the soundtrack for the film, Clueless, of all places), then you're missing out. That soundtrack also includes a swell cover of Mott the Hoople's "All The Young Dudes" done by World Party.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Helter Skelter (2004)

The book, Helter Skelter, written by Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, delivers on its opening promise to scare the hell out of the reader. In so doing, the 1974 book details the criminal prosecution on Manson and his followers from the initial investigation by the police all the way through the appellate process, all the while recounting one of the most chilling, gruesome, and bizarre criminal episodes in the twentieth century. The story of how Manson hypnotized and transfixed a number of all-American twenty-somethings and programmed them to kill for him is both frightening and riveting. It's a good read for the true crime buff and readers seeking to learn a bit more about criminal procedure. It's a shame that neither television adaptation of the book has been worth its salt.

The film was first adapted into a television movie in 1976 (more about which anon). The more recent adaptation, which aired on CBS in May of 2004, featured Jeremy Davies as Manson. You might recall Davies as the shell shocked translator from 1998's Saving Private Ryan. (In fact there is occasionally a slight trace of his Manson performance in his far more recent role as mad scientist Daniel Faraday on TV's "Lost."). As Manson, Davies' performance seemed a bit over-the-top, and that might be because Manson himself is over-the-top, but Davies came off far more silly than cold, calculating, and manipulative. With the exception of Bruno Kirby as Bugliosi and Clea DuVall as the reluctant Manson-girl-turned-state's-witness Linda Kasabian, the remaining cast was mostly comprised of unknowns. (The late Kirby, of course, you know from City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally, while you might have encountered DuVall in HBO's Carnivale or the terrible 2003 John Cusack "suspense" thriller, Identity.). As a film, the 2004 adaptation is mostly boilerplate, influenced more by those modern, awful cop procedural programs than anything truly innovative. (I remember hearing something a few years back about Oliver Stone possibly directing a remake of Helter Skelter, but alas, it was not to be.).

The problem with bringing Helter Skelter to the large or small screen is that there are many, many facts to convey in order to give the narrative its proper scope and context. You have to introduce a myriad characters (cops, murderers, victims, witnesses), but also provide a meaningful glance into how it was that Manson was able to control his followers. In two or three hours, this is a very difficult task. (That is one reason why Stone would have been a stellar choice to helm such a project. Regardless of what one feels about the conspiratorial nonsense in his JFK and the historical inaccuracies in Nixon, those two films indicate that Stone, as a director, can showcase a lot of information and minor historical episodes without any accompanying tedium. Using different cameras, quick cuts, and stylized shots, Stone can establish historical context and keep the pace). The 2004 version of "Helter Skelter," however, was not up to the job, and its pacing was, frankly, a bit boring, the last thing a film about the crime of the century should be.

It would have been a bit more interesting if the director had cast actors recognizable as sweet and clean-cut American teenagers as the Manson Family instead of unknown talent. If the viewer saw someone like Katie Holmes (recognizable for both her marital mistakes and "Dawson's Creek") as Leslie Van Houten, the point might be driven home better that these were normal American teenagers until Manson took hold of them and programmed them to follow him. Natalie Portman as the now late Susan Atkins would have been far more intriguing, but of course, she doesn't do television. (Unwatchable films are apparently still more prestigious.).

This is not to say that original 1976 version of "Helter Skelter" (with Steve Railsback as Manson) was much better. If memory serves, the original version did not even have a version of the song "Helter Skelter" on its soundtrack, while the 2004 version did at least open its credits with a an alt-rock version of the old Beatles song. Perhaps the producers didn't want to use the Motley Crue or U2 versions? Railsback's Manson was equally cartoonish, and as a 1976 television movie, it was aimed at television viewers far less sophisticated than those of today. Paging Oliver Stone?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Final Episode of "Sex and the City" (2004)

Six years ago today, HBO aired the series finale of "Sex and the City," and boy, was it lame. For a final episode, it really was a disappointment. Series protagonist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) ends up with Mr. Big, who parrots his "Abso-f*cking-lutely" catch phrase from the first episode? Big's real first name revealed via Caller ID on Carrie's cell phone? Charlotte is rewarded with exactly what she has always wanted: a baby? Miranda and Samantha learn important life lessons? Miranda finally gains the approval of the perennially disapproving Magda? I'm surprised they didn't promote this as a "very special episode" of SATC due to everyone's important realizations. To boot, almost every lingering narrative issue was tidily disposed of and everyone ended up happy once and for all. That's not life; that's television. Kinda sappy, especially for HBO, don't you think? Bah. Humbug. Who thought they'd end the show with such tidy and shameless sentiment? I mean, a little bit is to be expected, but this much? Alas.

Some good points: Carrie left the relationship with the Russian of her own violation after realizing that it was quite wrong for her. This was important. She realized that Miranda's warnings were wholly accurate: she could not give up her career, her friends, her city, her nation in order to live the life of an artist's girlfriend in Paris. Had the producers allowed her to end up with the Russian, then it would have been a betrayal of the show's central message of independence. Thus, it was good that she didn't suddenly choose between Big and Aleksandr Petrovsky; she left the Russian before she even knew Big was in the hemisphere.

However, the show ends with Carrie simply taking Big's word for it that he has finally matured after six years? Were this not the final episode, we'd learn in a few weeks that he was back to his old tricks (something that is confirmed in the film several years later). Has Carrie learned nothing from his past antics? The last few seasons of the show has been dedicated to the notion that people can change: Miranda goes from cynical career woman to working mother and wife, Samantha goes from nymphomaniac to smitten with Smith. But is Carrie to simply rely on Big's assurances(accompanied, of course, by his journey to Paris) that he has changed? Are we to believe that because Big's name has been revealed, that so too will he reveal his feelings and emotions to Carrie in a way he never did during the six years of the show?

