Thursday, December 29, 2011

From the Fortean News Desk: Science Gives Middle Finger to Yeti Finger

"The finger was taken from the monastery by Bigfoot researcher Peter Byrne and was smuggled out of the country, so the story goes, by beloved Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart, who hid it amid his wife's lingerie."


Oggity-oggity-oggity! Though the finger was not a lopped-off digit from a snomwan, abominable or otherwise, the story still titilates and fascinates.

Read it all.

Things the Intertoobs Taught Us in 2011

Most media outlets publish carefully cultivated best-of lists for the end of the year. Some take it very seriously and that’s fine. Journalists and other media types generally like to argue and debate so making best-of lists feeds that urge.

The Typing Monkey is not immune to such impulses but we simply don’t consume enough new material to effectively create some sort of all-knowing inventory of things we think matter in music, film, television or whatever else.

Like the average jerks we are, we just mess around on the Web and document the things we find that entertain us. Some of those things make it to the blog.

In the spirit of year-end wrap ups and the critic’s inflated sense of influence, here is the first (and possibly last) "Things the Intertoobs Taught Us"

THE MUSIC
A. Dd+
Dallas-based MCs Paris Pershun and Slim Gravy (!) slipped passed wider recognition. Too bad that, because they’re funny and smart, willing to lob lines such as “surprising everybody, reading a damn book” (“Likeamug”) in the midst of the kind of throwback boasting that workaday schmucks can actually visualize. On their March LP When Pigs Fly the duo was backed by wonderful soul-soaked production from Picnictyme. Grab the free download of their singles-collecting EP Loosies and thank A.Dd+ by paying for a copy of Pigs Fly.

CHRISTIAN MISTRESS Given the TMI offices are in Seattle we must apologize to this Olympia, WA quintet for not discovering their classic blues-based metal until this year. Singer Christine Davis may have started smoking in the 3rd grade in order to get that voice (tremble men, you can’t handle her). The rhythm section knows when to boogie, when to boom, and the clean, dual guitar leads muscle in right next to the Saxon patch on your denim. Get on this already, they’ve been at it since 2009.

“I’m In Your Church At Night” by ACTIVE CHILD Pat Grossi, the man behind the name, has released plenty of good music over the past year. This single came out in November 2010 but we didn’t find it until February of 2011 so we’re including it here because nothing else he’s done moves quite like this majestic, crystalline work of weirdo pop. Dig the video and it will all make odd, wintry sense – just lovely.

BELL WITCH A drum/bass duo from Seattle (again, where were we?) whose funeral-doom rumbles come with uncharacteristic peals of bright, cleansing light in the form of madrigal-like harmonies. The match makes perfect sense and the band gives the six-string bass guitar a home. Four dollars gets you their demo and that’s four bucks well-spent.

NYEMIAH $UPREME -- A Queens rapper whose mixtape Bad will probably draw comparisons to more mainstream/current peers but sounds more to us as if she's standing on the shoulders of MC Lyte and high-fiving Fannypack on her way up. There's a day-in-the-life narrative to Bad that actually works amid the sketches of beats, bass and police-procedural keyboards. Bad could come off as typical "because I'm worth it" aphorisms wrapped in party music. A deeper listen reveals an independent woman a little pissed off that too many men around her are there because they think they're worth it, and more, that she should agree.

“Mountaineer” by WHITE SEA The video for this single gets the teens-being-teens aspect right but missed an opportunity to craft the John Hughes homage that the song embodies. Soaring, tragic, self-aware, Morgan Kibby sings the lyric “it’s a teen dream” as if she’s trying to reassure a teary heroine, and the whole affair has you running back to give that sensitive rich kid another chance because maybe you two can make something of this after all. “Mountaineer” is pure Kate Bush-style drama with all the synthesizers and crashing drums to realize its grand ambitions.

Worth Following – We doubled up our coverage of SP-33 and XII Boar since we discovered both their free EPs on the same day. The former is Chicagoan Ezra Funkhouse, whose Escape the Carter smeared Lil Wayne vocals onto bleak synth grime from John Carpenter's soundtrack to Escape from New York. The latter is a stoner-metal quartet from England who managed to graft some hardcore fury and pumelling doom onto their resin-stained melodies.

Since then SP-33 has put out a woozy ambient mix and an original single titled "These Moments" both of which show Funkhouse deliberately branching out. Meanwhile, XII Boar promises a new release in 2012 and continue to play around the UK and the continent.

Reference material: We wouldn't know about three of these bands without regularly visiting the essential Cosmic Hearse blog. The Typing Monkey staff also spends a fair amount of time at RCRDLBL, Ill Roots, and enjoy mining for great rewards at Cover Me.

SUPER HAPPY BONUS FUN TIME!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Kalle Anka Kristmas

December 23rd is officially Festivus, so please air your grievances and demonstrate your feats of strength safely.

In the meantime, we had planned on having a review of Roald Dahl's collection of ghost stories up in time for Christmas Eve but failed miserably when someone offered to buy us a drink and things got hazy.

To sate your hungry mind until then, please read this interesting, if a little misguided, piece from Slate about Sweden's holiday tradition of gathering the family to watch a collection of vintage Disney cartoons compiled for the old Walt Disney Presents television show.

The special, called "From All of Us To All of You" originally aired in 1958 and is a strong modern tradition for Swedes during the Christmas season. Writer Jeremy Stahl seems to think it's strange, but so is dragging a tree into your house and decorating it yet nobody questions that with any sincerity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Jeer

A Jetson Christmas Carol
(Hanna Barbera; 1985)
Subject yourself to this retelling of the already tired Dickens tale and you may root for Mr. Spacely’s Scrooge before the Christmas spirit gets the best of him.

The story barely follows the story arc of Dickens’ hoary holiday heartwarmer. George Jetson, the comic everyman of the 2062, stands in for Bob Cratchit, with his boss, Cosmo G. Spacely, president of Spacely Space Sprockets, as Scrooge.
Spacely wants Jetson to work late on Christmas Eve. The boss’ demand is supposed to be seen as a heartless act of cruelty on par with Scrooge’s abhorrent treatment of Cratchit in the source material.

If the reader is at all familiar with the upper middle-class/retro-futurism of Orbit City, the setting of The Jetsons, then the reader also knows it’s no analog to Victorian London. Please apply that same math to the Spacely::Jetson equation.

Meanwhile George’s wife Jane and the kids, Judy and Elroy, head off to the mall to finish their shopping. Again: The Jetson family wants to finish their shopping. None of the Jetsons will greet a bare floor beneath the tree come Christmas morn.

Astro, the family’s talking dog, gets into the gifts already under the tree, breaks a toy and accidentally swallows a sprocket – a sprocket manufactured by Spacely Sprockets. The dog is in a bad way and may die. And because it’s 2062, there are no 24-hour emergency veterinarians.

