Cracking the Commune Crisis
(Written on 8-10-2015, this essay is responding to the following article that appeared the day before in The New York Times Magazine: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/magazine/out-of-the-woods.html?action=click&contentCollection=magazine®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0 )
When much of Middle America remains set on anti-LGBT beliefs, it is understandable that shielded communes for such “outcasts” still exist. Yet, in the current atmosphere of growing social awareness and political change, these bubbles of safety ought not to stay hidden in the backwoods neighboring bigotry. Though many LGBT citizens choose this lifestyle, they should not have to shelter themselves from surrounding, outdated discrimination. In Alex Halberstadt’s article “Out of the Woods” from yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, he delves into the detailed world of self-proclaimed “Radical Faeries.” As a gay man myself, I greatly respect any individual’s right to identify with a lifestyle, but as an activist, I am appalled by the perilous shroud of secrecy still camouflaging what should be celebrated, colorfully proud centers of joy.
Much of the article focuses on a specific commune in Tennessee, surprisingly thriving in the midst of the Bible Belt, yet by no means easy to find. The inhabitants are mostly happy according to Halberstadt, but many seem to prefer a state of unique hibernation, maintaining what they view as the magical quality of being LGBT. Again, I honor nonconformity, but the fact that this culture has just now “slowly begun to join the mainstream” is what strikes me as problematic. Frankly, I blame the laws and enforcers of “normalcy” ebbing around these vibrant microcosms. In 2015, when same-sex marriage is now a constitutional right and The Equality Act is on the verge of being passed within a few years, no community should feel forced to hide, even if they would rather not be recognized in neon lights. Lack of specificity in legislation is the real villain in this scenario. At last, that is about to change across the nation, but all the more reason to share the artistic wonders and special beauty behind these silenced populaces.
This article is to be applauded for attempting to spotlight the issue; the next step is for each of these small communities to emerge into more public perception. The often-masked desire for sanctuary within LGBT groups is usually unveiled as a second, more comfortable closet inside the larger hetero-house. Even though such networks of homespun seclusion mean well, they can easily appear to the outside world as not yet fully at peace with their identity. To resolve this, some sort of gentle integration seems inevitable. In no way would this demand the demise of their communes, but rather it would weave a solid awareness throughout adjacent, more conservative towns, bringing eventual acceptance to an expanded audience still asleep to the bliss of human variety.
The opposing, close-minded cattle unwilling to breathe in this imperative next plateau of social advancement will one day be herded into their own enclosed commune where prejudice would likely reign for only a few more generations. They will stew in their own guilty juices until nothing but fading steam flies up to the heavens. Those conservatives at least willing to hear the marvelous life stories of the blossoming LGBT commune-dwellers might come around to see their worth and inherent equality while also ingesting their fabulous individuality. In this way, Lisa Kron’s fearful statement mentioned in the article holds less weight: “The thing I miss is the specialness of being gay.” Each person has a journey to share, and each community has a valid and precious purpose and culture, but none should be made to feel they cannot announce their fair sense of self, even if it is to be termed a “radical faerie.”
To me, the most sensible and radical thing to do now is assert our oneness. This will not discount or neutralize our singular natures, but rather will highlight harmony.
The Front Desk Dilemma
Months. Months of trying to break through office blocks. Usually told in-person contact is impossible, even though I’m speaking to a person just inside, time and again. The Great Wall of Front Desks is no easily surmountable one, let alone one to eventually walk beyond. I tire of this. In such an age when computers are worshiped past sanity, must we really subject our face-to-face skills to their robotic screens?
Bitterness is not a favored quality of mine, but when I’m bitter, believe you me, it’s justified. Where are the human beings in the workplace these days? Do they actually prefer to hide behind these desks of doom that fend off genuine optimists? Is the human resources department so jaded that they won’t take two minutes of their day to say “hello” to a worthy walk-in, and isn’t it their job to seek out such spirited hopefuls?
Katharine Hepburn would not approve. Her father always told her: “Never write. Go.” I love this mantra and have tried to uphold its approach. When I march into an office building to apply for a job I feel passionate about, I bring Kate along for the ride. Often, when met with security-guard shrugs, I even share the quote to clarify my mission. Nevertheless, it is usually met with further shrugs and pitying half-smiles.
Don’t get me wrong. I have done my share of online applications, submissions, letters, queries, and all manner of attempts to pierce my way into a company I could really get behind. Many have responded with kindness, some not at all. Only one has given me a temporary job, and for that I am extremely grateful.
But for the remaining pile of sealed tombs, where is the secret key? What does it take to convince an employer that you would be the absolute best candidate and hardest worker for their brand of success? I can tell you one thing: the front desk is no help.
If I get handed one more website link, I think I’ll just die. Then I’ll rise like a bitchy Lazarus and say: “I know your company has a site. That’s how I found my way here, thanks. I’m trying to do something different and stand out among the horde of internet shlubs sitting on their asses at home. Is that still not clear? Have I come all this way to really be told yet again that nobody will speak with me, even though I look presentable, am personable, have a second copy of my entire application, and am ready to commit and start immediately? …Okay then, byeeeee.”
Walking away from each new front desk, another part of me sinks. I was raised to believe in hope and the power of polite interaction. My father loved meeting new people and connecting with different and intriguing personalities. My mother is the poster child for hope, always believing in the best in everyone. They both taught me to care about communication and inspiration. Am I alone in this? Does the cold severity of the front desk dilemma trump such meaningful societal foundations?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. In fact, I just don’t know. If someone out there does, and is willing to discuss, I’m all ears. But isn’t that the point? I’m here, I’m listening, I’m putting myself out there; it’s the rest of the professional world that seems to have sealed up their hearing cavities with entryway wood and a pawn trained to turn prospective, gifted employees away with shrug after shrug after shrug.
Now it’s my turn to shrug and display honesty on my “front desk”: I am looking for fulfilling work in New York City in fields such as theatre management/development/preservation, entertainment history, writing/editing/poetry, human rights, artistic philanthropy, ancient megalithic research, voice-over/audiobook work, audition coaching, and, depending, personal assistance. If by some chance your humanity has led you to read this far, know that I’m deeply devoted to what I do and can guarantee quality work. Though most of my experience is in the theatrical/restaurant world, I have acquired invaluable and varied skills along the way. But one skill I will no longer be refining is that of front-desk flirtation. It ain’t worth the weary repeated rejections, so I am rejecting the whole system and reclaiming my worth.
(composed on and about 6-26-2015, and published the following day by The New Verse News)
“Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning… Anyone can start over and make a new ending.” ~Chico Xavier
I do declare this Prism Day,
for, finally, Americans as one
look up and round together,
seeing through a single prism
equally, resulting rainbows
viewed with reverence unified
by simple love, needing
nothing other than a national
acknowledgement to set the
global table, turning tides to
placid calm where all can
swim in matrimonial sanctity.
(composed on Friday the 13th, February 2015, and published by The New Verse News on the following Friday the 13th of March 2015)
dedicated to Alan Turing
numbers hold more fear than words for some people haunted by sad notions,
especially that dreaded thirteen, surely evil by nature and dark to the core:
it has led men to doom due to gloomy superstition quoting Capitol maidens,
crumbled psyches with barren rage hinting at a horrific end to their pulse,
and crept into many tales of terror read by children with chattering teeth-
though braver brains have dared indulge the qualm of it and other integers,
oh so big: Euclid, Euler, Gauss, Newton, Leibniz, Abel, Weyl, Turing, and Fib-
all tangled with enigmatic math in ways we now must admire and learn,
so maybe we fools need to follow their lead, leaving baktun foreboding behind;
yet if you review closely, calculating the lines and words of each line
within this odd clumping of lexemes lurking in lyric patterns on a page,
you will find that often fears are founded in precessional and seemingly puerile
print which hides eery numeric code- and perhaps it never happens by chance.
Author’s note: There are exactly 13 words in each of the 13 lines of this poem. There are precisely 13 maidens painted around George Washington on the ceiling of the Capitol dome in D.C. The phrase “barren rage” is from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 13. The shortened surname “Fib” is for Fibonacci, who introduced to Western Europe in 1202 A.D. the brilliant sequence of numbers including 13, though it had been described earlier in Indian mathematics. The word “enigmatic” is used to reference the Nazi code “Enigma” cracked by the courageous cryptologist Alan Turing. In the Mayan calendar, each cycle of 13 baktuns encompassed an Age, making many people believe the final baktun was bound to be apocalyptic. Each full “precessional” cycle on Earth takes 26,000 years, perfectly divisible by 13; amazingly, as if our most ancient predecessors knew of precession, its starry arrangement and numeric divisions are slyly interlaced into almost every culture’s oldest architecture and creation story.
Over the past year, I have become highly intrigued by ancient archaeology. It is a field that has always fascinated me, but one I never delved into until recently. Eager to share my research and theoretical writings on every mysterious culture, baffling site, and architectural practice I have encountered, I will begin by posting one I composed a week ago. A piece about the inspired stone creations of the ancient Inuit and their puzzling, preceding ancestors termed the Tunniit, it explores the possibility that this specific tradition may stem from a time now lost to mankind’s known and accepted history.
Insights Into Inuksuit (1-5-2015)
I find the man-made, stacked formations of rock scattered about Baffin Island in Nunavut to be remnants of the patterns of an ancient, lost civilization, even though many of them were constructed more recently. These artistic creations are actually found looming above the landscape from Alaska to Greenland, and they usually vary in height between eighteen inches and six feet. They are known as inuksuit (when referred to in plural form) and inuksuk (in singular form). The accepted meaning of the word inuksuk is: that which acts in the capacity of a human. It is said that Inuit hunters imitated the inuksuit they found already built around the island, making new ones as hunting markers, pathway posts, and spiritual guides.
Norman Hallendy, author of Inuksuit: Silent Messengers of the Arctic, has now spent fifty years studying these stone structures in the Canadian Arctic and is considered the foremost scholar on the topic. He has written at length about the deep spiritual connection felt by the Inuit elders to these stones. By befriending some of the most cultured of them near Cape Dorset, Hallendy has managed to mine the depths of the mini-megalithic models. A legend of the Baffin Island Inuit tells of “the ancient ones” known as the “Tunniit” who arrived much earlier than the Inuit’s ancestors and readied the land for them. Supposedly, it is part of the legend that these Tunniit people built the first inuksuit in that earlier time.
In Canada’s Stonehenge, Gordon R. Freeman also speaks of an earlier time by consummately detailing the five thousand-year-old knowledge of stars, solstices, equinoxes, lunar cycles, and overarching precession held by some of the most ancient, southern inhabitants of the country. Surely, they did not invent this knowledge on the spot. It was likely studied and practiced for centuries before they came along, suggesting a civilized predecessor that may have inspired the later Inuit people. Jack Ives, a University of Alberta archaeologist familiar with Freeman’s work, has said the astronomical knowledge originally collected by Central and South America migrated north into the plains. This would have allowed these people of southern Canada to interpret it as they chose, passing their version on to the more northern groups on Baffin Island. Therefore, the oldest remaining inuksuit must represent an inherited tradition that mutated over time but potentially still reflects antediluvian astronomy.
It is thought that the Inuit’s ancestors traversed to northeastern Canada from Alaska and Siberia around 5,000 years ago. Yet, fascinating archaeological comparisons on Greenland, Iceland, and as far east as the Orkney Islands might suggest an additional source for their ancestors. Examples of these are the stone circles in the mountains above Tasiilaq and the Ruins of Galdar in Igaliku (the latter supposedly of Norse origin), both in Greenland; The Bone Women of Keflavik and The Arctic Henge of Raufarhöfn in Iceland; and The Stones of Stenness, The Ring of Brodgar, and The Ring of Bookan in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.
