Archive for April, 2007

Andrea Naschak (aka: April Rayne) interview!

Andrea Naschak as Sabra in Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me (1993)

(SCROLL DOWN FOR INTERVIEW)

At some point in 1993, I went to the Angelika Film Centre in Manhattan to see a new comedy directed by Joel Hershman, called Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me. The film, which concerned the kook-a-zoid goings-on of several desperate characters in a trailer park, had gotten good reviews in the papers. Everyone seemed to agree that the film was somewhat of a John Waters/Pedro Almadovar-esque knock-off, but was nevertheless quite a good one, with it’s own unique qualities. The screening was on a weekend night, and was sold out. As the film played, my friends and I, and the whole audience, laughed and enjoy it all. It was a good movie! However, of the ensemble cast, there was one character in particular; a megalo/nymphomaniac/homidic-al, garbage-mouthed stripper named “Sabra” - who seemed to get the biggest guffaws from the audience. The film featured a lot of known actors, like Diane Ladd, Sean Young, Adrianne Shelly and even Timothy Leary. But the actress who played the irrepressible Sabra was hard to ignore.

She was like the soul of Carole Lombard, Ruth Buzzi, Sandra Bernhard, Shirley Stoler and Pat Ast - whizzed in a blender and poured into the body of Gina Lollobrigida, then topped with Cookie Mueller’s head and crowned with one of Jessica Hahn’s worst wigs. It was like she had a built-in megaphone for a mouth, and she effortlessly cold-cocked every scene she was in. Whenever she walked on screen and said or did anything, the audience howled. She just had it - she was remarkably funny. The actress was billed as one Andrea Naschak, and was someone I had never heard of, but didn’t forget.

A year later, when the film was released on video, I immediately rented it. And *gasp!* there she was again! Sabra! She was like some sort of nightmarishly hysterical screen heroine. I kept the video for almost a week, paying all the late fees, just so I could show it to my friends, who loved it. We began to quote Sabra’s lines from the film in our everyday lives. There always seemed to be a perfectly logical reason to say things like “Watch the grease will ya? I don’t need any zits popping up on my ass while I’m filming.” or “Don’t talk, don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t ruin it…” or “Don’t let my dildos, vibrators and handcuffs fool you…”

But again, who in the world was this actress, Andrea Naschak? I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Leonard Maltin’s 1994 Film & Video Guide to look her up. Ahh… there she was! But wha..? Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me was listed as her first film, and also her last?! How? She had such talent! Had Andrea just been a good friend of the director and producers, and done the role as a favor to them? Had she just been a computer-generated animation? Had she left the planet? We hoped not, and I eventually bought my own copy of the video.

Years later, when I figured out how to finally open the box that held my new computer, I looked Andrea Naschak up on the internet, and… uh, who’s April Rayne? Her filmography did indeed end at Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me, but it didn’t start there… holy cow! Before that were listed about zillion other films! *gasp!* I looked at the titles closely, and soon realized they were actually porn titles. In addition, they had Andrea Naschak listed under a few psedonyms like Valerie Harte, and mostly April Rayne. Wow… had the producers and directors of Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me hired a one-time porn actress to star alongside other great actors in a “real” film, and struck gold? It looked like they had. It was hard to believe. She suddenly seemed ten times as interesting as just some newly discovered, unknown actress.

When porn stars usually make it to the “big time,” it’s that transition itself that gets celebrated, not their actual performance in that new plateau. They’re usually pretty bad, and despite the gonzo world they come out of, porn stars ironically never seem brainy enough to do comedy, or at least do it well. Poking fun at yourself on screen, in the truest and funniest sense, requires a kind of double (triple?) layer of awareness that, if not channeled, ends up falling flat. Andrea Naschak seemed to have a gut instinct for that and more, and her first foray into the big time - her performance in Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me - seemed to defy all of those stereotypes. A true success story?

Over time, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me has ended up being one of those unforgettable indie nuggets - one that has unfortunately been sequestered out of the current cultural arena because it has (still) never been released on DVD. Argh! And now even the initial VHS run is now out of print (although it’s easy to find reasonably-priced, decent used copies of those on Amazon or Ebay). In 2006, the film got more than a handful of mentions in the press, by default, due to the tragic death of one of it’s stars (Adrianne Shelly), and the subsequent investigation. Gawker called the film “criminally underseen.” People that did get to see Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me when it came out tend to remember it fondly, and it does have a small following. So until a company like Blue Underground or Anchor Bay decides to harvest it’s much deserved reputation with a DVD re-release - the film will have to live on amongst treasured, dusty VHS copies, word-of-mouth, and clips on YouTube.

