Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Blue Lobster

Browsing through articles on the internet, something just hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a story about a blue lobster caught off the coast of Plymouth, MA on Monday, August 8, 2016. Blue lobsters are a neat phenomenon, caused by an over production of protein. The lobster will likely be brought to an aquarium for observation.

What stunned me about the news was so much more personal and complicated than the lobster story itself. The memories that rushed back to me were from twenty five years ago. Strangely enough they involved my first experiences with unfairness, lying, shame, and my interests in strange trivia.

In 1991 I was four years old and my parents took me to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. There are only two things I can remember: it poured rain so hard my little shoes got soaking wet and shrank the next day, and I saw a blue lobster in a tank. My dad told me it was a very rare thing to see and I was really impressed by that. I had seen something truly amazing that day.

At this time I was also going to preschool, which I didn't enjoy very much. I didn't speak above a whisper and interacting with the kids was challenging for me. I never really liked the teachers either. Since it was summer, we all spent a lot of time playing outside in the playground in front of the school. Knowing me I probably didn't have any pressing play dates.

Sometimes the teachers had their older daughters or sons help out when they were on summer vacation. Those kids must have been between thirteen and sixteen, but they always seemed like adults to me. I don't remember anyone's names, but one of the teacher's teen daughters was helping that day and she was nice to me. Let's call her Jen and her mother Ms. Sandy.

All the teachers were sitting on the stairs leading up to the school, surveying the kids in the playground as they did. Jen was talking to me. I don't know who ignited the conversation but I remember telling her with excitement about my trip to the aquarium and seeing the blue lobster. I was so excited I almost broke from my whisper. Jen was excited too, she seemed engaged with my story. It felt great sharing my interests with someone else. Then we were interrupted. "Laura! Go to time out."

Ms. Sandy pointed across the playground to the picknick tables. Jen and I were both confused. There was a rule that the students weren't allowed to be on the stairs during recess. I was on the second or third step trying to talk with Jen; not horsing around. Jen protested, "But I wanted to hear more about Laura's trip to see the blue lobster!" It didn't matter. I broke a rule, I needed to be punished.

I was lead to the other end of the playground and told to sit at the picnick table and not speak to anyone. Not exactly a challenge for me. Ms. Sandy could have given me a warning; told me to get off the stairs. I definitely didn't notice what I was doing. I was four. I was also well aware of the rule, but more along the lines of "don't go on the stairs because you'll start acting like fool and fall down them." That's understandable. However, Ms. Sandy was trying to make a point. The concept of having rules in order to keep kids safe in this instance was twisted. It was about rules for rules sake. A "no tolerance policy." - a phrase that would become familiar to me in post-Columbine middle school. This day was one of the first times I wrestled with the idea of unfairness; the idea that a rule imposed on me could be flawed.

The other imposing feeling that washed over me was the shame. Shame that I maybe had done something wrong, and that other people would think I did something wrong by seeing me in time out. Another young teacher's aid - let's call her Ashley - came up to the table and asked me if I was sitting at the picknick table because I was in trouble. I shook my head "no" afraid she would ostracize me or punish me more if she knew the truth. It was the first time I lied to a teacher. Ashley sat with me in silence for a while, keeping me company, which was nice. Then she asked me if I just wanted to sit there by myself, and I nodded "yes." Ashley walked away.

Maybe ten minutes later everyone came rushing to the table for lunch. I sat dejected, with my coffee milk* questioning everything in my short life so far. It's the first time I get in trouble at school and it's over seemingly nothing - and while I'm trying to be social for once. I didn't feel guilt for getting in trouble, I felt shame at my situation and betrayal. I knew in my heart this was an over-reaction on Ms. Sandy's part, but I didn't know how to reconcile this quite yet.

Ashley comes over and confronts me gently. "Laura, I heard that you were in time out. Why did you lie to me?" I shrugged my shoulders. I lied out of shame, then the lie came back to haunt me. So many lessons learned on this day!

The issue was dropped, I was released from my time out due to lunch, and we all moved on with our lives. Ten years later the school would turn into a food pantry.

In the thirty minutes or so this all took place, I reflect back and see how it shaped me into who I am today. The "because I said so" mentality of authority figures does not sit well with me. I am a reasonable person who respects rules and assignments in general, but if someone asks me to do something that defies logic, or I have a better way to do it, I'm going to tell you. I don't suffer fools and I don't like people with blind power trips. Of course no one does, but I believe I have a stronger nose and less of a tolerance for people like that. I'm lucky it hasn't gotten me in more trouble in my life.

