Friday, March 23, 2018

Vanishing Caloric Density: QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958)

Before her there was only Peggy Hopkins Joyce. After her came all of cable TV. And now our first lady may be a secret Soviet 'handler' for a mole Raymond Shaw-style presidential sleeper agent blah blah, but who cares? She looks marvelous, darling. That bitch can wear a dress. Has a first lady ever been this glam?

In such an age as this, can we really afford to forget about Zsa Zsa Gabor?

Barely two years dead, seldom seen outside a scarce handful of cult movies (and a few forgettable 'good ones' like We're Not Married) it's easy to forget that her unique brand of 'empty' celebrity was once unique in pop culture. Well, we forget her at our own risk: she's the preface chapter to all of trash TV today. But she herself was not trashy. Along with her sisters and mother, she was Hungarian and a socialite and she got rich divorcing rich old men husbands and got famous for being famous without having anything to be famous about, which has been such a constant for so long now it's not even a novelty.

And yet, there's no one remotely like her today because she had that high-toned class that usually was seen in society pages rather than heard on game shows. She came from a time when TV was campier but less shrill, with relatively little of our current reality show 'loudest voice wins' 'diamonds-that-shine-like-rhinestone' ugliness. Instead, the blurriness of analog color TV signal and the Vaseline on the lens catching her every diamond sparkle, Zsa Zsa drifted along the talk show airwaves like a fabulous pillow feather caught in a cold Nordic draft. Witty enough to be engaging, beautiful enough to be beguiling, but nothing else, we jokingly imagined her as the harbinger of the TV future, the equivalent of what the food industry calls vanishing caloric density, her melt-in-your-mouth hungry ghost illusion left us with nothing, not even the illusion of fullness - only the vague epiphany that fullness itself was an illusion. She knew to play herself dead-on straight, like she didn't get the joke; she was able to be that paragon of social high-toned class that Joan Rivers, in her acres of furs, was a sly riff on. But Zsa Zsa knew she was playing a 'type' as stereoed-in as Charles Nelson Riley or Rip Taylor, yet it worked because she pretended she didn't know it. We were left to fathom what percentage of her schtick was pretense, and it's that which made her interesting. We could keep it up as long as she could.

The epitome of composed class and elegance: gowns and lashes for the ladies and gays, impressive cleavage for the straight boys, she was the sort of lady you bring to Vegas on your arm and know she won't embarrass you by getting hammered and pestering you to go upstairs, and if she has any 'needs', she'll make sure they're met, in austere Eastern European style (via some dashing parking attendant from Brazil who conveniently speaks no English). Her vanity and insecurity over her leggy competition might drive you to a nervous breakdown (as it did to the director of the film we're discussing today) but you don't have to worry about her mental health: you could bounce a truck off her old world European composure and worry only about the truck.

Television today has set the bar for glamor is so low it's down in the sub-basement. "Reality" stars sip Napoleon brandy mixed with Mountain Dew and end up splashing it on each other to signify a fight that will keep us watching past the next add for butt augmentation --but that's inevitable. That's science. It has to do with intelligence, education and the bourgeois pretentiousness of intellectuals, writers who never notice how their 'talking down' to audiences makes less educated audiences desperate to feel smarter than someone, anyone. While it's annoying being surrounded by idiots, maybe it's worse being an idiot surrounded by smart people. Reality TV is the chance for even idiots to feel superior. Happy now, smart person, knowing the success of Honey Boo-Boo and the election of Trump is partly y'all's fault? 

Problem is, those shows about dumb yokels are made by smart people, and the contempt they feel for their subjects is hard to hide, and contagious, and addictive. Brainy Harvard snob writers eventually start to show their contempt too broadly, like the smirky New York intellectual Walter Matthau in 1957's A Face in the Crowd (left), writing the corn pone slop in Lonesome Rhodes' show like he's doing anyone a favor when in reality his cynicism is what's dragging the world down around his ears. Watching that movie you start to think yeah, Lonesome Rhodes is a monster, but I don't want to punch him in the face as bad as I want to punch you, Matthau. This type of character, so common in the late 50s-early 60s, that thinks a pipe, white skin, glasses, a suit, college education gives them dominion over women, children, the 'working class,' and dogs. They don't respect the savvy craftiness of street smart 'hicks' or the intuitive 'soft touch' of women (though they presume their lascivious attention is always welcome). Their father can help get them any job they want and they presume they deserve them. These privileged 'wits' end up enforcing a straight white male intelligence on their non-white, non-straight, non-male and non-college educated subjects, who naturally suffer in strait-jackets of passive aggressive 'dumbing down' dialogue, the sort that used to be so common it was a kind of invisible normal that might make you slowly go insane but you were never sure why. 

It's cuzz city slicker douchebags with them pipes keeping us thinking each other is super dumb by writing our thoughts for us on TV, is why! Fight the real enemy. This asshole:

Slap the pipe out!
(from top: Matthau, A Face in the Crowd; Anthony Eisley, Wasp Woman
Another example: Anthony Eisley of 1959's The Wasp Woman who continually treats his boss--the CEO of his company--Janet Starlin, like a child who needs constant supervision lest she sell the empire for a magic bean. With his unlit pipe and bougie bow-tie it's only natural we pray a certain wasp stings him rotten.

Think I'm just free-associating? Our current shitty national situation, Zsa Zsa Gabor, empty fame, snobby Harvard writers --what do they have in common? QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958).

This is CinemaScope

As a fan of bad 50s horror and sci-fi movies (especially Mesa of the Lost Women and Plan Nine) as well as the wry work of Ben Hecht (who wrote the story, not that it's very original) and Charles Beaumont (who adapted it), I am supposed to automatically love this Queen, this presumptive sci-fi shaggy dog classic, this veritable remake of the story filmed first in 1953 (as the far 'superior', Cat Women of the Moon) then also in the same year (1958!) but in black-and-white, as Missile to the Moon. 

 (from top) the heavenly beatnik jazz dancer troupe of CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON; the celestial moon goddesses of MISSILE TO THE MOON; the tired front line of broads from QUEEN 

I love Cat and like Missile but loathe Queen. Meanwhile those films never show up on TCM when its time to fill some campy sci-fi slot in their schedule. Probably because it's in color and has Zsa Zsa Gabor. But I'd rather watch the surly sniping of Kip (Victor Jory) over Helen (Marie Windsor) being with dopey Laird (Sonny Tufts) instead of him, and the way they all play it totally straight, Jory's prima donna macho so 'itself' it becomes poetry, like watching Shakespeare act out his 14 year-old kid's metal album. The winky 'hey gang!A rocket is a phallic symbol nyuk nyuk' of Queen is the real enemy to bad movie lovers. I want to slap the pipe out of its smug Walter Mathau Face in the Crowd-mouth.  I like both its writers and love the film from which Queen 'borrowed' its wardrobe (the uniforms and a sparkly minidress from MGM's sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet) and it's got babes and a giant spider (there's also a giant spider in Missile and in Cat Women and even Mesa) but most of the time it's just Cinemascope-length assemblages of under-directed actors standing around on opposite ends of a crumbling high school theater stage, ever ready for either a attendance roll call or old-school rumble that never happens. The film plays like a box of cake mix, unopened, with an egg broken over it, left it a cold oven by a director who's too busy hiding in his trailer to avoid one of Zsa Zsa's on-set rages to light the pilot. Instead he lets the soundstage fill with gas, like Monty Clift under a Place in the Sun canoe. Maybe Hecht and MacArthur are just too intellectually snotty to take this seriously, lest their Algonquin friends accuse them of reading Weird Tales instead Ezra Pound. So they embed a satyric wink so overwrought not even a near-sighted bourgeois patron of the arts could miss it.

The plot you know even if you don't: a shipload of smirking virile Earthmen head to a planet of all women where they help the good leader (Zsa Zsa) overthrow the bad one (Laurie Mitchell [who played a similar role in Missile to the Moon]) whose mask is even uglier than her ugly face. Va-Voom! Lots of girls in terrible MGM costume drama hand-me-downs getting freaky, guys makin' moves, and the captain tackling the biggest lay of his life.

sharp eyed fans may recognize Davis in Alta's 'decent' frock from F. Planet

Sounds like I'd love this film if it let me. But it loves its own smirky self too much to let anyone else share. Some of the girls are great (like Lisa Davis (right; below left) who rocks great lipstick and smoldering Gillian Anderson eyes) and the writing seems a decent framework for a more straight-faced mature approach (which would allow the magic of camp to cohere better). The problem is in the misogynistic direction and frat boy acting by the men, that pipe puffing smug-snarkiness where (SWM) actors and director think themselves too smart for their material so they think adding some bawdy audience winking will help put it over, which shows how wrong they are. Such smirky douche bag superiority has poisoned the film to never be a true cult favorite except in the smirkiest, douchiest, winkiest, most patriarchally self-important of ways. (The title + the star = a tourist version of camp, and not one to make a lifetime fan of it).

What makes the 'good' bad versions of this same plot (Cat Women of the Moon in particular) work so well as enduring 'camp' classics on the other hand, is the intent to do something straight and good but without the know-how or budget or the talent to make it, but with a genuine love of strong women. When these films are good we get the genuine eccentricity of lower rung Hollywood really trying to make nothing into something and of genuinely liking women. Unknowns and outsider artists mix with actors shunned or forgotten by the Hollywood elite and up and comers ready to try. They all take this last or first chance grab and nobly fight to stay in character as the set collapses around them. These oddballs and has-beens and non-starters are--to we classic horror / sci-fi fans--our family. They're the equivalent of the Bad News Bears, or the bar full of flea-bitten drunks in The Iceman Cometh, they're waiting us for us to come watch them again with Hicky eyes anew, to buy them drinks so they can live through the alcohol that is our eyes. They get that it's all over in well under 90 minutes, win or lose but so is the effect of an average double highball. Only the drunks survive, because thirst never dies. And neither does DVD. 

Maybe this is why (white male) barflies and has-beens tend to have more respect for women and minorities, since the men in these Z-grade films are as disenfranchised and thus less afraid they'll lose anything by portraying women as the badass goddesses they are. I know for myself, alcoholism humbled me down to the roots, made me forever grateful and in awe of the women who rescued me. And that's why we drunks, drag queens, punks, and other outsiders that make up the bad film-lover community aren't going to be drawn to such puerile contempt for either women or the sci-fi and horror genres. And thus no character in Plan Nine leers at Vampira and says some inane shit like "my coffin or yours, baby." No one in that cantina says to Tarantella in Mesa of Lost Women, "I bet you got a real sticky web." If there were such quips these films would be as ignobly remembered as this Queen. It's the celebration, the worship, of female strength, that makes them endure with stoic grace in the face of incompetence. It's there in John Waters, it's there in Russ Meyer, it's there in Roger Corman. It's not there in Queen of Outer Space. 

The 'space women need men' subgenre always has a giant spider - Analyze its symbolic meaning, write down your answer, then look at the oeuvre of artist Louise Bourgeois to see if you're right!

Only a few elements in Queen from Outer Space take the outsider/sublime approach vs. the Matthau-in-Face in the Crowd attitude, and one of them---believe it or not--is Zsa Zsa Gabor.

No matter what happens, she plays it dead straight. She should have been the evil queen- as the title and billing suggests, with her beauty being the mask and the ugly scarred face appearing after the face cracks off because she's too busy making out with the captain to moisturize. Instead, as the chief scientist and leader of the resistance, she brings that same feathery class to bear she'd bring to any 'real' social event only here it looks like the event happened five years ago and no janitor has stirred therein to sweep up. And the event was an afternoon ladies-only coffee clatch fashion show with a vague Robin Hood theme.

If it's not going to offer anything else, the casting of Zsa Zsa was brilliant touch just for marquee value alone, making Queen of Outer Space live in high camp infamy, a touchstone name easily recognized by programmers who know nothing of the genre. But it's not worth the camp adulation, for it is the kind of self-hating sci-fi that feels the need to leer and roll its eyes every five minutes.  They don't get that it's not 'fun' to presume a planet of all women is going to roll over the minute some douchebag puts on a moth-eaten blue powder and struts in like the kingdom can now relax - a man is here to take charge. It's offensive, man. You can't put women in masks deformed enough to scare Picasso out of the brothel (left) and expect them to thank you for it. You can't think some young captain bucko can topple an empire just by toying with the affections of a mask-wearing broad on Venus and have it not be so misogynist I could just scream! You can't!

Grandma, what uneven eyeholes you got

Real camp would go the opposite way - it heaps a dozen dead male spacemen at the feet of its evil goddess. Great camp celebrates strong, badass broads. It loves them. It even gives them a magical beatnik free jazz dance to quietly haunting Elmer Bernstein flute music. For Queen the contempt is so thick they don't even have the decency to put some ornamental Vishnu statuary around the place, nor to attach the painted boards that make up the evil queen's mean-spirited rocket launch control platform, the kind of thing that would earn a frown from any high school drama coach. But to not even bother to make the eyeholes symmetrical on the glittery masks the queen and her coterie wear? Unforgivable even in elementary school.

Well, either way - if we don't like it- we have two others just like it for solace, each worse than the other and far better in their worseness as a result. Today, maybe the times have changed - we've been to the moon. We know there's no babes there. Or if there are, they're fast asleep (or as Rutledge says, their "condition: not dead, not alive"). Alien women are here, instead, on Earth, and their masks are human, but just barely. Sometimes I pass one on the street - they have deep light blue dazzling eyes and blonde hair, impossibly elfin. And I send them a telepathic message of the sort one passes to celebrities spotted in a crowd ("I know who you are, but I won't blow your cover by saying hello") The alien babes I spot don't answer me, but that's show business. Maybe I'm not smart enough to be worth 'sending' to. My genes aren't worth harvesting, so no cool sexy abductions or long snogs. I am not mad or jealous and I'm not out to topple any kingdom, certainly not a matriarchy, even if it's run by a puppet doofus via his hot Russian handler. I'll write whatever I have to in order to earn my sanity, to feel observant enough about the shit I watch that I somehow contribute to the collective evolution of dude-kind. Pass me my pipe and let's get the show started, and then cancelled! And take me with you when you go back to space, long as I can bring a DVD player, can count on constant normal gravity, and Cat Women of the Moon

It's because I know you won't bring me that I don't want to go. Hail Alpha! 

Greetings from the Bilderberg Jamboree
See also:
Acidemic #8 The Brecht / Godard / Wood issue

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Black and white old dark house films are the perfect balm for miserable rainy days like this, or the advent of spring (pollen/allergies) contesting grey winter's turgid encore as the sky clears. Cobwebs, shadows, candelabras, sudden black-outs, howling winds, shifty-eyed conspirators, pouring rain, sheet metal thunder, suits of armor that fall at odd times, cats, clocks striking midnight, readings of the will punctuated by lightning strikes, daggers in backs, spooky seances, fog-enshrouded stalking, spying through keyholes, secret passages, hidden laboratories, gorilla suits, disembodied death masks floating in the darkness - it's all manna. If you grew up at all in the 60s-70s then you remember too the ghosting of the UHF antenna signal (highly susceptible to cloud cover) when these movies showed on local TV Saturday afternoons; how a spooky old film was almost always, somewhere to be found out in the white noise wilderness, deep in those films that were deep in the white noise wilderness, Bela Lugosi waited like a UHF Kurtz, hamming it up in whatever role he got, be it a brooding vampire or just another enigmatic butler.

Back in the 70s, before the advent of VCR, one's ability to see old movies was tied to the whims of TV programmers and the the cloud systems of a fickle God. With only a circular antennae and rabbit ears to move around in vain, atop the set, every second of one of these films that was visible became a sacred text written on the snapchat wind. At any moment a cloud might pass and wipe out the signal, which had bounced in off a storm cloud from Wilmington Philadelphia, and leave you stranded, never knowing what it was called, or how it ended. Thus you basked in the hoary atmosphere while you could, read your Famous Monsters of Filmland like a holy writ, imagining that, one day, you'd be able to watch the movies those photos were from right there on the page of the magazine, as if a screen could one day be as flat and light and book-sized.

You know the rest --that dark birthday wish come true ( I spent a recent jury duty in the waiting room watching Invisible Ghost, The Ghoul and The Black Raven on my Kindle thinking damn, my wish came true, then again, they all have, eventually) and when it's too pollen-saturated or soaking wet and freezing to go outside without sneezing like a machine gun, what can you do now but watch thy old dark house collection from the sanctity of your germ-free bubble, and remember how precious every signal-reception moment used to feel when it was all so ephemeral. The narcotizing effect of these old gems transcends mere pre-sci-fi nostalgia. If you've ever stayed over in a huge dark mansion and tried to find the bathroom in the dead of night, no sound but the rats in the walls and the tick of the grandfather clock and.... what's that creaking?... then you know how great it is to live in a small NYC apartment on a high floor with three padlocks on the one door. Nothing makes you feel dryer than a raging storm onscreen. And if you're a Lugosi fan, then you know.

*** / Amaon Prime Image - B-

A long-unavailable old dark house swirl of a thriller melding in some pre-slasher movie signatures, the Bela Lugosi-starring NIGHT OF TERROR is violent pre-code melodrama that more than lives up to its lively reputation. Highlighted by an unusually lurid string of murders by a knife-wielding madman, who grins impishly from the bushes in and around a rolling, fog-enshrouded estate, then creeps in on his unsuspecting victims, stabbing them, then leaving his calling card - a headline of one of his killings - pinned to the back of each new body. From the opening scene of him crawling into a lover's lane convertible to stab a pair of necking lovers (top) it's clear this ain't your average 30s old dark house film, more like a 70s-80s slasher movie. Inside, a dotty scientist (George Meeker) plans to test his new 'suspended animation' death-duplicating drug by burying himself alive for two days--mixing Houdini and medical science together under the watchful eye of an eminently murderable board of directors. His fiancee (Sally Blaine) is too 'animus-dominated' to argue with her gullible dad (Tully Marshall) who encourages the marriage and bankrolls the experiments. She's so passive about it, she even tolerates social climbing reporter Wallace Ford's pushy come-ons. She'd probably get into a car with the killer too, if he had a bag of candy. She might even vote Republican.

The dad is, thankfully, murdered. Heirs gather for the reading of the will; the killer offs them by the dozen; Ford and the cops need to figure out if he's working for one of them (the will's split between heirs, so the fewer the inheritors the more $$) or if it's just a mad killer 'coincidence.' A no-good brother and his cash-hungry wife arrive out of nowhere and try to push everyone else out. The mysterious Hindu servant Degar (Lugosi) and his spirit medium-housekeeper wife (Mary Frey) are also in for a share, though the scheming brother and wife don't think belong in the will and plan to contest it - better hurry up, schemers!

Playing the very first of his long line of red herring butlers, Lugosi's role is pretty central to the action (he's more than just a comic relief macabre sidebar) and--considering what a lean year 1933 was for him (in the doghouse at Universal for refusing to do Frankenstein)--he seems glad to be working and manages some real malevolent around-the-corner stares through doorway cracks. Meanwhile the mad killer's body count rises and the black chauffeur (Oscar Smith) alone is smart enough to want to skedaddle. Naturally there's a mysterious climactic seance (always turn out all the lights in a big first floor open window and ajar door-filled room when a maniac who's already killed four people that night is still at large in the house) and a final act escape down a secret panel to a scary basement.

