Monday, December 31, 2012
His shrine was incomplete without it. An online handle on the message board who claimed to be a girl sent him a private E-mail telling him that she had the Nasty, but it was too valuable to be sent in the mail so would he want to drive to the town where she lived and retrieve it from her there? This had the chance of ending very badly, but he needed the tape, had sought and desired and bled for it nearly all of his life. It would never be uploaded to streaming video. Once the last copy vanished the content on the tape inside would stop circling the great cultural drain and just fall into a time before creation. Obtaining it would mean a seven-hour drive, to a designated meeting place at night. He quickly accepted “her” offer, even though he demanded to Skype with her and she refused, asked for her phone number and was refused. She wrote how she was “too far gone” to be seen. She was beyond the point of talking on the phone with anyone, perhaps ever again. All he got her to share was the dubious information that she had traveled hill and dale to go to a liberal arts school, and since graduation had decided to stay in the small college town. She came across the tape with “great difficulty,” and, out of her entire collection, both hard copy and torrent, she wanted to be free of it. She was charging him a song for it, too. So he booked a motel and since it was The Holidays anyway he didn’t have to put in for a day off at work. He began the trip early, blue fuzz above the mountains, and checked into his overripe hotel room that evening. They were scheduled to meet at the town Gazebo the very next midnight (“ask around, or you’ll probably just see it as soon as you arrive”). He fell asleep in this new foreign America, dreaming of the tape and Sabine and the trap he may have just willfully entered.
The tape was called several things, colloquial brands from the UK underground. Sabine was the Dutch blonde featured across its 45-minute length. She died of an apparent suicide in the late eighties, the time he was born. He only knew her through crude video captures, Sabine with the horses and dogs, Sabine with the fat old men, and worst of all because of its temporary solace, Sabine roaming fields in a stained orange dress, allowing daffodils to proliferate in her hands during the ethereal glide. He first read about it in 6th grade, inspired to look up “Video Nasties” on Altavista after seeing the word in the Psychotronic Film Guide. It was listed on a survey of other Nasties, The video’s title struck him because it wasn’t “nasty” like Bad Taste or I Spit On Your Grave. As he read the details he knew he was too young to be reading them but he didn’t stop. His mother was working a second job as a Community Center lifeguard and wouldn’t be home for another two hours. Somehow it had already grown dark. The site had a picture of Sabine from the tape, a cropped image of her lying on the ground, head to the side, eyes closed as thick knives of hay knelt abrasions across the skin of her face and bare shoulders.
There were only a half-dozen copies in rumored existence. He knew that once he saw the Nasty (if she even had it in her possession, if “she” was even that) it would be a grainy blip compared to the vast, writhing possible videos he played in his mind over and over again throughout the long years. Sometimes the unseen was better. He’d been burned in the Tape Trading days by the likes of Gestapo’s Last Orgy and Cynthia’s Revenge, pupa with the reputations of fully-grown monsters. This was different. It didn’t tell a fictional story. Sabine played herself, more or less: a farm girl who took solace in her animals when human beings hurt and betrayed her. The gang rape was supposedly first, trailed then by thirty minutes of enthusiastic zoophilia. Some versions had credits-all bullshit names, “Petulia Kelly,” “Michael Goodheart”-but the commonly circulated Nasty cut just ended, no, just closed. Now he had to see it just to see it, because he’d seen everything else, and this was the tape that inspired him to see everything else, in the early days thinking Well, I’ll never see that.
Who the hell was she? The name on her E-mail was just Fucked. You have 1 new message from Fucked.
He woke in the afternoon before the meet and decided that if he stayed in the motel he would fall asleep and miss it, and he didn’t trust this cheap establishment with a wake-up call. He drove around. A pleasant town, appropriately festive despite the strange absence of snow. Blocks of homes were auto-erotically choked with Christmas lights. The sky was pitiful and grey. This was why he activated primarily during the night. No, there was a little snow, under an inflatable rubber snowman welcoming all-comers to a house on some hill.
He got a burger at an overly set-designed, “hippie-themed” restaurant in the center of the town. Young people sat around him, bottling themselves within psychedelically-dyed tablecloths and benches soaked with drizzle outside. He realized when he gave his order that those were the first words he had spoken to anybody in months.
Ignorant as to his being illegally parked or not made his walking tour of Main Street hurried and brief. The locale was a tourist fly-trap, stores of weavery and caffeinated beverage enclaves everywhere. The women were almost all beautiful. How could people live here? But, he realized, he could live there himself if his room was uprooted and shipped over. There was more traffic than the town seemed poised to handle. It was gonna be ok though. Night was what the place was secretly built for. Night was what the “girl” was built for. She had the Nasty because she didn’t live in this bunker of daylight. Did she look pretty when she slept? If her mouth languished open, was there a thimble of drool tiptoeing to the pillow? Who was lying next to her to catch it?
He wondered what the breath of the girl who owned the Video Nasty smelled like. He wondered if she tried to be graceful and ladylike or if, in shunning the sun, she had let her hair grow down to the floor. He went back to the motel and slept. He felt unclean in the light.
There was no snow. Brief exhalations of cold windchill were the only giveaways of winter. An unknown source played a maudlin instrumental of “Silent Night” that moved him despite himself.
He saw nobody at the gazebo until he saw her, leaning against the southern darkness, and when he got a little closer she stepped into the illuminating amber slicked across the wooden, danced-on floor. Moles of acne pocked a face curtained by hangman 70s songwriter dirty blonde hair, a face unmasked by slaughtered bangs. They had already run together from point to point: the physical meeting felt anti-climactic in a way. He was relieved the text was accurate, unless he was about to be knocked unconscious by a stealthy co-conspirator. He braced himself for some hideous impact.
He saw her bag at her boots. She did speak. “I would have suggested we meet at a video store but the last one closed about a month ago.”
“Mom and pop?”
“Yea. It’s being renovated into something to do with Mackintosh Computers.” Her voice was stout, husky; it verged on downloading the entire woman full. “They began selling off their VHS inventory and I made out with as many as I could even though I don’t have a VCR. Or at least I didn’t, back then.”
A red pickup truck drove slowly through the immediately adjacent street. He imagined the driver was out late to buy dog food, a late dinner for his basement victim.
He gave her a check and assured her it wouldn’t bounce. He would even go with her to the bank in the morning. “You don’t have to do that,” she said. “I believe you.”
She lit a cigarette. He tried to decipher indentations of the videotape inside her bag.
“Can I assume your real name isn’t ‘Fucked?’”
“You can assume that. I’m not going to tell you what it really is.”
“Fine. It would ruin the name I picked for you, on the drive over. There was just clouds over mountain. No stars. I picked a name for you then.”
She smacked her tongue and tapped slight embers to the floor of icy dust. “What name did you give me?”
She mouthed “O” and took a drag. “Not even close.”
After a few quiet minutes, a blast of wind rerouted smoke from her mouth to the ether park beyond. He asked, “Can I see it?”
“Didn’t you ever hear about not seeming too eager around girls?”
“I’m not trying to have sex with you.”
“No, you want this.”
She stepped it out, her stocking’d thighs shivering as she crouched, felt through the bag and pulled out the unmarked Nasty, boxed in the Marco’s Video Store package, gritty black plastic laced with a banner of animated movie icons (Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, Marilyn, you know).
“I already wrote to you about this, but you’re wasting your time coming down here. The version that exists in your head is a thousand times more transgressive and horrible and positively turgid than the real thing, which is just…which is just fucking mush. It’s padded with endless cutaways of the Danish countryside. The actual, you know, ‘content’ is only sixteen minutes, and you can barely see it with all the 16mm blear.”
“I’ve seen the vidcaps. I know it’s a waste. But there’s an aura to this thing that accelerates the older and more exhaustive I become. I can watch it and move on.”
“The one dog doesn’t look happy to be there, but a hairy hand keeps pushing him back in. It’s like that part of Last House On Dead End Street
“You know that one? You’re a Roger Watkins fan?”
“I have two eyes and a heart, don’t I?” After this transaction, he would never see her again.
Was her life fated from the start to obtain the Video Nasty? He needed to know something. But he needed to know a few other things first.
“Are you on Filmpocalpyse? [best-kept secret obscure movie torrent site.]”
“I am. One of my uploads was that classic roughie, The Taking Of Anna.”
“I remember that. It was posted by ‘Fuckthead.’”
“That’s my name.”
“I left a long comment for you. I was TBater.”
Her shaking finger pointed his way. “You. You. That rant about George Payne was you! I loved that, dude. ‘Payne was the American God of hurt and hate. He got no pleasure from any of it.’ And here we are.”
They stood together, blank frames of web words developing in the stop bath of the actual.
"Why do you watch roughies? Why do you watch things like The Nasty?"
"Same reason as you, Kindred Spirit."
“How did you get Sabine?”
“When I was in the city, visiting my family at Christmas, I came across a 'Pocalypse thread about unavailable tapes…in retrospect it was probably started by you.”
“No, actually. I had probably already been kicked off at that point. I was a selfish Seeder”
“ I happened to be on very late and I saw something about a ‘Midnight Garage Sale.” Only 45 minutes from the city. ‘You never know what you’ll find.’ So I took my father’s car and drove to a perfectly normal-looking house in the suburbs, playing Swans the whole way down. Guy wasn’t kidding. The lights in the houses were off but the garage door was wide open, and there were about two dozen people milling around. Yes, the users of Filmpocalypse had skin and brains, I think I was the only woman. They were nearly all middle aged or young and withdrawn-seeming. SOme held hands. Two giant tables were set up in the garage. I couldn’t see his car anywhere outside. On the tables the guy had set up six crates, three on each table. Everyone was quiet as we browsed. The Master Of Ceremonies, if that’s what you could call him, was installed in the hallway by the garage, holding a clipboard that kept track of purchases and the value of purchases. Prices were negotiable based on rareness of the item. He was playing early Rod Stewart low on a 90s stereo. You know, that song they covered on The Office? ‘The handbags and the gladrags that your granddad had to sweat so you could buy.’
“When a browser picked something they wanted-most tapes were labeled but others were big fat mysteries-they consulted the M.O.C. and he let them into a little laundry room with a TV/VCR setup so they could see what exactly was on the unmarked tapes or so they could gauge the quality of whatever find they’d just found. I happened to reach into a crate and pulled out a naked tape. Something was queer about it. There was a paltry amount of tape in the cartridge. Whatever this was it wasn’t a feature. What, then? I started feeling the pulse of discovery.”
“I know how that feels,” he said, cancelling tears through every modulated blink.
“I snuck the tape into the back viewing room, making sure the M.O.C. was busy consulting with someone else. I popped it in and there she was, Sabine, carrying two barrels of milk across a field that tried to look bucolic but failed miserably. I made a sound you can only describe as a ‘gyelp.’ I quickly ejected it and, breaking protocol, slipped it in my bag. What would happen to me if they found out I stole? I bought two tapes, episodes of the Japanese ‘Rape Man’ serial, and quickly drove home. I had it. What else was happening in America at that time that was as important as this? I bogarted Sabine!”
From The Basement Tape, a work-in-progress memoir by the girl he called “Erin” (this section details an all-nighter watching Filmpocolypse movies with an ex named Doug):
Break Free My Chains! was released in 1978 by producer Harry Novac-his company logo, a kaleidoscope of multicolored letters spiraling and swirling to form his name, was the variant of image I previously thought was only accountable in dreams-and we chose it to be, in Doug’s words, the night’s “spooning a companion” film. That is, the movie you can watch without fearing sleep, because if the movie was a person you would share the lateness, kiss in the dark, skin pressing skin, having already made love in the wet hours before.
Racesploitation. There were many of those, offshoots of Exploitation, deeper roots into what Doug called “The basement of American Cinema.” Nunsploitation, Lezsploitation, Blacksploitation, Sexploitation. There were others, un-official categories invented by the collectors of torrent sperm. 42ndsploitation, vampsploitation, beastsploitation, rapesploitation. I could go on and on and on and on.
This one exploited race tension in a blood struggle between an African-American college professor traveling through Washington State with his family, and a bigoted millionaire named Harley Shaw who kidnaps Professor Carver’s family and uses them to resurrect slavery at his secluded Antebellum-style mansion. The daughter becomes his sex captive. Shaw verbally assaults Carver throughout, violates his daughter in front of him, uses him as a human ottoman, throws the family in cages guarded by his buck-toothed sons, whips him repeatedly while the Professor is chained up. Carver goes over the edge when he finds out that his daughter has been impregnated by Shaw, who plans to kills the child because he doesn’t want his family lineage to be “Stained.” Carver convinces his bruised, beaten, overworked family, plus two prostitutes Shaw kidnapped to start his “experiment,” to rise up against their oppressor, to break free of the mental and physical chains that bind them. Armed with working tools, cutlery, a wheelbarrow, the neo-slaves take out Shaw’s sons, while Carver faces Shaw, rifle versus scythe, white versus black.
“Give me your best shot, nigger boy!” Shaw takes aim.
“I might be your boy, but I’ll never be your nigger,” Carver says before throwing his weapon into Shaw’s neck. Arterial spray. We zoom out of the family as they embrace. The child incubates still. The End.
They traded up. He offered her a ride. She shrugged. As they drove he thought about what would happen if he let himself fall in love with her. He couldn’t succumb to that. She, “Erin,” “Fucked,” whoever, would be nauseated by the mere word. He wondered why he wasn’t, considering all he watched and was drawn to, but no, the word “love” didn’t sicken him, nor the idea of being involved, holding the warm body of someone you had fallen in love with.
He had it. He finally possessed Sabine. The shrine was finally a Shrine.
“I’m leaving here soon,” she said. “Going home. Good thing we caught each other when we did.”
He pictured the long, angry E-mail she would send, accusing him of gushing and making her uncomfortable. He could imagine the depth of his eventual fixation, the character flaw he resented the most, the thing that made him retreat from human relationships two years before. He shouldn’t have come here. All of his dread predictions would become events. He’d probably E-mail her the instant he got home, or try to kiss her after he parked outside of whatever home was hers.
From The Basement Tape
There was a movie from the depths. I’ll never forget it, it looked pulled from the ocean, it looked pulled from the ocean and angry to be alive. Women suffered. The movie stayed with their suffering until it went beyond drama, beyond the pale, until it became sad, the woman was in mourning for herself, her eyes died before she did and it was so sad. The face of the woman in the old horror film was Beethoven. They performed an operation on her. They cut into her. They knew what they were doing. They were stealing her blood. I had not slept for twenty-four hours. I knew how she felt. I felt a kinship with this victim. Hands manacled to a steel table. A soundtrack of library choral music. Hyena laughter from the overlord and his minions.
Dark Riding, Ozsploitation from the 1970s. A bickering, well-off brother and sister travel to their freshly deceased uncle’s mansion in the outback to secure their enormous inheritance. It opens with the murder of their other sibling in a car accident orchestrated by our anti-heroes. The two are incestuous. They have sex in the bed of the departed. Then doors start slamming. Things don’t go according to plan.
Rape Cartel. The screams of the victims of sadistic Mexican drug lord Fernando Rodriguez scorched the morning. Robert Forster is a DEA agent hell bent on stopping him after Fernando gets a hold of his wayward daughter. Gunfight in blazing streaks. It’s difficult to stay awake through the filler that includes Forster’s unfortunate, mincing Gay-stereotype lawyer.
Manson Family Secrets is of the rankest sub-genre, that of Tatesploitation, or Skeltersploitation, alleged home movies from The Ranch, doe-eyed, stoned, very poor actors playing Charlie, Tex, Sadie, etc. 16mm “Found” footage. This tries to capitalize on the urban legend that The Family made snuff films before the Tate-Labianca killings. This was exacerbated by Ed Sanders’ book The Family, which I have around here somewhere. Charlie sits in a circle with the other fakes. He drones on about Helter Skelter and the “Negro Uprising.” Sound pops.
And there was a short subject, Knowing Your Fellow Nudists. And a cartoon, “Dancin’ Demons.” We began an import post-apocalyptic revenge thriller, Bronx Kill Squad 2023, directed by “Eric Martin,”-really Enzo Santini, who made hundreds of film, none by his actual name-but it was too early, the pace too plodding to sustain us aloft. We decided not to give in. At Doug’s basement sink we splashed our faces with water. We high-fived and thrust our foreheads together. We’d make it through. If one fell the other would become their designated rescuer.
“Do you want to come back to my hotel room and watch this with me? Might be better if you don’t watch it alone, you never know.”
The polite wince on her face was the sign, the clear betrayal, that she knew he’d let himself become a yearning, messy, heartsick human being like those common others below the hill where she made a home. She unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door. She patted the Nasty, by itself in the backseat.
“Enjoy,” she told him.
Hey. “Hey!” She stopped while walking across the front lawn to her apartment house, half of which was covered in tarp and parasitic scaffolds for the sake of renovation.
She told him without having to speak: “No. Don’t. Let me go.”
He said, “Goodnight, Erin.”
She waved and disappeared between the folds and knotty contours of the haunted house. He didn’t drive away. One dim little light came on in the top left corner. Tree branches sloped across the window, Oz talons protecting her. Before he took off for the street that would eventually connect to a highway, her light blinked off, replaced by the slightest blue glow of a computer screen.
So what becomes of you my love?
Sabine hung herself, either in 1986 or ’85. The Nasty was the only thing she left behind, and even that is more myth than object. In my worst moments, those late-night depths of self-loathing and other Fun Shit, I wonder if I could ever be as brave as her, brave enough to debase myself doing something that gave me a cent of pleasure in one otherwise horrid life, brave enough to end that life when I felt it was time to do so. Unlike Sabine, I plan to carry on, but I can’t watch her anymore. I can’t be burdened with perpetuating her legacy in my lonely apartment anymore. I’m going to sell the tape. Not to the highest bidder, but to someone even more wretched than myself. Someone who needs her more than I do.
There’s a minute that I’ve watched countless times I’m surprised I haven’t wrecked the tape. It’s towards the end. She’s just finished blowing the dog, a Great Dane, and she masturbates it until the animal ejaculates on her tits. Sabine lets out a relieved, exhausted sigh (at least I think she does, the tape is silent) and lies back on the bed of hay. The dog shakes and runs off, probably to eat a long-promised post-coital treat. The camera should cut then. It stays rolling. It zooms into Sabine’s face. Her eyes are lodged deep inside a previous year. Her face is affectless, until she smiles wide, broadly happy, eyes stapled to the ceiling of the barn. Is she happy for now, for what just transpired? Or did she manage to successfully uproot a memory that was good and fine? A day of solitary rock climbing as a girl? A first kiss from a sturdy hitchhiking boy? I don’t know. The Nasty ends there. Once I froze the image at the exact moment her zombie smile pierces everything, pierces the zoophile loop that always holds her, pierces the room where a lost girl who hates herself is watching thirty years on. The bottom of the screen shook with a distorted strip of static tracking. I lay on the bed, pulling up the blanket and hugging my pillow. We didn’t take our eyes off each other. I watched Sabine’s ambivalent mirth until I passed out myself.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Jazz and Poetry are
Too good for me
I don’t deserve their
Monk and Crane
Told me a story
That I couldn’t hear
And could only
Through some pipe dream
Of Eno’s Faraway Beach
I felt nothing until
Or night rather
When they stoked the fires
Of my burdened consciousness
And brought me to
A version of life
Where a Blazing-Through reigned
Piano keys and Words
Relieved of their old emasculation
Chafing ears and air
I forgot to seal my gorging
You, undefined, are too good for me
You, a multitude of quarrels buried under wet skin
Don’t change don’t come
I saw you dancing to the jazz in my head
Was it dancing?
Or did you sleep
And not experience me
Rosalie moving blank
Her blushing ass mapping
The failed territory
Of all who sought surrender
You relieved him like sleep once did
You, his ticket to the Dunes
I gore through innocent pages the wound of your false interior
Your lip curls
When you’re aroused
And it also curls
When you know it’s bullshit
I’m in love with your choices
Even if they never led you
To my room
Your birthmark, Nellie
Rubbed off on the sheets
Of a bed rejecting treatment
Insisting only that your feet be clean For his mouth
The Popular Fiction Writer
The Popular Fiction Writer
Handled his narrative like taffy
On quadruple-spaced pages
To make sure his legions
Even if that meant
The sliver of a person
Had to go left
When she kept
Pressing at his brain
To permit her an alternative choice
He played golf
And briefly forgot
About the Mausoleum Of Thrills
He’d erected in every
Across the century
I wish I could
Take comfort in
His bloated body of works
I wish his series’
And his standalones
And his thrillers and romances
And calculations to a market
Were a constant in my life
And not translucent evidence
Of a problem
That divides me
From my fellow shoppers
They are smart
They don’t suffer
Because they know
He will always deliver
Like the load-bearing driver
Of a usable take
The Popular Fiction Writer
Doesn’t see what all the fuss is about
He was never going to write Ulysses
In the first place
And his books
Make people happy
So if you don’t like him
Read something else
I didn’t have the option
of picking a mate
like you did
from the stacks of waiting mates
you had whinnying, biting, caulked
at the fringe point of every little toe
Stacks and stacks
You fanciful alone
Yet all you had to do
was announce those magic words across Liberty smog
and the militia of the jaded goateed
would invade your sadness
which remains, still, even as
the victor hotly bites through your cheek
I have caskets
You have stacks
Dead connections trained
like dogs to perfect the limits
of my Dungeon
You ran from billions of winged Predators
Tried hiding in the grooves of promises faint
as dropped calls
and you also tried hiding
in the tower of simulated hate
with flickers stitched
In the ether
of women battered
to pillows of yarn
by men who killed their old names
if not themselves entirely
You reached into the stacks
and the first folder your hands caught
became the pillar where you lay
as “The Bad Thing” lost sleep
trying to find you again
I might have a shot away
but he will die with you
And both will be
I’m afraid of myself
Because I am a city
Where rule is lobbed to the introverts
And they transform a metropolis into a writing room
In my city
All prey naked
And each of my friends
Get overtaxed as punishment
For the crime of being thought Free
In the Northern Quadrant
Is a pixieish teenage girl
Chewing on her own pink hair
Staring at a computer screen
In a female nest otherwise Ketchum dark
Playing new music
A genre known as
Locus’d with bobbleheaded bass
Her panties dissolving like the LSD
On Madeline’s tongue
Passed to her
On the tidal crest
Of Judy’s tongue
At the outskirts
A prostitute called Zel
Addresses the robed Daemon:
“These conditions are unlivable,”
“Uptown the faggots don’t want love
and are left with nothing but
lubricating their bug stomachs.”
Stoking the fire with two decades’ baggage
Answers with the feline sound
Of Zel’s first orgasm
Self-inflicted, when she was twelve
And still answered to Rose
Losing patience, Zel says
“The black population is only accessible through their music
and the Jews through their books. And even you, Daemon,
who bleed cheap food and nonsensical follies
know that Left and Right factions have been dissolved
because they give unacceptably sterile Brain.
The price of living here
is to forfeit any desire for sunlight
because it has been usurped
by context. And the value
of human relationships is nullified
by a gerbil’s resentment
and the holy singing of maids
leaking from our adjacent republic.
“And it isn’t a kiss away like Mick said
but of a much extended roping distance
from me to you, which, as we know,
is a gulf subsumed into a cloud
of dense impossibility.
“Nothing is stable or sacred.
I’ve prophesized it
to the most minutely detailed arc.
Books can’t save us.
Money won’t save us, even if we could get it.
Time is a worm.
And I’ve never been happier in my life.”
I’m afraid of myself
Because my city is flammable
And I’ve lost me only match
My parents are engaged
In a conspiracy
To kill me
With implants of different
For many of life’s unfortunate handouts
They are trying to kill me
By turning off my dwelling’s heat
And by telling me I’m
Too bloated and then
By telling me
To pursue someone
And that paradoxically
That or that someone isn’t worth pursuing
They are trying to kill me
By giving me what I want
And not telling me
That it has to stop
They are trying to kill me
But don’t realize it
And would feel guilty if they did
And that’s why
I love them
She doesn’t know he’s awake
Until he feels her nude hip
As she props herself up
On the side of the bed
Nearest the window
Gazing at a wall of
They slept together for the first time
After an era of minor friendship
She, broken by a single man
Who isn’t this one, now stroking skin
A minute in time
That lock-stepped enough
To make their evening possible
They’ll fuck prolifically
Over the constant passage
Of the Sun
Rolling across the sky
Like a tire down a hill of Highway Blank
Never intending coupledom to leak
From her bed
And into their lives
They go places
Neither would have
With Adult Pink sabers
And tools that change
Of your adored and lonely face
They walk down the street
She hangs back
And then decides to lead
And is allowed to advance
As he trails close behind her
A strobelight is
Nothing but a wrench
I knew rapists
And abusers of women
Who fucked people
I wanted to fuck
And beat women
I wouldn’t have beaten
And murdered the spirits
Of decent people
And were sometimes defended
By great people
Who should have known better
Every night before I sleep
I wish I knew you now
The only thing we have in common
Is forest and fire
And the music of an era
You left behind
You seemed a member
Of the party
Who decided to leave
Without telling anyone else
Backing slowly out of the room
As the others fought on
Not realizing there was
One of them subtracted
I didn’t think about you
For several years
Until The Bad Thing
Started growing weeds in my brain
And I realized how
The unthinkable contingency
Could in fact
You were not the first
A family legacy
The family in question
Would rather not welcome
But everyone hopes
You’ll be the last
Each of us
In the lower generation
Has a private vision of you
Mine is of a woman who
Tragically became photographs
Until the end of time
I hear you linger
In the secret crying
of every guardian I've loved
And I’m left with
And eternal fascination
And Roth’s perpetual fear
Of a future where may exist
Of a day
Day when maybe
Thursday, October 25, 2012
"He’d lost his magic. The impulse was spent.”-Philip Roth, The Humbling
"We can still support each other, just as long as we avoid each other. Nothing wrong when a song ends in the minor key."-Fiona Apple, "Werewolf"
When a writer doesn’t complete something, is that splay of dripped wax and roadblocks worth any consideration?
My name is Judy and I’ve read your blog because of my boyfriend Eric. Ever since he found it through Google images, he’s been obsessed. He spends hours, sometimes days, pouring over your every word, and he’s even printed out those “eroticons” things and papered them all over our bedroom. If I can be frank, I think you’re an indulgent and rather tiresome writer who should probably spend more time in the sun, preferably with a book not written by Greil Marcus, but that’s just me.
(She goes on to ask me about something for her boyfriend, about a movie he saw on an illegal black porn box. I haven’t responded to her yet. I’m blocked. I haven’t been able to write any of the planned essays for the month of October. I’ve given myself a quota of one essay a month till the end of the year, and I’ve been burdened with the production of nothing. I’ve been voraciously reading and listening and getting back in the cinephile substratum. But every day that passes to the breach of November finds me unable to hack something out. Every time I see a keyboard, I don’t know what to do.)
A.M. A Short Story fragment.
I heard the door shake and crash and I knew it was her, despite realizing that that was also impossible. But it was her. Blond hair, red streaks, gnawed cuticles, eyes that refused to be augmented with emotional description, the body pervious to every vicissitude of gravity, the blinks of her eyes as rapid and frequent as the wings of a butterfly skating pursuit; the grey, grey skirt. I was engaged, however fitfully, in writing an essay about the new horror anthology film V/H/S. I had the television going as ambience but its ambience was quickly becoming the central gravitational suck of the room’s contents. She wore a black hoodie and both hands were deep in the pouches. I heard keys clinking, the set from the apartment of whichever friend she was staying with on this particular visit.
“Stop writing about me,” she said. “You’re doing it now, at this very second, aren’t you?”
Of course I was, when I could bring myself to actually bleed out words. To clarify: I was using routines on some of the film’s thematic definites as a smokescreen to really write about what had happened between the two of us months ago. I had employed that same tactic in 90 (really 95) % of all the articles I had produced for this feed, which was originally going to be a collaboration between us until I lost my mind about her.
She was hip to being frequently coded. But I maintained ignorance. “I’ve never written about you, Taylor.” No matter, she had brought a list, scribbled in longhand, of all my secret offenses. She produced and unfurled it. As she read them I thought of the land outside the house not as moist and vegetated but entirely flat, yellow tinting yellow, and suffering the kind of drought we associate with deserts:
(Reads from my review of the obscure porn film and founding “Sleazer” Holly In The Forest (1977). I locate her in the splotchy film stock and the endless dirge of rape and incest. I shouldn’t be doing this.)
“I’ve tried for years to think of myself in the third person. ‘She should get something to eat.’ ‘She thought about taking a shower, but first she would check her phone.’ Now that I’ve seen you so fragrantly write about me in the third person past, present, and future tense, on a site that isn’t, but could theoretically, be seen by anybody in the world, I don’t want to be trapped in the literary at all.”
“I didn’t think you would read it.”
“I wasn’t going to, but after a few months I gave in. How could I not? It was such a great idea and I was looking forward so much to contributing. You had posted so much, I enjoyed it until I was terrified by it. There’s so much I was looking forward to getting out there, so many thoughts I wanted to unplug.”
“I asked you if you still wanted to do it, remember? It was only a short time ago. I told you about the small but idiosyncratic readership I had obtained, a list of names both known and not known but still minds as vital as those known, and as I waited for you to write back I heard a ding of mobile muzak outside my house. It was an ice cream truck. A little early, I thought, because it was still March, yet it slowed down in front of my house even before the driver knew I was outside. I walked up to it and ordered, and even paid, but instead of a Screwball I was given a summons, I got served. It was a restraining order against me, even though you weren’t even in the state anymore!” I only then saw the backpack peeking out from behind her face.
“That was Monty’s idea. We had just moved in together and I threw my hands up when I saw your message and the words ‘You and I.’ Before I could read the rest of it he started rubbing my shoulders and said, ‘just block and unfriend that lunatic.’ So I did. But it wasn’t enough for him. Look, Monty is good for me. He keeps regular hours, he shakes his head when I show him Sleazers, mystified by them but tolerant of my odder peccadilloes. He doesn’t mush, he isn’t like me like you are, except you’re all the portions of me I successfully killed years ago. He’s studying to pass the bar in a year, he doesn’t let things consume him, yet he couldn’t get over the idea that you had upset me so much. So he decided to take legal action.”
“Action you’re violating now.”
“He doesn’t know I’m here, now, obviously. And I don’t want to be here. I just came to warn you that if I see anything else referring to me, or the person you imagine is me (who is so fucking far from who actually am it’s comical) I’ll have your website, your website, erased completely from the internet.”
“You can do that?”
“God yes. Monty’s brother Marty is a hacker to beat the band. I’ve never used that expression before, yet it fits here. He’ll torpedo your blog till its dust.”
Somewhere I thought I heard an upstairs door slam, but it could have just been a mental ricochet.
In my extended prostration I couldn’t even finish film capsules which I could do hand tied/blindfolded in my cummy university days. From the lab:
The Turin Horse: Two overwrought moments, both dialogue heavy (late voice over and a peasant’s lament) are the only fumbles in the great, intimidating Bela Tarr’s alleged final feature, giving unnecessary verbiage to the physically parched landscape already brought to deathly life by Tarr’s imagery. Other than Steven Spielberg, no living director has a greater sense for camera placement and movement.
Keyhole: This Noir-As-Id jumble is the first Guy Maddin film I’ve seriously disliked. It’s an especially dispiriting misfire after the amazing Brand Upon The Brain! and My Winnipeg…the incoherent fails to cohere.
“You’ve never met Monty,” Taylor continued, sitting on my couch with the majority of her self leaning off so that I would know she wasn’t relaxed or inching towards future relaxation in this bubble of space. “So you have no right to bring him into your rambling, apolitical, unfocused, purple, irrelevant output. I see when he’s crept in there. Nobody from any Sleazer bears traces of my boyfriend, you untalented fucker! [Taking out another slice of paper from the deep canyons of her hoodie’s pockets:] Larry the rapist sickens because he recalls so many smug, slick white dudes of collegiate privilege, girlfriends automatically theirs, Facebook profile pictures oh so the opposite of brooding in some already-filled interior apartment cave. Look at their eyes. Beyond the camera flash on their glasses, under detached eyeball and bend of brow, there is contentment, which will never produce immortality. You should know I took that picture of him, and it was just the two of us, and you don’t know that he hasn’t suffered, just because he has income and doesn’t think of faux-profound things to say about dirty movies like you, such a pure, tormented artist, just because he has a life and doesn’t drench himself over desired mates like a shower of sewage…he said you’re ‘unreadable.’ I agree.”
“Jesus Christ, then don’t read me.”
More shuffling in her deep pockets. I pictured keys. I pictured Mr. Bill hidden in there. I pictured shards of glass edged with her blood. (Nobody will care about this but me. I should cut it out.)
“We’re going on our first trip together. To London. We’ll be arriving at Heathrow two days from now at 14:00 or however it goes. It’s going to be a break of total serenity for my body and mind. A break from what seemed like eons of anxiety and depression, which shouldn’t have stayed there after Monty and I hooked up but which did because of what you wrote. You can’t call what you do ‘essays.’ Only things. Objects of little worth. Things. What’s your next thing about, Hal?”
“The movie V/H/S. I think we talked about it once, before you hated me.”
“I actually saw it with Monty. His HD television is so beautiful I frequently get a form of Stendhal Syndrome watching movies on it. Not that I caught too much of V/H/S with what we were doing, what he was doing to me…”
“No part of you wanted him to spot mauling you so you could absorb something you knew you’d love?”
“So you don’t deny that you were writing about him, or some warped vision you had of him?”
“Can you please leave me alone?”
“Not until I have some kind of written or verbal crimson proof that I won’t lose sleep in the UK knowing that you’re out beyond the telephone wires exorcising me, us.”
“Part of the initial agreement was that writing this project together would be an experiment of sorts, to see what was stuck inside both of our psyches, and dislodge that material. Only the minimal amount of necessary correction, enough to tweak semi-automatic writing into something slightly more presentable. You remember that, from our Declaration Of Intent?”
“That was rendered nothing when you lost your shit. But I don’t want to plow that ground again. It’s just what you want.”
The whole time she was sitting, Taylor had been nervously rapping the tips of her unpainted nails against the hard, dustcoverless front of William T. Vollmann’s The Valley Dogs, a recently published work, in progress from the time its author was ten years old. I didn’t think I would get much father into it than the two hundred and fifty pages I had already crossed. Vollmann might be preferable in excerpts or small doses, I sometimes thought, though I would have to read more to be sure. Maybe sometimes it’s best for the uncontainable to be contained, the vastness beyond bottled excellence a monster to be imagined and feared, like a Val Lewton creature, the shadow more frightening than the sight. At any rate, it went over 3000 pages and weighed roughly the same as a cement block holding up the patriarchal cabin young Daria explodes with her mind at the close of Zabriskie Point.
(The story ends with that boyfriend trying to kill me-remember that noise I heard, that was some taciturn embroidering!-and then me braining him with that nonexistent Vollmann book and then Taylor cuts my throat but instead of just killing me her own throat opens like a heart pulled kitelike into his arms. I should read less Marcus yes but also less underground horror. What happens to fictional characters or even thinly disguised characters snatched subjectively from life when they are abandoned by their author? Taylor doesn’t have to hate this hateful blogger anymore. They can have a smoke together in the undercountry in my mind and go back into the ether to audition for other typing tortured’s.)
This Is Not A Film: If you could tell a film, why make it? This is the question Iranian director Jafar Panahi is forced to contemplate while facing 6 years in prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking. Smuggled into Cannes through a pastry, this documentary is clandestine, nervous, and, ironically, the best movie of Panahi’s I’ve seen.
The Dark Knight Rises: Finally, Christopher Nolan has successfully merged his wellsprings of darkness to his masked persona of the mainstream popcorner he had to become in order to give us his vision of Batman. Attempts at humor and crowd work, previously cumbersome in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, are genuinely fleet footed here, as banter between a hunched, reclusive Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (who socially climbs as far as she can steal) melts with agitated sexuality. The Dark Knight Rises is a horror film, and while I’ve overheard some movie children refer to Nolan’s politics as “inconsistent,” it must be stressed this isn’t a political film, and the equally noxious behavior of the rulers and the ruled is, more than anything, fiendishly complex. While the ’08 movie positioned Batman as grey and fallible, Nolan’s concluding film resurrects him to a state of pure good despite the masochism inherent in his character and return to Batman. In Wayne’s self-exile and forced banishment to the most hopeless prison in many a film, Bruce/Batman reclaims his stripes as unvarnished bright knight, giving his struggle against the unfairly matched opponent Bane (grimly excellent Tom Hardy) an elegiac finality. Nolan has improved his technique-he can finally shoot action-and though he does integrate flashbacks awkwardly, the resources amassed by success afford bottoming out of a previously unrecalled scope.
(I tried to write about music and failed.)
There’s an object. An album. Its title is “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw, And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.” The illustrations both within and without run the gamut from self-portrait quirk to an intricately disturbing hybrid of warped self-perception and under-the-mud sketch digging. The packaging (cover/liner notes/penmanship) is all the work of one woman. The music comes from her too. There’s only the most Didion-spare arrangements thrumming around her voice, a voice that can be as small and fragile as a pebble and as harmfully destructive as a meteorite, often in the same verse.
Fiona Apple gives when she feels like giving. Everything about Whipping Cords is nothing less than a personal offering of selective anguish, joy-through-creation, femaleness, Fionaness.
(I began an essay about an indie filmmaker I admired that refused to maintain its initial traction:)
Watch Joe Swanberg’s 2009 release Alexander The Last, with its unexpected darkness and sense of queasy possibility, and try not to think how one day he could make a great horror film. Not genre, but horror, the same way Jacques Rivette’s L’Amor Fu, Jean Eustasche’s The Mother And The Whore and Robert Altman’s Images are horror movies without relegation to a filing system. Alexander, like those masterpieces, is about people who don’t know who they are. Swanberg’s signiture, personal filmmaking style-brief pockets of scenes, sneakily austere compositions, an unconventional coherency in the balance of intimate relations and ellipses-melded with a newfound complexity in sound design and music, resembling Altman’s collaboration with John Williams for Images. His follow-up, the excellent Uncle Kent, downplayed this burgeoning dread with its study of an affable, 40-year-old animator (Kent Osbourne) who is just that, an uncle, platonic safety, to a female friend he meets on Chat Roulette. Yet there was a genuine discomfort and sadness in his attempts to make physical contact with her during an ostensible threesome with a woman they pick up on Craigslist. Wherever Swanberg was going, it was clear that you might not want to follow him to his dark destination if you weren't prepared and likeminded.
(Maybe Judy’s harsh assessment got under my skin after all. Taylor's too.)
(So I tried plowing old ground. I don’t know where I was going with this and it dies on the vine:)
The only video store left in town might be the only business in the state to continue selling VHS tapes in 2012 beyond the roadside thrifts. When I was a teenager I thought with a tunnel’s exclusion that seeing every movie there was paramount to some undefined accomplishment. Before that I knew about more movies than I had actually seen, and I would have these self-contained globules of the movies I thought the tapes contained. They were in a faster motion than a typical VCR could handle. Imagine zipping through an .avi file in a VCL player, the movie collapsing in on itself, scenes taffyfied and over before they ever began. I wish I could have closed my eyes and just imagined a feature-length Nightmare On Elm Street or Nashville before the movies themselves were in my frame of reference but no, it was these flashes of movies, a bravely imagined essence, like when you first meet someone you find physically attractive and try encapsulating all they could be, what every private moment and cruelly embedded demon could have produced in the frame standing before you there, in possession of a slight smile.
Being with other people in any capacity (social, sexual, the healthily rationed familial) is obviously better for you than watching a conveyer belt of movies, but that doesn’t mean the entry into any kind of community or relationship is as overwhelmingly tempting. I could, and I have, done nothing but watch movies for days. I’m built for it, and most of my friends are too. At this point in my life I listen to more music because the physical lushness it gives me is an enormously satisfying sensation, hard won after years of ignoring the medium, and right now at least the act of contextualizing musicians and discographies is a lot more thrilling than I ever expected it to be. But when the cinephile bug hits, I’m feverish. Nothing non other-human-being related can quite match the lift you get when a great movie has taken you up into its allegorical mothership. Now, when I’m reading a book I love I think that nothing beats books; when I have an album going I think nothing trumps music; when I’m writing, it may be a royal pain in the ass but I feel like I’m doing what I was always meant to do. None of these enthusiasms come near to that moment when I’m deep in a film.
In her essay “The Aesthetics Of Silence,” Susan Sontag writes of the aura certain bodies of work attain when their creators (Rimbaud, etc) abandon the craft and live other ways. In the ravenous siege of total seeing, it might be valuable to hold off on certain movies and try to imagine what they could be. The actual Nashvilles and Chinatowns were infinitely superior to whatever I conceived, but in a town of two family operated video stores I saw hundreds of movies, Motorpsycho devil horrors from the UK and American horror indies like Truth Or Dare: A Critical Madness (now a sandcastle in high tide when it comes to availability) that couldn’t match the ornate dungeons I had built in anticipation to what their respective squares offered to the possibilities of their content. I would have been better off just closing my eyes and setting a stopwatch for ninety minutes and playing my versions in projected brainspools.
(Then I thought, how about Philip Roth? I don't write about books nearly enough:)
Annually they came, little books he called “Short Novels.” They were condensed narratives that could span an entire lifetime or one miserable year. Many critics didn’t know what to make of them. Lifelong fans like the late Christopher Hitchens were accusing Roth of losing his touch and succumbing to authorial senility. 2006 was Everyman, 2007 Exit Ghost, 2008 Indignation, 2009 The Humbling. By 2010’s Nemesis he revealed the strategy. The books from ’06, ’08, ’09 and 10 were linked in his front-page bibliography as “Nemeses: Short Novels” (Ghost, featuring longtime character/avatar Nathan Zuckerman, was placed in the “Zuckerman Books” category). Roth’s momentous canonization was proof to those following his output that these books, similar in their tonal despair, were part of a series, short novels combining to form a single novel with disparate chapters and one humbled soul.
The Nemeses are sickness, disease, the changed minds of other people, fate doused with irrevocable cruelty. Each male protagonist is left, to quote a final line from Everyman, “freed from being.” Roth didn’t offer much levity while being interviewed, reflecting on his mortality (he wants to reread all the great books “before I die”), the death of literacy (“with all these screens, the book couldn’t measure up”) and his strenuous writing life (“you’re always an amateur”). One could visualize The Master holed up in his Connecticut writing studio, making these mournful books. For young writers in similarly remote locations, it was a great temptation to emulate his work ethic. 2008-when the final two novels in the Nemeses canon were announced-was quite a heady time for young artists interested in writing and Roth. It might be possible to write and imagine oneself in sync with him also writing miles away. Was what you two produced in tandem anything identical, if not in form than in similarly autumnal content?
(Mind changed enough by that one sentence, as if it were a lillypad pulled underwater inch by inch by evil fingers, I desperately started another short story, another riff on the real-life shit that inspired the far above fragment. Alas, this too proved another interrupted exorcism. Reagan would have to vandalize her chest some more:)
He caught her post on the bottom of Page 5 as he scrolled through the messageboard. He was about to click off to another tab when he saw it. DOES ANYBODY KNOW IF BRAD HARVEST IS DEAD OR NOT!?!!? He had just watched a movie with Harvest a few days earlier. He was pretty much obsessed with him at the time he became aware of her.
So I’ve seen like 7 brad harvest movies by now. God, I love him. I can’t find out anywhere if he’s alive or dead. On IMDB his last movie was 1994. WTF? He rules, does anyone know? Tnx (or Thanks), rebeca.
A few responses, all conjecture. Harvest could be living in Toronto. He might have contracted AIDS and died. Guy didn’t know either. The Harvest film he’d just seen was from the late eighties, shot on videotape, with a gaunt, wirey Harvest only appearing in one memorable scene, verbally humiliating Cassandra Bowden, making her cry. The mascara rained blackly down her face.
Rebeca left her Email address and Guy sent her an outreach of friendship. He didn’t know either, but he shared the passion for Brad Harvest, a footnote inside a footnote.
(The urge to keep writing about fake people based on real people, something that had malignantly sustained him throughout his life, was again trumped by the healthier distraction of interacting again with real people. He wrote a frenzied gash of thoughts to a friend of his during an E-mail back-and-forth concerning dark matters.)
I’ve been thinking about the things that actually disturb me in art and it seems to be a melancholy that grows into outright horror. That’s why Cutting Moments [an independent horror film about an unhappy housewife who randomly mutilates herself] is so severely affecting, because it’s already pocked with sadness before the horrific events begin. This sadness makes the horror doubly visceral. Think about it: there aren’t very many horror novels/stories/films that are sad, almost because of human courteously (most people couldn’t handle it).
On LaBute/DFW/Cheever/Updike/Roth: there’s a notion, a category I made up a few years ago called a “human thriller.” Basically a work of suspense that has nothing to do with typical suspense elements and everything to do with the fragility of a human heart. It’s all over LaBute, especially in Company but also in his plays (which get better and better the worse his films become). The seeds for my “human thriller” idea were probably planted when I was nearing the end of Infinite Jest and there’s that searing passage when a bedridden Gately realizes that he has feelings for PGOAT and yet can never act on them. I was haunted by the women in that book because they were heroines fighting like fairy tale characters against their own abyss. Updike wrote most powerfully for me when he delineated couples whose love was also infected with finality. And I don’t know if you’ve read Roth’s “Nemeses” novels (Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, Nemesis) but his compression enhances the “irrational human cruelty,” especially in The Humbling, which was little loved but another example of the “Human thriller.”
Addressing other points (my brain was caterwauling)
1: I’ve done a heavy amount of driving at night, creating a nocturnal community that I think only existed in my head. But the location is pregnant with potential. August Underground’s driving scenes were so carefully modulated by Vogel, and there are more of them than basement scenes because (I think) he’s commenting on the aimlessness, the BOREDOM, surrounding strands of true horror. When I think of the road I think of truck stops, chip bags, rubbing one out on a vast empty highway, the John Tesh radio show, raindrops on windshields, loneliness. (there’s a fair collection of LaBute plays set in cars called Autobahn)
2: Self destruction and irrevocable decisions are two things I’ve thought about a lot lately (primarily because I’ve spent X amount of years doing plenty of both). As a kid I would think about throwing a beloved toy out the car window on the freeway and I specifically remember clutching the toy tightly because that impulse was there. Human beings are fucking mysterious. That isn’t an easy thing to come to terms with. (NOTE: I love slasher movies with cut-up coeds, but I’ve never actually been scared by one. Words can barely describe how I felt during the opening of August Underground. I truly felt violated because the woman’s violation had been so bottomlessly communicated.)
3: So much of life pools into these episodes we experience of mouth-agape dismay and an ultimate overlord caving in. I like art that tries to replicate this. I’m not talking about cheap/easy nihilism but the evocation of an unavoidable horror (within the mind or without) that inevitably rules the narrative. We’re trying to advance and we’re humbled, could be from our own heads or from an interpersonal web where we realize we’ve entrusted the worst person with the burden of our happiness.
Gore for its own sake is a cartoon, of course. Gore that flows from dismay and genuine human horror is another matter. I agree that throwing taboo after taboo on a story like kindling wouldn’t equal out to much. But something intimate and absolutely inevitable and unflinching could be thrilling to explore. There’s also a no-net sensation I get from two or three people alone in a room (like in Leonard Cohen and so much Roth).
(I moved on, leaving these half-sculpted pieces to their incomplete beauty. I love them as much as the things I’ve actually pulled off. I don’t know what I’m going to write about now. While compiling this I received another E-mail from her:)
Your work is a car accident I see from my computer. Can’t/look/away. You will go deeper inside yourself, and by the time you’ve realized how far gone you’ve gone it will be too late.