Monday, March 31, 2008

New Feature: Movie Reviews

Frankenstein vs. Baragon (Japan 1965)

I came across a bunch of these Kaiju, letterboxed and in the original Japanese, full length and really beautiful. DVD's with special features, no less. This is the giant monster genre, Godzilla and company, Baragon is one of the minor players in the G-man pantheon. This movie has always been hard to find, hard to see, and maybe if someone were not as fascinated as I am by the vehicles, the monster-suits, the clothes, the Twisting party-goers, and Kumi Mizuno, then maybe they’d think it was a little slow, or sophomoric even, but for me it’s four stars out of five.

Nick Adams! Even! He’s Kumi M’s love interest, they’re both scientists at the, get this, the Hiroshima Institute of Radio Therapentics. Their domestic scenes are priceless: a little, tiny apartment cluttered with stuff, a tiny TV, Nick puts on a star-spangled chef’s hat and an American flag BBQ apron and makes hamburgers in the living room with a little table fan on. “Oishi!” squeals Kumi M. with delight. This is one of several movies that they made together, and this one was made during their torrid love affair. They both play it relaxed and happy, all very natural.

The wide screen is indispensable to Japanese movies. Japanese directors use every corner of the frame, making beautiful static scenes with internal movement, to pan-and-scan them can make you dizzy enough to get sea sick. And just think what you miss: in a couple of scenes there’s an extravagantly beautiful woman scientist in the background, wild curly mane, great, lavish lips, she has no lines and wouldn’t make in into the pan-and-scan.

The nuclearization of Hiroshima is of course included here, somehow America always brings about these huge aberrations. It’s a great scene, too, first a lone B-San goes over high and then, wham! all hell breaks loose. This is right after the Frankenstein heart has been removed from its crate for examination by, come on, guess, yes! Takashi Shimura! again appearing in a lab coat, the original Godzilla scientist. Here he shows up for one minute of screen time, tops, and then gets nuked along with everybody else.

I lose some details of the story, it being told in Japanese, but it seems like the Frankenstein heart grows a man around it, a Japanese man (maybe it was the food) in familiar Frankenstein makeup. Before long he’s growing. He stays in his slightly burst clothes for quite a while, he’s at least twenty feet tall with the same pants and belt, 32 inch waist, probably. Later on he clears fifty feet and wears his own creations.

Both monsters have run-ins with Twist parties. Frankenstein, big, stands up waist deep in a river next to a party boat, the crew and the Twisters all swallow their gum but ‘Stein just takes a look and goes back under, no damage done. Baragon surfaces in the mountains (he’s Baragon, the sub-terrainean monster) in a ski-resort cluster of Swiss Chalets, during another drunken Twist party, and wrecks the place, deaths are likely but unrecorded.

Great vehicles throughout. Nick and Kumi drive around in a baby-blue Datsun Bluebird with a grill full of rally badges. The cabs and cop cars are full sized and cherry. Later on the scientists make the scene in a nice red convertible. These are all vest-pocket Sixties Japanese cars.

The Baragon suit is great, his eyes are wild and his horn flashes orange light on and off for no good reason. The actor inside is good, too. Frankenstein is a very agile actor, a good physical actor. The fight scenes are very exciting, undercranked to make them look more dangerous, Frankenstein may have been a wrestler/actor, he’s got the moves.

Kumi Mizuno really makes the movie though. She appears in divine clothing at all times, nice hats and bags, subdued ensembles with tight skirts, all very Jackie Kennedy. One blue outfit is especially stunning. She absolutely glows in this movie, Nick must have been making her happy at the time. Nick Adams is good too. The remarkable saving grace of these movies is that talented actors appear in them and take the job seriously, whatever kind of crap is going in around them.

One final note about the appearance of American armed forces in these movies: they are always presented as no-nonsense professionals who get things done right the first time and mighty fast too. In the first scenes, Nazi forces around Frankenstein’s castle are getting their asses severely kicked; soon after there is a surface transfer made between a German and a Japanese submarine, they are spotted on the surface by a Catalina and bombed quickly and accurately, the Nazi sub gets it in the neck; the B-29 lays Fat Man right on Hiroshima’s nose. The admiration thus expressed is no doubt grudging, but just as real.

My Little School

These girls were second grade students of mine in a small school in a little northern town. Poor as church mice, all the parents from this school were sticky rice farmers. Look at those hair cuts!
These girls were inseperable, and bright as the sun. No socks, barefoot all day to save wear and tear on the shoes. Anytime I asked a question they'd look at each other, smile and shake their heads "yes." They both knew it. Then they'd decide whose turn it was to raise their hand. They were always right.
Going to this school condemns them to a life of misery. They won't learn enough to function in a good high school, and that'll be it for college. But their English will be good, they even have good accents. Future jobs? It doesn't bear too much thinking about.

Normanology, Part Three

Norman’s interests were varied, but there were themes. In his own description, he liked anything that was “nuts.” “Mesa of Lost Women;” “I Dream of Jennie;” Cleveland bands like Pere Ubu and Destroy All Monsters; “Hot Rods to Hell;” all of the movies of Russ Meyers, but in particular “Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill;” any movie featuring oversized insects (from “The Beginning of the End” to “Empire of the Ants”); “Doctor Cyclops;” Stereo demonstration records from the early days; pseudo-psycho Lounge Music, let’s say, Juan Garcia Esquivel; anything made from an armadillo or a rattle-snake; “It Conquered the World;” anything along those lines. He was relentless in his examination of the television listings: in those days there was no cable TV and no videocassettes, you had to notice that something was on at 2:45 a.m. and set your alarm.

I liked the same stuff, except the fat chicks that is. Norman was a bit more focused than me, my tastes were slightly broader based, I read more, I could tolerate newspapers, but I was right there on the NUTS stuff, always had been. We liked the same movies and music, that’s for sure. We often went to the World Theatre in Hollywood for the triple features of exploitation movies of one type or another, movies about people being made into sausages, giant alligators, mutants, zombies, pre-Star Wars outer space, Godzilla and company. There and rock clubs.

Vengence is His!

There’s nothing like these Baby-Cart movies. Ogami Ito is so bad . . . sure, people get decapitated in lots of movies, but who else decapitates a three-year-old?

Tomisaburo Wakayama was a weird choice for these movies, besides being the producer’s brother. With his pot-belly and double chins, he isn’t in the typical Samurai mode. But he is soooooo baaaaad!!! And he does look powerful, and ultra-mean-bad-ass-dangerous. He’s like some huge, bloated monster from the Kthulu Mythos, a giant Bella Lugosi creature, he should have tentacles, I still get frightened on the rare occasions when he laughs, he only laughs with his head bowed and then he raises it slightly and glares through his eye-brows, it’s always for just the wrong reasons, soon afterwards lots of people get cut, bad. He’s the devil in a kimono; sheer terror on wheels. I love these movies.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Farewell, Sohmrahk

Here's my friend Sohmrahk, on the last night that she had her shop open. 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and she could still smile like that.

With her two helpers, Burmese girls. We'll miss her around the block.

Mr. Fred's Epigram Corner

I'm branching out:

“I lost my swing,”
The Pro told me,
“One day it wasn’t there.”
Looked good to me,
Thought to myself,
As balls flew through the air.

“I’ve lost my line.”
My uncle said,
An artist, took his life.
Not careful, he,
Blood everywhere,
A present for his wife.

Tropical Summer

It is the end of March, and summer in Thailand is full upon us. Thinking, outside the protection of air-conditioning, is becoming strained. Walking any distance in the full blast of it produces a weak-kneed, shaky effect, and an unbidden hoping to god that one will be spared long enough to make it to one’s destination. Even Thais may be observed to sweat profusely. Soon the temperatures will reach extremes that weather usually reserves for catastrophic events. The pace of life will slow to a crawl; it will actually stop in the rural areas. Summer, full summer, is mercifully the briefest of the three seasons in Thailand. Soon, a month or two, it will start to rain on a regular basis and it will become merely hot. Now we will endure the two months or so when natural reason bursts its bonds and subjects us to hellish, brutal tropical heat at the height of its powers.

In summer, even Thais take on a fairly wilted aspect, and those of us whose blood is of European stock may appear to be in a state of impending organ failure. My family background is of Irish, English and German blood, and nothing in that heritage prepares me in the least for the onslaught. My skin becomes reddish and blotchy, my back is a mask of prickly heat, and I sweat like a person in a horror movie, a person who has been cursed by Gypsy to melt to death. The Germans, in their quest for perfection, have a word for it: verschwitzen (“death by sweating”).

After the usual polite greeting, many Thais will adopt a serious expression and ask, “wron, mai ka?” (“Hot, isn’t it?”) At first, my first Thai summer, I thought that they were just sympathizing with the guest in their country, but I came to realize that it is actually the acknowledgement of a shared adversity. Thais themselves are, naturally, just as uncomfortably hot as anyone, and they can be seen to share this expression of solidarity with each other as well as with guests from more hospitable climes.

The Songkran holiday is a couple of weeks away. This is the traditional Thai New Year, celebrated in addition to world New Year in January and Chinese New Year in February, an orgy of New Years! The celebration of Songkran goes on for several days, it varies from one to five depending on where you are in Thailand. The expression of Songkran is an explosion of flying water; you are encouraged to bless everyone you know or see by dumping water over them. For old people, just wet your fingers and sprinkle their shoulder; for friends with stronger constitutions you should pour a small cup over their shoulder or back; in the full power of it, the drunken hysteria of it, the I-can’t-take-this-heat-anymore desperation of it, it becomes a hurricane of hurled water, from cups or buckets, out of hoses, ice-water if possible, a giddy sharing of relief from the oppressive heat.

Yes, there are three seasons in Thailand: 1) hot (“Winter,” a local joke); 2) hot with rain (the “Rainy Season”); and 3) extremely hot (“Summer”). Given the “lemons” of debilitating heat, Thais have created the “lemonade” of Songkran. In one voice they thumb their collective noses at summer with a cheerful, cooling dousing with water. Thais have been hot for a long, long time, and they have learned a few things about making the best of it. I’m happy to go along, I’ll be as desperate for relief by then as anyone.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Picture of the Day: English Camp

Who's that pretty Farang woman in the back? Why it's Ann!

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: Mathematics


“History being a branch of the biological sciences, its ultimate expression must be mathematical” Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History

And now on to the meaning of
The ones and twos of our brief tenure,
The questions and the words that show
The threes and fours of our endeavors,
Though readily I do admit:
I have no faith in mathematics.

Some numbers do hold bridges up,
It’s true, but under brighter lights
All numbers ultimately fail
To prove, the certainty that drives
So many people’s sad desires,
Unkempt designs, and burning fires.

So formulas present themselves,
And we are asked to solve them,
And to our dimly lit abodes
They now intrude like ammunition
Fired long ago, which now
We are directed to reload.

Sometime around October 2007

A Lucky Day

My lucky day, I came across a little stand that had lots of good ‘Zill Man movies, two bucks or so each. Even had Frankenstein vs. Baragon, boy, try to find that anywhere (watch for the review in a couple of days). They’re letterboxed DVD’s with the Japanese soundtrack available, thanks a lot! I’ve heard very, very few of the original Japanese language soundtracks, where you can actually hear the acting.

Typically imprecise, the pictures on the cover gave little idea what was actually in the box labeled, “Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster.” It looked late from the pictures, like after the name had been changed to “Ghidorah.” It turned out to be the great, “Ghidra: the Three Headed Monster,” mid-sixties, with the hypnotically fabulous Akiko Wakabayashi, plus Yuriko Hoshi for good measure, I’d rather look at them dressed than your girlfriend naked, Takashi Shimura playing a scientist, no surprise there, take your pleasures where you find them.

Icing on the cake: “War of the Worlds,” with the great Tom Cruise, for one dollar! I don’t care if he is a pseudo-scientonomist asshole, the man is entertaining, I love that movie, on a VCD in English, no less, which is like the loaves and fishes, or raising Lazarus from the dead, a fucking miracle.

Plus I sat down for lunch and was called over by a guy I’ve met, a Chinese gentleman who worked for Reuters for years and now serves as a media advisor for the actual prime minister, speaks perfect English, suggested that I aspire to an unmanned post, Media Law expert, there being none around that he can find, he’s been looking, me being a professor and all, he’s a grad-student here, law but not there yet, who knows, I could go nationwide.

I’ll tell you, I am big and strong in the little pond, and it’s quite an adventure.

Oh, and I got paid too, not my salary, they’re up to owing me about 120,000 Baht, which is half of a nice car, but they paid me for teaching in the stix last week, and paid me good too. I like this job.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner (Parental Advisory)

The real question

So the real question is,
has all of this exposure to Buddhism
had any impact on Mr. Fred’s core being,
the bitter, hateful man that is his reality,
the bloody, murderous core that Mr. Fred has to live with,
and keep carefully in check, for fear of societal reprisals?

The answer, you may be comforted to know, is yes.

My shit list is whittled down to almost nothing,
fifteen or twenty people tops,
and I don’t dwell on it,
nor do I conspire to promote people to the hate list.

(Those on the shit list are merely misguided, and I do not hate them; those on the hate list are hateful, you’d hate them too, I certainly do.)

The Death List is down to almost nothing,
two or three people tops,
you know who you are,
I remember everything.

But now my heart is full of love and joy and happiness, so you may all take heart, miscreants, because I am not coming for you.

If you want to get boils,
or be horribly burned in a fire,
please feel free, you Death-Listers,
I will take my quiet pleasure in your third degree burns,
and I can only hope that the boils are in a deep, dark place.
I have been to the burn wards,
I have seen the terrifying black, dead areas left by the plasma,
the fire, the truth giver, the equalizer,
and I have listened to the drug addled moaning,
the fate that you deserve, you low down, filthy pests.

But it’s not by my hand you will suffer.
Life and fate will do my work.
My genes will take me to the future,
were I may check up on you,
it’s easy these days, automatic,
did you think you had any secrets?
Well, you don’t.

So I will know just when you die,
and I will quickly find your grave,
and I’ll be spry enough to go,
and piss with fury where you lay,
it won’t be like an eighteen year old,
who pisses like a thirsty race horse,
rather I’ll piss haltingly,
like the old man that I am,
but bear in mind that makes it worse,
old man piss, just think about it,
smells bad, there’s nothing about me now
that smells like roses.

Take your time. I’m waiting.

(Transformed from prose, February 4, 2008, and slightly revised)

Picture of the Day

The view from my, our, hotel room, two nights, that's the Pacific there. This is a dawn.

Normanology, Part Two

Part Two

Norman's aesthetics were refined, he was quite the connoisseur in fact, in many fields. His collections were vast, if not varied, but there were themes. He collected:

Records: if it was all punked up, it was in there. Rough, fast and rude, loud, offensive. Not just the usual suspects like the Velvet Underground, the Dolls, the Stooges, the Sonics, or Link Wray, but little surprises like Davie Allan and the Arrows, and early Bob Seegar (era of “Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man”), and also lots of big surprises, bands none of us had ever heard of. He liked Fifties lounge music, the kind with Hawaiian guitars and Hula dancers at sunset on the cover. He also had a gentle side. He was an expert in German Trance music, American amateur electronica, and movie soundtracks. He loved especially Henry Mancini and Enio Moriconne.

Film Posters: specifically, Science Fiction film posters from the 1950’s. He had almost everything, his want list was down to some real obscurities and better examples of things he already owned. He had a rotating display of these at his residence. He would only put up something that he had a complete set of, poster (large), one-sheets (small posters, two) and lobby-cards (all eight); often he had some of the European posters as well. Could be, “This Island Earth,” or even “Forbidden Planet.” The stuff was still cheap then.

Pornography: mostly concerning fat girls, very, very fat girls. Norman was a “Chubby Chaser” (sometimes derogatorily referred to as a “Fold Fucker”). At the time of his death, he was living with his girlfriend of some years, a sweet woman who weighed more than 500 pounds. They made quite a couple. He was also fond of the raw but now strangely innocent stuff from the Fifties, pin-ups like Bettie Page, eight and sixteen millimeter movies. For pin-ups, he preferred women who were heavily made up and seemingly unattainable.

He brought the entire treasure trove with him to California.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Benefits for Readers

I am arranging with the proper authorities to issue really cool indulgences to readers of this blog. The simple act of reading may gain you:

1. Forgiveness of all venial sins;
2. Time off in Purgatory;
3. A presumption of “Baptism of Desire;”
4. Plenary Indulgence (for superior devotion); and even
5. The Grace of a Happy Death (for those who pass a substantial test).

Look for more re: Norman; more poetry (some with Parental Advisory); soon, a new excerpt from “The Accidental Murderer;” more little poems about judges, evil and otherwise; some little stories about stupid court appearances; more pictures; and generally good ideas as they come to me. Thank you for reading.

Be sure to catch the great new stuff below.

Black Robed Devils (The Great Satan)

(This Satanic Horror of a (mere) Commissioner is still making people miserable everyday in his own, personal Spanish Inquisition. Universally despised, he knows it, and even worse he wishes, I believe, that it were not so, but he is powerless to stop himself from visiting his torturous vision of courtroom management on those appear before him, particularly those lesser beings like Social Workers or mere alleged perpetrators, or anyone who shows any weakness. He is a thoroughgoing bully and not even that smart. He scarred me, and I hate him like the Jews hate Hitler.)

Bridesmaid, never quite the bride.
Ego never quite assuaged.
Once he warmed the bench in school,
Now he sits here, sullen, looking
like a crow or raven mother,
sitting on her eggs (her mate is
raiding nests of lesser birds),
waiting to devour corpses
hungrily, with sparkling eyes.
Hating now his human brothers,
viciously he pays them back
for forcing him to be a fool.

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: The man who came before

(This is about the man who had my position at Ramkamhaeng before me. The “mysterious death of J.M.” )

The man who came before me like a bird
Flew briefly, in the tropic air, the birds hushed by the hour.
He landed hard, as he was not accomplished as a flier,
He may have died without a thought, but rather
I am sure that he thought quickly of his situation,
Be that as it may, for no one knows for sure but he.

He loved not wisely, neither well, but loved
‘Neath tropic skies, received what was denied him
In the country of his birth, denied by diffidence and shame,
Until he broke out of his life, and took a chance,
A chance that took him to his ruin, by whose hand I cannot say,
And only he could tell us now if it was worth it,
Worth the price that he has paid, the price he has paid for years of love,
After a fashion, fueled by cash, five long years
In which to make up for lost time,
To catch up with his heart’s desire,
And I for one, I hope he made it,
Hope with all my heart that he was happy,
Briefly, before he crashed.

I ask by training many questions,
Ask them to myself, and wonder as to circumstance,
I, no believer any longer as to shear coincidence,
Nor having any longer any faith where lies the truth,
I see here little evidence, but what I see compels me
To believe that in those hearts, yes more than one,
Two, three or perhaps many, in those hearts a plan was made,
Not shared by all, not shared with the poor gentleman who came before
And thought he was a bird for fifteen seconds.

Policemen always ask some questions,
But their goal is always simpler than to simply seek the truth.
They seek to find a simple answer if they can,
An answer that will close the file and sooner all the better.
“He woke me,” she explained, “and then he told me that he wanted
Only death.” and she went on to say, he thereupon went to the balcony and jumped.
Was she who called the cops, but after five or seven minutes is my guess,
Enough time for her brother and his friends to get away.
Policemen closed the file that night: Suicide.

She was his wife, and named on some insurance,
She, half his age, her pictures show the hardness of her life.
It’s not for me to say, not charged with finding for the law or facts,
But I can see, the man who came before, who flew to death,
Has left behind a widow and her family, newly rich.
We cynics always follow money in these matters, sad but true,
The money leading often to the truth, at least the truth that passes for the truth.
The closest we can get, not being there.
No questions asked, nor anyone cared.

March 24, 2008, Seven a.m., got the idea at six: forty.

Normanology, Part One

(This is a new feature, tales of legendary, heroic figures from my chequered past, to remind my fellow oldsters that once we were the gods of the earth, the young. )

Once there was a boy named Norman, born in Cleveland, Ohio, “Round-on-the-Ends-and-High-in-the-Middle,” who went politely through his formal education and grew to manhood on the banks of the mighty Cuyahoga River, and brought happiness to the hearts of all, most, or some of those that he touched in his too-short life, cut down by well deserved, hard earned lung cancer at the age of thirty-nine. He scorned the ebb-tide, preferring to depart at the twilight of the flood. He achieved his rest sixteen long years ago, and a great light went out of the world. To those of us who live and remember, we two or three outside of his immediate family, a couple of others who might remember him fondly have also crossed the river, he was a hero and a saint, and we loved, love him extravagantly.

Norman was a lovely man, in the manner of the Boston Irish. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, even politicians, and he became upset if bad words about someone were spoken in his presence. He was the gentle beyond gentle in every way: soft spoken to the point of invisibility; a handshake like a plush toy, a floating; ephemeral manner; eternally undemanding. He was six feet, one inch tall, and he weighed less than 130 pounds. He was completely trustworthy. You could tell him, here, hold this $20,000, it was safe; you could have him watch your children; anything.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Udon Thani

Udon Thani is very big and looks prosperous. There are thousands of three-wheeled motorcycle taxis. I had always heard that Isan women were beautiful, and I thought, so, everywhere I've been Thai women are beautiful, but Udon Thani is Isan and the women were crazy beautiful, it's true.

But the biggest surprise of all is always that Thai people insist on eating the chickens' knees, deep fried. "Everything but the cluck," I suppose. Last night some grad-students took me to a little relax session, not quite dinner, we had snacks and listened to a band, then sang karaoke, all in some black-lit, neon and diamond Naugahyde hooker palace. The eatery was so dark that the waiter had a little flashlight so you could read the menu. When the food came I shone my lighter on it to see what it all was. The fried chicken thing turned out to be knees, one bite and I figured that's it for me, this stuff is inedible. I worked with the one bite though, and it was one too many, I broke a tooth.

More soon.

Friday, March 14, 2008

It's Alive II !

Be back soon. Done a lot of driving. The wild flowers are in wild bloom in the desert South-West. Yellow, orange, purple, in the coastal mountains background of deep green, sometimes really spectacular.

Did you ever notice how the weather itself cooperates with the beloved of god?

Details to follow.

It's Alive

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Four Headed Monster*

I was never too much of a Beatles fan. They wore suits voluntarily. But I am a history fan. Here's a good coincidence and a guess at its meaning.

I first read about the Beatles in September, 1963, in the New York Times. They'd had releases in America but no hits. They were big in England already.

December 28, 1963 is the release date for "I Want to Hold Your Hand." By January, 1964 America was Beatles crazy and we were listening to multiple releases on "W-A-Beatles-C" radio.

Two plus two equals four. What had happened between September and December, 1963? Something that had made Americans desperate for cheerful relief?

JFK got shot, that's what. In retrospect, the two phenomena seem clearly related.

I have a longer essay-like piece expanding this theory, maybe I'll find it someday.

* Mick Jagger's pet name for the Beatles.