Archive for November, 2006

John Friedrich

John Friedrich in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), The Wanderers (1979) and The Final Terror (1983)

With idiosyncratic roles in sub-iconic fare like The Boy In the Plastic Bubble (1976), The Death of Richie (1977), In the Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan (1977), Thank God It’s Friday (1978), The Wanderers (1979) and The Final Terror (1983) - John Friedrich spent most of his career on screen playing characters that you naturally assumed would have developed a thick skin and tough exterior because of their prickly life situation - but for some reason hadn’t. His portrayals were often brassy and smart aleck-y in vain, and became uniquely endearing. Because of his somewhat kooky physical persona and the unmistakably barmy look in his eyes, he often played the oddball even within an ensemble cast of oddballs. His face was child-like, with smiling eyes that seemed to front a mischievous, unruly brain. Watching him was like observing a child that, upon reflection, you suddenly realize might one day grow up to be a criminal. His undeniably handsome visage had an alluring, weird warp right through the center - a combination of elements that pin-pointed your attention whenever he was on screen (the mix of gawk and lust is a very rare but potent screen presence). Friedrich never afforded starring roles, even though he obviously possessed the skill, intuition and range to pull one off. Even at a film’s center, he existed within a “sidekick” capacity. When playing a self-reliant solo flyer, he was often typecast “attached” as someone’s googly-eyed younger brother, accident-prone boyfriend, or adorable gamin. His characters would often spend the first half of the story swinging between comic physical acting and heartfelt frustrations, which would build to an emotional “reveal” two-thirds of the way through, proving his character had more depth than what was portrayed before that moment, and letting the other characters in on what was already obvious to the viewer.

Friedrich had a large handful of screen roles from the mid-1970’s to the early 80’s, in which his career made the gradual arc from American network television shows, to feature films.

His first real role was the incest-y, Lana Turner vehicle Bittersweet Love (1976), playing one of the protagonist’s camera-happy younger brothers, who accidentally snaps the backs of wedding guest’s heads with a polaroid camera during a lengthy ceremony.

In 1976, Friedrich landed the role of Roy Slater in the highly viewed and devotedly recollected TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, which starred John Travolta as Tod Lubitch. The film has survived in reputation largely because of it’s camp qualities, but much of it is surprisingly effective and touching when viewed today. Friedrich’s character appears in one large scene, bunking right next to Travolta in an identical air-tight hospital room while undergoing chemotherapy treatment (sans the hair loss) for a brain tumor, which weakens his immunities much like Lubitch’s. It is the only time in the picture another character who shares Lubitch’s condition is portrayed. Friedrich initially plays it as casually desperate, then switches gears into a goofy, high-voiced alternative to Travolta’s thick-lipped brood. While riding exercise bikes next to each other on opposite sides of a plexiglass wall, Travolta eventually opens up about his frustrations with girls as Friedrich won’t shut up about his pullulating sex drive. And in a notorious scene (for 1970’s network television at least), he admits to Travolta with a shit-eating grin that he masturbates “…all the time!” Much like one or two of the leads in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Friedrich is able to flesh out a believable character amongst all the cardboard surroundings, but he’s also able to do it with only about 12 lines and five minutes.

Friedrich continued as a teenager in television, with character parts on episodes of established 70’s fare like Baretta (in one prison bus hijacking episode, he played a character named Cornflakes) and The Streets of San Francisco.

TV movies based on true stories seemed to be a specialty for Friedrich in the beginning; who soon appeared in the wacked-out drug scare propaganda movie The Death of Richie (1977), and later played the brother of a girl who had lapsed into coma in In the Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan (1977). He also appeared as a repressed, maladroit drama club hopeful in the Judy Blume-sourced TV movie Forever (1978). That same year, Friedrich landed a costarring role on the big screen in the underrated “identity-crisis-in-never-never-land” school election drama Almost Summer (1978). All of these films are very much under the radar in today’s retro-crazed, past-plundering entertainment markets (sans Boy in the Bubble), and I would recommend any of them for lovers of fun, off-perimeter 70’s stuff (particularly the luridly tragic and psychedelic Death of Richie). Appropriately, Friedrich then appeared again on the big screen as one half of a twenty-thumbed, nearsighted, rhythmically challenged duo who comically stumble around a disco in the fad-tastic Thank God It’s Friday (1978).

In one of his most-seen roles, Friedrich then costarred in Philip Kaufman’s highly anticipated film adaptation of the gritty Richard Prince novel The Wanderers (1979). He played the character Joey; a wide-eyed, artistically inclined gang member with an accentuated street vernacular who acts as little brother type to another member of the gang (if not all of them). Joey is constantly trying to prove himself, often to comical effect - and obviously searching amongst the streets as he repeatedly becomes the brunt of the other gang member’s pranks, or getting teased for appearing wandering-eyed around a female who’s present at a game of strip poker. Despite the subject matter, many aspects of The Wanderers are even more cartoonish than The Warriors (if that’s possible), a film which it is often compared to. The feel of the picture is “50’s concrete jungle,” but often overly surreal. Friedrich, exhibiting his usual screen characteristics, is costumed here in super-tight jeans and an angular D.A. hairstyle - at times resembles Howdy Doody in Sha Na Na drag. His portrayal of the streetwise, slapstick (and clearly heterosexual) Joey is almost effeminate - especially when he’s laying on the floor in his living room, painting a homemade football mural with obsessive flair and his gorilla-like father shoots a disapproving glare. Joey rides off at the end with one of the other gang members, to spend their lives together in California (the book contained a fair amount of clouded homosexual sub-content, which was toned down in the film).

Friedrich then had a large part in the Harvard-esque, 60’s radical ménage-à-trios teaser A Small Circle of Friends (1980), playing nearly three separate personas. His character, Haddox, begins the film as a bumbling, Klark Kent-style Texan newbie during his freshman year at college. He eventually grows a lot of hair as he transforms completely, into a viciously uncompromising political activist. By film’s end he’s cloistered in the guncotton hideaway of a Weather Underground-type terrorist organization, ranked as the group’s ghoulishly up-beat leader (and his last line in the film is a clincher).

One of his most famous roles, at least popularity-wise, was that of Frank Cleary in the universally obsessed-over and widely seen 1983 TV miniseries/novel adaptation of The Thorn Birds.

Almost immediately after, in what would be his last film performance, Friedrich played the motley character Zorich in the Samuel Arkoff-produced 80’s slasher film The Final Terror (1983). Zorich was an inordinately macho, military-minded, forest survivalist-type with a backwoods accent and a penchant for psychedelic drugs. Friedrich’s menacing/goofball portrayal is weirdly one of his most serious roles, and stands out from the rest of the cast, who were reduced to cookie-cutter performances as per usual for horror films of that time (although many in the cast went on to have broader careers; Rachal Ward, Daryl Hannah, Adrian Zmed). The film is categorically “bad” but indeed very interesting, and Friedrich’s mysterious performance is undoubtedly one of the factors that drags it over that edge. More timberland atmosphere than splattering gore (and only one gratuitous sex scene!), The Final Terror has developed a small cult following amongst fans of 70’s and 80’s horror flicks for it’s unique qualities within the genre (a victim of multi-regional marketing, the film also ended up with a pick-a-card roster of official and unofficial titles: A Bump In the Night, Campsite Massacre, Carnivore, The Creeper, Forest Primeval). The movie has a really odd ending, in which the entire cast is saved from the killer (who’s some kind of mossy forest hag with a twisted Oedipus complex) by one of Zorich’s elaborate, psychedelic mushroom-inspired survivalist killer “traps” made out of trees and rope - which he had been working on in private while they had been packing mud on their faces and sticking branches in their hair in a comically vain attempt to fool the murderer.

After The Final Terror, Friedrich seemed to drop out of acting, and into thin air. All filmographies for him list The Final Terror as his last project, and no information seems to exist about what he has done in the entertainment industry since (or even before his career began). Small pockets of discussion on the internet, at film listing websites and message boards, occasionally discuss his whereabouts with the usual transitory hearsay and gossip that the internet specializes in. Theories range from the practical (he became a surgeon) to the bizarre (he became Ken Wahl’s live-in gardener). There is a notorious and long-since dead Australian criminal also named John Friedrich, that at least one official actor listing site (Answers.com) has confused him with (when I first saw this, I popped my eyes back in my head as soon as I realized it was a digital goof). It’s almost shocking that the consummate John Friedrich stopped working in film. Whatever happened to this magnetic thespian individualist? Why did his filmography evaporate at the 1983 marker point? What halted the momentum? As it stands now, he becomes his own answer to the phrase “…what ever happened to?”

UPDATE: John Friedrich has been found. See here, here and the current comments section on his page at imdb.com.

(John Friedrich at imdb.com)

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This is part two of my “Actors Who Have Fallen Off The Face Of The Earth? series, where I write about un-discussed actors who have had relatively hidden careers in cinema (ranging from very brief to just one film) and have then literally vanished, for whatever reason - untraceable by imdb.com, Google, etc.

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Thomas Haustein

Thomas Haustein
Thomas Haustein costarred in Christiane F., a stylish heroin-scare film released out of Germany in 1981. His rather large portrayal of the character Detlev was his first and last film performance.

