Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bob Dylan in Rolling Stone: Nothing Is Revealed

At 71, Bob Dylan is still a rascal and sly as a fox. In his latest interview with left-wing music rag Rolling Stone, he never takes the bait despite repeated attempts by his interviewer, Mikal Gilmore, to reel him in. Gilmore seems determined to get Dylan to endorse President Obama's bid for re-election, which the mag is actively promoting, and to agree with those on the left that all criticism of our 44th Commander-In-Chief is rooted in racism. After a lengthy rant about the Civil War ("It was suicidal. Four years of looting and plunder and murder done the American way") and slavery ("[T]he United States burned and destroyed itself for the sake of slavery"), Dylan is asked if he thought the election of Obama signaled a "shift" or "sea change" in the country.

"I don't have an opinion on that," Dylan says then states an opinion: "You have to change your heart if you want to change."

What about the reaction against Obama? Is racism to blame?

"They did the same thing to Bush, didn't they? They did the same thing to Clinton, too, and Jimmy Carter before that. . . Anybody who's going to take that job is going to be in for a rough time."

But Obama's been called a socialist, un-American . . .

"Eisenhower was accused of being un-American. And wasn't Nixon a socialist? Look what he did in China. They'll say bad things about the next guy, too."

Gilmore keeps pushing, trying to get Dylan to agree that racism could be the only reason for anyone to criticize the left's beloved Obama. "The point I'm making is perhaps lingering American resentments about race are resonant in the opposition to President Obama, which has not been a quiet opposition," he says.

Dylan: "You mean in the press? I don't know anybody that's personally saying this stuff that your'e just saying. The press says all kinds of stuff. I don't know what they would be saying. Or why they would be saying it. You can't believe what you read in the press anyway."

So, what does Dylan think of Obama who he met at least twice, most recently when receiving the Medal of Freedom at the White House?

"What do I think of him? I like him . . . He loves music. He's personable. He dresses good. What the f--- do you want me to say?"

Gilmore dredges up a comment that Dylan made on election night 2008 from the stage of the University of Minnesota. Noticing the Obama button on bassist Tony Garnier, Dylan said, "Tony likes to think it's a brand-new time right now. An age of light. Me, I was born in 1941 - that's the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Well, I been living in a world of darkness ever since." Dylan then made a remark that strikes me as sarcastic: "But it looks like things are gonna change now."

Dylan: "I don't know what I said or didn't say . . . whatever was said, it was said for people in the hall that night. . . It wasn't said to be played on a record forever. . . You say things sometimes, you don't know what the hell you mean. But you're sincere when you say it."

And on it goes. Dylan is the absolute master when it comes to giving interviews in which nothing is revealed except the subject's disinterest in such interrogations.

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amityville Horrors

Real life is scarier than ever these days, so who needs horror movies?

Nonetheless, I watched three of them the other night when the This TV network presented an Amityville Horror triple feature. Way back in 1977, when the book by Jay Anson was published, I remember reading excerpts from his supposedly nonfiction account of the Lutz family’s hair-raising experiences in the Long Island house. The incidents that raised their hair included an invisible marching band and a giant red-eyed pig named Jody. It was all done with sufficient skill that I recall turning away from the page every so often to see if someone - or something - was creeping up behind me.

The 1979 film version, one of the last productions from American International, a company that specialized in horror during the 1950s and '60s when the major studios shunned the genre, was a dreary affair: badly acted (by James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, and others) and indifferently directed by Stuart Rosenberg who, in better days, directed Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. The result would only raise goosebumps if you watched it in frigid temperatures. Several of the scenes made me laugh out loud when I saw the movie on television a few years later, and I laughed again when watching it the other night. Nonetheless, audiences flocked to the film in enough numbers to warrant a sequel.

Amityville: The Possession, released in 1982, was actually a prequel, telling the story of the family that occupied the house before the Lutz family moved in. One member of the family was a teenage boy who became possessed by evil spirits and murdered his parents and siblings. It’s a marginally better film, especially in the acting department, with James Olson acquitting himself well as a priest called in to confront the demons possessing the shotgun-wielding teenager, but I doubt it impressed audiences that had seen the eerie Poltergeist only several months earlier. Still, it must have made a profit because a third film was released only a year later.

Surprisingly, Amityville 3D is the best of the bunch, a competent thriller with a couple of good scares. The credit probably belongs to Richard Fleischer, one of those workhorse directors whose body of work (The Boston Strangler, Fantastic Voyage, The New Centurions, Mr. Majestyk) has never attracted devotees of the auteur theory, but which has always displayed sound craftsmanship. There’s a nice spooky tone throughout, and Fleischer was blessed with good actors, most notably Tess Harper and Candy Clark. This isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s a satisfying chiller on the same level as the best of schlockmeister William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler). Still, it's not as scary as the current world headlines.

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sherlock Holmes, Marijuana, and Me

I remember the first time I smoked dope, at least good dope that had an effect. I was 14-years-old, on Christmas break from ninth grade at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Cleveland, Ohio. It was December 27, 1971, a Monday. I remember it as a night of cool temperatures with the threat of rain, and that day’s newspaper, retrieved through a search of the archives of The Plain Dealer, confirm this. In the top left corner of that day’s front page there is a brief weather report: “Mostly cloudy with a chance of showers. High in the middle 40s.” I remember the exact date for reasons that I’ll elaborate on later.

I was with two companions. I wouldn’t call them “friends,” although that’s how most people, less particular about what a word actually means, would have described them. I would have insisted, as I still do, that I have no “friends,” only acquaintances, some of whom I am better acquainted with than others. We were loitering in the doorway of a boarded-up storefront on Storer Avenue. Two strangers, both of them older than us (maybe 21, but no older than 25) approached us from across the street. I remember one of them wore a green Army jacket, very popular attire among those who considered themselves “hippies,” though that’s a word that was often mistakenly applied to, and embraced by, anyone who wore blue jeans (preferably faded), long hair, and listened to rock and roll. John Lennon frequently wore an Army jacket even as he outspokenly protested American involvement in Vietnam. Other protestors and “hippies” did the same. Such were the ironies of that peculiar period.

One of the strangers pulled a joint from his pocket and offered to share it with us. Of course, we agreed. We were kids eager to be treated as adults, and my two companions thought of themselves as hippies, too, and were probably flattered that these two older hippies were willing to share their marijuana with us. One of my companions had previously acquired some pot and we had smoked it, but it had no effect whatsoever, and I wasn’t expecting much from the fat joint that these strangers were inviting me to share.

I was wrong. This was powerful stuff and it left me giggling uncontrollably for the next hour or two. We went back to the house of one of these companions where the giggling continued as his older sister watched, perplexed. But as I sat in the bedroom decorated with black light posters (and a black light which anyone around at the time would confirm was actually blue), I remember hoping the effects of the weed would wear off by 1:40 a.m., the approximate time that Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was scheduled to air on WJW-TV 8’s Late Night Movie. I had seen it before, but I was an avid film buff with a particular fondness for the movies of the 1940s. The Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were favorites that I enjoyed watching repeatedly, particularly after midnight, the perfect hour for a series of films whose greatest attribute, aside from those two stars, was the atmosphere – lots of dark shadows and sinisterly lit faces. My two companions would have had little interest in watching Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, and would not have been likely to mark their calendar to stay home to watch any movie. This was a good five years before the introduction of the Betamax, the first home video device offered for sale to the public. There were no VCRs or DVDs, and cable TV, if it existed, was strictly for the elite. A movie might air once or twice a year, and you were never sure if you would ever have a chance to see it again. I’m sure that neither of my companions knew that Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was airing that night unless I told them, which I’m sure I did not do since we had little in common and I knew they would not have cared. They certainly wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to get high (or to aimlessly wander the streets, for that matter) to watch any old movie.

I would not have remembered the exact date that Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror aired on this particular night if not for my experience earlier that evening, but I wouldn’t have remembered the exact date of that experience unless Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror hadn’t aired later that night. It was the combination of the two that stamped the date on my brain.

The second time that I smoked dope, I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was a case of “Been there, done that.” Giggling, which may have been fun on that particular evening, was not the way I wanted to spend my time, and such silliness was soon joined by paranoia and the “munchies.” Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, however, continued to hold up on repeated viewings, and it isn’t even the best film in the series (an honor that belongs to The Scarlet Claw).

I lost touch (thank God) with one of these companions, but I watched as the other one continued to smoke dope when it was available, as it rarely was to someone who never held a job for more than two weeks and was dependent on his mommy for beer money. He also “experimented,” as they say, with LSD and other substances. At his urging, I took THC at age 17, but otherwise had no interest in getting “high” or “stoned.” Why would I? Why does anyone?

My theory is that those who consider it “fun” to be stoned are shallow boobs who have a void in their life that they are too dumb to fill with something other than pointless and often self-destructive activities. (Sherlock Holmes, as conceived by Arthur Conan Doyle, may have disagreed. His request, at the conclusion of the 1939 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles - “Watson, the needle!” - was a confession to the serious nature of his own addictions.) In 1991, at age 35, after years of drinking and drugging, this former companion was found dead, a direct result of all that drinking and drugging. He was a shallow boob, indeed, whose life was spent pretending he was a bad-ass (he wasn’t) and a ladies man (he wasn’t that either). Was his failure to realize these foolish ambitions to blame for his drug use and early death? I don’t know. I do know that I live on, and partly attribute my survival to Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks