Black Summer

A few days ago, I’d never heard of Black Summer, a Netflix zombie show that’s some sort of prequel to Z Nation, which was a SyFy zombie show, which I’ve never seen. Anyway, now I’m obsessed with it.For fans of the zombie genre, Black Summer takes everything you like from the form — tales of survival, tales of courage and cowardice, tales of savage brutality and unexpected grace, tales of corruption and greed and human frailty, and boils away everything down to the bone. There is no moralizing, there is no metaphor, there is no sentimentality, no pontificating, no speeches, no hip cynicism or critique of consumer culture. What remains is breathless, white-hot adrenaline.

Characters have backstories and personalities and all that stuff, but what they don’t have is speeches. Or, in many cases, names. Some have no dialogue at all. There are no “campfire scenes” where the characters express themselves and come to learn something about each other. Instead, we learn who the characters are purely by their actions — how do they handle themselves, how do they carry themselves, how committed are they to survival, how far will they go, what physical punishment will they endure, and how much will they mete out?

There is very little “down time” at all on the show, and very little sense of a “bigger picture.” Each scene is set apart from the others by a title card, and presents a specific tactical situation. You’re in a car being chased by a truck, and you run over a child’s bicycle in the road. Do you stop and get it out from under the car? Do you have the time to do that before the truck catches up? And if you do, who gets out to remove it? Who is the most expendable, who is the bravest, who is the fastest, who is most committed to survival? And then, what about the zombies that are running around, screaming and roaring and gushing blood from their mouths? Is there one behind that garage? Or behind that tree? If you’re the one that gets out of the car, do you trust the driver not to drive off, using you as bait, either to slow down the truck, or to slow down the zombies? There’s an episode in the first season that’s almost entirely a chase scene between a character who is not cut out to face a zombie apocalypse, and an incredibly persistent zombie, without a line of dialogue, just pure action.

David Mamet once mentioned something about audience interest — if you see two men arguing on the street about one owing the other money, you lose interest quickly. But if you see a man walking down the street, and then a car screeches to a halt and another man leaps out and charges at the first man, swearing at him and throwing punches, that will keep you interested, and want to know more about what’s going on with these two.

Black Summer operates entirely on that principle. We’re told nothing whatsoever about the characters, we just have to lean forward and pick up what we can based on how they relate to one another and how well or poorly they navigate their environment. Sometimes we see a group of people and make assumptions about who they are and what they mean to each other, only to learn later that it’s a completely different situation than we thought.

It makes The Walking Dead feel ponderous and sentimental and Game of Thrones feel squeamish. Characters show up in one scene save they day or gain our sympathy, only to turn, seconds later, into a zombie, or be killed in some errant piece of violence or recklessly driven car. Characters we admire are instantly erased from existence without a dying speech, a reverent close-up or even the camera standing still for one second.On top of all this, the scripts, which are uniformly excellent in terms of action writing, tell stories in chopped up order, as we follow characters as they negotiate an obstacle, then follow another character as they try to get into a building, then follow another character we saw in the background from earlier in the episode, then switch to an entirely different character in a different part of town doing something else. And some of those stories overlap and some don’t, and some begin and end in a single scene. I’ve never seen anything as sophisticated as it on television before.

The show has very few sets, is mostly location shooting, with some locations barely dressed at all. That’s one of the pure genius moves of the production team, to put their actors in locations that look completely, absolutely normal, and, using nothing but camera movement and editing, make us dread every shadow and off-camera sound, because every single new piece of information we get could mean a miracle or instant death.

The weirdest part of all this is that Black Summer, like its parent show Z Nation, were produced by The Asylum, creators of Sharknado and ten million other “mockbusters,” cheap knockoffs of hit movies designed to confuse and entice the unwary content consumer, with titles like Transmorphers and Titanic II. How a piece of high art like Black Summer got through their development process, I have no idea.

Some thoughts on Elvis (2022)

I was dreading Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. A long time ago, I had written my own Elvis project, and had done a deep dive into his life and work. I’ve watched a lot of Elvis-related movies (including all 33 of Elvis’s own movies), and the trailers for Luhrmann’s gonzo spectacle were a severe turn-off for me. But enough friends of mine had positive things to say about it that I thought I’d give it a chance.Almost immediately, I fell in love. I have lots and lots of quibbles about this and that, but the important thing is that Luhrmann’s understanding of Elvis, his art, his story, and his place in the American pantheon of great 20th-century artists, is the same as mine.Most people my age and younger experienced Elvis’s career backwards: when I was a child, Presley was a joke, a has-been, a bloated cartoon character adored by yokels and middle-aged women. He wore the gaudy jumpsuits and did his lame kung-fu moves, and recycled his ancient hits with blaring, Vegas arrangements that deprived the music of any of its original power. Elvis was sentimental, hollow and tasteless, and, when he died in 1977, it felt like more of a relief than a tragedy: at last, the empty, spangled parade float of his career was put out of its misery.Most of the movies made about Elvis begin with the same philosophy: start with the spectacle, never the art. In most Elvis projects, Elvis is a pawn, a wild animal, a naive wild card, a crazed lunatic, a wayward soul, a victim of greed, but never a serious artist. Luhrmann’s Elvis is the first project I’ve seen that actually takes Elvis serious as an artist, as a real, honest-to-goodness musician with a vision and artistic goals. It places Elvis in the context of his times, something that’s impossible to do when you start with his jumpsuits and drug use and work backwards.I had a number of misgivings about Austin Butler’s performance in the first hour or so of the movie, but all those doubts evaporated when it came time to the 1968 comeback special, where he not only was able to match (or at least approximate) Elvis’s incredible energy and handsomeness of that time, but also get across the very serious, very important artistic thrust of that show. Because while the show looks like old television to us now, it was absolutely a bolt from the blue in its time, a radical, bizarre, soulful and crucial turning point in Elvis’s career. And yes, Robert Kennedy really was killed while they were shooting the special, and yes, Col Tom really did have a heart attack when Elvis refused to sing Christmas songs in front of a fireplace. The emphasis the movie gives to the creation of that special is pitch-perfect, and the dramatization of events that led to Elvis singing “If I Can Dream,” along with Butler’s pantomime of Elvis’s performance of that number, had me sobbing for minutes on end. Not weeping, or choked up, but openly, audibly sobbing. Elvis’s message for the special was “I am still here, and still relevant,” and he thought it was vital that he close the show with some sort of statement on all the things that were happening in 1968. The fact that he chose “If I Can Dream” not only puts an exclamation point on the show, but also cements his point of view on the world. Everything that Elvis ever dreamed came true, a million times over, so if he could dream of a better world, why couldn’t that dream also come true? The answer is, of course, that Elvis was but a man, a mere singer (how ironic the show was sponsored by Singer), and had no power to shape current events. The repeated question, “why can’t this happen,” shows the song to be a prayer, both a pleading and an insistence. The repetition of the question reveals that the singer knows the answer but must still ask the question. Luhrmann’s movie gets across all that artistic turmoil without ever having to state any of it. The same goes for the construction of Elvis’s Vegas shows of 1969: while people my age were repulsed by the 1970s Elvis, Luhrmann’s movie places those decisions in context as well: as deliberate artistic choices made by a valid musical force who was looking for answers. He dressed like a superhero because he thought of himself as Captain Marvel (or Shazam, as he’s called now). (The lightning bolt from his TCB logo was lifted directly from Captain Marvel’s suit.) The splashy Vegas arrangements of ancient blues songs weren’t meant as a cheapening of an authentic musical form, they were meant to spread the message on the largest canvas available, and the movie brilliantly brings those decisions to life, drawing a direct line from Elvis overhearing Arthur Crudup sing “That’s All Right” in a Mississippi whorehouse to Elvis belting it out on the biggest stage in Vegas: not a cheapening, but, in Elvis’s eyes, an exaltation, a spreading of the gospel.As with any bio-pic, events are simplified and motivations are overstated. Luhrmann is, after all, the opposite of a subtle director. Overstatement is the water he swims in. If he wants to make a narrative point, he doesn’t just underline it, he underlines it, in italics, then draws a circle around it, then draws a bunch of arrows pointing to it, then states it again for the people who didn’t catch it the first five times. The difference between Luhrmann and, say, Oliver Stone, another director with a penchant for overstatement, is that Luhrmann understands cinematic narrative in a way that no other director does, and his bag of tricks is vast and endlessly malleable. He compresses time as all bio-pics do, but does it in a dazzling, fluid, exciting way, with tons of information going on all the time in every corner of the screen. His goal is to catch you up in the sheer giddy pleasure of images, over and over again, to get you drunk on the sheer spectacle of ideas unfolding. After seeing his Great Gatsby, I thought, well, that’s not the movie I would have made, but, well, it’s The Great Gatsby, you can’t look at it and say he betrayed the author. He didn’t destroy Fitzgerald, he just put it in neon. Just as Elvis turned the blues into a Vegas spectacle because he wanted to preach to the largest possible crowd, Luhrmann wanted to make sure that Gatsby, a fragile, tender, interior novel about sadness and regret, into a mind-blowing spectacle, because he truly loved the material and wanted people to see it.And, while I can’t say I fully understand what Tom Hanks is doing in the movie, with his bizarre accent and weird prosthetics, his Col Tom is, by far, the most humane, most nuanced portrayal of the old Mephistopheles I’ve ever seen. It still astonishes me that Col Tom referred to himself as “the king of the snowmen,” and had a banner hanging in his office advertising it. How many devils tell you to your face that they are a devil? Even Donald Trump didn’t say “vote for me, I’m a con man here to take your money.” And yet, Col Tom STARTED with that pitch. He introduced himself, advertised himself as a carny man, a man who literally spray-painted sparrows and sold them as canaries. When I wrote my Elvis musical (with incredible songs written by Chuck Montgomery, who also played Elvis), I could not explain in the time given why Col Tom had such a hold on Elvis, so I instead I made him a hypnotist. I gave him a jeweled-top cane that he used like Jafar’s staff in Aladdin. Luhrmann finally gives Col Tom an actual dramatization of his relationship with Elvis, showing him as both the father figure Elvis couldn’t find in his own father, a confidante who understood Elvis’s desperate need for attention, and, most importantly, a man whose only goal was profit. In the great American story of Elvis’s life, Col Tom is the vital component: the capitalist greed that destroys everything it touches.By the end of the movie I was an emotional wreck, not merely because the movie got so much right about the tragedy of Elvis, but because I was seeing a movie that I wish I’d been able to write.

107Shannon Sollman, Robert Sikoryak and 105 others36 Comments4 Shares

Halloween 2021

For my Halloween weekend viewing, I watched three low-budget midcentury grindhouse classics: Fiend Without a Face (1958), The Tingler (1959) and Carnival of Souls (1962). Watching all three, in that order, all in a short period of time, was both instructive and transformative, and reminded me that things like plot, performance and production value are not the only valid measurements of a movie’s quality.I’ve never been one to watch “bad” movies just to laugh at them, I’ve always figured that there are plenty of great movies to watch, why watch bad movies just to laugh at how bad they are? But now I watch flawed productions like these not to laugh at them but because they present cinematic ideas that, for a whole host of different circumstantial reasons, fall outside the mainstream. One can watch a movie like Fiend Without a Face and get plenty of enjoyment from it, just by looking at what the filmmakers were trying to do, and what they accomplished despite — or because of — the limitations of their budget and schedule (and talents). So, in effect, you’re watching two dramas unfold — one involving the characters onscreen and one involving the people making the movie. Through this lens, one can have a rich and rewarding viewing experience.I owe a lot of this understanding to the writer Brie Williams, who showed me Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood a few years ago. I’d always avoided Corman because he’s just not a very talented filmmaker, but A Bucket of Blood presented, to me, a new bargain in artistic terms. Corman said, in effect, “forgive me my total lack of production values and I will take your brain somewhere it’s never been before.” Since then, I’ve found that simply opening my mind to incorporate the circumstances of a film’s production into the narrative unfolding onscreen has brought me many hours of thrilling viewing. And it’s not just a question of being “in the know,” it’s a question of taking what’s presented onscreen and asking “Why is the camera there? Why is this scene lit like this? Why was this actor cast? Why does the director cut where he does?” and so forth. When you start asking questions like that, you start to be able to separate the ideas in the movie from the finished product, and get a sense of the challenges that presented themselves to the production, and a whole new meta-narrative unfolds.Fiend Without a Face (which is on the Criterion Channel) was an independent British production, made in England in an attempt to grab some of the American creature-feature horror market. Its plot centers around the delicate relations of an American air force base in a small Canadian town, and how those relations are strained by the sudden presence of mysterious brain parasites that may or may not be the result of the air force powering their base with a nuclear power plant. There is an A-plot about the people trying to solve the mystery of the invisible brain parasites, and then a B-plot about the politics of the shifting sands of paranoia in the small town by the base. The detective story is flaccid, but the political story is presented with comparative subtlety and complexity. For a movie about brain parasites, that is. Then, in Act III, the brain parasites become visible and lay siege to a house where all our main characters are trapped, while the protagonist attempts to solve the problem of the brain parasites by (checks notes) blowing up the nuclear plant. The third act is completely bonkers, with an army of oddly endearing stop-motion brain-monsters attacking the cast as the protagonist frantically scrambles to blow up the nuclear plant, saving the day and not creating a worse problem by blowing up the nuclear plant. The Tingler is directed by gimmick-master William Castle, and was a genuine studio picture (Columbia) with a still-low but appreciable budget of $400,000. Vincent Price is a scientist studying a, yes, brain parasite, which he calls “the Tingler,” which lives at the base of everyone’s spine and which is imperceptible until a person is frightened, at which point the parasite wraps itself around the spinal cord and applies pressure until the victim is dead. The movie was released in theaters with a gimmick where there were electric motors attached to certain seats in the movie theater, and during certain scenes the motors would activate, causing the seat to vibrate, freaking out whoever was sitting there. There were actors at screenings who screamed and pretended to faint, to be carried out by fake medical personnel.So here is a movie that owes its existence to a gimmick. It was a gimmick-first, production-values second production. And yet, it’s a studio picture, so it’s well shot and well-lit. Or, rather, it’s shot and lit according to the standards of low-budget horror of the day. And again, you see the limitations of talent butting up against the demands of the material, and the demands of the “typical” audience. You see the interests of the screenplay ram into the demands of the producer, and, above all, you see the performances try to make sense of it all. In the case of The Tingler, well, I’d never really understood the value of Vincent Price as an actor until I watched The Tingler directly after watching Fiend Without a Face. Both movies are ridiculous, but Price’s performance in The Tingler elevates the whole movie. He commits to the absurdity of the piece and never, ever talks down to the material or rolls his eyes or winks at the audience. He singlehandedly pulls the movie together and keeps all its elements balanced, even when the narrative breaks the fourth wall in the third act and the Tingler is let loose in the VERY THEATER YOU’RE IN NOW. The Tingler’s script is also 100% more propulsive and weird than Fiend Without a Face’s, with not one but two subplots about severely dysfunctional marriages, and a brilliant acid-trip horror sequence that is genuinely disturbing. When you stop and think about it, the whole movie is genuinely disturbing, especially when you get to the end and then rewind in your mind all the choices that the filmmakers made to make the ending arrive as it does. Like Fiend Without a Face, the third act of The Tingler is off-the-hook batshit insane, with plot points stacking up by the dozens as it careens to its conclusion.After those two, Carnival of Souls feels like a giant leap into sophistication. It’s the only one of the three that doesn’t need the “so bad it’s good” apology. It’s the work of a genuine visionary who, for whatever reason, never made another feature. Its director was a successful director of industrial films, who had risen to the top of that field and worked with some of the biggest names in the business, and parlayed his success into the making of this psychological thriller. When it bombed, he became discouraged and never made another feature, but his work on this movie announces the arrival of a director as talented and unique as Kubrick. And if you’ve ever seen Kubrick’s first two features, Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss, you know that they are cinematically ambitious but utterly lacking in production values, performance and narrative logic. Carnival of Souls is quite a bit better than those movies, and while there are aspects of it that fall short, again, the more the viewer thinks about it, the more unique and peculiar the movie becomes. The performances are oddly flat and creepy, but it comes off less as amateurism and more of a directorial choice. Same goes for camera placement, lighting and editing: the director knows what he’s doing, but what he’s doing is out of step with the rules of traditional Hollywood moviemaking.The movie is about a young woman who survives a car accident and begins to have vivid hallucinations. She sees a creepy man following her around and is drawn to an abandoned amusement park at the edge of town. Her life unravels in a manner reminiscent of Polanski’s later Repulsion (both movies are essentially gothic horror, about young women going crazy), and while the production values aren’t great, they’ve been chosen with care — that care, again, dependent on the limitations of budget and schedule.At the peak of the movie’s oddness is a fantastic sequence where the woman goes to a department store to buy a new dress. She takes the dress into the changing room, and when she comes out of the changing room she has seemingly become imperceptible. Suddenly she lives in a world of silence, and people around her cannot see or hear her. Horrified, she wanders out into the streets, where the sound slowly comes back and she becomes perceptible again. It’s a perfect example of how ideas can trump production values, as it sinks in that, from an outsider’s point of view, there was a woman who went into a changing room and then never came out, and who then suddenly reappeared later in a park nearby. That’s a horror concept right there, and there are no special effects required.I sometimes think that someone needs to publish a book about these kinds of movies, where it’s explicated that they’re not to be judged like traditional Hollywood movies, but instead need to be handled with a little more care, with less consumerism and more analysis. At one end of this extreme is Ed Wood, who had no talent whatsoever but had a boundless enthusiasm for filmmaking, and at the other extreme is something like The Shining, a big-budget studio picture that is, nevertheless, deeply weird and unconventional, with a lead performance that veers wildly from naturalism to screaming, eye-rolling insanity. (I’ve often said I would pay good money to see a cut of The Shining that’s made up of all of Nicholson’s “normal” takes.) Movies like Fiend Without a Face, The Tingler and Carnival of Souls need a curator who will explain to new audiences that they can be watched for something other than camp value.

Some thoughts on The Boys

It’s a tough time for satire. The Trump Circus is so insane, so flamboyantly, egregiously stupid, that it’s impossible to address it head on. Saturday Night Live gave up a long time ago, it merely sums up the week’s events in a slightly more cartoonish delivery.

In order to satirize the unthinkable, you have to approach it from a different angle. Horror has always been good at this, allowing people to experience the terrors of everyday life through the lens of metaphor. The hellscape of 1968 was perfectly encapsulated in the movie that sprang from it, Night of the Living Dead, and They Live was, if anything, too blunt a metaphor for the Reagan era.

Amazon’s The Boys, based on a comic of the same name, has emerged as the most relevant show of the day, taking all the ugliness, greed, desperation and horror of our present moment and adding just one pop-culture ingredient to make it palatable: superheroes.

The premise, at first, sounds merely waggish: what if the Justice League were assholes? But, like, really, really, unredeemable assholes? But then it goes deeper, much deeper, as it presents a world where there are superheroes, but the superheroes are controlled by a REAL superpower, a gigantic multi-national corporation. This corporation promotes its superheroes as media stars, putting them into movies and TV shows, promoting their Instagram accounts, organizing Twitter armies to sway public opinion about them, creating their personas and origin stories, and, above all, keeping the public constantly entertained by their antics in order to cover up the many, many horrendous crimes they commit.

Does this sound familiar?

The show is not for everyone — it’s not just caustic in its satire, it’s positively scabrous, presenting a harsh, scorched-earth vision of a world where there is no real good, only different aspects of evil. There is nothing pure in its world, nothing is left untouched by its brackish, curdled moral sense. It’s pungently profane, and baroquely gory. People are routinely dismembered and beheaded, when they’re not exploding outright, but, for my money, that profanity and violence is the best mirror we currently have in a world where there really are people above the law, backed by moneyed interests with power beyond our imagining, who blithely circumnavigate the globe crushing the weak beneath their heels.

The Big Lebowski and our present moment

I’ve been thinking about The Big Lebowski a lot recently, specifically this line from Walter Sobchak, the gun-toting, conspiracy-loving, live-wire, converted-Jew Vietnam vet. “Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos.”

Walter, in the moment, is complaining about the German nihilists who have been bedeviling his friend The Dude, but the line gets me thinking about Jeffrey Lebowski, the “Big” Lebowski of the title. Jeffrey Lebowski is a local plutocrat who sets the mystery plot of The Big Lebowski by hiring The Dude to help recover his kidnapped wife Bunny. In the tradition of American noirs, things are not as they appear. Specifically, (spoiler alert) Jeffrey Lebowski is a fraud. He’s not wealthy, he’s a desperate embezzler who is using his wife’s disappearance to steal a ton of money from his family’s foundation.

Does that sound like anyone we know?

Jeffrey Lebowski likes to lord his wealth over people and pretend to be a big shot. “Your revolution is over, the bums lost!” he bellows at The Dude, advising him to “get a job.” Lebowski, of course, has no job of his own, he’s been living on his family’s wealth all his life.

Which brings me back to our President. Donald Trump could have been a Jeffrey Lebowski, whiling away his time in his mansion, living off the interest of his inherited wealth, but he had to be a big shot. He just had to be, he couldn’t live otherwise. He had to put his name on a thousand buildings, in letters as big as structurally possible, and put his face in front of every camera in sight. Unfortunately for all of us, he’s a bona-fide mouth-breathing idiot, a devastatingly stupid businessman who has never had a success in his life.

As a liar, con-man and thief, Donald Trump lives in constant desperation, terrified that, at any moment, he will be unmasked, that people will learn that, like the big Lebowski, he’s a tiny man in a big house, a blustering fool who blames his threadbare soul on everything but his own actions, actions he made while possessing every possible advantage available in his society.

And so he’s destroyed the foundations of an entire country, turned an entire government into a criminal enterprise, replaced a generation of civil servants with toadies and sycophants, not out of any ideology whatever, but simply to cover up his crimes, which escalate exponentially with every passing hour. Our nation is being demolished not from a fiendish plot toward fascism but to distract from the crimes of a single man.

Say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, at least it has an ethos. Or, as Rick and Morty put it, “You’re like Hitler, but even Hitler cared about Germany, or something.”

Some thoughts on The Lion King

UNPOPULAR OPINION: The Lion King is actually really good.

I was not looking forward to seeing this movie, I wasn’t even particularly interested in it. I had seen the 1994 movie, of course, and had analyzed it in depth when writing Antz in 1996. I’ve seen the Broadway show, which is wonderful. So I’m pretty familiar with the material, I didn’t think it would be necessary to see this new version. But I found myself in Hollywood with a few hours to kill while waiting to pick up my daughter, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll go see The Lion King.

The reviews that I’ve read complain about the characters’ lack of expressiveness and the lack of spectacle in the musical numbers. And yes, the decision to make the animals look, and behave, like real animals, obviates the question of Broadway-style show-stoppers and dancing giraffes.

So the challenge before the director, Jon Favreau, is to match, or top, the energy and beauty of the original movie while keeping one cinematic hand tied behind his back, as it were. And I have to say, he succeeds beautifully.

I didn’t find the characters unexpressive at all. Me, I generally find the performances of animated characters WAY over the top, every emotional i dotted to death, with bugging eyes, smirking mouths, bobbing shoulders and gesticulating hands. And yes, real animals don’t do any of those things. But it is not true that real animals aren’t expressive. Just around our own houses, we find animals expressing themselves in both obvious and subtle ways, fear and excitement and trepidation and boredom and anger, and we have no problem reading their expressions. And so it is here. The Lion King, like the Jungle Book adaptation before it, also directed by Favreau, substitutes the “cartoonish” expressions of its characters with real-life animal expressions, and I found it fascinating, because the characters are SO realistic, and so well-observed, that the design logic — real animals acting out a carefully-contrived script — got under my skin super fast, and I found myself seeing animals, hundreds of animals, thousands of animals, as though I’d never observed them before.

The thing is, there’s a tradition of this in Disney animation. Before Timon and Pumbaa did their vaudeville act, Disney animation, from Bambi to 101 Dalmations, was very much about observing the real motions and behavior of real animals. When you watch Bambi, it’s remarkable how much drama and pathos Disney wrings out of the common behaviors of deer. When you watch Lady and the Tramp, it’s as though Disney is sitting beside you saying “Look, a Cocker Spaniel, have you ever seen anything like it? How awesome is that dog?” The magic of Disney’s classic animated features is that, by putting its animals in their contrived plots, it allows us to see those animals as though we never have before.

And so it is here. When the young Simba takes a hesitant step back from a threatening Scar, we see a real lion cub reacting to a real threat. When Pumbaa sticks a hind hoof in his ear while distractedly answering a question, it’s a real warthog we’re seeing behaving in a real way. Favreau has taken the place of Disney, sitting beside us, saying “Look, a meerkat! How awesome is that?”

And so a “production number” like “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” while it does not have a pyramid of dancing animals, it DOES have Simba romping through the Savannah, with all the actual, true, real spectacle of all the wildlife there, building and building in its multiplicity and complexity, and, while we don’t get Broadway glitz, we DO get a thrilling, exalting, satisfying spectacle of the actual natural world. It’s a real achievement in moviemaking, and I’m rather baffled that more people haven’t seen it that way.

Piece in The Guardian

Well folks, here I am with my graphics pieces in The Guardian. I’ll be the first to admit, this is weird.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Thank you to my faithful followers who have been waiting patiently for my analysis of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. You’ll have to wait a little longer, but, for those who want a short, sharp, incisive overview, this video is an excellent place to start.


Design Observer podcast

For those of you who have been following along with my alternate career as a graphic-arts prankster, this morning brought me the surprise of being featured on an actual very-serious design podcast run by actual design professionals. They spend most of the time talking about actual design things, but then they talk about me and my work for the last five minutes or so. It’s a kick to have actual design people recognize what I’m doing.

And then of course there’s the actual site where I sell these things, which is here.

Kubrick book





















Hey folks, my new book on Kubrick, gathering my analyses of Dr. Strangelove2001: A Space OdysseyA Clockwork OrangeBarry Lyndon and The Shining is now available where finer books are sold (meaning: Amazon). Pick up a copy for your electronic device, or, if you like paper things, it’s available as a paper thing!

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