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Friday, September 30, 2005

HELL HATH NO FURY-continued

So Lady X comes into the barbecue joint today, gives me a smile and says "Some action last night, hunh?" I cocked my head like a confused dog and she realized I had no idea what the hell she was talking about, so she enlightened me. Here's the skinny:

Triple B was doing her laundry a couple of doors down from the barbecue joint at the local laundromat when her former boyfriend came in. I don't have all of the details yet, but apparently Triple B's Irish was up and she caused such a scene that the boyfriend turned a hose on her to ward her off and calm her down. The police were called — they were unamused — and an ambulance turned up, but I am unsure if there were any arrests made or trips to the hospital needed, but Lady X promises to come in soon in give me all the gory particulars and I will relate them as soon as I get all of it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

THE ULTIMATE HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATES UPDATE

The following tale is purportedly true and I have attempted to verify the details via google, but so far no luck.

Two days ago I heard from Agent 00-Mocha (name withheld for reasons about to be made apparent), a guy I have been friends with since junior high school in 1977 who is now involved with homeland security, and he related to me the most spectacular "whatever happened to" story I have yet heard:

About two years ago Agent 00-Mocha was assigned to handle a case in our home town involving a heroin and gun-running organization, and to his horror he discovered that the ring — which included a well-armed force of around fifty operatives — was run by one "Clark Bar," another good friend since junior high. Bar had run millions in horse through Westport and now homeland security and the CIA had their eye on him.

Unfortunately another old friend of ours, "Westporter X," was looking for an apartment and ended up moving in with Bar, totally unaware of the drugs/guns thing. When X moved in, Bar was well gone on heroin and during one of his heroin jags eventually did to X what is usually done to new prison inmates at gunpoint. X got the hell out of there, reported it to the police — who already knew about the illegal operation — who referred it back to the feds. In short order the feds raided Bar's base of operations and Bar, a once very nice kid whom I grew up with, was gunned down and killed by the CIA.

I actually ran into Clark Bar about ten years ago in Manhattan near the Broadway offices of Marvel Comics; we chatted for a few minutes and agreed to keep in touch, which didn't happen...

I swear, you just can't make this shit up.

Monday, September 26, 2005

HELL HATH NO FURY

Time for more fun with the locals at the barbecue joint, and, ladies, this one’s for you:

On Friday night one of my favorite locals — the Brooklyn Blarney Blonde, a friendly lady with attitude to spare and a thick neighborhood accent like you just don’t hear anymore, especially when she gets riled or excited — breezed in with another woman in tow, sat down at the bar and proceeded to natter on for quite a while over some pretty stiff drinks. Since it was slow for a Friday night I went out to say hi and Brooklyn Blarney Blonde introduced me to her friend (whose name eludes me at the moment), to whom she said “You should talk to him about this.” I arched an eyebrow in Spock-like curiosity, and the new girl blurted out that men just can’t be trusted. Brooklyn Blarney Blonde (who will henceforth be referred to as Triple B) then took up the tale, and if this isn’t like something straight out of a movie then I don’t know what is:

Over the summer Triple B was dating a local guy and eventually hoping for something a bit more substantial from the guy, relationship-wise. Then a few days ago he announced that he had to break up with her since he already had a girlfriend — a detail that he had previously neglected to mention — and said girlfriend (we’ll call her Lady X) was on her way back from her summer-long vacation in India. Needless to say this did not go over well with Triple B, but what could she do about it?

Skip ahead to late on Friday afternoon, and Triple B is doing her laundry at the local laundromat. While emptying a dryer, Triple B overhears another tall blonde recounting the details of her summer trip to the laundry’s proprietor, a trip that happened to have been to India. “So you’re Lady X,” said Triple B, and the two of them began to talk, all of the details of the situation with the douchebag boyfriend being aired, when the boyfriend drives up and spots Lady X through the window. He cheerfully waved at her, but his cheeriness immediately turned to raw terror when he saw Triple B talking to Lady X, at which point the guy peeled out with such speed that the G-forces must have pushed his balls straight up his esophagus.

Admirably, the two women got on like a house on fire and did not have any hard feelings for one another since they were both clearly the victims of a total scumbag. Instead of resorting to a screaming, crying, hair-pulling on-the-sidewalk catfight they retired to the barbecue joint’s bar for a few hours, vented about the assholism of men and plotted their revenge. As far as I know there are no concrete plans cemented for the stupid bastard’s ultimate fate, but I will keep you posted once I am made aware of the details.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

UMGAWA!


Every now and then I lose all hope for the entire human race and I need a dose of the unwavering moral certainty put out by superheroes and what they represent, especially the pre-1960’s variety of good guys. Back in the days there were no real shades of gray to our heroes; you were either a good guy or a bad guy, it was that simple. Some were more violent and cynical in their methods than others — the Shadow and the pre-Robin Batman spring immediately to mind, since both did not hesitate to send villains to join the Choir Invisible — and others handed out ass-kickings that came from a more primal, earthy standpoint, such as Conan, Billy “The Mucker” Byrne, and Enkidu, co-star of the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh (how can you not get with a superhuman wildman who is civilized in no uncertain terms by the twin influences of friendship and serious pussy?). But none of those resonate in my estimation quite like Tarzan of the Apes, so today I went out and finally got my paws on the boxed DVD set of the first six MGM films about him.

