On this week’s program, I talk to the fiction writer, screenwriter, and film director Laura Lee Bahr at the close of her residency at the Kerouac Project of Orlando.
On this week’s program, I talk to the fiction writer, screenwriter, and film director Laura Lee Bahr at the close of her residency at the Kerouac Project of Orlando.
The Curator of Schlock #227 by Jeff Shuster
Play this game and you might get burned.
(Nope. Let me try this again.)
In this game, the winners are the losers.
(Nope. That subhead doesn’t make any sense. Third time’s the charm.)
The great Sidney Lumet once said that being a movie director is the greatest job in the world. I would challenge that assumption by making the claim that being an international assassin is the greatest job in the world.
Think about it. You get to kill people for big money. Many people kill other people free, so imagine getting paid for it. Heck, some people pay BIG money for the privilege of killing people for fun like in those Hostel movies. I always took pride in the fact that we Americans always fetched the highest bidding in those movies. USA! USA! USA!
On that note, tonight’s feature is 2011’s Assassination Games from director Ernie Barbarash. It stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins…I don’t know who that is. What are Scott’s screen credits? He was in Pit Fighter? They based a movie off of that old Atari arcade game?
Oh, looks like Scott’ll be in IP Man 4. Whaaat? IP Man 4 is coming out! I guess I should probably watch the first three. Oh, Scott was also in Doctor Strange and one of the Jason Bourne movies. He does get around. My apologies, Scott Adkins.
I guess this where I start talking about the movie.
Scott Adkins plays an assassin named Roland Flint who has a bit of a chip on shoulder because a Russian gangster named Polo Yakur (Ivan Kaye) tied him to a chair, forcing Roland to watch his wife get repeatedly raped and beaten until she ended up in a vegetative state.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Vincent Brazil, an assassin whose latest mark was the brother of Yakur. Brazil slit the man’s throat during a family wedding while disguised as a waiter. Yakur gets out of prison and wants the assassin who killed his brother eliminated. Brazil is offered a contract on Yakur. Flint wants to kill Yakur to avenge his wife. Flint and Brazil decide to team up to take out Yakur.
Vincent Brazil is an interesting character. He enters his apartment, a seedy-looking dump reminiscent of Jean Reno’s apartment in Léon: The Professional, but a false wall reveals a rather swanky music studio complete with a grand piano. Brazil spends his spare time playing the violin, no doubt prepping for an audition with the Boston Pops. While practicing one afternoon, he overhears his neighbor, a pimp, abusing one of his girls, October (Marija Karan). He beats up the pimp, let’s October stay with him when she shows him how to properly stroke his turtle to get it to come out of his shell.
That isn’t a sexual euphemism.
Brazil really does have a pet turtle.
Naturally, October gets brutally murdered by Yakur. There’s some kind of conspiracy involving the CIA, Interpol, and the British Parliament. Needless to say, there’s some nasty violence coming their way courtesy of these two assassins. Brazil even manages to slice the pimp’s head off with a samurai sword. Think about it. You’re getting a nice massage at a massage parlor and in walks Jean-Claude Van Damme brandishing a samurai sword. He slices into your neck. At that moment, you rethink your life choices, think about how you should have unleashed your anger on a game of Pit-Fighter rather than one of your employees.
Pensive Prowler #19 by Dmetri Kakmi
A Life in the Day of an Editor
When I’m not being a writer, I am disguised as a mild mannered freelance editor, complete with spectacles, and I do what all editors must do to earn a buck. Prostitute myself. That’s to say, I sell myself to publishers and authors who wish to use and abuse my services.
Editing is a complex, multi-faceted task. It’s a responsible position, not to be taken lightly. You are after all facilitating the process by which an author brings a book into the world; and thereby creating literature, the life blood of a nation. In a way, putting yourself forward to do the job is hubris. You’re tempting the gods. You’re saying you know better how to fix this and how to correct that. It takes a special kind of extravert-introvert to display that kind of guts. You work long hours for paltry pay and little thanks.
Yet there is no book without the editor. Just like there is no manuscript without the author. While working together, the editor becomes an extension of the author, representing his or her interests to the publisher, and sometimes even acting as therapist and punching bag. During this time, they are the best and worst friends, conjoined for a time and ripped apart at the end. Though enduring professional relationships can develop.
Still, people ask: What does an editor actually do?
Where to begin?
Without going to too much detail, the first thing an editor does is read the manuscript and form an intelligent opinion about it. This stage is called structural editing. You look at what works and what doesn’t work. Locate strengths and weaknesses. Character development, themes, story logic and coherence, that sort of thing. Is the structure strong or is it going to topple half way through?
Along the way, you ask yourself myriad questions. Is it interesting? Do I care about the story, the characters? Is the writing engaging? How can we build on various aspects? Sometimes you read the manuscript two or three times before you get a proper handle on it.
When you’re done, you present the author with a carefully worded manuscript assessment. And hope they don’t hang themselves when they read it. Why? Because no matter how famous or experienced they are, a first draft is never perfect. It is never ready to be copy edited. It’s the beginning of the road, not the end. You need many drafts before that can happen. Sometimes three or four. Sometimes ten. Depends on the author’s expertise, patience and pulling power.
This is the most rewarding and most tortuous part of the process for the author. It’s the part I enjoy most as an editor, watching the layers build. Few authors see it that way. It’s hell for many, like pulling teeth without anaesthetic. In fact, this is the stage where a story comes together and develops subtleties and nuances. It’s the slow percolating phase. That’s why it’s wise not to rush. Take your time, I tell the author. Don’t hurry. Despite tight schedules and their desire to be rid of the project and move on to new pastures.
A lot of hand-holding is done at this stage.
Let’s skip forward and pretend the necessary drafts have been completed. Everyone is happy and the manuscript is ready to be copy edited. This is the part I like least. But it must be done. To coin a metaphor, making a book is like fashioning a beautiful garment, the most perfect scintillating object in creation, and now you must sew on the precious pearl buttons or the invisible zipper that will seal the shimmering perfection over the corpus. It must be done or else the garment will not hang properly.
In aid of this, you diligently check for typos, punctuation, grammar, inconsistencies etc. You tighten sentences, make them more eloquent, more precise… And then you have to pass it by the author who may or may not like what you’ve done. This is acceptable. That isn’t. Leave as is. When it’s gone through the approval phase, you proofread the first pages to make sure the typesetter has taken in all the edits exactly as you wish. Sometimes you may have to go to two or three sets of page proofs before everything is to your satisfaction, by which stage you’re ready to poke out your eyes with a fork. Or take up pole dancing, which is more profitable.
Behind the scenes, you’ve been quietly working with a designer who is coming up with cover concepts. The author is consulted during this process but they rarely have final say. Unless they’re incredibly famous and powerful. Or if they’re working with small publishers, who tend to be more inclusive. Sales and marketing carry most weight in big publishing houses. Even the editor can be sidelined during this process, and I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut at cover meetings. Idiotic decisions can be made by people who have not read the manuscript. When a cover is approved, the editor, whether he likes it or not, emails a jpeg to the author with the following caveat. “We love this cover and hope you like it too.” Meaning you better like it, ‘cause this is it, baby.
Sometimes all hell breaks loose, sometimes a few jiggles are required to pass it through the eye of the needle. Then it’s time to send the whole lot to the printer. Months later, while you’re working on nine or ten other books, an advance copy hits your desk and you jubilantly cry, “My baby is here,” having forgotten the agony you went through to deliver this one.
That’s it really. Nothing to it. Probably explains why even the stationary boy gets more money than an editor. Or why the State Library of Victoria can advertise the position of journal editor and unashamedly say it’s a voluntary appointment; no remuneration.
But that’s another story…
Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.
On this week’s program, I talk to the poet Terri Witek.
I’ll be reading with the other contributors to this awkward sexcapade anthology!
The Curator of Schlock #226 by Jeff Shuster
Pound of Flesh
Bad movie! Bad!
It looks like there’s some scuttlebutt online about a new TV show in the works set in the Batman universe. It’s called Pennyworth? Oh, it’s about Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s butler. And it’s a prequel series. So I expect we’ll be seeing episodes centered around his learning how to be a valet as well as the correct order to lay out spoons and other eating utensils, none of that Batman fighting the Joker and Penguin nonsense. This is a grown up show for grownups. I’m looking forward to six seasons and a movie…Heeeeeeeeeellllllllllllllllllpppppppppppppp!
What movie do I have for you this week? Oh, yeah. Another Jean-Claude Van Damme extravaganza titled Pound of Flesh from director Ernie Barbarash. (No, John, there’s no Shylock in this one.) Van Damme plays Deacon, a man with a mysterious past that taught him how to kick and shoot his way out of dangerous situations. He arrives in Manila ready for a bachelor’s night on the town. Deacon notices a man getting rough with a woman in a dark alley, kicks the crap out of the guy, and then the damsel in distress offers to buy him a drink.
The damsel’s name is Ana, and she reminds me of Asia Argento, but she’s played by an Irish actress named Charlotte Peters. Deacon and Ana go dancing at a nearby disco, one thing leads to another, and they spend the night together. In other words, he got lucky in that he got to sleep with a beautiful young woman.
But then Deacon wakes up in a bathtub filled with ice water and wouldn’t you know, he’s gotten his kidney stolen. Not so lucky, as it turns out. To make matters worse, he was supposed to donate his kidney to his niece. Without it, she’ll die!
Naturally, his brother, George (John Ralston), is none too pleased with this turn of events. He yells at Deacon about his inability to keep his pants on. Deacon plans to get his kidney back by kicking and shooting his way through the seedy underbelly of Manila. Deacon threatens to beat a bartender with a Gideon Bible if she doesn’t tell him whereabouts of Ana and her pimp, Zoltan (Philippe Joly). Zoltan? Who names their child Zoltan? Is that a real name? Looks like it’s Hungarian in origin. Oh, it’s Turkish. Comes from the word sultan. I learn something new every day.
Anyway, Zoltan isn’t long for this world, as the kidney kidnappers don’t want him spilling the beans about their organ harvesting operation. Ana decides to come along for the ride, feeling guilty about taking money for the whole illegal surgery deal. Oh, and we learn that Ana is the spitting image of George’s deceased wife and that Deacon had an affair with George’s wife (obviously) resulting in her getting pregnant. Since George is infertile, that makes Deacon the biological father of his niece. Too bad the kidney is in the possession of a dapper English gentleman.
Will Deacon cut this guy open and regain his property? Do you care? Honestly, do you care? Is what I described not convoluted enough for you?
Wouldn’t your time be better spent watching something more wholesome like Paddington 2? Think about it.
Lost Chords & Serenades Divine #10 by Stephen McClurg
Diamanda Galás with John Paul Jones: The Sporting Life (1994)
[…]For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino Elegies, trans. Stephen Mitchell
“My voice was given to me as an inspiration for my friends, and a tool of torture and destruction to my enemies. An instrument of truth.” ~Diamanda Galás
In listening to this album again, I remembered how often I heard Diamanda Galás referred to as either “the crazy one” or “the one who shrieks.” There’s a certain amount of truth to this. Galás frequently portrays characters that run the border between sanity and insanity (a few examples–just on this record–include “Skótoseme,” “Devil’s Rodeo,” and “Baby’s Insane”), though I think she’s performing “madness” in a way to comment on what she sees in the world.
An Anne Carson essay, “The Gender of Sound,” is useful here. Carson writes, “It is in large part according to the sounds people make that we judge them sane or insane, male or female, good, evil, trustworthy, depressive, marriageable, moribund, likely or unlikely to make war on us, little better than animals, inspired by God.”
While Galás can conjure seemingly anyone or anything with her voice, she is often remembered for the high pitches and wailings which Carson says go “together with talkativeness to characterize a person who is deviant from or deficient in the masculine ideal of self control. […] Their sounds are bad to hear and make men uncomfortable.” I think this effusion, this overflow of sound and energy, levels this traditional idea of quiet or silenced women. I believe Galás is playing with the tensions that Carson discusses, reappropriating these gendered ideas similar to how Kara Walker reappropriates racist and sexist imagery in her art.
Carson writes that “Madness and witchery as well as bestiality are conditions commonly associated with the use of the female voice in public, in ancient as well as modern contexts.” Galás is no stranger to performance art (she also uses glossolalia, or speaking in tongues), even her persona as an artist could be described as a kind of possession or a kind of ecstatic ritual. Other than being “that one who screams,” she’s probably best known for performing topless and covered in cow’s blood in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during her Plague Mass, part of a body of work protesting the Catholic Church’s treatment of those suffering during the AIDS epidemic.
In discussing a poem by Alkaios, Carson writes, “the women are uttering a particular kind of shriek, the ololyga. […] It is a highpitched piercing cry uttered at certain climactic moments in ritual practice (e.g., at the moment when a victim’s throat is slashed during sacrifice) or at climactic moments in real life (e.g., at the birth of a child) and also a common feature of women’s festivals.” The sound can represent either “intense pleasure or intense pain.” These outpourings had to be regulated in that they could either represent madness or create madness in the listener. Much of Sporting Life’s material represents scenes of amour fou, or obsessive love, also a weaving of pleasure and pain. It’s interesting to note that her music is called “sexy” by some and “demonic” by others. In other words, Galás reappropriates elements of the oloyyga and its rituals, and spins them into modern narratives.
One set of songs on the album is built out of the rhythm section of John Paul Jones and Pete Thomas (of Elvis Costello and the Attractions). The eight-string bass that Jones plays on the record mirrors the effect of a tightly played riffs played on both guitar and bass. In effect, he sounds more like Jesus Lizard on “Skótoseme” than Led Zeppelin. The title track riffs sound similar to Rage Against the Machine. “Do You Take This Man?” is built on a structure reminiscent of Morphine and the keyboard line on “Hex” could be on an early-post pop Ministry record.
The album opens with Jones tremolo picking on a reverby eight-string bass and Galás mirroring this on voice, similar to many styles of Arabic music. Galás doesn’t simply mimic musical genre, she incorporates textures and techniques from various sources and synthesizes them to express seemingly anything at whim. Galás often performs multiple voices like multiple characters in these songs. She sings in Greek, English, Spanish, and glossolalia–maybe even other languages I didn’t pick out–on this track alone. Each character seems to speak a different language and if you listen to the record on headphones, these voices float around you, an effect I think of as “The Furies.” At the end of this track, as on other tracks, she manages so much vocal force she overdrives the recording equipment, but controls it, similar to a guitarist using feedback. While the track features her fusion of extended vocal techniques, operatic vibrato, and blues, this overdriven effect is nothing I’ve ever heard another singer do.
The title track is in some ways an extension and lyrically an inversion of this opener (called “Skótoseme,” which means “kill me” in Greek). If “Skótoseme” is directed inward, then “The Sporting Life” is directed outward and ponders a variety of ways of destroying the once-beloved.
The other strand on the record includes ballads, particularly blues and soul ballads.“The Dark End of the Street” is unexpected, but magnificent. It’s a song frequently covered, and Galás and Jones perform a particularly gorgeous one here. The song is originally out of the Memphis Soul tradition, which Jones nails, while adding lines similar to James Jamerson of Motown fame. He spent several years as a session musician before Led Zeppelin, and at least at the recording of Sporting Life, hadn’t lost any of those chops.
Galás’s performance on this track, hammond organ and vocals, is sublime. In relation to the gendering of sound, this song is normally performed by men, so she also flips the power dynamic on the song, telling the man not to cry and just “walk on by.”
“Baby’s Insane” is a favorite not only of this album, but also of her catalogue, and it’s a gospel tune–of sorts. The hammond organ began as an alternative for churches that couldn’t afford a pipe organ. The musicians here are cheekily playing within the idiom, which often features vocals, hammond organ, drums (often tamborine, too, but they don’t go that far), and bass. The melody is fairly simple, as many sing-alongs are supposed to be. The refrain of “Baby’s Insane” is frequently repeated. The song is in a way an extension of how Galás uses ritual and music, and often fuses the sacred and profane. Here the lyrics provide the profane. They begin:
Arms covered in blood, the war has begun.
Hide the straight razor ’cause Baby’s insane.
New telephone number, new lock on the door.
Hide all the knives, ’cause Baby’s insane.
On top of incredible vocal technique, an intensity of performance, and sometimes serious and disturbing subject matter, Galás is often wickedly funny.
While Diamanda Galás still records and performs, Sporting Life is out-of-print, though there are copies floating around for sale online and in used bins. You can hear the record on YouTube, and see a few live videos, including a performance on The John Stewart Show.
Carson, Anne. “The Gender of Sound.” Glass, Irony, and God. New York: New Directions,
Stephen McClurg (Episode 24) writes and teaches in Birmingham, Alabama. He co-hosts The Outrider Podcast, writes at Eunoia Solstice, and infrequently blogs. He has contributed music as a solo artist and with the group Necronomikids to past episodes of The Drunken Odyssey.
Buzzed Books #61 by Amy Watkins
Clara Beaudoux’s The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life
When Clara Beaudoux moved into a new apartment in Paris, she inherited the overflowing basement storage unit of the deceased previous tenant, an elderly woman named Madeleine. Madeleine had no living relatives, and her next of kin, a godson, told Beaudoux to do whatever she wanted with the things in the storage unit. As she unpacked old magazines, personal items, documents, photos, and travel itineraries, Beaudoux began to imagine the life and character of a person she would never know.
The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life (New Vessel, 2017) began as a Twitter account in which Beaudoux posted photos of the items unearthed in Madeleine’s storage unit and, eventually, her questions and musings about Madeleine’s life and the ways in which Paris changed during the decades Madeleine lived there. Beaudoux and her readers are immediately caught up in the small mysteries suggested by the physical objects leftover from Madeleine’s life. What is the function of this antique gadget? Who is the young man who appears in many pre-WWII photos? Beaudoux naturally begins to fill in the blanks, creating a mental picture of Madeleine as the heroine of her seemingly ordinary life story. Beaudoux soon begins writing tweets in the second person, addressing, not her readers, but Madeleine herself.
The book is divided into two “seasons” with a brief essay explaining the project in between. Season 1 is full of questions, and, in Season 2, Beaudoux goes looking for answers, intermingling objects from the storage unit with the memories of a few of Madeleine’s neighbors and her godson. She doesn’t analyze her findings or her reasons for pursuing the project, beyond a brief interest in preserving memories against the fleeting nature of contemporary life. It is obviously, though, that she feels compelled, and readers are likely to be caught up in the small, ordinary mysteries and the joy of solving them right along with her.
Beaudoux also doesn’t include much about herself, other than a few passing observations of similarities she and Madeleine share. Beaudoux is delighted, for example, to find that they place their beds in the same spot in the apartment, according to Madeleine’s neighbor who draws a little map of the layout as it was when Madeleine lived there. Most online projects like this rely on a certain cult of personality, but, in this case, the personality is Madeleine’s, as imagined by Beaudoux and her readers.
The book, translated by Alison Anderson, presents the original Twitter feed chronologically, minus replies, retweets, and clutter. This preserves the immediacy of the original social media project, which is a strong point of the book; however, it also leaves in things that don’t work in print. Tweets of audio and video files are included as static images. Tweets that include more than one photo show only the truncated photo collage; we can’t click on the individual images to view them in their entirety. The limitations of print are noticeable, and in such a fascinating project, these constraints are a minor frustration for the reader. Even so, the allure of the project itself is undeniable.
When we moved out of our old apartment, my daughter Alice wrote a letter to the next person who would live in her bedroom. I didn’t read it, but I did help her hide it under the closet shelf, where we hoped the maintenance crew would overlook it, and the next occupant might discover it, like a message in a bottle. If Beaudoux finds a message in Madeleine’s belongings, she seems reluctant to reveal it. In this way, the book is truly poetic. It asks more questions than it answers about what, if anything, is permanent.
Amy Watkins (Episodes 124, 161, 164, 192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.
On this week’s program, I talk to the novelist and filmmaker, Tom Stern.
I’ll be at two forthcoming events in the City Beautiful.
Laura Lee Bahr will give her farewell reading at the Kerouac House on May 19th at 7:30.
Plus I’ll be reading with the other contributors to this awkward sexcapade anthology!
The Curator of Schlock #225 by Jeff Shuster
And Ol’ Blue Eyes…sort of.
No blog last week. I was busy celebrating May the 4th, spent the whole day dressed as Sy Snootles. We here at The Museum of Schlock would like to extend a belated May the 4th to all the Star Wars fans out there (or The Rebel Legion as they to be called). Wow! This has been quite a decade for Star Wars fans. Three brand new movies and a fourth one at the end of the month, a solo Star Wars movie about Han Solo aptly titled Solo: A Star Wars Story. Well, Rebel Legion, have I got a special treat for you this month. Your humble curator will be covering not one, not two, but three Jean-Claude Van Damme movies! How do you like that you super nerds? Get a life!
Yeah, Jean-Claude Van Damme is still alive and ass-kicking. Tonight’s movie is 2012’s Dragon Eyes from director John Hyams. In this movie, Jean-Claude Van Damme is not the lead. We see him here in a supporting role as Tiano, a kind of all-knowing grandmaster to Ryan Hong (Cung Le), a bruiser of man who’s unjustly wound up in prison. When one of the resident skinheads starts harassing Hong, Tiana unleashes some sweet chin music on the offender. From there on, Tiano has taken on the role of Hong’s mentor, training him in the martial arts. He’s kind of like Obi Wan Kenobi if Obi Wan repeatedly kicked Luke Skywalker in the jimmy.
When Hong gets out of prison, he makes his way to St. Jude, a town that’s a lost cause. This place is full of gangs! We get introduced to each of their leaders. We’ve got Dash (Luis Da Silva), leader of the 6th St. Kings, no doubt named because he dabs cocaine on the dorsal surface of his left hand before snorting it. Then there’s Antoine (Edrick Browne), leader of the Eastsiders who is interested in having Hong work for him after learning that he made short work of some 6th St. Kings after they yelled some racial epitaphs involving Hong’s Chinese heritage.
The Eastsiders and 6th St. Kings both operate under the mysterious Mr. V, Peter Weller dressing just like Frank Sinatra. Seriously, look at these two.
Weller is practically channeling Ol’ Blue Eyes. Here’s a tip, if you’re working under a guy named Mr. V or Mr. X, you should just get the hell out of Dodge before a bloodthirsty vigilante takes down the whole operation, leaving you bleeding out on the cold concrete floor of an empty warehouse, wondering why you didn’t pursue your dream of becoming an event organizer.
Anyway, it turns out Mr. V is the Chief of the St. Jude Police Department and every cop in the city is getting kickbacks from the drug lords and gangbangers. Oh, and there’s a Russian gang named the Devil Dogs who want to move in on the territory. Who names their gang the Devil Dogs? Honestly. Hong manipulates his way into Mr. V’s good graces, only to betray him and set up a final showdown with Hong pitted against every criminal and corrupt cop in the city. I think Hong wants revenge over a girlfriend that was murdered or something like that. What else? There’s a comical scene with a couple of crack heads.
Not too much Van Damme in this one, but just enough to justify his mug on the poster.
In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism and twitter and other stuff.
Pre-order Vanessa’s forthcoming short story collection, Perfect Conditions,
or check out Vanessa’s other work.
If you like Walt Disney World, subscribe to my Disney-themed youtube channel.