Puff

From Here To Eternity not on TCM and they don’t let Ernest Borgnine call Frank Sinatra a little wop. Instead his lips move like a puff of air. Remember Maggio? Monty Clift asks, all methody emotingly understatedly enraged. Ernest Borgnine exhales. Puff. As if puff was a word. It could be, why not? The Bushmen click, the Arabs gack, there are languages in the mountains of Southeast Asia that poing and bong. So Ernest Borgnine puffs. But it’s his penultimate puff. He dies a moment later with the last puff. Two puff’s worth of Ernest Borgnine, and no Italians offended.

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Citizen Khan

Watched Tartars last night. It’s one of those sword and sandals epics, 1961, with an all-Italian cast and crew and extras. Well, the director was American, or maybe English, and had actually done a classic or two, of which this was not one. I recorded it solely for the leads. Incredibly Italian looking Victor Mature was the Viking chief Giuseppe the Red, though the only thing Viking about him was, well, nothing actually. Surrounded by extras with wigs plucked from the reject pile in a broom factory, he struts around in moccasins and short shorts, giving commands. An’ I told you ya gotta…, gesturing frantically, wassamattayou? Well maybe not wassamattayou.

Here come the Tartars, aka the Mongols, who look just like the Vikings, oddly enough, but for the black wigs. Their citizen Khan is Orson Welles, yes that Orson Welles, squeezed so tight into Mongolk armor he looks set to explode. He had make-up do him up so he does look creepily like, if not Genghis himself, then his son and successor Ogodei, who fat and merry and alcoholic as he was, conquered more of the world and killed more people than the Black Plague. You’ve never heard of him, though, because he died just as the Mongol armies were to about to reduce Western civilization to smoking ruins and pyramids of skulls, the way he’d left the Middle East, from which it never recovered. But the invasion was postponed until a new khan was chosen and by then the Mongols were more interested in China than Europe. Talk about luck.

Anyway, Orson Welles had himself made up to look remarkably like the portraits of Ogodei, and rendered his silly assed lines with terrifying enunciation and sneers of cold command and you realized that Orson Welles simply couldn’t act bad, no matter how lousy the movie. And this movie was lousy. Victor Mature throws himself into it too, and if all the rest of the cast had drowned in a tragic boating accident on whatever Yugoslavian river the Viking ships were floating on, it would have been a fun flick, just Orson and Victor Mature. Alas, two actors do not a historical epic make, and certainly not a sword and sandals action flick, so we get to see some feeble battle scenes and goofball catapult hi jinx, and unseen frantic steppe lust as well as an ugly off screen rape. Khans will be khans. The actresses all have those oddly blank and vaguely emotive expressions you see in European films back then and are impossible for an American to tell if it’s some sort of Bergmanesque understatement or just lousy acting. My guess is lousy acting. If only Europeans would smile. Sophia Loren smiled. Marcelo Mastroianni never smiled. Neither are in this movie however. But if Victor Mature could be a Viking, Sophia Loren would make a terrific Viking Queen. Marriage Norwegian Style.

I had completely lost track of the plot, if there was one, about a third of the way in, a manly Viking display by Victor Mature faded and suddenly we’re in Orson Khan’s stately pleasure dome watching one heck of a dance, hints of Bob Fosse, people leaping about swishing scary swords and culminating in a man and woman rolling across the floor in choreographed coital ecstasy. The dance ends in more leaping and sword swishing and the dancers freeze. Orson Khan glowers, his thoughts a menacing mystery. Rosebud indeed.

Then I switched it off.

‘Twas the lunch after Christmas

So found the leftovers from my plate that I scraped into a Tupperware container—mostly mashed potatoes with a little rutabaga, some stuffing, a couple fragments of candied yams, the stray carrot or three, a chunk of turkey, like that. I microwaved them to a zillion degrees. They cane out a metamorphosized mess with a surprisingly appetizing aroma. Then I inexplicably sprinkled it with grape nuts, apparently for the breakfast I missed, and splashed the mess liberally with Tapatio. The result was something vaguely healthy but weird. Fortunately that dystopian glop of a recipe is unlikely ever to happen again.

Pete Shelley

Pete Shelley, R.I.P. Those Buzzcocks records, that Buzzcocks sound, it blew my mind in 1977-78. I actually have a vivid memory of the first time I ever heard them. It was the opening of Fast Cars. No one had ever made rock music like that before. I was stunned. Wow. Saw them twice back then, and still have a Buzzcocks poster on our living room wall. A bunch of jazz LP covers and the Buzzcocks. Anyway, a big part of my life then, the Buzzcocks were, those big geometrically dissonant power chords and staccato elfin vocals, the hooks and hot drumming. Forty years later I’m still surfing on a wave of nostalgia for a wave yet to come.

Chris Stein

It’s just so cool to see Chris Stein (of the legendary Saccharine Trust and so many other aggregations) getting such a jazz man’s send off on Facebook, people talking about what a great guy he was and such a solid, inspired ensemble player. The grief is there, low and blue, but I think there’s no greater way to pay tribute to a musician who fought so hard against the inevitable than to talk about what a great guy he was and such a good player. He’ll certainly be missed in our crazy underground. He’ll certainly be missed on inspired nights at Cafe NELA. Bassists like him are a rare thing. People probably even rarer. A shame he’s gone but a treasure he was.

Chris Stein at Cafe NELA in another terrific live shot by Deb Frazin.

I’m sitting here staring at a pair of Robert Benchley’s shorts

I’m sitting here staring at a pair of Robert Benchley’s shorts.

“How To Start The Day” and “How to Raise a Baby”, both one reelers and both really funny.

But to be honest I only posted this because I wanted to write that I was sitting here staring at a pair of Robert Benchley’s shorts.

Jack Riley

I met Jack Riley a couple times, some cool little chats, once at Charlie O’s, and once after a Jack Sheldon set at the old Catalina’s on Cahuenga. Last time was at Chuck Niles’ funeral. I didn’t know where the men’s room was. He’d asked. Maybe over there, I said. Over there? Yeah, that looks like the kind of spot a men’s room would be. Yeah, it does, he said, and wandered off. Some time later he walked by again. You find the men’s room? Yeah, it was over there, he said. Was it nice? He gave a Mr. Carlin shrug. I’ve seen better, he said.

Never ran into him again.