I certainly agree with the folks at Gothamist who, at the time, noted that the good thing about the show ending is that "we can welcome the end of thousands of articles spectulating [sic] what kind of impact the show had on our lives . . . ." In the week-long build-up to the final episode, we all grew a bit impatient with the self-importance of the show's spokespeople. To boot, the hour-long "farewell" to the series which aired immediately prior to the finale was autohagiography. Back then, we were literally inundated with features and interviews pontificating on the importance of SATC. It was, according to the hype, a program which forever altered the way we as a culture thing about the single life. It was, according to the hype, a program which brought a new frankness to the discussion of sex, yet it was also a show with heart. It was, according to the hype, a valentine not just to single life in New York but also New York itself. But, in the end, I don't think the show was the significant culture-altering television program that its producers and cast always shouted from the rooftops that it was. Sometimes, a clever TV show is just that: a clever TV show. It's not as if Michael Patrick King was writing, say, Atlas Shrugged or something, right?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Slicing Up Eyeballs.

The far, far better nostalgia blog, Slicing Up Eyeballs, is, as of yesterday, one year old. (See here for the site's very first introductory post, aptly titled "Welcome to the Occupation," published February 20, 2009, and here for its own anniversary coverage, which ran yesterday.). The site had its first string of initial substantive posts one year ago today, on February 21, 2009, including pieces on Sonic Youth's then upcoming album and the possibility of a Replacements reunion (which alas, does not seem to be in cards). Happy Birthday, Eyeballs. Keep up the stellar work.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Edie Brickell - The Ultimate Collection?

Can an artist who is widely considered to be a one hit wonder release a compilation album called Ultimate Collection? Texan Edie Brickell, really, is known for two things: Her 1988 song, "What I Am," and her marriage to Paul Simon. This does not an Ultimate Collection make. (Although it should be noted that the disc does include her cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," which originally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1989 Tom Cruise film, Born on the Fourth of July, in which Brickell had a brief role as a folk singer.). But is she ultimate? No.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

It's 2009. If you still not yet seen 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, drop everything and journey to your local video store to rent this film. (In fact, if you've not yet seen this film, there is probably something wrong with you, dear readers.). Melancholy, wistful, and slightly experimental, the film traces the destruction of the relationship of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (the ever lovely Kate Winslet, who could never be erased). After their love slowly slides into complacency and boredom, Clementine has her memories of the relationship erased. (If only such technology were commercially available in the real world.). Upon learning this, Barish does the same, and the film chronicles his subconscious and regretful struggle with this process. It's really quite an unusual spin on a familiar theme, and of course, that's thanks to Charlie Kaufman (the film's scribe and writer of Being John Malkovich and the wonderful Adaptation.). The film has a stellar sense of melancholy and self-doubt, two traits which are essential to any relationship film. The imagery is vibrant and clever. It's sequenced out of time, so we begin in the immediate present, immediately go back to the day before, and then trace the ups-and-downs of Joel and Clem's relationship backwards from its sour end to its hopeful beginning. Post hoc reconstruction is necessary, dear viewers. Runaway Bride this is not. Thank goodness. (Plus, you can't go wrong with Winslet with blue hair, can you?).

To boot, the film is filled with very competent actors, a rare thing for films of the 2000s. Carrey, of all people, is subtle as the lonely and insecure Barish, while Winslet captures the balance of impulsiveness and insecurity as Clementine. Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst round out the cast as the employees of Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), pioneer of the memory erasure process. These could easily have been stock characters played by Hollywood no-names, but the results are quite interesting to watch under the circumstances.

FYI: The title of the film comes from Alexander Pope's poem, Eloisa to Abelard, the appropriate stanza of which is:
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;
The poem is quoted in the film by Mary (Kirsten Dunst), a character who does come dangerously close to being mere eye candy until the final act of the film.

When I first saw it, I could say that it was the first film in a while during which (a) I have not been bored (b) I was actually interested in the subject matter and the characters (c) I was not ready for it to end. I am a bit disappointed that the film did not explore the moral and philosophical issues implicated by the erasure of one's memories of life and love, but that's just minor quibbling really. Really, what this film is about is the pain of loss and the wreckage that we become when we lose one to whom we have become attached. Go see it. (Oh, and for the record, I would never erase a relationship with Ms. Winslet from my mind. Not ever.).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

So tired and wearisome are today's formulaic films that often a retreat five or six decades into cinema's past is necessary and proper. Among the true gems of the past is Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 film noir about the misadventures of a New York publicity agent and his parlous quest to befriend a powerful gossip columnist. This film must have been daring in its time, so much so that it remains so even by today's standards, fifty years hence.

The plot: Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is a down on his luck hustler of a publicity agent. He's been shut out of the influential column of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) because he could not break up the relationship of jazz musician Steve Dallas (Martin Milner) and J.J.'s sister, Susan Hunsecker (the lovely Susan Harrison who, apparently, did little else of consequence save for giving birth to Darva Conger, who would later achieve her own infamy as a reality starlet). The film takes place over the course of a single night and the following day. Falco scurries about hatching schemes and stratagems to advance the interests of his clients and return to the good graces of the menacing and corrupt J.J. Hunsecker.

What is astonishing is how dark, cynical, and overtly sexual the film seems even today in light of its release in the late 1950s. Of course, there is no profanity or nudity in the film, and any sexual exploits occur safely offscreen. But the sexual bargains that are sealed are certainly not subtly referenced. The film depicts the types of people who will do anything - anything - to advance or aggrandize themselves and whose only purpose in life is to, well, advance or aggrandize themselves. If you've not seen it, do yourself a favor, and submerge yourself into this world. Truly, you'll be startled at how edgy this film is, even by today's standards. Noirish indeed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Joe Millionaire (2003)

Seven years ago today, on February 17, 2003, the finale of the television reality show "Joe Millionaire" aired. A quick refresher: This was one of the first reality in shows in which the contestants were tricked into believing a critical fact was simply not true. In fact, the contestants, all female, were led to believe that Evan Marriott was a millionaire when in reality he was just short of being a pauper. Even to this day, reality television remains the trendy schadenfreude , and even those of us at Chronological Snobbery are not immune from the strange transfixing power it holds over the nation. After weeks of a cynical ploy implemented for the entertainment of millions, the finale is a sugar-coated and sappy fairy tale cliche? Since when did the Fox Network, perpetrator of "Married . . . with Children" and "When Animals Attack!", become the plaything of rank sentimentalists? Evan receives no comeuppance for his dastardly scheme to dupe women into believing that he was as rich as Mr. Burns? Yes, of course, I was just as amused by the program as everyone else seems to have been, but I was hoping that perhaps Evan would-be the victim of some additional ploy known only to the network suits. It was not to be. The concept was a bit of a one trick pony; one the ruse was perpetrated, it could not be employed again, as the secret was out. The producers were undeterred; they tried again, this time using European women (under the assumption that they were unfamiliar with American reality television). But the magic, if it can be called that, was gone.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

First Day of Early Voting Begins

If you're in Texas, today is the first day you may early vote for the March 2010 primaries. So head to the polls and exercise your right to vote. Thanks for your support.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Washington's Birthday (George Washington Comic Book Covers)

George Washington
(February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799)

Today, we celebrate President's Day, or "Washington's Birthday," as the federal statute still calls it. Despite the reason to pause and reflect upon our nation's first president, I'll be at work. For more information on Hit Comics #44, the comic book depicted above, please click here. For some other George Washington comic book covers, see those below:

Above: Rip Hunter Time Master #23.

Above: Picture Progress #6 (1954).

Above: Strange Adventures #83 (1957)

Above: Adventures of the Big Boy #233.

Above: Manic Robot Fighter #4 (1997).

Above: Mad #181 (1976)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Smiths' Meat is Murder Turns 25

Both Stereogum and Slicing Up Eyeballs have great posts today on today's 25th anniversary of The Smiths' 1985 album, Meat is Murder. What else could I possibly add to that? Accordingly, today, I focused on the 10th anniversary of the release of The Cure's Bloodflowers and the seventh anniversary of the release of The Entertainment System's "Celebrate Black Wednesday" single.

The Cure - Bloodflowers (2000)

Ten years ago today, on February 14, 2000, The Cure released Bloodflowers, the band's eleventh album which featured the wonderful and sad single, "Maybe Someday." (The "Acoustic Mix" of "Maybe Someday" would later appear on the compilation album, Join the Dots: B-sides & Rarities 1978-2001 (The Fiction Years)). As luck would have it, I actually remember purchasing this album in the summer of 2000 at a used bookstore in San Antonio, Texas and thinking to myself that it was a return to form for the band. Prior to that, I hadn't paid much attention to the band's output since 1991's Wish. So there it is, happy birthday, Bloodflowers.

The Perils of Valentine's Day

Even super heroes are not immune from the horrors of this corporate holiday. Behold: Mr. Miracle is not having a good Valentine's Day. Thanks, Supes! Who knew that the Man of Steel fancied Big Barda? For more on why Superman embarked upon this enterprise, see here. The answer is not pretty.

Celebrate Black Wednesday (February 14, 2003)

On February 14, 2003, seven years ago today, the then Houston-based electronica outfit, The Entertainment System, released a single, "Celebrate Black Wednesday." The original email press release for the release of this single, captured for the sake of posterity, is as follows:
Yes, The Entertainment System, in light of having taken a year or two too long to finish our album, has just released a special Valentine's Day single featuring the song "Celebrate Black Wednesday" off the forthcoming (hopefully in a month) Decibel Hunter album. Also included are the bonus tracks "The Film Song" and "Ripper." The single is available locally at Sound Exchange and Cactus Music and Video, and of course, via parcel post, through [band member Maurice Carter].

The band, long dormant due to members moving to different parts of the country, is preserved on the Internet like a fly in the amber. Comprised of vocalist/programmer Kim, vocalist/guitarist Dorvin Rosenthal, and synthesizer player/sound designer Maurice Carter, the band now belongs to the ages. It long ago went dormant, never again to rise into the Houston music scene. The album referred to in the email press release was Decibel Hunter, the group's last effort . Those curious to hear the single can access it here, at the band's MySpace page. (Direct hyperlinks are necessary with this group, of course, because their moniker is not exactly Google-friendly. Try to find them on the Google. I dare you.).

Recently, Maurice Carter, the band's keyboardist, submitted to an email interview.

1. Take us back to 2003. How did you decide to write "Celebrate Black Wednesday"?

Well, I'm certain the song's older than that. Valentine's Day fell on a Wednesday in 2001 and I'm pretty certain the song dates to events or references from that particular Valentine's Day.

That was one of the songs Dorvin had initially demo'd on his four-track that we re-recorded for Decibel Hunter (other example's include "Cigarectomy" and "Columbus on the Rocks"). Unrequited and/or abusive love are frequent themes in Dorvin's lyrics, so I have no idea if this song is about a particular incident or just general imagery. Although we re-recorded it, the arrangement closely follows the original as far as I recall, so Dorvin deserves arranging as well as writing credit (and, of course, he played most of the instruments). Even though the last half of the song is essentially just the same melody repeated over and over, he had very explicit ideas about how the sound and aesthetic should slowly change with each additional instrument and sound. A particularly fulfilling song to play live.

2. How did it come to be released on Valentine's Day 2003 (which, actually, was not a Wednesday)?

Well, all three of us write rather obscure lyrics, so we're frequently unsure of the exact motivation behind the other's writing. In the case of "Celebrate Black Wednesday," though, we at least knew it was about painful love and Valentine's Day, a theme close to all our hearts at that point, if I recall.

Ultimately, though, it was just a case of needing a deadline. We'd been working on Decibel Hunter for a good 4+ years and the perfectionism was killing us. We were proud of what we'd been producing but unable to bring it to that final point that we could actually put it before the public. The idea of doing a single off Decibel Hunter reduced the pressure. A particular problem here was Kim, whose perfectionism was near paralyzing at that point. He's an example of someone who won't let go of a project unless there's a deadline, but was, unfortunately, working in an industry where there are no deadlines when you're just starting out.

So, ironically, though there were several other songs we'd been working on as a whole for several years, due to Dorvin's enthusiasm and consistency of vision, "Celebrate Black Wednesday" was just about the most polished recording we had at that point. My recollection is that it was Kim who suggested the single (though I could be way off on this). I'm certain, though, that Dorvin and I pushed for "Ripper" and "The Film Song" as its B-sides. These were "old" Kim material and, as such, he refused to touch them.

"Ripper," in particular is an interesting case. It dates from a period when Kim was developing his own style working with computer music and manipulation of sounds. It's deeply tied (in theme) to the complex history between Kim and Dorvin, so I don't feel competent to comment on the content, but I will point out that some of the melodies in the song date to a pre - pre - Entertainment System stage of their collaboration, a song by Dorvin called "Lighthouse Hill." Anyway, the song depends critically on sounds that Kim had manipulated heavily at a lower than optimal sound quality. Since we couldn't locate the original files, though, they couldn't be reproduced at the sound quality we were aiming for with Decibel Hunter. In many ways, "Ripper" is the first instance of the aesthetic which guides Decibel Hunter, yet we couldn't include it on the album.

"The Film Song" is also quite old. I first saw Kim perform it when pressured to sing on an acoustic guitar late one night at a dying party in '99. I'm sure it had been around for a while by that point, though. We've played it together live since the band's earliest incarnation.

Anyway, frustrated with our progress and with Valentine's Day coming up, we created a deadline for ourselves. We took the best current versions of "Celebrate Black Wednesday" and "Ripper," then we rerecorded the bulk of "The Film Song," pasting in the full band ending from the old sweatbox (Austin studio) recording sessions that formed the kernel for 8 Song CD. I recall working on tweaking the transitions and adding little sonic flourishes (like the final blurb and fadeout to "Ripper.").

Then, after tweaking the mix all night long, Kim and Dorvin took our mix to a "real" studio (albeit in the ghetto) to be mastered. I wasn't present at the mastering session, but met them at the studio at the end of it. My impression was that the experience had been trying. Anyway, we obsessed over the sound quality after that and were ultimately happy with what we'd produced.

I designed the packaging and replicated it at Kinko's. All CDs were packaged by hand by me.

3. What is the current status of The Entertainment System?

Indefinite hiatus.

4. What has Maurice Carter been up to musically of late?

Not much. I spent last year learning to play old time fiddle.

Kim and Dorvin are still very serious about their music, however. Dorvin plays with Springfield Riots (formerly Program), and a number of other projects (including his own). Kim's band Twisted Wires is signed to Italians Do It Better Records and occasionally tours the U.S. He also plays with the iconic noise-psychedelic band Indian Jewelry.

5. How did a "Celebrate Black Wednesday" video came to be made?

It was basically a formal exercise / indulgence of nostalgia. I'd shot some footage of Dorvin lip syncing the song a couple of years previously, and I put that together with some additional footage I had lying around to see what would happen. of course, I'd always wanted to make a video, and this just seemed like a natural excuse. There are several layers of our musical and personal history depicted in that video, and that makes it difficult for me to anticipate its effect on the casual viewer.

Ironically, the first, and only other, Entertainment System video was for the last song on the "Celebrate Black Wednesday" EP, "Ripper." A fan just made it from footage he'd shot and gave it to Dorvin one day. I have to admit that part of the inspiration for the "Celebrate Black Wednesday" video came from that - before someone went out and did it for us, having videos didn't seem like a realistic possibility. Afterwards, it seemed like a necessity. (Plus, I just really like music videos.)

The "Celebrate Black Wednesday" video:

The "Ripper" video:

UPDATE (2/14/10): Dorvin Rosenthal responds to a request for an email interview and notes, with respect to "Celebrate Black Wednesday," the following thoughts:
I remember being inspired by an HCC classmate playing a certain pattern on guitar during the waning days of my tenure. That was the germ. When I sat down to work out the backing Casio track, it just flowed. Cliche, I know, but the ending just happened. On its own. The last time I saw a good friend (at one of our shows - the mausoleum-) he told me the second part was a little too after school special but the first part was good. It was also quite an honor for it (that disco - y 1st part) to be jammmed one night @danseparc @ Numbers.