Whatever happened to Andrea “Sabra” Naschak? I was contemplating another entry in my Actors Who Have Fallen Off The Face Of The Earth series, and decided Andrea Naschak had to be the third entry. She must be recognized! She was a small, but fondly remembered, bright blip on the vast-est of vast screens that is popular culture. I would write about the film, and report what I could find on her history (where had she disappeared to?) I nearly fell out of my chair when I discovered that she has a MySpace page. %#@&*!! I breathlessly contacted her.

In coresponding with her to ask her for this interview, I found out that Andrea Naschak is of course not like the explosive Sabra, but certainly seemed of Sabra. In contrast, Andrea is actually more of a perfectionist, and a goal-oriented Leo. She’s still very much a wild child at heart though, and pretty brazen. She is also extremley proud of all of her accomplishments, and more than anything, is certainly someone who lives life by her own rules.

It turns out she happily retired from performing back in 1993, and moved up to Northern California to become a mom(!) and raise her new son. However now that some years have passed, and her son is a bit older - amongst other things, she has found time to work on some writing projects, and indeed is perhaps positioning herself to get back into acting, something she loves. She was thrilled to hear from a fan of the film, and said she’d be happy to talk about her life experiences, as well as her experiences working on Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me. So… here, folks, is Andrea Naschak:

(INTERVIEW WITH ANDREA NASCHAK):

Me: *GASP!* Oh my God! You’re Andrea Naschak, who played Sabra in Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me! Alright, ok… first please share the story of how you landed the role.

Andrea: Ha! It was an off beat way to get a read to say the least! Joel Hershman and Travis Swords caught sight of a porn performance I had done in 1990, titled Personalities. After viewing it, they agreed that I would be perfect for, and had to be cast, to play the role of Sabra. So they then got a message, copy of the script, and their card to me on the set of my next scheduled porn shoot. I called them and was blown away by their excitement and persistence about my reading for the role. They remarked that it would be the best decision I would ever make. Thank God I took them up on the offer! I fell in love with the script immediately, Sabra ultimately… and both Joel and Travis, upon our first meeting!

Did a lot of girls audition?

No! There was only me that read for the role. How do you like them cookies, huh!? Hehe - luckiest gal in the world, I tell you! Wink wink. Might I add though, this was just the beginning of a long and hard fight that Joel and Travis had to embark upon… convincing the “heads” and casting agents that I was the actress they wanted to play Sabra.

Some of your outfits in the film were really over the top. I love the shot of you walking that great dane into the kennel while wearing the hot pink ensemble. And also the workout spandex gear. Did you have any input in choosing the costumes?

Yes, I did in fact. I was able to spend a lot of time with the costume designer, discussing in great detail how we thought Sabra should dress. Those zebra print bike pants - what a kick! (They came from my mom’s personal bike short collection!) Hahaha! I had so much fun with letting go of all fashion sense, and throwing all caution to the wind, where her style was concerned. Her outfits matched her moods very well I think. Sabra was the goddess of gaudy and cheap, like a Fredericks of Hollywood explosion - screaming for attention!

Many of Sabra’s lines are crazy instant classics, and just seem to just come out of nowhere - like when you intentionally mispronounce the word “pedo-feel” over and over. Were any of your lines improvised by you, or was it all in the script?

Aaaah… yes! In fact, there are numerous lines that were my improvisations, which I was allowed the freedom to use, and ultimately were kept in the making of the movie. I usually went over what my ideas were with Joel and Travis. After running through the line with them, they would let me know immediately if it would work. I have a very quirky sense of humor, and my mind is always ticking. I’m quick witted, and often turn to humor for relief. In regards to that particular line; when I would say “pedo-feel,” that was in the script. Travis Swords gets all the credit for that hilarious blurb. Joel and Travis were not in the least bit afraid to allow everyone’s input, and allowed freedom for artistic expression within one’s role. Some of the lines that were allowed to remain in the film that i am responsible for were; “four foot hair-ball,” “don’t talk, don’t breathe, don’t ruin it,” “would you like to come over my house and do me doggy-style…your loss big guy” and also “you know you hate your mother, take it out on me and titty fuck me real quick! You know you want to, come on, come on baby!” Hahaha! Enough said I think - my humor in living color! Now I’m starting to be afraid! Haahhaa! No, kidding! It was all in good fun.

