Thursday, May 29, 2008
Here is actor David Patrick Kelly after my wife Jane has pushed me across the table.
And here he is preparing to toss me back.
A year ago this month, the Voodoo Queen and I sat down to lunch with actor David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, Dreamscape, Commando, 48 Hours, The Crow), who had been in Pittsburgh since the previous March rehearsing with the musical The Glorious Ones, which was premiering here. (It's based on a novel by Francine Prose.) The show subsequently moved to the Lincoln Center in New York; a picture of the cast, which remained the same but for the male lead, can be seen here.
HOW I MET DAVID PATRICK KELLY; or, The Amazing Good Fortune of a Clipped-Off Cranium
At the supermarket where I work (yes I work-- they have a wonderful training program there for living severed heads with sobriety issues), I had been waiting on Mr. Kelly when he would come to shop. (He loved our fried fish cakes.) He was always very pleasant and friendly. So I worked up the nerve to ask him for an interview for my new blog, and he said he'd be happy to once the rehearsal process was over. (After seeing him in such films as The Warriors, Dreamscape, The Crow, and K-Pax, I was impressed with him as one of our top character actors working in films of the latter part of the 20th century and today.)
Jane and I went to see the show -- about a 16th century troupe of comedia dell'arte players-- and it was bawdy, engrossing and funny. Mr. Kelly was delightful as the old miserly tailor who becomes the "Pantalone" of the players. (Another actor noted for his genre work, John Kassir of tv's Tales From the Crypt fame, sometimes stole the show as the quack "Dottore".) Mr. Kelly had a solo number "Pantalone Alone", and he showed that he was a fine singer. I had only seen Mr. Kelly in the sort of evil or eccentric roles that actors such Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Dwight Frye used to play in movies, so it was a thrill seeing him handle comedy and sing and dance so expertly.
DPK as "Howie" in K-PAX.
As "Unger" in THE LONGEST YARD (2005).
We met Mr. Kelly late on a Sunday morning at a nice restaurant near the theater. He'd said he had maybe an hour before having to get back for preparation for that afternoon's matinee; but we wound up having over an hour of good conversation and laughs. He impressed us with his charm and warmth: he was relaxed and open, he smiled and laughed easily, and often; and he asked us about our lives. He was also amazingly generous-- not only did he graciously share his time; he'd even prearranged for all the meals to be paid for on his credit card! I only discovered this when I snuck away to pay the tab for the three of us! (I could not persuade him to let me pay.) And he was very forbearing: he waited patiently and with good humor as I struggled with my old tape recorder that had to be messed with a couple of times to work, and also as I asked a waitress to turn down the volume of the background music, which had gone up --even though we were the only customers most of the time-- after we began recording. To top it all off, halfway through his meal Mr. Kelly insisted on not finishing because -- as he stated-- he wanted to have as much time as possible to answer my questions! The man was kind beyond belief.
When we sat down, I happily offered him a couple of items as gifts, which I told him he was free to decline if they were not things he was into. The first was a three disk set of Boris Karloff's only Shakespearean performance, a multi-performer recording of the Bard's Cymbeline; the second was recordings of the New York monologist Brother Theodore. He hadn't heard of Brother Theodore before (Theodore's not much remembered these days, alas), and so I described the sardonic, dark and cynical humor that Brother Theodore was expert in. Mr. Kelly gladly accepted the Cymbeline set-- he seemed surprised and pleased with them-- but he politely declined the Theodore recordings, saying that he liked to keep negativity out of his home. He explained that as an actor, he had a "duty" to do dark material, but in his life outside performing, he kept his personal surroundings "on the positive tip". However, he acknowledged enjoying classic horror films, and mentioned that he got a big kick out of speaking with Goth kids for whom films like The Crow were "sustenance," and talking to them was "sustenance" for him too.
Talking to Mr. Kelly was more than sustenance for me, it was a feast of interesting stories, and good feeling. I am still deeply grateful for his friendliness and kindness.
So why did I wait a year to post this interview? Well, I had never transcribed a recorded conversation before; it was full of extraneous noise. So that meant listening only to several seconds at a time on uncomfortable headphones, then writing down what I heard. Often I had to listen two or three times or have Jane listen to be sure of every word. This was very frequently tedious, time-consuming, and annoying. And I faithfully wrote down every "um" and "you know" and half-word begun and revised, etc.-- I mean every frickin' sound and syllable. I thought I was obligated to! There were many extraneous bits and false starts, and I had not even been consciously aware of them! (But the interview reads more smoothly, and includes everything that was said, rather than everything that was spoken.)
Another reason was that I didn't want to "let go" of the experience by publishing it; I was so surprised and pleased by my time spent with David Patrick Kelly that it seemed something too good to share. And finally, I think it was because I was -- and am-- still very doubtful that I'll ever have another post this good here-- it's the peak!
David Patrick Kelly, a prince of a guy.
But to not run it would be disrespectful to David Patrick Kelly and to you, so below is the full interview, prefaced by an introduction, as taken from my notes and transcription. Forgive me for the delay. I hope you enjoy it.
Prior to recording questions and answers, we talked while waiting for our food to arrive. Mr. Kelly and Jane and I discussed his love for martial arts (he holds a second degree black belt in Seido Karate), his love of music, and the power of horror films. I mentioned several stars of classic horror films, and Mr. Kelly said he liked Boris Karloff. We talked briefly about what made horror films an enduring genre; he mentioned, as I recall, Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and its ideas. I realized the talk we were having before the formal interview was worth recording, and with his permission, recorded our meal conversation. Below is Mr. Kelly’s response to something said about the popularity of the horror/fantasy/science-fiction genre film.
