Monday, October 27, 2008

In Search of the White Whale!

 Yep, January 3 & 4, 2004. You missed it; I didn't.

Here's an article originally published in a mid-January, 2004, issue of the The Patriot, a Webster, Massachusetts newspaper. ("Oxford" refers to Oxford, Massachusetts, where I lived for over 15 years, during my so-called "formative" period.)

The whale from Pleasure Island's Moby Dick Hunt. I may never know
if my parents brought me there to indulge my youthful fascination for
Moby Dick, or if my obsession began after viewing the beast!

To call the weekend of January 3rd and 4th the culmination of a childhood preoccupation (I hesitate to write “obsession.”) may be phrasing it a bit too strongly, but that’s certainly how it felt to me.

 On January 3rd, 1841, the Fairhaven Ship Acushnet sailed out of the New Bedford, Massachusetts harbor. The Acushnet’s crew included a young sailor named Herman Melville, who roughly ten years later published what is arguably the greatest American novel. I say “arguably.” Ken Kesey’s list of the ten best American novels (from The Book of Lists #2) gives Moby-Dick the #1 spot. However, the original Book of Lists includes Moby-Dick as one of “The 15 Most Boring Classics.”

One hundred and sixty-three years later to the day, a good-sized crowd of literary enthusiasts, myself included, gathered in the Lagoda Room of the New Bedford Whaling Museum in order to begin reading this novel aloud, non-stop, in mostly ten-minute increments. This innocent project would end up taking a little over twenty-five hours. Such is and was necessary for a book with a page count exceeding 600, especially considering the labyrinthine writing style common to much of the 19th century’s offerings.

The museum as it looks today!

Readers and spectators alike knew in advance that the reading would take that long, of course. Advance publicity for the event made it plain, which was easy enough for the event’s organizers, as it had been successfully attempted seven times before.

 The museum as it looked when I first visited.

 A postcard I bought when I first visited the New Bedford Whaling Museum
in the mid-1960s. I didn't know it then, but I'd started a tradition!

I don’t recall precisely when and how I first became aware of the epic tome Herman Melville entitled Moby-Dick, or, The Whale. (That hyphen in Moby-Dick, curiously enough, is present only in the title of the book. Every reference to the whale in the text of the novel itself omits it.) It may have become ingrained in my six or seven year old mind when my parents took my older sister and myself to Wakefield, Massachusetts, sometime circa 1962. The trip to Wakefield was to visit a theme park known as Pleasure Island, a relatively short-lived pretender to the Disneyland throne.

However, Pleasure Island’s mascot, as it were, was not a falsetto-voiced, anthropomorphic mouse and his cartoon cohorts. Pleasure Island’s mascot was Moby Dick himself. Well, a replica, anyway. The park even offered the “Moby Dick Hunt,” a leisurely boat ride which was marginally “threatened” by the eventual appearance of a scaled-down, robotic version of the legendary great white whale. Actually, the cut-rate Leviathan in question was a dingy yellow, rather than white, and even at my tender age, I could tell that the mechanical sea creature needed a proper cleaning.

My interest in Moby-Dick, with or without the hyphen, continued nevertheless. As a slightly older child, I was a regular fixture in the children’s room of Oxford’s public library. I suspect that most editions of Moby-Dick are abridged versions, and the copy which I eagerly thumbed through during each visit was, naturally, no exception. Quite a bit of the material in the uncut Moby-Dick would have been lost on a youngster such as myself anyway. But what remained in that thick blue volume was enough to spur my interest onward.

I estimate my age at the time of my first excursion to the New Bedford Whaling Museum as being as young as eight, perhaps as old as ten. And, truth be told, I remember being vaguely disappointed. Perhaps my expectations of a whaling museum had been shaped by other museums which I had seen in cartoons, television programs, and movies. These museums had, among other, less interesting exhibits, many reconstructed skeletons of dinosaurs, very impressive to a pre-adolescent male. But the whaling museum had only one whale skeleton, that of a humpback whale. (They still have it, of course, but it’s somewhat overshadowed nowadays by the larger skeleton of a young blue whale which, like the humpback, is suspended from the ceiling.) Frankly, I only vaguely remember the museum’s other exhibits from that long-ago time.

A recent acquisition. I think this is the edition
I used to read in the Oxford library's Children's Room!

In the largish Lagoda Room, named after the half-scale replica of a typical whaling vessel contained within, the story began. The opening lines of the novel “Call me Ishmael,” and so on, were read by Assistant District Attorney Ray Veary, according to the programs with which we were supplied. These programs listed all the scheduled readers, but there were also several “alternates,” those who would read if a listed reader didn’t show. At least one of these alternates was called upon to read three separate times during the course of the marathon.

