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Monday, June 30, 2008

THERE WILL BE A SLIGHT DELAY

Well, upon returning from four days of the extremes of human emotion — elation through to sadness — I found a mountain of work that was supposed to have been handled in my absence, so I'm buried and will probably not be able to get to writing up the adventures from this past Thursday through Sunday. But what I can do is whet your appetite with a couple of pictures. First up is Yer Bunche at Thursday night's Devo show at Greenpoint, Brooklyn's McCarren Pool venue after removing my Energy Dome and discovering my hair had formed itself to the red helmet's contours.

No, this is not a Photoshop gag.

Next is a shot of a nasty, carved wooden bear that stands in front of a gas station in Hopewell Junction:

This hideous bit of nightmare fuel looks like what would happen if Papa Bear became a serial child molester and wandered about the fairytale forest grinning maniacally, totally unconcerned about the plethora of cum-stains adorning his Sportabouts as his 'batin' hand stands at the ready. Fucking ghastly.

Anyway, I'll be posting as soon as possible, so stay tuned.

Friday, June 27, 2008

WALL-E (2008)

This latest effort from the amazing Pixar CGI animators is a quiet, intelligent piece focusing on lonliness, romance and, believe it or not, environmental concerns, and is well worth the entire family's time.

I basically liked it a lot - it ranks at number three on my list of Pixar flicks, with RATTATOUILLE at number one and THE INCREDIBLES at number two - so that's all you really need to know, but for those of you who need to know just what the hell it's about, here's the poop: it's 700 years since mankind abandoned a terminally polluted earth for the stars, leaving behind robots to enact "Operation Cleanup," a self-explanatory program of global waste management in anticipation of the planet someday sustaining life again. As the centuries pass only one robot remains, a mini trash compactor on treads named Wall-E (who looks like a blending of Johhny-5 and one of the SILENT RUNNING forest-keepers), and during his lonely duties he develops a personality that enjoys movie musicals and collects sentimental remnants of the long-departed human race.His only companion is a loyal cockroach, that is until a probe ship arrives and discharges E.V.E., an advanced robot whose directive is to find plant life, evidence that the planet is once more fertile. The two robots develop a budding romance, but their bliss is cut short when E.V.E. discovers a tiny, growing shoot and sends a signal to the probe for retrieval. When E.V.E.'s masters collect her, WALL-E stows away aboard a massive star-liner and the two soon discover something dire that could change the course of mankind's fate...

The only other thing to note is that the story is told almost entirely through the visuals and the music; when the robots converse, it's through a series of largely R2-D2esque sounds, but when the humans on the ship enter the story there are about five or ten minutes of dialogue, but the rest of the film is silent. Fascinatichildren in the audience were held in rapt attention during the silent bits, having to hang onto the images to tell them the story, but they wouldn't shut up once the humans began talking. I don't know what that means, but it surprised me.

Anyway, TRUST YER BUNCHE and check out WALL-E on the big screen. The visuals are spectacular, and will lose a lot when seen at home on DVD or cable.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A QUICK UPDATE

Just got back from Devo and they rocked as per usual. I also ran into an old friend I hadn't seen since Jewish Warrior Princess' wedding in Atlanta eight years ago, but more on all of this after the weekend.

THROUGH BEING COOL: DEVO SUES McDONALD'S OVER HAPPY MEAL TOY


Note to Mickey Dee's: don't fuck with the Smart Patrol.

A couple of months ago I posted about unexpectedly finding a McDonald's Happy Meal toy related to the heinous AMERICAN IDOL and dubbed "New Wave Nigel" and how it was blatantly obvious it was based on the famous "Energy Dome" look sported by Devo beginning with their 1980 FREEDOM OF CHOICE album and tour. Well, now it looks like the Spud Boys aren't taking it up the ass from the fast food corporation ripoff artists and are suing them for copyright infringement. This piece of news makes my day, and this news comes mere hours before I see Devo perform in a Brooklyn swimming pool (more on that after it happens). Anyway, here's what ChartAttack.com had on this, and thanks to Scraps for the heads-up:

Devo Suing McDonald's Over Happy Meal Doll
Wednesday June 25, 2008 @ 05:00 PM
By: ChartAttack.com Staff

You know those red flower pot hats that Devo wear on their heads? They're now the centre of a lawsuit involving the band and McDonald's.

McDonald's introduced a line of American Idol Happy Meal toys in April. The set of dolls focused on particular musical genres. If you bought a Happy Meal, you could get Disco Dave, Country Clay, Rockin' Riley, Soulful Selma or… New Wave Nigel. The latter doll sports an orange jumpsuit, pink sunglasses and… a flower pot hat.

Devo's "Energy Dome" hat, designed by bassist Gerald Casale, is apparently copyrighted and trademarked. Devo discovered that McDonald's were selling the doll, which also plays a "Devo-esque song" that they say "sounds a bit like a mutated version of Devo's 'Doctor Detroit.'" Devo have posted a video of the little doll in action on their website. They were pretty offended and they've taken legal action against the fast food behemoth.


New Wave Nigel's headgear: look familiar?

"They didn't ask us anything," Casale told Australian Associated Press. "Plus, we don't like McDonald's, and we don't like American Idol, so we're doubly offended."

Devo first began wearing the flower pot-resembling Energy Dome hats when they released their Freedom Of Choice album in 1980. Devo sell Energy Domes through their Club Devo site. The band have also worn the hats in numerous commercials over the years. Considering the Energy Dome was originally a form of social criticism that mocked industrial and consumer culture, Casale told AAP he finds it ironic that McDonald's has used it.

"The very same people that wanted nothing to do with Devo and looked down on Devo and condescended (to) Devo... enough time's gone by that they go, 'Hey, you know those guys are synonymous with what was new about new wave,"' Casale said. "'So if we're going to do New Wave Nigel, what do people recognize iconically better than Devo and the red hat?'"

—Kate Harper

MY BIRTHDAY WEEKEND BEGINS

In less than twenty-four hours I will turn forty-three, thereby ending my year as a representative if the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. Forty-two was an onaky year, but I'm hoping forty-three will be even better. In order to get things off to a good start I took today and tomorrow off from the design 'ho house and gave myself a four-day weekend in which things get off to a rockin' start with tonight's Devo show out in Greenpoint, then tomorrow I'll head out to New Hyde Park to get a head start on the cooking for Saturday's 18th (!!!) annual BuncheCat Birthday Barbecue Loooooooove Sensation. It's a pretty full plate, and the fun really got started this morning when, in my capacity as a Journalist for Publishers Weekly, I got to interview one of my favorite creative talents, namely Gilbert Shelton, a laid-back sixty-eight-year-old Texan now living in Paris, who happens to be the loony mind behind Wonder Warthog and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, two landmarks in the history of what used to be called underground comics.


Gilbert Shelton, circa 1998.

Wonder Warthog was an uber-silly exploration of superheroics, while the Freak Brothers formed the template for stoner humor, predating the antics of Cheech & Chong by a couple of years, and both works had a profound influence on me when I discovered them in a musty box in the back of Fairfield, Connecticut's Bookfinder used book store. The somewhat shady proprietor didn't give a fuck what he sold to kids as long as he made a quick buck from them, and as result I ended up with an impressive library of classic, ultra-filthy undergrounds starting at the age of thirteen.


I called Shelton at his Paris studio and we shot the shit on a variety of topics, including his influences and current projects like the upcoming 684-page Freak Brothers Omnibus, as well as the Freak Brothers stop-motion animated film that's currently seeking funding, and I intend to have the piece up on the PW Comics Week site by Monday. I'd met Shelton three years ago at the UK's Bristol Con and found him charming then, but talking to the guy at length was some of the most fun I've had while interviewing a comics celeb.

Anyway, I'll keep you posted, but now I'm off to drop off laundry and run errands before the events of the birthday weekend get underway. I'll post a full report late on Monday, so 'til then, "Ta!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

HOLY SHIT, I HAVE TO SEE THIS!!!

Special thanks to my old friend Captain Psycho for alerting me to this latest bit of madness from those wacky filmmakers in Japan. How could I not want to see a film entitled THE GIRLS REBEL FORCE OF COMPETITIVE SWIMMERS, especially when judging from the poster it will be replete with ridiculous violence and mayhem perpetrated by a bunch of weapons-wielding cute girls in one-piece bathing suits?

I wholeheartedly vow to get my hands on this motherfucker as soon as possible and let you know how it is, but until then go here for more details.

Monday, June 23, 2008

DIRTY HARRY: TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (1971)

"I know what you're thinking. 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum—the most powerful handgun in the world—and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question. 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
— Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood)

The above quote has gone on to become not only one of the most famous badassed lines ever uttered, but it has also entered the lexicon of general, universal manliness. Harry Callahan is a seriously bad motherfucker and you had damned well better believe it, Jack!

Coming as the peace & love era fizzled out and the Viet Nam conflict ground on as a seemingly-unending charnel house, DIRTY HARRY exploded onto American movie screens with the impact of a blowtorch to the nuts, a work of visceral cinema that seemed at odds with the socio-political climate at the time but was a return to a genre Americans had thrived upon for decades. DIRTY HARRY reimagined the laconic, gun-fighter sheriff hero as a world-weary San Francisco detective whose, er, unique style of crime-fighting often resulted in the nearby area looking like all Hell had broken loose and placed him in the bad graces of his superiors. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood in a career-defining performance) does not fight for the "law," but upholds and enforces justice in the most direct and no-nonsense way humanly possible, taking no shit from the vile creeps who infest his city, corralling them with extreme prejudice or dispatching them with his trusty .44 Magnum revolver (you know Harry's bad because he can fire shot after shot from that hand-cannon one-handed and not be affected by the recoil in the least). He's a John Wayne for the Viet Nam era, and such violent times call for an enforcer every bit as hard and merciless as the time in which he exists, and while we've seen eleventy-jillion "cop on the edge" types since 1971, this is the electrifying film from whence the whole genre sprung, and it's impossible to beat for sheer quality across the board.

Harry is introduced as he investigates a murder in an all-business, by-the-book way, but his proper introduction that tells us everything we need to know about him occurs while he's scarfing down a hot dog, looking like a worn-out old bloodhound with an Elvis 'do, and having his lunch interrupted by a bank robbery taking place across the street. As he continues munching on his dirty water dog, Harry strides out onto the street and begins non-chalantly firing at the getaway car, blasting the living shit out of the perps and their ride, scaring the bejeezus out of innocent bystanders, and driving up Smith & Wesson stock shares.

"You fuckers owe me a goddamned hot dog!!!"

By the time the scene is over we realize we're about to follow an urban hunter as he deals with the daily nightmare of the city and attempts to come to grips with the latest in a very long line of partners (Reni Santoni). During the bits with his new partner, we get to know and understand Harry as a loner and throwback to the days when the written law didn't get in the way of a peace officer using gratuitously violent means to get his job done, an aproach that comes in quite handy when psychotic sniper Scorpio (Andrew Robinson, delivering the textbook example of the seventies movie psycho) starts picking off people at random and demanding two-hundred grand to get him to stop his murderous spree. What follows is a brutal, suspenseful and absolutely gripping two-man war of balls, madness, and cunning as Harry's dogged efforts appear to have little effect on the clever loony while simultaneously putting Harry higher and higher on his superiors' shit list. By the time the film reaches its climax you'll be ready to blow Scorpio's head off yourself, and you won't be disappointed by the way the whole thing wraps up.

Directed by the awesome Don Seigel — the genius who helmed the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, inarguably one of the scariest movies ever made — DIRTY HARRY is a literal blast from start to finish, and its willful mutation of the classic Western formula works to great effect. Taut, mean, and surprisingly witty, the film proved to be a hit that spawned four sequels — of wildly varying quality, as we'll discuss when I get around to reviewing them — and gave birth to a genre whose classics are largely pale imitations of what Seigel and Eastwood pioneered, and now the film is out in a fuckin'-A excellent 2-disc special edition that features commentary, documentaries, trailers, and all kinds of other shit that makes this a bargain at the price — I picked it up new for $15.95 — and a n essential for any serious action film-lover's collection. No bullshit, DIRTY HARRY is the real deal, in all its fascistic, ultra-violent glory, and it's finally received the edition that it so richly deserves.

"Trust Yer Bunche, asshole, or I'll blow yer head clean off!"

FUTURAMA: THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS (2008)

So I saw the new FUTURAMA made-for-DVD feature, THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS, and after the fun and thoroughly entertaining return from the cancellation grave that was BENDER’S BIG SCORE this second movie comes as rather a letdown. As a series, FUTURAMA always prided itself on being clever and having a fairly good grip on the logic of its own universe, but somebody on the creative team was definitely asleep at the wheel this time around.

Picking up about a month after the events in BENDER’S BIG SCORE, the rift in the fabric of the universe caused by the overuse of a one-way time travel code is still there, looming in the sky like a gigantic rip in the ass of the sky’s jeans. While a terrified populace ponders exactly what lies within the anomaly, life goes on as usual for the Planet Express crew as Fry (Billy West) introduces his colleagues to Colleen (Brittany Murphy), a woman he talked into bed after meeting her on the street amid a throng of fearful anomaly-watchers. Seeming to have instantly forgotten his long-held torch for sexy cyclopean mutant Leela (Katey Sagall), Fry moves in with Colleen and discovers that she’s majorly polyamorous, already sharing her apartment with four other live-in boyfriends. Swiftly tiring of his status as a romantic also-ran, an emotionally crushed Fry breaks up with Colleen and stows away aboard an expedition to explore the rift. Meanwhile, Bender (John DiMaggio), feeling rejected when Fry leaves him for Colleen, seeks and gains entry into the legendary League of Robots, a gathering of such notable automatons as Calculon and Hedonismbot who sit around drinking and kvetching about the overall uselessness of humans while doing nothing to further the state of robotkind. But as Bender’s social life takes off, Fry discovers a gigantic, tentacled life form within the anomaly, and the strange being extends its appendages through the rift to physically link with every sentient being in our universe via shoving its tentacles into the back of people’s necks. In no time the world is under the thrall of the alien Yivo (David Cross) and its wiggly cult of universal love, with Fry as its Pope, and a mistrustful Leela uncovers the diabolical secret behind the alien invasion: Yivo’s tentacles are not intended for harmful conquest, but are instead sexual organs with which it seeks to mate with our galaxy’s sentients. Essentially, when plugged into by Yivo an individual is filled with euphoric feelings of love and sexual satisfaction, and Yivo’s only desire is to bond with other intelligent life forms in a mutually beneficial relationship.

The attack (?) of Yivo.

THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS may read like a straight-up winner, but it’s FUTURAMA at its most mediocre and even the majority of the voice cast seems uninterested in the proceedings. Bender’s interaction with the League of Robots is at best a throwaway gag stretched past the breaking point and offers nothing to the overall story, while Fry’s sudden hookup with Colleen makes no sense whatsoever in the wake of the previous film’s events; Fry’s deep and unrequited love for Leela is one of the forces that drives the character and makes him sympathetic, so to have the writers suddenly forget that aspect of his personality seems like sloppy and careless writing, a point addressed by the creative team in the commentary and given a pass because they felt that the fans wouldn’t notice it and figure a lot more time had passed between features, thereby allowing Fry some time and emotional distance from the object of his affections. The arcs of the rest of the Planet Express gang don’t amount to much either, and other than a newly-married and widowed Amy getting it on with the ever-assholish Zap Brannigan there’s little else to speak of.

The one saving grace to all of this is the wonderful Yivo, a huge, hermaphroditic alien presence that’s kind of the anti-Starro the Conqueror (look it up) and realizes it has conquered when it should have played fair and courted, so Yivo suggests a “do over,” a second chance at romance that shows us how sweet, considerate and just plain downright lovable the Lovecraftian thing is, resulting in every sentient in this universe legitimately falling in love with it and agreeing to live with it forever on its side of the rift (Yivo’s main body cannot survive the “atmosphere” of our universe). Once there, the sentients discover that Yivo as an environment is what has long been held as the image of Heaven, complete with angels (actually humanoid birds that help Yivo by eating unwanted parasitic organisms), and anything they want or need being available in abundance. The good vibes are so strong that everyone thrives on Yivo’s positive influence and message of universal love, completely shedding their inhibitions and jealousies and existing in a hedonistic paradise. That is, until Bender decides to “rescue” Fry from his fate.


So taken for what it is, THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS is worth a look only for FUTURAMA die-hards, and even if you find yourself in that category you will probably be disappointed by what you find, although Yivo does totally rule. FUTURAMA can be considered its own worst enemy thanks to the very high standards it has set for itself, and its creators can certainly do better than this lackluster effort, so let’s all hope that the next feature, BENDER’S GAME, a spoof on fantasy role-playing and all the lunacy that goes with it, is as much fun as its preview trailer. That one’s due in time for the winter holidays, and I’ll be there waiting; FUTURAMA has never let me down before, so it was probably inevitable that sooner or later there would be a clunker of an installment and I’m willing to write off THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS as a place-holder until the more riotous-looking followup. Too bad Yivo couldn’t have had a feature as worthy of its inclusion as it deserved…

R.I.P. GEORGE CARLIN (1937-2008)

Comedy legend George Carlin has died, and I have to be honest and say that during his heyday in the mid-1970's I never saw why people found him funny. His work mostly seemed to me to be a stoner-era variation on standard observational humor with more coarse language than that used by his predecessors, and at times I felt he came off like a vaguely interesting uncle holding drunken court at a family gathering. Richard Pryor's humor appealed to me much more than Carlin's efforts, so for years I ignored Carlin’s work and slagged him off as concrete proof that you had to be high to enjoy the majority of 1970’s comedy.

Then Carlin hit his autumn years and developed a nihilistic and cynical worldview that I could really get with, but it was when he began to rail against something that has driven me crazy since childhood that I became a convert to his latter-day material. Carlin’s diatribes on religion and its inherent hypocrisies greatly appealed to me, and I wonder how many fans he gained thanks to that material while possibly simultaneously losing members of his original fan base. So while I may have been late to get on the bandwagon, I do respect what Carlin did and meant to the world of American comedy. For more on George Carlin, go to his entry on the mighty Wikipedia, and check out a sample of his views on religion over at good ol’ YouTube.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

YET ANOTHER SCAM: "TOP SECRET," MY BEIGE ASS!!!

Here's the latest scam email to come my way, and it was entitled "FROM MR BANGU MALI /URGENT NEEDED AND CONFIDENTIAL." This was received twice in the past two days, and I love how it's basically the same email I've been receiving for the past few months from many diverse sources. And I'm sorry, but "Bangu Mali" sounds like a delicious soft drink to be had in any of the plethora of Indian restaurants found on Manhattan's Lower East Side:

FROM MR. BANGU MALI   THE MANAGER FOREIGN REMITTANCE DEPARTMENT, AFRICA DEVELOPMENT BANK (ADB) BURKINA FASO .

Dear Friend,

(TOP SECRET)

I am MR.BANGU MALI , the manager in charge of auditing and accounting section of Africa Development Bank.(ADB) Ouagadougou Burkina-Faso West Africa ,with due respect and regard. I have decided to contact you on a business transaction that will be very beneficial to both of us at the end of the transaction.

During our investigation and auditing in this bank, my department came across a very huge sum of money belonging to a
deceased person Mr.Andreas Schranner who died with his wife and their only daughter on 31 July 2000 in a plane crash and the fund has been dormant in his account with this Bank without any claim of the fund in our custody either from his family or relation before our discovery to this development.

The said amount was U.S $10.150M ((Ten million one hundred and fifty thousand US dollars)).

As it may interest you to know, I got your impressive information through international search in Burkina-Faso here in Ouagadougou Burkina-Faso. Meanwhile all the whole arrangement to put claim over this fund as the bonafide next of kin to the deceased, get the required approval and transfer this money to a foreign account has been put in place and directives and the needed information will be relayed to you as soon as you indicate your interest and willingness to assist me and also
benefit your self to this great business opportunity.

In fact I could have done this deal alone but because of my position in this country as a civil servant (A Banker), we are not allowed to operate a foreign account and would eventually raise an eye brow on my side during the time of transfer because I work in this bank. This is the actual reason why it will require a second party or fellow who will forward claims as the next of kin with affidavit of trust of oath to the Bank and also present a foreign account where he will need the money to be re-transferred into on his request as it may be after due verification and clarification by the correspondent branch of the bank where the whole money will be remitted from to your own designation bank account.

I will not fail to inform you that this transaction is 100% risk free. On smooth conclusion of this transaction, you will be
entitled to 35% of the total sum as gratification, while 55% will be for me as the founder of the deal, while 10% will be for expenses.

Please, you have been advised to keep "top secret" as I am still in service and intend to retire from service after we conclude this deal with you.

I will be monitoring the whole situation here in this bank until you confirm the money in your account and ask me to come down to your country for subsequent sharing of the fund according to percentages previously indicated and further investment, either in your country or any country you advice us to invest in.

All other necessary information will be sent to you when I hear from you. Trusting to hear from you. you can contact me
through this number(00226 78 80 16 64). And i will advice you to reply back on my private email address:( mr_bangu_mali04@yahoo.com )

You can visit the sit http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi /world/europe/859479.stm
yours faithfully,
MR.BANGU MALI .

Friday, June 20, 2008

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS SHIT UP

Special thanks to Andy, the New-Fangled Creature Man for alerting me to this.

Apparently the Russians have erected a monument the the might and majesty of the enema, so click here for the straight poop.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932) and TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934)

NOTE TO LONGTIME READERS: parts of this post are cribbed from an earlier piece on Tarzan flicks that ran a couple of years ago and are used here as a time-saving means by Yer Bunche, so if some of this seems familiar give yourself a fish.
Johnny Weissmuller, cinema's definitive Tarzan.

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.

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 twelve of his films ranging from the early 1932 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.

In the Connecticut area during the 1970’s, kids got their education on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ seminal pulp hero, Tarzan the ape man, 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 MGM 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.

1932's TARZAN THE APE MAN: not the first of the Tarzan flicks, but the one that helped define the genre and its elements/clichés.

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 — the inaccessible Mutier escarpment — 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 before long 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 (Neil Hamilton, the guy who some thirty-odd years later would go on to play Commissioner Gordon opposite Adam West as Batman) 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 Yer 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 — short of up-close-and-pink imagery of Jane getting righteously plowed by the jungle lord — so when it came out back in 1934 it raised a major ruckus. This time around, a party of irritating British shitheads (including kicked-to-the-curb Commissioner Gordon) 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 escarpment face for the first half-hour of the movie, they find Jane not only happy to the point of near-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 you she was smart!).

Jane: the poster girl for "going native."

On the other hand, Tarzan is proven to be an attentive, playful and considerate lover, and since he doesn’t bear the taint of uptight Western bullshit-as-values he is not jealous of the former suitor of Jane’s who has led 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 bare 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 (Maureen O’Sullivan doubled by an Olympic swimming champion) 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 the simple fact of the matter is that we are witness to this couple’s charming and prurience-free intimacy and the plainly expressed joy they take in each other’s company, something that religious figures at the time had a real problem with and actually told their flocks that they’d go straight to Hell if they mustered up the temerity to see such a work of vile filth.

Also causing ire was the fact that the film was entitled TARZAN AND HIS MATE, seemingly rubbing the viewer’s nose in the fact that Tarzan and Jane were — shock and indignation!!! — not married. Well the nay-sayers can fuck themselves in the ear; what the two have is what students of myth call a “sacred marriage,” a joining that needs no sanction by a church because it’s pure and right in the first place, and more often than not a union of a deity and a mortal. While not explicitly stated to be a deity, the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan is a presence at one with nature in a way that’s about as close to mystical as you can get, and is in many ways a personification of the essence of “Man,” and unlike his literary source apparently has no origin; Weissmuller’s Tarzan lives in a mountainous plain that’s nearly impossible for outsiders to reach, yet has all the same flora and fauna of the Africa of our world and may be that Campbellesque mythic realm into which heroes must venture to be tested and forged before they can return home and use their new-found skills for the benefit of their people. But this Tarzan has no people (unless you count his legion of loyal animal peeps), and the local natives accept him as having simply just been there like some force of nature, so for all we know he could be some solitary equivalent to the forest spirits found in many of the world’s myth systems, and Jane is his human bride, the element that serves as a bridge between himself and the “civilized” world, whether he likes it or not. As we shall see in subsequent films, outsiders are constantly showing up atop the escarpment to fuck up Tarzan and Jane’s — and later Boy’s — isolationist paradise, and those douchebags usually come out of it much the worse for wear.

Sorry, again I digress. I’m starting to over-analyze movies that are meant to be no more than fun, escapist entertainment, so I’ll cut that shit out right now.

So, by way of critical assessment, I’d have to steer you straight toward TARZAN AND HIS MATE, a film that is in every way the Tarzan movie equivalent to what THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was to the original STAR WARS flick. It’s more or less a remake of its predecessor, only with a bigger budget and just plain more of everything that made the original work. Also TARZAN AND HIS MATE is just a little further removed from the silent movie era and its style of filmmaking, so gone are the loooooong pauses between some of the dialog, and the acting isn’t quite as arch. It’s quite suspenseful, graphically violent and sexy as well, so what’s not to like? And while it’s not a bad film by any means, TARZAN THE APE MAN is worth seeing nowadays solely to see the debuts of Weissmuller and O’Sullivan’s indelible takes on their characters, and for the great sequences of Tarzan and Jane first getting to know one another. But TRUST YER BUNCHE and experience them back-to-back in order to note how far apart the two films are in the way they’re crafted. Considering that scarcely two years had passed between the release of the original and the sequel, there’s marked improvement evident. UMGAWA!!!

NOW THAT'S A MOVIE I'D SEE!

From the mighty Jewish Warrior Princess, here's a shot of the marquee being dismantled after last night's Odeon Theatre premiere of HANCOCK in London's Leicester Square:

Eat your heart out, Batman!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN (1946)

"If an animal can act like a man, why not a man like an animal?"
-
Tarzan, surprisingly not describing himself.

Intended to be serious, TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN is a grandly entertaining flick that you'd swear was a parody of the genre if you didn't know for a fact that it wasn't. It's fast-paced, loaded with overripe scenery chewing — you know you're in trouble when Johnny Weissmuller as the monosyllabic Tarzan is the most normal character — , features a rare female villain, and includes a tribe of white-ish killers who dress up in leopard drag and dance around like Twyla Tharp on a fistful of Bennies (a Tarzan movie with no bruthas? What the fuck???).

When travelers and merchants departing from Zambezi are waylaid and torn to shreds by what appear to be hordes of leopards, the local commissioner asks Tarzan, who just so happens to be in town while this is going down, to investigate. Being the lifelong jungle dude that he is, Tarzan immediately realizes that the violence is not the work of his wild colleagues, but is actually the work of crazed leopard men, servants of the evil Queen Lea (played by, get this, "Aquanetta," nee Mildred Davenport, best remembered for this role and her classic B-monster part in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) and Ameer Lazar (Edgar Barrier; who?), her Western-educated lover and right hand man.

The Leopard Men: gettin' down and lookin' fabulous.

Also involved is the queen's ratbag of a little brother, Kimba (Tommy Cook, turning in an over-top-performance if ever I saw one), who seeks to earn his place among the leopard-warrior ranks by ripping out Jane's heart as a rite of passage, and Boy (Johnny Sheffield) must sort that shit out before he's rendered motherless for a second time (long story; I'll get around to TARZAN FINDS A SON soon). Anyway, there's much ass-whuppin' and unintentional camp insanity to be had here, so I'd probably recommend TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN as the most balls-out entertaining of the post-MGM run. No joke, while watching this movie the other night I seriously contemplated getting a bunch of friends together to wander about in the annual Halloween craziness in the West Village as a gaggle of leopard cultists in the cheesiest costumes possible, complete with one of the girls in my crew as Queen Lea, and my skinny pal Hughes in a loincloth. TRUST YER BUNCHE and don't miss this one when next it turns up on Turner Classic Movies!

"TRUUUUUUST YER BUUUUUUUUUNCHE!!!"

TARZAN TRIUMPHS (1943)

How can you not smile from ear to ear at the mere thought of a film best summed up as "Tarzan kicks Nazi ass?"

TARZAN TRIUMPHS was the first of the Johnny Weissmuller apeman flicks made after Maureen O'Sullivan decided to ditch the Jane role once and for all, after which MGM lost interest in the series (among other reasons, including feeling Weissmuller was too old to still be playing Tarzan); to be fair, O'Sullivan's Jane was inarguably one of the chief reason's for the series success, and there has not been a Jane since who was anywhere near as good as she was, so I can understand MGM saying, "Well, so much for that." But once MGM dropped the jungle lord, producer Sol Lesser and RKO were there to offer him a new vine. The RKO Tarzan flicks lacked the budget and grandeur of the MGM run, but they hit the ground running and offered some of the liveliest entries in the genre. And once O'Sullivan was out of the picture, the Tarzan series focused less on the three-person family unit and turned its attention to the charming father and son relationship of Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and his adopted offspring, Boy (Johnny Sheffield), one of the few kid sidekicks who was never an annoying little douche. Unlike the intent stated in the creation of Robin the Boy Wonder, namely that kids would like to accompany a hero like Batman rather than be Batman, I always thought Boy was pretty cool, and what kid wouldn't want Tarzan — especially Weissmuller's Tarzan — to be his dad? Much is made of what a great pair Tarzan and Boy are, and Jane's absence is explained away by having her caring for her ailing mother in England.

The plot here is really kind of incidental, but all you need to know is that a bunch of Nazi assholes take over the lost city of Pallandria in an effort to rob them of their metal and oil resources. The princess of Pallandria, a hot brunette named Zandra (Frances Gifford) escapes and begs Tarzan to help her people and kick some Nazi ass, but Tarzan's attitude basically amounts to him not wanting to get involved because "strangers always bring trouble" and his expressed feeling that if nobody fucks with and his, he won't fuck with them. Period. Plus, thanks to an earlier letter from Jane (read aloud by Boy), Tarzan knows about the evils of the Nazis and war, and flatly states that he doesn't understand "civilized" man's need to kill each other. But Zandra and Boy are relentless in their attempts at swaying Tarzan, even going so far as to dress Zandra up in Jane's signature jungle shift and have her go swimming with the lonely and Jane-sick apeman; that's more fucked up than it sounds because the Tarzan and Jane swimming scenes, though quite chaste — or not, as anyone who's seen the nude romp in TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934) will attest — , are symbolic of their obvious intimacy and sexual attraction to each other. Fucking around like that with Tarzan's emotions didn't sit well with me, and Tarzan wasn't too keen on it either, once he twigged to what was going on.

Tarzan and Zandra.

Finally admitting defeat, Boy and Zandra set off to the lost city on their own, but a downed Nazi pilot that Tarzan had rescued tries to kill Boy. The lad's death is averted with the aid of series regular Buli the elephant, who picks up the Sieg Heiler and chucks him off the top of the Mutier escarpment, adding insult to injury by dumping a huge fucking boulder on his ass for good measure. Boy nonetheless gets kidnapped by other Nazi swine and Tarzan finally is motivated to kick ass, grabbing his knife and glaring into the camera while declaring, "Now Tarzan make war!!!" Obviously I don't need to tell you what happens next, although I do urge you to stick around for the hilariously stupid coda in which Cheeta the chimp contacts Germany via radio and is mistaken for Der Fuhrer.

"Eine kliene mit der Nina Hagen, das David Hasselhoff, undt der apple strudel! Das Kaviar Dinner! Ja, mein schiesse!!!"

Not in those exact words, but seriously! We get German officers saluting a goddamned chimp, for fuck's sake! It's not as funny/offensive as Mantan Moreland mistaking Cheeta for a "colored boy" in TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE (1942), but I'll take what I can get.

Great fun from start to finish, TARZAN TRIUMPHS is a kiddie film to be reckoned with and should be checked out by all fans of Saturday afternoon matinee thrills. And if I'd made the sumbitch, you can bet your ass that I would have had a scene in there in which Tarzan swam to Berlin with his knife clenched between his teeth, strolled straight into the Reichstag, and kicked Schickelgruber square in the batch before cutting off his head and using it to feed the "cannibal fish" back home. Woulda been awesome!

Monday, June 16, 2008

SHIN KYUSEISHU DENSETSU HOKUTO NO KEN-TOKI DEN (2008)

The latest of the rebooted FIST OF THE NORTH STAR series has hit, and I have to ask just what the fuck do the makers of this series think they're doing. As Elvis Presley once said, "A little less conversation, a little more action," words the filmmakers would have been wise to heed, as this short feature could use a heavy dose of the martial arts violence that made this series a classic over twenty years ago. Much like the majority of the Japanese franchise reboots, this current FIST OF THE NORTH STAR installment is a wimpy and somewhat turgid shadow of its former self, sort of like a once-badassed junkyard dog that has grown fat and lethargic after having its balls cut off and dumped into the veterinarian's trash bin.

This chapter in the continuing retelling of the Hokuto Shinken brothers and their struggle for succession in their fighting art deals with the final confrontation between ambitious, malevolent Raoh and the gentle, pacifistic kung fu Jesus that is Toki, a classic segment in both the original manga and the 1980's television anime series that was rich with characterization, poignant back story, and an unavoidable, tragic showdown between polar opposites who love and respect one another, but only one can survive. It was great stuff back in the days, but this new series reads like a haphazardly abridged version of the famed warrior epic, skipping huge chunks of characterization and plot, even eliminating some of the most action-packed parts of the whole series; Kenshiro's storming of Cassandra Fortress to rescue the imprisoned Toki was the stuff of superhero legend when originally seen, a segment that occupied nearly a whole volume when collected in a paperback volume, and here it's given barely three minutes of screen time and manages to completely eliminate the presence of Mamiya, Raiga, Fuga, and, most egregiously, Rei (if you follow this stuff, you know this is like excluding all of the characters in the original STAR WARS except for Luke, in other words it just doesn't work). Even Toki's cosmic decimation of his would-be assassins comes off as lukewarm (though it is nicely rendered).

Toki: dying of radiation sickness, but still takin' no shit.

And, in an effort to make up for the original run's famous lack of female characters, there's a new character, Sarah, a doctor who accompanies Toki as he wanders the post-apocalyptic wasteland healing the sick. Sarah quite literally adds nothing to the story since she's barely introduced before she fucks off into the wastes with kung fu Jesus and we know nothing about her other than that he's a physician who was hanging around the Hokuto Shinken temple for no particular reason.

When we do get to the Toki/Raoh set-to, it's rather uninteresting since the digest version of the story completely robs the sequence of its tragedy, giving us nothing more than two Hulked-out dudes droning on and on about destiny while they blurrily hack and slash at each other.

And if you're a Kenshiro fan, there's no reason for you to see this film because Ken's one sequence of fighting has been reduced to virtually nothing, and he can't get involved in Toki and Raoh's business because it's for them to hash out on their own.

So while well-crafted, SHIN KYUSEISHU DENSETSU HOKUTO NO KEN: TOKI-DEN is rather lackluster on its own merits, and will be a major disappointment for old school NORTH STAR diehards while simultaneously causing newbies to wonder just what the hell the big deal was when this series was in its heyday.

R.I.P. STAN WINSTON, OSCAR-WINNING SPECIAL EFFECTS MASTER (1946-2008)

One of the all-time great special effects visionaries has left us, and I'm numb from the shock. Stan Winston's resume is festooned with classic work spanning a career of thirty-plus years, and any fan of quality genre effects work will recognize the films he's contributed his creative skills to, among which can be counted INVADERS FROM MARS (1986), ALIENS (1986), PREDATOR (1987), THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991), JURASSIC PARK (1993), GALAXY QUEST (1999), and this summer's best blockbuster, IRON MAN. And those are just some of his best-known pieces, so I think you get the idea of how totally awesome this guy was. Hell, the guy took home four Oscars, well-earned accolades for his totally believable work on T2, JURASSIC PARK, and the heavyweight of the lot, the incomparable ALIENS.

Winston died at home, surrounded by family, after a seven-year battle with multiple myeloma, so I bid you good rest, imagineer. You helped bring the impossible to vivid life, and I'll be forever grateful.

KUNG FU PANDA (2008)

After churning out mostly mediocre or rubbish animated films for years (SHARK TALE, the SHREK sequels, MADAGASCAR, BEE MOVIE), Dreamworks finally manages to release a piece that gets everything right from start to finish. It's apparent from the film's opening frame that a lot of care and thought went into the making of the delightful KUNG FU PANDA, and while the story is certainly nothing new — especially to those of us who live and breathe martial arts flicks — , it tells a familiar tale with a great deal of heart, enthusiasm, and respect for the viewer's intelligence while completely eschewing the anachronistic and largely inappropriate pop culture jokes that worked in the first SHREK and nowhere else since.

Po (voiced by Jack Black) is the fat son of a noodle chef who, though being groomed to take over the family business, has dreams of one day becoming a great kung fu master and hero of the people, but while quite game and enthusiastic, he's lazy, clumsy, and has no skills whatsoever. The unlikely wannabe gets his shot at glory when the prophesied escape of the villainous and incredibly skilled Tai Lung (DEADWOOD's Ian McShane) looms imminent and a martial arts master must be named as the sacred Dragon Warrior in order to handle the threat. Po, quite by accident, finds himself awarded the vaunted title, much to the horror and dismay of the diminutive Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and his balls-out badassed students, the Furious Five, each representing an embodiment of a classical animal-based kung fu style (specifically tiger, mantis, crane, snake, and monkey). All are dumbfounded that a fat load like Po could be the Dragon Warrior and all are at first determined to make sure that he gives up and leaves the temple, but they didn't expect Po's genuine love of what they do to fuel him to give it his best shot. While he's pretty much a washout, Po's girth and enjoyment of his training work to his advantage, and Master Shifu figures out just how to motivate his unwanted new student to greatness, all while his adopted daughter, Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), seethes at the role that should have gone to her is usurped by one she feels is unworthy. As Tai Lung approaches and Po leaves the temple to accompany his father as the local villagers evacuate before the coming martial apocalypse, the Furious Five advance to stop him, but are unceremoniously handed their asses in a butt-kicking of painfully disheartening proportions. When Master Shifu, no slouch himself, proves unable to defeat Tai Lung — who, by the way, is also his adoptive child, one in whom he is deeply disappointed because he turned to evil — , Po returns to save the day after reaching a philosophical epiphany unwittingly provided by his noodle chef dad, providing the ages-old lesson of "believe in yourself, and you can achieve miracles" for a new generation of moviegoing little ones.

I would have had a great time with KUNG FU PANDA even had I not been a devotee to the martial arts, so I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fun "hero's journey" or training film, as well as advising lovers of quality animation to see this on the big screen in order to get the full effect of its visual grandeur. As for the individual points of note:
  • The one element of the film that I feared would make or break the film turned out to be quite praiseworthy, namely Jack Black's voice acting. I loved Black in the excellent SCHOOL OF ROCK, but find him mostly annoying in just about everything else he's been in because his approach to comedy often strikes me like he's both trying too hard and is attempting to convince everyone watching that he's as funny as he thinks he is. This time, though, he gives a genuine performance that is full of heart and charm, and the viewer definitely comes to love and root for his character.
  • Dustin Hoffman was the last person I would have expected to be able to pull of playing that mainstay of kung fu movies, the seasoned master, but he's absolutely perfect as Shifu, a character whose triumphant martial abilities are reflected in Tai Lung's misuse of his teachings, and Master Tigress' feelings of resentment at being passed over as the Dragon Warrior. Shifu conveys a weary exasperation and sadness seldom seen in a character of this type, and I find him much more interesting than many of the master types found in the literally hundreds of martial arts films that I've seen. He's no Simon Yuen, or even Keye Luke for that matter, but he's nonetheless terrific.
  • And speaking of terrific master types, Randall Duk Kim's ancient Master Oogway is the finest of this breed since Yoda first showed up in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), before his mystery and wonder were flushed down the toilet in the cinematic Montezuma's Revenge that was STAR WARS: EPISODES I-III. This centered, contemplative figure is a tortoise whose every slow movement conveys both his advanced age and now effortless mastery of his art, as well as his wisdom and connection with the natural world around him. He's even Shifu's master, and Shifu defers to his decree when Oogway pronounces Po to be the Dragon Warrior; Shifu has his doubts about that, but in the end Oogway is proven right beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Shifu and Master Oogway.

Truly beautiful in every way, I wish Oogway had more screen time.
  • The Furious Five are a load of fun and a formidable group of warriors if ever I saw one. Viper (a perfectly cast Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), and especially Tigress (Angelina Jolie) are a joy to watch, and I demand to see more of them in the inevitable sequel. That goes most strongly for Jackie Chan's Monkey, a brilliant bit of casting that unfortunately went nowhere because the character has perhaps five lines of dialog.
  • Don't walk out during the end credits because they are a triumph or design and amusing character art vignettes, as well as having a sweet, silent coda at the very end.
So don't wait for KUNG FU PANDA to hit DVD or cable. Go see its plethora of visual storytelling wonders on the big screen as it was intended, and I highly doubt you'll be disappointed.

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

MEETING TRACEY'S BABY

Yesterday I made my way to Greenwood Heights to meet my new niece, the two-week-old Aurora, at the home of her parents, Tracey the Waitress Goddess and Brendan the Hairy. I'd put off meeting the new arrival for two weeks in order to give her time to adjust to the noisy world she now finds herself in, as well as get to know the two primary big people in her life, and I'm glad I did because I feel that all newborns look like wiggling gerbils and I wanted to see her looking a bit more fully-cooked and comfortable.

When I walked in there was Tracey, sitting on the couch and looking as sleep-deprived as I expected — and, I might add, looking so good that you'd never know she'd recently had a kid — , holding the tiny creature to her breast, and once that meal was done I went in for a closeup look and was overwhelmed by this offspring of two of my favorite people. I'd held my nieces Sadie-Rain and Cleo on the day they were born, and the swell of raw emotion that I felt then was once more brought forward.

My first gander at the sprout.

After my initial wonderment the proud parents and myself retired to the kitchen and chatted about all things baby and recent developments in other aspects of our lives, all while Tracey sat on a huge rubber ball and bounced up and down to soothe Aurora; as Tracey bounced I found myself bouncing up and down along with her in order to keep my gaze focused on her as we talked.

I was then lucky enough to capture Aurora's "Wooo!" face for posterity, and I intend to use this shot should I ever need to draw that particular expression.

The "Wooo!" face.

Uncle Bunche scolds the baby for hogging all the good stuff.

The proud parents and their future menace to society. Hey, I'm her uncle, so it's only a matter of time.

A sleepy little pea.

Infants and the metal horns: two things that were meant to be together.

The kid's a cutie, and I can't wait until she's old enough to make her thoughts known. THAT'S when the real fun starts.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

So I saw the new Hulk flick and I have to say that while in nearly all regards better than Ang Lee's 2005 borefest of a franchise-launcher, it still isn't all that.

Attempting to reboot the Hulk in the image of the old Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno television series, THE INCREDIBLE HULK comes of as exactly what an episode of that show would have been like if it had any kind of special effects. The sadness and loneliness of Banner's nomadic existence as he wages a war against his own rage is all there, and thankfully the pretentious family dysfunction melodrama of Ang Lee's take on the Big Green has been kicked to the curb in favor of giving fans of the character's comic book incarnation were dying to see in the first place: the Hulk destroying the people who don't understand that it's not a good idea to fuck with him, and kicking ass on another super-powerful man-monster.

This installment finds Dr. Bruce Banner (Ed Norton, taking over from Eric Bana and doing a much better job) living in Brazil and learning the martial arts and its breathing/centering techniques to control his anger. He's been on the run from the military forces of General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) for five years, but he's eventually tracked down and after Hulking out on some of Ross' team Banner once more goes on the run, his trail leading back to former lover and Ross' daughter, Betty (Liv Tyler). During his adventures Banner is linked via computer to a mysterious "Mr. Blue," a bio-researcher who promises Banner a cure provided he can have a blood sample for testing, while an ambitious, combat-addicted soldier named Emil Blonski (Tim Roth) undergoes a series of augmentations that first turn him into (comics fans take note) a "super-soldier," later a Hulk-blood-infused "abomination." It all builds to a head that climaxes with the Hulk taking on the Abomination in the streets of Harlem and pretty much rendering the place a smoking crater before the Hulk inevitably wins the day and once more runs away, leaving Banner just as alone and totally fucked as he had been since the day he was on the receiving end of a massive gamma ray blast.

The one thing that a Hulk movie needs to succeed (other than a good script with plenty of monster-to-monster smash time) is a Hulk that looks believable to some degree, and considering what special effects are like these days one would think would be readily doable, but one of the biggest gripes voiced by nearly everyone who saw the previous film was that the Hulk looked too "cartoony; that didn't bother me so much last time because Hulk's look reminded me of a Richard Corben drawing as brought to stop-motion life by Ray Harryhausen. But now, some three years later, the CGI still hasn't been sussed out in regard to Hulk himself, and he looked so rubbery and greasy — yes, greasy — that I kept expecting somebody to grab him and shove him up their ass (my friend Suzi came to the exact same conclusion, describing him as looking like a "big ol' green buttplug"). As for the rest of the movie, the story is largely uninvolving and lethargic, and considering how much they actively tried to evoke the old Bill Bixby show that comes as no surprise. The only points of real interest are:
  • The most blistering and violent superhero fight in screen history. Hulk versus Abomination is an amazing and bone-crunching set-to that had the whole audience awed and cringing, and while awesome parents may want to carefully consider whether theywant the younger kids to see it. I'd take my (hypothetical) kids, but that's just me.
  • They set up an appearance by the Leader (comics geeks know who he is) in case there's another one of these, but I note that solely because the geeks in the audience get it; the guy playing the pre-Leader is one of the most annoying actors I've seen in a long time,
    and I just wanted to punch his head in like it was an overripe melon. (Which brings
    me to the talent-void Liv Tyler. She's never brought anything to any movie she's
    been in and continues that here, with that annoying whispery baby-talk delivery of hers that makes her sound like Pebbles Flintstone with laryngitis. Yeah,
    she's kind of cute in that half-formed-looking way of hers, but that's not
    enough to make her inclusion in any way valid.)
  • The Abomination starts out as a guy augmented with a recreated version of the super-soldier serum (later enhanced with some of Hulk's blood), and there are allusions to there having been a previous super-soldier in the past, setting up the announced Captain America movie.
  • Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) shows up as a thwarted General Ross sucks down shot after shot after shot in a bar and ends the film by cluing Ross in on the fact that he and SHIELD are assembling a team to handle stuff like the Hulk, therefore setting up the 2010 Avengers movie.
  • They finally address a question I've had since I was old enough to connect the adrenaline rush with sexual excitement, and how such excitement would affect Banner; don't worry, Banner recognizes where his rolling around with Betty is leading, and does an agonizing self-cock-block, to which I observed aloud "Man, it REALLY sucks to be the Hulk!" to which half the audience voiced various expressions of agreement, but the funniest response came from a woman who shouted "I feel sorry for HER!" And while I'm no Tyler fan, there's little that I find more appealing than a woman in nothing but a large men's shirt who's clearly gagging for it, and she looks delicious as such.
  • The best Stan Lee cameo appearance yet.
So, the bottom line is that while THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a slight improvement over
the first installment, I suggest waiting for cable. However, if you're a fan of the old TV series, you will probably enjoy this a lot more than I did, so take that point into consideration. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

ANOTHER FATHER'S DAY

I hate Father’s Day. It’s the one day of the year when, no matter what else I may be doing, I’m reminded of my place in the father/son equation, namely that I don’t have one, as both a son and as a mate/father.

My relationship with my father was nothing I’d care to burden you readers with, but let it suffice to say there were issues and as a result of his absence from my life and the attention he paid to building his second family — and, to his credit, apparently making that work — I had no male role model to teach me how to be a man. That’s a process I find myself still muddling through on a day-to-day basis with varying degrees of success, and I genuinely wish I’d had a dad who’d taken a genuine interest in me during my adolescence, but such was not the case and I like think that considering the circumstances I didn’t do too badly. But here I am at the age of nearly forty-three with no mate and no offspring, and there’s a deep, dark, empty place in my existence that I struggle to ignore and carry on in spite of, but while I’m able to handle it most of the time the days leading up to and including Father’s Day kick me right in the heart. It was especially difficult this time around due to events in recent weeks that have caused me to consider where I am in life, why I’m so unhappy, and what I can do about it (I have no answers for that one yet, alas).

You see, I had been reluctant to write about it because this blog is supposed to mostly be about my media obsessions and stay somewhat light and entertaining, but almost three weeks ago I awoke late one night and checked myself into the local ER because I felt strange in an undefined way; not in pain per se, but I knew something wasn’t right and I needed to get checked out. I ended up stuck in the hospital for thirty-six hours, the first time I’d been in a hospital since the day I was born, and while it was determined that my blood sugar was spiking due to my meds needing an adjustment I was nonetheless terrified and spent much of my sleepless time thinking about how alone I was. As the parade of nurses took sample after sample of my blood and I endured both a stress test and echo cardiogram — despite all my bad behavior over the years, it turns out I have a strong heart, thank you very much — I kept mulling over the recent backyard cookout I’d attended in Long Island, an event that gathers as many as possible of my extended family of friends from far and wide and allows me to see my gaggle of non-blood nieces and nephews.

I’ve always had a way with kids and I love these children as if they were my own, so when I get a chance to spend time with them I relish it and sometimes when I play and interact with them I think of them as the children that, at the rate my life is going, I’ll never have. When I got out of the hospital I resolved to keep a much closer eye on my health issues, both for my own sake and so I can see these marvelous children grow into the equally marvelous adults I’m certain they’ll grow up to be.

Then this weekend rolled around and last night I attended a friend’s grad school graduation party and discovered that my niece Cleo was there. She’s an adorable, happy little four-year old girly girl who fills my heart with delight whenever I get to spend time with her, and last night she was running around in her Boston Red Sox cheerleader outfit — a far cry from her preferred fairy princess mode — , looking too cute for words. Seeing her made me well up with sadness over the lack of a family of my own, and I was actually relieved to leave early in an effort to avoid having to travel on foot during the torrential downpours that pounded the area (my friend lives six blocks and nearly four very long avenues away from the Vault, and I would have been soaked to the bone during the walk home). Upon arriving home I was able to set aside my familial yearnings by having a long phone conversation with my friend Lia (aka “Karate Hottie”).

But my longing for family was only compounded when I went to meet my two-week-old niece Aurora, the daughter of Tracey the Waitress Goddess and her husband, Brendan. I only met Tracey a little over three years ago and in that time she’s come to be more of a sister to me than my own blood sibling — no offense, Meredith, but our schedules haven’t allowed us to spend as much time together as I’d like — so the birth of her daughter means a great deal to me and I feel greatly honored to be considered family. Holding the tiny, wriggling infant filled me with emotion, and thankfully Tracey and Brendan were in a mood to chat and catch up while I marveled at the helpless little new person Tracey’d just brought into the world. The conversation helped distract me from my paternal emptiness, but when I returned to my flat I lay on my futon, staring up at the ceiling and contemplating a fatherhood that grows less and less likely with each passing day. I then sank into a depressed sleep, a slumber marked by an uncharacteristic absence of dreams. Now I'm awake and satisfying my fantasies of family by running some old Johnny Weissmuller movies and living vicariously through Tarzan, Jane, and Boy, a family unit I've taken comfort with since childhood, and one I know all too well could never be real. The magic of Hollywood, and all that...

Sorry for this downer of a post, but I had to get it out of my system. I’ll be back to normal by tomorrow, so I thank you for bearing with me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

"GONE WITH THE WIND" IT AIN'T: THE MANDINGO PROJECT

NOTE: this is a loooong piece, but I promise you it's easier to swallow than the full-length novel.

First edition of MANDINGO, featuring perhaps the worst book cover of all time. Seriously, somebody got paid to produce this!

Since blacks in America were brought here very much against their will and subjected to every form of degradation the human mind could conceive, slavery remains a hot button issue and one that touches very raw nerves when discussed in any format. Many pop culture analysts will tell you that the first major work to really present the myriad horrors of slavery in realistic and uncomfortable detail would be Alex Haley's multi-generational saga ROOTS, and more importantly its 1977 television dramatization; the TV miniseries hit the airwaves like a blowtorch to the stomach and forced white viewers to see the torture, mutilation, rape, forced separation of families and other such details of the human chattel system that fantasies like GONE WITH THE WIND gloss over to an alarming degree. Not only did it shake up adults across the nation, but it was also the first time that most non-black American kids really understood why slavery was an unmitigated evil that was inadequately explained in the woefully skewed history schoolbooks of the era. By the time the second episode aired, I had many of my classmates come up to me apologizing for atrocities committed by their ancestors some three hundred years past. (Needless to say, that shit got old fast, but it was a strange and interesting thing to witness.
)

The impact of ROOTS was and is undeniable since it is still frequently discussed and referenced today, but for my money it was not the first pop culture hit to unflinchingly detail slavery for a mass audience. My vote for that distinction goes to Kyle Onstott's massive 1957 novel MANDINGO.
You have probably heard the name and associate it with lurid interracial shenanigans during the plantation era Old South thanks to the outrageous 1975 movie version, but most people don't know the film was based on a lucrative bestseller that was the literary equivalent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki when it hit in the late 1950's, an era of post-war American prosperity that reveled in the secure knowledge of white superiority in all things and a barely acknowledged awareness of any wrongs committed on the historical road to getting the US to where it was. MANDINGO was an anti-epic, replete with scalding violence and then-shocking interracial sex — or rape, in most instances — peopled with characters that ranged from the pitiful and obsequious to the downright reprehensible. The core of the story centers on the daily goings-on at the Falconhurst plantation, an establishment for breeding and selling slaves, and the tawdry intrigues set into motion upon the young master simultaneously acquiring his cousin as his wife, a new “bed wench” slave girl who becomes the real love of his life, and an ultra-studly fighting slave of the title bloodline. None of the characters come off as admirable for a variety of reasons, and the narrative squarely points out that slave-owner, slave-breeder and slave were all victims of the foul system in no uncertain terms. So why has MANDINGO gone on to be universally hailed one of the most infamous and offensive concoctions of the twentieth century?

The blame for that falls largely on the movie adaptation, a film released nearly twenty years after the book's publication; despite its documented status as a runaway bestseller at the time, there was absolutely no way that MANDINGO could have been filmed and not seen every single person involved in its translation to the big screen arrested as twisted sadists and pornographers. Even after the advancements of the civil rights movement the book was still simply too hot to handle and though there was no screen adaptation there was a flourishing genre of potboiler paperback sequels that cheapened the literary impact of Onstott's original work until the series became sort of bodice-ripper drugstore fiction with as much sex and violence as the law would allow. By the time the feature version of MANDINGO hit screens in 1975 much of its content had become fodder for rip-off novels and porno films, and many people had not read the book in its unabridged form, so much of the character and sociological insight found therein was utterly lost. The film version simplified the complex 659-page source novel to fit within a two hour running time, dumbing it down to nothing more than an overacted, ludicrously-scripted S & M/soft-porn GONE WITH THE WIND parody filled with wall-to-wall nudity, torture, bloody violence, and an overwhelming blast of unbelievable bad taste. I personally relish the film for its balls-out insanity and tastelessness, parts of which convulse me with laughter every time I sit through it, and in my opinion it remains the single most offensive film ever released by a major motion picture studio. And there is absolutely no fucking way that film could have been made today without riots breaking out in the streets. Believe that, Jack!


Sadly, the film has tarnished the considerable merit and bravery found in the novel, a book that to the best of my knowledge is out of print today, and what stands amid the rubble is perhaps one of the most misunderstood books in all of American literature. Most people have never read it, and if they have they've only seen the abridged version - admittedly, Onstott's uncut version is a trifle unnecessarily long-winded - and read it only to glean what thrills can be had for those who get off on misery and master/slave sex fantasies. After seeing the movie during the late-1980's I tracked down the novel in its abridged form and read it, marveling at just how raw the book was for a mass-market item of its time, and determined to find the uncut version just for the sake of comparison. Thanks to eBay I acquired a first edition hardcover of MANDINGO and have read it from start to finish with the intent of analyzing it both as a book and as a statement about the dehumanizing aspects of slavery. The novel runs for fifty chapters but as previously stated the unabridged version tends to ramble, so I have reviewed the book in sections since sequences that cover twenty-four hours of time can go on for as many as six chapters.

PART 1: chapters 1-5.

MANDINGO takes place in the antebellum south of 1820 at the Falconhurst slave-breeding plantation, an establishment known throughout the land for turning out blacks of the highest quality for heavy field work or whatever whims the buyer may have (no matter how sick or twisted they may be, as we shall see). The place has definitely seen better days; the ground has petered out thanks to over-farming of cotton, the mansion has fallen into disrepair, and despite the plantation's intended purpose of breeding slaves there are more of them around than the proprietors know what to do with.

The patriarch of Falconhurst is Warren Maxwell, an irascible old fuck who treats his “niggers” as one would a mildly disobedient dog; he seldom has a kind word for them and displays a shockingly superior attitude for one so staggeringly ignorant. Plagued by crippling rheumatism - or “rheumatiz” as he would put it - Maxwell drinks corn whisky-laden hot toddies from the moment he wakes until the moment he retires at night, essentially rendering himself Shane McGowan-level drunk all day long. The one true joy in his life, aside from his toddies, is his only son, Hammond.

Hammond is eighteen years old, and by all measure of “bodice ripper” fiction he is fairly handsome, but is physically flawed with a permanently stiff leg, an injury incurred during childhood after being thrown from the saddle by a stroppy gelding (after that incident Hammond's father grows to loathe geldings of both the equine and human varieties, leading to a plantation policy of never gelding either a horse or slave). Being the heir to the plantation and general administrator since his father is hobbled by his “rheumatiz,” Hammond is pretty much a prince, flush with cash and the master's right to fuck any of the slaves as he sees fit, whether they like it or not, since as his father claims “nigger wench crave her master for her first time.” It is made very clear that Hammond has rampantly impregnated slave girls since he was fourteen, siring many offspring in the process (including one being carried by his two months pregnant bed wench, Dite, which is short for Aphrodite), offspring who are immediately categorized as potential sale items, made all the more valuable since they are “half human.” An unexpected side effect of Hammond's virulent jungle fever is his utter lack of attraction to white women, a very important plot point that sets the main meat of the story into motion in chapter six, but more on that when we get to it.

Anyway, the first five chapters cover a period of roughly twenty-four rain-soaked hours and introduce us to the Maxwells and their staff of house slaves, chief among whom is the requisite fat mammy stock character so common to tales of this ilk, this time dubbed Lucrecia Borgia. In this and subsequent books in what became the Falconhurst series it is clear that Lucrecia Borgia - always referred to by her full name - is the real power behind the Falconhurst hierarchy, and while the Maxwell men may give orders and such, they grudgingly respect and trust Lucrecia Borgia and allow her to handle all of the house matters and much of the concerns that extend beyond the big house. She also displays a cruel enjoyment in watching slaves of lesser rank - which is basically everyone else on the plantation with a trace of melanin - receive corporal punishment, especially when personally meted out with a whip or paddle in her hand with the full approval of her owners. Part of her status stems from her prodigious reproductive capabilities, an Herculean fecundity that yielded at least ten sets of twins, but when the story begins she is described as “pretty much bred out.”

Also of note are Alpha and Omega (Alph and Meg for short), the youngest of Lucrecia Borgia's brood, tweener scalliwags engaged in a fierce war for the attentions of their respective masters; Alph is forced into spending much of his time with the elder Maxwell's feet pressed against his belly in an ill-informed attempt to drain the rheumatism from the old man into the young boy, while Meg obsequiously sets out to fulfill Hammond's every minute whim or need out of an apparently homosexual/masochistic love for his master, even to the point of demanding regular beatings from Hammond that he interprets as proving his master's love, beatings from which he derives an obviously sexual pleasure.

The other important Falconhurst slave is Agamemnon (Mem for short), the thirty-something houseboy who is the object of constant abuse from everyone around him, slave or otherwise. Mem is the classic "lazy nigger" archetype who only shapes up when threatened with physical punishment for his sloth, and while having no choice but to put up with his station, he is the only slave to flat out realize that his situation simply sucks ass. Upon being caught stealing whisky after a number of other minor infractions, Mem is sentenced to be hung up and given thirty lashes, a sentence that is delayed after Hammond sadistically administers a near-fatal dose of syrup of ipecac as an extra bit of punishment intended to heighten Mem's pre-whipping misery. Hammond realizes his vindictiveness nearly cost Mem his life, but he has no idea that that act has sown the seeds of impending tragedy…

During the aforementioned twenty-four hour period, the Maxwells play grudging hosts to Brownlee, an ignorant and ultra-sleazy slave trader (with whom the elder Maxwell makes an exchange of two slaves from Falconhurst for two so-so specimens of Brownlee's and a little cash to make up for the difference in quality), and the three men “treat” readers to in-depth discussions of the intricacies of the flesh trade, their philosophies on slavery and other subjects, along with their twisted medical “knowledge” in regard to the veterinary care of niggers.

The plantation's prize wench, a girl of pure Mandingo blood named Big Pearl because of her sturdy and statuesque build (who is the intentionally inbred offspring of her grandfather and his daughter), appears to be ailing, so a slave is sent out to fetch Doc Redfield, the local veterinarian. Upon arrival, Redford diagnoses Big Pearl as being “hipped,” in other words she's in heat and craves for Hammond to fuck her. Hearing this, Hammond admits to being intimidated by her size and the fact that she, like all niggers we are told, is “powerful musky.” Working with a suggestion provided by Brownlee, it is decreed that Big Pearl will be bathed in a strong solution that “renders niggers right sweet smellin' for two, three days,” and Hammond will soon come over and do his masterly duty. After the men return to the house for yet more booze and overblown prose, Brownlee drunkenly requests a bed wench from Mem, but when Mem wisely doesn't supply a wench without the permission of his masters Brownlee sneaks out to Big Pearl's cabin with every intention of taking her virginity for himself. Her irate mother, Lucy, alerts the Maxwells to Brownlee's sniffing about before anything can happen, and Brownlee is unceremoniously asked to leave Falconhurst. END OF CHAPTER FIVE.

NOTES:
  • While all of this gives us a very clear and thorough insight into the mindset of white male participants in the slavery system, it also points out the fact that the writer really needed an editor since this stuff takes up five dense chapters, made all the harder to wade through because the reader has to get used to deciphering the southern colloquialisms, slang and general bad grammar issuing from the characters' mouths.
  • The ignorance of the whites is really incredible to read, but one must take into account the fact that in the early 1800s in rural areas such as that depicted here people pretty much had contact only with their families and those encountered during excursions for provisions due to how far away everyone was from one another; your nearest neighbor was about eight to ten miles away if you were lucky.
  • The majority of the Falconhurst slaves have names derived from classical mythology, famous historical figures or biblical characters in an attempt for the Maxwells to show off how cultured they are(n't) by coming up with such high-falutin' and pretentious monikers. Yeah, way to go with "Lucrecia Borgia," dude!
  • With the exception of Agamemnon, all of the slaves at Falconhurst worship the Maxwells, especially Hammond, as devotionally as the ancient Greeks revered the occupants of Mount Olympus, cheerfully reveling in the squalor of their lives and happily acquiescing to Hammond's priapic needs. These are the NC-17 versions of the kind of slaves who populated such works as GONE WITH THE WIND, and each and every one of them makes me sick. They have accepted their status as little more than pets or objects and not one of them are in the least bit sympathetic. They are there to solely to take it up the ass from life with little or no complaint, both figuratively and literally.
  • Particularly offensive are Alph and Meg; horrid little turds to begin with, they swiftly mutate into the worst kind of toadies, especially Meg, whose inner monologue on the magnificence of Hammond and his desire to love him in all ways reeks of NAMBLA fantasies from the late 1950's. The kid demands that Hammond beat him to show the world that he is “Masta Hammond's nigger, an' no one else'ns,” for fuck's sake!!! And don't get me started on Alph, pressganged into being a “rheumatiz” sponge after the elder Maxwell hears from Brownlee about “nekkid Mexican dogs” who can drain off joint pains if you apply your feet to their bellies as often as possible; the image of James Mason doing this to a little black boy in the film has gone on to well deserved cinematic infamy and is so outrageous/hilarious that you won't know what to think when you actually see it.
One final note of importance is Doc Redfield's mention of his use of a painless poison to end the lives of slaves who are too old to work or be of value anymore, an illegal practice, but the poison is untraceable. This bit of information will become of major importance during the novel's last act…

PART 2: chapters 6-14.After being badgered by his father Hammond reluctantly agrees to marry a white woman and use her as a broodmare to generate an heir to the majesty that is Falconhurst, and in order to keep the bloodline as pure as possible he sets his sights on his second cousin, namely sixteen-year-old Blanche Woodford of the Crowfoot plantation. Hammond has not seen her since she was a toddler so he barely remembers her, but since he intends to go to the Coign plantation to borrow Big Pearl's father for stud work on his own daughter, he figures that he'll stop off at Crowfoot since it's on the way and “go sparkin'” after Blanche. Since it's a matter of custom for him to still have bed wenches, it's no skin off of his nose and all pretty much a business arrangement since white women physically repulse him. Also, Hammond's desire for a fighting nigger percolates…

Mem attempts to convince Hammond not to whip him for his recent transgressions, but his pleas fall upon deaf ears. Young Meg's obsequiousness continues to grow and he begs to be the one to apply the burning pimentade to Mem's raw wounds after the beating to come; Meg's hatred of Hammond's bed wench, Dite, begins to ferment and he tells Hammond in no uncertain terms that he wishes that his master would “pleasure” with him like he does with Dite. Hammond is thoroughly disgusted at that prospect and his reaction prompts Meg to wish that he were a girl so massa would fuck him.

Hammond finally gets around to Mem's promised whipping, aided by slaves Napoleon - Pole for short - and the ever-obsequious Meg, and the beating with a leather covered paddle is savage and damaging indeed, made worse by Napoleon mocking Mem's obvious misery. Meg is disappointed to see Hammond relinquish the actual task of the beating to Pole, thereby somewhat diminishing his fantasies of being beaten into near oblivion by his master. What remains hidden from the slaves is the fact that witnessing such “necessary” punishment makes Hammond ill, prompting him to call a brief halt to Mem's agony so that he can leave the barn and collect himself; more so than for his slaves, Hammond sought to prove his ruthless master role to himself and began to realize that he was too soft for the corporal punishment responsibilities of his job, or as he says to himself, “not cut out fer threshin' niggers.” That realization does not stop Hammond from resuming the beating, and Mem is whipped until his ass resembles bloody, pulped hamburger meat. That indignity is compounded by Meg happily applying the caustic pimentade to the gory wounds, a substance full of ground pepper in a solution that allows it to stick fast to the gaping lacerations, causing Mem unimaginable, screaming agony. Hammond then retires to his room and guiltily cries himself to sleep.

The young Maxwell soon embarks on his quest to borrow the old stud Mandingo from Coign, but first he stops off at Crowfoot to put his incredibly awkward moves on cousin Blanche. Blanche is the epitome of the southern belle found in many an antebellum romance fantasy; curly blonde hair, pretty as a peach, whiny and petulant until she gets her way, basically an obnoxious, drawling princess who you just can't wait to punch square in the gob. And Hammond's appraisal of his cousin/intended isn't exactly flattering:

He would have to get used to the whiteness of female flesh. Its pallor seemed to him not quite healthy, somehow leprous, cold. He knew the beauty of blondeness, but failed to appreciate it. He knew, moreover, that if he was to have a wife he would have to tolerate that she was white.

While riding to a church meeting, Hammond and Blanche are caught making out by her older brother, the scrawny, “gotch-eyed” and obviously inbred Charles, and he is rather irate at the sight. He threatens to tell their father but Blanche wields a powerful hold over her brother thanks to “something he did” to her three years previous; he defers to her, but reminds her that they were both equally guilty - and more importantly, consensual - of their unnamed transgression and that there was nothing anyone could do about it anyway… Once Charles leaves, Hammond proposes to his cousin with a lack of enthusiasm that is truly staggering, and while she is clearly into it she suggests that he ask her father first.

Major Woodford tentatively agrees to let Hammond wed his daughter, provided that the elder Maxwell will lend him $5000 until harvest time; it turns out that the opulent Crowfoot plantation and all of its assets are mortgaged to the hilt and the banks are about to come crashing down on the Major. Hammond promises to have his father fork over half of the money in cash the minute he returns to Falconhurt.

That night Hammond bunks with Charles, who displays a friendlier aspect than early in the day. His earlier rudeness was due to realizing what Hammond would be getting into by marrying Blanche, and he informs Hammond in no uncertain terms that his sister is “pizen” and a manipulative bitch, to say nothing of the fact that she would never allow him to have a fighting nigger. Hammond doesn't care that she may be childish since all he wants her for is to bear his children, and he plans to use the fact that his father is bailing her family out of a major financial mess as his leverage against any of her uppity behavior. This reverie is interrupted by the arrival of two bed wenches, and Hammond is appalled to discover that Charles is a kinky motherfucker who seriously gets off on beating his wench before fucking her, and she of course feigns enjoyment of the abuse, but also enjoys her status as Charles' steady squeeze. Their obvious romantic attachment grosses Hammond out since it implies equality between master and slave, but while Hammond enjoys pleasuring with black women he looks upon it mostly as “a duty without pleasure and little satisfaction; mere detumescence, a voiding of accumulated waste.” Hammond uses his bed wench out of respect for his host's hospitality, but he is put off by Charles' lovemaking, and when he finishes with her he kicks the poor girl out of the bed and forces her to sleep on the chilly floor.

The next day, despite Blanche's tantrums, Hammond leaves for Coign, unwillingly accompanied by Charles who craves to see the world beyond Crowfoot. Needless to say Charles turns out to be immature to a fault and a royal pain in the ass, but for the time being Hammond has no choice but to put up with him since it would eat up a good deal of time to return to Crowfoot and drop him off.

Hammond and Charles are overwhelmed by the charm of the Coign and its owner, the decrepit Mister Wilson. Wilson is a pretty mellow old man who is quite content and resigned to the fact of his impending demise, and he is constantly attended by Old Ben - hands-down the most erudite and dignified slave character in the whole book - a servant whose bearing and excellent diction make Hammond feel inferior. Ben also happens to be Wilson's son, and only seventeen years his junior.

After initial pleasantries, Hammond gets to the point of his visit and discovers that the old Mandingo buck he wanted to borrow - Xerxes by name - was gored to death by a bull three months prior, but Wilson offers the services of a much superior specimen. The young Mandingo in question is Mede - named for Zeus' male love object, Ganymede - and he is a slave-fancier's wet dream; built like a Michelangelo work, smart (and fairly articulate for a character in this book), adoring of his master and thoroughly obedient. In other words, everything Hammond would want as both a stud and a fighting nigger. He agrees to purchase Mede for $2750 in cash that he will have sent from Falconhurst, and Wilson is quite amenable to the arrangement since he also needs money to cover the sizable debts incurred by his estate. Once the deal is sealed it is time for bed, and Hammond and Charles are offered the “use” of complimentary bed wenches.

The wenches arrive and are declared to virgins; Charles is excited by this prospect but Hammond is indifferent. He ends up with a plump, pretty light-skinned girl named Ellen and soon his indifference turns to genuine attraction. Ellen is sweet and smart, and most importantly she is not put off by his bad leg. An evening of some exploration is hinted at but it is made clear that Hammond did not take Ellen's virginity. The same cannot be said for the poor, scared girl on the receiving end of Charles' attentions.

The next morning Hammond readies to leave and offers to buy Ellen as his personal bed wench; Wilson agrees upon a $1500 price tag and throws in Ellen's “delicate like a wench” brother, Jason, as a present to the elder Maxwell. END OF CHAPTER 14.

NOTES:
  • By the end of chapter fourteen, all of the major players in the narrative have been introduced; there will be a few more who need to make an appearance, but all who figure into the real meat of the piece are now present.
  • Hammond's character becomes more pathetic with each page. The reader sees that he is a fairly decent guy but he has been ruined for life by his relative lack of education and growing up as a privileged son of the top of the slavery system food chain, and despite his oft-cited sense of his presumed natural superiority by nature of his whiteness even he realizes that he ain't all that. He's ignorant and his hygiene is terrible, a fact pointed out by mention of his not having bathed in a week because his father taught him that regular baths are unhealthy, nasty motherfucker…
  • The sequence in which Charles explains his enjoyment of beating wenches before having his way with them is stomach-churning to the extreme, and even Hammond is offended. When coupled with the knowledge of Hammond's squeamishness when dealing out corporal punishment, this scene really drives home the damage done to most of the white characters since virtually none of them would have taken umbrage at Charles' behavior, and Hammond's disgust over it makes him a bit more sympathetic to the reader since he too is a casualty of the system.
  • After his appalled contemplation of the offensiveness of Charles' intimacy with his at-home bed wench, Hammond's sudden ardor for Ellen comes as a bit of an odd twist, but much will occur as a result of it.
  • Mede is truly the stereotype of the "super-nigger" buck, and as if that's not bad enough he's also the equally-inbred brother of Big Pearl, a fact that Hammond decides not to reveal to either Mede or Big Pearl. Hey, what does he care as long as he gets a healthy "sucker" or two out of their incestuous coupling?

And on a side note, as previously stated, I had only read MANDINGO in its abridged form, and now I understand why an abridgment of such a bestseller was neccessary...

JESUS H. CHRIST, IS THIS BOOK A PLODDING MOTHERFUCKER!!!

(pause)

Sorry, but I had to get that out of my system.

I normally devour books as I read them — in fact I read the entirety of James Clavell's SHOGUN while laid up in bed with a rampaging flu, a read that took about six nonstop hours — but the original MANDINGO thwarted me like no book that I have ever read. I stalled at page 235 and nothing, NOTHING was happening, just a bunch of badly-written white dudes sitting around talking about forcing eggs down a major character's throat as part of his training as a "fightin' nigger." Let's face it: the hook of this work is the bizarre interracial soap opera tensions between Hammond and his slave Ellen, and the upcoming "fuck me or else" coupling between white Southern belle Blanche and big, hung-like-a-mastadon buck, Mede, and as of almost halfway through the ponderous volume the real action of the plot is often derailed for scores of pages by endless jibba-jab that amounts to little but the occasional drop of foreshadowing. That's why I say stick to the movie version; true, there is some stuff that's coming up in the book that is far more twisted and offensive than anything found in the film adaptation — and that's really saying something — but the film trims away enough fat to feed a village of Eskimos for three decades. The things I suffer through to keep you enlightened...

PART 3: chapters 15-24.

Hammond and his entourage leave the Coign plantation and drag the readers along for the ride in the longest fifty-two pages ever committed to paper, the interminable chapter fifteen. Nowhere in the book is the need for some judicious editing more evident than here since the chapter meanders endlessly, and despite an all-too-in-depth recounting of two stopovers during the road trip back to Falconhurst, nothing of any significance whatsoever to the story happens. The only events of even the slightest import are:
  • Hammond’s interest in Ellen the wench blooms into openly-expressed, full-blown true love with absolutely nothing in the narrative to make such instant passion believable in the slightest.
  • Ellen is forced to switch clothes with her obviously queer brother, Jason, and with the switch in clothes Jason becomes somewhat desirable to Hammond’s annoying cousin, Charles.
  • At the first of two uninteresting stopovers an attempt is made by some random white guy to steal Ellen as a bed wench for his epileptic brat of a son (who shits himself during his fits), but the plan is thwarted when the would-be abductor is subdued by Mede after the culprit mistook the in-drag Jason for Ellen. After being released, the would-be abductor shoots at Hammond’s party as they leave, mildly injuring Charles’ horse. Much is made of this injury since no real sex or violence occurs during this chapter, so I guess that the author felt that a horse’s minor gunshot wound was better than nothing.
  • During the second stopover, Hammond and his party fall victim to a minor flea infestation thanks to the squalid conditions in their host’s shack.
  • Upon his master’s return to Falconhurst, Meg becomes jealous of Ellen and launches into a more explicit homosexual reverie than those witnessed in previous chapters.
After that chapter finally draws to a close, Hammond begins Mede’s training as a fighting nigger in earnest and turns him over to Big Pearl and Lucy as their live-in boy toy, knowing full well that the women are Mede’s half-sister and mother, a fact known only to Hammond and his father. It is also subtly hinted at that Charles and the effeminate slave Jason have entered into a homosexual relationship, but little is made of that in the narrative. Ganymede is also revealed to be hiding an erudite manner of speech which was preferred at the Coign, but since the slaves at Falconhurst are raised to be as ignorant as possible Mede adopts inarticulateness both to fit in and please his master and to set his fellow slaves at ease.

Anyway, Hammond eventually brings Mede into town to fight another slave in a prearranged bout, the kind of savage brawl that would rightly be described as a human cockfight. Luckily Mede proves to be rather a natural grappler, handily whupping his opponent with a submission hold that simultaneously causes the fight to be conceded in Hammond's favor and disappoints the bettors since no blood was shed. Mede goes on to win all fights in which he is entered, and within the space of two weeks no one is willing to pit their slaves against the unbeatable Mandingo buck. Oddly, during Mede's last battle, the owner of his opponent unexpectedly dies right there on the tavern floor. The corpse's pockets are riffled through and while some cash is found there is also a deed to some land, but the exact details are obscure due to the poor penmanship found on the document. Since the deceased's slave was losing to Mede anyway, the fight is forfeited in Hammond's favor, winning him the man's slave and the deed.

Suddenly the fighting plot comes to a screeching halt when the author remembers that he has betrothed his hero to Cousin Blanche back at the Crowfoot plantation and has wasted one hundred and thirteen pages on useless bullshit and road trip stopovers, effectively derailing his own narrative in the process. So Hammond gives cousin Charles the $2500 to take back to the Major at Crowfoot, along with Blanche's ring and Jason the slave. Hammond then reluctantly gets his own shit together and prepares to make it to Crowfoot by the agreed-upon wedding date, meaning obtaining new clothes for himself and Meg, a stultifying process that is explained in excrutiatingly minute detail for far too many pages, and unwillingly leaves behind a distraught Ellen, who is fearful that she will be supplanted in Hammond's heart by his new white wife/prospective broodmare. Then, when Hammond and Meg finally get underway, what does the author have up his sleeve for the readers? You guessed it: more road trip stopover anti-adventures.

The latest round of meanderings delights us with yet more overly-described meals and boring examples of Southern hospitality that serve no purpose to the story whatsoever and introduce us to Madison Church ("Mad" for short) a spoiled and gluttonous man-child of an age near Hammond's but with the emotional maturity and behavior of a child in the throes of the "terrible twos." Mad displays great distaste at all matters of male-to-female coupling, even among thoroughbred horses, his chief interest in life, and finds young Meg to be irresistible to the point of wanting the boy to join him and Hammond in the bed that will share overnight at a hotel. It is alluded to that Mad has his lard-ridden way with Meg, and the next day he nags and whines at Hammond, even resorting to blubbery tears in order to get Hammond to stop over at his mother's estate despite Hammond's frequently-mentioned intent to be at Crowfoot within a day. We are then treated to yet another (!!!) stop over and feast, complete with yet more displays of slaves for sale; the only ironic part of all this is that by this point even Hammond is bored with the direction in which the story is going, and Mad proves himself to be one of the most flat-out obnoxious, annoying and downright irritating creations in the world history of fiction. Dear readers, every moment spent reading about this character was an agony and I actually longed for another meal to be served so that the endless description of his fevered mastication would shut him up, no matter how briefly.

After leaving the noxious presence of Mad, Hammond ends up at another stopover, this time finding him obtaining a pair of mustee slaves (a mustee is a slave light-skinned enough to be nearly white) who run away on him almost immediately and then he finally makes it to Crowfoot. Along the way Hammond has made mention of Charles heading back to his home, having departed Falconhurst over a month prior, but he is constantly met with ignorance regarding any sort of a homecoming by Charles. Upon arriving to claim his bride, Hammond finds out that Charles never went home and absconded with the money, the wedding ring and, most offensively of all to all concerned, a slave that didn't belong to him. Slave stealing is just about the worst crime a white man can commit, so if he is caught and prosecuted it would shame his family beyond all hope of recovery. The only cure is to get Blanche and Hammond hitched as quickly as possible since it would be unseemly to charge an in-law with nigger-stealing, and if Charles did ever turn up again the whole incident could be passed off as "a mistake." None of this sits too well with the bratty Blanche, whose Scarlet O'Hara-style fantasies of affluence and a dream wedding have been dashed by her brother's douchebaggery, but she has no choice in the proceedings, no matter how petulantly she behaves. A lightning-fast ceremony performed by Blanche's preacher brother, Dick, seals the deal and Hammond and Blanche retire for a night of connubial bliss...

After very nearly escaping from the Crowfoot plantation in a state of unthinking outrage, Hammond buries a burning anger, makes nice with his new in-laws, and rides off with his new bride. But, you may ask, what was Hammond so pissed off about? Well, after putting the meat to Blanche it is quite obvious to Hammond that she may be a belle, but she sure as hell ain't no virgin, a fact that he points out to her in no uncertain terms, and for all intents and purposes she has sold him used goods. He demands to know who got to her first so he can find the guy and put a bullet through his head, but Blanche stays mum; it doesn't take the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Blanche was deflowered by her miscreant brother, Charles, but her internal reminiscence of her "violation" while the siblings played house a few years previous reveals that she took great pleasure in the act despite its forbidden nature. Blanche proclaims her virginity-until-Hammond over and over, but to no avail, and simply cannot figure out how he knows she wasn't "pure," despite the fact that her hubby had fucked scores of slave wenches for years on end. Hammond nonetheless resigns himself to his status of being victimized by the treachery of the Woodfords and forces Blanche to agree not to tell his father of her besmirched condition.

On the way back to Falconhurst Hammond recovers his runaway mustees and drops in on that asshole Mad again (thereby subjecting the reader to more of his infantile histrionics) gives him one of the mustees as his "body slave," and grosses out his host to the point of nausea by fucking Blanche right there in the same bedroom that he is sharing with the fat bastard. The next morning sees the journey back to Falconhurst lurching forward once again, with no end immediately in sight for travel-weary readers.

All of what you just read is a very merciful summation of two hundred and fourteen incredibly slow and dull pages, punctuated by repellent characters about whom no one in their right mind would want to read. As I have previously stated, I have read the abridged version of this novel, and most of the events contained in the chapters recounted here were kindly missing from the subsequent edition. The fact that someone actually got paid to edit this book for it's THE STAND-like monolith of a first edition is laughable.

PART 4: chapters 25-32.And so at last the bedraggled group of weary travelers FINALLY arrive at Falconhurst and the book picks up steam again.

Upon seeing Falconhurst and comparing its no-frills practicality to the opulence of her father’s Crowfoot estate, Blanche is sorely disappointed and launches into a childishly petulant litany of criticisms and comparisons that are quickly quashed by the still-fuming Hammond; from here on Hammond holds his knowledge of Blanche’s incestuous relationship with her brother over her as his one surefire means to ruin her reputation permanently. Nothing that she says or does carries any weight, and she knows it, which will eventually lead to the most infamous plot point in the entire novel…

Hammond introduces Blanche to her new father-in-law, and the two bond over a mutual love of strong toddies, so much so that Blanche very quickly spirals down the path of hardcore, all day alcoholism thanks to boredom (since she never gets to go anywhere and visitors of quality never drop by other than Doc Redfield) and her husband’s spiteful neglect of his husbandly duties. You see, Hammond only beds down with Blanche a couple of times, purely to facilitate an heir to the plantation, but his outright distaste for white chicks in general and Blanche in particular only strengthens his bond to Ellen the wench. Upon meeting Ellen, Blanche figures out the nature of the slave girl’s ties to Hammond and a slowly-simmering cold war between the two begins in earnest although there is nothing that Blanche can do about her husband’s dalliances in dusky-town. Anyway, the two enemies soon turn out to be pregnant, and Hammond gushes over the prospect of a child with his slave lover while he cares not one whit for Blanche’s spawn, except for its future status as his heir. And speaking of pregnancies, uber-stud Mede manages to knock up both Lucy and Big Pearl, who unbeknownst to him are his mother and half-sister respectively.

Mede’s training resumes to an extent when Hammond receives news of a rich man from New Orleans who seeks to pit his seasoned fighter, Topaz, against the unbeatable Maxwell Mandingo, so Hammond obsesses over readying his man to win the fight and score him some money and more slaves; during the training Hammond begins to worry about whether Mede can defeat a city-trained combatant, and since the challenge from Topaz’s owner is the only fight that Mede has been offered since he established a rep for being unbeatable Hammond contemplates selling Mede since his buying price of $2700 has pretty much gone to waste (he has obviously forgotten about Mede’s stud services). That plan is immediately shot down by the elder Maxwell, who tells Hammond in no uncertain terms that Mede is not for sale under any circumstances, despite his being Hammond’s property, and since he is the finest Mandingo that anyone has ever seen he is invaluable to the plantation’s breeding pool.

With her husband’s attentions diverted to his trophy buck, Blanche’s drunkenness becomes overwhelming and she stops bothering with taking care of her appearance unless company shows up (which is pretty much never), so she wanders about the big house in a Mother Hubbard nightgown with no shoes on and her greasy, stringy hair unkempt and looking like someone had boiled her head. The only attention she receives from Hammond is an obligatory kiss on the forehead as the smallest of acknowledgements or hostile reproach whenever she opens her mouth to speak, and while she finds herself fond of the old man she finds his rambling stories boring and only puts up with them as a social excuse to get completely shitfaced, at one point getting melancholy over not getting any Hammond dick and lamenting the absence of her brother’s gotch-eyed affections, in front of the slaves no less.

During one of her all day toddy-fests, a guest shows up to announce the arrival of the challenging slave owner and, while dressed in her finest Scarlett O’Hara rags, Blanche bottoms out rather publicly, and vomits her guts out as she is led upstairs and away from the eyes of the guest. This incident causes Hammond to order Lucretia Borgia and the slaves to under no circumstances supply Blanche with liquor. But, like any good trashy novel character, Blanche’s vices prove unstoppable as she not only sneaks toddies, but is also aided and abetted by her father-in-law who honestly thinks her Jones for stiff mixed drinks has to do with curing her “headaches,” which may not be inaccurate thanks to the old “hair of the dog” theory.

The fight between the two slaves takes place at the tavern in Benson, and upon arrival Hammond is surprised to encounter that scumbag Brownlee (see part 1), who coveted Alph and Meg at the bar. The owner of the challenger, one Neri by name, wants to bet five grand and not wager slaves as Hammond had expected, leaving Ham with nothing to wager but the five hundred in gold coins that he had dug up from one of the kettles buried at Falconhurst and the assembled pot of cash that those who vouch for his word cobble together, and the promise of money from the local Jewish banker. The icing on the cake is Hammond’s desperate willingness to do anything to win, and that desire causes him to put up both Alph and Meg as stakes despite his promise to Lucretia Borgia that he would never sell her twin sons. His father rationalizes this breach in keeping a promise by reminding Hammond that he only promised that the boys were exempt from being sold, but there was no mention of wagering them. Besides, it was only a promise made to a nigger anyway…

After the tavern owner drags out the fight’s start time in order to sell as much whisky as possible, the battle begins and Mede’s opponent is revealed to be a cocaine fueled giant with years of bare-knuckle experience, a fact plainly evident by a visible mosaic of scars and his complete lack of ears, both a casualty of his career. The unspeakably savage brawl involves much graphic description of every dirty move in the book — made worse by the fact that the opponents are completely naked —, a catalog of knees grinding into groins, fingernails clawing through flesh, attempted eye-gouging, you name it, and the fight goes on for over thirty-five minutes. As both slaves try to overcome each other and a combination of serious injury and exhaustion, it looks like the fight will go to Topaz until Mede, pinned beneath the vicious juggernaut, gets him in a solid hold and chews out his jugular, spitting out the chunk of flesh in a sickening display of gore.

With Topaz deader than disco, Neri leaves (accompanied by Brownlee) Hammond to his victory, and our heroes pack up the savaged Mede for the return to Falconhurst. On the way back the party is robbed by two masked highwaymen, probably Neri and Brownlee but there is no proof since they are masked, and while Hammond is pissed off about it his father isn’t too concerned since all the robbers got was what they put in; don’t forget that most of the promised wager cash was promised from the bank so it wasn’t in hand and consequently not stolen. After that harrowing setback, our heroes make the trek back to the plantation.

PART 5: chapters 33-50, aka the apocalyptic and ultra-offensive conclusion.

As you have no doubt noticed from the previous installments, there was apparently no form of editorial control over MANDINGO whatsoever, so as a public service I am going to utterly gloss over the unnecessary clutter that impedes getting to the crux of the tome’s remainder, so I accept your thanks with much grace.

And so we finally reach the home stretch, the final one hundred and eighty-seven pages of this monolith of bad taste, and, HOO-BOY, what a final one hundred and eighty-seven pages they are…

The pregnancies of Ellen and Blanche are now about seven months along and Hammond leaves Falconhurst with Doc Redfield for a slave-selling business trip to Natchez — shooting down his plans to go to New Orleans since it is the site of a raging “cholrie” epidemic — unknowingly leaving his lover unprotected and at the mercies of the now Bukowski-level-drunk Blanche, who seems to spend her every waking hour pouring corn liquor toddies down her gullet. Shortly after Hammond sets off, Blanche gets plowed and orders Ellen sent to her bedroom. Upon arrival, Ellen is stripped naked, subjected to a litany of drunken, jealousy-driven cursing, and the sudden revelation that Blanche keeps a bullwhip in her night stand (???), an implement that the drunken brother-fucker cruelly uses to beat the unborn child out of her husband’s favorite (!!!). When Ellen loses the baby and the whip wielding Blanche is caught in the act by the elder Maxwell and Lucretia Borgia, the elder Maxwell orders Blanche, Ellen and Lucretia Borgia stay mum about the real cause of Ellen’s miscarriage.

Meanwhile in Natchez, Hammond and Redfield sell a bunch of slaves, go to a high class whorehouse — where Hammond blows off the unwanted advances of the beautiful white whores who throw themselves at him since they are too white for him to even think about getting down with — and run into cousin Charles, who excuses his theft of both Blanche’s bridal price money and wedding ring (to say nothing of gay-as-the-hills slave, Jason) by claiming that he considered it a loan and that he would eventually pay the cash back to his father, cash that he spent on living the high life. That said, Hammond accepts Charles’ apology (???), even agreeing not to tell Charles’ family that he is alive, rather than dead, as they had assumed. And Charles, upon hearing of his sister’s delicate condition, mysteriously comments “I sure hope the baby don’t come out all gotch-eyed like me…” Hammond, being about as sharp as a bag of wet mice, of course fails to realize the implications of his cousin’s statement. And lastly, in a move that surely wins some sort of prize for sheer stupidity, Hammond buys two identical pairs of pricy earrings, one for his wife and one for his beloved slave girl, the gift for the latter being intended to mark her as his chosen mate.

The homecoming (yet again!!!) to Falconhurst is somber as Hammond learns of the loss of Ellen’s “sucker,” but Hammond, smoothie that he is, mollifies Ellen with the gift of earrings, making her forget her loss and cry tears of unbridled joy (???!!!???). In no time Blanche notices Ellen’s fancy bling-bling and rejects her matching gift, loudly refusing to be marked as just another of Hammond’s whores. Shortly thereafter Blanche gives birth to a baby girl, Sophy, who is indeed, as Charles predicted, “gotch-eyed.” Hammond, clueless as ever, chalks the resemblance to Charles up to the fact that he and Blanche are from the same gene pool, while the reader can do the math and figure out that Blanche and her brother had been getting it on with regularity for years, rather than just the one-shot occurrence Blanche had previously claimed.

Though a physician was sent for to assist with Blanche’s delivery, the doctor arrives stinking drunk hours after the event, propped up by his handsome young assistant. The assistant performs a perfunctory post-birth examination of Blanche — which of course turns her on like nobody’s business — and afterward discusses with the male Maxwells a virulent outbreak of the clap that has been breaking out on other plantations in the area, an epidemic that he turns out to be knowingly responsible for, which Hammond discovers a week or two after his visit when the guest’s complimentary bed wench turns up with the disease. Fortunately the girl had not had sex with any of the other slaves after her romp with the doctor’s assistant, so the outbreak is quelled by placing her under quarantine.

As for Blanche’s aptness at motherhood, she doesn’t give a flying rat-fuck about the kid and turns it over to be raised by Big Pearl, after which Hammond takes up with Ellen practically full-time, throwing Blanche the occasional bone in hope of siring a male heir.

Hammond once again leaves on business and Blanche, fed up with her husband’s interest in slaves detouring his attentions from her, drunkenly plots the ultimate revenge via her husband’s prize slave, Mede. Blanche orders Mede to fuck her senseless — an act which occurs “off screen” — pierces his ears with her gifts from Hammond, and has him service her several times during her hubbie’s absence. All of the slaves know about this sordid turn of events and Mede is flat out not into it, but as a docile slave he has no choice but to obey his mistress, despite fears of a horrible outcome should Hammond get a clue. The one unexpected wrinkle to the situation is Hammond’s young slave, Meg, informing Blanche in no uncertain terms that he will rat her out to the master if she doesn’t comply to his desire for some white poontang whenever he wants some, even getting his twin brother, Alph, in on the sexual blackmail. Inevitably, Blanche becomes preggers, but whose baby is it? When Hammond returns and learns of the new pregnancy he naturally assumes the child is his.

A Frenchman from New Orleans who is an obvious homosexual drops in after hearing about the twins, Alph and Meg, and offers an incredible sum of money to possess them, even offering to buy their mother, Lucretia Borgia, to keep them happy. Despite her vital role in the running of the household and her importance to the Maxwells in general, Hammond agrees to sell the loyal slave and her dickhead sons to the Frenchman, and after much crying and hand wringing the slave and her boys are bound to new lives in the Big Easy. Soon enough, however, Lucretia Borgia escapes back to Falconhurst, citing the increasingly assholish behavior of her sons while residing in the lap of comparative luxury as being just too intolerable to deal with (more intolerable than slavery?), so she returned to familiar surroundings on the back of a mule. After some half-hearted chastisement she is welcomed back to the fold and things return to normal; the Frenchman, apparently happy with his nightly bungholery of the twins, makes no attempt to reclaim Lucretia Borgia despite having legally purchased her (convenient for the plot, no?).

Blanche’s mother shows up to visit and ends up staying when she finds out about her daughter’s pregnancy, and her rampaging temperance and enforcement of religion drives both Hammond and his father to near insanity.

Then the big day comes and Blanche goes into labor, with Doc Redfield, his wife, “the widder,” and Blanche’s mother in attendance. When the child is born, he is the enormous spitting image of Mede, and upon seeing her grandson Blanche’s mother picks up the infant, smashes its brains out against the wall and hastily departs. When Hammond finds out the truth, he ices over and calmly poisons his wife with a toddy laced with the powder used by Doc Redfield to do away with slaves who are too old to be worth maintaining anymore. Then he questions the house slaves as to their knowledge of the situation, discovering that everybody in the house but himself, his father and Blanche’s mother knew what was going on but could do nothing about it since they were bound to obey their mistress’ whims with no questions asked and no going to the master. In the course of the interrogations Hammond also learns that Blanche actively engaged in the jungle fever and was not raped, as Hammond and his father naturally assumed. “A white lady wantin’ to pleasure with a nigger? Preposterous!” But Hammond finally realizes that his wife was simply trash of the worst order, what with all the brother fucking and such.

Hammond limps out to Mede’s quarters and orders the Mandingo to fire up the gigantic hog-boiling kettle and keep the fire burning until the water reaches a high cooking temperature. He then forces the terrified Mede into the scalding water by using a pitchfork, holding him under the water until the heat kills him and covering the pot with a big lid. He then orders Lucy — Mede’s mother and lover, remember? — to keep the pot covered and keep it boiling until told otherwise. The Mede soup graphically simmers for two solid days — complete with a description of Hammond checking the stew and producing Mede’s partially-denuded skull on the end of his pitchfork —until the slave’s flesh has been completely rendered into a thick, bone-filled broth, after which it is poured into an open grave over the corpses of Blanche and her love-child, a bit of poetic “justice” since Hammond figures that if she wanted to be with a nigger so bad she could be with him for eternity. Hammond graciously allows a grieving Lucy to take Mede’s bones as a keepsake (!!!).

A weary Hammond returns to the big house and informs his father that he is going to find Alph and Meg and kill them for daring to fuck Blanche, after which he intends to move “to the Texies” so he can avoid being known to the locals as “Hammond Maxwell, whose wife pleasured with niggers.” His father is distraught upon hearing this intended course of action, but he assures his son that Falconhurst will be there for him if he should choose to return.

Then the whole fucking mess comes to a startlingly abrupt end.

Wow.

So there you have it, a mercifully short summation of one of the most infamous books ever unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace.

A few final notes:
  • It amazes me that the thing that most blew people’s minds about the book is Blanche’s forced seduction of Mede, an event that doesn’t occur until roughly the last fifty pages of a six hundred and fifty-nine page behemoth. One would think that in a book replete with virtually every form of sexual, violent and psychological perversion imaginable that would scandalize the audience of the late-1950’s — rape, incest, pedophilia, cross-dressing, homosexuality, sadomasochistic bedroom games with whips, castrations of slaves, torture, men biting chunks out of each other, raging alcoholism on nearly every page — the interracial coupling of a black man and a white woman would seem insignificant by comparison, but apparently not.
  • Author Kyle Onstott was a writer of technical manuals and his orientation toward such volumes is very evident in his intricately detailed recounting of the minutia of the slave trade. While Onstott is clearly against such practices, his matter-of-fact detachment from the described atrocities only helps to lend a stark illumination to the horror and dehumanization involved, both for whites and blacks, and the fact that the high-falutin’ whites are portrayed as ignorant and oblivious to the fact that their world is both cripplingly insular and visibly decaying around them is rare for a narrative of this sort. At no point do we admire any of the white characters, and the reader’s opinion of them ranges from pity for their inhumanity and contempt for what a bunch of domination-mad assholes they are.
  • The only black character in the entire book that is sympathetic in any way is Hammond’s bed wench, Ellen. She is the one truly sweet soul in the piece, without guile for anyone — except for Blanche, but, hey, the white bitch started that shit — and wanting nothing more than the love of her master. Sadly, she has no personality other than what is necessary for Hammond’s love object and she accepts her status as a privileged piece of property with no protest whatsoever, subservient in all ways to the bitter end. Interestingly, once the events with the killing of Mede are over and Hammond readies to go on his mission of vengeance against the twins and eventually relocate to “the Texies,” there is no mention at all of what will become of Ellen.
  • The 1975 film adaptation, while seriously flawed in many ways, vastly improves over its source material by eliminating all of the extraneous subplots and diversions and tightening up the overall story structure. It also ups the sensationalism factor by rewriting parts of the story that needed tweaking, such as introducing Mede not as some schmuck hanging out at a plantation, but by having him show up in all of his Black Superman glory clad in naught but a loin cloth and getting his naughty bits shockingly inspected by a horny Dutch widow who intends to purchase him as a fuck toy, all while looking bored at all of it. The film’s handling of the Hammond/Ellen relationship is a lot more believable than that found in the novel and is truly bittersweet since the film acknowledges that their love may be true but when push comes to shove Ellen is still nothing more to Hammond than just a nigger, and that is all she ever will be, a fact that Hammond yells at her near the film’s end when his judgment is clouded by raging anger over the Blanche/Mede thing. The shattered look on Ellen’s face at that moment of unbridled truth will break your heart. Oh, and we also get to see full frontal nudity from Perry “Riptide” King in the role of Hammond Maxwell, so if you ever wanted to see a TV star’s dick…
  • The film turned out to be an unintentional laugh riot for those of us who revel in offensiveness and truly bad movies, and while the whole movie is a gold mine of cinematic schlock special recognition must be accorded to Susan George, the Brit actress whose controversial performance in Sam Peckinpah’s classic study of the violence in man, STRAW DOGS (1971), is still the subject of much discussion some thirty-seven years after its release; George was cast as cousin Blanche, and her turn as the brother-fucking, interracial sex offender is one of the most hilariously over-the-top performances in the entire history of human civilization, much less the history of Hollywood. You simply have not lived until you witness her histrionics when Hammond accuses her of not being a virgin on their wedding night. Run out right fucking now and rent this film!
  • The success of the novel lead to a sequel, DRUM, written by an aging Onstott and assisted by his friend Lance Horner. It’s actually a pretty good read, certainly superior to its predecessor, but after that one Onstott croaked and Horner took the reins of the series (sometimes crediting Onstott as a co-author, which was outright bullshit), turning it into a long-running festival of outright potboilers that essentially created the genre known as “plantation porn.” All of the books that succeeded DRUM are howling trash, but a few are more entertaining to read than others; they jump back and forth in history, providing prequels and sequels to MANDINGO, all somehow featuring an appearance by Hammond Maxwell, whose age varies accordingly, thereby providing the only real link to the original book. The books in the series that are worth your reading time simply for the sleazy entertainment value are the following:
DRUM (1962)

The first of two legitimate sequels to MANDINGO (in having been written by the original author) and a cracking good read in its own right that does away with many of the structural and narrative deficiencies found in the original, presumably thanks to the input of Lance Horner and an editor. Adapted to film in a drastically rewritten version in 1976, the movie features the great Warren Oates as an older Hammond Maxwell, Pam Grier as his current favorite, Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith as precocious interracial terrorist/ nymphomaniac Sophy, and somehow manages to be even more hilarious than the 1975 film.

MASTER OF FALCONHURST (1964)

The second of the legitimate sequels, in which a black man not only becomes the legal master of Falconhurst, but also marries the white Sophy Maxwell. Needless to say, much tragedy, sex and violence ensues.

FALCONHURST FANCY (1966)

My favorite of the series. In a departure from the other books, this installment focuses on a female protagonist, Dovie Verder, a plantation owner who is a lot more complex than any other character in the entire series and a strong, open-minded proto-feminist, and recounts her deep love affair with Colt, a slave so beautiful that his description brings to mind a Greek god. The usual sex and violence shenanigans are on hand again, but this time it’s utterly compelling and would have made for a great, if inflammatory, film. After this the series remained readable, but by that point it was all story via assembly line.
  • Also of note is the fact that many of the books in the series feature the adventures of Bricktop, a redheaded mustee slave who is indistinguishable from a white man but for some brown markings on his torso that he keeps covered with his shirt. All of the books involving Bricktop feature him fucking everything in sight, including guys since “niggers ain’t got sense enough to care,” and he always gets engaged to some gorgeous southern belle after fucking her into puppy dog-like docility. His true status as a slave is soon revealed, and after a near-fatal beating upon discovery he escapes to find adventure and pussy in another book, leaving behind a pregnant white girl who doesn’t care if he was black since the dicking was just so good. If you read one book about Bricktop you have read them all, so the only one I’ll recommend is 1975’s GOLDEN STUD.
-Text consolidated and revised on 6/13/2008