21 January 2009


Here's the set we played during the opening hour of our inaugural party for the First and Forty-Fourth, because what Red, White & Blue needs now is Black and Green (71MB MP3).

Priests' Invocation
"Easy Going Fellow" Roscoe Shelton
"The Prayer" Ray Scott
"Cigarette" The Visions
"Money is a Thing of the Past" Ronnie Haig
"What About Us" The Coasters
"Don't Hit Me No More" Mable John
"Sweet Talk" Bunny Paul
"I'm Gonna Spend My Money" The Poor Boys
"Freeloaders" Fred Carter
"White House Party" Hank Marr
The Black Avenger
"Fine Brown Frame" Nellie Lutcher
"Let Me Do My Thing" The People's Choice
"Beautiful Day" Spider Harrison
"I Love You and Buddha Too" Mason Jennings
"Yes We Can (part 1)" Lee Dorsey
"Listening Man" The Bees
"The New World" The Knitters
"Devil Behind That Bush" The Cramps
"Life is Still Sweet" White Hassle
"Good Times" Dave Grusin
"Thing Like That" Giant Sand

O.W. at Soul Sides posted a much more mature and coherent Obamix by King Most back in September which we also played:

Intro/Smoked Sugar: I'm A Winner
Roy Davis Jr.: People Get Ready
Jackson 5: We're Almost There (DJ Spinna Remix)
Erykah Badu: Solider (Sasaac Remix)
Masta Ace: Beautifull
Black Spade: We Need A Revolution
Skull Snaps: It's A New Day
Marvin Gaye & The Mizzel Brothers: Where Are We Going?
James Brown: Mind Power
Antibalas: Si Se Puede
Grandmaster Flash: The Message (Next Message Blend Version)
DJ Day: A Place To Go
Double Exposure: Everyman For Himself
Donald Byrd: Change Makes Ya Wanna Hustle
Stevie Wonder: Blackman (Kay Sputnik Re-Edit)
L.T.D.: Love To The World
Cymande: Bra
Pitbull: American War
The Dynamics: Move On Up

Official Obamixes include Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement and Change is Now: Renewing America's Promise.

30 December 2008

CINEPHOBIA: The Ghosts of Christmas Present

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). IMDB: "A young boy watches his parents killed by a thief in a Santa suit. He spends his youth in an orphanage, staying quietly to his self, but his mind is further bent by an ironhanded Mother Superior. He eventually gets a job at a local store, where he finally snaps when he is required to wear a Santa suit, and goes on a killing spree that leads him slowly back to the orphanage." Wikipedia: "The PTA fought to have this film removed from the theaters due to its subject matter and the fact that it was shown around Christmas, although an earlier film with a similar synopsis had gone unnoticed. Upon its original release in 1984, the film created serious controversy. Siskel and Ebert condemned the film and went so far as to read the film's production credits on air, saying 'shame, shame' after each one."

SANTA ON MURDER SPREE AT EX'S PARTY (Associated Press, Dec. 27, 2008): "Stinging from an acrimonious divorce, a man plotting revenge against his ex-wife dressed up like Santa, went to his former in-laws' Christmas Eve party and slaughtered at least eight people before killing himself. Bruce Pardo's former wife and her parents were believed to be among the dead. Investigators planned to return to the scene overnight to sift through the ashes of the home, which Pardo set ablaze using a homemade device that sprayed flammable liquid."

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). IMDB: "The story is simple: right before Christmas break, an unseen psycho sneaks into the attic of a Canadian sorority house, menacing the girls with obscene phone calls, and starts to kill them one by one."

MAN FOUND LIVING IN FAMILY'S ATTIC (WBBH-TV, Dec. 29, 2008): "Stanley Carter apparently just wanted some place to spend the holidays - plus a few Christmas gifts. Police in Plains Township, Pennsylvania, found a 21-year-old man in the attic of a duplex apartment after the occupants reported missing cash, a laptop computer, and an iPod. Footprints were spotted in a bedroom closet where a trap door leads to the attic. When Carter emerged, he was wearing clothes he apparently pilfered during his days in hiding. Police say he kept a list of everything he took, and labeled it Stanley's Christmas List."