This rare Columbia B-movie gem was one I'd been looking for since forever - so when it recently surfaced online (I think it's on youtube) and on Prime after never being on VHS, DVD or shown on TV. That I'm actually not disappointed after all that expectation (35+ years of waiting) says a lot. What sets this apart from so many other old dark houses is the wild pace and the abundance of little macabre touches. Man, that lunatic really racks 'em up. I think he even makes it to double digits. I love the blackly comic way no one seems able to alter their schedules, beef up security, turn on some lights, or lock their doors even knowing the killer is right in the same block radius - it's the sort of suicidal eloi passivity--that immunity bubble--that causes so many car fatalities due to people's inability to stop texting.

In a very strange cool ending the killer threatens the audience with death upon divulging the trick ending. It's weird how often that must have happened at the time - because we see that same thing at the end of The Bat Whispers, and so many others. SPOILERS - believe it or not, underneath that weird make-up, the killer is gravel-voiced Edwin Maxwell (Dr. Emile Egelhoffer in His Girl Friday). 
(1933) Dir. Edward Marin
*** / Amazon Image: D

My favorite early 30s Sherlock Holmes (pre-Rathbone) film, this has Anna May Wong and plenty of Limehouse fog and that's all I need. Some purists decry Reginald Owen's Holmes as too bulky and slow (he played Watson opposite Collin Clive the year before) but--though he's probably my least favorite Scrooge (in the 1938 version)--I like him. More forceful and less dotty than, say, Arthur Wotner, he's also less keyed-up and fey than Rathbone. The Watson dynamic is inversed too: Nigel Bruce's Watson tended to lag along behind Rathbone's gamboling Holmes like a shopping bag-encumbered mom after her sugar-addled five year-old, is replaced by Warburton Gamble, bouncing off the terrarium walls while Holmes sits motionless like a gecko perched above a watchful cricket, and then--- zap! the cricket has disappeared in a slight blur of pink tongue. Cool rather than fey, assertive rather than snide, Owen's Holmes has more than just a keen mind, he has gravitas. And Watson has more than just bumbling devotion, he has our respect.

When, for example, his close study of a crime scene leads him from the murdered man's desk out to the front yard, we see Watson and Lestrade (Alan Mowbray) just standing off to the side, resignedly watching him nose around the desk's minutiae. Neither is doing the usual dimwitted jumping to conclusions Bruce and Hohl do in the Universal films, as if feeling the need to spell out every misconception for the slow-witted audience members. Owen's Holmes doesn't spell out all his 'elementary' observations either. When Watson points out the resemblance of Thaddeus Merrydew's shoe size and cigar brand to those of the murderer they're hunting, Holmes just looks at him like a patient teacher guiding a student towards an already established insight: "Is that all you observed?" Holmes points out there were a hundred more details Watson missed, but then he doesn't go into them! Still waters run deep with this Holmes and we come to appreciate the carefulness with which Owen keeps the water clear enough to see all the way into his character's purple depths. These long pauses give those sudden whiplash gecko tongue movements extra snap, like when he counters Merrydew's feigning of ignorance over a widow's trust with a simple "it won't do" that chills the blood.

Another highlight is a local tavern out in the country wherein a nice old Col. Blimp-style officer strolls in, buys a bottle, and beguiles the local carriage driver with tons of whiskey before hiring him for a trip out to a for-sale mansion. Owen is so thoroughly buried in his role that we're not quite sure which of the two men is Holmes, if any; we just enjoy the idea of being kind of hard up for another drink, being low on funds, and having a friendly stranger come into the pub and bring over a whole bottle on a foggy moorish morning. We watch in awe as Holmes deftly avoids drinking his share while plying the driver, and how expertly he soon starts searching all over the mansion, locating secret panels, and sending the maid out of the room after feigning a heart attack. 

As in all the best Rathbone Holmes' (The Scarlet Claw in particular) it's the rich foggy night atmosphere that sells the mystery, especially in and outside the gang's Limehouse hideout, where many a chase, sudden shot and skulking suspicious walk occurs. Wong plays one of the inheritors of the bloody tontine (based on some sequestered jointly stolen jewels), alongside the innocent June Clyde and saucy scoundrel J.M. Kerrigan (the guy toasting "King Jippo" in The Informant). She doesn't have much to do but she still generates plenty of intrigue and suspicion with some hooded glances. An invigorating climax finds Holmes, Lestrade and a gang of detectives show up at the county pub for a quick one to bolster the blood before trundling off through the moors for the big climax. Hail Britannia! We wouldn't see a 'quick stop at the local before the showdown' scene again until Straw Dogs! 

 Clearly a labor of love for Owen (he produced and co-wrote the script with Robert Florey), it doesn't have anything to do with original Conan Doyle novel of the same name (Owen had optioned the title only, not the actual story) but they did a bang-up job whipping something together that feels proper and correct, with British atmosphere is so thick you may be forgiven for presuming it came from Gaumont rather than long-lost LA poverty row outfit Tiffany.

(1932) Dir. H. Bruce Humberstone 
*** / Alpha Image - **

This 'campy mystery' was the first film ever broadcast over TV airwaves, back in 1933! - and what better choice? Old dark house films thrive with a fuzzy picture. Combined with the inherent staginess and strange rhythm you may get the delicious impression you're somehow not meant to see it, that you're stumbling onto a secret broadcast meant for other eyes. We open on a circle consisting of several men and one woman in black hoods, sitting a skull on round table deep in some basement. They close their clandestine meeting with the chant: "the fight to the knife and the knife to the hilt!"  The way the circle draws cards to see who does each murder "in a manner already prescribed" evokes Robert Louis Stevenson's "Suicide Club." H. Bruce Humberstone, the man behind most of the Fox Charlie Chan movies, directed it, which may explain why it hums and pops.

The suspects all gather around 'Melody Manner', an abandoned, creepy split-level haunted-ish mansion that's just been rented out by the leader of the Sphinx Club, a group of amateur sleuths. Soon the one long night is populated with a rogues gallery of kooks ("before you got here, a queer-acting hunchback brought over a basket of tomatoes"), mysterious violin sounds ("didn't I say death would come with a string?"); killers pop in and out of attics, grandfather clocksl; backyard graveyards have tomb-top chutes down to basement trap doors. There are some genius touches of the sort I haven't seen until the more recent Good Time (like a burglar (Robert Frazer) forcing the homeowner he's holding at gunpoint to change clothes with him, before the cops arrive) and never a dull moment cross-cutting in an all-in-a-single-night small time frame (the mark of a good old dark house movie; daytime shots are a bore).

Irene Purcell--her alabaster Norma Shearer-esque arms as lovely as ever--is the heroine. The eminently forgettable Ben Lyon is her nominal fiancee. Stealing the movie with some elegant 'against-type' aplomb is C. Henry Gordon in a rare good guy turn, sporting a turban as the enigmatic foreign detective Yoganda; fellow Sphynx Clubber Roscoe Karns nibbles on whatever comedy relief isn't chewed down to the nub by mugging Zasu Pitts' terrified housekeeper and James Gleeson's rattled traffic cop ("oh, a wise guy, eh?"); Robert Frazer, Christian Rub, and Spencer Charters are various spooky eccentrics flittering in and out out frame. Before you know it, the Crooked Circle are being unmasked and it all ends too soon but do what I do and just press 'play from beginning' at the first sign of credits, because I guarantee you won't remember a goddamned wonderful word of it even if you watch it twice, back-to-back, in the same evening. It's just that good because--in the words of Zasu Pitts, repeating the warning given her by the toothless violinist early on-- "something always happens to somebody." She ain't kiddin'.

(1929) Dir. Todd Browning
**1/2/ (TCM image - ***)

Often remade (to no real effect) this is one of those 'have your cake and denounce it too' seance exposé old house hybrids so popular in the days before DRACULA made the legit supernatural cool. Initially a barnstorming stage melodrama, no one has been able to make a good movie out of what is essentially a single room-set play. Margaret Wycherly stars as Madame LaGrange, a soft-spoken medium hired for a party of British diplomats and swanky ex-pats in India. Demonstrating the mechanisms behind spirit raps and table raising, LaGrange seems intent on demystifying mysticism and bumming everyone out, all in the service of finding out who killed a friend at a party the previous year. Summoned to perform on the anniversary of their collective friend's death, Wycherly makes a half-hearted attempt to access real magic for the climax (her familiar is "Laughing Eyes" an old Native American shaman) and in the process shames hardened carnies like director Todd Browning, whose eagerness to expose the seamy underbelly of the seance racket seems mean-spirited (maybe he did it to impress Houdini -dead only three years at the time - or was he?).

Until Dracula two years later proved the public was ready for fantasy, Browning shied away from the straight-up supernatural, thinking the public preferred Chaney's endless stream of 'deformed sideshow contortionist loves circus waif' masochism vehicles. So in this case, the old dark moody billing is a cheat as the medium's calling on her fake familiar for real help seems quite absurd and eventually her dated sentimental schtick plus the elaborate disclaimers combine to kind of swamp the picture.

Ah well, you can always fall in love with Leila Hyams in her seductively diaphanous art nouveau Adrian gown, as I did. The jagged ruffles of her flapper-y skirt alone are as unforgettable as the window treatments in Deep Red. You don't blame mopey Conrad Nagel for mooning over her (though eventually you will want to slap him, too). The Calcutta setting lets art director Cedric Gibbons indulge in the most luxuriant exotica, and Bela Lugosi is great as the local Indian police inspector, masterfully using his aristocratic bearing to boss around the snotty British and the big surprise climax is not without its spooky charm.