Ii remember the 1st proper studio session for it being awkward. Kim and I saw the titanic exhibit that day at HMNS. Back at the studio afterwards, I just blocked up. Kim tried to goad me into trying to program replications of silly things I had done on Casio at home. And it just didn't work. But eventually I got over it and just started over on the Casio in the same manner as before . . . only with the versatility a ghetto rock pc can provide. So I kept on building it.

I was a bit surprised when Kim and Maurice suggested we put out a single and that track be it. We put it out as was for a Valentine's release.

By this time, Decibel Hunter was either almost finished or we were nearly done with it. By the time we finished up in June, more tracks had been added, and I felt the track had outgrown its somewhat awkward, pubescent origins. I remember playing back pretty much my final mix back to Kim and him saying something like "Wow, you really finished that." The one time the album version trumped the single version.
For "The Film Song," he recalls:
It was nice to get this out somehow. A favorite from the early days, this was left off the 1st record but felt to be eligible for inclusion here. We took elements from archival studio recordings and added to them. The mix was done too hastily. hindsight.
Of "Ripper," he recalls:
Classic. Again, nice to throw this out. A total Kim track. Yet he interpolates segments of a tune I wrote in high school, (as well as one by someone slightly more famous) so its implications have always been good mill grist. Amazing melodies.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day?

Main Entry: Saint Val·en·tine's Day
Pronunciation: -'va-l&n-"tInz-
Function: noun
Etymology: Saint Valentine died ab 270 Italian priest
Date: 14th century
1 : February 14 observed in honor of Saint Valentine and as a time for sending valentines
2 : American holiday during which large corporations, sellers of greeting cards, chocolatiers, and florists conspire to impose extraneous obligations upon individuals in romantic relationships and heighten the despair and loneliness of individuals who are not in such relationships
3 : EVIL

ANTI-VALENTINE'S DAY SCREED: I realize that this most corporate of holidays isn't until tomorrow, but I express my disdain and dissatisfaction on the record officially today (which is probably the day most lovey dovey couples will be celebrating it, anyway.). Alas.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Repackaged Popular Culture?

"We are clear-cutting the pop cultural past a lot faster than we are reforesting it. . . . Now we're getting to the point where some of the most distinctive and memorable culture is repackaged culture." - Syracuse University professor of pop culture Robert Thompson, quoted in this piece by Andrew Grossman of Reuters, in January of 2004, six years ago.

Is this of concern? So rapidly is Hollywood producing what can be called popular culture, so quickly is that product being thereafter released on disc, so easily accessible for multiple viewings, and now, so rapidly are we becoming nostalgic for that which came before, that overload is inevitable. As Jackson astutely observed, now, the product that is being released so quickly is a repackaging of the pop culture of an earlier era. Is the advance of popular culture like that of technology, the faster that it is developed, the more it builds upon itself and its early growth begins to move at a more exponential rate? Certainly, the inundation of programming, and our obsession it, explains the rise of postmodernism and self-referentialism in contemporary cinema and television. But again, is this healthy? Should a nostalgic blogger who writes chiefly about the 1980s and 1990s really be throwing stones on this issue?

I emailed Thompson in late 2009 to ask him what he now thinks of the quote he offered in 2004. His response is as follows:
When referring to shared mass culture, this 2004 statement seems more true today than ever. The only real growth areas in popular culture shared by everyone seem to be celebrity and breaking news (e.g.Balloon Boy, Tiger Woods) and cultural retreads. Popular culture of course has become popular cultures in the plural: the most interesting stuff going on today is going on in niche cultural environments.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Survivor: Heroes v. Villains (2009)

I'm torn about whether to watch tonight's premiere of "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains," which is an all-star edition of sorts in that it pits against each other two tribes of past Survivor contestants. One tribe is composed of former players traditionally known for their good deeds, while the other is full of the prima donnas, liars, and backstabbers who traditionally make the game good television. The problem is that so many of the psychological components that make "Survivor" interesting are absent from the seasons which feature those who have been through the game before. First, the players have already faced this no longer novel adversity, so it may not be as intimidating as it would be for a first timer. Second, many of the players know each other from "Survivor" promotional events or other functions in the reality show community. They are certainly not strangers, and they can rely upon their knowledge of each other from before the game to advance themselves within it. Thus, the game is far less interesting as a consequence. But I'll probably DVR the premiere anyway. There's no reason not to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bruce Campbell and Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

On Monday, October 8, 2002, actor Bruce Campbell exhibited his then-new film, Bubba Ho-Tep, at the River Oaks Theatre in Houston, Texas. Prior to the film, he spoke and conducted a brief question and answer session for the crowd. This is a summary of that event.

In the film, a bizarre horror flick, Campbell plays an elderly Elvis Presley who must fight an ancient Egyptian mummy to save his nursing home. Campbell talked a bit about the film and remarked that the Houston screening might very well be just the second or third time the film had been seen by theatre audiences. He would later say that it was a true independent film, as no Fortune 500 company had bankrolled it, nor was a major distributor handling it. Disdainfully, he remarked that it wasn't the type of film in which you would see Tom Cruise holding a Taco Bell product. He envisioned Paramount Pictures executives kicking around the idea of making a film about an elderly Elvis with prostate cancer battling Egyptian mummies with Ossie Davis as a character who thinks he's JFK. Campbell recalled that Davis' voice was so formal and proper that it was infinitely amusing for him to hear Davis remark upon Egyptian creatures who can only suck the soul from a human being through a particular orifice. Indeed.

Campbell then read from the then new paperback edition of his book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. In so doing, he read an excerpt about a bizarre experience on a New York radio station appearance. Apparently, he had been booked his appearance on the show without knowing that the other guest would be a porn star/performance artist. Madness apparently ensued as the young woman ("Montana Gunn") disrobed before him; the aftermath of the experience is detailed fully in the book.

Campbell then took questions from the audience, and tattooed arms immediately began to rise in the theatre. The usual questions were asked - "Will he be in Spider-Man 2?" [Answer: Perhaps. Campbell noted that director Sam Raimi had already proclaimed that Campbell would return for the sequel. Campbell joked that he suspects he'll simply have a minor role in which he will get run over by a bus, although when the film was released in 2004, Campbell played an usher who denied Peter Parker admittance to Mary Jane Watson's play.] "What about Evil Dead IV? Now that Raimi is a darling of Hollywood?" This was the question of the hour, but Campbell appeared baffled for a moment and then did not provide anything helpful in his answer. (Seven years later, still no Evil Dead IV, but that is probably for the best for many, many reasons.).

Obviously caring more about sounding clever than asking a substantive question, one fan asked which director could best handle the "Montana Gunn" scene when the inevitable film rights to his book were sold and production of a film version began in earnest. Campbell quipped that only Scorcese could master the tension required of that sequence. Someone then asked what his next project would be, and his reply was a bit of a surprise, at least to me: not another film, but another book. He explained that it would be a light-hearted look at - of all things - relationships. The title, of course, reveals that he won't abandon his particular brand of humor: Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way (which would be released three yeas later, in May of 2005). In response to one question, Campbell revealed that he does not play with the Evil Dead action figures. ("Though I do play with my boom stick."). He had no meaningful stories to tell about his ill-fated, early 1990s TV series "The Adventurs of Brisco County, Jr." ("We laughed and laughed when it was canceled. Was that what you had in mind?"). When asked about what he enjoys reading and watching, he raved about Roman Polanski's 1976 flick, The Tenant, which he described as a tense thriller which needed no expensive digital effects. He also said that since he works in "fantasy land" all day, he likes to read travel and non-fiction books, rather than immerse himself in even more genre fiction.

When asked about working with Jim Carrey in The Majestic, he said that he never met Carrey when working on that film. Apparently, Campbell's scenes had to be filmed first, so that they could be incorporated into scenes to be shot later. (Having not seen that film, even to this day, I didn't really get that.) However, he said that he ultimately did meet Carrey after production wrapped, and the real trick was making his way through the throngs of nervous Carrey handlers. ("He was a very nice man."). Someone asked about his short-lived TV series from 2000, "Jack of All Trades." ("So you're the one that watched it."). An ill-informed fan asked what he thought when he first read the script for Evil Dead. ("Well, I had already read it, as I helped raise the money to make it, so . . . .") What did he think of working on the 1996 film, Menno's Mind? ("Did you just want to pick some obscure movie to ask about?").

Someone asked Campbell if he had ever considered running for public office. He smirked and replied that he did inhale, so that might make matters difficult. (Not these days, not even then, when we had a president who had allegedly used cocaine.). However, he said he might consider it if the political climate changed dramatically enough so as to be forgiving of such an alleged indiscretion. (It certainly has.). He then laughed and remarked that on that day he would return to Houston to run for Mayor with the help of a few friends from Enron. We're still waiting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Evangeline Lilly as Lois Lane? (2004)

As ABC's "Lost" progresses through its final season (with a new episode tonight), one mystery that may never be solved: What ever happened to the idea of that show's star, Evangeline Lilly, as Lois Lane in the rebooted Superman franchise? There was a time when the Internet was abuzz with casting rumors as Bryan Singer's Superman Returns entered pre-production. (According to this 2004 report, she was among the four finalists for the part, despite the fact that "Lost" had only been on the air a month at the time of that report.). Although the part ultimately went to Kate Bosworth, Lilly would have been a more interesting choice based on her six seasons as the enterprising and independent minded Kate Austen in ABC's most mysterious series. Although Singer purportedly wanted an unknown to play the part, perhaps Lilly was too unknown at that time? Or perhaps the ultimate reason for the casting decision is lost to the ages. Whatever the case, in the five and a half years since "Lost" premiered, Lilly has not made the transition to films. In fact, since 2004, she's only appeared in three films, the most recent being last year's critically acclaimed the The Hurt Locker. Interestingly enough, Lilly actually has a bit of a Superman pedigree; prior to "Lost," she appeared thrice on TV's "Smallville," although you can ascertain the size of her roles from the names of her characters: In 2002, she played "Wade's Girlfriend" and was uncredited, in 2003, she played "Girl in Cinema" and was uncredited, and in 2004 - just eight months before "Lost" would premiere - she played "School Girl," a character without even a name. Alas. Lilly has exhibited an ability to play spunky and independent female characters, which would certainly have been an asset to playing the fabled Lois Lane.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Other Sound Virus Acts

Back in October 2007, this blog chronicled the rise and fall of Houston's Sound Virus record label and its 1992 attempt at a Houston grunge compilation, Infected: The Twelve from Texas. Subsequent investigation uncovered the flier above, hawking additional releases from the label:
"Psycho Derelict Cowpunk" - Beefmasters
"Burly Pig Rock in Your Face" - Spunk
"Songs to Whitewash Your Brain" - Bleachbath
"Rocks Harder Than Your Kidney Stones" - Dixie Waste
"Ain't It Fun" - Humungus with Cheetah Chrome
The advertisement also heralds the imminent arrival of new recordings by Brutal Juice, Baboon, and Taste of Garlic. Incidentally, if you're interested, dear readers,, of all places, has several used copies of the Infected compilation available for purchase here. Who knew?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Brian Setzer - The Ultimate Collection?

