Saturday, November 03, 2007

Recaps, Recoveries, Christmas Mail to the Troops, Tourist Traps and How to Get A Head in Advertising
(Captivity, Part One)

The price for regular gas just broke $3.00+ a gallon hereabouts, like, in the past 20 hours. No consumer rebellion yet. Guess that'll take breaking $4.00+ per gallon. Thanks for the WWIII comments, President Bush, which helped boost and rock cost-per-barrel and stock markets; nice to know those eagerly awaiting the Apocalypse and the Rapture still have something to look forward to in the remaining 14+ months of your Presidency.

Secondly, this news brief:
  • Here's good news to bullied kids everywhere: "Twins invent wedgie-proof underwear"! 8-year-old twins, mind you!
  • _________________

    In an unusual (to say the least) conjunction of post-Garry Trudeau's visit to The Center for Cartoon Studies happenstance and pre-Christmas Bissette family emails, this arrived in my email:

    When you are making out your Christmas card list this year, please include the following:
    A Recovering American soldier
    c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
    6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
    Washington , D.C. 20307-5001
    If you approve of the idea, please pass it on to your e-mail list.

    Since this recent email circulating among the Bissette clan -- remember, I do come from a military family -- may also be passing among others of you out there, the followup below is timely. I mention Trudeau, too, because his CCS visit involved discussion of Garry's ongoing work with our military (which I'll get into later this week) and support of various veterans support groups, hospices, systems and charities.

    See, there's a hitch (pun intended): the American Legion Auxiliary sent cards last Christmas to vets at Walter Reed, and the cards were returned as "undeliverable."

    The following information from Walter Reed Army Medical Center should clarify matters, and offer those of you who care a few viable alternatives:

    Mail to Wounded and Recovering Soldiers

    Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials want to remind those individuals who want to show their appreciation through mail to include packages and letters, addressed to "Any Wounded Soldier" that Walter Reed will not be accepting these packages in support of the decision by then Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Transportation Policy in 2001. This decision was made to ensure the safety and well being of patients and staff at medical centers throughout the Department of Defense.

    In addition, the U.S. Postal Service is no longer accepting "Any Service Member" or "Any Wounded Service Member" letters or packages. Mail to "Any Service Member" that is deposited into a collection box will not be delivered.

    Instead of sending an "Any Wounded Soldier" letter or package to Walter Reed, please consider making a donation to one of the more than 300 nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping our troops and their families listed on
  • the "America Supports You" website.

  • Other organizations that offer means of showing your support for our troops or assist wounded service members and their families include:
  • USO Cares,
  • To Our Soldiers,
  • and the Red Cross.

  • For individuals without computer access, your local military installation, the local National Guard or military reserve unit in your area may offer the best alternative to show your support to our returning troops and their families. Walter Reed Army Medical Center will continue to receive process and deliver all mail that is addressed to a specific individual.

    As Walter Reed continues to enhance the medical care and processes for our returning service members, it must also keep our patients and staff members safe while following Department of Defense policy. The outpouring of encouragement from the general public, corporate America and civic groups throughout the past year has been incredible. Our Warriors in Transition are amazed at the thanks and support they receive from their countrymen.

    There ya go, act accordingly, and hope this helps.

    In an email followup to my Halloween Horrors posts, Ashley (hey, Ashley, and congrats!) writes:

    "Been loving the blog lately.. nice that I'm not the only one who utterly adores The Haunting. I'll have to look for a copy of Eyes Without A Face on your review alone, though it does remind me of a film I saw on TV in the late '80s where this crazy guy turns a bunch of teenagers into mannequins, and one scene in particular stands out, where the villain has the girl strapped down onto the table, and he's slowly applying plaster of paris to her face, telling her in a soothing voice as he applied the last bit of plaster over her nostrils "don't worry, before you can suffocate, your heart will burst from fright.", and then the soundtrack suddenly follows her heartbeat as it speeds up and suddenly stops. *shudder*"

    Ashley, that was David Schmoeller's Tourist Trap (1979) that creeped you out -- and an odd little gem it is, too. I first saw it with John Totleben in our Dover, NJ daze, at the Rockaway Mall multiplex, which we got to by crossing through the woods and coming out on the highway just below the mall. Being impoverished, struggling young cartoonists, we frequented the budget bargain shows before 5 PM, catching almost every movie that caught our eye for just a couple of bucks each week.

    Tourist Trap is among the horror movies I plan to post about down the road -- so suffice to say it's a genuinely bizarre entry in the "don't pull into that roadside attraction!" horror sweepstakes none other than Rob Zombie honored with House of 1000 Corpses, copping a few licks from Schmoeller's wacky hashhouse. And I do mean hash, as Tourist Trap's post-Psycho post-Carrie pre-Friday the 13th scenario mashed tried-and-true genre cliches with telekinesis, a bevy of Bavaesque mannequins and some imaginative out-of-left-field elements guaranteed to raise hackles.

    "Davey" and Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) in Tourist Trap

    The whole movie works thanks to Chuck Connors's performance in one of his wildest eccentric roles (which included, at this phase of his career, The Mad Bomber for legendary low-budget producer/director Bert I. Gordon and the lead lycanthrope on Fox TV's debut series Werewolf).

    Tourist Trap culminates in some genuinely nightmarish "no exit" imprisonment and torture sequences, primary among them the one burned into Ashley's memory.

    Which leads me to:

    Cultural Captivity

    Waaaay back at the end of March,
  • on an anonymous post to this Myrant blog mini-rant about now-ex-Attorney General Alberto (Sow Salt Where He Trod) Gonzales,
  • I was asked to comment about the Captivity controversy, which I simply couldn't do because I didn't know anything, really, and hadn't seen the film. Nor was it available to we New Englanders following the debacle over its advertising -- until this past Tuesday, when it arrived at last on DVD.

    I hope Anonymous is still around, as I'm at last able to comment. Anonymous posted:

    "A totally off-topic post (but one for which I hope ya'll will deem appropriate).

    I consider you one of the foremost minds and voices speaking intellegently about horror in all it's forms. Now there is a movement afoot to try and remove a billboard for the film Captivity, deeming it torture porn. Even Joss Whedon, who I greatly respect, is against the billboard and is calling it torture porn. They are apparently calling for the film to be denied a rating to keep it from being shown, at least that what I gather from their website, Remove The Rating [links below].

    As I recall, you wrote passionately in favor of modern horror torture film, and how it was both making people uncomfortable and confronting America with it's shameful history of political torture, and about the importance of the genre. I'd love to know if you too agree that the board should be removed, or if you think that censorship is again wrong in this case.

    Personally, I think that the billboard is not even as bad as many I've seen for things like Saw or The Hills Have Eyes 2, so it seems that this billboard is being reacted to strongly without looking at the fact that it's in keeping with many contemporary horror posters. And I wonder if the advocates of removing this film poster would have a problem with something like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre original poster... it seems like the posters are doing their job, getting people aware of a new horror film, so isn't this just as bad as banning a book for content, or a film or comic?

    Thanks for considering this..."

    The offending Los Angeles billboard art, March 2007

    My pleasure, now that I've seen the film and know what I'm talking about (I've no patience whatsoever for idiots with opinions on things they've not seen/read/heard/experienced, and less still for those who decide not to see/read/hear/experience something, then express an opinion on anything but their decision to not see/read/hear/experience something -- all they know, in short).

    One factor that threw many for a loop was the high reputation of the film's director, Roland Joffe -- the British director of upscale fare like The Mission (1986), Fat Man and Little Boy (1989), City of Joy (1992), and the only mainstream American film to chronicle the Pol Pot regime's atrocities, The Killing Fields (1984). What's a prestige director like Joffe doing making what appears to be a grubby 'torture/snuff' movie like Captivity?

    To recap:
  • Here's the still-active "Remove the Rating" blog, with more recent posts since Anonymous's March 28th comment and link, and worth a read to understand my own comments, below.

  • Of interest to me is the fact that the controversy, and whatever diddling After Dark and Lionsgate did between the March promo that kicked up the initial fuss and the wide July release (see "Remove the Rating" blog June 18 comment from 'anonymous'), which in fact extended the film's promotional and theatrical release window and drummed up more publicity for the film than Lionsgate could have.

    The tasteful MPAA-approved Captivity July 2007 one-sheet promo art

    I posted the following comment to the "Remove the Rating" board (with corrections noted):

    "Having finally seen Captivity on DVD this week, this is all much ado about nothing. It's Kiss the Girls (a film no one protested) from the POV of the victim, who survives -- and lashes out against men as a result of her experience, a'la Ms 45 and its imitators, right up to Jodie Foster/Neil Jordan's The Brave One.

    Lurid advertising predates the MPAA, and the MPAA-approved ads of the late '60s and throughout the '70s put anything seen in ads in the past 20 years to shame.

    More often then not, the films subvert their ballyhoo -- as does Captivity, clearly siding against its male antagonists and quite thoroughly demonizing them. That, oddly, is in perfect accord with some of the screeds on this comment board.

    The last time I crossed a feminist protest line to see a film, it was for Jennifer Lynch's Boxing Helena. When I asked the young women protesting the film if they'd seen it, NONE of them had. When I pointed out it was a film BY a woman ABOUT the topic that so offended them, they didn't care: their outrage was all that mattered, film unseen. Thus, they were effectively neutering the voice of a female artist (indeed, Jennifer Lynch's career was deep-sixed by the protests). How is that appropriate?

    [And despite the "A Film by Roland Joffe" byline, it's arguable whether] Captivity [represents] Roland Joffe's work, either, as the extreme gore scenes were reportedly added later, and the end[ing] was changed three times. It's not a good film, nor a bad film: it's just more studio product. Your protests made it of more interest to see than it would have earned otherwise: again, score.

    Finally, thank the film that ushered in the 21st Century torture genre and the greater freedom to depict torture on the big screen under the more-tolerant 'R' rating: Mel Gibson's The Passion (of the Christ), the most grueling, graphic 'R' film I've seen since the early '70s. Thank the current President and Administration's foreign policies for ushering in the past six years of what you label 'torture porn' -- the only true 'torture porn' going on, aside from individual criminal actions, are our current gov't's appetite, which inevitably shapes the horror films of the day. Prior to Rendition, these were the ONLY mainstream films (the few documentaries on the subject are relegated to non-mainstream venues) to deal in any way with the new reality. That some of these films should 'offend' is, of course, the point. Horror movies by definition confront and attack cultural taboos; that's what they do, what they are, how they function."

    For the sake of clarification,
  • here's the Hollywood Reporter article on the whole debacle.

  • But to get back to the links 'Anonymous' provided in his Myrant comment:
  • Here's the link to the Jill Soloway blog which offers the text of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon's letter to the MPAA, calling for censorship and a suggestion to penalize Lionsgate by removing the MPAA rating altogether.

  • Josh should know better, but -- sigh -- here we go again. With the usual "As a believer not only in the First Amendment but of the necessity of horror stories, I've always been against acts of censorship" caveat, Josh joins the procession of creators-who-should-know-better like Walt Kelly, John Grisham and others (who should know better) to "kill the messenger." If only he could direct similar ire against targets that matter.

  • Josh and the "Remove the Ratings" folks weren't alone: Ain't It Cool lost their cool, too, ire expressed by "Drew McWeeny."

  • What's the stink?
  • Here's the billboard that kicked off the controversy -- as if it were more an offense to the senses than the whole of Los Angeles's sullied environs -- and the initial news item.

  • Now, let's cut to the chase. As for the "Remove the Rating" activists, as I've pointed out countless times and noted above, it was The Passion (of the Christ) that pushed the R-rating further than it had been pushed since 1969, and I'll dance that debate any time with anyone who cares to. I'd argue it in fact ushered in the whole contemporary mainstream torture movie cycle, and was eerily contemporary to the actual Abu Ghraib tortures reported after the fact: the Christian nation bares its underbelly, anticipates & mirrors its hidden reality.

    As for offensive advertising, I'm offended by much of the advertising in this culture. In terms of mainstream cinema thaters, I'm most offended by the military recruitment ads in front of almost every movie I've seen in a mainstream theater since 2001, but I tolerate them -- I'm even more offended by the Pepsi and car ads, but there you go.

    I could argue, rationally and with statistics to back up my argument, that the recruitment ads have directly resulted in measurable physical, psychological and emotional harm to more teenagers and young persons who responded to them by signing up than any fictional horror movie ever can, will or has.

    But no one wants to have that long-overdue argument, despite the blatant lies in those ads and the current Administration's blatant abuse of the standing volunteer military, and Captivity's ads were -- and horror movies are -- such easy targets. Better to engage with the cultural/gender wars than the real wars we're waging, eh?

    That said, the ballyhoo and advertising of the 1960s and '70s put Captivity's tame little promo in the dirt. You want movie ads to offend? Check out almost any daily newspaper from the heyday of '60s and '70s movie ads, and suck it up. Sick puppy that I am, I loved and love those ads (and many of those movies) -- and so do many of you, or you wouldn't be reading Myrant, would you? I miss those days, and that ballyhoo, and the shameless, forthright nature of that kind of showmanship. The 21st Century movie advertising is so much tease, Photoshop tinkering and stilted fashion photography by comparison.

    Tasteful MPAA-approved art for the UK campaign, adapted from the terminated May 2007 US release ad art

    I'm offended, too, by the MPAA's presence, practices, secrecy, and complicity and marketplace corruption in cahoots with the major studios. I felt that way as a parent, and I feel that way as an adult.

    (I can't fail to mention the fact that the MPAA refused the initial promotional materials and ad designs for the docudrama The Road to Guantanamo -- ever-vigilant, the MPAA, approving the disturbing fusion of modern fashion photography, medievalism and torture implements Hostel was promoted with. No sweat with the grimy cannibal's hand grinding a woman's face into the dirt for The Hills Have Eyes, or the laundered but quite tactile bargain-basement forensics and body-parts promoting the Saw quartet -- but whoa, let's protect America from Guantanamo prison imagery!)

    Let's also dispose of the handy dismissive tags "horror porn" and "torture porn." These are horror movies, doing what horror movies have always done: at their worst, exploit cultural, individual and collective fears; at their best, explore cultural, individual and collective fears.

    In the madness that has consumed the US since 9/11, from the top down, and in an unprecedented six years in American history during which our President, Vice President, two consecutive Secretaries of Defense, the current Secretary of State and the now-ex-Attorney General have condoned and executed torture, kidnapping ("extraordinary rendition"), indefinite imprisonment without prosecution or legal representation, and suspended Habeas Corpus, it should come as no surprise to anyone paying any attention that horror movies were the only mainstream genre to explore/exploit this new reality.

    In fact, it's the very marketplace the MPAA regulates and controls that suppresses any but the most trivialized exploration/exploitation of such volatile issues coming to market. Documentaries have actively engaged with the issues since 2002, but those cannot come to mainstream market sans studio support, with the sole and significant exception of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. All documentaries on the subject (e.g., Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Gitmo: The New Rules of War, etc.) and fictionalized docudramas (e.g., Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross's The Road to Guantanamo, the closest to a mainstream non-genre effort prior to Rendition) have been relegated to HBO, alternative theatrical and/or the video/DVD marketplace, sans studio backing.

    This can't be blamed on the MPAA -- in short, there's no popular market for any documentary on what America professes it doesn't do, and doesn't want to discuss -- but it is a function of the open market so dear to GOP ideology.

    Thus, one of the most pressing issues in America today is instead confronted -- as most cultural taboos are -- via the only mainstream (non-pornographic) marketplace of ideas that tolerates flirtation with taboos: the horror genre.

    And, ladies and gentlemen, that free and open market wants horror movies since 9/11.

    But what about the movie Captivity? That, after all, is the catalyst for this clusterfuck -- so, now having seen Captivity, let's get into that -- tomorrow.

    Have a grand and glorious first Sunday in November, one and all...

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    This, That, Paddywhack, Give That Cat a Bone

    Just wrapped up my part of a roundhouse discussion with Tim Lucas, Kim Newman and Shane Dallmann about Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse for an upcoming issue of Video Watchdog, and more work on the Christopher Golden/Hank Wagner book on my amigo Neil Gaiman, which I'll be sharing some co-author credit on. Thanks to Chris's busy schedule, I'll be the one joining Hank in a couple of weeks for a weekend visit/interview session with Neil, too, which I'm greatly looking forward to. Haven't seen Neil face-to-face for quite a stretch, though we've stayed in touch over the years.

    That said, the Center for Cartoon Studies is keeping me busy, too, and oh, the folks I've met and get to work with, primary among them the incredible CCSers themselves -- man, I love seeing/reading their comics! Anyhoot, a lively week is ahead: CCS hosts Lynda Barry this week, who's coming in and giving a full two-day intensive workshop for the students. Whew! I'll be dining with Lynda and alumni Colleen Frakes Monday night, which should be big fun. Marge and I are having breakfast with Colleen and her partner and fellow alumni Jon-Mikel Gates this AM, just socializing; life is good.

    Fellow CCSer (and among the school's funding co-founders) Peter Money is making his own waves with his new tome, Che, and as a publisher with exiled Arab poet Sinan Antoon's The Baghdad Blues.
  • Peter's latest poetry/publishing venture landed a piece in Time Magazine -- kudos to Sinan and to Peter!

  • As for last Saturday's White River Junction Halloween Parade, in which CCS figured mightily, Main Street Museum's David Fairbanks Ford just shared these links with us all hereabouts, sporting photos from the parade shot and posted by Matt Bucy and Dennis Grady,
  • here and
  • here. Enjoy!

  • And, for your Saturday AM amusement, CCS freshman Jeff Mumm shared this link with us all, and you might dig it, too: a venue for reworked Garfield strips, sans Garfield's dialogue.

  • As Jeff put it, "There's a fun strip called "Arbuckle" in which cartoonists send in comics based on Garfield strips, removing the dialogue by Garfield (to see the world through Jon's eyes, considering that it's canon that he doesn't understand what Garfield says) and rendering it in whatever style they deem appropriate. I did one a couple years ago and thought it might be fun if people wanted to do a strip for it or even just to read through it a bit, because it's a pretty funny concept. Because really, who doesn't like making fun of Garfield?"

    Check it out; click backwards from the lead page strip using the little arrows beneath it, and read the source Garfield strip for each via the link. Consider it a morning laxative, folks, if nothing else...

    Have a great Saturday, one and all...

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