I also cannot help but compare the inuksuit to similar markers in distant places such as those of Nabta Playa in Egypt, the Carnac Stones in France, the Menhirs of Waitapu Valley in New Zealand, the cairns of Carahunge in Armenia, the towering tiers of Tiya in Ethiopia, and even those oldest stone circles of Göbekli Tepe, where the side of each T-shaped megalith represents a man. Though a single inuksuk may not carry as full an astronomical meaning as these other sites, perhaps it is some sort of descendant from those cultures, all stemming from one greater civilization long gone. And, there may be more to learn if we attempt to connect the inuksuit to each other and similar sites nearby. For all we know, they may mirror the heavens in ways we have yet to uncover.
There are many specific names and meanings for the varying types of inuksuit, but a few especially inspire me to believe that the ancient Inuit and even the Tunniit before them were given this time-honored tradition. This is because their individual purposes and shapes so readily resemble the large stone structures of the oldest civilizations we are currently aware of on Earth. The first of these is the tupqujaq, which acts as a doorway through which shamans could enter the spirit world. This shape and symbolism immediately reminds me of the Gateway of the Sun in Tiahuanaco, Bolivia. Then, there is the inuksuk known as the kattaq, consisting of two upright stones marking the path to some sacred object or site. This makes my mind ponder the legendary underwater pillars leading to Nan Madol on Pohnpei, Micronesia, and also Plato’s description of the Pillars of Hercules, supposedly having marked the pathway to the ancient city of Atlantis. Next, there are the sakkabluniit, which are upright stones thought to have spiritual power. These naturally concoct visions of the Callanish Stones of Scotland and certainly Stonehenge in England. Lastly, there are the kibvakattaq, pyramid-like structures balancing huge boulders on their tops. How can I help but recall the pyramids of the Giza Plateau in Egypt, those of Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan in Mexico, and the partially excavated Caral Pyramids of Peru? In these unique kinds of inuksuit, I see undeniable patterns that appear to be preserving the past in smaller rock sculptures.
The inuksuit site that might prove this theory of the practice being passed down is that of Inuksugalait, or Inuksuk Point, where more than one hundred structures can be found in the same area on the small Foxe Peninsula of Baffin Island. It is so revered by the Inuit elders that, since 1969, the site has been a National Historic Site of Canada. The most ancient Inuit could not recall who built the site, preferring to give credit to the legendary Tunniit tribes or possibly even earlier people. Sadly, nowadays, the site is being slowly defaced by young, disrespectful hunters using rocks from the many inuksuit to build walls to hide behind while shooting geese. There must be more strict security placed on the site to preserve this vital scope of culture. Another unique site is the great stone circle of Akitsiraqvik, where trials of justice were carried out by the ancient Inuit people. It may also support the theory that these building techniques were inherited from a mother-civilization that, long ago, encouraged many parts of the globe to carry on their tradition through circular formations.
Perhaps the best known stone structure considered an inuksuk is The Hammer of Thor, so named by the archaeologist Thomas E. Lee when he discovered it on the Ungava Peninsula, Quebec, in 1964 and, observing its hammer-like shape, attributed it to the Vikings. Today, it is thought more likely to be an inuksuk of the ancient Inuit. It may even hark back to those earliest days when the culture of building megalithic markers first arrived on the shores of Canada’s then nameless territory.
In our modern times, the powerful presence of the inuksuit persists. The image of one was chosen as the iconic logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Before that, it was selected as the dominant symbol on the Nunavut flag in 1999, thereby maintaining the region’s sense of ancestry. I believe the lost civilization that likely handed down the practice of putting up these statuesque stones is worth unearthing. That way, an even richer understanding of our origins would be reached, and the flag could wave with far more pride.
Weber, Bob. “Alberta Sun Temple Has 5,000-Year-Old Calendar.” Toronto Star 29 Jan. 2009: n. pag. Web. 3 Jan. 2015. <http://t.thestar.com/#/article/news/canada/2009/01/29/alberta_sun_temple_has_5000yearold_calendar.html >.
McMichael Canadian Art Collection. “A Conversation with Norman Hallendy.” Prod. Carolyn H. Wyland. YouTube, 2013. Web. 3 Jan. 2015. <http://youtu.be/9CcR0nh1YGw >.
“Balance: Inuit Stone Constructions.” Web blog post. ArtStorie. Blogspot.com, 26 Nov. 2006. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.
