Halloween Odds & Sods: The Creature From The Black Lagoon

Halloween House
Uptown New Orleans Halloween House. Photograph by Carolyn Scofield.

It’s been a long week in New Orleans. I’ve been focused on the Governor’s election; blogging, plotting with friends, trying to help prevent Bitter Vitter from moving into the Governor’s mansion next year. In short, it’s been a week chock-full-o-politics. so I feel like keeping things light today. I need a Vitty vacay. It is, after all, Halloween, which is a big deal here in the Crescent City. We have a semi-quiet evening in store. We’re hanging out with some friends who have 3 small chirren. Did I say quiet evening? I got that wrong. Bedlam is more like it. I plan to drink.

This week’s theme song is one I usually post under the title Boo From Dave Edmunds. Dave is not a particularly scary man but he used to have big hair styled in a ducktail. I used to have thick hair myself but never a ducktail, it’s too close to a mullet for comfort. Take it away, Dave:

I got a huge kick out of posting the Halloween album covers on Wednesday. I found them at the Church of Halloween. I’m not planning to join but I might sneak into the Chapel of Ghoulish Love to laugh at the squares. While sitting in a virtual pew, I learned that one of my favorite character actors had recorded a Halloween album of sorts:

Peter Lorre LP

That cat looks pissed, y’all. Kitty probably hoped to be cast as Bogie’s cat, which surely meant better quality tables scraps. Lorre *was* German and those people eat some weird shit. More black cat moaning as well as the odd skeletal picture after the break.

We begin the beguine with a whole lotta stuff about Steven Spielberg, largely inspired by his latest opus, Bridge of Spies, which I will review in a bit. First, we’ll look at a piece at Vulture that ranks all of Spielberg’s oeuvre. I like that word, it makes me feel like Truffaut or Goddard as does auteur. I have a friend named Auteur, we call him Arty for short. It’s really Arthur but you know how I am by now.

Vulture Ranks All 29 Steven Spielberg Films: I love Vulture. It’s a really fun site, especially because of things like this Spielberg listomania. I don’t agree with all the listings. I like his first ten years of his career and the last twenty the most. There’s a perceptible droop in the middle with shit like Hook. It’s not their choice for his worst flick but it’s near the bottom of the list as it should be.

Time for my own lists. We’ll begin with my picks for his 5 worst movies:

  1. 1941: Ain’t nothing worse than an unfunny comedy. This probably sounded like a good idea when pitched but it’s deadly.
  2. Hook: Yuppie hokum that wastes a great cast. It was during that period when Robin Williams did stinker after stinker and this was one of them.
  3. Always: A barfy remake of the Spencer Tracy dead aviator flick A Guy Named Joe. Life after death movies are better when there’s some humor involved. Holy Capracorn, Batman.
  4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Spielberg phoned it in, but at least he put the money into some of the classics that followed.
  5. The Color Purple: Well-meaning crap with some good scenes and acting. I just couldn’t get past the clean shack floors, and my first extended exposure to Oprah.

If you think I hate Spielberg after that list, you are wrong. I had a difficult time narrowing it down to 5 so here are my picks for his 10 best films. The order is somewhat arbitrary and capricious and subject to change:

  1. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind: This is one of the Spielberg films I’ve seen multiple times on the big screen. I’m particularly fond of the bit where Richard Dreyfuss builds a giant mound of stuff in his house.
  2. Jaws: Is it the most artistically successful Spielberg film? No, but it’s among the most entertaining movies he’s ever made. Pass the popcorn.
  3. Schindler’s List: A towering artistic triumph. I saw it when it came out and haven’t revisited it because it’s so damn disturbing. I bet younger audiences expect Liam Neeson to kick ass instead of rescuing people.
  4. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial: My first wife and I took her mother to see this film. It was our second viewing and my MIL’s first. When she saw the wee alien she was pissed but she wound up loving the movie like the rest of the world.
  5. Saving Private Ryan: The opening battle scene is one of the best set pieces in any Spielberg film. The rest is pretty darn good as well.
  6. Catch Me If You Can: This is an idiosyncratic choice. Vulture rates it #19, but I love this film. I have a well-documented weakness for anything about con artists and Leo’s character was the con man’s con man.
  7. Munich: Tense thriller about the Israeli intelligence agents who conducted a revenge killing operation after the 1972 Olympics. It was one of the first times Daniel Craig came to my attention as well as the first time I compared him to Steve McQueen.
  8. Minority Report: Knock-out sci-fi film with a fine performance from Tom Cruise
  9. Raiders Of The Lost Ark: I first saw this at an outdoor theatre in Athens, Greece. The Greeks like to talk back to the screen, this time it wasn’t annoying. The movie got a standing ovation at the end, which is very rare indeed. Of course, the theatre sold booze. I skipped the ouzo and stuck to beer.
  10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence: Another eccentric choice. The ending isn’t perfect but the rest nearly is.

We move on to a fine piece by Steven Hyden at Grantland about Spielberg’s g-g-g-generation of film directors. [UPDATE: ESPN has made like Donald Trump and fired Grantland. It will be missed. It was the home of some very good writers. The Mouse is a louse for doing this. The link below still works as of this writing.]

Twilight of the Movie Brats: It’s an incisive analysis of Spielberg and his fellow movie brats. Since Hyden is primarily a music critic, he compares them to some classic rockers:

Steven Spielberg: The most famous of the bunch, his near-universally adored work would come to define the center of mainstream taste. Steven Spielberg is the Beatles.

Martin Scorsese: Not as popular as Spielberg in the ’70s, he’s come to be viewed as the most respected (and coolest) director of his generation. Martin Scorsese is the Velvet Underground.

Francis Ford Coppola: His early work was visionary and established a beachhead for those that followed, though by the early ’80s he seemed to have lost his mind. Francis Ford Coppola is Bob Dylan.

George Lucas: Starting out as an experimental filmmaker on the fringes, he then reinvented himself as the epitome of mass-appeal space-themed entertainment. George Lucas is Pink Floyd.

Robert Altman: Iconoclast to the end, he was also prolific to a fault, resulting in a filmography that varies wildly in quality. At his best, nobody was better at reflecting the sardonic cynicism at the heart of the ’70s. Robert Altman is Neil Young.

Brian De Palma: He’s bombastic and derivative, but such a gifted stylist and technician that it scarcely matters. Brian De Palma is Led Zeppelin.

Peter Bogdanovich: The early work is beautiful and tragic, but he’s ultimately stifled by limited range and nostalgic tendencies. Peter Bogdanovich is the Beach Boys.

Hal Ashby: He’s a gentle poet whose work is imbued with a mix of bracing sweetness and clear-eyed bitterness over the decline of civilization. Hal Ashby is the Kinks.

The best analogies are Spielberg and Ashby. I think Scorsese is the Rolling Stones or the Who. It’s hard to argue with Altman as Neil but the Grateful Dead would work too.

Hyden’s article was centered on Spielberg’s latest film, which is a Cold War era spy flick starring Tom Hanks so let’s cross that bridge:

Bridge of Spies: I really enjoyed Bridge of Spies, which was based on the trade of A-Bomb spymaster Rudolf Abel for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. (I wonder if that means Powers is Bono?) It has yet another fine performance by Tom Hanks as the lawyer who negotiated the exchange. Some people have said that the film is too talky. I disagree. It has several brilliant set pieces: one set in and around a Brooklyn subway station, and another in Berlin as the wall was being erected.

Bridge of Spies is an old-fashioned Hollywood thriller in the best possible way: it has a Hitchcock-Fritz Lang-Carol Reed thing going on. This classic feel got me thinking as to how the major roles might have been cast in 1965. I’ve listed the character’s name, the actor who played them and the player I would have cast 50 years ago:

Lawyer James B. Donovan: Tom Hanks/James Stewart.

Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel: Mark Rylance/Alec Guinness.

CIA Agent Hoffman: Scott Shepherd/Richard Widmark.

Mary Donovan: Amy Ryan/Patricia Neal.

Lawyer Thomas Watters: Alan Alda/Melvyn Douglas.

Thanks for indulging me in that parlor game. I’m not going to rate Bridge of Spies on the Reel History scale since it’s “inspired by a true story.” I will, however, give it 4 stars, an Adrastos Grade of A- and an Ebertian Thumbs up. Way up, as Roger was wont to say.

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are reputed to be nice guys. Our next subject was not but he still remains an object of appalled fascination to many rock and roll fans, myself included.

Lou Reed and Sweet Jane: Marc Spitz jumps out of the pool to write a swell piece for Salon about one of Lou Reed’s best songs. Actually, it’s Marc with a C not a K, so it’s not the mustachioed gold medalist. Sometimes I like to check and make sure you’re paying attention.

Marc  without swim trunks thinks the key to the song is what he calls 2 little letters:

Lou sings: “Standin’ on the corner, suitcase in my hand. Jack’s in his corset, Jane is in her vest and me I’m in a rock and roll band… Ha!”

What makes the “Loaded” version life-changing and revelatory after such a long wait is that “Ha.”  To me, that “ha” is everything: New York City, the art demimonde, the fact that most rock and rollers don’t hold down jobs too long except for those in rock and roll bands (and sometimes not even those), the fact that “standin’ on the corner” is cooler than anything you are doing, even if the suitcase is full of used books to sell at the Strand on Broadway. “Ha!”

Where had you been all my life, “Ha”? If I asked Lou, he’d probably say … “Ha!”

In fact, I’d had some occasion to ask Lou … two interviews. One in person where I, starving, had to watch him eat some kind of sauce-covered cutlet slowly while we discussed “Berlin.” His manager was there — ask any rock writer  (if you can find one these days) whether they want managers, publicists, record company people, wives, husbands, anyone who is not the rock star anywhere near the interview and see what they say. He would never admit to me where the “Ha” came from. He didn’t even fucking know where the “Ha” came from. Did he write it?  Did he plan it? No. I don’t think so. “Ha!”

Ha. So, the dry land Marc Spitz survived two interviews with Lou Reed. He should get a couple of gold medals for that. Reed chewed up and spat out interviewers and few made a Speedo return for a second shot. Ha indeed. Btw, I’m not laughing at that Speedo pun. It was truly awful. Therefore, I’m perversely proud of it.

Before moving on, we have another spooky tune that I’ve posted in the past under the title Boo From Crowded House:

Aussies and Kiwis *may* be scary but our next piece is terrifying since it comes from the morgue at the Vestigial Picayune. It’s written by my friend and fellow horrid punster James Karst, so I gotta cut him some slack.

The Case Of The Fleeing Corpse: In 1958, a group of zany pranksters (not merry, there was no LSD involved) pulled a hoax involving a coffin in my old neighborhood:

A group of pallbearers trudged up Birch Street in Uptown one night in May 1958, burdened by the weight of the wooden coffin they were carrying.

They marched past Carrollton Cemetery slowly, sadly. Then they turned around and carried the body of the deceased past the run-down cemetery again.

Newspaper reports about the incident say Herbert Cooper, who lived nearby on Adams Street, heard the procession and stepped outside to see what was happening.
The mourners, dressed in white robes and wearing black hoods over their faces, eased the coffin down to the ground.

“Do you want to see a dead man?” one of them asked Cooper as they threw open the casket.

Cooper’s wife screamed from inside her house. The dearly departed stood up, “very much alive,” according to the next day’s New Orleans Item, and ran. He hopped into a nearby car. His friends threw the coffin on top of the vehicle, and the pranksters sped away.

The headline “Corpse flees coffin” was stripped across the top of the next day’s front page.

Holy, heart attack, Batman. I used to live a few blocks away from that city owned cemetery. It has always been depressingly ratty and unkempt. Speaking of words that rhyme with unkempt,  just thinking about it makes me verklempt…

Contemplating the Zombie-Picayune gave me an Odds & Sods earworm:

Reety, alrighty on to OXI Day:

OXI Day: OXI is pronounced OHI. It’s a word I heard a lot from my maternal grandmother (Yiayia) near the end of her life. She didn’t like living alone after my papou’s death and split her time between the houses of her 3 children. She taught me the meaning of the term divide and conquer. The youngest child in each family were boys and she told us how wonderful our absent cousins were. The implication was that we better behave if we wanted to compare favorably in her eyes to them. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that my cousin Bill thought I was her favorite and vice versa. Like John Lennon, Yiayia Anna was good at Mind Games

Back to OXI day, which fell on October, 28th.  I’ll let George Beres explain:

OXI ! (ohee) Greece says when richer, more imposing European nations insist it give in to their demands. There was a moment in 1940 when that word — expressed with vigor and indignation by Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas — gave hope to a world that appeared to be giving in to the aggression of Germans, who were intent on military conquest. Adolph Hitler’s Nazi armies had moved eastward with ease, defeating France and sweeping through Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, and Yugoslavia on his way to what appeared to be an inevitable conquest of the Soviet Union. Once that was achieved, there seemed to be little hope for England to the west, nor for a purportedly isolated United States, that mistakenly felt protected by the westward expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was early October when OXI changed the military equation. Italy tried to complete what seemed to be the simple task, to defeat Greece. The Italians demanded that Greece lay down her arms without a fight. But, they were met with OXI!, expressed loudly and clearly by the Greek prime minister. That was a heroic response from a man who in most respects was known to be dictatorial, like other national leaders in the Balkans. The Italian army crossed the Greek border for what it thought would be a perfunctory military exercise. The outnumbered Greek army, familiar with the mountainous terrain, repelled the overconfident invaders, and forced them to retreat.

Mr. Metaxas is one of the famous Greeks that my father claimed consanguinity with over the years. I’ve never been able to nail that one down but I’d be honored to be related to the guy who said OXI, especially if there’s even a remote chance that I’m related to the folks who make Metaxa brandy. I’d never say OXI to that…

Now that we’ve sung the No-No Song, it’s time for the skeletal snapshots I promised earlier. Dr. A spotted this yard decor on our way home from the movies. She insisted on stopping and taking a few pictures. Who am I to argue with my official photographer? Did Luce ever argue with Steichen at Life Magazine? That’s how we ended up at the skeleton garden party:

Skeleton GardenSkeleton garden-2

Walking the skeletal dog

I wonder if Rufus Thomas ever tried walking a skeleton dog? Looks like fun to me:

Finally, a seasonal piece from the Smithsonian Magazine:

A Brief History of the Haunted House: There’s a long tradition of Halloween Haunted Houses in both Great Britain and its former colony. But they used to be on the primitive side, much like your basic right-winger. According to author Chris Heller, the sort of elaborate haunted houses  we have today were inspired by (who else?) Tom Hanks Walt Disney:

The haunted house didn’t become a cultural icon, though, until Walt Disney decided to build one. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion opened in 1969, nearly two decades after Disney first approved the beleaguered project. The attraction, which was designed in the style of the Evergreen House and the Winchester Mystery House, quickly became a success. In a single day shortly after its debut, more than 82,000 people passed through the Haunted Mansion. The attraction’s centerpiece is the Grand Hall, a 90-foot-long ballroom sequence of dancing ghouls at a birthday party. Disney brought to scene to life through an exceptionally complex series of illusions known as Pepper’s ghost, which use refracted light to project and shape ethereal images. “A lot of the professional haunters will point to one thing, and that’s Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. It’s the start of the haunted attraction industry,” Morton says.

Once again, life imitates Disneyland. Of course, Uncle Walt wouldn’t recognize the heavy metal style houses of shock that have become ubiquitous in 2015. Let’s move on to our final feature:

Saturday Classic: I used Time The Avenger from this LP as the Odds & Sods theme song 2 weeks back and it’s time to honor the album itself. Learning To Crawl was a huge hit for the Pretenders back in 1984 and holds up very well indeed. My favorite track is My City Was Gone and I’ve posted a scorching hot live version after the LP.

Put on your asbestos suit. It’s time to play a song featuring,what Cameron Crowe would surely call, an “incendiary guitar solo” by Adam Seymour:

It’s well-nigh impossible to deny Chrissie Hynde the last word, but who’s going to argue with Cesar Romero as the Joker? Not me. Remind me to tell you the story about the time my father was mistaken for Romero by a member of the Chicago outfit.

Joker meme