Directed by Uli Edel (who later went on to direct Last Exit To Brooklyn), the film was based on the life of the very real Vera Christiane Felscherinow (aka: Christiane F.), who became a heroin addict and prostitute in Berlin by the age of 14. Her uncovered existence became a public sensation due to several human interest stories written about her in Stern magazine in the mid 1970’s. These expanded into a best-selling book, which was transcribed from her own tape-recordings about her life during that period.

The German title of the film is Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (Children of the Bahnhof Zoo), and refers to the much glamorized Bahnhof Zoo rail station in Berlin (in the 70’s and 80’s, the rear wing of the station was a controversial crossroads for prostitutes, junkies and teen runaways). Director Edel reportedly followed the book very closely during the creation of the film, which was basically non-fiction. Still, the story obviously maintains the aura of an anti-fairy tale; little children trading the warm hearth of home for the deep dark woods, only to loose their souls in the snow.

Considering everything that’s happened in culture since 1981, today Christiane F. could be shelved right at home amidst innumerable carbon copies. But at the time of it’s release, it was a stand-out ground-breaker in it’s own right. The picture’s subjects had been addressed in cinema before, just perhaps not in this particular style (lots and lots of style!) And it’s style is what wins out: if you like urgent films about gorgeous youths glamorously grasping straws in a whirlpool-ing modern world drowned in crime and doom - then this film will be like a gooey teddy bear to you. Christiane F.’s surface sheen overreaches the griminess (though the needle scenes are still hard to watch). It’s picturesque cinematography and zonked-out pace mix well with an appropriately impassioned score. The soundtrack features tracks by David Bowie (who makes a brief concert appearance) pulled from and reminiscent of his moody, krautrock-y work on Heroes and Low, which were assisted by a then ambient-mad Brian Eno. And it doesn’t hurt of course that the picture was filmed in Berlin, one of the most romantically oppidan places in the world, a location that’s pavement and neon seem perpetually cast in the golden blue bask of dusk.

The part of Christiane was played by German actress Natja Brunckhorst (cast out of 2,000 girls), who gave a much-celebrated portrayal of the story’s “Little Bo Peep drunk in the streets.” She was only fourteen when the film was made, and judging by the pubescent facial hair growth on his face (viewable in close detail on the DVD), German actor Thomas Haustein was probably around the same age when he costarred as Detlev, her troubled, topsy-turvy love interest.

The magnetic Haustein gives a somewhat anemic performance in the film’s first half (the film’s weird vocal dubbing, even in the German version, doesn’t really help get things off to a great start). In his first initial scene, when he is offering Christiane some paper napkins while she is throwing up against a tree, Haustein seems unable to decide what to do with any part of his body that isn’t in play. Most actors don’t know what to do with their hands in awkward sequences, Haustein doesn’t seem to know what to do with his eyeballs, which often nonsensically look up and down again and again in much of his initial screen-time. But this is an inadequacy he is able to gracefully sidestep due to his ephebic beauty. In a few electric moments, Haustein does nothing but lean against a wall and brood at someone, like a painting. Gorgeous youths often (but not always) have the upper hand in hoodwinking audiences with stiff performances, where lack of acting skill literally melts into the background of their physical appearance, which commands an intense visual lock. This phenomenon can often be contrasted in relief against older skilled actors, who might labor away on-screen while young beauties so casually and cruelly command the spotlight. Christiane F. has no significant adult actors, and even the few who appear have little story importance.

But, something shifts in Haustein’s performance halfway through the film, and it becomes quite good (could the film have been shot in sequence, allowing him to warm up along the way?) He often becomes angry at Christiane, his puppy dog eyes squinting as he screams at her about the disrespectibility of her giving men blow jobs for money while simultaneously preparing his works, his voice echoing inside a public bathroom stall scribbled with graffiti drawings of squirting penises and dirty German limericks. For much of the film’s last quarter, he’s prancing jittery-ly around the megalopolis in tight jeans, boots with heels, and a makeshift ascot made from a torn t-shirt - scowling as he searches for drugs, his face rapidly fluctuating into a cherub whenever a potential john comes within view. The scene where a convulsing, underwear-clad Haustein is sweatily attempting to cut their last desperate dose, focused and oblivious as Christiane spews a fountain red wine vomit all around him like a sprinkler, is a real keeper.

Considering his apparent age at the time, his performance is actually rather remarkable, and brave. The portrayal is homoerotic by frame one, which only solidifies throughout the plot as he confesses to Christiane one morning in bed that he hustles for male clients. This reaches a climax when his relationship with Christiane (where his true heart lies) is torn by a monster-faced, wealthy male john who exploits his addiction and lures him into a permanent live-in house boy situation - portrayed intransigently at film’s end.