You know, Brian Setzer's actually not so bad, perhaps deserving of an Ultimate Collection if you include his earlier work with the Stray Cats and his later solo songs from the 1990s swing revival. But this Ultimate Collection is "Recorded Live," meaning that the songs arguably worth including on this disc are not the original studio recordings but live versions, presumably recorded years after the fact. (The double disc set includes two shows, one from Japan and one from Montreal). Oh, well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Alias: The First Season (2001)

Back in 2001, the first season of J.J. Abrams' "Alias," starred Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, a CIA agent working undercover as an operative for the mysterious (and evil) intelligence agency SD-6. The twist: most of the employees and agents of SD-6 believe they are actually working for the CIA and accomplishing good around the world. Only Bristow and her father (Victor Garber), who also works as an operative for SD-6, know the truth. But what is striking is about this season is what a terrible spy the Bristow character is. Although praised as being a first rate double agent of espionage, she is, in fact, an awful, awful international woman of mystery. Really, really bad.

Here's why:

1. Henchman are always sneaking up on her and capturing her. Whether she is stealing the core of a nuclear device, rummaging through a suspect's hotel room, or even disabling the fail-safe mechanism of the SD-6 headquarters, she is very often caught by surprise by the henchmen of her evil and nefarious enemies. She is very fortunate that these henchmen have the foresight not to shoot her on sight but rather escort her at gunpoint to another location so that she has the time and opportunity to clobber them. Shouldn't she be doing more to ensure that she is not caught by surprise? Isn't she extraordinarily fortunate that they have not shot her on sight before she has the opportunity to react?

2. She prefers kickboxing to firearms. In her line of work, wouldn't a firearm with a silencer serve her better than her mad kickboxing skills? I mean, she disarms her opponents via kickboxing, and then continues to kick them until that opponent is unconscious. What's the point of that in the world of international espionage?

3. She refuses to kill the bad guys. After clobbering the henchmen, she leaves them not for dead, but for unconscious. This means, that at some later determined point, these henchmen will awaken, identify her, and possibly, fight her again. Of course, for the convenience of the series, the defeated henchmen do not return or rise from their slumber. However, this seems particularly sloppy for the world of intrigue which Ms. Bristow inhabits. Indeed, in the first several episodes, much ado is made of her rivalry with Anna Espinosa (Gina Torres), an agent of a competing European spy agency. Espinosa has made a career of making matters difficult for both Bristow and SD-6. After an encounter with Espinosa in a church, Bristow leaves her handcuffed to a piece of furniture rather than killing her on the spot. This makes matters far worse in later episodes.

4. She is careless. In one episode, during an operation in Las Vegas, she turns the corner to discover that her partner, Marcus R. Dixon (Carl Lumbly) is being detained by security officers of the casino which they have entered under false pretenses. Before rushing over to assist him in the melee that is soon to ensue, she yells, "Dixon" across the hallway. That's his real name. Not his undercover identity, but his true and correct surname. What is she doing yelling it across a casino hallway in the presence of casino security? This seems a particularly troubling breach of protocol, especially considering the name of the series. In another careless move, Bristow does absolutely nothing to change her living arrangements after being offered sarcastic condolences from Espinosa (who is apparently aware that Bristow's fiancee was killed). If that's the case, then Espinosa very likely knows the real name of Bristow's fiancee, which would give her easy access to locating Bristow in Los Angeles. (Heck, you don't have to be an international spy to login to and perform a search of soon-to-be married couples.). Thus, Espinosa could very easily find out Bristow's real name, her Los Angeles address, and other vital personal information which would endanger Bristow, her roommate, and other individuals.

We permit our television series to make silly mistakes to heighten tension. But this is the series by the guy who would ultimately co-create the far, far better "Lost" in 2004 and who would direct the first film of the official reboot of the Star Trek franchise in 2009. Alas.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Week That Was (1/30 - 2/5)

Below, you'll find some links from The Week That Was:

Progressive Ruin tells the tale of Parade Hater Horace, surely the best comic book villain of all time (though I am surprised that he was not later taken out by Scourge). Who would win in a fight between Horace and Darkseid? (1/31)

2. I don't think this text was sent by Clark Kent or his alter ego. At least, I hope not. (1/31).

3. Television critic Alan Sepinwall observes that this week marked the seventeenth anniversary of the debut of the superb NBC television series, "Homicide: Life on the Street." On January 31, 1993, the pilot episode aired following that year's Super Bowl, and it would become one of the finest cop shows of the 1990s. I can remember that in those halcyon days, my Friday night out could not begin until I had consumed a glass of bourbon and watched this show, which aired at 9:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the show also persevered too long; as the years went by, its quality slipped. But if you've not seen the first few seasons of this series, you'd best add it to your Netflix queue immediately. (1/31).

4. Steanso, over at the aptly named The Adventures of Steanso blog, offers his thoughts on the first episode of the final season of "Lost." (2/4).

5. The Action Figure of the Day blog profiles the Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Set, a toy that I completely forgot that I once owned. I also had the very similar Land of the Jawas Action Playset, but I was too young to appreciate how the toy company tricked me (and/or my parents) into buying both of them, despite the fact that they are essentially the same set. (2/2).

Happy Birthday, Jennifer Jason Leigh

It just doesn't seem to make sense that the young Jennifer Jason Leigh, pictured above in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, turns 48 years old today. How can that be? It seems like just yesterday she played the creepy and sadistic roommate of Bridget Fonda in 1992's Single White Female. Or the love interest of a Baldwin in 1991's Backdraft. (That was a Baldwin, right?)

Law and Order: The Violence of Summer (February 5, 1991)

Nineteen years ago today, on February 5, 1991, actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Gil Bellows appeared as hooligans on "The Violence of Summer," the fourteenth episode of the first season of NBC's "Law and Order." Samuel L. Jackson, of all people, played their defense attorney.

Two years ago, this site exhaustively reviewed and analyzed that episode. Check it out.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Ring (2002)

Once upon blue moon, back in 2002, I saw the sneak preview of The Ring at the theatres. As neo-horror flicks seeking to capitalize on the success of The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense went, it wasn't bad. Since then, the film has spawned a forgettable sequel, and looking back, the original film is mostly forgettable itself, save for the presence of Naomi Watts, who has done far better (2003's 21 Grams) and far, far worse (2005's wretched remake of King Kong).

Either my expectations were so low that it was easy to meet or exceed them, or the film, at least on the first viewing, was remotely clever. Returning from Mulholland Dr., Watts falls victim to a videotape that - gasp - kills you. Immediately after a character views the short film, she receives a phone call alerting them that she will die seven days later. A somewhat promising premise. The videotape itself is as one character describes it: all too student film with its adequate though uninspiring attempts at surrealism or expressionism or both. The images are bizarre and initially seem unconnected: dead horses in the sea, a strange woman peering into a mirror, a plateful of severed fingers, an eerie ladder, et cetera. Watts spends most of the film attempting to trace the origins of the mysterious videotape -- which killed her teenage cousin and now threatens to do the same to herself, her son, and his estranged father. (Like all other films of this genre, the young son is not only wise and mature beyond his years, but also clairvoyant -- just like the far more convincing Hayley Joel Osment was a decade ago in The Sixth Sense.)

The plot meanders unevenly in parts, but it occasionally startles. We are led across the dreary landscapes of Washington State, a grey and perpetually rainy locale which suits the film. But of course, for any such film to be shocking, the ending must be of the twist variety. Rather than arriving at the film's climax, the "twist" comes after all of the loose ends are addressed, leaving the viewer to wonder if it was an afterthought. But such endings are mandatory these days.

This must have been new territory for director Gore Verbinski, perpetrator of such flicks as Mouse Hunt, The Mexician, and the fun Pirates of the Caribbean and its unnecessary sequels. His stewardship of The Ring is not entirely unoriginal, which may not necessarily be faint praise in an era of interminably predictable suspense "thrillers." He did, of course, have some interesting source material; Verbinski joins the ranks of other Hollywood pseudo-auteurs who mine foreign cinema for ideas: the film was based upon the 1998 Japanese film Ringu.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987)

Having recently watched again some of the more well known flicks directed by Peter Jackson, I decided to watch his first release, Bad Taste, from 1987. Basically, Bad Taste is a zombie flick, although the "zombies" are actually aliens who, at the risk of great discomfort, transformed themselves into human form. Much is owed to George Romero and his Living Dead trilogy. Viewing Jackson's incredibly low budget film, as well as the making-of documentary which accompanies it on the DVD, really illustrates how far Jackson has come as a director. For Bad Taste, Jackson constructed his own Steadicam at the cost of $15, and he baked the masks of the creatures in his parents' kitchen. Compare that to the $300 million the studios gave him to create the three installments of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy. The documentary is inspiring to the would-be filmmaker, as Jackson's ingenuity (and his utter skill at stretching a dollar to the maximum degree possible) is showcased to a great degree. If he could do so much in the way of crude special effects with so little money, what could an aspiring director do with equally meager funds for a film which did not require special effects at all? (The documentary also has clips of Jackson's earliest home movies, including some footage from a film called "World War Two," which Jackson made as a pre-teenager. Sorry, I can't bring myself to say "tween.").

My first introduction to Jackson's oeuvre was in college when one of the members of the crew at the student television station screened a double feature of Jackson's films. In so doing, he exhibited the violent gross-out puppet extravaganza, 1989's Meet the Feebles, and the equally disturbing 1991 film, Dead Alive. Soon thereafter, I saw the excellent Heavenly Creatures from 1994 (which was my first introduction to the lovely Kate Winslet), and after that, I trekked to see The Frighteners (which featured the one, the only, team-up between Jackson and Michael J. Fox) after work on the first day of its release in 1996. I think I was the only one present in the theatre for that showing. When I heard that he was going to direct the Tolkien trilogy, I was skeptical -- indeed, I was almost certain that it would fail, as fantasy has never really been a successful genre at the box office. I wondered what would happened to the second two installments if the first chapter tanked. Would they release them? Would the studio funding for post-production dry up? Who knew? But, obviously, failure was not meant to be for the trilogy.

And to think, it all began in 1987, with the release of the, well, bad, "Bad Taste."

See here for the Ultimate Bad Taste Fan Site (and here for the original version of that site).