I can see now that the blue lobster represents my love of the strange, and my desire to share that knowledge with others. That has been with me longer than I ever thought. I do it in my artwork and this blog. If you have ever hung out with me, you know that I always have a weird story to interject. Either a fact I read about, or just an odd thing that happened to me - because odd things seem to always happen to me. Or maybe these things stick to me in a way it wouldn't stick with another person (e.g. I have this story about blue lobsters and my first "time out" at school, when someone else might not remember that happening to them at all). Lucky me.

But yes, lucky me. Though I shed some tears writing this - because feelings come back strong and unpredictably - I'm grateful that I can look back at a brush with powerlessness and unfairness, and see how I was becoming myself.

* In this Providence, RI preschool we always had a choice between three milks: regular, chocolate, and strawberry or coffee flavored milk.
**crude blue lobster illustrations by Laura Miner

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Grim Sleeper : Gripping South LA for a Reign of 25 years

We can be thankful that Lonnie Franklin is in prison for murder. On May 5, 2016 a jury found the so called "Grim Sleeper" guilty of the murders of ten women over the course of 14 years. This was relevant news to me since I was captivated by the HBO documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper nearly a year before this conviction. At the outset of the film, directed by in 2014, we are made aware that the Grim Sleeper had been captured in 2010 and was awaiting the conclusion of his trial. The evidence was damning and he had little to prove innocence in court. But for over two decades Lonnie Franklin seemingly lived without fear of being caught for coldblooded serial murder.

Lonnie didn't hide, he just lived in a world where someone like him can rule the streets.    

At the start of the film, Broomfield enters Lonnie Franklin's South Los Angeles, CA neighborhood, and is treated with hostility by his former neighbors. They are in the mindset that Lonnie is innocent, that he was of good character, and it was all simply unbelievable. Maybe he was framed. Maybe it was lazy detective work. After spending more time in this neighborhood, and interviewing women - who did not have positive interactions with Lonnie - these same friends started requesting private interviews.

Still from Tales of the Grim Sleeper with one of Lonnie Franklin's friends and Nick Broomfield.

In these interviews friends would confess that they thought Lonnie was strange. He was kinky with women, he had his vices. He took photographs of women in precarious or violent positions. Lonnie had a gun. He wore it in his front pocket and showed it to people. It was the same gun the police would later identify as the murder weapon for seven out of the ten of his victims.

All of this was revealed and heavily padded with excuses and sheepish apologies. "I'm not proud of it." they would say. Lonnie's friends were well aware of his perversions, and they relished in it at the time. They swapped dirty photos, they shrugged and laughed when they saw hand cuffs in his car, and harbored the knowledge that Lonnie had a special van for putting women in bondage. But he was just "into women."

180 photos of women were found in Lonnie's house. Of the ten bodies found, all of the victims photos were in his collection.

When Lonnie asked some of these men to clean this van - on a fairly regular basis - no one thought twice when the rug had a dark substance in it. Then they convinced themselves it was oil, but looking back on it, it came up too easy to be oil. They can't quite picture it now. It could have been blood.

Later in the film other friends resurface to tell their tales, and they become more cavalier. Some of them are former crack addicts who admit they helped destroy evidence or even found women for him (who would most likely be his murder victims). These men did it for the crack he was supplying. It didn't matter that the car was filled with bloody clothes and God knows what else, these men needed to burn it to a crisp and get paid. It didn't matter that the woman they picked up was being tortured by Lonnie right in front of them, they needed to get high.

Forget about going to the cops. In this neighborhood the distrust for the police and the police's own disdain for this community helped facilitate a man like Lonnie. This was the perfect place to be a serial murderer. Women were being killed, and the cops weren't taking the time to investigate. These were crack addicts and prostitutes, or women who might fit the profile if you glance at the color of her skin and the street sign her body was found near.

The Grim Sleeper's ten identified victims

There are many survivors who were sexually assaulted and tortured. Women who tell the tale do not often have a section of the story where they report the crime to the police. At the time they were hooking and or high, and extremely vulnerable to arrest for their own crimes. All they could do was escape from his clutches, run for safety and learn their lesson never to sleep with him again. Lonnie knew this. That's why he got away with it for so long.

Near the end of the film, some of Lonnie's friends are laughing about him as they did at the very beginning. No longer are they hushed and concerned, ruminating over how someone they knew was very likely a serial murderer. Now they are quite sure he did it, and they gleefully approach Broomfield to share their anecdotes. All of their personal evidence has been compiled and outed among themselves.

Instead of laughing about how Lonnie would always be in his front yard chatting with the neighbors - truly painting an suburban ideal - they were laughing about how much Lonnie hated crackheads. They chuckled about how it was his first wife's fault that he hated crackheads, because she was one herself. They smiled about how he would openly tell them he was "cleaning up" the neighborhood. They all knew what it meant, and they were cool with it.

Lonnie was finally captured because his son Christopher was arrested. Lonnie had been arrested many times before for various crimes, but a new policy enforced by the LAPD to collect DNA from all arrested persons was only in existence since 2004. Lonnie narrowly escaped it after being convicted of a felony in 2003.

His son's DNA was a partial match to the DNA found on all of the bodies. Christopher could only be a relative of the Grime Sleeper. Besides, he was too young to have murdered the women who were killed in the 1980s. Lonnie Franklin's DNA was a perfect match.

Lonnie was sloppy. His DNA was all over the victims. The most vulnerable members of the community were too afraid to come forward. It was clear that the police didn't take it seriously anyway. Survivors that did come forward to the police went through the rigmarole of reporting, only to be filed away despite the multitude of evidence (descriptions of his appearance, the bright orange Pinto everyone knew he drove, bullets from the gun he consistently used, rape kits with his DNA). The key word here is consistent because Lonnie barely tried to hide, but it took 25 years for him to be stopped.

It's terrifying to think of the unreported crimes that occur in neighborhoods like this all of the country. Imagine a place the cops won't touch, the victims are doubly powerless, and a person like the Grim Sleeper will meet you in the middle. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Suspiria: I Should Like This

I've been bad. I've been so so so bad by not making a post for February and March, as well as generally being neglectful of Consume + Consume in 2015 and early 2016. There were plenty of films I watched that were inspiring. Instead I just sat dumbfounded in front of my computer going ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ over pieces of art that should have gotten me writing.

I feel guilty about taking breaks in blogging and writing. I think about the people that do this as their job, who have to pump out words everyday; people who truly make writing their passion. I have to remind myself, that though I can write, and sometimes I have fun things to say, ultimately writing is not my true calling. Missing some time on my blog is disappointing, but I'm not ruining my life because of it. What is my true calling you ask? That's a story for another day...

Before I get to a real, actually thought-out post about Suspiria, (a film I have been recommend for years, and procrastinated in watching because...¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) here is a list of some documentaries and films that I loved but couldn't muster a discussion over:

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Making A Murderer

And now for our feature presentation: 

I have many feelings about 70's Italian horror film Suspiria that are difficult to organize. There are two roads I've narrowed it down to, and those roads are pretty disparate.

One road is to praise the visual aspects of the film - as many do - posting film still after film still. It would ultimately be a dream-board of images I thought were cool; trying to impress others with my visual insight.

I'd convince readers to see the film so that they too can feast their eyes on the same colors and shapes. I would also go on about the use of Art Nouveau style that is repeatedly used in the set design.

The second road would be a complete dissection of the film's script, which I have nothing positive to say about. I would put on my EWW hat, (you can read that as "Eww, gross." or the popular YouTube series Everything Wrong With) and point out all of the many plot holes. What Suspiria has in visuals, it lacks in story line, plot, and sense.

What I can do to bond these two roads together is my theory that the project was conceived by a thirteen year-old girl. (The film was actually written by a then thirty seven year-old  , and twenty seven year-old , but indulge me for a moment). 

On the one hand she doesn't have the know-how to make a coherent script, and her fantasies take precedence over reason. On the other hand her love for bright colors, newly found obsession with Art Nouveau, and her burgeoning dark side, make the film a perfect indulgence of horror and glamour.

If you don't believe that this is the work of a tween girl, read the IMDB plot summary of Suspiria,

A newcomer to a fancy ballet academy gradually comes to realize that the school is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of grisly murders. 

Joan Bennett of Dark Shadows fame keeping it elegant and supernatural as Madame Blanc.

It's got everything: ballet, Europe, a fancy school that's for students of indeterminate age (It's for  young people, like college or something. But I think I could go in a couple years when I'm fifteen because I'm so mature and good at dancing), Joan Bennett in one of her last film roles, grisly murder, a romantic mansion, witches, hot pink, a pool (!!), and one hot guy that you think might do something for the plot, but then does nothing for the plot.

The girls spend a lot of time looking pretty in pretty hallways, being drugged, and whispering. All of the actors in this international cast each spoke their native languages when delivering their lines. The entire film is dubbed over in English. Even the English speaking actors had their lines done over through ADR (additional dialogue replacement), thus leveling the playing filed and making everyone look sufficiently awkward when they speak. Knowing this fact makes ballet student, Sarah's whispering to Suzy (our main heroin) that much more hilarious, knowing that the actress was telling her secrets in Italian.

When you can't understand the person whispering to you, so you feign concern instead. 

Suspiria is an Art Nouveau explosion. In Madame Blanc's office, the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, leader of the Aesthetic movement, are framed on a partition. However, they do appear to be altered - possibly because of copyright issues. Below are comparisons of the movie stills with the original artwork.


All of the images have two subjects in their original versions, (even if one of them is just a disembodied head) but those in the background of Suspiria all only have one.

Beardsley's influence can be felt throughout the film. Especially in this above screen shot, the character named Olga even looks like she could be one of Beardsley's subjects. 

This aggressive black and white patterned wallpaper in Olga's apartment is reminiscent of Beardsley's exclusively black and white illustrations. It is also extremely 70's.

Scariest room in the movie?
Razor Wire Room might take the cake.

Ultimately Suspiria was delightful and inspiring. It reminded me of the colorful optimism of youthful creativity. The plot doesn't make any sense because it's a frame for frame remake of a young girl's bad dream, mixed with her aspirations, budding sexuality, and interior decorating sense.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

12 Angry Viewers: Lost Gem of Mid-Ninties MTV

12 Angry Viewers wasn't the most popular show. I'm not sure any of my classmates in the 5th grade watched it, though we all watched MTV for sure. Wikipedia describes the premise:

"12 'Angry Viewers' were chosen. Through the course of a week they would watch several "brand new" videos and vote at the end of the episode which was the best. On Friday the best video out of the four chosen during the week was chosen and put into "heavy rotation" on the network." 

Maybe it wasn't that great and I'm inflating it, but unfortunately there isn't enough content online for me to re-live it. When Googling 12 Angry Viewers, one of the first things to come up is this hilarious article from a 1997 Philly newspaper advertising auditions for the show. Right off the bat, this journalist wins me with the line, "Say you have an addytood [sic]." Sick. I did have an attitude, and opinions about videos, thank you very much. Could not wait to watch!

I didn't know it yet, but I was viewing the most music video saturated programming of my lifetime. It's what I would consider a golden era for MTV. Many would disagree. It was a steep decline, and no one could see behind them. I also didn't know that I was in-taking a smaller percentage of music videos than previous generations of viewers. With shows like Cartoon Sushi and Liquid Television providing dark, violent and sexy cartoons pre-Adult Swim, I couldn't complain. MTV was a guide book for everything 20-somethings were into. This demographic in actually was starting to shy away from MTV and soon the programming would become less pseudo-adult and be more teen oriented.

If you lived through the early aughts of MTV and beyond, you know the hilariously low number of music videos they played during that era. It started with thoughts like, "MTV only plays videos if they're on TRL!" and devolved into "They cancelled TRL and now they only play Teen Mom and The Hills."

If you can imagine, the mid-nineties had their own critics about MTV's programming. Claiming even then that MTV was slipping on the video front. 12 Angry Viewers was one of several shows used to spoon feed videos to the masses, including MTV LiveSay What?, and Total Request. I suppose the executives agreed that the youths needed to watch things in scheduled show formats. Blocks of videos without a gimmick wouldn't keep their attention. I suppose this is true to a certain extent. I get the draw of watching a show. If it's a video block, maybe you change the channel when a video you don't like comes on. If the promise of a winner or an interview is ahead, then maybe you power through it.

The promo for 12 Angry Viewers is perfectly mid-90s. It has all the bells, whistles and flashing lights (literally) to get your attention. It's narrated by a Daria-voiced gen-xer, almost cooing over how satisfyingly cynical these Angry Viewers are. The visuals say, "We're taking the idea of throwing rotten tomatoes, and we're blowing it up!" It says, 'new futuristic fonts.' It says, 'negatives are negative.' It says 'extreme,' right before Xtreme! became a thing.

I have a couple solid memories from watching 12 Angry Viewers:

1. It was the first time I saw Portishead's Only You video. This nightmare-like underwater warehouse video was directed by Chris Cunningham, and it won during it's week on the show. This gloomy, jazzy song with strings, Theremin, and mixing and scratching was a revelation to me. Two years later I would finally purchase their self titled album, and Portishead would become one of my favorite bands. In the mean time I made sure to tune in to 12 Angry Viewers every day that week to see it. 

2. The Propellerheads History Repeating was great. It won. End of story.

3. There were Father's Day / Mother's Day episodes where parents watched videos with their college age kids (hilarity ensued - mom's didn't like Korn). One of the videos played was Zoot Suit Riot by the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, because "Daddies." 

4. Air's Sexy Boy was also a contender on the show. It didn't win or loose. It wasn't worth banning, but it wasn't worth Heavy Rotation either. However, this song sounded retro and French, so I loved it. 

5. Something else that was retro and French, is a music video panned for being too weird. I don't remember if it won or lost, AND I don't remember the artist. I haven't been able to find it anywhere. Maybe you can help me: The video is of two men preparing for a skydive. But the sequence goes forwards and backwards in a loop. They fly up into the plane, and then jump back out, etc. Inside the plane is a man who kind of looks like Nathaniel Hornblower, making waffles with badminton rackets, and mouthing to the lyrics (the only lyrics) sung by a breathy woman, "I love it." 

When I type this description into Google, I get nothing.

12 Angry Viewers was a smart show because it purposefully played obscure and artful videos when this was going out of style. This may have been done for shock value, and to illicit strong reactions from the contestants, but at least it gave them a fighting chance on the airwaves. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Nightmare: Mental Projections Or A Shadow Society?

The Nightmare is a 2015 documentary directed by Rodney Ascher, detailing the experiences of those who suffer from sleep paralysis. Ascher is also known for directing Room 237. There are some big improvements in The Nightmare from Room 237. 1) We get to see the interviewees instead of just their disembodied (and poorly mixed) voices. 2) Despite The Nightmare's topic of sleep paralysis with it's association to mental illness, the paranormal, and alien abductions, there seem to be less crackpots in this documentary than the one about enthusiasts of The Shining. Don't get me wrong, for all intents and purposes, I loved Room 237 and the extra layer of drama and lore it added to The ShiningThe Nightmare has a more finished quality to it. The reenactments are true to the described experiences, and at the same time dream-like in their interpretation.

Sleep paralysis occurs usually while someone is in the process of falling asleep. The body goes into a paralysis as it normally would (a physiological function to prevent us from running out of bed while we dream), but the mind is still awake. This leads to a panicked feeling, and a struggle to move or speak. This is already scary, but universally people under sleep paralysis also have visions or a sense that someone else is in the room.

Hello! We couldn't help but notice you were unable to move or scream.

What is fascinating, is the consistent presence of "shadow men" in these dreams. Several of those interviewed described them specifically as a living shadow. They all go on to elaborate that they looked like a shadow of a person from the ground, but solid, and three-dimensional.

Aside from the fact that being paralyzed and aware of it is terrifying in and of itself, the visions that come with this are also extremely menacing. The stories range from amorphous black blobs to red-eyed men threatening death almost every night for years.

On a scale of amorphous blob to murderous red-eyed shadow man of eternal torment, what do you see?

One woman claims to have rid the visits by finding Jesus. Another man's experience sounds more like extraterrestrial visitations. The stories have their parallels, but they can also vary from ghostly, to demonic, to alien in interpretation.

The way each shot is artfully staged is stunning and keeps the dreamy mood. Even the interviews are set in low light, the way you might dream about your house, but it's during a time of day that doesn't exist.

The below image is described by a man recalling the first time he bore witness to the shadows that had been lurking around his bed every night during sleep paralysis. The reason he could see them more clearly this time is because his bed was broken, and was propped up only by his mother's collection of Beanie Babies. It's an idiosyncratic situation, and ripe with possibility for imagery.

"Ahem. These are off-brand Beanie Babies."

The director acknowledges this, and takes it to a dream-like space that exudes an artful interpretation, and by no means shows an over exaggeration from lack of understanding. In a way it reminds me of being in photography classes in college; seeing someone solve the creative challenge of representing time and place. The stills from this documentary can stand alone as a photography series.

The film set is ever-present in The Nightmare. At some points we see the shadow figures move from set to set, entering different interviewee's bedrooms. The Shadow Men are making their rounds for the night. It brings attention to the fact that these experiences aren't based in reality (hopefully). These visions might be part of a primal subconscious that we all share, revealing itself when we are most vulnerable and afraid; testing us. To some degree we all fear this same generic boogie man.

I am lucky enough to have never experienced this chronically like the people in this film. However, I have had one episode that might be classified as sleep paralysis. It was during my junior year of college, and I was living in a door room in a suite. I had the room to myself and the door was locked while I slept every night, just in case. One lazy weekend morning, I was in the state where you become aware that it's morning, and you're not fully awake, but you're aware that you were sleeping. Coming in and out of sleeping and being awake, I tried to wake up, but could not move.

My eyes were closed, not tightly, and I could see the light in the room if not a sliver of my surroundings. On my back, I couldn't move a limb. This was odd, but what made it worse was hearing my door open and foot steps walking to my bed. I didn't see anyone coming for me, no shadow. Maybe I just felt the presence. Then, without feeling much movement on the bed, I felt the pressure of someone on top of me.

I can't explain the feeling that I had. It was nothing more than pressure, and I don't remember being especially scared. No one's face was over mine, no breath. It was just on my torso and legs. I wanted the narrative to be that I was terrified, and that I fought, but I was helpless and I succumbed. Maybe this really was just a dream.

At some point I woke up for real. I checked the door, and it was locked.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Soaked In Bleach

I'm almost thirty and feeling old about everything, but what makes me feel young again is watching documentaries about events that happened when I was (gosh) just too young to remember.

I was jazzed about seeing the two ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries,  June 17th, 1994 and The Price of Gold. They're about the OJ Simpson Bronco chase and the Nancy Kerrigan scandal, respectively. Both happened in 1994 when I was seven years old. I was generally aware of what was going on, watching the nightly news while eating dinner with my parents in front of the TV. It's great to watch these films now so I can use my adult brain and life experiences to comprehend what was happening then, understand how the public reacted, and also reflect on how I would have felt about it had I been a fully realized person. Soaked in Bleach is one of these types films for me.
Directed by Benjamin Statler, Soaked in Bleach covers another devastating event from the zeitgeist of my childhood: Kurt Cobain's apparent suicide. Unlike OJ and Nancy KerriganI was completely unaware of Kurt Cobain then. It wasn't till I was ten and started watching MTV that I knew at all about Nirvana or the suicide. At the time, in 1997, it was the three year anniversary. As a kid that seemed far away enough to be ancient history. The grunge era had already come and gone. You were more likely to see Puff Daddy, Sublime, or Marilyn Manson videos on MTV. The Kurt Cobain chatter came from Kurt Loder during news updates between video blocks. Two years later such news breaks and video blocks would be pretty much obsolete.

Soaked in Bleach and another Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck, both came out in 2015. Montage of Heck focuses more on Kurt's origins and inner thoughts; a tribute visualized with an animated collage of his sketch book drawings. Soaked in Bleach is a compelling murder mystery. 

The narrative has always presented a depressed and thoroughly messed up Kurt Cobain. Behind his raw music with lyrics that made your parents feel uncomfortable was a man who did exactly what you would expect him to do: shoot himself in the head with a shotgun. At least that's the narrative.

There have always been swirling rumors about his suicide actually being a murder. Courtney Love's behavior and inappropriate attachment to her husband's music rights made her a suspect to those who already disliked her. Just scuttlebutt in response to a woman who was unashamed - on many levels. She was labeled as obnoxious at the least, and greedy and callous at the worst.

Courtney Love had always been rough around the edges in her persona. I never felt pity for her being a widow. She didn't seem to need it. I certainly feel less likely to pity her after watching Soaked in Bleach. You can speculate and talk about these clues in her behavior, but what's so unequivocally shocking is the damning recorded audio at the center of this documentary.

Private detective Tom Grant

Told through interviews and top notch reenactments paired with actual audio recordings, the documentary follows private detective during the week before Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home. Grant was hired by Courtney Love to find Kurt who had evidently gone missing on April 2, 1994. She expressed concern that Kurt might commit suicide - despite good friends reporting that he was and always had been a happy person. It became clear that Love more or less knew where he was, and was more concerned about stopping him from leaving her. Cobain had allegedly asked his good friend/lawyer, Rosemary Carroll, to have Love taken out of his will about a month before he died.

Depiction of Courtney Love during one of her meetings with Tom Grant.

Love insisted that not check their house, reasoning that their nanny Cali was there, and would know when Kurt came home anyway. Michael "Cali" DeWitt was a former boyfriend of Love's, and the live-in nanny for Frances Bean.

Love told white lies right from the start, making Grant question her motives. It's known that Cali saw Cobain for the last time on Saturday, April 2, 1994. Phone records show that on that day Cali and Love spoke on the phone eight times. The next day Love hired Grant, but failed to mention that she knew where Cobain was or that he had just been seen by their friend.

Throughout the week before Cobain's death, Love tried to spitball ideas to Grant of fabricated stories she would stage for the media to bring her sympathy. She explained that the stories were meant to be messages to Kurt; something that would pull him out of hiding and contact her. This behavior is so manipulative it's hard to believe she actually cared about him.

Daniel Roebuck as Tom Grant meeting with Dylan Carlson.

On April 7th Grant finally went to the home at 171 Lake Washington Blvd. accompanied by Cobain and Love's friend Dylan Carlson. In the process, Grant found a foreboding note, lying on the stairs in their home. The note said, "I can't believe you managed to be in this house without me noticing."

From Justice For Kurt Cobain

The note was written by Cali. It can be read in several different ways:

1. Cali noticed Kurt in the house or heard the gunshot (without checking on Kurt's well being for some reason), and assumed Kurt had been there for a time. Without bringing attention to himself,  Cali wrote the passive aggressive note on the stairs for him to find.

2. Cali heard the gun shot, which tipped him off to Kurt's death. Was the letter a sort of eulogy? If so, why was it left on a staircase not even close to Kurt's body? Why was it left there at all? How could Kurt "Do something now." if he was obviously dead?

3. The message from Cali to Kurt about not noticing him is eerie, as it reflects Grant's and others inability to find Kurt.

Though Grant and Dylan were in the house several days after Kurt had shot himself, Grant was unaware of the greenhouse above the garage where Kurt's body lay. Dylan knew about this wing of the house, but for unknown reasons did not suggest that Grant check it. At the time of him finding the note, Grant did not suspect that Kurt was dead nor that Kurt was in the house.

The crux of Soaked in Bleach is the audio recordings. Grant recorded every meeting and every phone call. When another piece of evidence is introduced, and you almost can't believe it, then you hear it straight from the horse's mouth. It's absolutely chilling to hear Love's well known voice utter lies and manipulative thoughts. Mix that with plane tickets, drugs, handwriting samples, the will, undisclosed phone calls, and a misplaced end table, you will finish this film wanting to go door to door petitioning for the case to be reopened.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Double: With Triple Analysis

The Double (2014) directed by Richard Ayoade, (the British actor you might know best from the famous Fire! video clip) is a visually stunning film that manages to be quirky without being cliche, and unique while harkening to past films. The flavors I detected within The Double came from The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Eraserhead (1977), and Fight Club (1999). All films deal with themes of feeling like an outsider, the modern industrial wasteland, the corporate grind, the cruelty of bureaucracy, alter egos, being a fraud, and suicide.  


Hissing smoke, the distant clunking sound of metal on metal, a train horn in the distance. All dear and familiar sounds...

Within the first few minutes of The Double, I concluded that it was a technicolor Eraserhead

The awkward man clad in a suit makes his way through a barren industrial landscape to a sad studio apartment. It's perpetually night, and any daylight is suffocated by modern encasings. There is little to be enjoyed in this universe. The Double has Simon James (), who likes to watch one TV show about a strong, rough man. Eraserhead has Henry Spencer (), who looks at his radiator and dreams of a pure happy woman in a Vaudeville style act. 


There's something decidedly timeless about the universe they live in. Somewhere wavering between the 1950s and the 1970s, industry and machinery rule, and a formal approach to dress keeps characters rigid and conformed. The mechanical equipment in both films are unidentifiable but vaguely familiar. They are metal, have buttons and lights, produce items, but their function is based on fantasy.

The people they encounter are hostile. The protagonist just can't catch a break. No matter how meek, submissive and nonthreatening, he is berated, belittled and steamrolled - most notably by older women.

The films are both padded with elderly characters that contrast the youthful protagonist, but mirror his feebleness.  

He is in love with a young woman, but she doesn't love him back in the same way.

Her approval is just out of his grasp. In The Double, Hannah () is the victim of two extremes in male behavior, which Simon has the ability to execute (whether he knows it or not). Simon watches Hannah from afar, silently hoping to gain a connection. In an anecdote about a man who committed suicide in her building, Hannah explains that she is unnerved by this style of courtship - which he is guilty of himself. Simon's alter ego, James Simon, harms Hannah in a more aggressive way: loving and leaving, cheating, and even slapping her in an argument. Hannah attempts suicide and miscarries James's child. Simon James and James Simon are opposites, but both still land outside the spectrum of suitable. 

In Eraserhead, Mary X () finds herself indelibly tied to Henry by their illegitimate and deformed child. Mary is thrust into motherhood, living with Henry in his cramped apartment. The stress of raising this ill infant, who she can't recognize as her own, causes Mary to move out. Henry's meek spirit doesn't exactly encourage her to stay.  

Simon and Henry's romantic exploits are met with ridicule and embarrassment.

Even the elevators are cruel.

At least Henry is "on vacation." Eraserhead is already saturated with quintessential nightmare versions of everyday life; the Eraserhead workplace would be bleak and torturous on Jheronimus Bosch levels. Maybe we get a glimpse of this at the pencil factory - where Henry's disembodied head is sold to make erasers. 

Both Simon and Henry's stories end with their heads smashed on the pavement, and their spirits being taken to Heaven by people who truly understand them. More on that later...

The Hudsucker Proxy and The Double have their tones set by suicide early on. Simon is going about his usual routine of spying on Hannah across the courtyard, when he sees a man pirched above her apartment staring back. Suddenly he's dropped. The tragedy brings Simon and Hannah together as neighbors and co-workers. 

Waring Hudsucker, the founder and president of Hudsucker Industries, commits suicide by jumping out of the skyscraper window during a meeting. Knowing Hudsucker's stock shares will be sold to the public, board member Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), schemes to buy the controlling interest in the company and temporarily depressing the stock price by hiring an incompetent replacement. Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) a lowly mail room clerk on his first day, comes to deliver a letter to Mussburger, but decides instead to pitch his invention of a simple circular toy. Believing Norville to be the right idiot for the job, Mussburger immediately promotes him to president. 

Is he a fraud?
Simon James is irked by the presence of a new employee named James Simon. It's like looking into a mirror, but no one seems to notice but Simon James. There's something about James that's so charismatic, he can get away with murder. James impresses with minimal effort. He lies and cheats on a psychopathic level. On the other hand, there's something so unremarkable about Simon, that he seems to be a "non-person." Simon's malfunctioning work ID causes him to be shut down on a bureaucratic level. If the ID doesn't work, you aren't in the system, and if you aren't in the system, you don't exist. The system is uncaring and exclusive, though it is run by humans.

The Hudsucker Proxy captures the insanity of bureaucracy as well. It's comical in it's absurdity, yet recognizable. My favorite scene from Hudsucker is the one pictured above right. It's Norville's first minutes in the mailroom, and he's being screamed at by a supervisor. Without warning the man rattles off, "6787049A/6. That is your employee number. It will not be repeated! Without your employee number you cannot get your paycheck." The rest of the quote can be found here

Work can feel this way at times; designed for automatons and not humans.

Simply on the basis of premise, The Double and Fight Club share the same story. A young man, fried by the corporate machine, splits into a second persona whom he believes to be his savior and also his tormentor, only to find that they were one in the same person.

The young man does not live his life to the fullest, he might be categorized as a nerd. The alter ego is the exact opposite. He is suave, and has good luck with women. He has the answers to everything, and seems to move smoothly through life by his wits. By all accounts this mysterious man is a jerk who should be punished and not praised for his behavior, but the prevalent theme appears to be "nice guys finish last."

Through bouts of self-harm, culminating in a suicide attempt, the alter ego is freed.

The main difference is that the alter ego in Fight Club, Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden, looks nothing like Ed Norton's character (simply called "The Narrator"), while Jessie Eisenberg plays both characters, as Simon James and James Simon. This creates a comically surreal nightmare scenario where the sanity of every other character is questionable. That anyone would believe these men were not twins or even see a resemblance between them is outlandish, but this is Simon's lament.

It's unclear in Fight Club if anyone besides the Narrator sees Tyler Durden as a separate person. This allows the charade to hold up, but ultimately lays the foundation for them to plausibly be the same person. Unlike The Double, Fight Club's Narrator is the only one who sees his alter ego as another individual, while we imagine the reality would involve the Narrator switching personalities as he interacts with people, and talking to himself a lot. The Double rides this line. There are many scenes where Simon confronts James to the point of revealing that he's an illusion. However, the rest of the characters are so certain that they are different men, Simon is left defending his personality, and attempting to prove that they are the same. The Double is part scifi fantasy, part psychological case study.

The suicide attempt by The Narrator in Fight Club is ultimately nonfatal, but the gun shot to the cheek appears to rid him of Tyler Durden. The suicide concluding The Double is most likely fatal, but left to our imagination. Simon is loaded into an ambulance after jumping from his apartment window, while James dies from the injuries as he is restrained inside the apartment. Simon appears alert, and Hannah is inside the ambulance. A happy ending seems likely. Then the Colonel (the owner and idol of the company Simon works for) appears in the ambulance with them.

In The Hudsucker Proxy, Norville almost falls to his death from his skyscraper, but is saved by a supernatural force, and visited by the angelic apparition of Waring Hudsucker. Near death, Norville and Simon are both visited by the beloved god/bosses of their respective employers. 

In the ambulance the Colonel comments that Simon is a special person. His untimely presence and encouraging tone is unsettling, considering the circumstance. It is then we realize the ambulance ride is most likely a heavenly dream.

At least Simon gets to go solo.