Thomas Haustein’s filmography begins and ends with Christiane F., according to all reliable sources. In interviews with cast members and those involved with the film (as recently as 2001), when asked about Haustein - they always reply that they have no idea what ever happened to him.

H.

This is part one of my “Actors Who Have Fallen Off The Face Of The Earth? series, where I write about un-discussed actors who have had relatively hidden careers in cinema (ranging from very brief to just one film) and have then literally vanished, for whatever reason - untraceable by imdb.com, Google, etc.

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Skate Bording Girls


Perhaps the greatest film ever made.

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Man lived in young


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Sharon Stone in Scissors (1991)

If having the camera make love to you is the key to becoming the next Marilyn Monroe, then someone ought to arrest the camera used in Scissors for the rape of a minor. Minor talent! As has been discussed ad nauseam, Sharon Stone does have mesmerizing screen presence. But so does a hypnotist who’s trying to help you stop wetting the bed.

Having the camera kiss and fondle and lick your butt for viewers’ eyeballs is only the half the battle - any acting legend will tell you that! Screen presence is the you’ve-got-their-attention half. You have to fill-in the other half with shrewd acting skill, it’s a precarious balancing act that few can do, but the combination is the whole pie! The really great screen actors are able to do both; quite literally have their cake and eat it too, as it were. Unfortunately in Frank De Felitta’s 1991 film Scissors, Sharon Stone gobbles in vain. For Stone, Scissors was the next to the last cinematic log jam in a long river of movie doo doo that she drifted down until she finally washed it all off by snatching the public’s attention with an inarguably dazzling performance in Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 thriller Basic Instinct.

And Scissors is a psychological thriller that would get an inarguable diagnosis from a psychoanalyst: narcolepsy! Watching the picture is like gazing into a kaleidoscope of regret. Stone explores, discovers and exploits whole new ways of “bad” acting - you might say she’s a “bad acting” entrepreneur! And you know what? YOU’RE FIRED! She slogs through this cruel cinematic diorama without the rubber boots of thespian panache that other sensible actors would wear.

Her character, the ingeniously named Angie Anderson, is a drop dead gorgeous spinster who lives in an indescript city and spends most of her time hidden in her Ikea-prison of an apartment, freaking out about neurotic things which seem triggered by mysterious events she suffered through as a child through a foggy, warbling lens filter.

What’s that Sharon? We can’t understand you’re saying in that Snuggles the Bear-voice! What are you cackling about as you’re wrapped up in a blanket in your bedroom all alone? You were raped by a bald man with a big red beard as a child? Oh wait, he didn’t rape you with the beard, he had a red beard. Got it. Oh, and now all bald men who have red beards cause you to say “Oh my GOD!” (see picture below) when you’re introduced to them at cocktail parties and run away from them all screaming nutzoid-shouty-crackers and then run down the hall into your apartment, rip off your Contempo Casuals party dress, and slam the door just to get away from them? We understand.

Now that you’re back in your apartment, what to do? What’s that? Your spare time hobby is making your own collection of baby dolls with innocent plastic faces!? While also listening to chiming music-box lullabies with reverb effects? Perfect. No hobby could be creepier! I don’t think your character could have had a more appropriately spine chilling hobby, except maybe making those little white ghosts out of twisted tissue paper bound at the neck with rubber bands and eyes drawn on with black felt marker! Oh how I hate those things! Brrrr!

Oh look - the camera is panning across your doll-making craft table… look, there’s a box of doll heads! There’s a pile of little plastic legs! And a little box filled with doll eyes! Ooh! And look, next to that - there is a pair of gleaming new scissors! Hey, why did you run out of the room screaming? Oh… right. Scissors.

After a lot of bizarre interaction with a weird guy in a wheelchair who lives next door, and his even scarier brother, Sharon stands for a really long time outside on her balcony in the moonlight, wrapped in a bedsheet while the wind blows her hair. Then she hides behind a plant. Then she talks out into the air with a doll voice. Then, in a scene that had me in tears, she has a whole conversation with a stuffed alligator toy.

With all that out of the way, the next logical step is for Stone’s character to be lured to a lavish penthouse apartment in an empty high rise building on the other side of town by a cryptic phone caller. She arrives in the loft apartment and finds that it looks like the set of an old Wham! video (but the mood is less delightful). She also finds no one there at all. She also finds that everything in the apartment is bolted to the floor (she’s the type whole likes to check these things right away), the phones all dial 976-EVIL, and she can’t seem to escape the place because the doorknobs turn into little white rubber balls that fall off and bounce across the floor when you try and touch them (it is a Wham! video)! But why? Why? We never find out.

Who’s doing all this to you Sharon? Ahhh… is it the bald, red bearded man from your past? Why it appears so! This is an analogy of revenge Sharon, and your rapist is a electrifying analogist! He’s more coldly calculating that an adding machine sitting atop the North Pole! Don’t try and figure it out Sharon because nobody can. Keep clawing the (badly marbleized) paint on the walls and making a face like you’re crying even though no tears seem to be coming out, keep bending your skinny pipe cleaner arms up to clasp your ears and scrunching your face like a prune to scream “No… no, no!” as you bounce your ample eyebrows against the glass windows mumbling “Why… why… why?” Yea… just do all that for… for like an hour, in real time.

But then, what’s that? Lights on the ceiling are moving, tables are automatically shifting, what’s that raising up out of the floor in the next room? The bald red-headed man in evil animatronic robot form with laser beam eyes? Is it the actual bald man with a red beard? No! It’s… it’s… an elaborate scale model of the whole city! Everyone’s worst nightmare - she’s been captured by the most sinister urban planner in the world! Through a recording of his voice which comes out of speakers in the ceiling, he tells Sharon to stare at his scale model of the city and listen to his recorded voice explaining everything about his ideas of how a city should work. That’s right, contemplate pedestrian flow until it drives you TOTALLY PSYCHO!

But wait, there’s another door in the back you hadn’t noticed… who’s that mysterious man in the bed in the next room with a knife in his back? A giant gold life-size Oscar statue with it’s wrists slashed? No… it’s the bald red-bearded man, impaled in the back with scissors… your scissors! Remember the scissors theme? Don’t go mad with over-exaggerated yelps again! That’s right - pass out! The portrayal of an unconscious human body is a role that even a common corpse can handle like a Shakespearian thespian! Don’t blow it! But don’t sleep too long either, because something is rolling into the apartment as you slumber, and it’s not the closing credits! When you wake up, your exagerated smile will shift into a horrific scowl like Munch’s “The Scream” painting in two seconds flat (good technique), as you realize our horrible viewing experience is not your dream after all! And what’s that rolled into the center of the room? A food tray? with a steaming pot of tea, and a silver-domed platter in the center? What’s under the silver dome cover Sharon? Answers? A putrid rat? No! It’s… BREAKFAST!

Are you feeling weary Sharon? Would you like to rest after all that slogging? Take a rest on this love seat made out of poor script writing and stuffed with bad casting - no, wait, don’t sit there! How about resting on this little window sill made of bad editing and poor dubbing - oh wait, no not there either! That’s right Sharon, there’s no rest for the wicked - you’re in movie Hell and we’re right there watching, laughing, cackling like demons in the eternal cinema inferno you’ve imprisoned us in. Perhaps we’re watching you, engulfed in flames, munching on brimstone and sulfur popcorn, and eating little pitchfork lollipops. Our soul? NO SALE!

Scissors is a highly entertaining klunker, with a hysterically berserk performance by Stone. I would recommend it to anyone (it’s available on DVD).

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Adrienne Shelly, 1966-2006

A few days ago, the news about Adrienne Shelly’s death was perplexing and sobering. But today’s news, rather than being a relief - is just awful. I was a huge fan. Bye.

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The Tunguska explosion of 1908

I’m still amazed at the things they never taught us in history class. Did you know that in 1908, in Siberia, one of the most catastrophic and mind-blowing (and mysterious) gigantic cosmic impact catastrophes ever in the history of civilization occurred - and yet it wasn’t widely known outside Russia (save for a few astrological and research scientist enclaves) until around the 1970’s?

Even interested research parties didn’t learn about or even set foot on the scene of disaster until 1921. It wasn’t made front page news in the papers when it happened because of the extreme remoteness of that region of Siberia. Also at play was the secretive, unsettled nature of Russia at the time (which of course only heightened the many conspiracy theories surrounding it today).

Even though there is much speculation and controversy amongst the fringes about what exactly the mysterious Tunguska explosion of 1908 was, here are the presumed and most widely agreed-upon theories amongst the most level-headed experts: On June 30th, 1908, at 7:15am, in Tunguska (an extremely remote and almost zero-populated area of the central Siberian plateau) a hugefuckingmngously-gigantic meteorite (or perhaps comet) of some type exploded (at 40 megatons) six to eight kilometers above the earth’s surface (presumably after coming in contact with the atmosphere layer) and it’s subsequent impact instantly devastated 1,000 square kilometers of forest… felling trees outward in a radial pattern. The immediate fires burned for weeks …eventually destroying a total of 2,150 square kilometers of forest, all of which remained scorched and flattened for decades (the immense damage is still easily visible today).

