Check out the animated show Bat out of Hell on Kickstarter!

Archives for August 2008

Bunnies, continued.


Commenter Anonymous reminded me that I hadn’t taken note of this article on a Playboy Bunny reunion cruise, the addition of which strikes me as the only thing that could have made the Arrested Development premiere funnier than it already was. Anonymous takes the high road and avoids poking fun at the women. But your humble host feels compelled to comment here and there…

“For Diane Walton, 62, it was ‘the feeling of sisterhood’ she knew as a bunny that drew her to the reunion.”

[This is not ridiculous. Solidarity is damn powerful. But it does make me think of Monty Python’s Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.]

“Ms. Walton, tall, with flowing auburn hair, was fresh out of Berkeley in 1968, with a degree in English and a yearning for adventure, when she joined the Kansas City club on a lark. Her traditional Catholic parents, she said, ‘were slightly horrified.’

[This is where a reporter not keeping a bemused distance from the whole thing might ask, “Did they say why?” Or maybe it just wasn’t that kind of story.]

“They eventually softened, especially after her strong-willed Irish grandmother told them to give her a break.”

[“In my day, we would have been grateful to be allowed to snag a man by showing off our buxom Irish figures! But no! We had to win him at the annual Milking & Digging Faire. Only the strongest cow-milkers and potato diggers could hope to find a husband; the rest of us were bundled off to America to work as scullery maids! Beauty counted not a whit!”]

“Ms. Walton recalled her grandmother telling her, ‘If I was your age in these times, I’d do the same thing.'”

[Ah, these times. So unlike all the previous times.]

“She told me the same thing years later, when I was the first in the family to get divorced,” Ms. Walton said.

[Yay divorce! You win! Because in these times, a failed marriage isn’t a failure!]

“Karen Drennan, who at 17 lied about her age so she could start working as a bunny in Dallas in 1977, went on to become an actress, but quit to home-school her two sons and teach Sunday school.”

[See? Sunday school! Homeschooling! Playboy Bunnies – they’re exactly the same as you or me. Except we’re writing an article about them because they used to wear bunny ears and cotton tails and show off their assets while slinging drinks. So actually, they’re special.]

“Like many other former bunnies, she lives quietly among people who have little idea about her Playboy past. She doesn’t talk much about it, but doesn’t hide it, either. When friends of her teenage boys visit, they sometimes gawk at the sexy young bunny in the photo in the house.

[Hello? Editorial? Ending a sentence with a clunker like “in the photo in the house”? Were you distracted by the thought of a sexy young bunny?]

“Who is that?” they ask.

“Oh, that’s just my mom,” her boys will reply, a bit sheepishly.

[A bit sheepishly. How quaint.]

The friends don’t buy it.

‘My boys are a little embarrassed,’ Ms. Drennan said, ‘and I’m a little insulted that their friends don’t really believe it’s me.'”

[…]

[Image taken from this kind of heartbreaking slideshow.]

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Don’t Talk to Me of Love Until We Shovel out the Shit

Nah … just foolin. That’s a line from Lancelot, the Percy book under musical consideration this week. I think it’d be great if it actually was a song, and in fact I think I’ll take an impromptu stab at one right now:

You spend all my money, honey,
shopping down at the mall,
with clothes and dishes piling up
as the sun’s sinkin’ down.
You’re goin’ out for another night on the town,
but I think we’re headed for the fall.

Our bed is colder than the meatloaf
at the back of the fridge.
Your lousy kids are askin’ fer it
Come morning you’ll be singin’
Holy Lord Above
But don’t talk to me of love, no don’t talk to me of love
until we shovel out the shit…

Yeah, well, Walker Percy’s Lancelot has never struck me as one of his best, either. I like it better after talking to Rufus about it, and reading one of his papers on Percy. One interesting thing about the book is that he continues to reference pop/rock/country (how exactly is Kristofferson best categorized?). And this song is a damn sight better than the one I put up last week, I think. It comes early on in the book (page 20 in the Avon paperback). It is, of course, a small part of Lance Lamar’s long monologue/confession/rambling dissociation to Percival, his priest/therapist during lock-up. Anyway, here’s the passage from the novel.

Are you watching that girl I hear singing? I hear her every day. You know her, don’t you?

I’ve seen you speak to her on the levee. She’s lovely, isn’t she? Clean jeans, clean combed hair halfway down her back. She crosses the levee every day. I think she lives in one of the shacks on the batture. Probably a transient from the North, like one of the hundreds of goldfinches who blow in every October.

One becomes good at observing people after a year, like an old lady who has nothing better to do than peep through the blinds. I observed that you know her well. Are you in love with her?

Ah, that does surprises you, doesn’t it? Listen to the girl. She’s singing.

Freedom’s just another word, Lord, for nothing left to lose
Freedome was all she left for me

Do you believe that? Maybe the girl and I come closer to believing it than you, even though you surrendered your freedom voluntarily and I didn’t. Maybe the girl knows more than either of us. ~ Lancelot


“Me and Bobby McGee” was written by Kristofferson but popularized by Janis Joplin, and I’m guessing that it’s Joplin’s version that the girl would be singing. Kristofferson will crop up again in another book by Percy, and it’s fun to think of records like Silver Tongued Devil and I and Jesus Was a Capricorn on Percy’s shelf.

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Eleven

As mentioned earlier, there are several books on religious subjects on Diana’s shelf. She tends to concentrate on non-fiction – science books, mostly biology, such as the one by Teilhard de Chardin, but also a few by Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, and others as well. She wants, after all, to get down to the truth about life, and biology, after all, is the study of life. For the most part she hasn’t thought to look for that truth in novels. There is, however, one novel that she really has enjoyed reading, called The Living.

The Living is a novel by Annie Dillard, who is also the author of a number of non-fiction books in Diana’s bookcase. The story takes place in the 19th century in the area of what is now modern day Bellingham in Washington state. The novel is filled with a number of striking characters who populate the community of Whatcom between the 1850s and the 1890s and make their living by fishing, hunting, and trading, and as certainly must have been true (because it has always been true), these people give each other a fair amount of both grief and help along the way. Clare Fishburn is inspired to live a good life by recognizing that he will certainly die one day, a knowledge that is impressed upon him with a threat from the unruly Beal Obenchain (Dillard has some pretty interesting character names). There are many secondary characters as well, and the author informs us on a prefatory page that only a half dozen of them are historical: Chowitzit, the Lummi Indian Chief, Hump Talem, the Nooksack chief, and several other community leaders in business and politics.

But it’s also possible, even probable, that some of the other characters are based on people from real life, even if it’s just a minor trait in a minor character. This only seems reasonable. A detail about someone here or there could have been picked up from reading something in the historical record consulted by Dillard as she wrote the novel. Or a part of a character’s personality may actually have been taken from someone Dillard met in life. It could be the color of someone’s hair, the tone of someone’s voice, or just the way someone listens to the surf and looks at the footprints of birds below the tide line on a beach. Or perhaps it has nothing to do with a particular individual, but in the way two individuals interact. Maybe an author doesn’t even realize what is taken from life for their work; this is simply the nature of creative writing, prefatory remarks along the lines of ‘This is a work of fiction’ notwithstanding.

It’s worth considering that of all the people designated by the title The Living, not one of them really is living. Chief Chowitzit and some of the others were alive at one time, but they aren’t now (in the biological sense of the word), and most of the other characters were never alive at all. And yet Dillard writes about all of them as if they were, and the book can be read as if they were, or even are, with the same willing spirit. It’s possible that Dillard chose the title merely to suggest that back before the turn of the century people living in the north Puget Sound region were a hardier lot and therefore more ‘alive’ than people who live there right now. An implied critique of modern society might be part of her purpose, but that probably isn’t all of it. Dillard’s own essays on fiction suggest that she’s on to something more, and one of the things she seems to be on to is a paradox that lies at the heart of all fiction.

Readers engage themselves with something they know is not true as if were true. This is old hat, really, and most everybody who has considered this paradox has heard or read about the expression suspension of disbelief, that psychological trick by which readers willingly hang up that critical ability to distinguish between what they understand to be real and not real. Of course they don’t throw out this ability altogether. It’s fun to find inconsistencies made by the makers of fiction, or such improbabilities as the tavern scene in the middle of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. Unlikely coincidences run throughout Dickens’ Great Expectations as well; better yet, in David Lean’s film of Dickens’ novel, Bernard Miles (the actor playing Joe Gargery) has fake eyebrows that sometimes look like they are about to fall off. “Even Homer nods,” and such mistakes prove their makers mortal, and perhaps also help us reconfirm the sense of reality we had formerly been so eager to give away.

We have a sense of reality and then we let it go for a while, and then we return to our workaday sense of the world, going back and forth between realities with an ease that reveals this psychological trick to be second nature. For all the ease with which we negotiate these transformations of consciousness, there remains a strong desire for one reality, once and for all, and this might be most apparent in the eternal calling of art. Certainly at one time or another most people have thought of devoting themselves to painting, or acting, or becoming a musician or a poet.

Such a desire for one reality once and for all is also an important aspect of religion. What kind of connection is there between stories that are clearly fiction (as described above) and stories we need to be true so as to remain bound together as a coherent people? When is this ‘transformation of consciousness’ welcome, and when is it a problem? In addition to whatever help or hindrance it is for society, this transformation seems to be an important part any our longing for the hereafter. Whatever failures we may experience in life, there remains hope that in the afterlife we may find our different understandings of reality merged in a way we’ve never recognized before. G.K. Chesterton (Diana has one of his books on religion, Orthodoxy, even though she hasn’t read it) seems to have had something like this in mind at the end of his biography of Dickens when he wrote the following:

The inn does not point to the road; the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters: and when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world.

It probably wouldn’t be so bad meeting Nicholas Nickleby or Mr. Pickwick in any of his different guises, but the prospect of spending eternity with Fagin or Skimpole or even Titus Barnacle of the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit is a little daunting, to say the least. Most people would probably prefer to have a little say in the matter of who they spend time with in the hereafter, and for that reason it’s worth considering whether Chesterton’s wish is all that desirable. Since death itself is compulsory, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that anything or anyone connected with the afterlife will be compulsory as well. There’s also something vaguely disconcerting about this vision of the hereafter, in that we actually seem to lose that critical ability to distinguish between fiction and what isn’t fiction. Not only is the idea of eternity with Fagin objectionable, but the next world seems like something less than this world if we must lose the ability to understand the categorical difference between Charles Dickens and Mr. Pickwick and all the others. It would be nice to retain our knowledge of the difference between characters from novels and characters from our workaday reality. Of course we naturally suspend our disbelief while engaged with even the most clichéd fictions, so to some extent the hereafter according to Chesterton (or this paragraph of Chesterton) seems a real possibility. And those great flagons can’t really help our lot. After stumbling pie-eyed around a creaky, 19th century inn filled with imaginary characters, even Dickens’ characters, it’s probably time to call for a ride home.

All that aside, the dilemma posed by the paradox of fiction runs deeper than the divide explored thus far, if indeed it is possible for anything to run deeper than our notions about the hereafter. What is paradoxical about fiction seems in fact true about language generally and therefore about any understanding we may reach about the world. The word ‘tree’ and the idea this word generates is not the same thing as an actual tree. And it’s true not just of language, but of any way we choose to represent anything. Consider Magritte’s painting of a pipe, Trahison des Images, in which he conscientiously and rather playfully includes in the picture the words, Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). It’s an interesting gag that reverses the logic of another one of his paintings, entitled La Condition Humaine. In it, there is a painting within the painting, placed on an easel in front of a window in such a way that the field that is the subject of the painting blends perfectly with the landscape visible through the window behind it. Both paintings play on our ability to confuse reality with our representation of it, and for that reason they seem both humorous and a little mad.

There are similar paradoxes that don’t involve pictures. The statement ‘All Cretans are liars; I am a Cretan’ and its variations present us with a logical problem we can go round and around with forever. What is interesting is that from this logic problem a great number of ideas and solutions can be generated. But because we will always work with the world through the mediation of language or some other system of signs and symbolic forms, the world will always be more complicated than our ability to judge it with complete precision. The more we know, the more we know we don’t know. By these criteria we must always speak in terms that are incomplete at best and perhaps even dead wrong. This doesn’t mean that truth doesn’t exist (the existence of a falsehood is logically dependant upon truth), but it does indicate our inability to express the truth in words with anything approaching total comprehension. Perhaps all this has some bearing on the fall of Adam, since he was the first one to use words. Maybe he was fine as long as believed in the unity of things with the names he had given to them, but when he and Eve were forced by the serpent to recognize the arbitrary nature of the signs they were using, they felt an abyss open up between the world and their conception of it. Eve gave Adam an apple to prove this, showing him that it was something more than just the sign he had given to it. But Adam had already begun naming the things of the world, and by then there was no turning back.

Perhaps we are saved from the chaos of that abyss by the possibility that words can still point towards a truth that we do not yet fully recognize. In the hereafter perhaps we ourselves may then be called The Living and granted that recognition.

Today in Porn, What Almost Was Edition

Via Vulture, this profile of House Bunny star Anna Faris includes this tidbit:

“The character of Shelley was Faris’ own invention, obliquely inspired by the dearth of roles for middle-aged women. ‘I thought, we know what happens to actresses in their 40s and 50s,’ she said. ‘But what happens when you’re a model or a Playboy bunny and you’re too old? What skills do you have?’

Faris brought the character to writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, whose ‘Legally Blonde’ catapulted Reese Witherspoon into the top rank of Hollywood actresses. Her original conception of Shelley was, she admits, ‘much darker’: a hardened drug addict returning home to her conservative small town, perhaps to her abusive father. The reaction, fortunately, was skeptical. ‘When I told the writers, they were like, “Hmmm. Or she could become a house mom!”‘ Faris says.”

Fortunately, indeed. Ex-Centerfolds with drug problems and abusive pasts? Whoever heard of such a thing? What a total downer! Better to have her teach some frumpy sorority gals about the virtues of cleavage.

Stephen Webb on Adam, Edward O. Wilson, and The Encyclopedia

Yesterday’s On the Square in First Things is sorta Percyesque in its treatment of the human faculty for naming, with a different emphasis on the specifically scientific nature of the endeavor in our time.

Collecting, naming, and organizing things—anything, from banana labels to dachshund paperweights—seems to be built into human nature. At least, that’s what the Bible tells us. The first task God gave Adam was the naming of the animals. God “brought them to Adam to see what he would call them” and “the man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field” (Gen. 2:19–20). No matter how you imagine this scene, its meaning seems clear enough. The gift of language is what separates us from other species. We can name them, but they cannot name us.

And I may as well bring Dylan into the mix, because I can.

Local Boy Makes Good

Over at the day job, I’ve got a profile of Christopher Ashley, new artistic director at the La Jolla Playhouse (site of the world premieres for hit musicals such as Jersey Boys and Thoroughly Modern Millie!). I mention it here on the personal blog because of an interesting personal note: he spent his boyhood in my hometown, which is where he caught the theater bug. Our fathers both taught at the university there. To top it off, we both played the Jester in local productions of Once Upon A Mattress What are the odds?

On In the Mood for Love

This movie, written and directed by Wong kar-Wai and filmed in Thailand in order to recreate the atmosphere of Hong Kong in the 1960s, manages to marry the claustrophobic mood of illicit, romantic longing to the epic proportions of the cinema of that same decade. Director Wong kar-Wai was first brought to the attention of many American viewers through Quentin Tarantino’s enthusiasm for Chunking Express, a 1994 movie that harbingers some of the techniques employed in Mood For Love but registers nothing near the impact of this melodrama set mostly in the cramped confines of tenement houses and business offices – a setting that makes those epic proportions all the more an achievement.

Chief among these techniques are the slow motion shots and the discreet ruptures of time and sequence to emphasize the confusion inherent to the predicament of the two major characters. Where slow motion sequences in Wai’s previous work were often halting and combined with out-of-focus camera shots, in this movie they are languorous and intensely erotic as they follow swaying hips and swinging arms of characters simply moving from one room to another. These shots are usually close-ups at torso-level (front or back) and encourage in the viewer the kind of obsessive observations made by lovers in close quarters.

The action begins in 1962 as Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) move in to adjacent rooms with their respective spouses. Since the heart of the story follows their co-discovery and reactions to the adultery committed by these spouses, there is an element of surprise that evokes sympathy for the Chow and Su as they fumble their way through a web of tangled emotions within their private lives. This, even as they struggle out from under the oppression of a society that places more burdens on them than on their sneakier spouses, whose faces are never seen and their voices never heard. No wonder that love soon blooms between them as well. On the pretense of writing a martial arts serial together they begin meeting more frequently, and their growing friendship is characterized in the movie by their unification within single frames, where they had hitherto been more often separated by individual shots. Their intimacy increases even as they remain faithful to their already broken marriages, and the poignancy of their choice is most evident in their efforts to keep their relationship secret.

The importance of secrecy is apparent when Chow shares with a co-worker a fable about confession rather than the details of his life. According to the story, in the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share, they went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud, and left the secret there forever.

Perhaps a three fourths of the way through the film moves forward: first to 1966, then to, and finally to Cambodia in 1966 following De Gaulle’s visit to Phnom Penh. The era is vividly evoked by a soundtrack that includes Nat King Cole and other standards of the decade. Other staples of the mid-60’s aesthetic are the bee hive hair doos and cheongsam dresses worn by Su.

Compared, say, to Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful, or for that matter, Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman’s Faithless, Wai’s movie seems at once both staid and daring in its treatment of adultery. It isn’t that morality is sacrificed, but rather the full dimension of moral responsibility is explored in such a way that something more than titillation and lacerating guilt is brought to the drama. To pursue the story of the aggrieved partners is an interesting choice, if not totally unheard of. What makes it work as well as it does is Wang’s restraint, which is translated on film as the self-control of Chow and Su. This decision brings its own pain, as when he helps her rehearse for the eventual confrontation and revelation. As viewers we never see this confrontation: we are left to imagine it just as they imagine it. Of course we don’t want to, any more than they do, and soon we are returned to the private life shared by them.

The final sequence observes Chow’s pilgrimage to Angkor Wat, perhaps as a search for love and reconciliation on a religious plane. He’s seen whispering into the hollow space of pillar, confessing his secrets in secret. Though we can’t hear, we understand the significance of those whispers, and of such a mysterious ending to such a mysterious movie we are privileged observers indeed.

Today in Porn, Mad Men Edition

New York’s Vulture blog, which is almost as big a fan of the show as I am, links to a Bunny-frosted, Mad Men-themed fashion shoot over at Playboy.com. Any excuse to break out those old uniforms for the ladies, eh, boys? But the really interesting point is this: in Sunday’s episode, Pete rifles through a stack of stag mags at the doctor’s office, left there to help him along with his semen sample. Among the titles: Nudi-Fax, International Nudistour Guide, US News & World Report (!), and his eventual selection, Jaybird USA. Notably absent: Playboy.

Holy Crap

Amy links to this story about this man, who wrote these movies, and who has now gone and written this book about his new, deep love for the Catholic Church. In particular: “Mr. Eszterhas told The Blade that despite his mixed feelings over the church and the abuse scandal, the power of the Mass trumps his doubts and misgivings. ‘The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It’s almost a feeling of a kind of high.'”

Interestingly, the conversion has had an effect on his storytelling sensibility: “Mr. Eszterhas said he spent too much of his life exploring the dark side of humanity and does not want to go there anymore. He was born in Hungary during World War II, grew up in refugee camps, and then moved to the United States and lived in an impoverished neighborhood in Cleveland.
He worked as a police reporter in Cleveland and ‘was always fascinated with the darkness. I covered countless shootings, urban riots, and in several situations I was there before police were because I had a police radio and used to drift around the city until something happened,’ he said. But after his spiritual transformation, he said, he had had enough of death, murder, blood, and chaos. ‘Frankly my life changed from the moment God entered my heart. I’m not interested in the darkness anymore,’ he said. ‘I’ve got four gorgeous boys, a wife I adore, I love being alive, and I love and enjoy every moment of my life. My view has brightened and I don’t want to go back into that dark place.'”

Dept. of Bumper Stickers, Obscene Phrase Traced in the Dust on the Rear Window Edition

“F*ck Jesus! It’s ok! Be happy!”

I kind of wonder what happened to make the author believe that one has to f*ck Jesus in order to be happy so fervently that it was worth writing it out in the dust with his finger.