One of my favorite lines is right after you’ve nearly fatally clobbered your sister with a frying pan and she’s unconscious on the floor - you pensively run your fingers through your hair and say “Oh, I hate this long, tired, nappy hair…” like it’s of your upmost concern at the moment.

That was written by Travis Swords. Our senses of humor are very similar. We both love both gags, and great shock value - but our wit is ridiculously dry. So that worked great for Sabra; she was so disconnected from all grasps of a reality outside of her own. Nothing at all seemed to be able to penetrate her way of thinking and being. Satire at its finest. A great line too!!! Got to love Travis. Lol!

Did you ever study comedy acting or improv? You seem to be a natural.

Thank you that is very huge to me! *blush* Comedy is so important to me, but I never studied it, no. I wish! I don’t know why exactly that is either. *sigh* I was active with theater and acting classes here and there, and through out my junior and high school career. I also participated in Shakespearean Festivals, but I never sought out one comedy acting class. But I am comedy on a daily basis… I think! However, there are those that do not get my humor, and find me quite irritating at best! I guess you can’t please them all all the time… and GOD, why would you want to anyway? That’s how I feel about that. Oops! Did I just say that out loud? Hehe.

You have a great shouting voice. How did you develop it?

I am German and Czech by descent. Enough said. Hahahaha… sorry couldn’t resist! You got me there Mark! Umm… I guess I developed it during my years of screaming for attention, most likely? Blah!

Are you an extrovert?

Very much so! Coupled with being an exhibitionist, and owning no fear where making a goof of myself is concerned. You live only once… live large! And for crying out loud, have fun! And don’t forget to wear clean underwear… please and thank you.

What was it like working with some of the big names in the film, like Diane Ladd, Sean Young and Timothy Leary?

Pinch me… was that real??? He he. It was great. I had heard horror stories about working with Sean Young, and to tell you the truth, besides Timothy Leary and Max - Sean was my favorite on the set. She was a treat, to say the least… funny, warm, and looked great. I am a fan, so I was awestruck and grateful that she even said hello! Haha! Everyone was a blast to work with, even Dianne… especially after she had the beers she enjoyed so much! LOL!

Any thoughts on the recent death of Adrienne Shelly?

Terrible tragedy. May the sweet girl rest in peace! My condolences go out to her beloved husband, and all that knew and loved her that she left behind. What an awful event that played out that fateful afternoon. Tsk Tsk. *sigh*………

Has anyone ever told you you resemble the actress and writer Cookie Mueller?

No! They haven’t. My look has always changed very radically at times, so placing me at any one time to look like someone else mostly is difficult. However, I had been told that I resemble Angie Dickinson before. Haha! Who knows. I’m just me.

I’ve never read a review of the film, even short ones, that don’t single out your performance. Variety called your performance as Sabra “wonderfully portrayed,” and The New York Times review seemed to stop just short of saying that you stole the show. This being your first “real” film, did you feel your performance was good?

All I can say is that I still pinch myself regarding having had the chance to do it, let alone doing the movie, and it getting the amount of attention that it did. Especially because it was only an “indie” and a “B” movie (I was told). So, I am realistically going to tell you that I think I could’ve done better, and that is purely due to my being a perfectionist. But as a whole… I am quite proud for my first time out film work. Yes.

Do you really like chocolate milk?

The first time that I went to meet with Joel Hershman and Travis Swords, I was toting in hand a jug of Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink. Poof! Moo-hoo was born! Speaking of which…… I’ll be right back!

In a 2001 interview with Supervising Producer Alain Silver, he discusses an earlier version of the Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me script that had a white slavery ring sub-plot, and scenes of women getting branded… really insane stuff - which they eventually cut out because they knew they could never get producers on board with scenes like that. Did you ever see this version of the script?

No, and to tell you the truth, that is the first I’ve heard anything about that. Hmmmm, I can’t even visualize that type of script with the players we had cast for our version. So, thankfully I didn’t see, nor was asked to do that rendition.

In the same interview it’s mentioned that Joel Hershman was offered a television show spin-off based on the film that ultimately didn’t pan out. Were you involved with that at all?

No I wasn’t. Joel and Travis had lost contact with each other, and I really never pursued a relationship with them past that point. That was when I had relocated to Northern California. It is odd, but I don’t go to Los Angeles often at all. Very surreal in a sense. I do miss my home in Venice beach very much. I believe I am just not ready to go back there yet, that’s all. But again to reiterate, no - I had nothing to do with dealings or stabs at making a deal for such a show along side of Joel.

Were there any scenes that you remember shooting that never made it into the film?

Scenes? No. Portions of scenes in fact ended up on the editing room floor, but none that were really substantial enough to qualify as a “lost scene.”

You seemed at ease within Sabra’s abrasive persona. What did you base her on? Where did Sabra end, and Andrea Naschak begin? Or for that matter, April Rayne?

Quite frankly, I was very at ease playing, and allowing myself to discover and develop Sabra. In the beginning, I based her on an exaggerated, over the top version of the element that I worked with everyday leading up to my being cast in Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me, which was Pornstars. I would have to say that there were a few personalities, including mine (April Rayne), that I incorporated into the arrival of Sabra. Though over time, I allowed myself, Andrea, to find within Sabra her vulnerabilities, fears, and the walls that she built up and ultimately hid behind (which I feel is what lead to the comic relief in how I played her!) My character April Rayne made way for the onslaught of outlandish and seemingly tasteless chaos that molded her entire existence. Sabra on the other hand, was a self absorbed ego maniac with severe control and security issues. I allowed Sabra to know nothing other than what she lived and breathed. This paved the way towards her undeniable exuberance, and disregard for any opinion or chance that what she was about, or did, was not perfectly normal and acceptable. I eventually found that Sabra was captivating in her own ways. I couldn’t wait to see what ridiculous act she might display next. Sabra’s charisma and drive to live her life the only way that she knew how, to the Nth degree, is where, I, Andrea, and April Rayne begin, and Sabra ultimately meet. But, rather than a beginning and an ending, I think it’s more of an understanding, and that commonality was easily obtained and displayed, because it’s a huge part of how I am, and live. It’s to “shock and awe,” in a sense. But the beginning of Sabra and April, for that matter, and the end for Andrea, lies in the ego-maniacal self absorbed abuses she displayed. My own personality is very far from an ego maniac, and I definitely need to think more about myself first in that respect. Sabra and April? Well, this is their world, and you are lucky to be in it along side of them! Pffft! Oh Lord! Hahahah.

Wow, that’s quite an analysis! Sabra seems to glide easily from a coo-ing, seductive person… to a screaming, rage-filled megalomaniac in seconds flat. Again, assuming you drew a lot of the character from inside yourself, should we be scared of you?

Hmm… heavy! Yes a lot did come from within me. I used to be needy, always wanting to be the center of attention when I was younger, which was due to my lacking a sense of self. Through maturity though, and self-love, and forgiveness, I have gained the tools and confidences I needed to replace those insecurities - which fueled the obnoxious antics I once thrived on. So to answer you, No! No need to be afraid… but cautious is never a bad idea! Hahahaha! I’m kidding! Wait? Am I? As Sabra, I had fun allowing myself to react to the words she was hearing, with no self control, and allow that helplessness to fuel a rage that was felt purely by her, because of her inability to share her emotions calmly and diplomatically with anyone. She was defensive, and felt as if she was always being attacked (listening wasn’t one of her strong points). On top of it all, I was also campy playing Sabra. But all of that melodrama stayed at the shooting, and existed solely for the making of her, and the film.

Making the leap from the world of porn into mainstream film seems to be very, very difficult - surprisingly even still today. Do you feel any affinity toward other actors who have made that transition, in whatever context? Like Traci Lords, Vanessa Williams or Simon Rex?

I am only too proud, and also very fond, of anyone who stares adversities in the face and draws from the “you-can-never-make-its” out there, and takes on the challenge of showing otherwise to close-minded critics. Cheers! Break a leg… and much success to all that have at least tried. After all, to try is all that anyone could ever ask of another, now isn’t it?!

I’m assuming that working in a porn film, and a “mainstream” (indie) film are markedly different. Are they?

Well, I would assume that they are very different in many respects. But the atmosphere on the set of Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me, as well as working along side the likes of Joel Hershman, Travis Swords, Dianne Ladd, Timothy Leary and Sean Young especially, made the task all too easy. It was beyond fun, even though it was a work environment. More than once I found myself pinching, and reminding myself that this is it!!! This is serious, and to get it right. Whereas on the set of a porn… quite frankly, there were a couple of the directors that I enjoyed shooting for (and these were the only sets that Andrea showed up, as well as April). I think Andrea is pretty dang cool, and a huge contribution to any successful endeavor I have attained! So, those were the only times that I found any similarities. The differences are only too obvious, otherwise! Wink wink….(not saying that a lil hanky-panky didn’t go down on the set of Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me) Hehehe… chew on that one for awhile! Ha!

Was your acting role in Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me also the marking point where you decided to end your porn career?

Yes, it was the reason I had left the industry as a whole. You see, I originally went into porn due to the lack of recognition at the last job I had held before that; managing a restaurant in Culver City. I loved the job, but it was very demanding, and the owner of the restaurant was all but absent, making for very stressful times with no compensation. Sheeesh, I am such a Leo it is pathetic! Anyhow, I had a frequent customer of three years that continually remarked that I should give porn a try, and said I would be perfect for such films (I know now that they say that to all the girls! But heck! There was the recognition I was so starving for… so I bit the bait!) After three years of Biff Malibu dropping them invites to me, I figured why not?!! And gave him a call! The next day I had camera, film, and lube at my doorstep - to shoot my first amateur scene! Hahaha! God I am adventurous. Anyways, after long hours of contemplating, I decided to ask my mother for her permission to go ahead with pursuing a porn career. Her advice was that there were many consequences, and had I weighed them all out? I really didn’t have a grasp of what it was that she had been referring to, and hastily replied that I had - and left it at that. She said that she knew that I would be great at whatever I put my head into doing, and that she hoped that I would be careful. But she told me not to not expect her to view any of my work, or support the career in any fashion other than the fact that I was her daughter, and that she loved me. That was all I needed to hear, and voilà! At first, Valerie Harte was born… it wasn’t until I actually started working with the big video companies that I came up with April Rayne! I had decided then that I would utilize this industry as a platform for learning my stage presence (best side), and my ability to learn lines, what have you - in order to betterment my chances of hopefully one day landing a legitimate acting career. Oh, did I mention that I am incredibly naive and have no logic sense!??? No need, huh? So apparent now! Hahaha! Well, I did in fact enjoy many moments in the porn industry. Yet, if I were available to speak to anyone that was thinking about going into the industry, before they did I would do so, with the hopes that I could save them from perhaps making the worst mistake that they might possibly make. Not that the industry isn’t, and doesn’t, work for everyone! It does! I just feel that there is probably more to a person’s reasons as to why it is that they are thinking about entering into porn in the first place. I would hope that those reasons were the correct and smartest ones - otherwise that industry will chew and spit you out with no regard. And everyone should be aware of the downsides of anything, I feel. Knowledge tends to lead to bliss, and this is definitely one of those instances!

How did your associates in the porn industry feel about your success?

I couldn’t tell you. I turned away and never looked back to the porn industry ever since the day I walked on the set of Rayne Storm, a Vivid Production, and announced that I was leaving the industry, and that that day was to be my last! But my guess is that none cared or even batted an eyelash toward anything that happened to me thereafter! Here today, gone tomorrow! Peace! Hahah! But it’s all good, I am perfectly fine with that.

Is it true you found out you were pregnant with your son while the film was shooting?

No, I actually found out about my pregnancy immediately after the release of the film, in 1993.

What was Ania Suli like, who plays the faded Hungarian opera singer, Olga?

Awwwwwwww… God bless her heart! Couldn’t help but fall in love with her the moment you laid eyes on her! What a character she is! She was a gem, and what a honor to have met her. She was quite a Star and still is for that matter, in the Hungarian Opera world I take it! She was a blessing. And she had a large appetite for comedy to boot!

What was Max Parrish like to work with so closely? He’s damn sexy in the film.

Mmmmmmmm mhmmmmmm… (psst…………. can I dish????) hehehe… dare I say, “WAWAWEEWA!” It, he, is and was… delicious! He is such an amazing guy! Truly one of a kind. Genuine, kind hearted, a hard worker and definitely amazing in the sack! Did I just say that?????? It wasn’t long before I had taken his star off of his trailer and put it on top of my star! LOL!!! God I love me! And yes, we decided that two trailers was just a waste of space and quite frankly we were concerned citizens and didn’t feel the need to waste money nor space… and time for that matter! Yumm to the mother f’n eeeeeee!!!! Whew! Ok what was the question again???

Do you have any frustrations that Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me hasn’t ever been released on DVD?

Yes I have many frustrations regarding how difficult it is to get any information about the film all together. Heck, it’s difficult enough to locate the VHS alone. Pffft!

When the film came out, did you ever get recognized on the street as Sabra?

Yes! All the time. And I was taken aback by it too, because I was no longer in Los Angeles. I had moved up north, and it was there that they were recognizing me. Flattering, very, very flattering indeed.

What are you doing with yourself these days?

I have been working, and learning how to write. I know it doesn’t show here… my apologies. I am, and have been, working on some writings of my own that will eventually get published. And no, it isn’t an autobiography. The writing does include some of my past experiences, however. We will leave it at that for now. I am usually not secretive, but this is the one thing that I must not jinx. Also, I still am active in sobriety and continually working within myself… growing and rediscovering who I am. You know… fun stuff! And of course, being a mother first and most importantly! I love you son!

Would you ever make a return to acting? Please say yes.

Sigh… may I express just how much has died inside of me due to my inactivity, and lack of opportunity to express myself artistically? I wanted to be certain that I was there actively with my son during the all important first years of his development. So I was, and then life took on a pace and path of its own, and I was never was able to alter it towards what I wanted or longed to do… act. But now that my son is older, and I do have the time to explore this again… I will at minimum get on with a local theater group, and do some community theater stuff… and perhaps update my headshots… lol… mine are a little old now. So we shall see where and what may come to be. Having had this opportunity here with you now is definitely a start in the right direction, and may I say what a privilege and honor it was too! So… one never knows… look for me, I may just show up again someday in a theater near you!

Here are some clips of Andrea Naschak in Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me (Vimeo - best quality)–oops, that’s been deleted, so try here (YahooVideo - lesser quality).

This is part three 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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If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?


Attention all latte-sipping elites! Brian Turner has unearthed some clips from one of the greatest films ever made; Ron Ormand’s propagan-tastic 1971 flick If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? I would fill you in on the film’s history, but these guys have already done a good job of it. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough - as it’s relevance and humor springs eternal, in all the right places. It’s not officially available on DVD, but bootleg copies can be found. By all means go look at the four clips of the film Brian has put up on WFMU’s blog (note: a commentator on Brian’s post has discovered the entire 52 minute film on GoogleVideo: here) - you’ll be hooked. Here is the film’s imdb.com listing. Here is some more info on director Ron Ormond. *sigh* …I remember when I was a small child, I used to sit in church for hours and hours every week and praaaaaay that a group of heros just like this would come and rescue me forever.

Watch the entire film here.

(via Brian Turner)

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Missionary encounters extremely bizarre skin condition in Eastern Europe (part 2)

About a month ago, I posted photos and a story about a missionary in Eastern Europe who is caring for a man who has keratin-like matter growing out of the skin on hands and feet (see part one of the story here). A month later, I can report that man’s strange condition is improving - but what is causing the condition has yet to be exactly identified, it seems. The man is also getting the full attention of the medical and research communities in the region (rather mysteriously, as you’ll see below). As you can see from the recent photos the missionary sent me, the growths have been reduced through chemical treatments, soakings, and whittling down (a dremel saw was used). While the research and treatments are still being conducted, the man and his family seem to be in for the long haul (scroll down for more photos). The missionary told me…

“I have looked at the blog link, and I found some of the responses very helpful. I passed it onto the Romanian people in charge of the man. I will try to flesh this out a bit more for you. The man is on the eastern side of Romania, and I am on the western side, though the country is not so big (about the size of Oregon) it takes 16 hrs to get from here to there. There are no interstates, and every time you come to a new town or village you slow down to 25 miles per hour. I went by train to avoid the wintery road conditions. I saw him on a Monday, and worked on him for 2 hours cutting and cleaning and applying Compound W-type acid in areas. Approximately 90% of the growths do not have blood circulation or pain associated with cutting them. About 10% do bleed slightly and seem to hurt. After 2 hours he became very fidgety and I decided to stop. After 2 hours of work there was not much to show for it by way of a noticeable difference, though there were a lot of growths cut off. I would have needed to work on him a month or more at the rate we were going. I returned home on Tuesday having treated several areas with the acid to see what would happen with them, and I wrapped one foot with a Una boot, to see if that helped (some one on the blog suggested that). My Romanian contact there was going to return in a week and check on things. When he returned the next week, he found the man was gone. His mother said that on the previous Friday, an ambulance had come to their home (they live in a rural area) and said they had come for him. They loaded him up and took him away. Neither he nor his family had called for an ambulance. He was gone about a month. He is back home now (he returned home just before Easter). He was in a hospital in Bucharest where they mainly did tests, as far as he knew they did not diagnose anything. The medical system here is not very forthcoming with information in general, not just in this case. He thinks that he will be going back in May. They did cut many more of the growths off his hands and they look much better. They did nothing to his feet. I think it is a great improvement. I think what you did on the web sight was very good and helpful, I was impressed. I will send you my newest pictures.?

“As far as sending money, I left money with my contact there. So far, none of it has been spent. I would be concerned about giving him or his family money directly. I don’t think that would be a good idea. If money was needed for the medical treatment, I could see that it reached the right hands, but at this time there does not seem to be a need for additional money for them. It does not appear that any of the anti viral drugs mentioned [in the blog post’s comments] have been used and do not appear to be readily available here, I would like to have them and be able to offer them to the doctors treating him, but currently do not have a source for that. If someone was able to get them in the US, I could give you an address in the US [email me for address and info] to send them to, and the next person that I knew of would be coming to Romania could hand carry them to us here. The Romanian postal system is very unreliable, so I would not trust it with the meds. If someone wanted to donate for medical needs (in Romania) we would happily administer the funds, but at this time there does not seem to be a need for additional money for Ioan. Please feel free to write and ask more questions if you have any or ask for updates in the future.?

When I first posted this story, I kept names, faces and even locations out of it as requested. Although now it appears now that the man’s plight has made a few Romanian news outlets. You can see those stories (with some great additional photos) here, here and here (a very rough Romanian text translation program can be found here - if anyone else can provide an exact translation, please do). The man is under the primary care of Dr. Carmen Madeleine Curea, the primary dermatologist at Spitalului Clinic Colentina (in Bucharest), as well as some other specialists. Although they aren’t saying much about what they have discovered, or even if his condition is precedented at all, at the very least he appears to be being cared for, and his condition is being kept under control.

(click each photo for larger view)

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The “Uncanny Valley”

The “Uncanny Valley” describes an area of human perception where something is perceived as familiar, yet contains enough unfamiliar, unresolvable characteristics to also be classified as foreign - and the back-and-forth one’s mind performs as it ping-pongs between the two categorizations of what is being seen, produces an uneasy feeling. This applies particularly to the identification of other living things with identifiable characteristics; facial features, limbs, skin, hair, etc. When a living thing contradicts or strays vastly from it’s expected appearance in an obvious way, our perception is okay because the distance between what it is, and what is isn’t, creates a solid boundary (a person with a hook in place of a missing hand… a child dressed up in adult clothing… a person wearing an animal mask). However, when something is either too subtle in it’s altercation, or overcompensates in trying to appear as something else (a realistic, flesh-colored, rubber artificial hand in place of a missing hand… a child suffering from Progeria dressed in colorful children’s clothes… a life-like human mask draped over the head of an animal, where you can still see it’s eyes), it falls into the realm of the “uncanny valley.” If something attempts to appear or mimic a human or other living creature but stops just short of achieving that goal, we tend to focus on minute flaws, almost subconsciously, and the category of “flaw” becomes our perception of the whole.

Although he didn’t invent the concept, the term “uncanny valley” was resurrected by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in his 1970 essay “The Uncanny Valley” (translated from Japanese), where he described in detail the alienated reactions that humans have to robots or androids who look too human-like (artificial skin, hair, animatronic faces and limbs), as opposed to human reactions to robots that do not try to appear human at all, and posses no human-like features, which are often instantly positive, empathetic and warm. Mori’s theories have become more and more important as robot science and robotic engineering have become acceleratingly widespread, particularly in Japan.

Mori actually commandeered the term from Ernst Jentsch, who coined it in his 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny” (’Über die Psychologie des Unheimlichen’), which explored the thought processes humans go through within the boundary line that divides the familiar and the unfamiliar. These ideas were more famously expanded upon by Sigmund Freud, who wrote of them in his 1916 essay “The Uncanny” (’Das Unheimliche’).

Of course, these days, things are a bit different. Once exposed to the uncanny, it eventually ceases to be so. And in our age of overly-developed communication technology and sensory exposure and overload, the instance of truly contradicting semiotics seems less and less likely. Today, fewer things seem genuinely “alien.”