Nonetheless... as with other mysteries from the period (like Secret of the Blue Room) it gets too hung up on its final act twist, becoming almost too contrived to be believed. And oh man does Wycherly's schtick stick in the craw. It's clear Browning is as taken with her as Hitchcock was with Lila Kedrove in Torn Curtain, or Anderson with Peter Ustinov in Logan's Run. Browning should have known by then that you can't let elderly characters actors run away with a scene, because they will take twice as long to walk half as far. And then they will be all we remember, and we'll never want see it again, anymore than we want to go to the old lady's home and visit granny. She's a swell old girl, but... just the thought of that place kind of gives us a claustrophobic, buried-alive feeling. Hyam's diaphanous art nouveau gown and Lugosi's imperiousness can compensate for only so much.

On the other hand, twenty years later Wycherly would turn her saintly homespun mom schtick on its head as Cagney's terrifying mother in White Heat, and don't say 1929 mysteries don't age well, because there's one old dark house movie from 1929 with the same basic seance murder mystery structure, and it rocks, and it's up next on the hit parade:
(1929) Dir. Lionel Barrymore
**** / unavailable 

This MGM old dark house thriller gets a bad rap for being--like most early sound films--awash in crackles, hisses, stiff acting, and literal and figurative static. That's all actually plusses for an old dark house fan, for it gives the impression the air of the early sound era was something we could hear and see, like a special alternate form of liquid perfect for late night/early morning dipping. And The Unholy Night may offer the coziest example: everything seems to be taking place underwater seen through some magical submarine window as, under the protective anonymity of London fog, a killer is strangling unwary ex-British military officers. They're dropping like flies in a wild opening montage. Lord Montague (Roland Young) is nearly strangled too, but he manages to get rescued and at Scotland Yard proceeds to start pouring the brandy and sodas to steady his nerves, and he doesn't stop 'til the whole mystery's wrapped up (announcing each new glass is "my first, today"). Turns out he and the dead men all served together at Gallipoli in the Great War in the same regiment so Scotland Yard suggests they round them up at Montague's mansion for a an impromptu reunion and their own safety and thus protect them with some plain clothes guards and get to the bottom of things. What with all the drinking and WWI existentialist undercurrents you can bet it was written by Ben Hecht, and there are so many creepy seances, ghosts, mass murder tableaux, walking corpses, and British army buddies singing drinking songs that it becomes the perfect film to watch as the sun comes up after a wild night of revels.

The cast is rich with strange faces: Montague's sister (Natalie Moorhead) goes in for seances in a big way, and seems a harmless enough pastime to her doctor fiancee (Ernest Torrance) but is it? Hardworking character actor George Cooper is Montague's loyal servant from the war - he's sure happy to see the regiment back together for a weekend, happier than he can say, and knows just what kind of drinks to serve and when to bring another round (which is immediately); Boris Karloff is a foreign lawyer with shady motives and a strange will; Polly Moran is kept on a short leash as the maid (she can really ham it up... if... if encouraged); the disfigured Major Mallory from their old regiment dies in the other room while the gang are mixing up "a bowl of wine" - a concoction of everything but wine, let aflame and carried around while singing "drink it down / drink it down."

Things really shift into high gear with the dramatic arrival of the Turkish-British Lady Efra (Dorothy Sebastian -above, center), the daughter of an officer who was drummed out of the regiment for cheating at chards and who vowed revenge and is now dead.... maybe. She might be in town because she knows about father's will, a tontine, i.e. where the fortune is divided up equally amongst "surviving" members of the regiment, set up as some vengeance-minded rich folks as part of a byzantine revenge plot (i.e. encouraging so-called loyal friends to kill each other). Lady Efra has her own plot in mind probably via 'tricks of the ancient orient' - like hypnosis, sex and suggestion (ala Thirteen Women, another Erich favorite). Naturally the news of the tontine leads to some hammy moments of alibi-challenging, confessions of being broke or in debt, and going "crazy" from the strain (it sure doesn't take long!). Naturally though, this being England rather than some godforsaken corner of the heathen orient, brotherhood prevails and some pretty rounds of "Auld Lange Syne" put it al perspective, eventually. That night the doctor boyfriend slips the nervous Efra some tranquilizers upstairs and asks if she can identify the voice she heard conspiring with Karloff the night before, and the brother officers all mill around outside her door cockblocking one another and thinking of lame excuses to knock.

Yeah, I love this movie to death. I've only seen it a few dozen times, usually late at night, drunk, or sick, all the better to not remember it for the next time. (It is key, really, to enjoying these old murder mysteries over and over again- make sure your short term memory is off, so you forget who the killer is as soon as it's over). I do recall that, considering her possible yen for killing them, the men milling around her boudoir don't seem at all wise. And I remember  Karloff's weird mix of abashed lovelorn discomfort and silken sinister motives during his scenes, but not exactly where he fits in to anything (he's not even in the credits). I remember a great grisly morning tracking shot past numerous strangled victims, lots of hamming. My favorite moments--the one I remember most--occur earlier, a rattled Lord Montague in Scotland Yard after almost being strangled in the London fog, shrugging off his fear with a succession of brandy and soda (his first today!), and when Lord Montague, leading Scotland Yard into his mansion, opens the parlor door to investigate a scream, and finds the lights out and his sister and a gang of folks mid-seance, spooking maid Moran. It's total darkness while the disembodied head of Sôjin Kamiyama whirls around the room, chanting in a hideous deep voice! Oops! Oh well, nothing to worry about. As a viewer it's such a great WTF moment it stays in the unconscious like an eclipse stays on the retina. Well, gentlemen, let's to the study and have another round. Another regimental drinking song if you please and another brace of brandy and sodas. Our first today! Well, you know what I mean. When it comes to how drinking is done by gentlemen, Ben Hecht never forgets!

PS - Good luck finding it - it's not on any DVD or VHS.  TCM occasionally shows it - usually very late at night. Could you please demand they make a DVD, maybe part of a pre-code old dark house five movie DVR set? Suggest they add Murder by the ClockNight of Terror, Supernatural, and a decent print of Crooked Circle! I'd appreciate it.

See also:

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Flower People Screaming: DOCTOR FAUSTUS (1967)

Richard Burton's semi-forgotten directorial debut/swan song, DOCTOR FAUSTUS came out in swingin' 1967 and it's too bad it didn't know there was a whole summer of love going on outside the halls of Oxford, because with a few tweaks, thanks to all its Satanic, Illuminati, 'interiority-hallucination' and horror film iconography, FAUSTUS could have been a nice psychedelic midnight movie. All it needed was the right poster (and a younger, sexier lead actress as Helen of Troy). Like BOOM, it's a film undone by wrong casting, since Burton and Taylor were so big, you couldn't get one without the other. Thus characters meant for younger actors are burdened with someone never meant for the part. The reason: because one didn't want to anger them. Burton and Liz, cockblocking each other from the May-December nectar. (a young stud with haunting eyes, like John Phillip Law or Terence Stamp for Liz in BOOM; an ethereal beauty like Marianne Faithful or Julie Christie for Dick in FAUSTUS). But hey, that's show biz. 

An adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Elizabethan play, made by Burton to raise funds for his alma mater, the Oxford Dramatic Societ. And man, it can drag a bit, until you can barely wait for hell to roar up and get its claws and fangs sunk into our ranting antihero, so class can end and you can race out into the quad and smoke grass or drop acid. 

But, dig man, see it again the next night, brain and pupils still expanded, and you may find there's a sensationalist, existential, trippy drug fantasia in its margins. It's there, I swear! So drop a micro-dose an hour before class starts, then mosey in and see where things land.

Oh but the trepidation of taking one's first trip, one's first big lysergic step. There's no going back. I remember the hysteria and hype in the 80s that kept me from doing it for the longest time: you could go insane permanently! Chromosomes damaged! In other words, damned, so the newbie's trepidation is mirrored in Faustus' second thought, needing to egged on by his cronies.

And so it is, whether intentionally or not, Burton susses out the commonality between Faust's devil bargain, Marlowe's sub-Shakesepearean prose, and the "lay down all thought / surrender to the void" philosophy of the flower people singing in the street. Both are in the sway of the beyond (sunflower petals glowing like flames in the dilated pupils of the dosed), and between all the psychedelics in the wind and Burton's own alcoholism and habit of disappearing into a fog with Liz (those drunken bender weekends), it's as if any kind of normal baseline by which to measure the bizarre in a British/Italian vanity production has been permanently eroded.

Like Roger Corman in the US that same sunshiny year, Burton was quick to make use of already-available props and sets from Italy's early-60s glut of Gothic horror films. All the macabre symbols and colors and imagery carry over from schlock to art, serving as hallucinational markers through the Jungian birth/rebirth Hell-initiation / the 'it is not dying / it is knowing' nirvana being over one side (the good trip) and the thousand rending talons of self-centered fear that shred your resistant ego to ribbons (the bad). In the end, while it's better to experience the former, the latter is much more cinematic.

Filmed in Italy and England, there's a lot of painterly craftsmanship at work in Faustus that few critics are in the mood to mention. The lighting evokes Bava's Black Sabbath (the gold standard) in its stunning use of colored gel spots. turning cobwebs and walls all sorts of ghoulish, unnatural, but strangely cozy colors. The subject -- a seeker who finds and realizes he was better off not knowing -- evokes Roger Corman's very California The Trip (from the same year, 1967 - above) and Corman's earlier, yet still highly-psychedelic horror films Masque of the Red Death (1964) and X-The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963), even 1966's Wild Angels in a way. These Corman films ten towards sidpa bardo-aping hallucinations that subsume our seeker in 'careful what you look for' ironic comeuppance: kaleidoscopic images of painted women writhing in delight that change to withered crones the closer you get to them, monstrous orgies smeared on all sides by vaseline for trippy distortions, time lapse dissolves; the descent to madness kickstarted via dungeons, caves, cobwebbed skulls under cozy purple gel spots, sudden strange juxtapositional overlaps, and copious occult symbolism.

That the story's parallels to drug use are never overtly emphasized by Burton doesn't matter. He can't escape the tenor of the times, and drunks like he and Liz fit right in with acidheads, for both--sooner or later--get the honor of taking a Dante-style tour through the depths of hell. Both the high art of Burton and Marlowe and the drive-in sensationalism of Corman are centered around this savvy of the well of woe waiting right outside the blinders of our world. We would know more, like Faust, like Peter Fonda in The Trip or Prospero in Masque or Xavier in X-The Man with X-Ray Eyes. We seek to attain enlightenment, not through aeons of meditation and work with a guru, but the fast way... via a little tab on the tongue.

And should you disregard the warning label on Medusa's chintzy veil, don't whine when you're too stoned to write anything down, even though you dropped all that acid to improve your poetry. How ironic! That's the devil's bargain - he gives you endless inspiration but then--oops--no ink for your pen. The stores are closed; your car doesn't work and you shouldn't drive anyway. Everyone else is asleep, and there's no way to write down your flights of genius. How the devil doth laugh and laugh! Even if you had a pen it would take you years just to stop staring at it in quiet awe. 

The Trip

The books and drug pamphlets and 12-step meetings, and theaters, are all full of tales of those fools who'd ignore the 'caution' signs to "sound the depth of that they would profess" (as Faustus puts it), who live it up and order everything on the menu, still they aren't full nor satisfied; comes the devil's check they try to stave it off by ordering more and more. But finally they may order no more. the check must be paid. And so it is, by screaming, psych wards, rehabs, withdrawal, and suicide. These days psychedelics are being de-demonized but in 1967 they were still being blamed for anti-Vietnam protests so made illegal by a spooked Nixon. Thus even in The Trip there is the disclaimer in the beginning and 'cracked glass' ending, both forced on the film by the nervous producers who wanted to make sure the psychedelic experience was portrayed, ultimately, as causing calamitous long-term brain damage. More than governmental censure, I'm wagering James Nicholson was worried about lawsuits, suing AIP for endorsing a drug that convinced cousin Timmy he could fly out a sixth-story window.

In Faustus, however it's even more bleak and final than a cracked head or a splat on the concrete:  the voyage to Hell being paved with eternal DTs is represented by an evil Liz Taylor in green body paint, her hair a bed of snakes, laughing evilly.

Dude, I've been there. The ghost demon girls all laughing at me after luring me into a no-exit trap. It's like you wake up with a hangover so screaming you know it's going to turn into DTs in a few hours if you can't find your last Librium, or secret whiskey stash. You can't because you can't even get of the couch without shaking, dry-heaving. and hyperventilating. the visions and shakes consume you so bad all you can do is scream, a scream without end... Close your eyes / Close your Eyes / Relax, think of nothing / tonight" - as Mary sings in Jesus Christ Superstar. But that does nothing to dispel the visions, and time slows to a crawl. Your hangover shakes don't get better as the hour click by, the way they would for a non-alcoholic (i.e. someone who hasn't signed that infernal contract). The longer you wait before getting high or drunk again, the worse the shakes get, exponentially, lower and lower, until perdtion's flame licks your culo. 

"Heyyy, Swamp! Hey Swampyyy!")

It's ironic then that Burton and Taylor--then married and still tabloid gold--are the weakest parts of the film. Like many towering drunk titans of the stage and screen, each could rely on a bag of tricks to mask their various hangover and bloated periods for only so long. Burton, especially, as he'd later prove in nearly every role he took, uses tortured booming depth of voice and harrowed stare of beady eye to mask his doleful hangover; ever gazing past the camera, he's presumably looking at cue cards, or the clock, waiting..... waiting.... for cocktail hour (1).

That's not to say great genius couldn't be wrung from such sad states! Burton and Taylor had just made their two--by far--best films--Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Taming of the Shrew--right before doing Faustus. They were on their career-defining roll, making up for their inert chemistry in Cleopatra with a vengeance. 

But it's all gone for Faust -- and it's clear right away what the problem is: Burton needs a playmate of equal stature, someone to provoke and challenge him, or he loses his energetic madness X-factor. He needs to plays off Liz's energy, making full use of their Pisces-Scorpio dynamic. BUT her character in Doctor Faustus never speaks, or appears as anything but a Ligeia/Rebecca-style anima (with an initially haunting but eventually tiresome Yma Sumac-ish leitmotif following her around like a ghostly herald). In short, she is simply miscast. She overflows the boundaries of a mute object role/phantom role. It's like casting Bette Davis as Jessica in I Walked with a Zombie or Anna Magnani as Lolita. To put it bluntly, she is simply way too old, too regal, too grand, too tremendous, to play a cipher role like this. Clearly these interludes where she sashays through the scene were not in Marlowe's play. They're written for her, so they can put her name on. the marquee while at the same time freeing her from having to memorize any of the fancy-pants Elizabethan dialogue. In one groan-worthy scne Faustus beholds her beauty and asks "is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" you feel like raising your hand to give the obvious answer. If you loved the brawling Liz in Shrew and Woolf, and were hoping for more of the same, you too might be inevitably weirded-out to see that same sexy-buy-clearly-aging force of nature posited as the ultimate silent objet-d'art of youthful ephemera, especially when she's competing with an array of young, sexy British models, all bravely clad in nothing but the glow from the OS hellfire.

Every straight male in the world knows this scene (above) from their fantasies and nightmares, the odalisques lounging in the flames of the fever / bad trip / vision of fear/desire/hell/heaven rolled together. They're always there, deep in our straight male DNA, judging all we see and do with scathing insolence. Their silence speaks volumes to our frenzied bloodstream.  Liz's silence in Faustus speaks only to the gay sensibility's love of high camp, a kind of pre-Madonna plays Mona Lisa on a Tracy Lord pedestal. (2) She's neither terrifying or beguiling, while the above scene is both. These girls above are the maenads from the sidpa bardo. One wrong move, one flinch of fear, and they change from seducing you to rending you to pieces and devouring the remains. They are the demon reflections of our anima.  To put it in Jungian archetypal terms, Taylor is simply not a blank enough canvas for our inner woman to project on. She's already fully filled in. 

Another particular flaw with the film is the mythic-reference-choked language of the text, recited by Burton with great oratory declarations unto heaven but without much fire or oomph. I'm sure Marlowe is a genius but he's no Shakespeare. His fancy words resonate far less cosmically than the smaller more personal oratory we find in Franco Zeffirelli's Shrew and Mike Nichol's  Woof, where the mythic resonance cracked through even the most banal of situations. Wth Marlowe it's the reverse: even the most mythically resonant scenes have a king of core banality dampening the mantle.

Maybe that has to do with Burton's lack of directorial experience? Nichols and Zeffirelli both know that true mythic grandeur comes from sharply observed small moments, not big declarations. Awareness of this paradox (specifics are universal; generalities are alienating) separates windbags from geniuses.  Thus, when Burton is playing a middle-aged history professor shouting at his wife, he's as vivid and mythic as the cosmos; when he's a mythic figure shouting at the cosmos, he's as dull as a middle-aged history professor. When he kisses Liz as Helen and talks about her kiss sending his soul flying around the room, it's hard not to roll your eyes and think of that old adage of acting class, "you're telling us not showing us, and we don't believe it."

He should have pretended he was saying that to a dry triple martini. We'd be able to feel that passion in our toe tips! Burton comes alive!

"the fruits of lunacy"

Consider how how both Welles in his self-directed Macbeth and Olivier in his self-directed Hamlet (both 1948) give you the impression they love every minute of their character's tortured guilt and suffering. No matter what dour calamity their characters wallow in, they--- the director/actors-- revel in the poetry and mythic undertones, capturing the essence of art in small perfect little gestures. Director/star Burton on the other hand, can't even revel during Faustus' moments of revelry, let alone in his dour calamities. One must wonder if the demands of directing, the essence-draining demands of marriage, the endless intrusion of paparazzi, and staying sober long enough each day to stay on schedule-- tanked his energy. 

Maybe he let his brown-nosing reverence for 'the classics' undo his natural crazy Wagnerian oomph? Unlike Olivier and Welles, both of whom swim in Shakespeare like it's the literary equivalent of 100 proof whiskey (which it is), there's a 'mustn't spook the dean of letters' kind of respectfulness with Burton's performance. Sure Burton was a vibrant earthy Petruchio in Shrew, but that was under Zeffirelli's direction, far from any dean of letters' stern looks. Like Welles and Olivier, Zeffirell is a director who swims in the poetry of Shakespeare (see his definitive Romeo and Juliet, and the shamefully underrated Mel Gibson Hamlet -see my review here) amongst others. Though Shakespeare is considered bourgeois, something only the educated snobs would attend, Welles understood Shakespeare was writing for the cheap seats as well as the queen, so would give himself permission to heedlessly go for a more reckless 'give the dean a heart attack' approach that, paradoxically, would be more faithful to the material at hand. 

In short: If you film a respectful, staid depiction of a prankster thumbing his nose at staid authority figures, then you become the very thing you're rebelling against, and that kind of feedback squall is so exhausting it may takes years of painless deconstructive art history to recover any semblance of wit therefrom. End of rant. 

Any similarity to packing a massive gravity bong is presumably unintentional

As a result, the play's dense intertextually-lined language unpacks rather flatly, especially since there is --essentially-- so little at stake. This is, after all, the tale of an aged recent (he must have been on the 30 year plan) college graduate who fritters his time away doing tons of drugs and wine up in his apartment, alone but getting periodic visits from his drug dealer, fellow academes hoping he'll get them high. The rest of the time he's either lost in a whirl of phantom anima dream imagery (i.e.when he takes too much) or suffering insane hallucinatory tortures (when he takes too little). If he's in the Goldilocks zone where he's taken just the right amount, why, he can patter around his garret, whipping up alchemical formulas and writing or painting or reading as his whims dictate. 

Still, there's nothing in the play for film to help us understand why he's so keen to worship Lucifer and denounce god, to sign away his soul, rather than just doing drugs and writing poetry all day while ostensibly teaching at some cushy university (hmmmm). Nor is there any indication of why we should sympathize with his latter bratty copping out (he's like a Satanic narc) and second-guess antipathy. What a welsher. our once so faux-brave Faustus.  

If you've 'been there' (it's called college), you can relate when his occasional visitors find him lying on the floor, staring at some unseen phantom, or writhing in the grip of a fine, frothy madness, his clothes and brain in a state of disarray, unable to distinguish his corporeal guests from the phantoms. But as Bill Lee says to his visiting buddies who visit him in similar circumstances in Naked Lunch, "the Zone takes care of its own." 

None of that is any excuse to sign away your soul, though, idiot. That's just overkill, like getting a huge Led Zeppelin tattoo just because you saw Song Remains the Same for the first time, while on acid, last night, and ended up at the Zep-bedecked dorm room of some hot Pittsburgh brunette. Dude, you haven't even read Hammer of the Gods yet, don't be hasty. She loaned it to you on your way out, like a Christian giving a native a bible. A great night and Zeppelin is now your god. But a tattoo is a big commitment, bro. So make sure you listen to both sides of Presence and Coda before the needle hits the skin. No one is perfect. Jimi Page even wears chinos in one of their latter concert videos. Chinos! .

Now, all those negatives aside, there is much to love about old Faustus. Even if Burton the lead actor seems to be suffering from boozy stress, Burton the director is able to use that same boozy stress as a subtext for a richly familiar and welcome streak of Gothic horror and illuminati in-jokes, showing he learned some important things from his drinking buddies John Huston and Tennessee Williams about using alcoholic highs and lows as mythic narrative touch points. And showing too that despite his lofty airs, Burton harbors a secret love of horror. You can tell he's seen Black Sabbath and Masque of the Red Death and he wants to use some of their aesthetic tricks. The popping rich spectrum of dusky deep ochres, blues, purples, and cherry reds, glow as if Mario Bava himself were doing the gel lighting, giving many scenes (restored to glowing HD for Amazon streaming) a highly evocative atmospheric surreal glow that, for me, as a 70s monster kid, reminded me of old Key comic book covers--the kind my mom would buy you in packs of three at the department store to keep me occupied while she shopped for clothes. 

Walks through anachronistic/period sets and surrealistic historical tableaux (the Garden of Earthly Delights, the Vatican, a king's reception hall, a crypt) bring not just mythic resonance but call back to the various movies and genres those props were purloined from. Largely filmed in Italy, these sets were no doubt used in everything from peplums to westerns to Gothic horror (the way Masque used still-standing Beckett sets) creating a sense of stripping away of time's linearity, allowing a stage-like but very psychedelic rapid scene-changing (there's similar bits of Gothic horror call-back in Head, and Psych-Out as well as The Trip, keeping the old Gothic props and sets close at hand for quick inexpensive visits to the archaic subconscious). Copious tripped-out occult magic (nice use of made of a haunted mirror), cobwebs, skeletons, candles, alchemical test tubes and conjuring crucibles, volumes of forgotten lore, and astral charts-bedeck the torture chamber-cum-Illuminati arcane alchemist sanctuary that will be home base for Faustus' solitary drug experiments. Boldly treads our Faustus! Going where one might hallucinate yearning naked women inside the flames of a candle or the eye of a skull, or float through a veil of kaleidoscope effects and blurred edges, time lapse flowers and occult symbolism, to see the effects of time and age upon desire's ripe fruit. The laughing of the flower children switches to screaming with an imperceptible twist of the pitch shifter. 

Like its contemporaries in the Elizabethan dream theater era, Faustus gambols freely amidst the arcane iconography of spirits and demons that would previously (or then-currently, if performed in Spain) be charge enough for heresy. As it is, thanks to the rise of sane Protestantism, even making fun of the pope is not frowned upon, so long as the knave who dares winds up trapped in the arms of burning hellfire by drama's close (we mustn't get the Spanish ambassador too mad, after all). Thus Burton's Faustus (under an invisibility spell) makes fart noises behind the rows of bishops, pelts the pope with a fancy cake, and flogs a bunch of empty robes in a moment that seems straight out of Jodorowsky. Then the psychedelic college kid experimentation aspect continues with the slow downward slide from seeking truths to questions that lie far past the known parameters of life and death to just getting massively hammered. There is no joy of evil in Burton's performance of these things, only a kind of peevish aggression, like a sulky ten year-old kicking his little brother's lego fort.

 The ultimate in devil's bargains is, as I can tell you from direct experience, the alcoholic's. Only by staying drunk can he forget the horrible shakes, DTs and misery that compounds with interest for every day he doesn't suffer them. On and on he goes, on a massive bender, until eventually one morning he comes to and there's not a drop left in the house, and he's physically unable to move without it, so unless someone comes by with a bottle to save him, the voyage to agonizing hell begins. His is the terror of the cold turkey addict tied to a bed table in a hospital, screaming his guts out, like Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.

From top: Hopper schools in TRIP; FAUSTUS

In the beginning of Faustus we find Burton as an aging scholar in round owlish glasses and long gray hair -freshly graduated, advised by one of his druggie friends to "sound the depths of that they would profess."- In other words: don't just say no to drugs, try them first! Condemnation prior to experimentation is not wisdom, but its own sort of vice, twice as vile for its hypocrisy in one so allegedly open-minded and well-researched.

Faustus and Valdez Cornelius mixing a full decanter of the good shit - shhhh - don't let the RA hear

Later, alone in his study, not quite sure which field in which to further broaden his academic acumen, which tome to grace with owlish eye, Faustus is buffeted by a sudden surge of boyish ego and curiosity. He feels the wave knock his soul up against the sand break of the known, made all the more pathetic and indulgent by his speaking aloud at us, as though his imaginary class: "To live and die in Aristotle," seems wise and--to him--oddly sexy, or to study medicine BUT--as as he notes, "the end of physic: our body's health." So from what new field shall his alchemist's brain next turn? Why not to the occult!

In other words, Faustus is bored, antsy, and doesn't feel like studying. His idle hands, the devil's workshop

Drinking buddies Valdez (Ram Chopra) and Cornelius (Robert Carawadine)--as sketchy a pair of Satanic drug dealers as one is likely to find in all of London-- drop by to regale him with tales of the fame and wealth that comes from conjuring demons. Soon trundles the trio graveyard-ways to raise hanged sinners and summon devils! It's all a little too convenient... Faustus gives in way too easy.

You expect the heavens to shout, or at least whisper--to explore the black arts is blasphemy, Faustus! Turn to the church and repent. This sort of disclaimer seems only fair -- due diligence to ward off those who are better off not venturing beyond the No Trespassing sign. And it's no idle threat, either. In all the tales of those who'd ignore caution to sound the depth of that they would profess, the price of enlightenment is dear. And as anyone 'called' to try these things will tell you, even your hardcore hippy friends may warn you off. People you thought were cool declare 'you'll damage your chromosomes, Faustus!"

In Faustus, however it's more bleak and final, the damage permanent.  Hell is only a feeling for one having a bad trip. Eventually --after timeless aeons of distress-- everything will wear off. On some level, as many a scholar has noted, the only difference between a schizophrenic and an LSD user is that the latter knows he's just 'visiting' where the schizophrenic lives.' The opposite of the Sunday tripper, the schizophrenic knows he is just 'visiting' reality via medication and is actually living in the void, like a phantom signal forever caught between neighboring TV channels. 

But whither Faustus? Which reality will be his final resting place?

But it all starts innocent, if sin can be so called. The three head to the graveyard like a trio of errant hippie sophomore knaves shrooming behind Sadler in Syracuse University, circa 1986, finding all sorts of universal truths and froth-at-the-mouth delights there (big rolling graveyards being the perfect place in which to trip, both emblematic of the experience you're on as far as death/rebirth awareness, and the way egoic fear keeps the lightweights away). These pleasures are the first reward of daring, to buffet manly against the current and enjoy the rarefied air above the superstitious public's boorish din.

No sooner has Faustus found his spot for conjuring. he bids his friends depart him so he may work alone. They are never seen again and indeed one wonders about his social skills, for here is a man not literally cut off from the society like, say, Prospero is in The Tempest, and yet he prefers only the company of his own unconscious projections, vis-a-vis the devil, and his anima.

In hindsight, it would be great if Valdez and Cornelius return, for Burton came to life in their presence; he plays well against their relish in demonic control. Like the bulk of the cast, they're students and teachers from Oxford's Dramatic Society and Burton often flickers to life in their company, only to turn dour again when sidelined through lengthy solo dark rants that we know in but a second he will deny having said. He chides Mephistpholis' sadness over his failing soul, urging him to take a lesson from his resolute bravery and "scorn those joys thou never shalt possess." Aa dissolve later and he's letting a statue of St. Sebastian urge him turn to God, then to let a skull on the desk encourage him back to Lucifer. All he needs is a hard push one way or the other and he not just hesitates but thoroughly changes his mind. He's wishy-washy! Take another little drink, Faustus! 

