Mark Allen's Top Three For 4/11/05:
    photo taken just 12 hours after the mini-pocalypse

1. Cataclysm Pastorale
    "It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet." - Franz Kafka
    Is the accidental final solution for others a spontaneous spectator sport for me? Do I instantly turn into a couch potato for ripped meat, hot flames, crunching metal and fresh souls just merging with the infinite? Is the fact that I seek out violently horrific news stories (or actually eyewitness them) a DNA abnormality, a freak flaw in my character, that must be tagged and tamed? Should I get a pair of binoculars equipped with a splatter guard permanently grafted onto my face, programmed to hone in on mayhem and chaotic tragedy, drawn to swift violence like a shark to chum?  Or is my gut-instinct to gawk at horror nothing more than a modern human vessel naturally purging the excess of everything it's forced to process?
    Do I have latent serial killer tendencies bubbling behind my eyes? I never tortured small animals at a young age. In fact, the inclination to do so was, and still is, an act I find to be disgusting, sad and abhorrent (or are those the feelings an imbalanced child has when they are enjoying such an act of cruelty?) Do I posses hidden fatalistic peeper impulsiveness that masks an even deeper need to control that which I monitor? Is my voyeurism actually reverse sadism? Celebration? Do I posses four out of five characteristics of someone most likely to scream at the top of my lungs while driving a van full of nitroglycerine into a crowded Taste-D-Lite, in a boiling-blood apoplectic rage?
    Can I tell the difference between right and wrong?
    Is my specious attempt to find meaning in all this no different than when right-wing Christians try to discover and embellish hidden Satanic messages in rock albums, by playing them backwards?
    I am like the mob of background characters in that scene in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1962 Italian film L'ECLISSE. The ones who gleefully gather and peer at a dead body in a crashed convertible being slowly lifted out of a river by a crane. In the film, these background characters were basically just used in contrast against Monica Vitti's lead - her character just as emotionally bankrupt as the sum of them, but going through the motions of acting horrified at their behavior nonetheless.
    Horrible tragedies in life are like the evil twin of life's little miracles. They happen with the same frequency, but are born of the reverse place. But make no mistake, their root is the same dark hallway: the abyss. If unexpected miracles are the spice of life, unexpected tragedies are the slipped mikey. The regretted public trip and fall. The unexpected fart at a solemn hospital death bed scene.
    Living in downtown NYC on 9/11 was kind of like the first potato chip out of a large fresh bag of Lays. Except as a spectator, not the instigator. And since that memorable day, fate has done nothing but tease, tease, tease... or maybe that's just the current government administration (at least before the '04 election). Oh yes, the blackout from two summers ago was grand, simply grand, but the hits need to keep coming ya'know.
    So, it was one brisk evening a few weeks ago, when the lights were out in my apartment (just because I felt like it), my quarters devoid of music or TV hum. My brain and eyes were poised and ready for whatever might cross their path... but really expected nothing but a visual and audible diet of horrible, horrible peace. To placate myself, I gazed out at the night cityscape outside my fifth floor window, and imagined a giant tsunami wave crashing across it. My eyes lingered over the surface of each building, imagining what the deadly wall of water would crush, and what it would be forced to move around. I imagined what it would be like to have really long hair. Some of the victims of the recent deadly tsunami were females who had very long tresses which became entangled in palm tree trunks as they were being rushed within the deadly super-sonic underwater rush, which then trapped them into drowning. If I had long hair, and a tsunami rushed through my apartment and birthed me out onto the street, would my hair get entangled on a lamppost or homeless person's shopping cart?
    Just when I started to wonder about hippies, dread locks and razor wire fences... I noticed a lot of sirens starting to collect down below on my street. More than the usual. Ohhh... I wonder what all the razzle dazzle is about?
    What a night it would turn out to be! I went downstairs to see exactly what had happened. In the project complex across the street from my apartment, the windows of one of the top floor apartments (21st floor) in one of the buildings had literally exploded out into the night in a ball of fire, and continued to burn ...hard. A giant crowd had gathered, and the firemen were already up on the roof, trying to get the whole thing under control. It was fascinating to watch the orange light from the giant fireball flicker on the neighboring buildings, which had little squares of open windows on their surfaces with little heads popped out, just silently watching it all.
    It turns out that an Asian family living in that upermost, corner apartment had met with familial murder of the most grand and apocalyptic kind. You can read about the whole thing here. The father, who had a history of abusive behavior, had shot his niece to death in the bedroom of the apartment, and was in the process of going completely apeshit. But to interrupt this, or perhaps compound it, his wife arrived home with her nephew and son. The father shot the son, who collapsed on the floor, and then shot the nephew twice (although injured, he was able to escape) and then stabbed his wife in the head with a knife (also badly hurt, she also quickly able to flee). Rather than giving chase, the father then turned on the kitchen's gas stove - and ignited it - exploding his whole cathartic murderous crime into explosive white hot flame dust... taking down him, his son and niece (the nephew and wife were eventually OK). Boom - never happened, goodbye world... and screw you all, see you in Hell, etc. Yikes! How horrid! I quickly got a front row seat with the other millions of minions gathered on the closed-off street.
    The flames were flying full force, like giant flame throwers, like Godzilla's breath, out of the windows of the apartment. This went on for at least 15 minutes while the firemen scrambled around the roof right around the apartment, obviously figuring out the best strategy.
    Then the helicopters showed up and began shining huge white spotlights on the fiery mayhem (obviously so us down below could really get a good view). Then, the giant hoses started, which literally shot through and out of the windows of the apartment (almost instantly snuffing out the giant flames and turning the massive smoke to steam). The thing was, that the water kept coming out of the windows and then began to rain all over part of the massive crowd far down below, with the helicopter spotlights sometimes passing through the streams and causing a kind of glitter/flicker effect. Sometimes little bits of flame and pieces of matter would shoot out of the windows, along with one of the water streams and cascade down. Urban murder waterfalls. The crowd had now turned into a huge mob, many of who were getting soaked with hot flame death water. The whole chaotic mayhem was right out of a movie. Turn me on dead man.
    Then the local news vans screeched to the scene and the party really kicked into high gear. People started to get put into ambulances, caught up in the excitement, police and firefighters were running everywhere ...I saw a lot of those old Asian women who are stooped over and walk with canes, being lead by other people out of the way. Everyone was looking around to see what was going to happen next. Amateur digital photographers (about 3/4ths of the crowd) fought and fell over each other to get a shot of the bandaged-headed wife (who looked like a walking Q-tip because of all the gauze around her head) as she was lifted into an ambulance and sped away. It was literally just like that scene in Felinni's LA DOLCE VITA (1960) where all the paparazzi flock and stumbling over each other to photograph Anita Ekberg as she gets of a plane. I'm surprised they didn't make the poor bandaged-head woman eat a pizza. Although part of me wonders if she would have gladly done so. The whole scene down on the street was like a snazz carnival of buffoonish lemmings, preening onion-heads, sprinting and prancing about... like children finally let out for recess. All the while charred bodies roasting in a hellish inferno raged above our heads.
    As the "action" died down to just lots of wet feet, the cascading spray from just one hose, and lots of soaked people and ash matter being washed down the streets in streams... people began to wander around with satiated eyes and ears, and lots to talk about. I followed the rest of a small group that sloshed into a nearby deli. Inside, everyone talked and greeted one another like it was Cheers or something, lots of chatting and camaraderie. I went up to the counter and asked the clerk "How much is a pack of Marlboro reds now? Wait... no, do you have Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk?"

"Finally a place to be what we've always wanted to beeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

2. "No... let him go. He's got to find his head."
    So I went upstate last weekend to visit Jim, and we stopped by and saw the church from the film ALICE'S RESTAURANT (1969). There it is, above. Aren't you blown away? Actually I was thrilled to see it, as I totally love that film. The church is actually owned by Arto Guthrie now, and is a music venue. Here is the front from the other side. Here is a closer shot of the front door. It wasn't open when we went, so we couldn't go up into the tower to ring the bell, or go down into the basement and have an erotic encounter with an air hose. But we were able to get in our cars and run away when we were done gawking, so we could go "...find our heads." As we drove around the weird little town, we wondered where the hill was near that bridge where they dumped all the garbage. We ate at a little dive near-by, but it was more of an organic sprouts place... we didn't see Patricia Quinn slinging chili around and yelling at "...damn townies!"
    I had a really nice time with Jim while upstate... we're becoming so domesticated when we visit each other, it's like a sitcom marriage or something. We're at that lovely but apprehensive stage in our relationship where we just automatically fall into pattern of robotic behavior when we're around each other, but robotic behavior that we like, so it's good - we're lovebots. Pretty soon we'll just be skeletal, robotic metal bodies - with brains and eyes floating in liquid in glass jars for heads - just going through the motions of what we're programmed as lovers to do, the glass clanking and cracking when we try to kiss.
    Speaking of robots and brains in jars... we had to take care of these dogs that belong to a friend of Jim's while we were up there. Here's Jim holding all of them at some nature preserve upstate. Doesn't Jim look so preppy? It was winter's last gasp of cold, wet weather while I was there. We ruined our shoes on this walk because the entire field was like a tar pit of mud. Here I am carrying one of the dogs over a swamp, because it couldn't make it across with it's little paws.
    Jim has this cool habit of becoming friends with almost everyone in any place he moves to, so of course whenever I visit him upstate there are always a zillion people to hang with. We visited Matt at one point (who is the bass player for Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops). Matt lives in this totally kick-ass little cabin on the side of a mountain that overlooks a whole valley. His cabin is literally like something out of Lil Abner comics - it even has an iron stove... and even a theramin! Matt shares the large property with a few dogs and also his folks, who live further down the mountain. There is a large, flat clearing behind his cabin where there's space for a giant bonfire and some benches surrounding it. Matt has outdoor jamboree parties sometimes where people get together an play music, cook food and drink booze by the fire under the stars (I've written about them in my 'Top Ten' here before, with some photos Jim had taken). His locale is totally great - it's like an old cabin, with Stonehenge as your backyard, and then Mt. Fuji behind that. There are all kinds of trails and stuff winding all over the property. The great Appalachian Trail swings right by his place, about 50 yards away. I had never been on it, so I walked about ten feet of it's some 2,000+ miles. Now I can tell people I "...have hiked the Appalacian Trail."
    I did take this one photo of Jim on the Appalachian Trail (there isn't always water like that - that snow from the mountain tops melting), but I didn't take any pictures of Matt's place, or anywhere we visited for that matter. I'm getting kind of weird about my camera, which I used to take everywhere and take photos of absolutely everything. Now it all just seems so lame. Plus everywhere I go now I see people with digital cameras positively, permanently placed between their faces and whatever they're looking at. I dunno. Do people have eyes and memories anymore?
    At one of Matt's gatherings one time, when they were making hamburgers on the fire and jamming with banjos and musical saws and stuff, these two guys in their early twenties who obviously heard the music and, more importantly, smelled the food, just wandered out of the brush from the Appalachian Trail. They literally just appeared out of the brush into the gathering behind Matt's cabin - like Bigfoot. They had giant backpacks (which were disproportionate to their skinny and dirty mushroom-stem bodies), they both had long, ratted hair and giant overgrown beards down to their chests. They had filthy, drawn faces and giant saucer-like white eyes that just stared. They told everyone at Matt's gathering that they were walking the entire Appalacian Trail as a kind of after-college life enriching thing and had been at it for two months. Jim and everybody offered them some food and the two exhausted bean stalks just gravitated over to a bench and grabbed one hamburger each as everyone stood there gawking in silence at the eating zombies, who used their stick-like arms to bring the food to their rapid-fire jaws as they masticated the burgers with lightening speed and no expression whatsoever, their giant white eyes just staring the whole time.
    See how nature can turn you into a maniac?

"...why, I wouldn't even harm a fly!"

3. "The Baby" (1973, dir: Ted Post)

    The sexy and sinister Pseu Braun* recently implored her WFMU radio listeners and friends to check out a cranium-flattening little 1973 film called THE BABY, and I am sorry for my sense of well-being that I finally remembered to rent it. Fans of accidentally creepy 70's TV movies, and Munchausen by Proxy-fetishists alike, will no doubt tighten their sphincters in apprehension while watching this sick little gem. Actually released in theaters in 1973 (with a PG rating!) it's not hard to imagine all the first dates utterly ruined by deciding to see this picture before dinner and dancing and then what must have been a lot of awkward silence.
    THE BABY has the cinematography, lighting and editing of a late 70's/early 80's TV movie, but the surreal world it represents is of the most crass, cruel and colorfully nightmarish sort.
    The story is as follows: A family of three women live in a large house somewhere in the suburbs of California. The threesome consists of a mother (played with smokey-voiced assertiveness by veteran actress Ruth Roman) and her two spooky daughters - the perky but dagger-eyed blond Alba (Susanne Zenor - who went on to play an early version of Chrissy Snow in the first TV pilot for 'Three's Company'), and the praying mantis-like Germaine (Marianna Hill), who occupies scene after scene with various Tammy-Wynette-gone-wrong hairstyles and a jarring facial expression that switches back and forth between Stepford Wife and the Grinning Anorexic Death Mask.
    The three spend most of their time attending to and caring for their son/brother - a full grown man that, for reasons that are never fully explained, has the intelligence of an infant and lives in a crib with diapers, baby clothes, baby toys, etc. in a full-blown baby's nursery on the second floor. He talks like a baby, acts like a baby's weird. The family is overly protective of the Baby, and become vicious and aggressive if anyone tries to interfere with it or ask too many questions. So it's a little inexplicable that a social worker (Ann Gentry) is assigned to the case, per their request. The social worker of course becomes fascinated with the Baby and why he is the way he is, and why it has become so normal in the realm of the family. Naturally, to fuel the intrigue, she discovers the family's suspicious history, and learns that several former care takers and babysitters of the man-child have mysteriously vanished, and the deadly battle begins as she tries to wrestle it from the creepy threesome's stranglehold.
    The estrogen-centric story seems, somehow, to be a stab at portraying the way women act towards each other while contending with the phenomenon of men and male energy in their lives - with the Baby itself acting as bouncing board, maybe? What better character to represent all the wonderful and horrible things men are to women - than a grown male (played by an actor who's rather handsome) with the mind of an infant... who by his very nature demands to be attended by people around him (which of course the XX chromosome-ed ones are going to line up to be first). The drooling, helpless, easily dominated but fully equipped man-infant becomes a collective wet diaper, for the women to soil and stain with their own issues as they do battle with each other for an opportunity to allow the Baby to actually control them. It's a veritable all-female "Lord of the Flies" (the baby is the island).
    Actor David Mooney (who is actually the film producer's son) plays the Baby with remarkable skill... his ability to translate the awkward, graceless, plopping manner of an infant stays spastically consistent even though he never stops reading as an obvious grown man with a severe mental problem. The voice of the Baby is an obvious overdub in most scenes... I'm convinced another actor (perhaps a female) provided the all too-real shrieks, gurgles and babbles of the Baby (think the dissasociative effect of Mercedes McCambridge's voice-overs for Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST) which gives scene after scene a bad-dream uneasiness.
    Loopholes in the story of THE BABY are irrelevant, as the film universe it is told in is so screwy that pointing out logic flaws is a moot point. I won't "spoil" the end for you or tell you which way the story goes. But I will say that if you're a fan of the films BABY DOLL (1956) or SPIDER BABY (1968) or even OTESANEK (2000)... but have a deep appreciation for bad-70's-made-for-TV madness, or just like freak cinema in general, check it out. Of course, if you're one of those "adult baby" fetishists... you will obviously watch this film immediately upon hearing about it (if you don't own a well-worn copy already), and cry buckets of sympathy where others might be roaring with laughter (or shivering in creeped out-ness).
    At times THE BABY is so absurd that you think it and whatever message it's trying to convey must be completely moronic, but at other times it's so absurd you feel that there must be more intelligent semiotics at play that just the uncompromising vision of someone's unresolved mean-mommy issues. I can't figure out whether THE BABY is a very good idea gone bad, or a very bad idea executed perfectly. But whatever it is, or has become, I will say one thing about this film: it is is a closet misogynists' wet dream.
    * be sure to check out Pseu Braun's recent WFMU on-air visit and ear-talking-off by the great Crispen Glover here (archive for March 11, 2005).

Copyright 2005 Mark Allen

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