Wakefield, Jay Stuart and Dr. Reinoud M. de Jonge. “The Rings of Stenness, Brodgar and Bookan.” How the Sun God Reached America: A Guide to Megalithic Sites. Google Scholar, 2002-2003. Web. 2 Jan. 2015. <http://www.howthesungod.com/articles.html >.
“Hammer of Thor (monument).” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 2 Jan. 2015. <http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammer_of_Thor_(monument) >.
“Inuksuk.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.
“Flag of Nunavut.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2015. <http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Nunavut >.
Smith, Roff and Jim Richardson. “Before Stonehenge: Scotland’s Master Builders.” National Geographic Vol. 226. No. 2 (Aug. 2014): 26-51.
Cambodiachannel. “Quest for the Lost Civilization – Graham Hancock (FULL MOVIE).” Prod. David Wickham, Stefan Wickham, Graham Hancock, and Santha Faiia. YouTube, 2012. Web. 1 Jan. 2015. <http://youtu.be/T5DNvYMtkyk >.
Juggling Bette & Joan
Lately, I have been catching up on a few films I’ve been meaning to see for a while. Over the past few days, I’ve watched Storm Center (1956), Strait-Jacket (1964), and Berserk! (1967). As odd as this clumping of suspenseful cinema may seem, it makes perfect sense in my mind. I have long been an admirer of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the two dueling divas of their day: Joan roaring away like the lion of MGM, and Bette standing tall like the iconic Warner Brothers water tower. How could any self-respecting cinephile resist?
Being such an avid fan of these two stars, it pains me to ponder the films I have yet to view. Yet, I have seen enough to vividly know their magnetic pull on an audience. Naturally, the cultural clamor of the one film they starred in together, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), has left an indelible and disturbing impression since its initial release. Cult followers still chat up a storm about its haunting shots, delicious line deliveries, and behind-the-scenes bashing. Though we can never accurately measure Bette and Joan’s true feelings about each other, it is largely apparent through their comments that a professional rivalry existed. But, there also seems to have been a deep, if usually unspoken respect between them. Their sheer output alone, especially from the 1930s to the 1960s, must have made them tip their hats to one another. Perhaps they just preferred to do it on the inside.
Some of my favorites of Bette’s include: The Corn is Green (1945), Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), Now, Voyager (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944), The Star (1952), All About Eve (1950), The Petrified Forest (1936), Dangerous (1935), A Stolen Life (1946), Watch on the Rhine (1943), The Catered Affair (1956), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), Of Human Bondage (1934), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), The Virgin Queen (1955), In This Our Life (1942), Death on the Nile (1978), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Nanny (1965), Dead Ringer (1964), and Ex-Lady (1933), not to mention her final and most bizarre film, Wicked Stepmother (1989). In that last one, she drags out a line which has echoed in my ears since I first heard it in my college years: “I realize I am an acquired taste.” That may have been true of that creepy character Miranda, but I have always found Bette to be an immediately likable, fascinating, witty, vibrant woman, both onscreen and off. In a Turner Classic Movies tribute to her, Meryl Streep readily reveres “the bravery of her work,” describing her as “always a little brighter, smarter, if sometimes deviously so, a little more ambitious, single-minded, and, for a small woman, she just stood a little taller than anyone else in the room.” This certainly came across in every television appearance she agreed to do. I wish I could remember the number of times I’ve seen her interview on The Dick Cavett Show, but let’s just say it’s definitive and legendary. Find it on YouTube before you do anything else.