20 June 2008

HAPPY SNAPS: South of the Border

The funnest fact about South of the Border is what border it sits south of: the state line between North and South Carolina. This isn't a part of the south -- like, say, Texas -- where a Mexican theme makes sense. But then, this isn't the kind of Mexican theme you could get away with anywhere lots of Mexicans live.

MP3: Southern Fried Frijoles by the Jimmy Castor Bunch.

It's not near any town I could see. It's not near any attraction. It apparently thinks it is an attraction. I started seeing signs for it at least half an hour out -- tacky technicolor billboards with so-bad-they're-good puns and occasional three-dimensional adornments like huge jalepeños -- counting down the miles with increasing frequency the closer I got. The first thing I noticed as I neared it was the lookout tower in the shape of a festive sombrero. The tower was out of order, so I can't say what view it offers, but there's really nothing around except this absurd roadside oasis.

MP3: You're a Gas With Your Trash by The Four Pennies.

It was dead. A handful of folks had stopped to pee, but all the other cars belonged to the terminally bored employees who haunted the stores and restaurants. South of the Border is essentially a decon-structed strip mall, its shops randomly placed throughout two huge parking lots. There's gas stations and grub joints, groceries and liquor, motels and toilets. Also fireworks, a leather shop, a t-shirt shop, a coffee shop, an arcade with pinball and pool, and almost every business bears the name Pedro's. After the lookout tower, the next main amusement is the miniature golf course called, yes, the Golf of Mexico. But the day I was there, it was closed too.

MP3: Empty Hands and the Long Walk Home by Pinetop Seven (featuring the whistling of Andrew Bird).

There's statues along the road and outside every store. They include lots of cacti that look ripped right out of a Road Runner cartoon and a random assortment of animals, few of which would be at home in the desert: an ape, a hippo, a rhino, buffalo, flamingos, bears, a pair of giant chickens, some circus elephants -- and, uh, Mexicans.

MP3: Poor Little Critter on the Road by The Knitters.

I'm tempted to go back to see what kind of obstacles the mini golf course contains. If it's like the rest of South of the Border, it'll simply be a haphazard arrangement of random animal statues with a few happy Mexican peasants mixed in, perhaps with some signs in grade school Spanglish about El Clubhouse. You can see more of what this S.O.B. offers for yourself at their website, Pedroland. As their motto proclaims, "Pedro has sometheeng for every juan." •

MP3: El Rauncho Grande by The Raunch Hands.
MP3: We're in Charge of Fun by Z Amigos.

Further reading:

¡Ask a Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano, a collection of his columns from The Orange County Weekly wherein he answers questions from gabachos (Mexican slang for white Americans -- according to señor Arellano, "Only gringos call gringos gringos") about Mexicanos, Chicanos, and their culture. For instance, what's the fascination Mexicans have with Elvis? Answers Arellano: "As recounted in Eric Zolov’s 1999 book, Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture, the King largely sparked the roots of rock en español by inspiring groups such as Los Locos del Ritmo and Los Teen Tops to pirate his style beat-for-beat, pompadour-for-pompadour, uh-huh huh-for-uh-huh huh. This initial love affair ended in 1957, when Mexican newspapers published — without proof — that Presley said, 'I’d rather kiss three black girls than a Mexican girl.' Seeing an opportunity to crack down on a burgeoning youth movement, Mexico’s civic fathers denounced Presley as a maricón and negrito-lover and organized Elvis-memorabilia burnings. Mexicans being Mexicans, most dutifully followed instructions. Elvis wouldn’t receive a fair hip-shake from the country — not even after Fun In Acapulco —until the 1970s, when his visage became the backbone of the borderlands’ burgeoning black-velvet-painting industry. Wabs [the Orange County version of 'wetback'] have largely loved the King since, as they realized he was more Mexican than an eagle on a cactus. Remember the comparison I made between rednecks and wabs a couple of weeks back? Consider Elvis and his similarity with Mexicans: skinny as a youngster, obese by the end, but still caliente; a hardworking country boy corrupted by the big city’s excesses; a taste for big belts and shimmering suits; a propensity for unhealthy food and bedding underage girls. And have you heard his versions of the ranchera standards 'Guadalajara' and 'Allá en el Rancho Grande'? No gabacho can sing those songs that well — and I’m even including Charles Bronson." Send your own questions about Mexicans to: themexican@askamexican.net

MP3: En El Barrio by El Vez, the Mexican Elvis.

09 February 2008

MAD SCIENCE: Where Is That Dick?

"History is written as we speak, its borders are mapped long before any of us open our mouths, and written history, which makes the common knowledge out of which our newspapers report the events of the day, creates its own refugees, displaced persons, men and women without a country, cast out of time, the living dead: are you still alive, really?" -- Greil Marcus from The Dustbin of History

In December of 1997, an eccentric white-haired scientist with no money, no job, and no affiliations to any university or institution walked into a major genetics conference and announced, in what the New York Times called a "vague and rambling" speech, his grandiose plans “to produce a two-month pregnancy in a [human] female within a year and a half’s time” by means of cellular cloning.

It’s been ten years.

Sixty-nine year old reproductive biologist Dr. Richard Seed’s announcement sparked a worldwide media frenzy, upset many of his colleagues, and frightened the state of California and 19 European nations into signing immediate bans against human cloning. White House spokesman Michael McCurry told the press, “The scientific community ought to make it clear to Dr. Seed -– and I think the President will make it clear to Dr. Seed -– that he has elected to become irresponsible, unethical, and unprofessional should he pursue the course that he has outlined today."

McCurry’s statement took a lot for granted. For one, it assumed that there existed a clear and universal understanding of the ethics, responsibilities, and standards involved, which was and is no more true of human cloning than any other issue involving reproductive rights or biotech's expanding frontiers. It also assumed that a renegade like Dr. Seed would be affected by peer pressure from a group who wouldn’t have him as a member (“I’m an independent thinker...”) and by a president (“He doesn’t have the power to stop me...”) who at the time was acting just as unprofessionally and unethically as he was (“As far as I’m concerned, he’s slick, sleazy Willie...”). "You can't stop science," Seed liked to say. But before anyone stopped Richard Seed*, we stopped paying attention.

Beginning with sensational headlines, then spurred by Joe Palca’s ten-minute profile on NPR, and developing into a flurry of appearances on network news and morning talk shows, the spotlight had just begun to turn full-force on Dr. Seed when the Clinton-Lewinsky affair erupted and upstaged everything. The doctor's fifteen minutes of fame was about to run out, anyway. The mainstream media had quickly soured on his story once they realized Seed was essentially a quack and the underlying issues were much more complex and consequential than anyone had time for or really wanted to tackle. The networks especially were already looking for an exit and were just lucky to come across Monica's dress after Bill did. What followed was that dizzying post-modern move where they switched the human cloning story to a self-analysis of how they covered it, for which they scolded themselves a bit, then let it drop.

The context in which they did so was this: A national bioethics commission had just presented Congress with 109 pages of reasons to ban human cloning. Most developed countries already had legal restrictions in place prohibitting the growth of experimental human embryos, but not the United States. A year earlier, in response to the news that an adult sheep had been successfully cloned in Scotland, President Clinton had banned the use of federal funds for human cloning research, but legislation to ban privately funded research stalled in the final session of Congress. A new Congress was scheduled to revisit the topic in the weeks ahead when Dr. Seed made his announcement. Clinton responded to Seed by reiterating his earlier ban and asking the private sector to observe a similar ban voluntarily until the law caught up. He then conceded, however, that even with such restraints in place, there was still no real way to stop a very rich man from setting up an island laboratory for endlessly cloning himself once such a thing became possible.

It was a strange, science fiction scenario to hear from our Commander in Chief, reminiscent of one of William Burroughs’s paranoid fantasies about black market medicine -- like the short story “Immortality” in which an old trillionaire, Mr. Hart, is looking to transplant his ego, which he believes resides in the mid-brain at the top of his head: "Well he thinks couldn’t we just scoop it out of a healthy youth, throw his in the garbage where it belongs, and slide in MEEEEEEE. So he starts looking for a brain surgeon, a 'scrambled egg' man, and he wants the best. When it comes to a short order job old Doc Zeit is tops. He can switch eggs in an alley... "**

Meanwhile, Seed was moving ahead with his plans to open a Human Cloning Clinic in Chicago and then, if that proved profitable, to expand to ten or twenty around the country, maybe five or six abroad. He had already negotiated with a local fertility clinic whose name and location he never disclosed but whose facilities allegedly contained all the equipment his project required. In addition, he had four couples who'd signed up in advance. (Three had one infertile partner. In the fourth, both were. "There are no sperm and eggs," Seed pointed out, "so the only way for them to transmit their genes is to clone.") Seed said he was prepared to take them “offshore” if necessary, to move his operations overseas, perhaps to the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas he half jested, if human cloning were outlawed here. He also spoke of relocating to Tijuana where, after paying a half-million dollar bribe, he would open a free medical center in a poor part of town “to buy good will” so they would have a harder time tossing him out. He was even considering using such a tactic on his own city government. “Hey, what if I put up a free medical clinic in the Chicago Housing Authority?” he once mused. “This is worth thinking about!” According to all reports, not counting the significant technological challenges, his only major roadblock remained his lack of proper funding. He claimed it was only going to take $2 million and that he already had some of the money and a full lab staff lined up. He also had two agents ready for the potential book and movie rights if he did create the first human clone. In fact, he felt that so much money could be made, he was willing to pay $50,000 apiece to the first three successful clone-bearing mothers. Thanks to the burst of publicity following his announcement, Seed was confident that funders would emerge and he could soon begin work. And that’s when the coverage stopped. To Be Continued... except it wasn't.

It's been ten years.

MP3: Frankenstein's Den by The Hollywood Flames

The son of a prominent Chicago surgeon who helped pioneer blood banking in the 1930s, Richard Seed sported three degrees from Harvard, including a PhD in physics. He was variously described as brilliant, mysterious, rude, impatient, cold, calculated, insufferable, haunted, dangerous, dynamic, defiant, demonic, and deeply committed to radical science. He was known to be habitually distant to his children, inspiring to his colleagues, and completely maddening to his wives. He was called a Bible-thumping prophet, a one-man cult, a maverick, an oddball, a fruitcake, and a flop. He was portrayed as Dr. Frankenstein, for what he wished to bring to life, and as Franken-stein’s monster, for how he was brought to life by the press. Tribune columnist John Kass even compared Seed’s freakish celebrity to a sideshow, with otherwise responsible journalists acting like carnie barkers “selling tickets to the tent of Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy.”

He was also brazenly honest, quick to speak his mind, and admittedly not very good at relating to people he considered unintelligent which, coming from someone who once introduced himself as “the smartest man in the world,” basically meant he had a hard time relating to anyone. In perhaps his most revealing bit of self-assessment, he referred to himself as “a former near genius”: a genius, he said, because God gave him an extraordinary amount of creative and inventive talent, near because he had come close but never quite made the kind of enormous contribution to society you would expect from such a mind, and former because he was almost 70 years old and "you lose a lot of brain cells as you get older." The undying arrogance, the sting of failures, the peculiar mechanistic thinking -- you could hear it all in that single phrase.

One brave reporter elicited the opinion of Seed’s second wife, Zaroohy, who claimed her ex-husband was mainly driven by the desire for money (which he would get then promptly “shit down the toilet”), followed by the need for a scientific challenge and the quest for immortality. (She said that he once wanted to be preserved cryogenically but, if he had been, she would have pulled the plug.) Although one might tend to question a bitter ex's perspective, even the briefest glance at the doctor's past confirmed her diagnosis.