Two years ago, while doing research for an article I wrote about living with a Japanese home robot, I had a fascinating phone conversation with Sara Kiesler, Professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon. A bit of a celebrity within the field of robotics on this side of the globe, Kiesler has, amongst other things, spent years in research with this exact topic. She spoke about how human characteristics in robots can often have a simple communicative purpose. A robot who extends an arm-like appendage to hand you something acts as information, you know what it is trying to do. Robots with no human features at all (something that is just a sphere or cylinder on wheels, something with no head, or even a typical home computer design), that interact with people in human-like ways can be just as disturbing as robots that try too hard to appear human. But the territory of either-or is not so black and white. The simple addition of human features onto a robot that otherwise appears to be a machine, initially thought of as positive in the design of robots, can be disturbing for many. A very mechanical looking robot that has added-on a human hand-like extension on it’s arm, or spherical eyes with pupils that correlate to move in the direction of what the robot is looking at, or human-like lips that move as the robot speaks, can sometimes remind people of disfigurement, strange disease, or death… mostly on a subconscious level. Conceivably, the emotional state and the complex variety of stimulus that cause the “uncanny valley” could be traced back evolutionarily to animals who developed an acute sense to identify other living things that were slightly diseased or mutated from the norm, and needed to be avoided.

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Mark, what do you look like now?

My most emailed question. Here you go. Taken today.

Mark Allen

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Sociopaths… they’re gonna make it after all! (pt. III): The strange case of Nancy Nusbaum

Out of deepest New Jersey… check out this archived 2002 article from The Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ, “Web of Deceit Unravels,” presenting the diagnostic oddity known as “Nancy Nusbaum,” a malefic force of super-crazy (read: borderline genius) who, from her bedroom in her parent’s home, became a one-woman army of a hundred different personalities, using the internet to deceive, steal, seduce and change the course of people’s lives. The newspaper article was a vindication of sorts for people from all over the U.S., who had banded together to expose her after collectively learning of each other. The case seems to go back to the early 90’s, and her con habits appear to pre-date the internet. Here’s a cached version of above article which includes the photo. Here is the original StopAglaia site (the active forums have been removed). Here is a cached version of one page of the Bravenet forums. Here is another cached forum, this one the main page of the original site’s forum (if you want to read each thread, you have to punch it’s original url into the Wayback Machine). Here is a cached page from Henry Rollins’ own website, warning his fans that Nancy has been impersonating Henry Rollins and to avoid her. Here is a cached MySpace page someone created about her, with more photos. Here is an old Metafilter thread about the phenomenon. I tried to find some of the other newspaper articles and forum links about the woman and her case (on internet archives), but they seem to be permanently gone. Find anything else? Please email it to me.

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Francis E. Dec, Esq. - this is your life!

Listeners of my WFMU radio show are no doubt well aware of the illustrious Francis E. Dec, Esq. and his chimerical rants. Peter Branting and friends have continued the ongoing effort to document, preserve and study the man’s work, and created a rather impressive, unofficial, official Francis E. Dec, Esq. fan club/resource site. Heavily researched and chock full ‘o info, the site includes all of Mr. Dec’s writings (including a handful of brand new works, unearthed for the first time - some of them just angry letters), a massive glossary of terms he used in his writings (with theories and definitions, and also tie-ins to real events in his topsy-turvy life), and a FAQ and heartily-populated forum (about 100 ongoing threads). Plus a bunch of other stuff. Perhaps most impressive about the site is a lovingly crafted timeline of Mr. Dec’s life, which begins with the birth of his mother and father in Poland in the 1800’s, and ends with his death in 1996.

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Funny Letters


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Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg main website, links to galleries of his work, Wikipedia entry, list of Rube Goldberg Machines in cartoons, television and films, overview of what it means to be a “pataphysicist”, Rube’s Toonpedia entry, the “W. Heath Robinson” resemblance, a 1970 interview with Rube, Purdue University’s annual “Rube Goldberg Contest”, another annual Goldberg contest, overview of a Goldberg-inspired computer concept, the board game Mouse Trap, 1987 film The Way Things Go (and a clip on YouTube), The Honda commercial that copied The Way Things Go, video clip of Goldberg-inspired voting machine, video of Goldberg-inspired ramen noodle-cooking machine in Japan, Rube Goldberg machines on YouTube, the concept of “shrinking technology”.

H.

H.

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