Joyce Carol Oates on Boxing & Pornography (1987)

“The spectacle of human beings fighting each other for whatever reason, including, at certain well-publicized times, staggering sums of money, is enormously disturbing because it violates a taboo of our civilization. Many men and women, however they steel themselves, cannot watch a boxing match because they cannot allow themselves to see what it is they are seeing. One thinks helplessly, This can’t be happening, even as, and usually quite routinely, it is happening. In this way boxing as a public spectacle is akin to pornography: in each case the spectator is made a voyeur, distanced, yet presumably intimately involved, in an event that is not supposed to be happening as it is happening. The pornographic ‘drama,’ though as fraudulent as professional wrestling, makes a claim for being about something absolutely serious, if not humanly profound: it is not so much about itself as about the violation of a taboo. That the taboo is spiritual rather than physical, or sexual – that our most valuable human experience, love, is being is being desecrated, parodied, mocked – is surely at the core of our culture’s fascination with pornography. In another culture, undefined by spiritual-emotional values, pornography could not exist, for who would pay to see it?”

(Excerpted from On Boxing)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Ira Glass’s Advice For Aspiring Writers (2014)

“I’d just say to aspiring journalists or writers – who I meet a lot of – do it now. Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.”

(Excerpted from the Lifehacker Interview.)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Film Capsule: Child of God

When I originally saw the trailer for James Franco’s Child of God, I thought, Wow! They just might need to nominate that film for an Academy Award. Six months later, having seen the film, I think they just might need to nominate the guy who made that trailer. This is not to say that Child of God is awful so much as it is to say that James Franco’s adaptation is slow, laborious, and relentlessly vulgar about more than it needs to be.

An outlaw shitting in the woods, then wiping his ass with a twig? James Franco’ll throw that at you during the film’s first 15 minutes. That same man jerking off, then blowing his load onto a car? James Franco’ll edit the sound to make you feel the slap of jizz.

On The Colbert Report, Franco explained his goal as such: “I wanted to take this on – this guy, who is doing some of the worst things possible – and make a watchable movie; make a movie where the audience is not repelled.” While there are several terms one might apply to Child of God, “watchable” is not any of them. What Franco – and the movie – are after is a stark portrayal of the everyday atrocities American culture glazes over, ignoring human trespass until it eventually becomes them.

Like most Cormac McCarthy adaptations, this one features an open canvas, bleak horizons, and dried-out remnants of a world gone wrong. The lead acting is phenomenal, and James Franco – a fantastic actor and equally intriguing human being – has come a long way in a short time as a director. But Child of God proves his films still don’t feature any real form of engagement, which is fine in terms of thesis, yet weak in terms of drama.

(Child of God opens in limited release today.)

Greil Marcus on The Desperation of Road Movies (1989)

“We’re all familiar with road movies: not Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in Two For the Road, but two men on the lam from this or that, lots of chase scenes. The geography of the country is always a good setup, good visuals, you can fill an hour and a half without trouble. The fact is, I can’t remember the title of the last road movie I saw, the one with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, the one where all the money runs out but in the end the rich guy pulls a few hundred thousand out of his secret money belt and gives it to the poor guy. That isn’t what road movies were like in the 30s. As the road song was being invented, the ‘road’ in road movies went nowhere, as in The Grapes of Wrath or Wild Boys of The Road, a Warner Brothers film about scared teenagers looking for comradeship when they had no reason to expect anything but death. That’s why the road songs of the prewar period always carry a sense of going down – not exactly of failure, because success is not even a possibility, but of disaster, or surrender, an acceptance of the fact that you can’t do whatever it is that you want to do, that you can’t be whatever you want to be. You can’t even begin to imagine what you’d really like to be, where you’d really like to go. On that road, with no money, no family, no one to meet, every place is just like the last place, and the last place is just like the place you’ll be next.”

(Excerpted from Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings, 1968-2010)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Moving On: 42 Out-of-Context Comments Regarding My Binge-Drinking That Regularly Come Back to Haunt Me

  1. otis“As of this morning, your missing card’s run up a little over $3,300 in new charges, leaving you with an available balance of negative 36.”
  2. “Do you ever think you’ll go back to drinking?”
  3. “Do you remember telling my sister to go fuck herself last night?”
  4. “I don’t get you. You claim you’ve quit drinking because you don’t like who you’ve become, and yet you’re really not that interesting, otherwise.”
  5. “I don’t understand why you pay tuition to do this.”
  6. “I don’t want to be with you this weekend.”
  7. “I guess I’ll just go kill myself.”
  8. “I just don’t think I want to be with a clown for the rest of my life.”
  9. “I just don’t understand what was going on inside your head.”
  10. “I think the two of us are fucking each other up.”
  11. “I’m not a woman.”
  12. “I’m not used to seeing you when you don’t reek like a puddle of piss.”
  13. “I’m pregnant.”
  14. “I’m sorry. I can’t think of someone who would break into my house, then steal my last six-pack as a person who I’d want to call my friend.”
  15. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out. Could you please refrain from calling me? It’s really disrupting.”
  16. “It’s possible you still behave like a child because you’ve never felt accepted for any of your choices as an adult. It’s also possible you’ve never taken accountability for any of those choices.”
  17. “Maybe Santa’ll bring you a new tooth this year.”
  18. “Mike said he found you stark naked, ass-up, lying on the bathroom tiles earlier this morning.”
  19. “Mr. Hill, is it is my opinion after hearing the officer’s account and witnessing your behavior in this courtroom that you may have potential for a problem.”
  20. “No offense, but you’re really not wanted around here anymore.”
  21. “OK. But we’re only gonna be friends, alright?”
  22. “Please delete this number. Not kidding.”
  23. “She had a miscarriage.”
  24. “Somebody told me you were dead.”
  25. “Ten pounds worth of potatoes inside a five-pound sack.”
  26. “To sum up – and I’m going to be blunt here – you are an ass and your excuses are lame.”
  27. “The system won’t allow me to charge any more drinks using this card. It’s saying that you’re overdrawn.”
  28. “We don’t care that you peed yourself. We care that you did it on our sofa.”
  29. “We don’t serve you … ever.”
  30. “Well, there’s fun drunk and then there’s Bob-Hill drunk. Nobody wants to be the latter.”
  31. “When you’re in a relationship, nothing good happens in a bar after 1 AM.”
  32. “Who are you and what are you doing naked in my apartment?”
  33. “Will you be OK if we end up hanging out in a bar?”
  34. “Yeah, well, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning, and this isn’t the first time you’ve shown up drunk, knocking on my door.”
  35. “Y’know, everybody wants to make fun of the spics. But the spics show up for work on time. Otherwise, what do I got? I got asshole kids like you who call out sick then wander up here drunk three hours later. And you wonder why I fired you.”
  36. “You try to run, I’ll shoot you.”
  37. “You’re a loser. You’ll always be a loser.”
  38. “You’re a rebel without a clue.”
  39. “You’re going to jail.”
  40. “You’re just a punk. That’s all you’ll ever be is a punk.”
  41. “You’re not in Virginia. You’re at my parents’ house in Long Island.”
  42. “You’re under arrest.”

Day 958

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill

The Top 10 Things ‘4 Minute Mile’ Gets Absolutely Wrong About Running

4 Minute Mile
is a silly movie, despite the benefit of some worthwhile acting. Richard Jenkins is fantastic (I mean, when he is not?) and (male lead) Kelly Blatz has got some Christian-Bale thing going on. Yet, alas, these two are playing on a largely hobbled squad. 4 Minute Mile wants to be Karate Kid, only its aging mentor behaves more like an old buzzard. It labors to be Rocky, despite not having the guts or inspiration. 4 Minute Mile struggles to overcome poor writing, if not the white-trash-house-marm legacy of Kim Bassinger. In the end what it amounts to is frustration, the majority of which is driven by an utter lack of charm. As if to demonstrate, here are the top 10 things 4 Minute Mile gets absolutely wrong in terms of running, the primary thrust behind its story:

  1. No runner cranks out 5-minute miles back-to-back-to-back-to-back while wearing a full duffle bag, loose shirt, thermal hoodie, wool cap and cotton sweatpants.
  2. No coach – stable or otherwise – would initiate training by encouraging a minor from a broken home to completely water-log his only pair of sneakers.
  3. Forcing an athlete to high-step back and forth across a woody creek is more likely to produce a broken ankle than it is the proper form.
  4. There is NO way a high school senior who struggles to run a 67-second quarter is going to train for a few months, then stitch together a four-minute mile.
  5. As a coach, you do not achieve stellar results by consistently mind-fucking star athletes.
  6. No public indoor facility is going to allow a manically-depressed, aging alcoholic to dump a radial tire into its swimming pool for the sole purpose of having a minor carry it back and forth across the bottom 20 times (without a break).
  7. No regional high school meet in history has ever produced 10 or more athletes who can complete the 1600 in under 4:19.
  8. The goal of resistance training is not to sprint until you spontaneously lose consciousness on the street.
  9. No high school athlete has ever run a 3:57 mile in a pair of knee-length polyester basketball shorts.
  10. A 4-minute mile does not look like this. A 4-minute mile looks like this.

(4 Minute Mile opens in limited release this Friday.)

Galleria: ‘Metamorphosis, Meat Packing District’ by Brian Rose @ Dillon Gallery

ws034_1985Is there any street name in Manhattan more intimate-sounding than Little West 12th? I would venture to say that there is not. And yet, Little West 12th Street has been up to some mighty corporate things lately – part of a thriving vicinity where green grocers have been gobbled up by Hugo Boss, corner stores by no-name nightclubs. This particular stretch of Lower West once ran mild with nostalgia, one of the few remaining pockets where one could go for peace and quiet. Slow-walking frame-by-frame through Brian Rose’s Metamorphosis, it’s difficult not to long for the romanticism of that period. Brick warehouses, rotting fence posts, white box trucks where the gays would get it on for fear of beatings. To look at how and why it’s changed, well, it hurts so much you ache for more.

Brian Rose has done the same for the Lower West Side with Metamorphosis that he and Edward Fausty previously did for the Lower East via Time & Space. Both exhibits ooze sweet melancholia, reminiscent of a scene from Season One of Mad Men during which department store heiress Rachel Menken explains: “Utopia – the Greeks had two meanings for it: eu-topos, meaning ‘the good place,’ and ou-topos, meaning ‘the place that cannot be.’” Time and again, Brian Rose has done an exemplary job of negotiating a 30-year difference between the two.

(Metamorphosis continues at the Dillon Gallery through August 15th, Free, 555 West 25th Street.)

Five More For The Offing:

6 Pop-Horror Phenomenons That Made Their Bank on ‘Less Is More’

psycho-pic-2Twenty minutes into Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 classic The Bad & The Beautiful, Kirk Douglas – portraying a budding Hollywood producer – poses the question, “What scares the human race more than any other single thing?” While the real answer is the unknown, Douglas presupposes the answer to be darkness. And he’s right, at least as it pertains to cinema. To deprive people of what they’ve been conditioned to expect is to prey upon their insecurity. To do so in a pitch-black theater is to induce a certain level of hysteria.

That said, it takes a master manipulator to transform all of that fear into a story. In the majority of cases – at least the well-documented ones – any production’s reliance on ancillary effects to create the illusion of unspeakable evil is largely a matter of necessity. Forced into a corner, the crew pushes creativity to its limit, using visual devices and cues to conjure what cannot be shown. Be it a matter of sheer cunning or happenstance, these six horror classics changed the genre for the better, proving in the process that there is no threat more potent than the one inside our heads:

1. The Blair Witch Project (1999). At the time The Blair Witch Project was released, found-footage wasn’t even a sub-genre. And that worked to the movie’s advantage. America hadn’t fully immersed itself inside the digital culture, which meant an independent movie that marketed itself as “a true story” could fly under the radar long enough to sprout wings. Could it be real? This grainy footage of three film students unfolding up on-screen? A tight-knit trio, lost in the woods, hunting down some urban legend that was closing in around them? Blair Witch‘s no-frills production all but begged the question: If it wasn’t real, why shoot a motion picture like this? The answer, of course, resided in a major lack of financing (the initial budget was set just under $600,000). Blair Witch would go on to gross $250 million worldwide, inspiring a grassroots revolution in the process. CloverdaleV/H/S and Paranormal Activity (among others) … all built off of a similar formula. Draw the audience in, funnel through some rising beats, then lower the boom with 30 seconds
left to go.

2. Friday the 13th (1980). Friday the 13th somehow managed to turn a one-off cheesy slasher film into a multi-decade franchise, this despite an original screenplay which barely featured any draw. Director Sean S. Cunningham cashed in on the idea that you never knew when or where the tension would heighten. Will it happen when she steps outside? When she dips her toes into the water? The original Friday the 13th, inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween and produced on a $550,000 budget, was much more about the sudden gasp than it was about some serial killer. As a matter of fact, you almost never saw any killer throughout the original. It wasn’t until a year later, when that hockey mask appeared, worn by a second-generation pyscho who was apparently undead, that the franchise made its turn toward one character. Having reached the point of reboot (along with several features on this list), perhaps it’s time to put that Voorhees kid to sleep.

3. Halloween (1978). Halloween has been discussed via this website before – the ingenuity, the $2 mask, the bare-bones crew, the terrifying silence. In the early days, the only thing Halloween had going for it was John Carpenter, a man who built the story, rigged the set, wrote the music, and hired Jamie-Lee Curtis. What Carpenter lacked was sufficient funding (Halloween‘s initial budget was only $300,000). As a result, Carpenter hired Tony Moran, an old college buddy, to play Michael Myers at a cost of $25 per day. Halloween would go on to inspire an entire decade’s worth of slasher films, proving – yet again – that great movies could be made on miniscule budgets. Nearly 40 long years later, Halloween is still the only movie in demand throughout October. This is welcome news for Carpenter, who signed a back-end deal worth 10%.

4. Jaws (1975). Most people are familiar with the legend: faced with a malfunctioning mechanical shark, Steven Spielberg and his unit were forced to develop an impromptu system for suggesting that the shark was there.They did this by employing a variety of techniques, chief among them a visual cue involving floating yellow barrels, accompanied by the two most memorable piano notes in cinematic history. Those notes – the brainchild of John Williams – were played at varying speeds to identify how near or far the shark was from its prey. Under no circumstances were they used to bamboozle the audience. That is to say, if the music wasn’t playing, the shark could not be there (notice the eery silence throughout the “cardboard fin” scene). For the first full hour of the movie, Spielberg seems consumed with story, all the while reinforcing the presence of some evil out at sea. By the time that grisly beast appears, Spielberg’s audience is fully vested. As a result, viewers wind up rooting for The Orca all the more.

5. Psycho (1960). The shower scene, the use of chocolate as a surrogate for blood, killing off your main character, keeping the identity of your killer a guarded secret … the back story of Psycho is so shrouded in mystique as to rival Coppola’s Godfather, or even Spielberg’s Jaws. Initially rejected by Paramount, Alfred Hitchcock took the reins, agreeing to shoot the film in black and white, hire a television production crew, finance it himself and bypass his director’s fee (in lieu of a back-end deal). Hitchcock was coming off a rough patch, his genius reconsidered, and the only thing that would restore the studio’s faith was a major coup de grace. And so Hitchcock obliged, working off a back-lot set inspired by Edward Hopper’s House By The RailroadPsycho‘s initial budget: $800,000. Its box-office take: $60 million. Despite middling reviews, Hitchcock’s movie was also nominated for four Academy Awards, none of which it won.

6. The War of the Worlds (1938).At the time that you were giving this role, were you aware that terror was going on throughout the nation?” So said a reporter to Orson Welles less than 24 hours after his original CBS broadcast of War of The Worlds. Much like Jaws, Psycho and Friday the 13th, Welles was working off of someone else’s source material. Unlike those others, Welles nearly caused an interplanetary incident. Radio bulletins describing an alien invasion, each of them relayed during a period when there was no easy way of confirming. People were fleeing their houses, flocking to churches, sucked in by a ruse that couldn’t have existed on TV. War of The Worlds required one minor troupe, an intimate studio, zero visuals and a captive audience. Given the fallout, Welles’ broadcast remains a primary example of how to manipulate the fold.