I have absolutely fucking loved Tarzan for as long as I can remember, one of the very few things my father and I had in common, and I still smile at the memory of my dad telling a five-year-old Bunche about how the word “Umgawa” was the jungle lord’s all-purpose word that could literally be applied to any situation whatsoever and work like a charm, a fact proven time and again throughout several of his films from the early 1930’s through around 1948. Perhaps my father’s one positive lasting influence upon me was spurring my interest in the heroes of his youth, especially Tarzan and Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century, both of whose comic strips amazingly launched on the very same day in 1929 (although both had first debuted in pulp magazines years earlier)…

But I digress.

Moving to the hostile and racist land of Westport, Connecticut in the summer of 1972 — I had just turned seven — I had no real friends save the little blonde girl across the street, Nora, would play with me in the vast, untamed swamp near I-95, and our favorite game was “Tarzan and Jane,” a much more interesting variation on “House.” I remember Nora in her Jane persona loving the idea of having a husband who was some wild jungle guy and a “child” who was a stuffed bear who also doubled as “Cheeta" the chimp, and complaining about how she and her mate were always more or less naked, and noting her strange interest in nudity in general, but we were clothed throughout all of this innocent kiddie role playing; without even intending to explore its meaning we had hit upon one of the most intriguing elements of the cinematic Tarzan/Jane dynamic, namely that the two were primal, sexual creatures whose relationship was in no way prurient, just fun, innocent and utterly natural. Sadly, Nora moved away a few months later and I would not have any friends who had any kind of imagination for several years to come (plus I would have loved to have borne witness to the beauty that I’m certain she became).

During the 1970’s in the Connecticut area kids got their education on Tarzan from weekly Sunday afternoon screenings of films about him on New York’s Channel 5 — and the seldom seen reruns of the Ron Ely television series from the 1960’s which was pretty good — and I can honestly say I saw all of them, but the details of many of the earlier entries faded from my childhood memories and were only awakened and really understood when seen again from a grownup perspective. Cases in point: TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932) and even more so TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934), both films from before the hypocrisy and bullshit of the Hayes code (look that one up on Google; way too much to cover here).

The first two of the MGM Tarzan flicks are violent as hell, politically incorrect to an alarming degree for modern viewers (depictions of Africans back in those days were less than flattering, to say the least), and surprisingly hot when it came to the Tarzan and Jane romance. What really blows me away upon seeing the MGM entries nowadays is how wrong I was in my original assessment of the films; as a child I loved them but upon getting older and reading creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels I was shocked to find the jungle lord was extremely articulate, fluent in several languages (French was his first non-simian tongue), and that Jane was a blonde American rather than the British brunette of the movies, and I perceived those deviations from the source material to be both insulting and a flagrant example of dumbing down some really great stuff. Well lemme tell ya, sometimes things that are altered for the movies can work out to be exactly right for the onscreen medium.

The casting of non-actor and badass of the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, Johnny Weissmuller, proved to be brilliant since his Tarzan exhibited an animal wariness and athletic physicality that I honestly do not believe could have been gotten across by a stage or screen thespian. And don’t get me started on the absolute perfection of Maureen O’Sullivan’s Jane; here was a love interest who was not only utterly lovely, but she was every bit as savvy and fearless as Tarzan (once she said “fuck civilization” and started swinging through the trees), and was also the kind of lady that guys just plain love and unless some ass-kicking on a rubber crocodile or rallying of an elephant herd was needed, Jane was pretty much the brains of the operation. Pretty radical for the 1930’s, I think.

The first two of the MGM Tarzan flicks really focus on Jane and her rebirth as a “natural” woman after accompanying her father on a quest for the mythical “Elephant’s Graveyard,” a site that exists on a remote African plateau that also happens to be the home of Tarzan. In TARZAN THE APE MAN our nature boy abducts Jane from the safari, strictly out of innocent curiosity, and when he hauls her up to his tree home Jane is terrified — as is the audience — when it appears that Tarzan’s rough attentions are a preamble to rape rather than a desire to check out someone who is obviously different from him, different in a way that he has never encountered since he is the only human where he resides (or so we are supposed to believe, despite an abundance of black people all over the goddamned place). Jane soon realizes that she is in no danger, and begins to warm to the ape-man, openly voicing how hot she thinks he is and her relief at the fact that she can make such statements since he can’t understand her nattering in English. The smoldering gazes between the two are volcanic in their heat, and pretty soon Tarzan scoops Jane into his arms, looks up at his tree and nods to her as if to ask “Are you feeling this too?” Jane buries her face in his neck in silent agreement and the two retire to the arboreal love-nest, at which point the scene fades out and the screen goes dark for a surprisingly long time…

When next we see Jane, she is unusually relaxed for a 1930’s movie heroine and embraces the Big Guy while blatantly expressing her obvious pleasure in his unrefined charms. It’s plain to even the most obtuse member of the audience that the Beast With Two Backs has been made, and by the time the story winds up Jane has ditched both the British stiff who digs her and the British notion of modest social propriety in general for the wild life with her loincloth-clad Lothario (and his chimp companion Cheeta).

The sequel, TARZAN AND HIS MATE, is considered by many — including your humble Bunche — to be the best Tarzan movie ever made, and is chock full of all the excitement, sex and violence that one could want in a movie even by today’s standards, so when it came out back in 1934 it raised a major ruckus. This time around, a party of irritating British shitheads arrive at Tarzan’s escarpment with the intention of returning Jane to England since there is no way that any sane white woman would enjoy being out in the wilds of Africa, what with all the animals, heat, negroes, and that smelly, yodeling white guy in the leather banana-hammock. Well, they are in for a big shock when after hiking up the dangerous mountain face for the first half-hour of the movie, they find Jane not only happy to the point of lunacy, but also clad in as little as Hollywood would permit in 1934, an immodest state that she doesn’t even notice since she’s having the time of her life and has absolutely no intention of fucking up such a good thing by going back to Blighty (I told she was smart!).

On the other hand, Tarzan is proven to be an attentive, playful and considerate lover, and since he does not bear the taint of uptight Western bullshit-as-values he is not jealous of the former suitor of Jane’s who has lead the expedition to find her since he knows that they are perfect mates and that nothing short of death could part them. Tarzan’s almost entirely silent love for his woman is truly powerful to behold, and when both characters are looked at as archetypes for both genders — the non-verbal he-man type and the talkative nurturer — their enduring appeal can be readily understood, an appeal made that much more interesting by the plainly illustrated fact that Jane is obviously the real power in their dynamic.

The thing really stuns modern viewers when they see TARZAN AND HIS MATE is the obvious sexual and loving relationship shared by the protagonists, and the fact that such a situation was seen in a major Hollywood film from 1934. There are a couple of scenes wherein we encounter our heroes after a night of flaming osh-osh and Jane is sexily nude under some sort of animal skin, lovingly gushing to Tarzan, and let us not forget the infamous nude swim scene in the river where we see a crystal clear bare-assed Jane (another Olympic swimmer doubling for Maureen O’Sullivan) and the lord of the jungle innocently frolicking together in the same way that couples do if they happen to be nude and not engaged in the aforementioned flaming osh-osh. I could go on about all of this, but I’d like to let the following user comment from the Internet Movie Database say it all for me:

Author: (tom_amity@hotmail.com) from Lincoln, Nebraska, 2/2/2005

“Subversive in 1934: A Liberated woman and a man who loves her.

Hard to believe, perhaps, but this film was denounced as immoral from more pulpits than ANY OTHER FILM produced prior to the imposition of the bluenose Hayes Code. Yes indeed, priests actually told their flocks that anyone who went to see this film was thereby committing a mortal sin.

I'm not making this up. They had several reasons, as follows:

Item: Jane likes sex. She and Tarzan are shown waking up one morning in their treetop shelter. She stretches sensuously, and with a coquettish look she says, "Tarzan, you've been a bad boy!" So they've not only been having sex, they've been having KINKY sex! (A few years later, under the Hays Code, people weren't supposed to be depicted as enjoying sex, especially women.)

Item: Jane prefers a guileless, if wise and resourceful, savage (Tarzan) to a civilized, respectable nine-to-five man (Holt). When Holt at first wows her with a pretty dress from London, she wavers a bit; when Holt tries to kill Tarzan, and Holt and Jane both believe he's dead, she wavers a lot. But when she realizes her man is very much alive, the attractions of civilization vanish for her. And why not? Tarzan and Jane's relationship is egalitarian: He lacks the "civilized" insecurity that would compel him to assert himself as "the head of his wife". To boot, he lacks many more "civilized" hang-ups, for example jealousy. When Holt and his buddy arrive, Tarzan greets them both cordially, knowing perfectly well that Holt is Jane's old flame. When Holt gets her dolled up in a London dress and is slow dancing with her to a portable phonograph, Tarzan drops out of a tree, and draws his knife. Jealous? Nope. He's merely cautious toward the weird music machine, since he's never seen one before. Once it's explained, he's cool.

Item: Civilized Holt is dirty minded. Savage Tarzan is innocently sexy. As Jane slips into Holt's lamp lit tent, Holt gets off on watching her silhouette as she changes into the fancy dress. By contrast, after Tarzan playfully pulls the dress off, kicks her into the swimming hole and dives in after her, there follows the most tastefully erotic nude scene in all cinema: the pair spends five minutes in a lovely water ballet. (The scene was filmed in three versions--clothed, topless and nude--the scene was cut prior to the film's release, but the nude version is restored in the video now available.) And when Jane emerges, and Cheetah the chimp steals her dress just for a tease, Jane makes it clear that her irritation is only because of the proximity of "civilized" men and their hang-ups. Where is the "universal prurience" so dear to the hearts of seminarians? Nowhere, that's where. Another reason why this film is sinful.

Item: The notion that man is the crown of creation, and animals are here only for man's use and comfort, takes a severe beating. Holt and his buddy want to be guided to the "elephant graveyard" so they can scoop up the ivory and take it home. They want Tarzan to guide them to said graveyard. You, reader, are thinking "Fat chance!" and you're right. He's shocked. He exclaims "Elephants SLEEP!" which to him explains everything. Jane explains Tarzan's feelings, which the two "gentlemen" find ridiculous.

Item: Jane, the ex-civilized woman, is far more resourceful than the two civilized men she accompanies. Holt and buddy blow it, and find themselves besieged by hostile tribes and wild animals. It is Jane who maintains her cool. While the boys panic, she takes charge, barks orders at them and passes out the rifles.

Item: Jane's costume is a sort of poncho with nothing underneath. (The original idea was for her to be topless, with foliage artistically blocking off her nipples, which indeed is the case in one brief scene.)

Lastly, several men of the cloth complained because the film was called "Tarzan and His Mate" rather than "Tarzan and His Wife." Maybe that was the whole point of the title!

Of course, Tarzan, who has been nursed back to health by his ape friends, comes to the rescue, routs the white hunters, and induces the pack elephants and African bearers to return the ivory they stole to the sacred place whence it came. The End.

So there you have it. An utterly subversive film. Like all the other films about complex and interesting women (see, e.g., Possessed with Rita Hayworth and Raymond Massey) which constituted such a flowing genre in the early 30's and which were brought to such an abrupt end by the adoption of the Hays Code.

The joie de vivre of this film is best expressed by Jane's soprano version of the famous Tarzan yell. A nice touch, which was unfortunately abandoned in future productions.

Let's hear it for artistic freedom, feminist Jane, and sex.”

Very eloquently stated, I think, and how can you not immediately want to see a film condemned by The Church?

So yesterday, after having a great non-barbecue lunch at the lower East Side’s esteemed Crif Dogs (a repast of two chili dogs and a side of tater tots), I bought the Tarzan DVD set and have set about enjoying my two days off by watching Tarzan flicks until I go mad in an effort to restore my faith in humanity; it is now 4:07 AM on Tuesday morning, and I’m still at it, and ya know what? These journeys to that otherworldly cinematic Africa are doing me a lot of good, and I hope to someday find the right Jane to complement my own inimitable Tarzan.

Wish me luck.

Monday, September 19, 2005

MIDNIGHT COWBOY: THE NOVEL

As some of you may recall, I recently asked various questions about bits of the story content in the film MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Well, I have now read the source novel — a 1965 first edition hardcover with dust jacket obtained for a total of $7.95 including postage and handling; thank you, eBay!!! — and other than a few small but telling details the film is a pretty faithful adaptation.

The book opens with would-be stud-for-hire Joe Buck getting ready to leave his Podunk Texas town, recalling the events that set him upon his sordid path.
Here are the pertinent details:

-Joe was born out of wedlock to a mother who may or may not have been a prostitute, and raised by a succession of blondes who may have been his aunts or other whores until being dropped off to live with his grandmother, Sally Buck, at approximately age nine. During these years Joe sexually imprinted on fleshy blondes, and that imprinting was cemented once he entered into an incestuous relationship with Sally. Upon Sally’s death while Joe was serving in the army, he loses all sense of direction and security since Sally was the only real family or friend he ever had.

-Joe lost his virginity during his mid-teens to Annie, the local high school nympho, a girl who would regularly take on six boys at a time upon a dirty mattress behind a movie theater screen, each waiting patiently in line for his turn and watching his comrades exert themselves upon the unmoved Annie.
That is, unmoved until a novice Joe seriously turned on her lights, leading to a secret relationship that was squelched when one of Annie’s many jealous “users” alerted her father to his daughter’s activities, after which Annie was swiftly institutionalized.

-Joe befriends a local hustler named Perry, a beautiful young man who schools Joe on the art of psychologically dominating one’s “tricks” and gets him stoned on marijuana for the first time. It is very clear that Perry wants to fuck Joe — and that Joe is attracted to Perry but is confused and dishonest with himself as to how to handle that — and he eventually takes Joe to a Tex-Mex whorehouse to supposedly get Joe laid. While Joe is having spirited sex with an underage Mexican whore, he realizes that his efforts are being watched; the house’s madame, her fat, gay half-Indian son and Perry are the voyeurs, and they try to coax Joe into continuing, but a furious Joe attacks Perry, only to be pulled off of the hustler by the big gay Injun, at which point Joe is raped by both the fat guy and Perry. Needless to say, that fucked him up pretty bad, but he soon gets over it, more or less. The gang rape of Joe and Annie by rednecks as seen in the film is nowhere to be found in the book.

-Joe does not care whom he sex with, male or female, so the film’s questions about Joe’s sexuality are answered rather plainly; Joe isn’t really gay, bi or straight, he’s simply a fucking machine who has such a low opinion of himself that any sexual preference is moot. He’s merely a plug in search of a socket In the film when Joe gets it on with the character as played by Brenda Vaccarro, she does a little armchair analysis and intimates that Joe may be a “fag,” which cures him of a brief bout of impotence, but the sequence between them in the novel is nothing more than an extremely steamy sex scene, once Joe gets it up anyway…

So other than the information that you just read, the movie is about a 95% accurate novel-to-screen translation; if you’ve seen the movie there really is no reason to read the novel, a book that honestly has not aged too well. Oh, and the movie ends exactly as the book does, so the last we see of Joe is him sitting in the just-arrived-in-Florida bus cradling the corpse of Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo. Abrupt as fuck, and (for me anyway) an unresolved ending.

SIXTH MONTHS IN HOG HEAVEN

As of this past Saturday night I have spent six months preparing and serving fine, porky comestibles at the barbecue joint. I have learned much during that relatively brief time and here are some of my conclusions:

-Over the years I have cooked for many gatherings of my friends and family, and due to the fact that I kick ass at it I have been urged many times to start up my own “home cookin” joint, a prospect that I have seriously contemplated from time to time. Well now that I have actually been in a kitchen in a professional capacity I can say quite unequivocally that once my time here is done — whenever that may be — I never want anything to do with the restaurant biz for as long as I live. The hours can be long and grueling, it’s hot as a motherfucker during the summer, preparing the same set menu day after day is incredibly tedious, some of the recurring locals are in sore need of euthanasia, and my work schedule has pretty much decimated any hope me having a social life unless I begin dating some comely vampiress or other creature of the night. A she-werewolf wouldn’t be too bad, come to think of it…

-Seeing certain regulars night after night has really driven home the message about the dangers of long term alcoholism; I will still drink socially, but on a nightly basis I see lonely people prematurely aged by the imbibing of hardcore rotgut and such piss-beer as Pabst Blue Ribbon, and witness their feeble, wasted attempts at picking up any female in the vicinity, most of whom are young enough to be their daughters. One of our regulars pretty much drank himself to death a couple of months ago upon finding out that he had terminal cancer, and we have a recurring guy who comes in every day in search of brisket sandwiches who is about two steps from the grave thanks to a raging cases of HIV from his days as a junkie; he rolls into the place fucked up out of his mind on forty-ouncers of Colt 45 malt liquor or Budweiser, barely able to stand or speak coherently, sometimes in his bathrobe and covered in his own blood from where he drunkenly injured himself during a fall, and I can’t get over how pitiful the guy is. Heed my warning and don’t let it happen to you.

-You might be surprised to find that I have not put on a vast amount of tonnage while working in a barbecue kitchen and being able to gorge myself on the stuff for free if I so chose; one of the unfortunate side effects of cooking anything day after day is an inevitable boredom with the cuisine in question — no matter how good it is — and since the shit should be named “heart attack fuel” that’s a good thing for me. The only pork I willingly eat nowadays is the occasional breakfast sausage or bacony thing, but nothing like my consumption of swine flesh like in the days of yore. And also, considering my prodigious tolerance and capacity for beer and hard liquor — read “borderline alcoholism” — I am amazed that I do not take advantage of the bar as much I would have thought. The aforementioned examples of the dissipated regulars may be a significant factor in this.

-Lastly, the saddest thing for me at the restaurant is the fact that doing it for a living has nearly killed the fun and creativity of cooking for me, so I have to get out this gig and into something else before I never have the urge to make my famous fully loaded gumbo again. But I don't see that happening for a while; don't get me wrong, There's a lot I love about the place, but slinging hash and doing nightly post-cooking scullery chores is not what I should be doing right now.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

EL BUNCHO'S FAVE FLICKS

Friends-

As fellow movie goons, you guys know that a person's favorite films change as they go through life and sometimes films that you once loved immensely are relegated to the status of fondly-recalled footnotes in your moviegoing life. Such films for me include JAWS, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and of course STAR WARS, all good films but at the time they each filled a certain need that I had before I discovered other things (translation: girls). I still enjoy them and may tune in when they turn up on the TV (which JAWS seems to do every other weekend-I'm not exaggerating. Channel 55 out of Long Island once had it on its syndicated schedule three times in one month alone!), but they just don't have the same resonance that they once held for me...

Now, as a jaded near-40-year-old movie addict, there are a handful of films that have stood the test of time and that I will watch from start to finish no matter what hour of the day or night they may be airing. What follows is a list of my top 10 all-time favorite movies, and the five runners-up. I realize that by divulging this information I will probably lose your respect, but, hey! A man's gotta stand up for what he loves, be it a beat-up car, a woman he knows is bad for him (but he just can't help himself), or a dumbass film that anyone in their right mind would have burned years ago. Enjoy, and feel free to send back your own list of what rocks your cinematic world. I await your scorn.

Oh, and in case you were wondering where this came from, last night was rather slow at the hallowed barbecue joint — post-holiday weekend slump and the night before the first day of school — so our hot redheaded bartender had me, my boss and a regular fill out lists of our top ten favorite movies off the top of our heads, along with her own list; while doing it I tried to remember the contents of the list that you are about to read, a list prepared during my period of unemployment on a night when I had nothing better to do.

EL BUNCHO'S TOP TEN ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES

(As of 6/23/03-these things are subject to change, ya know...)

KING KONG (1933)

This the film that I can state is without a doubt my favorite movie. Let's face it, it has everything! A violent giant monster (in fact a whole island swarming with dangerous beasties of every description), a bunch of arrogant assholes who think nothing of the possible repercussions of removing said monster from its home, a hot heroine who spends much of the film in her torn undies, a fun story that's straight out of a boy's adventure pulp, Kong on the loose in Manhattan (which wouldn't cause much of a stir nowadays), the battle with planes atop the Empire State building and those poignant final lines. Sheer movie magic... In fact, I got to see the restored print (most of the violence put back in after almost 40 years of re-edits for re-releases) on the big screen when I was eight-years-old and I've been a fan ever since. My mother insisted I see it and I bless her ever day for that bit of parental wisdom. I'll always know how old she is since KONG was released during the year of her birth.

PINK FLAMINGOS(1972)

Easily the most tasteless and offensive comedy ever made, this film had a major impact on my sense of humor when I first saw it back in 1982. If you haven't seen it, it's probably the most low-budget, technically inept and poorly acted film you'll ever witness, but it is absolutely fucking hilarious. The "plot" centers around a war to claim the title of "Filthiest People Alive" as waged by the heroic (?) family of Divine (the late 300-pound transvestite, Glenn Milstead) against the evil Connie and Raymond Marble. Divine and family are indeed pretty filthy - what with engaging in cannibalism to rid themselves of obnoxious police officers, a son who forces his date to fuck him while he thrusts two live chickens between their furiously rutting bodies (much to her chagrin), shoplifting raw meat in their crotches, throwing the sleaziest birthday party ever committed to celluloid (witness the singing asshole to truly understand horror), and many other offenses - but the Marbles believe themselves to be worse (they are merely dope dealers, pornographers, and kidnappers who impregnate young girls and sell the resulting babies to lesbian couples. Fucking poseuers!) and will stop at nothing to prove it. Needless to say, they don't stand a chance. Definitely not for all tastes, this movie makes me smile at the mere thought of it, although I could have done without the infamous final sequence in which Divine actually eats a freshly-laid dog turd on camera. But then again, I've since seen "German" porn, so the dog turd wouldn't begin to register these days... Anyway, hooray for John Waters!!!

SORCERESS (1982)

A strong contender for the tile of "stupidest barbarian flick ever made," this tells the story of two nubile twin sisters (who believe that they are boys) who seek to kill their evil sorcerer father with the aid of three ludicrous sidekicks (obligatory barbarian hunk, bikerish Hagar the Horrible lookalike, and a bargain basement goat-man). Loaded with nudity, ridiculous fights and some of the worst special effects ever created, this couldn't possibly be funnier if it were intended to be, and if I had to get rid of every movie in my collection except for three, SORCERESS would make the cut. Starring absolutely no one that anyone's ever heard of and made for a budget of about $500.

ALAKAZAM THE GREAT! (1960)

Legendary Japanese Manga god Osamu Tezuka (ASTRO BOY, KIMBA THE WHITE LION, PHOENIX 2772) tackles Wu Cheng-En's sixteenth century literary masterpiece JOURNEY TO THE WEST in this lively animated musical. It follows the adventures of the legendary monkey king and his companions, and has an almost hallucinatory feel to it. As usual, Tezuka wears his Disney influence on his sleeve, but once you learn to ignore the saccharine songs (not an easy feat), you'll be drawn in by the incredible visuals and endless fights against monsters, magicians and gods. You also get to see the hero go from being a total asshole to being a great king, and the sweet love story between him and a cute girl monkey named Dee Dee is actually quite touching.

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

One of the most faithful adaptations of a novel ever made, this is the movie that I feel best captures the flavor of Manhattan's Upper West Side. An utterly believable tale of supernatural and nuptial violation of the worst kind, this is one slow-burning, paranoia-inducing mammajamma. There are those who prefer THE EXORCIST, but this is a thousand times more subtle and you aren't really sure whether Rosemary is insane or not until it's too late. My favorite horror movie.

MOTHRA(1961)

Clearly influenced by the basic plot of KING KONG, MOTHRA is the finest of the many Toho studios monster/fantasy epics. When an unscrupulous businessman kidnaps two foot-tall native women from a previously-unexplored island in the Pacific and presses them into a life of exhibition as freaks, he doesn't reckon with the fact that they're actually magical priestesses of the goddess Mothra - and the goddess does not take kindly to those who would harm her priestesses. An orgy of Tohoscope destruction ensues as the military is thwarted at every turn (even atomic cannons are useless), and they slowly come to realize that they really are dealing with a pissed-off deity who defies the laws of man's science. Avoiding the usual pitfalls of this genre, MOTHRA has a tight script, characters you care about, and a villain who is an utter piece of human trash (and obviously meant to be an American, although they don't come straight out and state it). And who can forget the song that the twin fairies sing constantly? Onlookers think it's just some wistful island melody, but don't realize it's the song that gives Mothra an unerring bead on their exact location, the beauty of which is that the girls are encouraged to sing, thereby ensuring the doom of untold thousands. A fucking masterpiece, and the Mothra characters have not been used as well since, with the exception of 1964's GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, which some hail as the best of Toho's classic-era giant monster cycle.

SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980)

It's rare when a distributor can edit together highlights from two films and create a movie that endures in the hearts of martial arts fans and gore addicts for nearly thirty years. Of course it doesn't hurt when the two films in question are the first installments in the classic six-film series based on the LONE WOLF & CUB samurai comics. This film is a visual feast with cinematography and colors that will make you drool, to say nothing of an interesting plot which is chock full of wall-to-wall bloodshed and dismemberment! I first saw this one in 1985 and was totally blown away. I'm very hard on the quality of the fight scenes in martial arts films - especially the swordsmanship - and the fights here are among the finest I've ever had the joy to witness. Tomisaburo Wakayama stars as Lone Wolf, a man of impeccable honor and skill who is framed for treason against the shogun. Taking his infant son along with him "down the road of vengeance," Lone Wolf proceeds to kick so much ass that it's impossible to keep a body count. And if you like bloodshed, the blood flies quite generously, even hitting the camera on occasion (seriously!). But the real star here is the skill of Wakayama; his utter mastery of the katana is evident in every frame of the film. Trust me on this one, and keep in mind that there are maybe ten minutes in the entire running time where there's no fighting!

MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)

Sure LIFE OF BRIAN is a much better film, but this movie just kills me for the sheer lunacy of it. The jokes are all over the place and don't make sense much of the time, but who cares? If you laugh, it has succeeded, and this film may be the one that I have voluntarily sat through more than any other. Not much else to say on this one really, since nearly every person on the planet has seen it at least once. I still love my mother's reaction the first time that she saw it: "What the fuck is this? Are the knights supposed to be retarded or something?"

SEVEN SAMURAI (1952)

Not just Kurosawa's masterpiece, but one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Period. I won't even bother to discuss it; if you've seen it, you know I'm right. If you haven't seen it, rent the new Criterion collection DVD of it, or I will slap the taste out of your mouth.

THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)

This is the martial arts film that earned the genre its largely undeserved rep for outrageous gore and violence. THE STREET FIGHTER follows the adventures of Terry Tsurugi, one of the hardest guys in screen history, as he takes on seemingly impossible assignments of a questionable nature for whomever will pay his price. This guy is one ultra-nasty customer who will tear off any part of you that gets close enough (the fate of a would-be rapist is a highlight), and he won't hesitate to do whatever it takes to get paid. When a brother and sister who hired Tsurugi to rescue their brother from his appointment on death row reveal that they don't have the rest of the money they owe him, Tsurugi immediately announces that he'll put the sister out on the streets as a whore until he gets his cash. This leads to the brother's accidental fall to his death from Tsurugi's penthouse window. The sister ends up as a heroin-addicted prostitute in Hong Kong (after suffering a horrible — but thankfully off-camera — gang rape) and just happens to run into her escapee brother, who of course vows to kill Tsurugi for his younger brother's death and his sister's current shameful status. Next, our "hero" refuses a Yakuza kidnapping assignment because it would bring him into conflict with the one man that he respects: his father's old karate training buddy, Masaoka (a tiny, fat badass). This puts him on the Yakuza's shitlist as well. The rest of the movie details Terry's constant — and brutal — encounters with the two pissed off parties and ends in a blood-soaked hand-to-hand battle that finds the vengeful brother minus his larynx (he turns up in the sequel with bionic vocal chords). Not for the squeamish, scenes of this turned up in the Tarantino-scripted TRUE ROMANCE. Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON, this is the real deal. Yes, your Bunche actually said "Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON." If you know me at all, you know I don't say that lightly.

And let us not forget the five that almost made the Top Ten:

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

The best of many classics from Ray Harryhausen (in my opinion anyway; there are those who make a valid case for THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, but I go with this one for its slighty more "adult" approach). Motherfuck CGI, this is how special effects are supposed to look! Too many great scenes to recount, but I will say that the theme tune, with the pounding rowing rhythm, makes most of John Williams' tiresome Wagner knockoffs look like the derivative crap that they are. The best mythology movie ever made.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979)

This just might be the perfect zombie movie. A compelling story, interesting characters, a no-win scenario and boatloads of gore, this warped a lot of young minds back in '79, boy...And the cool black guy lives at the end!

THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976)

The funniest black exploitation film ever made. This is the sequel to the nearly unwatchable DOLEMITE (1975), and out-does its predecessor valiantly. For those not in the know: Dolemite is a character whose exploits have been passed on through folk tales and rhymes in American black culture since at least the early 1900's. He's basically Super-Nigger, since he's the greatest badass/ pimp/comedian/lover/fancy dresser ever to walk the Earth! Sample line from the epic poem about him:

Dolemite went to New York City,
Kickin'ass 'til his boots were shitty.

Anyway, this installment sees our hero (played by the hideously middle-aged and out of shape Rudy Ray Moore) evading a Southern sheriff after said sheriff finds out that his wife has been paying Dolemite to fuck her (her line to our hero while in post-coital bliss: "Dolemite, you're worth every cent I pay you!"). Dolemite and his friends (including a young Ernie GHOSTBUSTERS Hudson) flee to California after carjacking the most outrageous homosexual character in celluloid history (he's glad to be hijacked since he always wanted to go to California anyway, and he gets along just fine with his abductors), and find out that the local mafia are moving in on Dolemite's nightclub. Well, Dolemite ain't havin' dat! Much lunacy, bad '70's outfits and terrible martial arts ensue, and just wait until you see the musical numbers! My only warning is that you skip the standup comedy scene just after the insane credits sequence; it really sucks, and is the only thing that keeps this otherwise perfect piece of trash out of the Top TEN.

BABE (1995)

Yes, the pig movie. It's got a great story, a great hero, and it's about pigs. I have loved pigs since playing with them on my grandmother's ranch, and I will see any film about them. So if you ain't down with BABE, you can eat me.

DAIMAJIN (1965)

Daei Studios was the only real competition that Toho had for their giant monster film output, but most of Daei's movies sucked ass, namely the mostly-pitiful Gamera (the giant flying turtle) series. With the Daimajin trilogy they went for a more grown-up approach, combining the then-popular samurai costumed dramas with giant monster mayhem. In a nutshell: an evil warlord deposes the rightful rulers of a fiefdom and takes over, plunging the locals into 18 years of misery and abuse. The rightful heir grows to manhood in the woods and plots revenge while the local priestess warns the bad guy to cut the bullshit or face the wrath of the majin that protects the area. A majin is a stone warrior deity that is believed to come to life and kick righteous ass when the faithful are messed with, so you know where this is going... The bad guy immediately kills the priestess and desecrates the idol by driving a huge stone chisel into its head. The majin awakens during the last half-hour and the destruction is awesome. After stomping all of the other villains to death, Daimajin (which translates as "Giant Majin") impales the evil warlord through the chest with his own stone chisel and leaves him nailed to a wall. Who says there are no happy endings? And one of the two sequels includes a lake-parting effect that blows away the one seen in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.

So what are your top ten? Write in and lemme know!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH MIDNIGHT COWBOY?

SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN MIDNIGHT COWBOY, SKIP THIS ENTRY. (It’s a great movie and if you have not yet seen it I don’t want to be responsible for giving anything away.)

MIDNIGHT COWBOY, the infamous Best Picture Oscar winner from 1969 and first film ever to be labeled with the MPAA’s then new “X” rating. Back in those days the “X” was an indication of adult content rather than the blanket scarlet letter now associated with such classics of world cinema as “Bust A Nut In Grandma’s Butt” or “Animal Action: Barnyard Bang Part 17,” and the idea of a movie with such a rating winning the Oscar was not inconceivable. I recently sat down and checked it out again on DVD and was once more overwhelmed with questions about certain story points that pop up throughout the picture.

The film tells the story of Joe Buck (John Voight), a handsome self-proclaimed “stud” from Texas who moves to New York City in order to gain fortune as a male hustler servicing rich, older women, all while rocking his rather laughable cowboy gear. Sadly, Joe ain’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree and the Big Apple just keeps on kicking his ass, what with daily doses of poverty, hunger, and just plain bad luck. He strikes up an unlikely and deeply touching friendship with “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a sleazy, disabled conman who lives in a heatless condemned building, and soon has Ratso acting as his manager (read “pimp”). Joe frequently mentions his discomfort with “fags” and “tutti-fruity” types, eventually failing to get it up for a ritzy customer (Brenda Vaccaro) who believes that his problem may just be that he’s queer himself. Spurred on by that bit of armchair psychoanalysis, Joe fucks the living shit out the lady and she is consequently impressed enough to set up the first of many referrals to her friends for the services of the “cowboy whore” who considers himself expensive with a rate of twenty bucks per fuck. Elated that he now has his shit together — sort of — Joe returns home to find Ratso in seriously poor health; throughout the movie Ratso has exhibited symptoms of some sort of potentially fatal ailment, and now it has caught up with him. In an effort to save his friend’s health, Joe packs up Ratso and the two board a Greyhound bus on a three day trip to Florida, a place that Ratso has long been convinced will be the cure-all for his illness and general loser status. Just as they are about to arrive in the Sunshine State, Ratso expires and Joe must finish the journey with his arm around a smelly dead guy. The End.

Now my questions about this film have to do with several flashback sequences throughout that shed some light on Joe’s situation, and the persistent allusion to the fact that Joe may be a homosexual. Here are the few pieces to the oblique and disjointed puzzle:
  • At roughly age 9 Joe is left by a woman whom one must presume was his mother to live with his boozy grandmother. During his time with granny Joe is exposed to all sorts of sordid behavior on her part, and we are lead to believe that she may have had an incestuous relationship with the very young boy, even allowing him in bed with her and her equally drunken rodeo cowboy lover. The cowboy may be the inspiration for Joe’s hustler alter ego, and the older women that Joe pursues for his gigolo services tend to resemble his grandmother (with the notable exception of Brenda Vaccaro's character).
  • A presumably twenty-something Joe enjoys a hot and heavy relationship with the very sexy Annie, a girl who constantly tells him that he’s “the only one” when they have sex, sex that she very clearly and enthusiastically enjoys. Apparently one night Joe and Annie go to the movies and are harassed by a bunch of rednecks who appear to be turned on by Annie’s hot figure (the sequence is silent so no dialogue gives an outright explanation); after leaving the theater Joe and Annie have sex in a car only to be interrupted by the flashlight-wielding rednecks who haul the naked couple out of the vehicle. A nude Annie is seen being pursued by the rednecks who soon catch her, hold her down where Joe can see it, and gang rape her. Joe is himself held down over the hood of the car, his legs graphically splayed, and also gang raped. We then see the police arrive — with a dream image of Ratso Rizzo in their group — and a clearly shattered Annie is wrapped in a blanket, while deliriously pointing at Joe and mumbling “He was the only one.” Annie is last seen in a straight jacket through the rear window of the ambulance that bears her away.
Those traumatic events and Joe’s homophobia may be connected, since at times Joe’s handling of his new chosen career seems to be in some way his attempt at revenge upon the world for his rape and his perceived loss of his own manhood, or maybe even revenge against his grandmother's initiating him into things that one's grandparent should not be bringing him into. The look of his cowboy persona looks like something designed by the late Tom of Finland — Google him to see what I’m talking about — and as Ratso and other characters point out he does look a bit faggy. And while Joe may cling to his ideas of masculinity like a frightened child, his one outright gay hustling experience involves him being in the dominant role, namely allowing a geeky gay teen to go down on him in dark movie theater. His other experience with a man is cut short when his trick has a change of heart and Joe, furious and in need of immediate money to take care of Ratso, murders the client.

My questions are these:

1). What’s the whole story of the double gang rape? Were the assailants so horny that they just rape anyone they can get their hands on? Was this kind of thing common in that part of Texas? What finally happened to Annie? Did Joe do time for allegedly raping Annie, or was the physical evidence enough to exonerate him? Or did Joe cover up his own violation rather than face the “shame” of being a “fag?”

2). Is Joe a homosexual? His upbringing was a study in sick dysfunction and although it got off to a bad start, his relationship with Ratso was the only real love he ever shared with anyone (other than Annie, but that relationship is also kind of vague) and God knows we all need to be loved. Joe clearly loves Ratso deeply but both of them get the douche-chills when it is even suggested that might be a couple.

So what do you, the reader, think? If you’ve seen MIDNIGHT COWBOY and have any insight into all of this, please write in.