It's hard to get involved in the plight of a man so unmotivated in his flight to Lucifer that its very reason defies credibility. He's a dude burning out his brain for pure onanistic thrill-seeking"magic" and only realizing it's not some dumb heavy metal pastime when it's too late to weasel out. He assures Valdez and Cornelius he'll stick the course. He says "magic enravishes me!" but we're never really sure what his end game is beyond pleasure and sport, to revel in the folly of others. The presence of these two enablers might have made it clearer (peer pressure) but without them, it's hard to fathom why he sticks to it. Whatever he once sought to know, being known, he'd rather forget fast, so turns to drink - which makes days flow faster especially with a devilish enabler servant at your side to make sure you never wake up without a stiff drink at your bedside.

"Glad tidings from great Lucifer"
Drunk writers and artists who sequester themselves for long periods of micro-tripping in service of their art can--with proper blocking--drift into just the drinking part quite seamlessly, as Faustus does here. But as he's not a writer or artist why we should care? Beyond the realization that all pleasure is fleeting and he shouldn't have signed the contract, there's not much he learns or brings to the table.

Reveling by proxy too proves a challenge. Whether flatly chanting along with the bell, book-and-candle monks who try to exorcise his spirit or belligerently chanting "he wants his money!" to an aggrieved bartender, we're not amused or thrilled (like we were in Woolf or Shrew) but rather embarrassed by this base schadenfreude and tone deaf infantile prankishness. Here is a man who freely takes more than would befit a man, then tries to weasel out of paying - drinking vainly against the passing of time (his ever-present hourglass) ticking down to his Hell journey. All the wealth in the world is his for the asking but he'd rather stiff the bartender.

He's a 'bad' drunk!


In his groovy man cave, doth Faustus have the alchemical tools to astral travel the world over and have his heart's desire granted time and again, the only caveat being it brings him no real joy, since there's no strife or earning of the goal, there's none but the pale shadow of gratification. And as anyone who suffers from depression knows, getting all you want in life might make you more miserable than just wanting, which at least gives you the hope you will be happy once said desire is attained. To attain it and still be unhappy is to be faced with the reality of a no-escape misery, a room without an exit. The gorgeous women you coveted as a geek in high school clamor all over you now that you're in a band, but their sudden, almost aggressive affection creeps you out; the terror of actually merging your naked body with someone who you barely know supplants your lustful reveries and turns desire's promise into the stuff of future shame and regret. For Faustus, his wish for 'a wife' is ridiculed by the devil with an open flower of beautiful women who turn into men or aged crones on contact. This is the Sidpa bardo in Buddhism at play. Women never stay lovely, and so outside of space/time, beyond the illusion of permanence; sexual allure beckons like a sticky web of flame that evaporates on contact but leaves you stuck, devoured by withered crones where once were massive babes. (i.e. the woman in room 237)

You can argue that movie stars are the exception, their images frozen in time. Marilyn still looks alluring in Niagara,  and will be just as alluring in 100 years, but imagine you saw that movie and wished you could share a bed with her; then you wake up trapped in her coffin with her rotting corpse! That's what the DTs are like, vs. watching Monroe's movies over and over in a state of benumbed boozy grace. You don't get to actually sleep with Marilyn, but isn't watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for a hundred straight times (even with Elliot Reid in it) better than even a single night with the "actual" Marilyn in her actual current underground boudoir?

It's in this aspect, the terrors of the DTs, where Burton brings his alcoholic and priapic issues into the subtext: the realization that--when given a chance to be endlessly indulged--angelic vice soon turns to a tar pit 

Movies are to the ego what the ego is to the soul, distraction from the terror of eternity. When tripping the distractions collapse into the real, especially on a so called bad (or 'bum') trip. For example, on one bad tip I forgot how to breath. I became aware of lungs, understanding at last their slavery to the body, the awful duty they have, their constant inflating and deflating, year after ear. I could feel them almost collapse from the weary shock of recognizing their eternal bondage. Of course the deliverance from this realization is that you only have to deliver one breath at a time. That's the AA secret. The "I'm just not drinking today" adage, the "one day at a time" is the 'good news' that helps many a drunk, myself included,. No one wants to imagine never drinking again. It's too awful to contemplate, but just not drinking today? Sure, it's a trick to make the abstinence endurable, but is booze's trick any less devious? Both use our ego's need to escape living in the moment (for the ego has less control when we are fully aware of living in the 'now') against itself. Like tricking you into self reflection by putting a top hat on the mirror and telling you it's Fred Astaire. 

Supposedly immortal, the soul is paradoxically comforted by the ephemeral nature of all things, which is the direct opposite of the ego's anxiety. The space-time continuum allows us the comfort of the ephemeral, allows us to dwell under the protective illusion of impermanence. That all things die, that life is rounded with a sleep, wounds heal, flowers wither, traumas are buried in the repressed unconscious, seasons change, nights and days alternate ---these are comforts that deliver us from the terror of continuity. Hell, then, as realized by Marlowe's Faustus, is the waking up from this illusion of impermanence so that the terrifying eternity of existence is revealed and is inescapable. This is the trial of the cave crypt hallucination in The Trip, ("I don't want to die, man"). This is the 'bad trip' every psychonaut sooner or later must endure, the wave that sucks us under for an eternal night, the giant eye at the center of the universe gazing pitilessly through our X-Ray Eyes. This is Hell as inescapable awareness of, as Mephistophilis puts it, "all that isn't heaven", the great flaming void that is left "when all else dissolves."

"The depths of all that thy would profess" i.e. all therein that may be explored
As Faustus will soon learn, the double-edged gift of heaven is the gift of illusion and forgetfulness.  Our way our brain is hard-wired to veil the ever-looming specter of our inevitable death so we can go about our day without being paralyzed with fear. But to function in its correct aperture (as a veil rather than a window), this veil needs death near enough to cover successfully, to know where it is at all times. If we death moves too far away from our vision, the veil covers everything and anything it can. Soon we can't appreciate life due to this veil creating a thin filmy wall between us and the world. Eventually we need to go seek out death so the veil can find something its actually supposed to cover, freeing us to see around its corners at last.

Hell, then, is the terror of eternity that makes us long for the illusion of impermanence. When faced with extinction, life at last becomes unbearably precious -- so that each miserable second is clung to like one clutches a piece of floating bed frame in the midst of a tidal flood current.

Yet, as he clings, Faust has no love of the life he's led, only fear for what is to come. Not knowing that his fear of eternity is itself already hell, he indulges full force. These are the types of lightweights you need to avoid when culling a 'set and setting' for your 'voyages' - as they're invariably the dudes who can't shake their ego's sticky grip, and foolishly believe all the fear mongering their ego incites to keep itself in power. Knowing how to ignore ego's panicky horse-in-the-stall bucking is one of they key skills for successful inter-astral navigation. When God is your co-pilot, you don't even need to go in the plane. With their ego as their co-pilot, these lightweights inevitably panic, and demand to be taken to the ER because they are sure they're dying. Ugh what a drag.


Early in their meeting, Faustus asks Mephistophilis where Hell is and why he's not there. "Why, this is Hell," notes Mephistophilis. "Think'st thou that I who saw the face of God and tasted the eternal joys of heaven am not tormented with ten thousand Hells in being deprived of everlasting bliss?" 

Such a junky thing to say, bro. If you're living as--or have ever lived--as a drug addict or alcoholic, or known the bliss of a 'perfect' peak ecstasy experience, you may have tried unsuccessfully to recapture that high for years, eventually realizing you can never return to it. That is its own kind of Hell. The only thing that saved me from it back in the 90s was Lacan, and then SSRI meds in 2003. Since my relapse last Feb, I now get that same magnetic tug from the sight of all the IPA beers, the various small batch brews in the grocery store, none of which existed in 1998, when I initially stopped drinking. It was worth it to relapse just to sample those delicious brands. Except now when I pass them on display my heart breaks, my mouth waters, and the yearning increases exponentially the longer I linger. Is that in its way, not Hell, but it's okay since it's always there, the way depressives sometimes keep nooses or guns hidden in their closet, as a kind of assurance. The Hell in Faust's world is the hell of knowing you can never get back to that closet or the beer aisle. You're 86-ed for life... and beyond/ 

If any of that sounds familiar, maybe you too might find a special love for Burton's Faustus or if not love, at least unnerved understanding. For to be in the throes of a serious addiction is to know the joys of hell and heaven are as a coin ever flipping, and one may become the other just through the other's absence, and so sooner or later heaven always flips back to hell. Hell is the constant. It's a question of numbers, of days, of time. For every day the horrible shakes/convulsions/DTs of detox are staved off, the worse they will be when that key moment arrives: waking up completely out of alcohol, and unable to get to the store or bar to get some more due to intense shaking and hyperventilating. But until then, there's that moment in the morning (if you don't have to go to work) where you decide to try and wait until 4 PM cocktail hour, and after about a half hour your hands are shaking and your vision is getting weak and your heart feels as if will explode. Hell gradually comes into focus. You relent and crack open that first delicious IPA, and within seconds Heaven appears instead. 

The only place, it seems, you can't exist, is anywhere between those two extremes. Mephisto's version of hell ("everywhere that isn't heaven") is almost identical with the advanced stage alcoholic or addict, whose heaven is mere absence of Hell (withdrawal), i.e. just not being in the agony of hell is heaven.

By contrast what delight then, to up the ante still further, for heaven may yet become euphoric than just not-hell, with the one caveat that any new plateau of ecstasy may become the new baseline, so that anything less than that same euphoria becomes the next Hell. Eventually Hell is anywhere that isn't euphoria and euphoria is just hell's momentary absence.

The irony of Faustus's deal with the devil--which holds true to for any addict's postponement of withdrawal--is that the decades of decadence he gets (24 years, as in hours of the day) are all elapsed by the end of the film-- they flit by. If there is any enjoying to be had, we don't really get the impression Burton's Faustus has done so, for his ecstasies are wasted worrying about Hell. That's the terrible bargain, the sacrifice of memory: most of a drunk's happy time is either not remembered due to black-outs or slept through. A drunk can tell if he had fun the night before only by how messed up his apartment is the next time he wakes up.  Sandwiched between black-outs, benders, waking up in strange positions on strange floors, and suffering all the tortures of being departed from on-highness, it could take hours for him to figure out how long he's been asleep, what day it is, or what AM or PM on the clock means.

For a would-be escapee into booze's warm clutches, how unappealing Faustus' tavern-carousing, ugly life suddenly looks. Burton, an actual drunk, seems just mean and juvenile rather than the monstrous wit he was in Woolf. Burton the director spares us nothing of the scene's wild guffawing Breugel-esque peasant squalor --yet it's strangely beautiful too, as in the way the walls are painted to resemble both cracks, dirt and trees. Isn't that what it's all about, man, finding the trees in the bar wall filth rather than the other way around?

"Sweet pleasure conquers deep despair," counsels the demonic voices that guide Faustus towards his decades-long spree. Ah but the fine print, Faustus: the longer thy deserved measure of despair stays conquered by sweet pleasure, the higher the compounding interest on the loan against future joy, and the weaker the sweetness. Finally, the sweetness has grown too stale to conquer anything. The despair is now so deep that water line has risen to the ceiling. Thou art thus asphyxiated by woe, Faustus, swallowed up into Hell eternal, all for postponing your deep despair, whose fair judgement and scathing portion - felt in full at the time of payment, might have done more for your artistic vision than all the demonic libations in all of 1967 Berkley.

The Adulation of Future Masses:

Sooner or later if we keep drinking, we die; sooner or later if we keep writing we live forever. The caveat: we're not there to enjoy whatever benefits that immortality may bring. We make a deal with the fates -we get to keep our souls by agreeing to labor in obscurity now, for the promise that 20 years after our death we'll be revered as geniuses. We won't feel the lionizing because we'll be dead, but the idea it's coming is enough to keep us working. Lost in the process of creation, our whole life flits by in a paintless brush.

Drinking on the other hand, brings us the adulation of the future masses in advance - hence it's a kind of reverse direction time line of reward, tapping into an ego gratification time machine. Whatever Akashic record crystal teraflop transfiguring time/space device they're accessing to read your work in the future and send payment of their love back through the past, it's as tactile and sweet in our third eye's ear as god's own indulgent applause.

One thinks too of this time travel authorship with writer Jack Torrance saying "I'd sell my soul for a drink," and thus summoning Lloyd the bartender, and eventually a whole room of hoi poloi. And while he lives forever via his life's work, it's not that repetitive work about being a dull boy, but the real life murder of a black cook and an epic fail of the mission to kill his wife and child - so there you go.

The devil's bargain - Jack would sell his soul for a drink, as if that wasn't the price to begin with, it's like going to the cashier of the liquor store with a $20 bottle of bourbon and announcing "I'd pay twenty dollars for this!"

And beyond all that is the feeling of control that only surrendering control can bring. To have the ability to postpone the anguish of hell and prolong the joy of heaven available to you is surely worth any price even if that price is that, sooner or later, you use up your heaven and can no longer avoid hell's ever-increasing tab. It is due.

"Hell hath no limits"

A special high point is saved for that final act: Faustus's being swallowed up by Hell is effectively done with just a trap door in the floor opening and hands pulling him below, to the depths, at which point the whole production--set backdrops, actors, all--wheels backwards and outwards, as if Hell the Ghastly Furnace was there the whole time, its flames flickering at the other side of the clapboard walls confining Faustus's pained charade. Now, the set is pulled back, the furnace erupts from reality's cracks the way it does on intense DMT or salvia. Burton's Faustus--surrounded by red/orange glowing embers and a fully green demonic Taylor--is sort of twirled in a bad ballet slow-motion spin deep inside a kinky Rube Goldberg-meets-Brueghel haunted house tour Hell. Overlapping layers of Faustus, yelling and pleading; demonic figures writhing; reds and orange layers contrasting with Liz/Meduas's greed and demonic body paint--her mouth frozen in a Norma Desmond grimace. At last her stoic silent treatment and the obedient kissing and many guises she assumed to please him all make sense. She finally roars to life with a macabre flaring of the eyes that's thrilling all the more being so late to arrive (like Tura Satana erupting from a mannequin) Here is the green absinthe fairy showing her true size, shape and spirit.

She is, in every way, tremendous!

Her laugh is in the same beguiling voice that--for example, lured me last year around this time into buying a 15 pack of 'All Day IPA' at the grocery store (how it would whisper to me on my walk home from work, "what a great thing it would be to have that around, have one or two once in awhile") and the way that same voice laughed and sneered a month later when I was shaking and convulsing on the floor from alcohol withdrawal. That was the same laugh!

In her fathomless patience and malevolence, that demonic anima gets us all, sooner or later. And Taylor--who seemed so frozen in this burlesque of statuesque refinement in her earlier Helenic incarnations--now, as Medusa, finally lets loose. Look at her eyes (above)! Now that's a she-demon! In her eyes I see shades of Madeline Usher, Ligeia, Morella, and all those other ghostly/mad women in Corman's Poe films, the ones who come back from the dead, laughing and throttling an ever-terrified Price while flames consume them both, utterly.

But through it all Burton the director sucks the wind out of Burton the actor, leaving him too deflated to project any Woolf-level gusto into his hamming. I can't help but wonder how much more energetic this would all be with a less wearily portentous Faustus, someone who could inject some camp vitality, like Vincent Price, with Burton as Mephistopheles instead, a role better in league with his direction. He shows a welcomely macabre flair,
an admirable sense of pacing and the sort of keen eye for psychedelic vistas that only acidheads, schizophrenics, or alcoholics who've experienced the DTs can really know. He taps into the core iconography of the then-burgeoning psychedelic drug 1967 culture via the same graveyard root Corman used for The Trip and X-the Man with X-ray Eye. Emphasizing the commonality between camp Gothic horror and countercultural psychedelia. If his acting isn't all there this time around, we'll always have Liz and Dick in Padua and "New Carthage" and sometimes we'll even watch them in Big Sur and Heathrow and if we're also the same persons who love Bava's Black Sabbath and Kill Baby Kill then anything that six-degrees them all together, be it problematic and stilted or not, is going to get us right in the Jeffrey Cordovas.

Have I gone off the deep end with my alcoholism metaphor and Trip comparisons again? Sure I have. But so what? I'm no more repetitive, belligerent and self-indulgent in my fancy (did you get the Band Wagon reference in that last paragraph, didja?) than Marlowe and I relate to Burton's pained hangover more than most; I appreciate that he so gallantly tried to alchemically transubstantiate his weariness into the context of the Faust myth. If he failed, well, who hasn't? His low energy level as Faustus--the tired, sad, 'too many hats broke the camel's neck' distracted nature of his performance--is hardly new, but I'm probably projecting, for I too have tried to direct and act, while hungover/drunk, at the same time - and the results were even more tepid (we can't all be Orson Welles, or Mel Gibson). Burton's eyes may betray insoluble weariness, but his heart was in the right place and today we can still savor many aspects: that beguiling mellifluent booming voice, the way Marlowe's velvet language rolls trippingly off his tongue as if to its fleshy whiskey-soaked manor borne; the eerie Bava-esque gel lighting and horror movie accoutrements; and the druggy college sophomore connotations. I find comfort in the idea that, once upon a time, even professors could continue experimenting with drugs and sorcery up in their attic apartments without losing status. I may not feel much pity for Faustus's 'last-second desperation' as Hell's gorgon arms drag him down into the flames, but I understand how he got there. It's like hearing the 'before' of an AA qualification. And I've found out a lot of things from my own experience of hell's thirsty flames: eternity is only as long as you think, Faustus! Let go of regret for Heaven's memory, for what else is Heaven but Hell, once its fully accepted?

The great rule of eternity is that only nothing is forever...  except thirst.

So.. Drinks, now... let each vicious circle be a signature on our natural habitat's cocktail napkin contract.

Whatever the cost, it's already worth it.

(PS - 12/12/18 - I had a major spiritual ass-kicking this past weekend, when I felt all my recent debauchery sins come up and grab me (though they didn't used to feel like sins, #metoo and my own advancing age have combined to make me a born again prude) and felt suddenly the absence of the holy god light that used to be there automatically all the time, like so constant I never thought it could go out. It is as chilling. Being alone while sick with a bad cold making it hard to breathe and already with COPD and other things and realizing how easily I could just die, with no one to notice, etc. I was so wigged out even putting on my DVD of Twentieth Century didn't help - I understood with a chill everything Mephistopheles talks about in this film, and the whole textual tenet of Flatliners (which was on during my last big scare like this) thatwanted to instantly become a Catholic so I could go to confession, or find a new sponsor to do a fifth step with - chilling. That lovelight has come back on, somewhat, since then, thank god, thank god I never signed anything)

1. That last part seems quite sexist today, presuming a kind of condoned satyriasis is packed kit and caboodle over the hump of spiritual awakening - not no more!
2.  That's a reference to Philadelphia Story, cuz this blog is high-class.
1. I'm guessing, based on my own experience doing the same thing - I may be projecting but, on the other hand, as they say in AA, you can't shit a shitter - not one of AA's best phrases, I'll grant you. 
5. Technically the Hell might not 'be' eternal in the space-time sense, but in Hell, space/time ceases to exist. One comes out the other side of a cold turkey detox--which may seem to have taken less than a weekend to those around you and to the calendar--as if one had been away for centuries of endless torment. Yet you barely remember it, for the brain which records such things was so badly burned. All you remember is that it was an eternity, and eternity is over.
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