According to recordings at meteorological stations at the time, the seismic activity measured 5.0 on the Richter scale, and according to devices worldwide, the air compression wave went twice around the entire planet (bouncing both times). The blast itself, in whatever context it might have occurred, is estimated have been 40 megatons, which is 2,000 times the force of the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima in 1945. Even the asteroid impact that caused the great Berringer crater in Arizona (some 50,000 years ago) is only estimated to be 3.5 megatons. The mass of the object has been guessed at about 100,000 tons (and about 60 meters in diameter), but what exactly made up this mass is unclear (most agree it was probably a loose ‘glob’ of rocks and ice).

Tungus tribesmen and Russian fur traders who happened to witness the event from a relatively close range (it was a cloudless and clear day) reported seeing a bright, flaming object coming in from the sky at and angle, and then a giant, bright blast. According to some eyewitness accounts, a giant column of flame and smoke arose in the air from the impact spot. The force of first the heat wave and then the wind blast was enough to flatten huts and knock (burning and scorching) people and livestock airborne, and then back down to the ground again. Forty miles from the blast center at a town called Vanavara, people were thrown into the air by the shock wave. According to reports there, it shattered windows and collapsed ceilings. Near the town of Kansk (375 miles from the blast center), at a stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a train screamed to a halt when the engineer feared it would be thrown from its tracks by the violent shaking as passengers were jolted from their seats by the movement. The sound was deafening (there are reports of some people close by actually becoming deaf from the event). A series of thunderclaps could be heard even 500 miles away. And, although there were some serious injuries, to date there have been no records of human deaths from the event.

A “black rain? showered the immediate area afterwards (the substance was probably condensation mixed with dirt and debris sucked into the swirling vortex of the explosion and then spat out again). The event caused all kinds of climate changes around the planet. Dust in the air at heights of from 40 to 70 kilometers caused high altitude noctiluscent, or “night-shining,? clouds that illuminated much of the visible sky, mostly in Eastern Siberia and Middle Asia. Even in London at the time are newspaper account records of a night sky so luminous that “…one could read by it.? Decreased visibility was reported worldwide, and in daytime of the most polluted atmosphere cased visible rings around the sun’s glare. Also, obviously… brilliant sunsets were reported worldwide for weeks.

The site of the impact has been escavated numerous times (Russian scientist Leonid Kulik was the first to brave the area in 1921), but no evidence of a huge meteorite has been found, although fragments of meteorite-like elements have been found in the area. More importantly… no impact crater of any type has been located. The trees in what is believed to be the impact site’s exact center were stripped of their branches, but were oddly left standing amongst the miles of charred and flattened ones surrounding out from them (exactly like the effect of the bomb dropped at Hiroshima - which was also an airborne explosion). In the 1960s, a research troupe identified four smaller epicenters within the larger one. Each of the smaller epicenters has its own radial tree-fall pattern, and each presumably was caused by individual explosions during the chain of bursts. Most agree that all this adds up to a meteorite that was made up of loosely conjoined materials (ice, rocks, etc.) that exploded upon reaching the earth’s atmosphere and obliterated into a zillion untraceable pieces… the force of this impact causing the immense destruction.

The size and magnitude of the blast’s destruction, and it’s location and timing, are frightening to ponder. If it was a meteorite, it is the only event in the history of civilization when Earth has collided with a truly large celestial object (although what occurred before recorded civilization, and are likely to in the far future, are up for grabs). If the object had waited a mere few hours, the rotation of the Earth would have placed it’s impact somewhere in Europe. Boom… half a million people wiped out in seconds, who would not have been able to see it coming at all. The historical ramifications of such an epic catastrophe (not to mention the theological ones) are incalculable.

Of course… this all is a UFO, and time-travel-government-weapon-conspiracy-theorist’s wet dream (an entire string of episodes of The X-Files was based in Tunguska). Although most “solid head on their shoulders-types? boringly agree on the loose meteorite theory.

The most notable theories throughout the ages have been the following:

1. The loose comet/asteroid theory. The most obvious and logical cause (discussed above).

2. Anti-matter: “Anti-matter? is like stuff from Superman’s “Bizarroworld,? where everything is opposite. It classifies as material with a reversed charge at the sub-atomic level. It is theorized to exist in very small quantities floating around in our universe, and has actually been created by scientists in laboratories. However, when anti-matter meets up with real matter; KA-BLOWIE! The theory here is that some wayward, drifting anti-matter came in contact with Earth and exploded when touching our thick, lower atmosphere. An explosion of this type would behave very similarly to one created by an atomic bomb. This idea was ruled out in the mid-60’s as an anti-matter explosion of this classification would have lead to a significant rise in the amount of radioactive carbon-14 in the air. Researchers studying carbon rings on trees at the site did find a rise in the level of carbon-14 at the time… but no where near enough to signify an explosion of this category.

3. Mini Black Hole: some cosmologists theorize that “mini black holes? were created at the birth of our universe, and are just floating along aimlessly like little whirlpool ripples… not big enough to swallow whole galaxies, but powerful enough to wreck havoc with anything they come in contact with. Apparently some feel the Tunguska explosion could have been cause by one of these mini black holes passing through our planet like a ghost (imagine a giant botox needle penetrating David Gest’s whole head), the entry point obviously being at Tunguska. This of course would mean that the black hole would have to come out the other side (which would be somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean assuming it went straight through the middle) where it would have produced a very similar explosion. Do botox needles go all the way through and come out of the other side of David Gest’s head too? Anyway… this theory has been debunked by everyone as being hopelessly naive for a lot of scientific jargon-y rules, plus there are no records of any explosion anywhere else in those areas of the planet at the time (and yes they were on and measuring stuff… even back then). Do scientists use instruments to measure seismic activity on David Gest’s head when he’s getting botox injections? Imagine the seismograph.

4. Blaming Nikola Tesla: Some theorize that everyone’s beloved nutty professor, Nikola Tesla, was testing out some sort of weird, fantasmigorical communication device, or super-scary “energy weapon? or “death ray? and made a big “…oops!? Tesla was known to be working on a sort of wireless torpedo, called an “telautomaton,? which was a remote controlled boat he offered to the U.S. Navy for the purpose of carrying explosives to naval targets. An airborne version of the telautomaton device was under development as well. Some also believe that if there was a Tesla connection, and it was a weapon test… that he may have been pressured into it and then kept quiet. This is of course just heaping extra drama onto a theory already wrought with ridiculousness. Even though the 1908 time frame does match up for Tesla working on such devices, for him to be testing out such inventions in such an apocalyptic manner is quite a stretch, not to mention he was nowhere near the area at the time. Even funnier: the theory that Tesla inadvertently caused the massive explosion when he was trying to get the attention of an explorer friend in the area. Tesla was always fascinated with the concept of wireless propagation, and he was known to work on “projected wave energy? processes that could create microscopic, invisible particles of concentrated energy that could be beamed great distances… often resulting in electric fireballs, spherical plasmoids, or ball lightning. Why not use it to get someone’s attention who’s not near a telegram service? Of course this falls into the “secret weapons test? category as well. The theory that he was using it to try and get the attention of a friend halfway around the world is hilarious, but adsurd: *K-A-B-O-O-O-M!!!* —“Albert… this is Nikola, please call me.? Here is a link to some New York Times articles where Nikola speaks of such devices, which date from 1907, 1908 and 1915.

5. A UFO inadvertently crashing into the Earth, and it’s nuclear-powered engine exploding into smithereens. This is the most obvious “wild? theory about the Tunguska explosion. The idea of highly intelligent extraterrestrials coming to Earth (even crashing on it) long before the technological revolution (or even the idea of UFOs and aliens) was widespread has always been a kind of comforting thought. Kind of like the theory that space aliens helped the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids for the good of the human race, it’s weirdly reassuring to ponder such giving, super-intelligent beings from another galaxy. Makes you want to forgive them for crashing into your front lawn. Some have even claimed that the remote location of the explosion was obviously an act of “humanitarian kindness? on the part of the aliens, who realized they were going to crash and quickly guided their careening craft into an area where there were almost no civilians. So the equation is: the explosion happened in a remarkably remote area + all aliens are good and watching out for us humans, and would obviously steer their doomed craft in this direction out of that good faith = the Tunguska explosion MUST have been a crashed alien spacecraft! No doubt. Here is a funny, imagined dialogue between two benevolent aliens just before crashing into Tunguska. There has been some recent activity in this thought realm.

Thinking of visiting the spot? Today, the Tunguska region remains a not-too hospitable, desolate area of mosquito-infested bogs and swamps (nestled between sort-of beautiful hills). To reach the center of the site, you are dropped off by helicopter or you have to hike in. (note: The X-Files episodes that were set in the Tunguska region were actually filmed in Canada).

There have been a series of weird, ongoing biological consequences in the Tunguska region, presumably from the 1908 explosion. Following the blast there was accelerated growth of biomass in the region of the epicenter, and this accelerated growth has continued today. There also was an increase in the rate of biological mutations, not only within the center… but along the trajectory. Creepy abnormalities in the “Rh blood factor? of local Evenk groups (a native people to the area for centuries) have been found, genetic variations in certain local ant species are now being looked at, and genetic abnormalities in the seeds and needle clusters of at least one species of pine have been discovered there.

To learn even more, type “Tunguska explosion 1908″ into Google…like this.

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It Takes a Delineated Village

Tolerance.org gets all neighborly, with an all-inclusive, interactive United States map o’ malevolence, which lists all organized hate groups in your state, categorized by their particular detestation or group-think. Need directions? Oh just drive past the second burning cross, turn right at the skinhead riot and keep going past the burning abortion clinic until you reach the guys standing around in white hoods with rifles (keep your windows rolled up)! Who needs Mapquest? Oh… and aren’t those little icons just adorable?

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Drywall

Drywall is a man-made building material used in the construction of the interior walls of homes and buildings. Also sometimes called “gypsum board,? “plasterboard? or “sheetrock,? the material is made from forming a mixture of gypsum plaster mixed with fiber (usually shredded paper and/or fiberglass), a foaming agent and mildew and fire-resitant additives with water. The mix is sandwiched between two sheets of tough paper mat or fiberglass, and when dried becomes stiff enough to use as a building material. The use of this material is the world-wide status quo. North America is the largest user, with a total wallboard capacity of 40 billion square feet per year. And in developing countries, it’s demand as a construction medium is rapidly accelerating.

But at the beginning of the 20th century, the insides of homes and buildings were obviously not made of drywall. Interior walls were routinely plastered - at the time a ritualistic, laboriously tedious (and expensive) process. To plaster the interior of a structure, elaborate wooden lathes had to be installed along every wall and ceiling surface. These lathes acted as a kind of casting mold. Three separate layers of plaster (a ’scratch coat,’ ‘brown coat’ and ’skim coat’) were thickly packed into them at separate times, with the drying time between each layer being anywhere from four days to over a week. Each layer had to be completely dry before the next could be started. When done correctly the effect was beautiful, but the process was a brunt. Wall plastering prevented any work from being done in the home while the drying took place - halting overall progress for a month or more. Also, if mistakes were made (which wouldn’t be apparent until the whole thing was completed) it all had to be started again from scratch.

At one point in 1916, the Chicago-based United States Gypsum Company had quietly introduced a new building material called “pyrobar,? a gypsum-based, fireproof material sectioned into tiles. This eventually transformed into larger, multilayered paper and plaster sheets called “sackett board? (a result of them purchasing the Sackett Plaster Board Company in 1909, who had technically invented the layering process). Eventually U.S.G.C. changed the board into just one layer of gypsum sandwiched between two sheets of tough paper. Thinking of the product’s image, the company decided to name the product “sheetrock.? U.S.G.C. tried unsuccessfully for two decades to introduce sheetrock to a wide market, even convincing the creators of the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair to use it in the construction of its universally-gawked buildings. But in the 1920’s and (remarkably) the 1930’s, the wide-spread use of sheetrock for home building was held back by it’s reputation as an anti-status symbol; nobody wanted to live in homes surrounded by a “cheap,? quick-fix walls.

When World War II hit, the government’s need for an inexpensive and streamlined building process became a priority. Suddenly “cheap? and quick-fix became the ultimate status symbol; patriotic. Homes began to go up in one-hundredth of the time. A large sheet of drywall could be nailed up to the inside of a home’s frame, tape could cover the nail holes, and a layer of plaster (or just paint) could be quickly trowelled on to hide the process. What took an eternity before suddenly took several hours. Whereas a contractor beforehand could construct maybe four or five homes a year using the old paster method, the use of drywall meant that he could now make hundreds, maybe even thousands

The popularity of drywall had originated as a temporary stop-gap when a quick, efficient substitute was needed amongst America’s focused priotities in wartime. However, when the war ended, business-minded home builders were in no rush whatsoever to return to the old, time-devouring plastering method (which survives today as a specialized craft). Coincidentally, fate was eventually even more generous to drywall; its acceptance had arrived right at the first introduction of popular modern architecture styles, and the suburban boom. Home buyers were suddenly passing over pre-war decorative structures with exacting, fussy moldings - and enthusiastically seeking out homes with flat, minimal surfaces. Drywall was now unstoppable.

The proliferation of tract-home “sprawl? neighborhoods (which exploded in the 1950’s and continues globally today with the wide-spread popularity of “McMansions’) was immeasurably fueled by the slightly premature, but eventually triumphant introduction of this unique building material by the United States Gypsum Company in 1916.

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