A devout member of the First United Methodist Church in Oak Park, Illinois, Seed was convinced that human cloning was part of God’s plan. "In the first two chapters of the Old Testament,” he explained, “we learned that God made man in his own image. He intended the union of man and God. Is this union spiritual or in body? I think it is talking about the body.” Seed reckoned that cloning was the first step toward becoming one with our creator, and the second was the manipulation of our genetic material to end the aging of the cells. “Indefinite life extension,” he called it. "Eventually, we are going to have almost as much knowledge and almost as much power as God.” So, according to Seed, all we have to do is live long enough and then we'll know every-thing. (No one asked what we'd do about the increasing overpopulation of a planet whose populace won't die. It was probably assumed immortality would be the ultimate luxury that only the privileged few could afford -- but, despite the President's island scenario, no one broached that subject either.) As far as the mainstream media was concerned, he might as well have started ranting about UFOs. I'm not sure what kind of person we thought would be the first to attempt cloning humans, but the networks seemed less concerned about a man with Seed's quirks tinkering with our genes and more worried about how they looked giving so much airtime to such an obvious nut.

In a related bit of personal expression, Dr. Seed told foreign reporters during a visit to Scotland that he would not clone homosexuals, whom he described as “genetic defects,” at his clinic. According to polls at the time, homosexual couples, for obvious reasons of procreative inability, represented a good number of the more than 5 million Americans who said they would consider cloning themselves. Anya Palmer of the gay pressure group Stonewall said Seed was dreaming if he thought he could use genetics to wipe out gays. (Seed also said he would only treat couples “who look nice,” for which Palmer then acccused him of trying to create a master race of “good-looking heterosexuals.” This was as close as Seed got to inviting a discussion of eugenics.) Seed just shrugged her off and said there's always an argument whenever someone like him tries to do anything new.

MP3: The Mad Scientist by The Zanies

Throughout his life, Seed was always trying something new. And like many experimental minds, he had a habit of leaving lots of unfinished work in his wake. He seemed to abandon the scientific challenges he so daringly pursued once the challenge had gone out of the science. “He has a problem with follow-through," said his son Russell. "He has no sense of closure.” In the 1950s, for instance, Seed began a semi-conductor business in his basement, back when few people had heard of the device. He left the company right before semi-conductors became the infrastructure of the computer industry, just missing out on his chance to cash in. Then he went into gas lasers and the same thing happened. His son likened his attention span to a toddler’s.

He was briefly famous in the 1970s when, with his brother Randolph, he ran Embryo Transplant Corp., a company which produced high-yield milk cows through a non-surgical procedure that involved super-ovulating the most productive cows, flushing the embryos out of the uterus, then implanting them in other cows, producing up to 12 calves from one “super cow.” The farming industry was in trouble that year, though, and Seed’s company, which depended on the strength of agribusiness, went bust along with the farms. As the 1980s approached, he tried using this same animal technique to transfer fertilized embryos from one woman to another for Fertility and Genetics Research, Inc., a company he helped found. Out of that, he got one paper published and one woman pregnant. The eggs didn’t flush out as easily from humans, so the technique never caught on. Technology surpassed him soon after and quickly phased his company out.

He also tried a variety of get-rich ventures throughout his life, such as attempting to get a North Shore venture capitalist, Walter G. Cornet III, to invest $35 million in a scheme to acquire seven small fishing fleets with which Seed claimed, in all seriousness, that he could corner the world market in fish-meal. “I thought he was a couple of bubbles off plumb,” Cornet quipped. It was a clever idea, though, which might have worked, but Cornet didn’t have the funds and Seed didn’t pursue it any further. Instead he went into mortgage financing with his son Russell, where, bored and careless, he quickly lost his shirt. The summer before his big announcement, his own Oak Park home of 12 years was finally foreclosed, forcing him to live in a modest suburban home owned by two of his children while being supported on a secretary’s salary by his wife. By the time he became a celebrity, he was totally broke. "Bad investments," he explained.

The media reported these patterns but missed what they suggested. With his typical sense of timing, Seed had arrived on the human cloning scene early and perhaps prematurely as many of his critics suggested. However, he had already displayed over and over a knack for finding fields of science which were likely to boom and beating everyone else to the punch. Like an old prospector, he seemed able to tell where a gold rush was going to hit. Whether Seed would or could succeed at human cloning was almost irrelevant. His mere presence at the forefront was an alert to the possibility that human cloning might soon develop into a profitable trade. Although he usually failed at the business end himself, it should have been noted that he almost always accomplished his scientific task. Thus, if these patterns were about to repeat, the clinic he had planned was likely to collapse and he'd probably stay poor, but he'd make human cloning happen. It was inevitable, he said: “If not me, someone else. If not here, somewhere else. If not now, then.”

It's been ten years.

The New York Times said he seemed like “a recruit from central casting”: a white-haired scientist with a beard, twinkling eyes, a mischevous smile and a checkered past. An eccentric prone to outrageous comments, he was a natural candidate for media star. But more than that, Dr. Seed was an unequalled American character. He was so utterly American, from his short attention span to his warped Christian thinking, that he appeared at times to have been invented. Even though human cloning was seen as futuristic, for him the pursuit was almost old fashioned. On one level, it was really nothing more than a brave individualist effort to climb from rags to riches and fame -- an Horatio Alger tale for the 21st Century. But then he amplified Alger like no one had done before, because for him human cloning was also the first step toward realizing his own personal vision, a dream which, when distilled, gave voice to the ultimate rendition –- if not the underlying essence –- of the great mythic American Dream: to be a rich immortal genius with a unique relationship to God.

It's been ten years. I wonder how he's doing. •

* Even after the mainstream media had decided the whole episode was nothing but a tragic joke, what the Tribune termed a “sad comedy,” everyone still held back the most obvious punchlines. Although the subject was reproductive technology and journalists are generally addicted to irony and puns, no one noted, for instance, that this man who said he could asexually impregnate an infertile woman with her own genetic duplicate was named, of all things, Dick Seed. One New York Times article noted how the doctor’s name “gave his procreative adventure a sense of destiny,” but the comment pertained to his last name only. No one noted that his entire name sounded like a euphemism for semen, an otherwise vital component of the reproductive process that remained conspicuously absent in his work.

** If we're going to give Nostradomus credit for Hitler from Hisler, we might as well give Burroughs credit for Dr. Seed from Doc Zeit. Seed's plans, after all, included literally scrambling some eggs.

Mad Scientist Lego found on Brick Brothers, the Lego builders blog. Marilyn Monroes by Andy Warhol, the king of cloning art. John Carradine probably played more mad scientists than any actor ever, but a bigger geek than me will have to confirm this. Man trapped in hour glass illustration by Jim Steranko. The Han Solo in Carbonite Mini-Fridge is an example of pitched but rejected Stars Wars merchandise. Others include headphones in the shape of Princess Leia's hair and a BBQ grill in the shape of the Death Star. "Eat My Fear" was David Lynch's contribution to the New York Cow Parade in the year 2000 which was banned from the public art exhibition for being too gruesome. Detourned comic from Garfield Minus Garfield. Save Clone High was an attempt to keep M-TV from cancelling the 2003 cartoon series which tackled such teen issues as "whether ADD can be caught from toilet seats." Clone High now airs on Teletoon in Canada. The Rollin' Clones are a Rolling Stones tribute band. Meet the Clones was a fake punk band flyer created by collage artist Winston Smith in 1978. At Cafe Press, you can buy t-shirts for fictional bands from movies and TV shows, such as Citizen Dick from the film "Singles" and the Frozen Embryos from the series "My So-Called Life."

Further reading:

Reader beware. All books on this subject tend to be biased in some form and it may simply be impossible not to be. These two titles attempt to collect essays of various opinion to present a general overview, thus providing an entry point at least to the issues.

Clones and Clones: Facts and Fantasies About Human Cloning edited by Martha Nussbaum and Cass Sunstein.

The Human Cloning Debate edited by Glenn McGee, Arthur Caplan, and Roopali Malhotra.

Further viewing:

O Clone (a.k.a. El Clon, or The Clone), is a syndicated Brazilian soap opera (in Portuguese) set in Morroco which airs in the U.S. (in Spanish) on Telemundo. The main storyline sounds like some-thing you might expect from Charlie Kaufman: a love triangle develops between Jade and Lucas and, yes, Lucas's clone, pitting the poor guy against his own younger, less bitter self.

Some lesser known movies about cloning and/or human duplication:

Cat O'Nine Tails (1970). IMDB: "Franco is a blind man who lives with his young niece and makes a living writing crossword puzzles. One night, while walking on the street, he overhears a weird conversation between two men sitting in a car parked in front of a medical institute where genetic experiments are performed..." (Directed by giallo master Dario Argento.)

The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (1971). IMDB: "A U.S. Senator is spirited away to a secret New Mexico medical lab after a serious car crash. His injuries are completely healed by a secret organization that has developed advanced medical technology. What does the organization want in exchange for saving his life? Meanwhile, a reporter who witnessed the accident decides to investigate the Senator's disappearance..." (Dated precursor of the 2005 movie The Island.)

Anna to the Infinite Power (1983). IMDB: "Anna Hart was always an odd child -- a genius, a shoplifter, desperately afraid of flickering lights, with strange prophetic dreams. Anna is watching TV one night and sees someone who appears to be her exact double..."

Night of the Lepus (1972). "Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!" (Actual quote, which you can hear and download for yourself at BadMovies.org.) A hormone intended to alter the breeding cycle of rabbits overrunning ranchlands instead turns them into flesh-eating, 150-pound monsters. If you think you haven't seen it, guess again. Footage from Night of the Lepus appears briefly in The Matrix and randomly throughout Natural Born Killers. In case you were wondering what the people who made Black Sheep were thinking...

06 February 2008

CINEPHOBIA: All Movies are Zombie Movies

In voodoun theology, the soul has two parts, the gros bon ange and ti bon ange, or big good angel and little good angel. The big good angel is your soul portion of the overall spirit of the universe. This returns to the universe when you die. The little good angel is your will, your energy, your own individual soul. This travels in dreams and after death and momentarily leaves your body during extreme fear and/or pleasure. The little good angel can be lost or captured and you must constantly guard it from evil. But nothing can harm the big good angel, because the big good angel is God’s. A zombie is one whose little good angel has in fact been lost or captured, thus they lack any individuality or will. If it weren’t for that portion of God inside them, the big good angel, they’d have no soul at all.

Cinema simulates the dreaming experience. The little good angel travels in dreams. Violent and/or erotic imagery is common in films. The little good angel leaves the body during extreme pleasure and/or fright. Does this mean you could lose your will and individuality while watching a movie? According to voudoun theology, yes.

Wade Davis, a Harvard scientist who studied the ethnobiology of zombies in the early 1980s (known for his memoir "The Serpent & the Rainbow," the source material for the fictional Wes Craven film), attended one of the first screenings of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in Haiti. According to his account, the climactic scene where spirits shoot out of the ark triggered pandemonium in the little crowded theater. One person screamed out a warning to all pregnant women and another advised people to quickly tie a ribbon around their left arm. There were repeated shouts of “Loup garou!” (This is usually translated into English as werewolf, but refers to a more complex idea of a shapeshifter to Haitians.) While images of freed spirits were projected before them, these viewers feared actual bodily possession.

The confidence game works not when you put your faith in con men, but when you allow con men to put their faith in you. Perhaps, then, movies borrow our traveling soul, shift its shape, then show it back to us, fostering the illusion that the film itself has a soul, while we watch the entire spectacle soulless, without will, generalized, easily conned into letting the film put its faith into us. In voudoun terms, a film might be likened to a canari, the clay jar used to shelter or capture the little good angel during rituals. The movie ends, the jar breaks, and the priests let us go on living, our souls restored. •

Glow-in-the-Dark Flesh-Eating Zombies Playset from Archie McPhee.