When it comes to Joan, I am officially addicted to whatever starch pulsed through her powerful persona. Films of hers I adore include: Flamingo Road (1949), Strange Cargo (1940), Possessed (1931), Possessed (1947), Above Suspicion (1943), Grand Hotel (1932), Autumn Leaves (1956), No More Ladies (1935), Torch Song (1953), A Woman’s Face (1941), The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Sudden Fear (1952), The Women (1939), The Story of Esther Costello (1957), Susan and God (1940), Johnny Guitar (1954), I Saw What You Did (1965), The Shining Hour (1938), the tawdry and flawed Female on the Beach (1955), and of course her Oscar-winning portrayal of the title character in Mildred Pierce (1945). Some say she was not as versatile as Bette, and though that may be a fair assessment, I find her equally as riveting and alive in every role. She was the consummate movie star, maintaining her body, public image, and artistic power throughout the majority of her life. A soldier of her craft who was completely committed to each new script, she never stood for anything less than perfection. Even in the worst of her pictures, she commands the screen as a totally believable character. She also claimed dominion off-screen, constantly reminding Diane Baker (her co-star in Strait-Jacket) that “you never go to the market, even, unless you’re dressed the best you can possibly dress!” Sadly, that idealism faded in Joan’s final years as she let underlying insecurities and the onset of old age lead her back to the bottle, time and again. Referring to those troubled times, Ms. Baker put it best: “we mustn’t forget that there is a dark side to every great person.” That said, Joan did her best to keep that side of herself in check while on a film set. It is also well-known fact that she flaunted herself as the figurehead for Pepsi Cola, filling her deceased fourth husband’s seat on the board of directors from 1959 until she was forced to retire in 1973. That’s stamina.
I find it redundant to rehash the emotional baggage both Bette and Joan’s children released. Thankfully, Joan never saw her daughter Christina’s now-notorious memoir Mommie Dearest (1978) since it was published after her death. Bette, on the other hand, did have to deal with her daughter B.D. Hyman’s vicious book My Mother’s Keeper (1985) toward the end, eventually disinheriting her. Though there are likely layers of truth in their children’s memories, I can only assume much of their impressions were sensationalized out of greed and ingratitude. I will at least say that many of Joan and Bette’s friends and peers defended them after the books were printed, making it clear that they disagreed with most of the cruel allegations made.
Now, to return to my recently viewed classics starring these women… Watching Bette’s brave performance in Storm Center as a steadfast librarian protesting book banning in small-town New England, even though it meant her widowed character Alicia Hull would quickly be labeled a Communist, was beyond thrilling for me. Considered the first outright anti-McCarthyism movie made, it captured my attention right off the bat. I grew up around books with both of my parents teaching English and my mom later running her own school library, so censoring any leg of literature was always sacrilege to me. Books, even in their darkest forms, often teach the reader what not to do, thereby guiding them in good directions. This message was loudly lilted throughout this proud picture, with Bette boldly marching for the cause. Hardly imaginable after seeing Davis dominate this role, the film (initially titled The Library) was first offered in 1951 to an aging Mary Pickford, who apparently turned it down due its colorlessly planned cinematography. Then, Barbara Stanwyck was signed as a suitable replacement but never seemed able to start because of scheduling conflicts. Thank heaven Bette beat anyone else to the punch. Her clear interpretation of (single-feature director) Daniel Taradash and Elick Moll’s fiery screenplay gives the film its driving engine. Every firm gesture, wise word, and poignant facial expression of hers helps the audience hear the subtextual theme beneath the black-and-white, flickering light. And though the film has its obvious flaws, they are easily forgiven due to the force of Bette’s character-conscience. Based on Ruth W. Brown, the Bartlesville librarian who underwent a similar struggle, Bette’s part is packed with passion and conviction, even in the guise of a quiet, conforming bibliophile. I highly recommend it as a defining Davis performance, with a polite preface that it is not a perfectly executed story or film.
I do find Strait-Jacket to be rather well-executed as a B-movie thriller. Though campy in the best William Castle fashion, it does deliver the necessary chills, if a few groans and giggles as well. Similar to Storm Center, the movie was originally offered to another actress: Joan Blondell, who eerily and accidentally went through a glass window before shooting began, needing numerous stitches and a cancellation of her contract. The film then fell at Crawford’s feet in the form of Castle’s clasped, begging hands. She accepted the challenge. Joan locks into the character of Lucy Cutler Harbin and gives an award-worthy performance in a film genre that rarely gets noticed in that way. Robert Bloch’s spooky script is reminiscent of what is remembered as his best writing: the short story of Psycho. Watching Crawford craft each scene with minute details building up to the climax permeates the audience with the same sensation of ascending the steeply slanted slope of a roller coaster, except in this case, we can’t see the crest. Appropriately classified as a psycho-biddy flick, the movie makes the viewer relish Joan’s aging character debating her sanity, while never knowing what her next move will entail. One moment, she is riddled with fear about interacting with anyone other than her daughter; next, she is flirting with her daughter’s love interest; then, she is screaming in abject terror as she observes the crude farmhand Leo (played by George Kennedy) chopping the head off a chicken. I won’t reveal any important plot points since that would squash the suspense and lop off potentially campy laughter. But, I will say that it becomes clear in the beginning of the film why Lucy is so pent-up, perturbed, and petrified of herself and those around her. This makes the audience suspicious of everything that crosses the scope of the screen: people, objects, set pieces- you name it! And glistening above all, the central cinematic article is an ax. What could be more horrifying, especially in combination with Crawford’s crumbling character-psyche? Though the one critic Bosley Crowther (who disliked Crawford) panned the film as a “disgusting piece of claptrap,” most others appreciated it for what it is, justly hailing Joan’s convincing performance. I give her props for holding onto her position as a leading lady and that indomitable star status in her later years, even if it meant accepting roles in pictures less likely to garner praise.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, gather around the ring, for the Berserk! circus is in town! I must say, this one was a disappointing dud for me. Yet, once again, Joan’s energetic aura whips this film into a heightened style, even if her ringmaster skills could not save her co-stars from sinking into figurative drifts of elephant feces. Playing her preferred part of the lady in power, Crawford satisfactorily inhabits Monica Rivers, a wired woman with a past who is now preoccupied with selling tickets to the circus she runs like a military regiment. No matter how many animal acts distract, high-wire studs disturb, and menacing murders pile up, Monica stands her ground as the central entertainment to watch. To be fair to the cast, the actual circus feats are impressively done and uniquely filmed by director Jim O’Connolly. For a hazy, tired, Technicolor slice of the late sixties, I suppose it could have been in worse hands. Sadly, though, the screenplay by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel was badly in need of surgery on the scale of a triple bypass. To return to Joan as the saving grace under the big top, though, I soaked up every twitch of her thick eyebrows, every order she barks at those below her, and every announcement she proclaims into the merrymaking microphone. For her second-to-last silver screen stunt, Crawford radiates a regal surety and gives nothing less than her all. And for that, any hippodrome flop is worth a look-see.
I imagine I’ll be writing more about both Bette and Joan soon, seeing as I will surely continue my own circus act of juggling their respective reels. I’ve certainly been drawn to them since a very early age. Placing my hands over their ladylike prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was definitely a highlight of my youthful trips to Tinseltown. Getting giddy whenever Robert Osborne introduced one of their films I’d yet to see on Turner Classic Movies was also a common occurrence in my late teens and twenties. These days, any rare, informative inkling about their lives and careers makes my heart beat faster. Their lingering spirits and unforgettable films fill me with renewed vigor. I face life with a more fervent approach because of the mark they’ve made in me.
For my first piece of writing on here, I will start with a poem I wrote back in August of 2012. It was published by three different poetry sites at the time: The New Verse News, The South Townsville micro poetry journal, and Instigatorzine. In Shakespearean sonnet form, it is a plea that was addressed to Hurricane Isaac the day before it was supposed to hit New Orleans. As Fred Ebb asked in his powerful lyrics for the 1966 musical Cabaret, “With a storm in the wind, / What would you do?”
Sonnet to Isaac (8-28-2012)
Dear laughing Isaac, listen if you please:
Don’t dig your wells in New Orleans now tame.
I beg of you to curve your course with ease
And twirl out toward the sea from whence you came!
For seven years ago your sis did lick
This city’s soul and break its levees large,
But screw their courage have they done to stick
And stand against your Grendel’s gutt’ral charge.
A pact: like Milton, sell my sight I might
If you’d turn your blind eye at my request.
Ironic and coincidental blight:
Speed not o’er land, just ocean without rest.
Present your cruel account on waves of blue,
And leave pure hearts of people dry and true.