Spacely has his Scrooge moment, visiting a past where he is supposed to be depicted as a selfish young man. Instead, he seems like a pretty reasonable guy. He meets and falls in love with his future wife and is working hard to be a successful business owner.

Not to get all objectivist on The Jetsons, but what’s wrong with Spacely’s motives in his early life? The implication is greed and the eventual disregard for those he loves. But in A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has no one and may die unloved and unremembered. We know that Spacely is married to the same woman he met years ago as a teen and based on the Jetson family’s standard of living, Spacely pays a respectable wage to his employees.

The alternate future via Christmases Present and Yet-to-Be has Astro dying and the Jetson family suing Spacely for all he’s worth and using their litigious wealth to purchase a mansion and fancy clothing.

Pardon us if we feel that this whole setup makes George Jetson seem like a bit of a jerk. Spacely didn’t cram the sprocket down Astro’s throat, and it was an act of pure chance that nobody is home to get help when the dog is in need.

Regardless, Spacely is moved to bring his personal vet to the Jetson home, Astro is saved and Spacely gives Jetson a raise. The viewer is excused if overcome by the urge to grab Spacely by his future lapels and slap some sense into him.

The problem here isn’t that A Jetson Christmas Carol feels cheap and lacking sincerity. (It is both of those things.) A Jetson Christmas Carol comes off as if it were written by a kid who only ever watched the dozens of bad imitations of A Christmas Carol that television has churned out over the decades.

Dickens’ story is sentimental hogwash for sure – a template for too easily converted villains to come. But at least Dickens gets the tone right by keeping the Cratchit family broadly sympathetic and Ebenezer Scrooge dry and despicable till the last act. The folks behind this Jetson conversion didn’t even get that right.


Reference material: You'd be better off watching the Disney adaptation from 1983 which packs plenty of charm by comparison. However, if you must watch the Jetsons version, you can see the whole thing here. You'll need to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas twice just to get the taste out of your mouth.

[Orbit City image sourced from Cracked.com; London street scene sourced from VictorianLondon.org]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reader Mail

To the staff at The Typing Monkey:

It would appear that the recent cutbacks at your parent company have caused a deficit of good sense. Friday is trash day and the bins MUST be left in the loading dock area or the trucks can’t get down the alley and the other tenants in this building will not have their waste removed.


This is the second time in a month the bins marked “TMI Ste 23” have been left in the alley near the smoking area. Please see to it that they are not left there again on trash day. Our firm has shredded documents that can’t be left on the premises.

If your organization no longer has a maintenance staff, or any able-bodied person who can follow simple facilities instructions every tenant in the building receives as part of the lease, we can discuss a work-share program with our capable janitorial staff.

Love the site! Are you going to put up any holiday related content?

Best,
C.K. Aster-Mums
Baby & Sons LLC


Dear C.K.

We do plan on posting a couple seasonal articles.

Yours,
The Typing Monkey

Remember, you can send questions, concerns, advice or other good stuff to typingmonkey@live.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oh You! (Pretty Thing)

Just in case she's reading, this one goes out to The Amazing Mrs. Kendall.


[courtesy of EMI Music ... right?]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sound Salvation

Since we're in a linking mood -- and that's really all we have energy for at the moment -- let's all give our attention to two related articles from different sources.

Chronologically, Slate came out first, swinging for rock & roll radio with a piece by Christine Pawlak. Hers is a first-person account of life as a radio DJ during what most culture-watchers perceive as the sunset on the empire of FM rock radio.

Two days later, the AV Club's Jason Heller wondered in print as to why classic-rock stations are suddenly including 1990s rock in their rotation. When Smashing Pumpkins rub up against Creedence Clearwater Revival, strange things are afoot.

Friday, November 25, 2011

8mm, 16mm, 35mm, Go!

"All the things I am attracted to are just about to disappear."

Tacita Dean said that in an interview published in the Oct 31 issue of The New Yorker this year. She's an artist who works primarily with 16mm film and recently expanded into 35mm for "FILM", an exhibition at the Tate.

We've never seen any of Dean's work firsthand, but The New Yorker interview compelled us to read more about her. [Read an excerpt here -- ed.]  And should the opportunity arise, we'll be there to watch whatever she's filmed.

Here's a YouTube film about her Tate installation, narrated by the artist.

Mr. Roberts Has Something to Say

Journalist Kevan Roberts has a new job writing about music, and we presume, other things for The Huffington Post.

Because The Typing Monkey was fortunate enough to have worked alongside Mr. Roberts for several years, we are super-pumped to have the opportunity to read his work again. We reserve the right to wonder how often he swore while composing his innaugural Huffington Post column, a fond recollection of grunge.

More please.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oh Hey, the Blog

... riiight.

On Friday Nov 4 Typing Monkey Int'l, the gloabal syndicate that owns Typing Monkey Industries, which in turn has among its holdings The Typing Monkey, decided to "enact cutbacks."

That's rich white guy code that translates roughly to "Odin's Beard! It's midway through the second quarter of our fiscal year and we're bleeding money. Let's fire employees and sell off anything that's not turning a profit."

To his credit, our publisher, S.L. Kreighton booked time with the TMI board of directors to make his case for preserving The Typing Monkey. There were PowerPoint decks, spreadsheets with pivot-tables, a reminder that we're the only TMI entitiy that requires our mailroom staff to become Six Sigma black belts.

We lost the helicopter -- the helipad on the roof of our Seattle office has been turned into a community p-patch which sounds eco friendly and responsible but is nothing more than a tax write-off wrapped in good PR. There were layoffs and most of the editorial staff has been bumped to freelance status so TMI can avoid paying for benefits.

We no longer enjoy free Bumble Bars in the snackateria, coffee is now 15 cents a cup and the company-subsidized Classic Cinema and Cognac Club has been disbanded.

Kreighton convinced TMI to keep him on under the title "advising editor" and we retained a small support staff and our intern Eileen.

We apologize for the break in publication and will soon be back to providing you with our usual amount of pop-culture navel gazing, links to the best content on the Web, and pictures such as this one:

It's a poster by artist Albert Gantner, crafted in 1910 to protest the ban on Absinthe in Switzerland. A Christian zealot has stabbed the Green Fairy in the heart and stands victorious over her corpse. Please note that the jaundiced murderer is male and clothed in repressive garb resembling that of the Puritan.

Traditionally artists depict the Green Fairy as an etheral woman recalling the Greek muses, or sometimes with wings like a sprite. She is the mascot of the alcoholic drink, embodying the purported hallucination-inducing properties of Absinthe.

Gantner retains her green-toned flesh here but she is not a transluscent apparition. She is nude save for stockings and shoes of the sort we imagine may have been worn by Victorian courtesans. But that's pure speculation on our part.

The order-craving male has slain the chaos-welcoming female, austerity has triumphed over a good time, the buzz has literally been killed. We are funny monkeys.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Robyn's in the Kitchen

Hey. It's November already. What have you done?

We've wrapped up another Halloween Frenzy and not a single Ghost Dot consumed. The Typing Monkey is disappointed in Tootsie Roll Industries' lack of enthusiasm for Halloween this year. If you'd like to send them a formal complaint or just beg, like Gerald Levert, for another chance at Ghost Dots, please do. We have.

And in the meantime, take solace is this distraction:


[Courtesy of favoritanton]

The video came our way via Cover Me. In the short week it's been on YouTube (at the time of this writing) there are already tribute videos. Erato has a Facebook and come from Sweden.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Over the weekend The Typing Monkey staff drank some delicious beverages and freaked out over a great set of images on the ever-wonderful Monster Brains. The covers of Tales from the Tomb magazine and the other Eerie Publications may drive the weak-willed insane.

In snooping around for more information we came across some neat video by Jason Willis, who used to post great horror records on his blog Scar Stuff, and now appears to be making killer animated shorts. Here is the Halloween film Willis made this year, set to a children's record "Halloween" by Kay Lande and Wade Denning.

Note that Willis shot most of this on an iPhone. (Ker-BOING!)



We like to keep it more or less PG-13 because you never know who is reading. So keep that in mind for the following. The short that Jason Willis made in 2010 is a nearly 8-minute piece painstakingly pieced together from the covers of Eerie magazines and set to a novelty horror record from the early '70s.

Eerie Publications polluted young brains with lurid gore, violence, absurd monsters and barely clothed women, all of them brought to life via Willis' mad science.

Now that you know what you're getting CLICK HERE and have fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Double-Czech Sunday

We're playing catch-up here by posting twice in one day. The pencil was nice and sharp so we figured, why not?

Here's another great find via Monster Brains, Czech painter and illustrator Jaroslav Panuska. We can't read his entry on Wikipedia and there's not much English language information about him available on the Web. Panuska worked in the late 19th and early 20th century and seemed to have a love of the macabre.


The above work, "Vampire", is part of a wonderful gallery on Monster Brains. Check it out.

Antonin Likes a Good Scare

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak wrote four symphonic poems based on folklore from his native land. The Noon Witch is one of those tone poems and fits right into this month's theme.

Dvorak used Karel Jaromir Erben's retelling of the Noon Witch legend as the basis for his composition, Erben being a noted 19th century Czech historian and poet.

The tale is classic lesson-teaching folklore: A mother wants her child to take a nap so she tells the boy that if he doesn't go to bed, the Noon Witch will come and take him away. The child won't cooperate and to both his and his mother's surprise, the Witch actually shows up. Mom won't let the hag take her baby and that just won't do. Father arrives home for his dinner to find a nasty scene.

Enjoy!


[Courtesy of PoledniceWP]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cauldron and Broom Optional

Horror films generally ignore witches and witchcraft as a theme. For every Blair Witch, there are dozens of psychotic killers, yet more zombie apocalypses and too many vengeful ghosts. And we won’t even count the vampires.

Mix it up this year as you seek out movie entertainments for Halloween and try one of these flicks about witches and the people they terrorize. Or in some cases, witches and the people who terrorize them.


ALL OF THEM WITCHES / SOBRENATURAL
Dir. Daniel Gruener
(1996)
Young wife Dolores witnesses the brutal murder of her friend and neighbor. She does the sensible thing by completely losing her cool. Dolores discovers her deceased neighbor may have been involved in some sort of witchcraft or voodoo. Owing a big debt to Rosemary’s Baby, Witches has a protagonist so paranoid of everything going on around her she almost becomes an unreliable narrator. But then the audience starts to agree with her and things get scary. (In Spanish with subtitles.)


SUSPIRIA
Dir. Dario Argento
(1977)
Like All of Them Witches, Suspiria opens with a murder and it’s a doozy. If the viewer can gather themselves up after the truly gruesome opening to this iconic Italian horror, the remainder is a gut-wrenching treat. A dancer has just enrolled in an exclusive ballet academy and finds the curriculum less than ideal as students start showing up dead, the nightly glass of wine seems a little off and what is it about that floral wallpaper?


SEASON OF THE WITCH
Dir. George A. Romero
(1973)
We could be lazy and just repeat what our former intern Francine wrote in 2009. So let’s do that:

"This is the most openly feminist horror movie made, and an under-seen gem. Joan (Jan White) has everything a modern housewife could want: husband, kids, suburban home, and an endless string of cocktail parties to plan and attend with the other wives she calls her friends. She's bored to the point of numbness. Experimentation with witchcraft leads to real life horror. There is no subtext here, as Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero lays it out plainly in a film released at the height of the Women's Liberation movement."

Thanks, Francine. We miss you.


WITCHFINDER GENERAL
Dir. Michael Reeves
(1968)
For a different kind of witch-themed horror – the based on real events kind – dig into this gorgeous, depraved and ultimately depressing tale of a 17th century witch hunter (Vincent Price) who used the fear of witchcraft during the English Civil War to exact violence on the populace. With his performance here, Price reminds us that he is a skilled actor and not just a camp icon. He and director Michael Reeves fought constantly during the production. Read about it after you watch the film. And avoid the sometimes chopped-up U.S. release retitled The Conqueror Worm – MGM put out the UK original on DVD years ago.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Only Way In

We turned you on to Andrew Monko's photography a while back. His preference for rural and urban decay, the ways in which nature takes back man made objects, and his penchant for experimenting with light all appeals deeply to The Typing Monkey aesthetic.

Check out the photographer's series Scary Dairy. With some solid historical framing, he takes the viewer on a brief tour of the defunct, decaying and possibly haunted remnants of an abandoned mental hospital in the vast farming valley of the northern Puget Sound region of Washington state.

We're particularly fond of "Murakami Silo" and you'll have a favorite too. Here's a detail from "In the Silence They Wait":

Monday, October 24, 2011

Holiday Cheer

While we prepare more Halloween Frenzy entertainments to terrorize, delight and/or bore, take some time to enjoy two of the Web's best Halloween destinations, X-Entertainment and Countdown to Halloween.

X-Entertainment does sound like its NSFW but it's entirely safe for public viewing and usually great for sharing with family members you know will get it.

Blogger Matt has been running X-Entertainment since 2003 and has faithfully acknowledged Halloween every year via his site's trainspotter-style dedication to our disposable culture. This year his seasonal stuff (Halloween topics began Sept 8!) includes the birthday party he threw for his shrunken-head apple.

The Countdown to Halloween, while sharing a title with X-E's seasonal content, is more or less a blog roll. Which sells it short because it is a vortex of Halloween fun that will pull you in and get you fired because it's November 1 and you were supposed to have that PowerPoint done last week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The Other Girls"

[Click on image to embiggen]

Please do yourself a huge favor and spend some time reading and laughing at Nicholas Gurewitch's comic strip The Perry Bible Fellowship.

The above strip, "The Other Girls", is particularly seasonal, but Gurewitch's humor is always black and deeply funny.

And for a double-whammy of PBF goodness, check out his spot-on tribute to Edward Gorey.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

That Sly, Come-Hither Stare

Sometimes at Aesop Dekker's peerless music blog Cosmic Hearse it feels like Halloween all year round. Just a few days after Labor Day this year, he posted Louise Huebner's Seduction Through Witchcraft.

As pointed out on the Hearse, Huebner is the Official Witch of Los Angeles. Whatever those duties may include, that title is pretty spiffy. Perhaps other municipalities have similar positions?

Seduction is Huebner's 1969 instructional record for ladies and gents interested in er, seduction through witchcraft.

What's that? I'm sorry, we thought you just said you weren't interested in seducing anyone through witchcraft, but we must have misheard.

You need this record. Play it next time your sweetheart comes home from a tough day at work and let the sexy magic work its -- dang it. Didn't really think that one out before we typed it.

The music and sound effects were done by Louis and Bebe Barron, the way-ahead-of-their-time electronic experimental musicans who did the delightfully eerie score for Forbidden Planet.

Thanks Cosmic Hearse!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Movie Time!

Mike Mignola, the illustrator and writer most famous for creating Hellboy, did a one-off comic book in 2002 called The Amazing Screw-On Head.

The titular character works as a secret agent for President Abraham Lincoln. Screw-On Head, an expert in the occult, is literally what his name implies, a mechanical wonder who attaches himself to various mechanical bodies equipped to carry out his duties.

In 2006 the Sci-Fi channel (now SyFy, boo) commissioned an animated pilot of The Amazing Screw-On Head and Mignola delivered.

Alas, it was not picked up as a series despite boasting the voices of Paul Giamatti in the lead role, Patton Oswalt as Mr. Groin, David Hyde Pierce as the villain Emperor Zombie and Molly Shannon as Patience, Screw-On's ex, now a vampire aligned with Zombie.

The show, like the comic, is wickedly creative and very funny -- a steampunk melodrama well aware of its own ridiculousness. Here's the trailer:



You like? Watch the whole thing here. It's only 22 minutes long.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

True


[Snapped by The Amazing Mrs. Kendall; Pacific Galleries Antique Mall; Oct 8, 2011]

Stay Off the Moor, and the West Coast Too

The film An American Werewolf in London was released 30 years ago. It remains the best werewolf movie ever made. (FACT.)

Artist Olly Moss gave us all a gift for the 1981 film's birthday by making this:


Moss frequently reimagines the poster art for iconic films. He's not the only artist putting Art Deco, Axis and Communist propaganda, and Saul Bass filters on our more recent movie-art memories, but he's one of the best.

If you've never seen American Werewolf, please correct that soon. And if it's been a while since your last viewing, there's never a better time of year to watch again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Old Fashioned American Devil-Baby

Hull House still stands in Chicago and you can read about it's origins as part of the "settlement" movement in the United States if that interests you. And it should.

But if you read far enough in most mentions of the house, you'll come across mention of it being haunted and further, the place where once a demon baby was born -- allegedly.

Jane Addams, one of the co-founders of Hull House, actually wrote about the Devil-Baby at Hull House for Atlantic Magazine in 1916. And through the miracle that is the intertoobs, you can actually read her article.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Revenge of a Witch

As we've gathered material for the Halloween Frenzy, this year's harvest skews toward the realm of witchcraft and the ladies who practice it. To start things off, turn your attention to this wondefully lurid gallery of comic book covers from the ever-reliable Monster Brains.

Witches Tales magazine ran from 1951 to '54 and followed E.C. Comics' lead -- each issue an illustrated anthology of short horror and suspense stories. Being a Harvey Comics product, Witches Tales aren't nearly as gruesome as E.C.'s gonzo gore-fests, but they still deliver.

The cover story in issue No. 16 combines three subjects sure to delight: the Old West, a witch and a horde of corpses rising from their graves. Neat!

That'll learn 'em!

The witch in the story, given the exotic and not-at-all xenophobic name Delia Zarbo, is more Eastern European looking, with younger features than the old woman on the cover. (In a couple panels, she's positively vampiric.)

The Witches Tales cover art has recurring themes you'll notice: open graves, foolish men and wasp-waisted blondes with a preference for revealing red clothing.

If any of the covers looks promising, Monster Brains' proprietor Aeron Aelfry provided a link to the Digital Comic Museum, where every issue can be read online or downloaded and saved for later. That's service right there, so don't thank us, thank Monster Brains.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Free Music: The Great Tribulation

The Typing Monkey is never too proud to admit terrible, awful, really unforgivable mistakes. Back in July we should have instructed you to immediately click over to CD Baby or various other online retailers and purchase a copy of The Flood Brought the Fire by The Great Tribulation.

But did we? No sir and/or madam, we did not. A grievous error we will attempt to rectify by pointing you to the band's BandCamp page where they are currently giving the 10-song LP away as a free digital download, thus saving you the hassle of ripping the CD and dropping it into the MP3 player of your choice.


We trust that you will do the right thing and buy the CD too, or even buy the MP3s from CD Baby. (Give one set to a friend!) Or just preview the album online and buy the physical CD.

What you'll get is a crackerjack bunch of tunes from the Ann Arbor "folk noir" quartet. Their particular strain of elastic Americana treads all over the 20th century without laying claim to a particular decade.

Flood unspools as a collection of short stories, evoking the same feelings as a tail lights shrinking in the dark or that weird mood you fall into when the leaves start to turn and coffee tastes a little better and dammit it's going to get cold soon.

As we discussed back in March, "Sure as the Rain" stands out among the crowd, a classic quiet storm that has likely already soundtracked the conception of a future generation of miserable registered voters. But pay close attention to the various stringed instruments circling one another at the start of "Better Left Unfound" and give yourself over to "When a Stranger Kisses Me." Lovely.

Go now.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cycling in the Dark

During Halloween Frenzies past, we've usually started the month off with a music video to prep the workspace, though not usually something seasonal.

Bat for Lashes' 2007 single "What's a Girl to Do?" doesn't tread into goth territory or have particularly gruesome lyrics. It does dissect (vivisect?) a dying love -- not the object of affection's death, rather the death of the feeling.

The video Bat for Lashes (aka Natasha Khan) made for the song does unleash some cartoon creepiness. It plays out like a dream, with a nighttime bike ride down the middle of a backwoods road, the forest hemming her in, and some surprises along the way.

If you've never seen it before, have fun. And if it's a rerun, it's not like you're doing anything more important right now.



[If the embed isn't rendering watch it here.]

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Of Donuts and Mushrooms

Today is October 1, 2011. Have you eaten a donut yet?

Once again, The Typing Monkey performs our civic duty by reminding our readers that October is national donut month.

We shall observe the commencement of this sacred time by enjoying a couple selections from Seattle's premiere vegan donut shop, Mighty-O Donuts. Vegan donuts, we said it. And we're proud. They're free of dairy, eggs and lard, but they'll still kill you if you eat too many -- a tasty death.

Before things get all spooky up in here with the commencement of the 4th Annual Typing Monkey Halloween Frenzy, we wanted to draw your attention to a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine in Baltimore.

Researchers at the school gave human subjects psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound found in so-called magic mushrooms.

The study found that even a small dose increased the subjects' level of "openness" -- a personality trait that's crucial to creativity and curiosity.

Further, a single dose increased those tendencies for nearly a year. The test group was small, but continues to bolster previous positive research by the school on the hallucinogen's affect on the human mind.

This is not an endorsement of the drug. However we found it interesting that academics in the United States are conducting this sort of research. Read the report here.


[Image culled from Chris A.'s deviantART gallery]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beats, Intl.

All around the Web, blather about a recording called Kinshasa One Two is bubbling up like yeast proofing in warm sugar-water. Let's not be left out, because it's very much worth blathering about.

Damon Albarn (Blur; Gorillaz; The Good, The Bad, The Queen; experimental opera composer and performer) travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a few choice music makers this past July. In just five days, they recorded as much music as they could. They collaborated, sampled, performed and mixed on the fly, and then put together an album sponsored by, and benefitting, Oxfam.

Say what you want about Albarn and the Britpop culture from which he sprang. But while his peers have muddled around doing the same old thing or simply breaking up, (hi, Oasis!) Albarn has proven his appetite for creative stimulation and willingness to act on his convictions with numerous projects far beyond recycling Bowie and The Kinks.

Since some of the Soundcloud embeds on various sites seem to have trouble loading, here's a link to the DRC Music page where you can hear the entirity of Kinshasa One Two and a couple BBC interview with Albarn and a couple of his collaborators. And do listen to the BBC interviews, as it makes Albarn's motiviations clear.

If the music pleases you, pay for it and feel better about yourself. Here's a few quick impressions of what we heard:

"We Come from the Forest" -- Two kalimba loops gallivant in the sun, then race to see who gets to the alien disco rhythm first.

"Ah Congo" -- Whooshing voices pan across the speakers while a man speaks the title (and more) in a basso profundo, outdone only by the molten bass wobble that soon joins in.

"Respect of the Rules" -- Drops a flute onto some Moog-y squish, a melting Alan Hawkshaw theme for off-duty customs officials having grilled cheese sandwiches and soup.

"K-Town" -- Bears the unmistakable stamp of Dan the Automator. Seriously, if that beat isn't his ...

"The Departure" -- More of that dubstep sub-bass rumble lurks below an near-ambient treble. Don't fall asleep!
 
***

Reference material: If you liked Albarn's Mali Music or went (justifiably) bonkers over Congotronics, this is for you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don't Touch That Dial

No really, don't.

Now that the autumnal equinox has happened, it was just a matter of time before Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton made us all get into his rental car -- this year a minivan, which was actually quite comfortable -- and go for a drive.

Kreighton's goal was two-part and devious to the core. We all expected him to make us partake in his annual ritual of tooling around aimlessly while listening to the entirety of Bauhaus' "hits" disc 1979 - 1983 Vol. 1. The boss does that every year on the first dark, blustery morning after the first calendar day of fall. There's a free coffee in it for anybody who wants to tag along and at least it gets us out of the office for a good hour.

We had a fine time, and everyone agreed that Peter Murphy’s mad-monkey vocal at the end of “St. Vitus Dance” is a rock & roll freak-out par excellence.

Kreighton sprung his ulterior motive on us as soon as the last twinkles of guitar faded from the CD. After casually reminding us of a past car-radio game, he introduced a new one: Radio Endurance Test.


The objective is also the rule: Scan up and down the FM dial (or AM if your area actually has music stations on AM) and find any station you might normally listen to. Then wait until they play something that might normally make you tune in something else. It won’t take long. Now listen to the entire song, no matter what it is.

In less than 15 minutes we came across the opening verse of The Eagles’ “Witchy Woman.” Since it was decided at a staff meeting in 2009 that nobody at the TMI offices likes The Eagles, we knew the game had begun.

That was quickly followed by a fidgety tip-toe through “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich. When we all began to sing along to that, we realized that we actually kind of like that song. Spin again …

It all went sour when the new intern Eileen opened the side door of the minivan at a stop light and ran into a cornfield. What spooked her? Don McClean’s “American Pie” had begun. We were all so scared and all Kreighton did was guffaw in the driver’s seat. He nearly choked on his cigar. [It’s true. Kreighton is a horrible man. – ed.]

Strike up a game of Radio Endurance Test next time you’re out and about. Your flesh will crawl in no time.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happiness Is a Killer Shark

Charles Forsman draws and write comics and does illustrations. In October 2010, he published a series of strips that retold key scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Except he drew them as if they were "Popeye" strips from the 1930s.

This past August, he topped himself by doing the same with Jaws in the style of "Peanuts."

Please enjoy them and then dig around the rest of Forsman's site to learn more about him and see more of his work.




[Tip of the fedora to Comics Alliance]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Waking Up to the Apocalypse

Hollywood's really bad at making horror movies and has been for some time now. It's safe to add science fiction to that statement too. We've discussed it all before and maybe someday we'll get all Yahoo News-y and make a list or some crap.

In the meantime, check out the trailer for Extraterrestrial, the new film by Spanish wrtier/director Nacho Vigalondo:



It may be absolute crap. Nobody sent us a screener, but dag if it doesn't look promising, especially based on the quality of his mind-bending sci-fi-by-way-of-Hitchcock 2007 feature Timecrimes.

If you've not seen Timecrimes, do have a look. It's The Typing Monkey's favorite "Man Witnesses Murder, Hides in Time Machine and Then Really Screws Things Up" feature film of all time.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Remnants of Revenants

An archaeological dig in Kilteasheen, Ireland unearthed two bodies buried in a ritualistic manner that suggests the locals were worried the two men might rise from their graves.

What's remarkable about the find is that the circa 700 A.D. preparation of the bodies predates records of when Europeans started documenting how to keep a questionable corpse in the ground. Read all the details about it here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Monkey Reads: Puritanical Ass-Kickery

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
By Robert E. Howard
(Del Rey)
Howard’s kinetic prose elevates the adventures of his “Puritan swordsman” Solomon Kane beyond what a reader should reasonably expect from early 20th century vintage supernatural/action pulp.

Kane doesn’t emerge from his trials a winner, and in fact seems more doomed by his own thoughts than by any of the beasts, schemes or weapons that threaten him throughout the collection. The hero defeats his enemies, but he doesn’t win.

Yes, Kane is essentially undefeated in hand-to-hand combat and villains across the oceans know he’s a badass without equal – the kind of man who would travel from the safe confines of Devonshire to the pirate harbors of the Mediterranean and finally deep into the jungles, plains and mountains of central Africa just to find the kidnapped daughter of a family friend, as Kane does in “Moon of Skulls.”