Zombie vs. Shark! Film stills from Lucio Fulci's "Zombie 2." Which is not a sequel. The idea was to confuse people into thinking it was. In 1978, George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" achieved worldwide success and spawned a wave of Italian zombie films. In Europe, "Dawn of the Dead" was released under the title "Zombie." The following year, Fulci released "Zombie 2." Such titling tricks were common among Italian filmmakers of the era, the most famous example being Joe D'Amoto's series of one-m "Emanuelle" films starring Laura Gemser following the success of the French two-m "Emmanuelle" films starring Sylvia Kristel. Confusing the issue, some dvd versions of Fulci's film have taken the 2 off and just call it "Zombie" (which is the version available at Vidiots, for example). Buyer beware. Lucio Fulci's "Zombie" and "Zombie 2" are the same movie -- and I don't mean in the way "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2" could be called the same movie, I mean the same exact movie. To see an even stranger zombie versus shark scenario featuring scuba-diving nazi zombies, see 1977's Shock Waves starring Peter Cushing.

Zombiewalk.com is a forum for organizing annual public gatherings where people dress like zombies. Similar to Santacons, Zombie Walks are becoming increasingly popular. Last Halloween, Pittsburgh's Zombie Walk broke its own Guinness World Record of 894 zombies, established the previous year, when over 1,100 zombies walked through the Monroeville Mall (the mall that served as the set for Romero's "Dawn of the Dead"). To celebrate the screening of "The Zombie Diaries" at Film4 Fright Fest, London tried to break the record but failed. I have not yet attended a Zombie Walk. I was in Portland, however, for last year's Santacon. On three separate occasions in one evening, other onlookers -- locals, strangers -- asked if I'd read the essay about Portland's Santacon by Chuck Palahniuk. That same week, I was telling someone about this cool vacuum cleaner museum I'd found in the back of a vacuum shop, and again was asked if I'd read the Chuck Palahniuk essay about it. I'd read his novels ("Fight Club," "Choke," etc.), but not his essays. In his hometown, that apparently meant I hadn't read enough. Don't let this happen to you. Read "Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon" by Chuck Palahniuk before you go there. And if you see dogs in Portland parks chewing on what appear to be the bloody stumps of severed limbs, they're not flesh-eating zombie dogs. Palahniuk passes out plastic toys like the Gory Arm to dog owners at some of his readings.

I found this picture at a blog called Blonde Zombie.

Read selections here from "The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks. I sent a copy to my friend Mustache Pete (who no longer has a mustache now that he lives in L.A. because "they just think it's ironic"). Pete actually has a zombie phobia. I didn't believe it at first, but his girlfriend concurred that he jolts awake in sweaty terror after zombie nightmares and has made her promise that if he ever becomes one, she'll shoot him. Max Brooks used to write for Saturday Night Live. What makes this book funny is how seriously it's presented. Mustache Pete, however, didn't think it was funny. His girlfriend later told me that he took the book at face value and has been debating its assertions. So, when you read it, know that there's at least one guy out there who thinks it's real.

Further reading:

"Raise the Dead" by Leah Moore & John Reppion. Hardcover edition of the 4-issue comic. Cover art by Arthur Suydam, introduction by Max Brooks.

"Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema" by Jamie Russell
"Eaten Alive!: Italian Cannibal and Zombie Movies" by Jay Slater
"Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti" by Maya Deren
"Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie" by Wade Davis

And while you're reading, you can listen to this record I found. Comprised of the only four songs of a planned LP completed before his death in 1954 at the age of 70, Papa Celestin's "Golden Wedding" turned out to be Papa's farewell. The Louisiana legend made a hell of an exit, though, with his last words on wax being this cult classic cut about New Orleans' most infamous voodoo queen.

Marie La Veau (MP3) by Oscar "Papa" Celestin