Every ten minutes, for the most part, the reader was replaced by yet another reader. The event’s “big guns” were scheduled toward the beginning and end of the marathon. In addition to A.D.A. Veary, the first hour and a half featured appearances by New Bedford’s mayor, Frederick M. Kalisz, Mary K. Bercaw, current president of the Melville Society, and Peter Whittemore, the great-great grandson of Herman Melville himself. Closing readers included Anne Brengle, the NBWM’s executive director, Carl Cruz of the New Bedford Historical Society, and Representative Barney Frank.

After the first ninety minutes or so, we were taken from the museum to the Seamen’s Bethel across the street. There we were treated to a recreation of Father Mapple’s sermon from Moby-Dick. Father Mapple’s dialogue was read by the Rev. Edward Dufresne, while the appropriate surrounding narration was read by A.D.A. Veary, reprising his role as Ishmael.

A comic book adaptation of the 1957 film.


Those who have seen the 1957 film of “Moby Dick,” starring Gregory Peck as the tortured Captain Ahab, and featuring Orson Welles as Father Mapple, will no doubt remember the impressive pulpit of the whaleman’s chapel, shaped like the prow of a ship. A somewhat less imposing version of that podium decorates the Seaman’s Bethel today, and even that is an after-thought. The ship’s-bow pulpit sprang from Melville’s imagination, and the Hollywood film embraced the attendant visual. However, the actual rostrum of the chapel was rather pedestrian. After having seen the film, visitors wondered why, and so, a somewhat more modest version of the movie’s pulpit was constructed. It was originally planned to be temporary, until a better version was built, but the visitors seemed satisfied, and that is the pulpit which stands today.

After the church service segment of the novel had been completed, we all returned to the museum. This time we were seated in the Jacobs Family Gallery. Here is where the two whale skeletons mentioned earlier are displayed, so those of us who stayed for the reading either sat near, or underneath, the remains of these two underwater mammals.
With the exception of an entertaining little skit (which Melville had actually written like a play-within-a-novel) performed in the museum’s theater at roughly 8 p.m. Saturday, the rest of the readings were held in the Jacobs Family Gallery.

 This was purchased a few years ago, when I went to the museum for the second time.
Another visit, another postcard. Thus continues the tradition!

2004’s eighth annual Moby-Dick Marathon turned out to be my third trip to the museum. Roughly five or six years ago, I went there with my godson Evan. I was honestly not prepared to have to defend the concept of “whaling” itself, from an historical perspective. At the time of my initial visit, I was a boy who thought nothing of these old-time sailors getting into their boats for the purpose of chasing and killing the whales needed to provide much of the world with oil for their lamps, as well as the raw material for everything from candles to hoop skirts. All young Evan could conceive was that these whalers were getting into their boats to kill whales. He couldn’t understand the apparent cruelty of the whole whaling experience. I tried to explain the bygone necessity of what we supposedly enlightened souls in these politically-correct, modern times would view as wholesale slaughter. I confess that I couldn’t completely justify the carnage to him, nor even, at that point, to myself.

Other than the 260-page "young readers" version, this 399-page paperback
was the only copy of the novel which I owned before the Marathon.

Those of you who only know of Moby-Dick’s bare-bones plot, i.e., a mad captain, Ahab by name, sacrificing all for the sake of revenging himself upon the whale which took off Ahab’s leg, are missing several facets of the story. The novel contains that story, true, but so much more as well. Melville gives more detail on whales and whaling than most modern readers would find necessary. He admittedly digresses from the main plot on a few occasions. And surprisingly, there is a lot more humor in the novel than one would suspect.

Those who find the book to be “boring” need to take the writing styles of 150 years ago into account, however. Poring through a 600-page volume published in 1851 is not the same as reading a modern Stephen King novel of the same length. Also, if I may make just one comparison, Melville’s work wasn’t even as accessible to the average reader as someone like Charles Dickens, whose writings, recognized as classic by today’s scholars, were originally written and serialized for the common man. For lack of a better way to put it, Dickens was writing the mid-1800s’ version of soap operas! Melville was not.

The museum supplied the late-night attendees with chowder, snacks, and coffee. Plenty of coffee! I lost count of my own caffeine intake after six cups.

While several of the readers and spectators were from New Bedford, participants came from as far away as Wisconsin. The youngest reader was Spencer Ross-Rose, an eight-year-old from Rehoboth. The eldest? Hard to say, although I would guess that a handful of Melville aficionados were in their eighties.

At the 2003 Moby-Dick Marathon, just over 700 people attended during the course of the reading. This year, over 1,000 people attended. The event’s organizers opined that the large increase was due to publicity and the fact that January 3rd and 4th fell on a Saturday and a Sunday this year. Last year, 20 people lasted for the entire 25½ hours. This year, the total who stayed from beginning to end was 25.

I was one of that 25. For my persistence, I received a deluxe, unabridged paperback version of the novel to which a curious collection of budding literati had devoted a weekend. This was a special 150th anniversary edition, published in 2001. When being handed my little trophy, I couldn’t resist asking, “Could I have a different book? I already know how this one ends.”

Third visit, third postcard.

Until receiving my prize at the marathon’s end, the only copy of Moby-Dick which I had owned was a small paperback copy, edited down to roughly 400 pages. Sometime around midnight on the Friday night before my Saturday journey to New Bedford, I held this shortened version in my hand and silently wondered what section I’d be reading. I did some quick mental calculations. I was scheduled to read at 3:30 a.m. Sunday, a little more than halfway through the marathon. Keeping in mind that it was all-too-possible that the 10-minute passage I’d actually be called upon to read might not even be in my abridged version, I opened the book at a point slightly beyond the 200-page mark.

I was immediately plunged into an earlier time. I rode with the crew of the Pequod as they set out to capture and kill a whale. But this section didn’t glorify the slaughter. As I read, it became apparent that the whale they pursued was old, infirm, and terrified. He was blind, and only had one flipper. “For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men,” writes Melville, touching us with his description of how this beseiged beast suffers. “For, by this time, so spent was he by loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin, then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world; turned up the white secrets of his belly; lay like a log, and died. It was most piteous, that last expiring spout.”

I stood there that night, book in hand, thinking about how much I would like to recite that portion aloud if given the chance. Even as I thought that, I realized that the actual chances of that happening were slim. I’d opened the book at random. Plus, as mentioned earlier, there were over 200 pages of story which didn’t even exist in my paperback copy. I could be called upon to read from something I didn’t even own yet, as such.

Remarkably, however, I was assigned that very section of that very same chapter! I was able to read the tale of the old whale’s pitiful death, injecting a proper amount of emotion into the recitation. I can only hope I did it justice.

Best of all, I somehow feel that, in reading from this particular segment, I was able to successfully bridge the gap from a long-gone lifestyle to a little boy who shook his head in bewilderment and asked, “Why?” And my only answer, then as now, is that we really have no answers.

 My trophy, earned in 25½ hours.

Thanks for your time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"The Curse of the Cat People" (A Movie Review)


This week's entry pretty much speaks for itself. It was published in an arts & literary magazine called Nights and Days.


From Review to Rant(?)
a kinda/sorta movie review by David M. Lynch
(entire contents copyright © 2003 David M. Lynch)

A few weeks ago, when the editor of Nights & Days asked me if I’d be interested in writing a movie review -- of all things! -- I had to make two decisions, PDQ:
  1. Should I say “yes” or “no?” Obviously, I said “yes.”
  2. Should the movie that I review be an older film (which would be my preference) or a new film (relatively few of which, frankly, interest me)? Well, being the self-centered S.O.B. that I am, #2 ended up being as much of a no-brainer for me as #1 was (after the fact, anyway) for you.

Generally speaking, those writers who review the current theatrical and/or DVD/VHS offerings do so with two purposes in mind:
  1. They wish to tell you whether or not you’ll be wasting your time sitting down long enough to view the film in its entirety, and
  2. They want to make a living by giving such advice.

In my case, the second scenario is doubtful to the point of being laughable. Therefore, ignoring what I said earlier about how self-centered I am, be assured that the following review is being written with your best interests at heart!

(For my next lie… )

Negativity comes naturally to me. I could have taken the easy way out and found some suitably odious piece of cinematic schlock to review. Lord knows, there’s enough trash out there, new and old, just waiting for an attack from my own poison pen (Well, I’m actually typing on the keyboard of my personal computer, as opposed to literally writing anything with a pen or pencil, but “poison PC,” however alliterative, doesn’t sound anywhere near as lofty, traditional, and pretentious, does it?). But I decided instead to deal with a film I could recommend with a clear conscience, a 1944 psychological thriller called The Curse of the Cat People.

(“Finally, forty-seven pages into the so-called review, the long-winded mofo tells us the name of the movie!”)

You may or may not agree with the so-called “auteur theory”[1], that annoying little postulation which is responsible for that equally annoying credit in so many movies, “A Film by [insert incredibly self-important director’s name here].”

Yeah, right. Let’s ignore the other 8,000,000 or so people who slaved on the same flick, shall we?

One of my primary arguments against any proposal which claims that the director’s influence on a film makes the end product completely his (or hers) is that the influence of (for example) a strong writer (one whose work is not subsequently emasculated by re-writes or other studio shenanigans, that is), or even an overpowering cinematographer or film editor, can keep the completed film from being the vision of any one person.

So, here’s my view: Given the circumstances behind a film’s history, from inception to final cut, a director… or a writer… or a cinematographer… or an editor… or even -- to name one particular gentleman whom I’ll eventually praise in this review -- a producer can put his/her indelible stamp on a motion picture.

And that brings us to producer Val Lewton, and The Curse of the Cat People.

(Ummm… You do remember The Curse of the Cat People, don’t you? This is an article about The Curse of the Cat People.[2])

The Curse of the Cat People was the 1944 sequel to 1942’s Cat People. But here I must once again digress by briefly describing Cat People itself.

If you’re not familiar with the 1942 original released by RKO, maybe you saw the 1982 remake, directed by Paul Schrader? The main differences -- of which there are several -- in this “update” were an incest sub-plot, one scene of light bondage & implied bestiality, and nude scenes by both Nastassia Kinski[3] (in her prime) and (believe it or not) Annette O’Toole. In other words, this version showed a lot more flesh than fur. Fun for the entire family! It also starred Malcolm McDowell (before he started looking like a cross between Sting and W.C. Fields) and John Heard (one of the most underrated actors since Kurt Russell).

Well, if you know the 1982 version, ignore it for the remainder of this review. Although any movie which features David Bowie on its soundtrack and has a panther tear an arm off of Ed Begley, Jr. can’t be all bad!

The original was a lot moodier, and a lot less bloody. It concerned -- and I’ll try to be uncharacteristically brief, here -- the romance between Serbian immigrant Irena (and that’s pronounced “Ee-ray-nah,” not “Eye-ree-nah”) Dubrovna and a gent named Oliver Reed (no relation at all to the he-man actor named Oliver Reed, who shuffled off this mortal coil a few years ago). Said romance progressed to an eventual marriage, despite the fact that Irena had a family secret. Her “family secret” was that whenever those of Irena’s bloodline were kissed, to say nothing of moments of… ummm… “extreme passion,” shall we say, they would supposedly (Yes, I said “supposedly.” Keep that in mind, please; I’ll reference it later.) turn into panthers.

Yup, you read that correctly.

Anyway, poor ol’ stupid Oliver not only married a woman he’d never even kissed, but quickly discovered that he shouldn’t expect any kisses – never mind anything more – after the wedding, either. Ever. (Can you say, “Sucks to be him,” boys and girls? Sure ya can.) Eventually, he becomes attracted to a female co-worker, Alice. Surprise, surprise. (There’s a very unfortunate, semi-misogynistic lesson there, ladies.)

Damn, do these mixed marriages ever work?

Unfortunately for the exotically beautiful Irena (SPOILER WARNING, but I’ll spare you the minute details, at least), being a horror film and all, this story does not end happily. After doing away with a libidinous psychologist (who’s been brought in by hubbie Oliver, who is so mired in the mundane that he just knows Irena is delusional), Panther/Irena (who’s also transformed by jealousy and anger, conveniently enough) goes after Alice. Alice survives, but Irena meets a predictably violent end. Bouncing back all too quickly for my tastes, Oliver winds up with Alice, who’s perfect for him (Boring with a capital “B,” in other words!).

The movie succeeded well enough for RKO to demand a sequel from producer Lewton. But Lewton didn’t want to do anything so predictable.

Another quasi-diversion, here. Val Lewton was one of those producers whom I referred to earlier, one who usually had a knack for putting together creative personnel (writers[4], directors, cinematographers, etc.) who could deliver a film which had Lewton’s own stylistic imprint upon it. Lewton loved dark, atmospheric worlds in which his characters could live -- or not live -- their lives. He preferred to let the viewers’ imaginations fill in the more violent aspects of his storylines (although admittedly, budgetary considerations may have occasionally been a factor).

Besides Cat People and its sequel, Lewton produced such minor classics as I Walked with a Zombie (1943; really good & really moody; stupid title) and The Leopard Man (also 1943; The Leopard Man, while not a great film, has one of the most chilling scenes in a movie of that period. I won’t spoil it. I suggest you find the blasted film, and after viewing it, you’ll know which scene I’m talking about!) He specialized in a more psychological form of terror. Lucky for him he never lived to see the rise of the “splatter films.”

Lewton didn’t care to simply re-hash his earlier effort when he made The Curse of the Cat People. (“You do remember The Curse of the Cat People, don’t you?” he said again. “This is an article about The Curse of the Cat People.”) Possibly he was still irked by the fact that RKO had, as legend has it, inserted one or two scenes in Cat People which “proved” that Irena had indeed become the cinematic version of Catwoman. Reportedly, Lewton’s original version left us wondering if Irena was really a supernatural creature, or (as husband Oliver believed) a certifiable nutball (which is why I made my earlier comment about Irena and her relatives supposedly becoming panthers).

Lewton assembled three of the original cast members (Simone Simon as Irena, Kent Smith as Oliver, and Jane Randolph as Alice) to reprise their roles, and went off on an extreme tangent from there.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Oliver and Alice have married and have a little girl, Amy, an absolutely gorgeous little child (and I’m not one of those people who automatically fawn over children) with blonde hair, and eyes that simply must be baby blue (This is a black-and-white film… )! They also have a butler, Edward (played by an actor named -- I swear -- Sir Lancelot) whose main purpose seems to be patronizing the child.

Amy is a dreamer, caught up in her own world much of the time. Her schoolmates consider her to be strange, and matters aren’t helped by Amy’s mishandling of the invitations to her own birthday party: In the Reeds’ backyard, y’see, is a large tree. When Amy was younger, Oliver had told her that it was a “magic mailbox.” Guess where the invitations to the party wound up? Terrific; one more reason for the kids to dislike little Amy; as far as they knew, virtually none of them were invited to her party!

Early in this nifty little flick, Oliver starts to really tick me off, by the way. His main talent as a father -- if you can call it that -- seems to be sending conflicting messages to his daughter. As in Cat People, he has nothing but scorn for almost anything showing imagination (although he himself is an artist of sorts, a ship architect, and enjoys building model ships as well). He evidently expects Amy to bypass her childhood fancies and “grow up.” (The term is mine, and not Oliver’s, but it’s quite appropriate to describe his attitude.)

In simpler terms, Oliver is a jerk. (Hey, what did you expect a contributor to a magazine like this to say about someone with a creativity-dampening attitude like Oliver’s?)

Some father! First, he instills a sense of wonder and magic in a little girl’s heart by coming up with something as nifty and inspired as a “magic mailbox,” and then figuratively stomps on that same heart a couple of years later by deriding Amy for believing such nonsense! But tell me something, Ollie, if a small child can’t trust and believe her parents, whom can she trust, fer cryin’ out loud?!?

Jerk. Maybe Irena’s whole “cat people” concept was only a dodge, and this is the real reason why Irena wouldn’t “do the wild thing” with Oliver: She knew he’d stink as a Dad! Why tempt fate by bearing his child?!?

So. After Amy shows Oliver where she “mailed” the invitations, they go back inside the house to have her party with just the immediate family, plus the ever-annoying Edward. They bring out the cake. And of course, Amy is told to blow out out the candles and make a wish.

Oops. So much for reality versus fantasy. But that’s a good kind of make-believe, they tell Amy in so many words! Why, I oughtta… !

It gets even worse as the story progresses. Anyone with half a heart (like myself – half a heart, that is) has no choice but to feel sorry for Amy. Her father’s an uptight Vulcan wannabe, her mother’s an all-but-ineffectual “little woman” to her “lord & master” Oliver, and Edward… Well, Edward just gives me the creeps.

All Amy wants is a friend. And in short order, she gets not one, but two.

The first is Julia Farren, the spooky old lady who lives in the nearby mansion. Julia was an acclaimed actress in her youth, one who seems to have been “courted” by suitors all over the world. Somewhere along the way, she produced a daughter, Barbara.

Barbara is a shifty-looking, slit-eyed chienne who immediately resents Amy’s friendship with her mother. And dangerously so. But you can’t totally blame Barbara, since Julia claims Barbara is not her daughter (She says the “real” Barbara died as a child.), and constantly refers to her as “that woman,” and terms which are equally endearing.

Julia’s theatricality strikes a positive chord with Amy, although Julia’s little monologue about the Headless Horseman will probably unnerve anyone who’s even a bit impressionable. It also sets up a great moment later on, too! Naturally, Amy’s friendship with such a woman doesn’t completely please Amy’s parents, or creepy Edward.

But, as I stated above, it gets worse. Amy’s other friend, who “magically” appears to her one night, is Irena herself. Yes, Irena, Oliver’s first wife, the family secret which Oliver and Alice have kept from little Amy.

It’s here that the brilliance of Lewton’s creative crew becomes apparent. In Cat People as it was originally envisioned, we were never supposed to know for sure whether or not Irena’s transformations were real. And here, we’re not 100% sure that Irena is not a product of Amy’s imaginings. However, if there is no real ghost, how does Amy know what Irena looks and sounds like? Amy never met her, since Irena died before Amy’s birth, nor has she ever seen a photo of Irena, although Oliver is still hiding a couple from Alice. And how does Amy learn the haunting tune which Irena used to hum?

The climax of the story coincides with the Christmas season. In fact, if the first issue of Nights and Days had been planned for July, rather than August, I would have sneakily suggested that you locate this movie as a feature for a demented “Christmas in July” gathering. As it is, however, you may have to search until the real Christmas season in order to find it!

From this point on, I’ll leave out a lot of detail (because it’s my genuine hope that you will indeed seek out this movie so you can view it for yourself), but you can probably guess Oliver’s reaction once he discovers who Amy’s new “imaginary friend” is.

Then again, maybe you can’t guess the extent of his reaction. He takes the kid to her bedroom upstairs (and mercifully, off-camera) to “punish” her. He has, to paraphrase Alice (because I don’t have the videotape cued up), never punished her “that way” before.

When it comes to corporal punishment, I’m somewhere in-between the modern view that says you should never strike a child, and those flaming idiots who think it’s okay to beat on a kid because you’re a little bit drunk and/or you just don’t like his face. Under extreme circumstances, I can justify it somewhat; for instance, there’s a scene in the 1936 classic, These Two, where the trouble-making, life-wrecking little brat gets a slap in the face from Margaret Hamilton (later to play the Wicked Witch of the West) that makes me want to stand up and cheer.

But for Oliver to spank little Amy for the “offense” of… well, for being a child, for “lying” about the friend which Oliver (understandably) thinks is imaginary? No, there’s no excuse. And that’s the aspect of this movie that keeps bothering me as I write this review. That’s the aspect that sidetracks this simple review into a rant. I can’t escape the bitter thoughts about Oliver, the Always-Right. Oliver, the Contradictory. Oliver, the Parent-Who-Needs-to-Be-On-a-Freaking-Leash!

Oliver the Jerk.

I don’t blame the kid for sneaking out of the house and into the cold winter evening. And that’s just what she does, while Oliver and Alice are downstairs, being entertained by Hollywood’s most professional “neighborhood carolers” ever (These folks really represent the crème de la crème of a supposedly thrown-together group! They all have perfect pitch, and they sing the most obscure requests in multi-layered harmonies!). Amy’s disappearance leads to the sudden -- and unconvincing -- “redemption” of that self-righteous prig, Oliver, as well as the eerie and unsettling resolutions of all plot threads…

And no, I won’t spoil those. Instead, I strongly suggest you find this film. Even if you’ve never seen Cat People. Even if you never want to see Cat People. You don’t have to see it, although I do recommend it, as well; Curse of the Cat People stands on its own. And I think it’s one of those remarkably few sequels -- although “sequel” is really a misnomer, here -- that outshines the original.

I think you’ll enjoy it, if you can avoid focusing to the point of obsessing (as I did) on Oliver’s pig-headedness!

Thanks for your time.


[1]If you need and would like a nice, neat, and relatively short definition/explanation of the auteur theory, here’s a web page for you to visit: http://www.everything2.org/index.pl?node=auteur%20theory; If you’re looking for a more elaborate definition and history, something, shall we say, in a more scholarly vein, here you go: http://comm2.fsu.edu/programs/comm/film/spintro.htm. However, if you’d prefer something which resembles what I myself might have written (but only after dropping one or two 0.5 mg tablets of lorazepam), try http://www.filmjerk.com/nuke/article47.html. Happy hunting, and don’t say I never gave you anything!
[2] With apologies to Arlo Guthrie and “Alice’s Restaurant,” of course.
[3] Or was she spelling it Nastassja that week? Check her listing at http://us.imdb.com/Name?Kinski,+Nastassja and you’ll see what I mean!
[4]I should mention that Lewton was the credited co-writer of all four films mentioned in this paragraph!

Now, as for next time.... I'm not sure, yet. I may fill this space with the first of hopefully three chapters about my comic book concept, Aero. Or instead, I may share the story of the most dangerous thing I ever did in the name of "research" for my writing.

Or. I. May. Eat. Something. Strange. Again.

Or... not.

Meet me here next Monday, and we'll both find out, okay?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Breakfast

I was undecided up until the wee hours -- or, as my aging bladder would have it, the "wee-wee" hours -- of Sunday what my very first post on The Lair of the Silver Fox would feature.

I was leaning heavily on a comic book concept called Aero which comics legend Dick Ayers and I submitted to a handful of alternative publishers about fifteen years ago. However, the background info on Aero's creation necessitated more than one chapter in the tale of "his" creation, so I decided to go with something that would stand on its own, in one entry. There were a handful of other candidates that fit that criterion, but I chose the following story rather than those others for various boring reasons of my own.

Most of my stories are autobiographical at their very core. Then, usually, I deviate from "me" and warp the main character(s) accordingly. In this particular tale, it remains about me, literally, but it will quickly become obvious that the story is fiction.

Enough, already. See you at the bottom.

* * *

Breakfast
by David M. Lynch
(entire contents copyright © 2001, 2005, 2008 David M. Lynch)


I wake up early. Too early, considering that I got more than a little bit drunk last night, arriving home just before dawn.

I’m hung over. That much seems appropriate. My stomach feels more than a little queasy, with that unsettling warmth that warns you that you may soon vomit up whatever impurities still float around, undigested, inside of you.

I look at the clock near my bed, which reads 9:39. And since I always set my clocks ahead by approximately fifteen minutes, in order to fool myself into being on time for most of my appointments, that means that it’s not yet 9:30 in “real” time. However…

It’s dark outside. Really dark.

Another quick look at my clock assures me that it’s nearly 9:30 (“real time”) in the morning.

That’s “a.m.” to you.

I turn on the overhead light in my bedroom and hurriedly throw on yesterday’s clothes. Then I go outside, combing my hair. No excuse for looking totally unpresentable.

The sky is pitch black. I mean that literally. It’s not just cloudy, not merely overcast, like it is before a violent storm. It’s black. Jet black. It’s pure darkness, much darker than any moonless night ever thought of being.

But… It’s daytime, at least, if I understand the term “daytime” correctly, which I like to think that I do. Yet, if “daytime” can be defined as that time between sunrise and sunset, rather than the hours during which one would expect the sun to be up there, shining merrily away…

Well, then, it’s not daytime. Not now.

And as I stand in my driveway, staring upwards, a ludicrous thought occurs to me.

Someone ate the sun.

I’ve said and written plenty of strange things in my time, but this one certainly ranks up there with the strangest. And it’s not something crafted for one of my stories, plays, poems, songs, screenplays, or scripts!

No, the sun is gone. Simply, gone.

And I know that it’s gone because somebody ate it.

I can hear a handful of centralized commotions, both nearby and far away. People all over the neighborhood are coming to roughly the same realization as I, and predictably, they’re not taking it very well.

In fact, dozens of them (at least those within earshot) are outside (as I am), literally screaming to the heavens (as I am not).

All those “end of the world” clichés spring up in my mind, and I can only assume that almost everybody aware of this unlikely phenomenon is experiencing the same thoughts.

Hey, come on, folks, don’t be too judgmental here. Someone ate the sun. People are allowed to react accordingly.

Well, aren’t they?

* * *

I have a lot of friends and/or loved ones who come to my mind at that moment. With my usual self-important attitude, I realize that I should be with some of them, or at least contact most (if not all) of them somehow, in order to provide some sort of comfort to them.

I go back into the house and grab my car keys. I walk to my car, get in, and start it up. It’s dark, remember, so I turn on my headlights.

They still work, just like my electric clock/radio, and my bedroom light. So we haven’t lost electricity.

That’s good, I think. This isn’t a nuclear winter, or else we’d be suffering all sorts of residual power outages from whatever “big one(s)” they’d dropped. We’ve only lost the sun. Just the sun.

Which…

somebody…

ate.

* * *

I don’t know why I don’t stop at the house next door. The many people who live there are my friends, for the most part. At the very least, I should probably use their phone to call my mother and sister. But I don’t. Instead, I put my car in gear and drive the back roads to the next town over from mine.

I have to keep dodging the dozens of screaming people in the streets. It’s a good thing I’m not in any great rush.

* * *

Finally, I reach the home of my friend Jennifer. By the entrance to her building is a motion-detecting spotlight. It comes on as I approach the porch.

It’s dark, remember?

I knock at Jennifer’s door, but no one inside hears me. No surprise there. At least two of her three kids are crying, rather loudly. I guess they’re scared. It’s not every day that somebody eats the sun.

I enter without leave to do so, which is rather unlike me, but these are unusual circumstances, I guess.

A frightened Jennifer is huddled on the kitchen floor, in a “group hug” with her three equally frightened children. The dog and cat are close at hand, as well. Presumably, even the pets are rather disconcerted.

“Good morning, Jen.”

She seems glad to see me. “David! Oh my God, David, what’s going on?”

Well, you know what I tell her. “Someone ate the sun.”

“That’s not funny!”

“I’m not joking.”

She shoots me a “this-isn’t-the-time-for-your-usual-shit” look, but says nothing, probably for the sake of her kids, who are even more freaked out than she is.

“What are we going to do?” she cries, and I have to admit, it makes me feel good that her eyes show that she actually trusts me to have the answer.

Which I do. Sort of.

I briefly join the group hug (solidarity, don’tcha know), then stand up and grab the telephone. I hold it out toward her.

She stares at it. “And what’s that for?”

For once, I resist the urge to be a smart-ass, and do not reply, “It’s for making phone calls, Jen.” Instead, I say, “Call Jennifer.”

By that, of course, I mean the “other” Jennifer.

By “other Jennifer,” I don’t mean to imply that the… well… that the “other” Jennifer is in any way secondary (or, Lord forbid, inferior!) to the “first” Jennifer. It’s just the way that this story works out.

Years ago, in my little circle of friends, we learned to refer to these two Jennifers as “Jennifer” and “Little Jen,” only to differentiate between the two in conversations. The Jennifer you’ve already met, sort of, was (and is) the one we call simply “Jennifer.” The Jennifer you’re about to meet was (and is!) “Little Jen.”

Therefore, for the remainder of this story (which is almost finished, believe it or not!), I’ll be using the same convenient designations.

Jennifer doesn’t question me. She calls Little Jen. During their brief conversation, it is decided (with a kibitzing assist from me, naturally) that we should all get together as soon as possible.

In a matter of minutes, I’ve loaded Jennifer and her kids into my car. We even take the dog and the cat, at her insistence. Not that I argue with her, of course. I rarely do anyway.

I drive on the back roads once again, dodging an even greater number of screaming people in the streets. They’re not taking this well at all.

* * *

We arrive at Little Jen’s home. Her boyfriend seems understandably agitated. Her son seems scared, yet fascinated. Yeah, he’s his mother’s son, that’s for sure.

Little Jen seems to be taking this as calmly as I am. In fact, she and I are just about the only calm people I’ve seen so far, although I must credit the “first” Jennifer with having settled down quite a bit since I’d arrived at her home. Maybe that’s because of me. I’d certainly like to think so.

Little Jen has interests that are, shall we say, not necessarily confined to the earthly plane? In that respect, she’s much like my friends Teresa and Mesha. Both of them are many towns distant, but Little Jen, luckily -- and obviously, if you’ve been paying attention -- lives nearby. So to my mind, it’s more than appropriate that we’ve come to see her.

“What do you think is going on?” asks Little Jen. “The sun’s just… vanished!”

“I know,” I say evenly. “Somebody ate it.”

Jennifer shoots me another look. “Will you please stop saying that!” she hisses. I shrug.

“Someone ate the sun…” murmurs Little Jen, nodding like she actually believes me.

(I love my friends!)

“But David,” says Little Jen, “if that’s true, then why isn’t it colder? If the sun is really gone, it shouldn’t merely be dark. This whole planet should be an ice ball!”

Good thinking. I wish I’d thought of that. I exchange a quick look with Jennifer.

“Oh, my God, that’s right!” exclaims Jennifer. “We should all be dead! Why aren’t we all dead?!?”

I am attempting an answer, or at least a speculation, I should say, when that unsettling warmth in my stomach that I mentioned earlier makes itself known once again. My mouth fills with saliva, a sure harbinger of an oncoming puke.

“Jen,” I gasp, speaking to Little Jen, “may I use your bathroom?”

Without waiting for her reply, I race into her apartment. I quickly locate the toilet, lift the lid, and position my head above the seat with jaws open wide as my stomach heaves and its white-hot contents force their way upward, exiting my mouth.

And then, even as my eyes are forced shut by a blinding flash, I suddenly recall what I drunkenly did right before passing out that morning.

I uneasily stand and find the sink, splashing cool water into my mouth, rinsing it. Moments later, I step outside, into the warm morning sunshine. Little Jen & her boyfriend & Jennifer & all four kids are staring at me in awe.

So.

I ate the sun.

Lil' ol' me.

Li’l ol’ “drunk-and-got-those-last-minute-munchies-just-before-passing-out-for-the-night” me!

Damn.

Always knew I could do that.

* * *

This story was written in one sitting, on August 17-18, 2001, inspired in part by some of the more whimsical works of writer Neil Gaiman. (It was edited slightly for a 2005 appearance in a literary magazine called Nights and Days.) I kept it as brief as possible, just to prove to myself that I could be brief if I ever really wanted to be!

Less than a month later, the “attack on America” occurred. By that date, my own story was all but forgotten, even by myself. Over the years, a few people have drawn some disturbing parallels (as many people had done several years earlier, when a comic book script of mine blew up a space shuttle, months before the Challenger tragedy), based on the whole "disoriented people crying in the streets" aspect. Personally, I think that's stretching it a bit. But, for whatever it’s worth, the first person I called as the details of 9/11 unfolded was the same Jennifer whose home I’d immediately driven to in my little piece of fiction.

Next time: A movie review! No kidding!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails