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Monthly Archives: January 2021

Film Noir (Part 1): The Asphalt Jungle

John Huston wrote, produced, and directed this pivotal piece of film noir released in 1950. Filmed in gritty black and white, full of gray shadows and beautiful nighttime scenes of a gritty, industrial-looking Cincinnati, it’s essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in the genre.

I absolutely love this shit – stories of broken people down on their luck, trying to lift themselves up by pulling off some ill-conceived crime, or right some wrong by a murder that always goes astray. All attempts at happiness are crushed by a cold, uncaring world. Film noir is the counterbalance to Disney – the antidote to children’s stories and Marvel movies.

Everyone’s a loser in a hard world where danger lurks everywhere, and any effort to escape one’s doomed fate always ends in tragedy. Love is for saps, trust is for simpletons, and violence is the solution that never works.

In other words, my idea of entertainment.

Which brings me back to The Asphalt Jungle. I hadn’t seen this movie in many years and recently watched it again. Not once, but twice. I don’t do that often…

As always, the cinematography and the writing plays a huge part of the noir experience, and Huston doesn’t disappoint. But it’s the casting that seals the deal. Sterling Hayden is both menacing and heartbreaking at the same time in one of his best performances. His role in the doomed caper is “the hooligan,” the muscle, the enforcer. There’s a scene early on where he’s in a wife-beater, drinking and smoking with his ill-faited girlfreind “Doll.” At 6′ 5″ he looks enormous, arms and shoulders thick, like a dangerous gorilla. But he balances his menacing presence with a wistful innocence, making the character much more complex than he first appears.

Sam Jaffe plays a German criminal mastermind fresh out of prison with an eye for teenage girls – a weakness that proves fatal. In one of her early starring roles, a 24-year-old Marilyn Monroe looks like an underage sex kitten taking doomed attorney Louis Calhern for everything he’s got. Barry Kelley plays a dirty cop not afraid to slap around an accomplice like he’s beating a child. We’ve even got a 22-year-old Strother Martin appearance in a police line-up.

Of course, nothing turns out well for anyone, but isn’t that the point?

Two films before this John Huston made “Key Largo,” and two films later “The African Queen.”

Fucking brilliant.


It Was a Good Day

Stroke in progress on arrival to ER with significant neurological deficits.

TPA administered.

Less than one hour later patient is talking on her phone with resolution of symptoms.

It doesn’t always work out this way, but when it does it seems like magic.

What’s Cool About Being Creative

When you go to bed you get to wonder where your shit is going tomorrow. What are my characters in my fiction going to do?

Where is this piece of music going?

Everything else takes second place. It’s fucking cool as hell.
I hope you get to experience it. Trust me – you don’t have to be especially gifted to let it happen.

It’s one of the perks of being human. All this other noise is extraneous.

Fuck ‘em. There’s bigger fish to fry.

Thoughts On Being an Artist in 2021

Let me be clear: I don’t want to write anything that would cause pain for anyone reading it – and I have never written anything with the intent to do so. But is it possible I may have done this inadvertently? Absolutely.

It’s my natural inclination to write about things that I find interesting and provocative. For example, I’m fascinated by extreme manifestations of human behavior. Often these things are spurred by personal experience extrapolated into fiction. Ideas can come up that might be a way of interpreting traumatic events. By definition, this is going to be triggering to some people.

But it’s never gratuitous. It was never written to shock – it was written to provoke thought.

I am aware that I live in a time where this might be difficult to parse because artistic intent is not always obvious.

Here’s the thing: I believe nothing should be off-limits in art, that art should sometimes make you uncomfortable, that art should overstep the boundaries of what is acceptable.

The problem is that what once would have been called transgressive now seems to be simply unacceptable.

I’m not sure how to navigate this environment except to say my intention is never to hurt; it’s to heal. At least on a personal level. Healing, however, requires reflection on events that have wounded you.

That’s always hard.

How to Proceed When You’re Stuck

Sometimes, when I am writing a story, I’ll get to a point where I’m not sure where to go next. The general idea is there, but how to execute it is a little foggy…

If I’ve made the characters real enough in my head, and I suspend judgment, I can listen and let them tell me where they want to go.

It may or may not be relevant to the final outcome, but it’s enough to get me out of the woods when I’m lost.

Sometimes you just have to ask for help, even if the ones you ask aren’t real.

This Nonsense Has to Stop

Said the no-nonsense spoilsport. “You’re just wasting time!”

Maybe, I think… Or maybe not.

Whatever, dude – I get it. Sometimes I think this fucking blog is veering dangerously close to delusional. I honestly have no idea what the hell I’m doing. I’m just blindly stumbling along, bumping into shit, and periodically falling down holes.

I guess if nothing else, at least I’m constructing sentences and putting them out there into the cold digital vacuum that’s quickly replacing three-dimensional reality. So there’s that.

Welcome to the new wonderland.

It’s too late to leave.

For Everyone Who Thinks COVID is “Like the Flu”

This is what happens in a global pandemic. The needs of those sick with the virus eventually overwhelms whatever resources hospitals have left.

Because national public health agencies didn’t prepare for this, it falls on the doctors and nurses taking care of these patients to allocate whatever resources they have the best they can. Of course, this only adds to the stress levels of these providers, many of whom are into their 10th month of this. Those that haven’t hit their breaking point are dangerously close.

I know no one’s reading this, and it probably wouldn’t make any difference if they were. But knowing that there are people out there who still don’t believe this is real is inconceivable.

They, of course, haven’t seen what I have.

I sincerely hope they never do.

Art is Subjective

Seems obvious, right?

Well, after a particularly brutal literary rejection, it’s good to stop and remind yourself of this simple, basic truth.

If there’s something useful to be gleaned from any criticism, by all means reflect on it.

But to me, the only valid measure of any art is whether it works for the one who created it.

We See What We Want to See

We all have an internal dialog that’s constantly running, interpreting the world around us, telling us how we measure up. It’s good to be aware of it because if it’s negative, this is usually a sign that something’s gone wrong.

Life isn’t good or bad; it just is. How we choose to interpret it is up to us.

For example: I had cancer. That’s a fact.

I survived cancer. Also a fact.

The treatment left me damaged. Yes, it did.

Granted, it took me a few years to fully understand this, but looking back on it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m a better, more resilient, and empathetic person because of it.

I get to choose how I’m going to interpret the experience.

Once you realize this, it changes everything.

Kurt Vonnegut (Reprise)

Ok, I first posted this on March 3, 2017. But it’s so good I feel compelled to repost it once a year, if for no other reason than because it just inspires the fuck out of me. It makes the incomprehensible and unexplainable somehow make sense. Whenever you feel beaten down by life (and god knows 2020 was a biblically punishing year), this will surely lift your spirits. Please enjoy…

In 2006, a year before he died at the age of 85, Kurt Vonnegut was invited to visit the students of Xavier High School in New York City. Although he declined their invitation, stating “I don’t make public appearances anymore because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana,” he wrote the students this letter in reply. I came upon it at a time in my life when I was having a hard time creating and it resonated deeply. He wrote:

“Practice any art . . . no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.  Starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives…”

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut