they tore the roof off the poet’s house

by Buzz on 16/01/2015

la-et-jc-ray-bradburys-house-sold-for-176-mill-001

they tore the roof off the poet’s house
they exposed his walls to the open air
they ripped up the floor where he trod
so his basement office now lay bare

“…there will come soft rains” he once quoted
in a story he wrote long ago
unseasonal rains now came falling
in the place he once let magic grow

he would laugh to see our tears falling
why are you crying?  I’m no longer there
my soul has long since found liberty
my stories have taken it everywhere

 children not yet born will soon read them
their grandchildren will pass them along
my body and my house are forgotten
but my heart will live in word and song

bradbury books DSC_2146_0

requiescat in pace, Ray

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Thinkage

by Buzz on 14/01/2015

“America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors. This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops.

“We know that technology is our military’s main advantage. Yet the story of the post-9/11 ‘long wars’ is of America’s higher-tech advantages yielding transitory victories that melt away before the older, messier realities of improvised weapons, sectarian resentments, and mounting hostility to occupiers from afar, however well-intentioned. Many of the Pentagon’s most audacious high-tech ventures have been costly and spectacular failures, including (as we will see) the major air-power project of recent years, the F-35. In an America connected to its military, such questions of strategy and implementation would be at least as familiar as, say, the problems with the Common Core education standards.

“Those technological breakthroughs that do make their way to the battlefield may prove to be strategic liabilities in the long run. During the years in which the United States has enjoyed a near-monopoly on weaponized drones, for example, they have killed individuals or small groups at the price of antagonizing whole societies. When the monopoly ends, which is inevitable, the very openness of the United States will make it uniquely vulnerable to the cheap, swarming weapons others will deploy.” — James Fallows, “The Tragedy Of The American Military”

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Fictoid: gamblers

by Buzz on 13/01/2015

JC Leyendecker - the devil you say cap

Well, my friend, it has been a droll evening.
But all evenings — and all games — must come to an end.

So, which shall it be?

Shall you reach for your gun?

Or shall I show you my card?

The gun?

Or the card?

The gun…?

…or the card?

Choose wisely, my friend.

We dangle on the precipice of hell.

art by JC Leyendecker
text © Buzz Dixon

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SNOWPIERCER: The Best 40 Years Late 70s Corman Movie

by Buzz on 13/01/2015

Snowpiercer reiterates a point I brought up regarding Captain America: Winter Soldier: It tries too hard to look too real and ends up undermining its own strengths.

It’s a goofy, nonsensical story wrought with allegorical significance, lifting its big shocking reveal[1] from William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run by way of Norman Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.

Well staged / well directed / well acted with lotsa cartoon villains to hiss and Bruce Willis School Of Long Suffering Machismo heroes to cheer.

It’s all bullshit but it’s
entertaining bullshit.

This is precisely the sort of movie Roger Corman was producing in the 1970s, the original Death Race 2000 being the primo example of the sub-genre[2]Smart enough to fire the imagination, dumb enough to plow past “oh-come-on!” moments, fast enough & funny enough to be entertaining.[3]

Compare this poster…

snowpiercer-poster

…with this poster & tell me
which movie you wanna see.

death_race_2000_poster_01(Yeah, I thot so…)

Had Corman (or Peter Watkins or Robert Fuest) made Snowpiercer, they probably wouldn’t have come to several repeated jarring stops along the way as it dawdled over some new car on the train, making sure we were all acutely aware of the overwrought symbolism drenching the screen before lurching forward again.

And they certainly wouldn’t have given us time to think about what we were looking at and the logic (or lack thereof) in what we were seeing.[4]

There are only two ways to approach cinefantastique:
Either make what one sees onscreen absolutely 100% plausible looking, or else use a stylized approach that doesn’t try to convince the viewer so much as ask them to play along.

When the former approach works, it works very, very well but it typically takes a lot of time and effort (read budget) especially in the script and performances.

The latter approach is more forgiving, basically telling the audience, “Pretend this papier-mâché boulder and painted backdrop is an alien world and we’ll tell you an entertaining story.”

This is why Star Trek: The Original Original Series[5] and early (i.e., no later than Tom Baker) Doctor Who shows grab my interest and attention far better than their glossier descendants.

Mind you, there’s a lot of
exceptionally fine work in
those slicker, more realistic
episodes and much to be
recommended, but the real
magic is in the early episodes.

When you try to make the unreal real, you better come out high steppin’ or you’re cruising for a fall. Audiences will accept felt cloth Muppets with delight but fight tooth and nail against the original 1986 Howard The Duck’s attempt to convince us a bird could talk.

Snowpiercer has a lot to recommend it,
and isn’t a total waste of time, but it
tries
 too hard to convince us and just
barely
 enough to entertain us.

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[1] Seriously, who didn’t see that one marching down the avenue at the 10 minute mark?

[2] Though there were copious films of the same style produced around that time by others: The Gladiators a.k.a. Gladiatorerna a.k.a. The Peace Game, Punishment Park, and The Final Programme a.k.a. The Last Days Of Man Of Earth being of three many that immediately spring to mind.

[3] Oh, and lots of nudity. Lots and lots and lots of nudity. I don’t want to watch an R-rated movie and find out it’s just a bunch of swearing.

[4] This is surprising because Snowpiercer makes a lot of really smart leaps in story and exposition, allowing audience familiarity with various tropes / clichés / stereotypes of the genre to fill in gaps that otherwise would have been filled with talk-talk-talk.

[5] Not the re-released version with amped up spfx that jar with the style of the original show.

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The Enemy Of The Surreal Is The Real

by Buzz on 11/01/2015

I finally caught up with The Avengers movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Verdict?

I liked ‘em.

The Avengers is the best half hour Saturday morning superhero cartoon episode ever made, and while Captain America: The First Avenger remains the best superhero movie ever made, Captain America: Winter Soldier is a damn fine sequel, mega-entertaining, tons o’fun, and really well executed.

It’s also the death knell for the genre,
but it’s going to take a while for the body
to die so expect another couple of sequels
before we’re all done.

The Avengers, as much fun as it was, failed to fully engage me the way Captain America: The First Avenger or the Iron Man movies did for this reason: With all the characters scheduled to appear in various mega-budget movie sequels and TV spinoffs and toy and apparel merchandising, there was no way any of these characters were ever in danger.

Not so much as a chipped nail or a stray hair.
Nope, The Avengers were solid and they knew it
and we knew it.

So there.

While there are a lot of fun-filled crowd pleasing moments in The Avengers[1] there was never a moment of suspense.

animated hulk smash

We all knew they were all going to come through unscathed, safe and sound with not one iota changed so they could appear in the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and when you announce a slate of 14 – 15 – 16 big-big-big budget seasonal tent pole movies with McCrappy meal tie-ins maybe everybody knows you aren’t going to take any real chances or do anything that will put a hiccup in that master Marvel marketing plan and gosh-a-rooty, know where that leaves us?

It leaves us with a really, really good episode of a really, really well made 1980s Saturday morning superhero show.

But it really is really, really, really good.

Captain America: Winter Soldier brings a whole new set of problems to the genre because comic books and cartoons have one thing in common and that’s so long as you can draw it, you de facto make it believable, and while brightly colored naked people flying and fighting are absurd in reality,[2] they translate quite well to comic book panels and cartoon pixels.

Which is why trying to make a realistic superhero movie is self-defeating, the way making a giant monster movie any more serious than the original Godzilla or Gorgo[3] is self-defeating.

City stomping is fun but if you’re serious about your city stomping then you’re going to have a million and one personal tragedies playing out and all of a sudden…

…it ain’t fun any more.

Captain America: Winter Soldier has wild gunfights erupting on busy, crowded city streets in broad daylight using explosives and heavy caliber weapons with vehicles flying through the air engulfed in huge balls of fire…

…and no civilian casualties.

The target of all this mayhem is Nick Fury hizzowsef, and there’s where all plausibility flies out the window.

Imagine, if you would, that the head of the CIA is nearly assassinated in DC by a cadre of well armed / well trained combat personnel disguised as civilian police officers.

The city — hell, the whole country! – would go apeshit and security would slam tight around Washington as US troops are moved in to secure the capital.

None of which happens in
Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Oh, they talk about it as part of Hydra’s great plot to take over the world, but you’d think if that was their intent then maybe there should’ve been some nod in that direction.

Everything keeps meandering along until the baddies can put their Final Plan into motion.

That plan entails a huge duke out between (among?) three huge helicarriers, each of which costing into the trillions of dollars or so and all of them getting destroyed in a glorious spfx orgy.

C’mon, granted it’s a movie based on a comic book, nonetheless it tries to present itself realistically enough that one recognized Cappy & Co have just destroyed the economic wealth of the US by wiping out those three helicarriers.

Granted they were destroyed to prevent a horrible holocaust from happening, but the fact is their destruction just wiped the GNP clean and left America with nothing to show for it.

And this is not getting into the huge cost of collateral damage as the three helicarriers wreck a big hunk of DC before destroying themselves.

In a real world — a world which the Marvel movies carefully try to evoke — there would be trials and courts martials and an immediate deep and lasting mistrust of all superheroes.

But it just gets shrugged off in the movie.

Now, you can get away with that sorta stuff in a comic book because the very nature of the comic book medium — like its cousin, the animated cartoon — forces a certain suspension of disbelief. The very method used to tell the story — the staging and pacing and the very strokes of the pen and brush used by the artist/s – force the reader to put aside thoughts of how reality works and accept the highly stylized worldview of comics.

And there’s nothing wrong with that;
that’s what makes comics so much fun.

But eventually it’s going to undermine the genre. Right now there’s the thrill of seeing stuff done onscreen that we’d only seen in comics and cartoons before, but eventually that will wear off and audiences will find themselves strangely dissatisfied with films and characters that had delighted them a year earlier.

Marvel, with its thousands of characters, can roll with the punch for a while. When — not if — Iron Man and Hulk and Captain America and The Avengers grow tiresome, there are lots more to choose from.

But the genre itself is eventually going to burn out, and trying to make the movies more real — “better” as it were — is only going to hasten that moment.

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[1] The movie could have been just two hours of Hulk bitch slapping Loki and it would have made as much money.

[2] As are talking animals.

[3] Both of which are great examples of their genre and better than Pacific Rim or the recent Godzilla remake or the Godzilla remake before that or Cloverfield. Ghu, yes, better than Cloverfield

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The Words Of The Prophets…

by Buzz on 11/01/2015

…are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls

WotP Bob Dylan hero

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Playing Dominoes With Terrorists

by Buzz on 9/01/2015

The difference between terrorism and state sponsored terror is this:
State sponsored terror is simply low grade warfare, typically directed at those populations directly under the state’s control.  It is a bully’s weapon — the powerful inflicting pain, suffering, and deprivation on the weak — but it is backed up with genuine force.

If it wasn’t, those terrorized would rapidly
rise in revolt and overthrow the state.

Terrorism in the modern sense is a weapon of the weak against the strong.  This is not to be misconstrued as a moral endorsement.  Terrorism as practiced today is an insidious device, but its aims are not as straightforward and direct as them seem.

The object of terrorism is to provoke a massive and unjust reaction by the target against the group the terrorists are trying to motivate.

Terrorists simply don’t possess the resources to wage a direct one-on-one war against their enemies (perceived or real).  To get those resources they need the support of their particular group, be that group ethnic, racial, cultural, political, or religious.

Typically their group is not openly at odds with the target.

Oh, there are doubtlessly friction points, and quite often neither the target nor the terrorists’ group as a whole want anything to do with the other, but that kind of live & let live attitude is anathema to the terrorists.

While they may have other ulterior motives, their primary aim is to get their group motivated against the target.[1]

So the purpose of terrorism is less the actual destruction of targets of values[2] but rather the generation of outrage against their own group which in turn will lead to their group joining the fight against the target.

It’s as if your kid sister goes to the neighbors next door, pees on their dining room table, then runs back with them in hot pursuit; her hope is that the family will protect her against the neighbors, not listen to what they have to say and administer justice on their own.

Terrorism differs from civil disobedience, nonviolent protests, and passive resistant in a very key, crucial manner:  Civil disobedience is aimed at creating a disruption and irritation to the daily operation of the target, until they finally get fed up and stop doing whatever it is the protestors are protesting.

The object of civil disobedience is not to create lasting harm; quite the contrary, civil disobedience only works when it can be stopped with a single word and everything goes back to normal.

You want African American riders to stop
boycotting your busses, tell them they can
sit wherever they want.  They’re climbing
back on the busses in less than five minutes.

Terrorism is not that.[3]  There are no states or groups capable of being intimidated by terrorism; if they were, they would have already been taken over by a tougher ruling cadre that won’t capitulate.

The recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and other targets in France are not aimed at intimidating the French into capitulation.[4]  Rather, it’s to provoke them into a stupid and senseless reaction against the terrorists’ group, so that the group will rally together against the target.

The terrorists are willing to kill dozens of the target so that thousands of their own group will die so that their group will be sufficiently provoked and enraged to go to war against the target.

It’s a row of dominoes, and the only way to keep them from tipping over the last one is to intercept a domino before it topples.

And the easiest way to do that is that when the terrorists’ topple their first domino…

animated toppling dominoes prevented

…refuse to let the next one fall.

Oh, the macho bullshit chickenhawks will throw their little hissy fits — they always do when they aren’t the ones who have to march off to blood and disaster – but don’t listen to them.

Listen instead to common sense and common decency.

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[1]  And if in so motivating them, the terrorists also become recognized as the group’s leaders, well so much the better.

[2] That’s nice, but purely a bonus.

[3]  Renegade elements of the Irish Republican Army tried a bizarre hybrid of terrorism and civil disobedience after the bulk of Ireland gained its independence.  They planted bombs but called the local authorities to alert them to evacuate the area before they detonated, causing disruption and no small amount of property damage, but studiously avoiding human casualties.  The idea was that the British would never been sufficiently outraged to react in a large scale, and would eventually get worn down to the point where they’d agree to the IRA’s demands in order to stop the attacks.  Unfortunately, it took only one bungled phone call to wreck that plan, and the wrath of the scepter’d isle came down hard and fast on the emerald one.

[4]  It’s a popular trope that the French are cowardly cheese eating surrender monkeys who will give up at the first sign of danger.  The truth is they have a long and blood military history, one that includes being on both ends of the invaders’ bayonet, and they are reluctant to take up arms on a large scale if they can’t see an obvious benefit or a valid exit strategy.  One is foolish to mistaken caution in getting involved in every fight that comes down the boulevard with an unwillingness or inability to fight if needed.

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los angeles: a love song

by Buzz on 7/01/2015

Los Angeles postcard

driving down the sinuous dusty snake we call sepulveda it is easy to understand why we love los angeles sunbaked unreality cut loose from the present an eternal time an internal rhyme over forever linked to past and future but never to now aging hipsters ancient hippies all the way back to hollywood nature boys this place this land this zeitgeist called to us all in our sleep in our dreams it beckoned us with a beguiling voice calling us with this siren song you’ll never be home till you’re here till you’re here till you’re here you’ll never be home till you’re here

and we came in cars in jitneys in jalopies in jets in jest in just what we had on our backs whatever it takes to find our way here find this time this place this land so hot and dusty and magical it must be a fever dream where every possibility is a reality waiting to be uncovered this is where we belong

this is our home
this will always be our home
this always has been our home

we walk its canyons of cactus and concrete sit in its cool temples both sacred and profane and we ask why are we here

we know we are supposed to be here but why?

some come for fame and some for fortune but if that is what you want you take it and leave soon enough you were never one of us you never belonged here and we can see it in your eyes smell it on your soul and we bear you no animosity and we say go with the grace of God…

…but go

a thousand failures are our family but you we don’t know

we come to build and make but many times we know what we build but not why our great white elephants rear back and stretch tusk and trunk to the sky
why do we do that
why would anybody do that?

because we can and
because we can then we must
we can not let los angeles go unimagined we must call forth
a thousand foolish fantasies from
a thousand fantastic fools and we must
shape the unreality the ur-reality and make it concrete give voice to the dream that beguiled us revitalize it and send it back into the world to find our brothers and sisters and bring them home

los angeles you are my home waiting for me from before my parents were born you hold secrets for those who love you secrets you reveal and they will share with the rest of the world

not everybody will hear the music or
get the joke but those that do
they will be here
they will come
they will be part of us

dusty canyons dreaming streets dazzling days starry nights of neon and wonder blocking the real stars in the sky dazzling us with galaxies imagined by man and woman some big some small some petty some grand but all reflecting the same unreal city and land that calls us here that makes us welcome

to the desert!  to the skies and snakes and scorpions, to sunbaked sunblasted sunbleached suncursed vistas of melting stone landscape, we come

to the sea!  great prehistoric monsters of steel and gray writhing above the waves hiding behind phony palm trees only to fall to very real surfers knights of the sea skating slithering sliding safely between the legs of the giants to deliver themselves born whole like venus onto the nirvana of the beach, we come

to the studios!  playschool playhouse playacting a thousand lives a million scenarios an infinite range of possibilities playfully tossing back to the world what the world cast off, we come

we come without fear and oddly without hope because hope is uncertain and we all know we are the chosen one we are the one destined to set the night ablaze with unquenchable glory, we come

and so
here we are
what are you
going to do
about it?

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text © Buzz Dixon

 

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KING KIRBY: a play by Fred Van Lente & Crystal Skillman

by Buzz on 6/01/2015

“The Midtown Comics Podcast has teamed up the husband and wife team of comic book writer Fred Van Lente and playwright Crystal Skillman to present their play, King Kirby. King Kirby was performed for a live audience this summer, but now it’s presented to you in audio format for the first time for free!”

Jack Kirby is my nameBrief review based on my personal knowledge of Jack:

Hits several (but not all) keynotes in Jack’s long and illustrious career as well as several (but again, far from all) of the most prominent abuses shoveled on him directly and indirectly by the comics industry.  Based on my first hand experience with them, gives an adequate but not altogether thorough idea of what Jack and Roz were like, and what Stan Lee is like; I wouldn’t say this is a grievous fault since it’s hard to sum up the wonderful complexity of any human being in just an hour’s time, much less four people (Joe Simon is the 4th major role in the piece; I have no first hand knowledge of him).

kirbyself__span

The actors cast in the roles (Steven Rattazi and Amy Lee Pearsall) remind me of Jack and Roz as opposed to sounding like Jack and Roz, but they’re fine performers and their interpretations of Jack and Roz’ personalities are nice tributes to their memories (Nat Cassidy as Stan Lee comes much closer, but that’s because there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sound bytes by Stan).

The complexities of the various business deals and legal conflicts that marked both Jack’s personal career and the comics industry as a whole are streamlined but at least presented with enough detail to make the issues understandable to audiences unfamiliar with them.

In short:  I really, really enjoyed this and recommend it highly to everyone.

Jack Kirby and his creations

Thanx to Midtown Comics for staging and recording this live reading of comic book writer Fred Van Lente and playwright Crystal Skillman’s play:  When in Manhattan go visit Midtown Comics — it’s a helluva great store!

And a special thanx to Tom Spurgeon’s
The Comics Reporter for the tip off.

And yeah, I know some people are going to say the Spider-Man depicted here is Steve Ditko’s design; nonetheless, Jack took the first swing at designing the character and passed the job on to Ditko because he was so busy with other books.

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Fictoid: One Night While Robbing The Pharmacy…

by Buzz on 4/01/2015

Bud Parke - nurse hostage cap

underlying art by Bud Parke
text © Buzz Dixon

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