DPK: It’s based on great ideas about human nature. And that comes from Aristotle-- Aristotle called it “the fable”. You know, you have to be true to the fable; you have to tell the fable. But Aristotle also said, in the Poetics, what people want is to see dead bodies, and learn something. That’s what he said. You want to figure something out, y’know.
Jane: Some of our “spooky” friends are some of the most well adjusted people that I know, really.
DPK: I think it’s because one of my favorite authors, very interesting guy, is a guy named Ambrose Bierce.
Max: You’ve read Bierce?
DPK: Yeah, he kept a skull on his head. [Laughs] On his head!! On his desk. This is from medieval philosophy, you know. You have to keep in mind your end. You have to keep in mind– I mean not to get morbid, you don’t want to get morbid, you don’t want to get depressed– you want to find out, but people who deal– you know, who keep a realistic aspect about what life is, which is the total picture– it’s the beginning, the end, the afterlife, the other world, the things like that– this is part of the mystic science, you know. And there’s all different paths to that.
Max: Do you get impatient with actors who don’t place emphasis on the story but more on their role?
DPK: Y’know, we’re all crazy in our own way, and I judge actors that I want to work with again about how they are “in the moment,” as we say. On stage, or in a film scene, when you’re with people and you’re lookin’ in their eyes, you can really tell what they’re about; you can tell everything about ‘em, y’ know. And you can tell how generous they are or how selfish. And a lot of that gets confused because of the roles they’re playing. But you cut a wide allowance for how people are offstage, because everybody has their own disciplines, and their own ways, and their own philosophies. But when you’re doin’ the thing, you know, you can tell how people really are. You can tell if they’re selfish, or if they’re generous; you can tell what kind of an artist they are, and that’s how you judge. You know, in the world everybody’s crazy in their own way. So you just hafta...find a way to tolerate and allow people to be what they are.
But then there’s certain times where you get to see what people really are. And that’s how you deal with who you keep connecting up with, and who you wanna work with again. But, impatience, you gotta let that go. Martial arts taught me a lot about patience. I only started martial arts when I was 35. And it was very meaningful, because it shakes off-- I mean, once again, it goes back to looking in people’s eyes. For me, martial arts, you know, with men and women, into my karate school-- you really get to see how people are. And you know, we’re animals, kind of animals, you know, with big brains, so we have the...perfectability that’s possible. But we’re really animals. And the real nature of people when they’re fightin’ each other, comes out, you know. And once again you see how they really are. So it was a different way to get...more... truth, you know. It was kind of a goal for me; I wanted to play Shakespearean generals, so I wanted to have martial arts. And I’ve been there twenty years now.
And it’s, once again, a spiritual discipline. I call myself a Zen-Taoist-Christian is what I am. So meditation is a part of it, tai chi, and martial arts. And these things give me structure, and some way to stay fit as I get into my creaking years here now. But larger than that, it’s a spiritual discipline as well. And that teaches you a lot about patience again, about your patience with other people. Because it’s like an army experience almost – people talk about “the army” being “the best time of their life”, y’know, they didn’t want to go in, but, “Ah! My buddies!” and all that stuff. Because you’re with people you wouldn’t normally be with. So I’ll be in a locker room, and people saying [in a comical mocking voice] “Hey! Ain’t cha gonna do no more movies, man?” or, “Whattsa matter wit cher career?”, or something like that. They don’t know anything, y’ know, but still...you get to learn something about them; you ask about them and they say, “Well, I got five kids, and three wives, and, you know, I’m strugglin’ through, but my martial arts keeps me together.” And it’s true– for an actor it’s a gold mine. You’re doin’ all this research, you’ve got different people that ya get to meet, y’know, ‘stead of hanging out with actors all the time....So that’s way more than you wanted to know about martial arts, but--
Jane: No, that’s cool--
DPK: Thanks a lot. That’s really--
Max: I was gonna ask you about it anyway; I knew you were into it, uh--
DPK: The first time I met Brandon Lee, I said to him, “You know your father was a big influence on me!”
Max: Really? Ah--
DPK: Brandon said, “He was on me, too”. And he was, he was. Bruce Lee was a great genius. Brandon was too.. He was...It was just a horrible tragedy--
Jane: It is tragic.
DPK Yeah --
Jane: He had a presence, you could tell in the film–
Jane: – you know. He really did.
DPK: And a passion, and respect. He was such a nice kid; he was so respectful. Of the process...he worked so hard; it was such a hard film for him to do. And I think...I want him to be here, rather than the film, but we finished the film for him, y’ know. And I think he would have been proud. ......And also that it was such a-- it was kind of a “Rebel Without a Cause” for the Goth kids, you know, it really was. I didn’t even realize it until years later; I wouldn’t even look at it for years, you know.
[Brief damage to the tape here. Mr. Kelly plays mandolin and guitar very well – he accompanies himself singing in Spike Lee's “Crooklyn”, and can also be heard playing on the CDs for two Broadway shows, “Twelfth Night”, and “Working”. I asked him about his love of music and past experiences playing rock.]
DPK: Max’s Kansas City had 150 seats with little tables that were lined up in rows. Saw everybody from Bruce Springsteen with his first record out Greetings from Asbury Park, and the Wailers, the original Wailers, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Robby Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar.
Jane: Wow, I’m jealous of that.
DPK: It was great. They had just put Burnin’ out, that record. Patti Smith made her first appearances there when she was just her and Lenny Kaye on guitar. Charles Mingus Quartet, and [others], so once in a while it’d be so packed with people we’d have to help ‘em down the stairs. Then I did a play there. And that moved into what they called a punk -- we didn’t call it punk rock, but it was the punk rock era, y’know. And I’d read about Patti and the band Television playing at CBGB’s, and so I went there too, with my band. Very good band, still got some live tapes, gonna bring them out. But I was always acting at the same time. And so I had to dissolve my band, and then...
Max: You played guitar?
DPK: I played guitar, and played all the cabarets in rock. It was a wonderful scene, actors and songwriters in the 70's in New York, and that new music, or punk, if you wanna call it that, that thing was going on. And it was very creative. It was a wonderful time, in theater too. There were a lot more theaters then. And I did a play at Max’s. Then my first New York job, big job, was Sergeant Pepper on stage. I played Sgt. Pepper himself and sang “Get Back” and “Saved the Day” at the end of the show. It was by the people who did Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. John Lennon and Paul McCartney came to the opening. It was really fantastic.
Jane: VERY nice.
DPK: London was great. It was like a dream. Did you ever see that book Rock Dreams? By a guy named Guy Peellaert? David Bowie has an album called Diamond Dogs --
DPK: And we covered that, where he’s half dog and half human. It [the record cover] was done by an artist called Guy Peellaertt. And he had a book called Rock Dreams where it was just fantasies like Dylan sittin’ at a diner with Elvis and stuff like that. And so, bein’ with John Lennon at this opening party was a little bit like one of those rock dreams, y’know. There he was, talkin’ to me, taking me around, introducing me to people. Because-- it’s a long story– but I had gone on in place of somebody, and I knew all the words, and he said [imitating Lennon], “Here’s Dave, he knows all the words – I don’t know all the words to my songs”. [Max laughs, DPK laughs.] And he was being hounded by Nixon during that time, you know, because he was in protest at the big convention that was comin’ up, and he’d done an interview with himself – “Dr. Winston O’Boogie Interviews John Lennon.” And so I told him, “John, you did a good interview with yourself”. He says, “Yeah, I asked myself some very pertinent questions”. [Max, Jane, and DPK laugh again.] He was a wonderful guy. It was just another horrible tragedy, you know?.
Max: I was so...
Max: Sad about that.
DPK: I’d seen the Beatles. I’d seen them in Detroit, at the Olympic Stadium. [Smiles.] Yeah, it was me, Larry Francis, and 12,000 screaming 12 year old girls. That was it.
Max: I saw them on Sullivan. I was a kid.
[Time was running out at this point, so I began to ask my prepared interview questions.]
Max: My first question would be, basically, “How did you become interested in acting? What were the circumstances?"
DPK: I think it was the Catholic Church. And my parents. And a happy upbringing. I was an altar boy in the ‘50s, and saw all that ritual, and the costumes, and – it wasn’t costumes, you know, all the vestments and everything else. There was something about it that was mysterious and great. But I think-- you know, my father was a painter, [smiles] and so we always had painting going on in our basement. There were big scenes. He painted the furnace to look like a tree, and the walls were always covered with paintings. So I think it was just an environment. And then, my mother taught me music. And it was a combination of these twin things in my family, were art and music. So I think that combination made it obvious.
You know, it just combined to make that all interesting for me. And then literature too– my family was always bookish and so the combination of all those things made it happen. And the first thing that I was interested in was Samuel Beckett and things like that. And Dostoevsky in high school. And these were great characters, y’know. I’ll always remember a kid saying to me once, “You’re an actor.” Just out of the blue! I was just playin’ in bands in high school, and things like that. And he said “You’re an actor”, and it sort of stuck; it was sort of prophetic. And so the biggest influences on me growing up in Detroit were in MUSIC, really! ‘Cause I’d seen these great acts. My high school friends and I, we had the MC5 – I don’t know if you know them – and Iggy [Pop], they were around, in Detroit, and the MC5 played at our junior high school dance. You know, this theatrical, amazing group of people with this powerful thing. But then we would journey around. I saw Jimi Hendrix. And the Beatles, I told you about. I saw The Doors at Cobo Hall in Detroit.
And this was a very theatrical time. And all my friends and I, we wanted to go to circus school. For some reason, the circus was a big influence. Going down to Ringling Bros./ Barnum and Bailey. But then, just reading the literature, got involved with Shakespeare in college– at the University of Detroit, where I graduated.
My first show in Detroit was a combination of music and theater: Hair. I was 19, I did “Hair” in Detroit., I got my Equity card with Hair, played the lead at nineteen. I could only do it during my summer vacation because I was draftable; it was the Vietnam War in 1970. And so I was a freshman in college and could do it for four months, and then I traveled to Paris and studied mime with Marcel Marceau. I came back and finished my scholarship at the University of Detroit, and then came to New York. And that’s the quick evolution of it all. There’s a lot of inside stories there, but mostly it was music and art. And the philosophy of religion and literature, and all that combined to make me interested in doing this.
But it was also the artist’s lifestyle-- y’know, wanting to be an artist. I’ve always taken a lot of ideas from painters, and this idea of workin’ on something, where you could express yourself, was somethin'– maybe it was comin’ from a big family, so it was hard to get a word in edgewise –
DPK: – so you wanted to express yourself so much, or somethin’ like that. And bein’ one of the younger ones, with my sisters, we became artistic, y’know, so we could find a way to express what we couldn’t , maybe...There’s some of it.
Max: Okay, great!
Jane: I’ve been reading a John Barrymore biography, and he actually wanted to be a painter, not an actor.
DPK: Geez – do you have the one with all his drawings on the front? On the cover?
DPK: Oooh. It’s a bio. ‘Cause he has his auto-bio, called, Goodnight Sweet Prince, maybe? Or something like that. And my auntie gave me that, years ago, and inside, there’s all his drawings. ‘Cause he’d always draw pictures of all his characters, before he did ‘em. And I’d do that. Inspired by Barrymore, as a matter of fact. And my father was a great cartoonist, y’ know... I’d draw a picture of my characters, from time to time. When you’re shapin’ it, it’s good if you can get a picture if it, an objective picture of your character and sketch it out.
Max: I have a collection of [John's brother] Lionel’s drawings.
DPK: Was he good?
Max: Yeah! Talented... Um, you play mandolin and guitar. What kind of music do you like?
DPK: I like a whole range if it. I’m an old rocker from the ‘60s. My high school band, y’ know. So– I picked up the mandolin because it was different. And played that like a rhythm guitar, but– I like to say I’m one of the originators of psychobilly, because we played Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and Motown, but I used a mandolin to play it. There’s a lot of bands now that do psychobilly. Great virtuosos, y’know. So my dream come true was to do Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on Broadway, and there’s a great recording I did of that. [Chuckles.] That you can get on Amazon dot com, Twelfth Night. [Click here to order CDs that DPK plays on.]
DPK: I play the mandolin in that, and sing Shakespeare’s lyrics, and they’re great lyrics. You know Twelfth Night very well?
Max: Not very well.
Jane: I saw it some years ago in New Orleans.
DPK: “O Mistress Mine” and “Come Away Death” and all these amazing lyrics by Shakespeare. And then this wonderful composer, Janine Tassori, did this music. SO.. I really love the new bluegrass people, a lot. I love Alison Crowe; I love– there’s a guy, Edgar Meyer, who’s a classical bassist, but he does all of these collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, and the great bluegrass player Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, Bela Fleck - and I really love that. It’s like music to your dreams. Like pure American music, which is this amazing hybrid of everything from around the world, and– and then I like the acoustic aspect of it. But then I like it to rock a little bit as well. Y’know, from my rocking days, so...yeah. Music got me into my first professional jobs– I told you a little bit about that. I was a cabaret rock player during the ‘70s, so I would play there, and because I did that, James Taylor and Stephen Schwartz hired me for my first Broadway musical, which was Working, based in Studs Terkel’s book. Because we had to play and sing in that. So I played James Taylor’s songs in that. And so music has always helped me get my biggest breaks in show biz. And to this day. Walter Hill for The Warriors and 48 Hours, Last Man Standing– [he] had seen me first in that musical on Broadway, where I played and sang any song – Working. So it’s just a big river with many branches to it. But music– I play every day, practice every day, and...it’s great.
Jane: I love The Warriors, by the way. I first saw it at a slumber party, of all things! [Everyone laughs] “You gotta see this movie Jane, it’s really great!” “Okay!”.
DPK: That was really a blast, y’know. Nobody got paid much; we all got dressed in one big trailer. I’d walk home every day, from that big thing where [the character] Cyrus is speaking. We’d shoot that all night, then I’d walk from Riverside Park down to my little apartment in Soho, at the time, in the ‘70s. Yeah, it wasn’t fancy. But it came out good.
Max: You and I talked a little bit about the fact that we both like Ray Harryhausen movies.
Max: The people who will read this interview like horror and science fiction and fantasy and suspense and action pictures. What are some of your favorites in those genres?
DPK: Well, Ray Harryhausen, I believe– I hope I get the – I think it’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad where he fights the skeletons. It’s a really primal moment for me. And when I did Dreamscape, I was really proud of the fact that it wasn’t CGI. It was handcrafted, Harryhausen technique. And I had to sit for hours in a cast to make the snake-man. There were different stages of the snake-man, so, you had a full body suit, you know, and then you had this one– my favorite moment where Dennis Quaid does me in and my father appears to me, there– it’s kind of a Hamlet moment there, at that stage of the snake-man where he’s half human and half man. So I really like the fact that you could still see some craft in there, y’know. There’s a Japanese woman and Craig Reardon and the other makeup guy did that make up, and they sculpted it. It [the animated model] was like sculpture - little, y’know, I don’t know how many countless sculptures that they had to make of the snake-man becoming the snake-man. So that aspect is really great. And CGI is great, I really love some of the movies that they make with that, but it’s a different deal when you’re doing it yourself, and Harryhausen was great.
Jane: CGI doesn’t look right, a lot of times.
Jane: Like it’s lit weird.
DPK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Something that’s cold about it, y’know. Some of the Asian films are great that they do.
Jane: I love Asian horror!
DPK: Yeah --
Jane: A lot of recent Asian horror’s super freaky stuff. Great.
DPK: Really gets a mood going.
[Time was almost out. I had to momentarily stop the tape recorder. I asked Mr. Kelly about his playing the role of “Howie” in the film “K-PAX”.]
DPK: K-PAX. Howie was based on Henry Darger, who was a janitor his whole life and his landlord found his paintings after he died. And he was an obsessive-compulsive collector of garbage. And he used all of these wonderful paintings of the things that he had found. So that was great. He was a great character. And he has a dark aspect to it as well– his solution for curing his friend was, uh, a little extreme. But it was a wonderful time. I really enjoyed that film.
Max: Any roles you haven’t played that you really want to, still?
DPK: Oh yeah! But if I reveal ‘em now... I’m too scared yet. I’m working on two film scripts myself. And things are going very well.
Max: Any classical roles you still want to play?
DPK: Yes, Brutus in Julius Caesar. Antony in Antony and Cleopatra. Of course they’d have to be avant garde things, but the Romans were short, and at 5'’6'’ y’know, with all my martial arts training, if there’s an avant garde director out there that wants to do “Antony and Cleopatra”, I’m your man!!! [Laughs.] Let’s see– classical...
Jane: We’re both Irish elves too!
DPK: [Laughs, then speaks in an Irish accent) So there’s a boatload of ‘em! [Resumes his own voice.] Let’s see, what else? That’s what I’ll reveal at this time. We’ve got a slate of ‘em. You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Max: You’re married to an actress. Is it easier to be in a relationship with somebody who knows the sacrifices of being an actor?
DPK: She’s my dreamy dream. That’s what I’ll tell ya. It’s beyond the beyond. She’s a great artist and really understands the process...So we’re havin’ a blast and I couldn’t be happier.
Max: Understanding the process, though, does that help, you think?
DPK: Yeah, because essentially you’re living with your partner and then all the characters, too. So if you don’t understand what the material is doing to you, because every material of every kind has an emotional cost. So you have to understand what you’re both going through. And your double lives that you’re leading. Because suddenly these people appear – your characters that you’re living with! Y’know, for that time period. And if you don’t understand that, and if you can’t deal with that...it doesn’t work.
Max: Did your family support your decision to be an actor?
DPK: Always have. Fantastic, and uh, yeah, it’s been great. Big family, so you know, they’ve come to everything I’ve done, and they’ll see this play, The Glorious Ones, when it gets to New York, hopefully. But yeah, yeah, they’ve seen all the little teeny-little theaters that I’ve played in, and all the places around the world. So, it’s a great thing. [The waitress began clearing away.] I think I gotta bolt. I’m sorry, my pals. It’s been delightful, delightful.
And it was delightful-- and memorable-- for Jane and I, too.
Text copyright 2007 Max Cheney. All photos are the property of their respective copyright holders and will be removed by request of same.
Colossal jumbo super-thanks to Jane for typing services, to Richard Olson for support, and to Tom Weaver, Ted Newsom and Pierre Fournier for editorial assistance.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
At a website about Canadian comic book superheroes called Guardians of the North, Pierre's creation of "Capitaine Kebec" is spotlighted prominently; an entry on the character can be found here.
Their bio for Pierre can be found here-- do read it.
More links can be found here (in French) and here
Pierre is also known for his characters Michel Risque and Red Ketchup (seen below). His publisher has launched a dedicated Red Ketchup site, which he writes. It’s in French, but non-Francophones can see the book covers and sample art (by Pierre's friend and collaborator Réal Godbout). The site is still new and expanding, and it will grow with every book published (#2 coming out in August):
Oddly, Pierre's Wikipedia page seems to have been removed, but I saved a screen capture:
Saturday, May 24, 2008
In the exhibit, bodies posed to look like they were playing sports were placed at intervals to break up the drier educational tone of the other displays, as well as to counter the gruesomeness of it all. It had the opposite effect, at least for me-- by posing the corpses to make them seem more "alive", they seemed all the more gory and strange. I wondered why I felt that way, and I decided it was because the display of "movement" made me aware there were flayed bodies all around but there was no blood. This, and the captive aspect of "people" frozen in place were unnerving. (Of course this was something I read into it and completely subjective.)
The photo below, taken of a large poster for the exhibition, is one of a cadaver used in a lot of advertising for BODIES.
Here's a closeup I took of this figure when I saw it:
The details are what make bring on some of the moments of squeamishness. The photo below (from the Flickr account of Manuel Lino), shows the fingernails; they look even more "lifelike" than the plasticized flesh of the hand they are part of.
Hands are expressive. Perhaps that's why so many people who took pictures of the BODIES displays took photos of arms and hands, if the photos I've seen on the internet are typical. One photo I found at Marleen's Flickr account reminded me of the 1931 film Frankenstein, which features a closeup of a hand to reveal that life has entered the dead flesh of Frankenstein's creation.
Of course, seeing various organs and parts of people on display is a Frankensteinian experience.
I hope this wasn't a criminal brain! (Or, for that matter, from a prisoner from overseas.)
Colored resin was injected into the veins, arteries and capillaries of different systems and organs in the body to create perfect replicas. These were detailed down to the tiniest detail and were amazing in their intricacy.
I was reminded of another movie, the 2007 Sweeney Todd (which Jane and I saw in January) when I saw the display below, comprised of cross-sections of an individual. The flesh resembles the cuts of meat you might see in a supermarket display case, and made me pause for a long while in sad and horrified fascination:
Still, I knew that making people more aware of their bodies as objects of flesh had possible benefits. Making people think of themselves as animated, thinking objects, like a car or computer, might also make people more likely to maintain their own bodies, as they would their cars.
The display above was certainly designed to do that. Above is a pair of diseased smoker's lungs. Next to this disgusting display was a clear plastic receptacle for throwing away packs of cigarettes that visitors might have on them; many people had done so, and I hope people really were motivated to quit. (As a kid my father had done something similar-- he showed me cross-sections of preserved human lung he had in sheets inside a large binder; the lung samples were progressively more diseased from smoking. I never did take up the habit.)
Perhaps the displays would help people lose weight, too-- I know I didn't feel like eating for a good while afterwards. (Not even peanuts and crackerjack, despite all the bodies in sporting poses.)
From the Flickr account of one lailafrant comes this closeup of the soccer-playing dead man:
This was a display chosen to be used in the promotional materials-- see below-- and website; I assume the athletic corpses are supposed to draw in the average Joe.
Also at the official website (but thankfully not at the science center where I saw the exhibition), Premier Exhibitions (the company behind BODIES) are selling trinkets for the customer willing to buy BODIES merchandise! If there is an afterlife, I'd be okay with people learning anatomy from my shell on display, but I wouldn't want to be on this:
I'd expected the exhibit to be controversial, but there were no protests while it was here in Pittsburgh. I've heard of very little anywhere, (one of the exceptions being a small protest in Durham, NC.) I'm surprised, given that the cadavers are unclaimed bodies from China, not a favorite country of Amesty International. (Premier Exhibitions has an anatomist who examines the donated dead -- China, it's claimed, is not selling the bodies -- and he states that none of the bodies show any sign of wounds, trauma, torture or gunshots; all appear to have died naturally.) Various clergy have signed off on the ethical standards used by the company in obtaining the bodies from Dalian Medical University in China. I hope they're right.
A guide at the exhibit told me that no one had been upset enough to make a scene and be asked to leave, but that people of all ages --including children-- had fainted. On the positive side, medical students had raved about the displays; and doctors who visited often expressed a wish that these "plastinates" had been available for viewing when they were in medical school. (My own doctor -- mad, of course-- tells me there are not enough donated bodies in this country for all medical school classes nowadays, some medical students have to work with plastic replica cadavers with removable parts.)
At the end of the exhibit there was a wall where people could post comments on Post-It notes. Children were apparently asked to comment and give their ages; a few messages from kids were memorable enough to copy. One five year old wrote, "I thought I liked it." Another child named Samantha wrote "It was an very neat exhibit it made my stomach turn you should get more bodies". She drew a heart over her name. An eleven-year-old named Jared wrote, "I threw up in my mouth the whole time from when I started until up to now", and one older kid just left a drawing that made for a humorous end of the exhibit :
I hope this post didn't make you hurl.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Members of the League of Tana Tea Drinkers will be posting guest blog entries by other members of the League. This week's comes from the illustrious blog Arbogast on Film, and follows below.
There Will Be Blood Libel
My first reaction upon seeing photos of the cast of the 2008 remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was "Funny, they don't look Jewish."
I consider Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) to be one of the great unintentional blood libels of the latter half of the 20th Century. I don't think for a minute that Craven is anti-Semitic but rather that he, like all of us, carries with him learned associations that exist apart from his conscious mind. Just as David Lynch has in the past identified a sense of evil in effeminacy (BLUE VELVET) and ethnicity (WILD AT HEART), Wes Craven particularizes in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT his perception of pure evil with a distinctly Hebraic flavor.
Though none of the characters identify themselves explicitly as being Jewish, David Hess' Krug is depicted as an obnoxious cigar-smoking "Jew Yorker" whose perpetual stubble, curly hair, olive-colored skin and outer borough accent code him as an obvious Heeb. Add to that, Krug has been convicted for the killing of a Catholic priest and two nuns.
Cast in the role of Krug's accomplice, Weasel Podowski, Fred J. Lincoln wears the slate-colored hair and slack suit of a Lower East Side alter cocker while both Jeramie Rain (as Sadie, a common Jewish name that also brings to mind Manson killer Susan Atkins, aka Sadie Mae Glutz) and Marc Sheffler (as Krug's schlemiel of a son, Junior) have "difficult" ethnic hair. Weasel's rap sheet identifies him as a child molester, which fits the historical blood libel that slandered Jews as sacrificers of children. The quartet is shown to be "animal-like," to inhabit a dirty tenement (a dwelling associated with foreigners) and, while transporting their kidnap victims from the city to the country, Krug and Sadie engage in rear-entry sex (coitus more ferarum, or "sex by way of the beasts"), a form of copulation frequently associated (however unfairly) with non-Christians.
The transition of the kidnappers/killers from the city to the country is a key element of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, illustrating an old white Anglo-Saxon fear of the contamination of suburbia's assumed purity by ethnic types (as Fairfield County, the film's location and setting, became a destination for upwardly mobile urban Jews post-World War II). The waspy surname of one of the victims and her parents, Collingwood, is eerily similar to Sadie's imaged alias (Agatha Greenwood), suggesting that Krug & Company aspire in some part to assimilate even while they shred the very fabric of Christian society.
In the film's most disturbing sequence, Krug, Weasel and Sadie kill their captives after stripping them and humiliating them sexually. When Phyllis tries to escape, she is run to ground, stabbed and then butchered in a scene that can't help but evoke shechita, or Jewish ritual slaughter. Phyllis' intestines are pulled out of her oozing abdominal cavity and examined, as a shochet would do to determine if a slaughtered animal were fit to be declared kosher. Obviously, Phyllis' disemboweling is not genuinely kosher but does suggest that Krug & Co. are operating on autopilot, as if by collective cultural memory, in the same way that their earlier torment of Phyllis and Mari echoed the treatment of Jews bound for concentration camps. The kidnappers seem to be maltreating their captives as a form of confused racial self-hatred, channeling ritualistic acts that both glorify and slander their ancestors.
Having killed Phylllis, Krug rapes Mari... but not before he uses a switchblade to carve his name into her sternum. This gesture reminded me of Rabbi Lowe scratching the word "EMET" into the forehead of The Golem. (With his helmet hair, Krug even resembles Paul Wegener's iconic 1920 interpretation of THE GOLEM.) As EMET is the Hebrew word for "truth," Krug's mutilation of Mari might be said to be his way of sending a wake-up call to WASP society, announcing both his arrival and his intention to destroy their four-square, missionary position world. (In this regard, Krug also bears a resemblance to the character of Berger from the musical HAIR, who comes to his position of iconoclastic hippie king from a distinctly urban Jewish environment.) And can it be mere coincidence that Krug comes to his decision to shoot Mari after having overheard her reciting the Lord's Prayer, as she wades into a woodland pond in a cleansing act of self baptism?
At this point it's worth remembering that LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is a remake of sorts of Ingmar Bergman's THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), a Medieval morality tale set at a time when Christianity was waging war against Paganism for world and spiritual dominance. LAST HOUSE hews closely to the VIRGIN SPRING template by having its spree killers (who pose as salesmen, and in so doing aligning themselves with Jews via the merchant class) taken in by Mari's parents, who feed them in a scene that mimics da Vinci's The Last Supper (while leaving an empty chair in the foreground - for Elijah?). Over the course of the evening, the truth comes out and Mari's parents turn on her killers. While the ensuing slaughter is strong stuff, the third act's oddest/most brutal bit of business is Mrs. Collingwood's oral castration of Weasel in a scene that seems to mock the Jewish rite of circumcision (thus explaining the chair left empty for Elijah). It should also be noted that she performs this act after first using Weasel's leather belt to bind his hands in what could be construed as an allusion to the philactery, the calfskin box containing Hebraic scripture that some Jews wear strapped to their heads and wrapped around their left arms during weekday prayers.
Again, I hasten to add that I don't believe ex-Baptist Wes Craven set out to slander the Jews with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT but the Jewishness of the killers he created cannot be ignored. My feeling is that Craven was writing/casting/directing instinctively from a series of societal and cultural presets and prejudices. Certainly, living and working (first as a taxi driver and then as a young filmmaker) in New York, Craven would have had plenty of negative experiences with people of all ethnic persuasions. I half suspect Krug was modeled on a particularly noxious distributor who blew fetid cigar smoke in Craven's face while cheating him out of profits. However it all came together, these textures (real or imagined) give the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT intriguing layers of meaning. You won't find this kind of subtext in a New Millennium remake claiming to pay homage to 70s cinema while pissing all over a glorious, difficult and demanding decade that was never afraid to get blood on its hands.
Read more from the intelligent (and pseudonymous) Arbogast, one of the best film reviewers on the internet:
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
With images of the exhibit having appeared on the news, on billboards, and in other forms of advertising, most of you here in the U.S. have probably seen at least one grisly image. So whether you're anxious or jaded about the subject at this point, I hope you'll keep reading.
I had some trepidation about going. I'd heard rumors that at least some of the bodies came from Chinese political prisoners, but the exhibition company and the government of China have both denied this. I went, not being sure what was the truth, and seeing this as an educational event unlike any other I was likely to see in my lifetime. An exhibit that combines science, art, and ghoulish gore? I had to go!
I don't consider human remains as being exactly sacred; it's the feelings of the living that must be considered. I reasoned that there was no chance that anyone who knew the bodies back when they were people would recognize a corpse and be traumatized. So we went.
The first image I saw was an advertisement:
Which made me really want to see what lay in store inside. This was not at all like the teaser art of the carnival sideshows I can just barely remember from my childhood, where what you were promised was more than what you'd see (the "Amazing Alligator Man" might just be a bald guy with a few snaggle teeth and a bad rash); this was a photo showing you exactly what you were in for. I was hooked. (This was an opportunity to see in real life the sorts of things I saw in photos as a child in my father's medical books-- my dad being a small-town doctor-- but in greater variety and arrayed with imagination.)
Besides, as a severed head, I got in for free.
I'll let the images speak for themselves, mostly. I can tell you that the exhibit made every attempt to give visitors a sense of how our muscles function (hence the poses of specimens kicking, throwing, etc.), and every display had ample text to educate viewers about what they were were seeing and how it all worked. Every organ had was labeled, even the smallest. The exhibition was divide into different areas by curtains, according to what biological systems and organs were being focused on. It was too much to take all of it, fully and with understanding, unless you had hours and hours. I felt that what you came away with seeing the exhibition depended on how much effort you put into it; full observation of all the details and relating them to the text took patience; and I suspect most people (including yours gruely) didn't spend enough time and trouble for a complete appreciation of the complexity of the human body. But I'm sure all visitors came away with similar feelings of wonder, fascination, and revulsion. And likely too, curiosity mixed with twinges of sadness about the nameless individuals whose deaths allowed their bodies to be a part of the display.
I know, I'm taking too long to get to the photos. Some of the photos are ones we took (the bad ones) and some-- most-- are photos taken by photographer Steven J. Messina, and graciously shared with this blog. His photos are all excellent, and the next best thing to actually seeing the corpses in person. (His photos all have a white border around them.)
A few were swiped from the net before I went to this exhibit, and I've forgotten where they came from. They will be removed upon request of the photographers.
One of the first sights seen at this portion of BODIES (other portions of the exhibition form different units, like different touring troupes of one circus) was this gleeful pose of a man dancing with his own skeleton:
Followed by organs, more bones, and cross sections of people:
One of the strangest sights was seeing the brain, eyes, and nervous system all laid out, reminding me of monsters from sci-fi flicks like Fiend Without a Face and Mars Attacks:
The top picture comes from the online version of Prick magazine, (as does the b & w photo found above) and can be seen as part of an article here.
Those staring eyes (the only real ones seen in the exhibit, the rest being glass so as to look shiny and alive) were very creepy to me.
But the most unnerving sight was one that reminded me of what I've lost, being a drunken severed head:
(Related link to the above photo: Icelandic Penis Museum news item)
Friday, May 16, 2008
Below is an Associated Press photo of Mondavi as well as a brief AP obit.
"In this photo originally provided by Departures Magazine, wine makers, Robert Mondavi, left, and his brother Peter Mondavi, hold hands at the 26th annual Auction Napa Valley at Meadowwood Resort, on June 3, 2006, in St. Helena, Calif. Robert Mondavi, the pioneering vintner who put California wine country on the global map, died Friday, May 16, 2008. He was 94."
(AP Photo/George Nikitin, Departures Magazine)
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
For the European readers of this blog, I recommend you see them as they tour this summer. Below is an announcement and calendar they sent me for their tour across the Old World. Look it over, then plan to go see this classic film-- one of the best versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's schizoid story-- with DME's live accompaniment. You will be glad you did.
Devil Music Ensemble
live soundtrack performance to a classic silent film
Tour in Europe
in support of our new Jekyll & Hyde DVD
May 23rd - June 8 2008
Performing an original soundtrack to
"Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde"
(1920) Starring John Barrymore
for more info go to www.devilmusic.org
Please pass this along to your Euro friends...Thanks!
Friday May 23rd FOCUS Filmtheater in Arnhem Netherlands 21.45 website
Sat May 24th Filmhuis Lumen in Delft Netherlands 19.45 website
Sun May 25th Cafe du Paris in Paris France 20.30 website
Mon May 26th Espace Autogéré in Dijon France 20.00 website promoter
Tues May 27th Caligari FilmBuehne in Wiesbaden Germany 20.00 website
Wed May 28th Kalkbreite in Zurich Switzerland 21.00
Kalkbreitestrasse 4, 8004 Zürich
Thur May 29th Ottensheim Ferry in Ottensheim Austria 21.30
Open air on a ferry on the Danube promoter
Sat May 31st Lichtspieltheater Lambach in Lambach Austria 20.30 website promoter
Sun June 1st Burgruine Arnoldstein in Arnoldstein Austria 21.30
Open air in ruins of a 12th century Abbey promoter
Tues June 3rd OPT (Osrodek Postaw Tworczych) in Wroclaw Poland 20.00 website
Wed June 4th Babylon Kino in Berlin (Mitte) Germany 20:00 website
Thur June 5th Pupille Kino An Der Uni in Frankfurt a.m. Germany 20.30 website
Friday June 6th Panorama-Museum Bad Frankenhausen Germany 19.30 website
Sat June 7th UT Connewitz in Leipzig Germany 21:00 website
Sun June 8th De Nieuwe Anita in Amsterdam Netherlands 17.00 website
Keep an eye out for the DME fall U.S. tour coming to a theater near you in September and October 2008. New film to be announced at that time (it's a surprise!)
Friday, May 9, 2008
Well, I got one of those "Read this, and send it to five other people"-type emails. On first glance, I thought it was the sort of thing that tells me to spread the word that Bill Gates will give you a pot o' money if you forward an e-mail to everyone you know, or implores me to spread the word that Jesus wants them to vote against Hillary Clinton because she once ate a boiled baby at a coven meeting in the White House, or some other such nonsense. My first reaction was to roll my eyes so hard I looked like Little Orphan Annie or Bruce Wayne with his cowl on. But I read on, since the e-mail was sent by my good friend Pierre Fournier of the blog Frankensteinia.
I'd misjudged what the e-mail was about.
It turns out that I was being "tagged"-- a game involving a "meme." (Ugh, what an ugly word-- and one of the most overused ones on the internet, with intellectual pretensions, to boot.) Seems I had to go to the closest book to me, turn to page 123, count the first five sentences, then post the next three sentences after that on the blog. Then I had to do the dirty deed of forwarding this "tag" to five other chumps, inviting them to do the same thing.
Okay, I admit it-- I mumbled and grumbled to myself at first. But after a while I decided this was akin to a party game and might be fun if I just tried it with a good attitude (a resource I sometimes run short of, which is obvious from the above paragraph), I grabbed the nearest book (an interesting Anne Perry mystery, Southampton Row) and turned to the required page.
I'm not lucky at games. I once pinned a donkey's tail onto the teacher's butt while blindfolded. This game proved to be no exception to my "unlucky streak".
Here are the sentences:
"I resented Cornwallis for wishing you onto me. Took you as a favor to him, but perhaps it wasn't after all."
"Why do you owe Cornwallis any favors?"
Outta context, the selection ain't exactly a grabber, is it?
Maybe I should parody it, a la Beavis and Butthead:
"I resented Cornholeis for wishing you into me. Took you as a sexual favor to him, but perhaps it wasn't after all."
Naw, that stinks.
I wish I'd had my copy of The Golden Trashery of Ogden Nashery closer to hand!
The five I in turn tagged are Gary Macabre of Blogue Macabre, Kirk D. of Secret Fun Blog, John Rozum of John Rozum, Erick of Wonderful Wonderblog, and Iloz Zoc of Zombos' Closet of Horror.
I wish them luck. (I'm actually hoping every one of them cheats!)