But the more actively Solomon Kane pursues some unknowable, unreachable destiny, the less attainable it becomes. Unlike many action heroes, who are found by fate and reach greatness as they struggle to claim their rightful place at the top, Kane chases a calling he can’t really answer or satisfy.

Howard’s tales of the curious but introspective adventurer trace the journey of a man who is losing his faith.

The writer even acknowledges in the narrative that Solomon Kane wears the drab Puritan garb only out of habit. By the time Kane finally returns to Devonshire [“Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” one of the tales told in verse], his clothes are ragged, he wears a bright green sash and carries a tribal staff, accoutrements more befitting a pre-Christian shaman than an austere Protestant.

As Kane loosens his grip on his white, Christian (ahem, colonial) perspective on the world, he gains humanitarian enlightenment and accepts that the world is a weird, wonderful and sometimes terrifying place.

Though Solomon Kane exists in a 16th century land of Western expansion, he could stand in for the 20th century academic or expatriate who has seen the world and has begun to question his Western European place in it.

Above all this subtext philosophy rages crackling action and fantasy writing, some of the best of the genre. Kane travels Europe, Africa and briefly lands in the New World, clashing, colliding and cooperating with supernatural beings and profane men who live and die by the blade.

Howard balances compact writing with descriptive flair to make fight sequences and fast-paced action pop with four-color contrast against detailed observances of these alien worlds. As with his horror writing, Howard makes the unreal seem plausible, such as when Kane’s unlikely ally, an aged African shaman called N’Longa, reanimates a corpse to terrify a tribe under the sway of an old enemy of Kane. [“Red Shadows”]

A repeated warning for the casual reader: Like Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft and other fantasy writers of their era, Howard’s work does include language and “truths” about ethnicity that are simply wrong.

Oddly enough, Kane (and perhaps Howard) changes so much through the course of this short story collection, that the hero not only acts as a challenge to the “rightness” of colonialism, but may also be a barometer of changing attitudes in the early 20th century.

Howard lived and wrote in Texas and witnessed his share of ethnic and class injustice. And Solomon Kane is nothing if not a man out of step with his time, finding himself closer aligned with both the ways of a distant past and a possible future his countrymen simply haven’t caught up with.

Reference material: Fans of Dashiel Hammet's Red Harvest might be pleasantly surprised by Howard's similarly gruesome, testosterone-filled pulp. If Sergio Leone's Westerns own some space in your cinematic library, Clint Eastwood's pancho-wearing (anti-)hero bears more than a passing resemblance to Solomon Kane, though Kane doesn't share his carnal appetites. And if you read comics, mom will be delighted to see you reading a "real" book. She doesn't have to know the truth.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why So Quiet?

We've pissed away the days playing Wonderputt. It is evil and ruins marriages and we envy you if you are about to enjoy it for the first time. Horrible stuff. Really.

Now then:


[courtesy of mddawson1]

"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean?"

We'll be back soon.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy National Clown Day

The first week of August is National Clown Week. Says who? Richard Milhaus Nixon, that's who. He made it so on August 2, 1971 via Presidential Proclamation 4071. We like to think his clown name was Tricky Dick.

Traditionally, the Saturday of Clown Week is Clown Day. So if you know any clowns, thank them for their work and just enjoy the show.

The NCW site acknowledges the uptick in coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, which seems to have flourished mostly since the 1980s and really gained momentum via the Internet and Web.

The Typing Monkey's official position on people claiming to be afraid of clowns: knock it off, no you aren't.

We are sure there are a number of legitimate cases of diagnosable clown phobia. But just because circuses aren't as popular as they once were and a few horror movies have stained your memory, don't dismiss all clowns. A skilled clown is preserving a centuries-old tradition and slapstick is one of the puresest forms of comedy that translates across borders.

Hooray! Clowns!

[Illustration by Louis Slobodkin, from his book Millions and Millions and Millions!; Vanguard, 1955. Courtesy of his Website.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Deez Nutz Are Actually Legumes

The Typing Monkey hasn't reviewed or recommended food before. But after purchasing a bag of Uncle Bud's Deep Fried Penuts (regular salted) we felt it was worth sharing with readers that Uncle Bud's product is delicious.

As the package says "Shell-N-All" is the only way to go. It's thoroughly satisfying to our simian ways to just push the whole peanut into our eager maw and feel the primitive crunch of the shell, tenderized and crispified by hot oil.

We're going back soon for the Hot flavor and maybe even Cajun. You heard us. Hot. Nuts.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From the Fortean News Desk

Maybe not so much Fortean as much as the "Possible Con Artist, Tax Dodger or Guy Who Owes the Mob a Bunch of Money Desk" but no matter. The point is, there's a man in jail in Utah who doesn't really exist. Which is to say, he has no traditional identification, won't identify himself, and no one else has come forward to claim him.

Read all about it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summertime is Dub Time

Friends, it's a scientific fact that dub reggae makes summer more fun. Heck it makes winter more fun.

Because The Typing Monkey is spiritually, morally and contractually bound to mention dub producer, musician and sound-manipulator Scientist whenever possible, we would like to clue you in, or remind you as the case may be, of the existence of Max Tannone's mash-up album Mos Dub.

You may have heard it, or heard of it, when Mr. Tannone made it available as a free download in April 2010. If not, or if you made a note and forgot to follow up, now is your chance to correct that error.

What you'll get are Mos Def vocals pasted onto various dub cuts, many of which were culled from Scientist's sublime Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires. It's fun and sounds great when the sky is blue, the air is humid and the temperature demands that you sit back and relax with a beverage.

And if you want, dig around Max Tannone's Website to see what else he's got cooking, because he's cooking plenty ... as in, his just-released Ghostfunk mash-up. See?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Look!

Andrew Monko has a camera. He uses it to take pictures of people, places and things. Some of these photographs are pure documentary, some are staged, others get experimental. See what he does with his camera on Flickr.

"Tombstone Row" by Andrew Monko, from the series Airstream Junkyard; Jun 2011.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Monkey Love Round-Up

That Monkey Love column to the right of this text leads the reader to a world of wonder. And from time to time we like to call out of few of those links for showing us what's what around the intertoobs.

A person who goes by the handle Zen Tiger runs the blog Beware of the Crosseyed Cyclops!, formerly Beware, There's a Crosseyed Cyclops in My Basement!!!  Apparently this wonky-eyed cyclops has broken out of the dank basement and ditched a couple exclamation marks along the way.

The site offers more digitized, downloadable vintage comics than you have time to read. So pick a few that fit your mood and dig in. We were especially pleased by the recent batch of Marvel Tales, including this winner:


The cover kinda spoils the ending, but admit it, you totally want to read that. She's trying to be a good neighbor, but so is he. Lady, don't say the gentleman didn't warn you.

Secondly, The Typing Monkey draws your attention to the truly weird comic Tales from Greenfuzz. We found it via the always incredible Monster Brains. The issue of Greenfuzz, by artist and animator Will Sweeney is titled "Kebabylon!" and tells the a fairly traditional story of boy-loves-girl, villain-kidnaps-girl, boy-goes-heroic. Except the boy is a sandwich, as is his girlfriend, and the villain is a hot dog who wants to rule the world and make everyone wear leiderhosen.

And there's a cat with a beard:


You aren't doing anything so important that you can't spend a little time enjoying Greenfuzz or a selection from the Cyclops library.

If you need some music to accompany your read, Cosmic Hearse has taken a turn recently toward jazz. Host Aesop Dekker still posts the metal, punk and the variations on heavy rock and roll he's always dealt. But he's expanded into deep catalog Blue Note bop and killer early 20th century blues. Some of the bop proves so hard The Typing Monkey can't really get on board, but at the very least we get educated. That's the real service he provides, and it's damned entertaining too.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

We'll be right back after these messages.

Here's a Top of the Pops performance by The Equals, playing their hit "Baby Come Back." And yes, that's a young Eddy Grant on lead vocal and guitar.


[Courtesy of vinylsolution]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From the Vice Desk: Pop Open an Old One

The August issue of Smithsonian contains an interesting article about "experimental archaeologists" who work with local breweries in an attempt to recreate ancient alcohol recipes. The efforst are at least interesting, if not always appealing to our modern/Western sensibilities.


[A tipple to Arts & Letters Daily, once again.]

Monday, June 27, 2011

Not Just Clean, '80s Retro Clean

Look!


TMI VIP The Amazing Mrs. Kendall sent us this photo and claims she found the soap that way one afternoon. Lies, damnned lies and soap art.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Midsummer

Those of us in the Northern hemisphere enjoyed the summer solstice, aka Midsummer, today at 17:16 UTC, when the Earth leaned in and gave the Sun a little smooch. A cynic would point out here, that the days only grow shorter from now unitl December.

We will not dwell on such things today. Instead let's take a look at this .jpg of John William Waterhouse's wonderfully textured oil painting "Magic Circle" ...


Waterhouse frequently turned to mythology, folklore and literature for inspiration. Here's a Wikipedia gallery of some of his work.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Not Too Dear

On June 18, 2011 Paul McCartney turned 69. And based on recent news that he's getting married again, The Cute One isn't at all worried that somebody will still need him, still feed him, well beyond 64.

Say what you want about Macca. The songs he wrote with The Beatles, even some of the post-Beatles compositions, are solid enough to be molded and reformed by other performers and work just as well. Surely that's the mark of good songwriting.

8-Bit Operators, a collective of musicians who use the sound chips from the Nintendo Entertainment System, Speak & Spell and other similarly low-tech electronic devices, to make music. Two years ago they made a compilation of Beatles covers called I Want to Hld Yr Handheld, Vol. 1.

Like their previous tribute to Kraftwerk, it's a wildly uneven mix but then somebody such as poke-1,170 (aka Julian van Aalderen) puts it all together and knocks out a version of "When I'm 64" that makes perfect sense delivered in the cutesy bleeps and bloops of an old home video game console:



If that embed isn't showing up, here's a link. You might as well also lend an ear to Sloopygoop's take on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Bubblyfish's reading of "Piggies" that gives the Walter/Wendy Carlos treatment to a song that was already tonally close to A Clockwork Orange.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shrunken Heads Are For Real

May got off to such a promising start. Traveling off the grid put us in strange states where the ghost of Howard Hughes danced on the wing of The Spruce Goose to a lopsided Mexican shuffle played by a laughing band of weirdos. And on a hot Saturday morning, Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton left a bit of himself in a hotel parking lot. We were all so frightened and entertained.

Never mind. We merge back onto the information superhighway's increasingly neglected backroads in order to bring you this piece about scientists analyzing the DNA of an alleged shrunken head, proving that said noggin is no longer alleged. It's an actual human head that's been shrunk.

As if we ever doubted it. For the time-strapped, here's a quotation from Gila Kahila Bar-Gal, one of the scientists who conducted the DNA examination:

"'During spiritual ceremonies, enemies' heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy's spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge.'"


[Photo is not the head they tested, but one kept in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Photo by Narayan k28, via WikiCommons.]

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grim Lands, Great Tales

Writer and editor Howard Andrew Jones wrote a piece for NPR on three collections of pulp fantasy writing worth your time. Naturally, he calls out Robert E. Howard.

Jones also reminds The Typing Monkey that we've been meaning to read some Leigh Brackett and introduced us to the work of Manly Wade Wellman. That's right, an action/sci-fi/fantasy writer named Manly.

In a bit of serendipity, the day before we stumbled across Jones' recommendations, we heard super-librarian and astute critic Nancy Pearl discussing genre fiction. We'll paraphrase her wise words here: It's a shame that literature is judged by its best work while genre fiction is judged by its worst.

True. True.

That reminded us that we owe you a review of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. We read it in spring so that you might read it during the summer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Open The Good Stuff, Drink and Remember

Norma Zimmer, aka The Champagne Lady from The Lawrence Welk Show, is dead.

If your first reaction is "who?" then you are either too young, or grew up in a household that didn't tune in regularly to the Welk Show. Zimmer was a singer and dancer who joined the show in 1960, thus spending more than 20 years with a show that ran nationally for nearly 28 years.

Her singing style recalled the Hit Parade era of Doris Day and similar pure, unaffected delivery of pop tunes that sound schmaltzy to the modern ear. Let go of irony and your rock & roll ways and Zimmer's buttery vibrato feels like a hug -- possibly a hug from grandma, but who couldn't use one of those from time to time?

[Image courtesy of WelkGirls.com]

Zimmer's death falls into place after a string of deaths we should have noted here. Yvette Vickers' passing was certainly the most tragic. Gone as well are Arthur Larents, John Walker, Body Snatcher rebel Dana Wynter and Dolores Fuller.

We probably should have given a nod to Wynter's passing, for if you need a smart woman by your side as alien invaders gradually infest your sleepy coastly burg, she was the lady for the job. And Vickers -- what could we say that hadn't been said already?

Norma Zimmer died on May 10, 2011. She was 88. There are other Welk Women still dancing, singing and playing, but only one got the title The Champagne Lady.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Squirrel on Water Skis, and the Squirrel Has a Machine Gun

First we must wish Kermit the Frog a happy 56th birthday. That Muppet is an inspiration for life.

And in the spirit of juxtaposition that often fueled Kermit's comedy we bring you this slightly stale news item that's worth seeing if you haven't already:


[Courtesy of our news partner KING 5]

In case that video renders weird, here's a link. Despite our usual distaste for animals-as-weapons and/or espionage agents, it would have been pretty badass to have a spy network of crows. It could go so horribly, biblically wrong.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Put Some Clothes On (Again)

Some true believers also have a sense of humor about reading superhero comics because, well, muscular men in tights and capes. Also most comic book consumers are grown-ass men. Therefore:


That's right, bunkie, it's a t-shirt.

Mighty Fine does other pop-culture tees too but we've a particular affinity for their Marvel line, which has some serious and some silly depictions, but digs fairly deep into the character well too. Where's the company credit card ...

[Post script: Does Daniel Dumile know about this?]

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tyler the Creator

... or Who Says There's No Room for Junk-Food Movies in Black Cinema?

By Kris Kendall, special contributor to The Typing Monkey

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a 41-year-old white male, born and raised in a pale corner of the United States. I’ve never seen a Tyler Perry movie. I also stopped watching Spike Lee’s movies when, about halfway through Summer of Sam, I got bored and frustrated with the dull pace and stopped the DVD. Yes, I’m probably missing out on some worthwhile Spike Lee joints, but there’s plenty of time to get to 25th Hour, Bamboozled and Clockers.

I was in high school when She’s Gotta Have It came out and though I skipped School Daze, I watched Do the Right Thing and Mo’ Better Blues with enthusiasm. The former was tense and thought-provoking, the latter was too long by at least 15 minutes, with a coda that indicated Mr. Lee was suffering from a filmmaker problem I call “writer/director syndrome.” I know I saw Jungle Fever but it didn’t stick with me.

I have seen a few minutes of both Meet the Browns and House of Payne, the TBS sitcoms Tyler Perry produces. Neither show says anything to me about my life. Even though the broad comedy triggered a few chuckles, there was little there to keep me engaged.

Likewise, I’ve seen a few minutes of one of Perry’s Medea films and it fared worse for my attention span.

So what qualifies me to pontificate on Tyler Perry’s “worthiness” as a filmmaker? Nothing. In fact, you’re free to go read something else if you like. But on April 21, 2011 the NPR news program All Things Considered aired a short piece in which co-host Michelle Norris mediated a debate about Perry’s output and influence, between journalist Goldie Taylor and cultural critic Toure.

The topic was inspired by Spike Lee’s continued criticism of Tyler Perry’s films, prompting Perry to break his silence and finally respond. Lee and many other people – mostly black, but critics of various ethnicities have weighed in – think black film audiences deserve better.

And more to the point: The presumption that white viewers may see Perry’s alleged stereotypes of black characters and think this is representative of all black people. Why would I think that?

I’m not here to talk about Perry’s films because I haven’t seen any of them. I’m not even prepared to discuss Spike Lee’s films since I checked out on his output a good 15 years ago. And no, I won’t speak about the pros and cons of Perry’s hugely successful production company as it relates to representations of black culture in mass media. Not because I don’t have an opinion, but because others have done it and will continue to do it better than I can.

But in listening to Taylor and Toure’s point-counterpoint, especially the descriptions of the archetypally “black” characters (caricatures?) that appear in Perry’s movies, and his even more controversial musings on black women, I kept thinking: They’re describing the same kind of wide-appeal drivel that white filmmakers make about white people.

The Meet the Parents franchise, starring a you-can-do-better Ben Stiller is generally ignored or hated by plenty of people, but the first film made enough money to inspire two sequels. Somebody was watching it, and it wasn't me.

Likewise offensive fluff such as Wild Hogs will top the box office during opening weekend despite reviews that are less than favorable. That movie reflects nothing about my life experience either. I'm not part of its intended demographic any more than I am for Madea's Big Happy Family.

I could ramble on for twice my current word count regarding romantic comedies. Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston and various other stars knock out dull romantic fantasies every year, sometimes two or three a year per star. Critics do ask if the rom-com lead is how (white) women want to be portrayed. Yet these rote relationship fairytales, while inspiring their share of vitriol, don’t engender the same kind of wide cultural debate.

Spike Lee, I get it. However, I don’t think Perry is perpetuating stereotypes any more than similar fare aimed at white audiences.

The problem seems to be more along these lines: I can count the number of mainstream black directors on one hand. It’s a small clubhouse and Perry’s detractors want every film to count.

That’s understandable, but it's also joining two very different debates and the dearth of black directors won't be alleviated by Spike Lee targeting Tyler Perry. If Perry's guilty of anything, it's of being successful using a formula older than Hollywood. [And of being a union buster? -- ed.]

There should be room for escapist fare that paints a simplistic or idealized version of life. Cinema doesn’t have to be provocative or contemplative. There’s enough room for Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges, room enough for Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Get on the Bus.

It’s okay to enjoy both the opera and Looney Tunes. It's also okay to like one and not the other, but neither side is allowed to dismiss the other simply because they think it is below (or above) them. There's enough audience to go around.

Spike Lee seems to want Perry to make meaningful films, whatever those might be. Perry put his money behind the Oscar-winning Precious, and in 2010 adapted and directed from a play the debate-stirring For Colored Girls. Both of these films arguably say more to black women -- a vastly underserved movie audience -- than any of Lee's movies. What exactly does Lee want from Perry?

To cannibalize a more eloquently asserted, parallel idea from Tina Fey: Lee might think Perry's success comes at the expense of other black filmmakers. If he does think along those lines, that misconception is a bigger problem than the quality of Perry's movies.



Kris Kendall has never seen a Michael Bay movie either but he's pretty sure Transformers is terrible. His writing has appeared on various public restroom walls and in letters to his mom.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trolls!

How come nobody tells us about these things?

[courtesy of horrornymphs]
Scandahoovia beats the Hollywood movie machine again with another horror/fantasy film that looks like loads of fun. You got your Dead Snow (Norway), your Let the Right One In (Sweden) and your Rare Exports (Finland) and now Norway comes back with The Troll Hunter.

No, we haven't seen it, a mistake we plan to correct as soon as possible.

Friday, April 22, 2011

From the Math & Science Desk

Twenty days without a peep from anyone at The Typing Monkey and now this, two links to the hard work of others. But oh! What links!

First up is a piece from The Economist, discussing a mathematical rules of war. The formula: (Tn = T1n-b) results in what mathemiticians call a "progressive curve." Basically, we get better at killing each other as conflicts between tribes/nations/neighbors escalate. And like most math we learn, nobody's quite sure what to do with the knowledge. It's a predictor of aggression, but we aren't very good at using it to stop war.

Now go to The Boston Globe for Leon Neyfakh's article about famed social biologist/ant researcher E.O. Wilson's enthusiasm for a new theory on the nature of altruism. Yes, it bugs us that they keep insisting altruism is a "human" trait because, since when? However, "group selection" as Wilson calls it, knocks the accepted "kin theory" of altruism over because he's found little to support kin selection and that group selection simply makes more sense.

Wilson's always been an interesting scientist to read and read about. He's nearly alone in his confidence about group selection. Perhaps, as the article says, in a few decades we'll look back at his assertions and realize how right he was.

[Thank you Arts & Letters Daily]