Betty Perske

It’s a famous and apparently true story that Howard Hawks cast Lauren Bacall (birth name Betty Perske) in To Have and Have Not opposite Humphrey Bogart, after his wife Slim saw her on the cover of the March 1943 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. The cover was shot in Kodachrome under the eye of Diana Vreeland.

Wikipedia, in the article on photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, editorializes:

The young woman looks either waiting to go inside to donate or about to leave the Red Cross blood donor room. The expression on her face is nonchalant with a suggestion that she does not attend the blood donation clinic regularly. Her eyes are empty. She may be disappointed or sad or helpless just as any other American woman knowing the reality is no one can escape. The audience can sense the uncertainty in the air of the time from her expression.

[Bacall’s] final role was in 2014 as a guest voice appearance in the Family Guy episode “Mom’s the Word.”[73]

source:


Didion on Reagan’s day

source

The aides gave us the details, retold now like runes. Promptly at nine o’clock on most mornings of the eight years he spent as President of the United States, Ronald Reagan arrived in the Oval Office to find on his desk his personal schedule, printed on green stationery and embossed in gold with the presidential seal. Between nine and ten he was briefed, first by his chief of staff and the vice president and then by his national security adviser. At ten, in the absence of a pressing conflict, he was scheduled for downtime, an hour in which he answered selected letters from citizens and clipped items that caught his eye in Human Events and National Review. Other meetings followed, for example with the congressional leadership. “I soon learned that those meetings lasted just one hour, no more, no less,” Tony Coelho, at the time majority whip in the House, tells us in Recollections of Reagan: A Portrait of Ronald Reagan. “If the agenda—which he had written out on cards—wasn’t completed at the end of the hour, he would excuse himself and leave. If it was finished short of an hour, he would fill the rest of the time with jokes (and he tells a good one).” During some meetings, according to his press secretary, Larry Speakes, the President filled the time by reciting Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

source. Martin Anderson, who was there, had a different perspective.


Catholic gentlemen in neckties

The passing of Vin Scully, beloved Los Angeles icon, has occasioned an outpouring of expressions of both loss that we should no longer have this man and gratitude that we ever did. Scully’s skills as a baseball announcer have been the focus of course. We offered some appreciation for the man’s gifts in that field a few years ago. His was a voice we loved and that we’ll miss.

We’d like to note today though another aspect of Scully, and consider him as an example of something that’s passing away. Scully was a Catholic gentleman in a necktie.

For Scully’s gentlemanliness, see any tribute to him. For his Catholicism, note that he narrates a 2 CD recording of the Rosary (you can listen on YouTube). As for the necktie, he didn’t always wear one, but it was part of the presentation, and this was a presenter.

We know this type. They were everywhere in greater Boston circa 1990. The Catholic gentleman in a necktie has national expression in President Joe Biden, though maybe Biden’s roguish side distracts us from his essential typology.

The Catholic gentleman in a necktie was an important part of Los Angeles life as well. Former LA mayor Richard Riordan was one (whether he was a true gentleman couldn’t say, he was before our time, but you’ll accept the point). Rick Caruso, current mayoral candidate, could be another case. Kevin Starr was one. The late John Bowman is one we knew personally, though he didn’t always wear a tie.

Is this type dying away? Current LA mayor Eric Garcetti is a second-generation, copy of a copy version, but he often skips the necktie, and he’s in trouble at the moment for basically not being a gentleman.

Josh Brolin’s character Eddie Mannix in Hail, Caesar (based on the real Eddie Mannix) is shown several times going to confession. This isn’t the outre decadent Catholicism described in The New York Times, it was the real deal, with all the contradictions.

Consider this merely some notes towards a sociological type.

Rest in Heaven Vin. The way he calls this brawl is delightful. (And Greinke demonstrates a pretty good example of a smaller man handling a much bigger opponent).


Senator Alan Cranston (D-California)

Served four terms in the US Senate.

As a young man he was sued by Adolf Hitler for publishing an unauthorized translation of Mein Kampf. (Cranston felt the existing translations expunged too much, hiding the true nature of Hitler’s thought).

In the wake of World War II, Mr. Cranston became a strong advocate for world government. In 1945, he published a book, ”The Killing of The Peace,” about how the League of Nations had been defeated in the United States Senate.

In 1947, he took over his father’s real estate firm in Palo Alto.

(from his obituary)

How did he get into office? He made a lot of money, and then he organized:

In 1952, Cranston co-founded the California Democratic Council (CDC), and served as chairman. Since that time, the CDC has served as an unofficial coalition of local Democratic clubs that coordinate electoral activities and activism throughout California. The CDC provided substantial support to Cranston in his bid for State Controller in 1958 and his numerous runs for the U.S. Senate.

Also:

The New York Times called Cranston a “bald, craggy-looking, none-too-charismatic man.”

While on his many political trips, Cranston would spend time sprinting in long hotel hallways to maintain his fitness.

He wanted to abolish nuclear weapons, an idea fellow California politician Ronald Reagan also had. Could they have done it?

Is Alan Cranston’s lasting legacy to history that the Eagles broke up after Glenn Frey and Don Felder erupted in a screaming match at one of his fundraisers, 1980?

On July 31, 1980, in Long Beach, California, tempers boiled over into what has been described as the “Long Night at Wrong Beach”.[58][59] The animosity between Felder and Frey boiled over before the show began, when Felder said, “You’re welcome – I guess” to California Senator Alan Cranston‘s wife as the politician was thanking the band backstage for performing a benefit for his re-election.[60] Frey and Felder spent the entire show telling each other about the beating each planned to administer backstage. “Only three more songs until I kick your ass, pal,” Frey recalled Felder telling him near the end of the band’s set.[61] Felder recalls Frey telling him during “Best of My Love”, “I’m gonna kick your ass when we get off the stage.”

from the Global Security Institute, where we got the photo:

Alan Cranston used as a guide for leadership a quote by the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, which he carried in his wallet for years:

A leader is best
When people barely know
That he exists,

Less good when
They obey and acclaim him,

Worse when
They fear and despise him.

Fail to honor people
And they fail to honor you.

But of a good leader,
When his work is done,
His aim fulfilled,
they will all say,
‘We did this ourselves.’


Mike Judge on The Three Stooges

.

You brought back a wilder, more anarchic comedy with “Beavis and Butt-Head” in the nineties. At the time, it reminded me of the ferocity of the Three Stooges and other early filmed comedy.

Yeah. It had disappeared for a while. I think for a lot of us—the old folks—there was a time when we were kids, in the seventies or eighties, and the Three Stooges would come on late at night on some weird channel, and it just seemed amazing. I’m a huge Three Stooges fan. It’s interesting to me that when film first had sound, it didn’t take long for people to realize that possibly the best use of that technology was just somebody smacking another person in the head. I’m always arguing with sound mixers about this, because now they layer all the sounds, and it’s funnier when it’s one pure, distinct sound like the Three Stooges had, which is probably just some guy sitting there with a coconut or smacking something. Those sounds are hard to beat. But they now have the ability to layer twenty different sounds, and it ends up being one big, mushy, meaningless, loud sound.

interviewed in The New Yorker.

anyone remember the Three Stooges Nintendo game?

How about this:

Did working dreary jobs help you when it came to writing comedy?

Puts it in perspective. There’s so much material I’ve got from working so many jobs. A lot of the writers that I’ve worked with, same thing. It usually ends up being a good experience.

I remember there was a book I grabbed at a bookstore a long time ago, “Ernest Hemingway on Writing,” and I expected him to be, like, “You’ve got to suffer,” and this and that. But one thing that stood out was something he wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life—and one is as good as the other.” I think that’s a pretty honest thing for him to admit. I remember conversations pretty well. Can’t remember people’s names, but I remember their life story and other details.


They don’t know you’re lying.

They didn’t know what it took to sell tickets to young people, and I remember Francis Coppola saying to me, “Just go in there and tell them you know the answer. Just tell them. They don’t know. They don’t know you’re lying. You walk in there and you say, “This is your lucky day because you want to make money in movies, and I want to make money in movies, and I know how to get money.”

Paul Schrader talking about the studios in the early ’70s.

A whole dozen or fifteen filmmakers came in that gap with that sort of braggadocio, and they got empowered, and some of them actually did make money.

from Rock Me On The Water: 1974 The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television and Politics by Ronald Brownstein, which we got at Chevalier Books on Larchmont.


deer showers

sad situation on dry Catalina Island:

The famed Catalina Island fox, as well as the island’s non-native deer and bison, are “suffering mightily” due to the lack of moisture, which is tied closely to their food supply, according to Deni Porej, senior conservation director with the Catalina Island Conservancy. Lately, he said, deer have been appearing on the island’s golf course in the evenings, when they know the sprinklers will turn on and provide them with a spot of relief.

from this LA Times piece by Hayley Smith


Where is Hollywood?

Hollywood and Highland, 1907. Source.

There was a municipality called Hollywood. It existed from 1903 to 1910. This Hollywood gave up its independence to Los Angeles in exchange for water. Los Angeles was about to arrange for a steady supply via William Mulholland’s Los Angeles Aqueduct, and thirsty Hollywood needed in. (Will this happen to other cities? Countries?)

What is the definition of Hollywood? Here is a map that appears to show the old municipality, I found it on Pinterest (barf) and cannot trace it to a source, this is the closest I get:

Here’s how the LA Times defines Hollywood:

Also seems to be a dead link, I found it here.

AboutHollywood.com tells us this:

Although it is not the typical practice of the City of Los Angeles to establish specific boundaries for districts or neighborhoods, Hollywood is a recent exception. On February 16, 2005, Assembly Members Goldberg and Koretz introduced a bill to require the State to keep specific records on Hollywood as though it were independent. For this to be done, the boundaries were defined. This bill was unanimously supported by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the LA City Council. Assembly Bill 588 was approved by the Governor on August 28, 2006, and now the district of Hollywood has official borders. The border is shown at the right, and can be loosely described as the area east of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, south of Mulholland Dr., Laurel Canyon, Cahuenga Blvd. and Barham Blvd., and the cities of Burbank and Glendale, north of Melrose Avenue, and west of the Golden State Freeway and Hyperion Avenue.

But how to explain this sign, found on Melrose and Flores (the southwest corner, in fact!) which would push the boundary of Hollywood further west than anyone is prepared to acknowledge?


Beach cottage books

During a stay at a beach cottage recently I picked some books off the shelf.

Paperback version of a beloved classic. But is this even readable?

Yeah I dunno…

Recalling that I read a section of All The King’s Men at a high school speech and debate contest. “Interpretive Reading” was not my strongest event.

Does this lady ever miss? Check out this plot:

Quinn Blackwood, Sugar Devil Swamp, Goblin. YES! How about:

This sounds like a bodice ripper but for men:

I put these books back and didn’t read any of them. If I had to pick I’d read about Goblin!


Eutychus

Next time I have to give a sermon I’m going to choose as my text Chapter 20, verses 7-13 of the Book of Acts, in which Paul gives a sermon so long a guy falls asleep, falls out the third floor window and is knocked cold:

On the first day of the week, when we were assembled for the breaking of bread, Paul, since he intended to leave on the following day, began to speak to them and prolonged his address until almost midnight. There were a great many lamps burning in the upper room where we met, and a young man called Eutychus who was sitting on the window sill fell fast asleep as Paul’s address became long and longer. Finally, completely overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up as dead. But Paul went down, bent over him and holding him gently in his arms, said,

“Don’t be alarmed; he is still alive.”

Then he went upstairs again and, when he had broken bread and eaten, continued a long earnest talk with them until daybreak, and so finally departed. As for the boy, they took him home alive, feeling immeasurably relieved.

The Book of Acts, Praxis Apostolōn, has a couple long sermons from Paul. As a character, I find it hard to get into Paul. Just feels like he makes it all about himself?


Kate Corbaley, Storyteller

Another staff writer with a rather unconventional but valued talent was Kate Corbaley.  At $150 a week, Corbaley was one of the few staffers whose salary was in the same range as Selznick’s… 

Her specialty was not in editorial but rather as Louis Mayer’s preferred “storyteller.” Mayer was not a learned or highly literate man, and he rarely read story properties, scripts, or even synopses.  He preferred to have someone simply tell him the story and he found Mrs. Corbaley’s narrational skills suited him.  She never received a writing credit on an MGM picture, but many in the company considered her crucial to Mayer’s interest in stories being considered for purchase or production at any given time. 

That’s from Thomas Schatz, The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era.

Corbaley’s brother was Admiral S. C. Hooper, “the father of naval radio,” if The New York Times is to be believed. What a family of communicators!

Storytelling is a current obsession in business. A few days ago I searched “storyteller” under Jobs on LinkedIn and found 35,831 results.  Amazon, Microsoft, and Pinterest are all hiring some version of “storyteller,” as are Under Armor, Eataly and “X, the Moonshot Factory.” The accounting firm Deloitte is hiring Financial and Strategic Storytellers (multiple listings, financial and strategic storytellers are sought in San Diego, Miami, Chicago, Charlotte, Tampa, Las Vegas, and Phoenix).  

Cool job.

It’s reported in City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s that one afternoon in May, 1936, Kate Corbaley summarized a novel that was already perceived as hot property. She told Louis B. Mayer

a new story about a tempestuous southern girl named Scarlett O’Hara.

Mayer wasn’t sure what to think, so he sent for Irving Thalberg, who declared:

Forget it, Louis. No Civil War picture ever made a nickel.

(This seems improbable: in 1936 Birth of A Nation would’ve held the record as one of if not the biggest movie of all time? Must track this tale to its source, will report.)


The patience of the pursuer

The subject is Warren Beatty:

“You’d go up to his penthouse at the Beverly Wilshire two to three hours a day and go through a whole argument,” recalled writer and director Paul Schrader.  “You’d go back the next day and start at zero until, finally, you realized we will have the same argument over and over until he wins, and that’s when I realized why he was such a successful lothario. [He had] the infinite patience of the pursuer.”

from Rock Me On The Water: 1974 The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television and Politics by Ronald Brownstein. I bought it over at Chevalier Books in Larchmont.

The patience of the pursuer reminded me of this, from The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser:


Tahoe

Finally had a chance to explore Lake Tahoe. The place has power, for sure. The whole lake’s contained in a high altitude basin. You’re 6000 feet above sea level on the beach. Aside from the southeastern corner where Nevada and California meet, and again on the northwestern corner, same thing, there’s not much development. Can’t be, the walls are too steep. The lake is deep, spooky deep: 1,644 feet or half a kilometer, at deepest. And cold.

Scuba diving in a lake at high altitude is a particular challenge. In July, 2011, two divers were exploring the lake using a “mixed gas” method:

Mixed gas divers can safely descend to about 350 feet without suffering nitrogen narcosis, or “rapture of the depths,” among other problems. Conventional scuba divers have to stop at about 100 feet.

While exploring, the mixed-gasers found a well-preserved body just kinda sitting there, underwater. It was a diver who’d died while diving in the lake seventeen years before in 1994.

Byers said those in the diving group were startled to see [the deceased’s] motionless form. “It was pretty scary for them. They were wondering, ‘What’s this person doing down here?’” he said. He did not identify members of the group.

The surprising condition of the body is attributable to the 35-degree water and the increased pressure at the 265-foot depth, Byers said.

All that from a 2011 LA Times article by Bob Pool, who notes some other myths of the lake:

Some Tahoe locals insist that bodies of boaters and swimmers who drowned in Lake Tahoe have turned up Pyramid Lake and vice versa. They insist the tunnels are the result of volcanic activity.

“Lava tube connections between Lake Tahoe and other lakes are an urban myth,” Byers said.

Other stories about oddities beneath Lake Tahoe have been debunked by experts. Some in the region insist that famed diver and naturalist Jacques Cousteau explored the lake in a mini-submarine in the mid-1970s and emerged pale and shaken.

Asked what he’d seen and filmed on the lake bottom, Cousteau reportedly replied, “The world isn’t ready for what’s down there.”

Depending on who is telling the story, Cousteau either encountered a Loch Ness-type monster that locals have dubbed “Tahoe Tessie” or came upon a bunch of dead people.

and:

Tales persist that a “longtime Tahoe fire chief” responded to a drowning call and found the body of a well-preserved Native American girl, fully clothed in a 19th century ceremonial dress, floating in the lake.

However:

Cousteau never explored the lake. Some say his grandson, Philippe Cousteau Jr., visited there, but only for a 2002 speaking engagement. And authorities say they have used sonar and mini-subs to map the lake’s bottom and never found such a graveyard. Nobody knows the name or affiliation of the supposed “longtime Tahoe fire chief.”

On Emerald Bay is the grand and tragic house of Vikingsholm, built with local materials in a single summer by 200 craftsmen.

Here is Mark Twain, in Roughing It, on Tahoe:

Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator. I do not mean the oldest and driest mummies, of course, but the fresher ones. The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be?—it is the same the angels breathe. I think that hardly any amount of fatigue can be gathered together that a man cannot sleep off in one night on the sand by its side. Not under a roof, but under the sky; it seldom or never rains there in the summer time. I know a man who went there to die. But he made a failure of it. He was a skeleton when he came, and could barely stand. He had no appetite, and did nothing but read tracts and reflect on the future. Three months later he was sleeping out of doors regularly, eating all he could hold, three times a day, and chasing game over mountains three thousand feet high for recreation. And he was a skeleton no longer, but weighed part of a ton. This is no fancy sketch, but the truth. His disease was consumption. I confidently commend his experience to other skeletons.

Others report difficulty sleeping, perhaps due to the altitude. But they were sleeping indoors.

Seen from the lake, the casinos at Stateline, Nevada look like Chernobyl or something from The World Without Us, like they got abandoned and a forest grew around them.

Shouldn’t there be a dock there? Maybe the focus is gambling only on that part of the shore. Still, the Encore in Chelsea, Mass has a nice casino boat that’ll take you to/from Boston’s Long Wharf. Could be an idea for Stateline.

You get the sense the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the Forest Service keeps it tight on development.

Larry Ellison has, I’m told, purchased the old Cal Neva in Crystal Bay, once part owned by Frank Sinatra. He’s also buying the currently running casino-hotel Hyatt Regency in Incline Village, a town famous as a tax haven.


Pari-Mutuel

Saratoga and Del Mar seasons are underway, a worthy time to consider pari-mutuel wagering.

While some might think that pari-mutuel wagering has been around ever since organized horse racing started, this is hardly the case. There is a clear history to pari-mutuel wagering, and there is one actual and acknowledged inventor in Joseph Oller. The invention of pari-mutuels was not even Oller’s major contribution to cultural history. He was probably better known as the founder and manager of Moulin Rouge, probably the most famous nightclub of all time.

The pari-mutuel story dates from Paris in 1862. Oller pioneered a sweepstakes game based on horse racing results. This was a system based on total chance. The bettor paid for a chance and was randomly assigned a horse on a given race.

This was however illegal in France. Betting wasn’t illegal, but lotteries were. So:

In place of the system under which the bettors were assigned their designated horse by pure chance, Oller devised a system under which the bettors selected the horses themselves. “By this scheme each investor selected the horse he desired to bet on, and if his favorite proved successful, he became entitled to all the money in the pool, less the commission exacted by Mr. Oller.

Meanwhile, in the US:

Before 1870, the main form of wagering at the American tracks – which were reopening after the Civil War – was the auction pool, also known as the Calcutta pool. Under this system, bettors bid on the right to choose horses in a race. The highest bidder got to pick the horse of his choice, usually the favorite.

In time, an engineer named Harry Straus devised a machine that would issue a printed ticket, and update bettors on the odds.

Straus developed the totalizer – a system of rotary switches and relays based on the principles of automatic dial telephone.

Straus founded a company, American Totalisator, which is now owned by Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, Pimlico, Gulfstream, and few other racetracks.

All that from an illuminating article, “Pari-Mutuels: What Do They Mean and What is at Stake in the 21st Century?” by Bennett Liebman in Marquette Sports Law Review, Vol. 27 Issue 1, Fall 2016.

It’s illuminating to know that bettors were once assigned a horse at random. Liebman’s writing on the legal meanings of “pari mutuel” is thrilling intellectual history.

Many state constitutions exempt or have unusual rules for different kinds of wagering like lotteries and “pari mutuel betting.” Struggles over the definitions have meaningful consequences.

Take the case of “historical racing machines.” These are pretty much just slot machines but technically (maybe) their outcomes are generated on the results of horse races, and the betting is arguably “pari mutuel.” Liebman’s article offers good examples of the law being whatever convinces the judge.

Choosing a horse at random may not be a terrible method, especially given that the pari mutuel market as a whole tends to be pretty sharp. Many a study has looked for inefficiencies, and though they exist, I do not know of a study that’s found an enduring profitable angle. Bill Benter’s work took advantage of inefficiencies in Hong Kong racing, combined with sophisticated modeling developed over painful trial and error. Dr. Z might be onto something but who wants to do all that math?

Horse handicapping is more art than science. I’ve found Brad Free’s book to be the most readable and clear-eyed. Steven Crist (whose own memoir Betting On Myself is fantastic) recommends Davidowitz, which is indeed full of insight. My copy of James Quinn’s Complete Handicapper is thoroughly marked up. Tom Ainslie writes with a style that makes the whole game seem amusing, for example his choice use of the word “animal”:

These books I bought at the Gambler’s Book Shop in Las Vegas all brought me some delight and in a limited way insight.

Andy Beyer’s books are all quite fun. Even the heroes of the great 1970s era of horse race betting, when Beyer discovered his E=mc^2 (“six furlongs in 1:13 equals seven furlongs in 1:26 and a fifth”) tell that it’s near impossible to make money these days. Certain trainer patterns can be exploited from time to time. The dominance of Bob Baffert in southern California can’t be ignored as an example.

Remember that the takeout is sometimes as high as 25%, even higher once you factor in rebates given to high rollers. Something like 40% of the money in competition might be from syndicates working with advanced computer modeling. And note, in the case of the Stronach Group, the track owners are themselves invested in one of the syndicates! Should be illegal but isn’t.

Liebman quotes the UK’s Chief Justice Cockburn, making a ruling in 1871:

experience shews that there is nothing about which there is so much uncertainty as the event of a horse race.

But when that rainbow shines over the racetrack, and you’ve got the Form open, and you think Forbidden Kingdom might be for real? Nothing better.


The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

It’s 1953, Aldous Huxley’s in California.  He’s close to sixty, a literary man who’s also made a good living as a screenwriter.  A friend, one of the “sleuths – biochemists, psychiatrists, psychologists” – has got some mescaline, the active ingredient in peyote.  He gives four-tenths of a gram to Aldous and we’re off.

What if you could “know, from the inside, what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about?”  That’s what he’s after.

The mescaline kicks in.  Aldous looks at flowers, and the furniture.  He looks at a book of Van Gogh paintings, and then a book of Botticelli.  He ponders, in particular, the folds of drapery in the pictures.

I knew that Botticelli – and not Botticelli alone, but many others too – had looked at draperies with the same transfigured and transfiguring eyes as had been mine that morning.  They had seen the Istigkeit, the Allness and Infinity of folded cloth and had done their best to render it in paint and stone.

Cool.  He lies down and his friend hands him a color reproduction of a Cezanne self-portrait.

For the consummate painter, with his little pipeline to Mind at Large by-passing the brain valve and ego-filter, was also just as genuinely this whiskered goblin with the unfriendly eye.

Huxley feels an experience of connecting to “a divine essential Not-self.”  Vermeer, Chinese landscape painting, the Biblical story of Mary and Martha, all pass through his mind.  William Blake comes up, from him Huxley took his title.  Huxley listens to Mozart’s C-Minor Piano Concerto but it leaves him feeling cold.  He does appreciate some madrigals of Gesauldo.  He finds Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite kind of funny.  He’s offered a lunch he’s not interested in, he’s taken for a drive where he “sees what Guardi had seen.”

he comes down.

OK, says Huxley, ideally we’d have some kind of better mescaline that doesn’t last this long and doesn’t cause a small percentage of takers to really spin out.  But: we’ve got something here.  A possible help on the road to salvation.  A substance which allows you to perceive the Mind at Large, to feel the connection to the divine superpower, what he calls in the next essay “out there.”

However, once you go through the Door In The Wall (Huxley credits this phrase to H. G. Wells) you’re not gonna come back the same.  You’ll come back “wiser but less cocksure, happier by less self-satisfied,” humbler in the face of the “unfathomable Mystery.”

My friend Audrey who works at the bookstore tells me she sells a lot of copies of this book, mostly to young dudes.  The edition I have comes with an additional essay, “Heaven and Hell,” which considers visionary experiences both blissful and appalling, and tries to sort out what we can from them.  There’s also an appendix:

Two other, less effective aids to visionary experience deserve mention – carbon dioxide and the stroboscopic lamp.

Huxley finds these less promising.


Who runs Bartertown?

When he gets to Bartertown, Max is taken up in the tower to meet Aunty (Tina Turner). She tells him she wants him to kill somebody. Who? Master Blaster.

Master is a little gnome who rides around on the giant Blaster. Aunty explains that the energy to run the lights and electricity of Bartertown comes from the underworld, a horrible factory-like place where pig shit generates methane.

Max goes down to the underworld under the guise of a pig-shit shoveler. While there, he meets Master Blaster, who is determined to show him who really runs Bartertown. Master Blaster turns off the methane to Bartertown. Everything goes dark. Master Blaster calls up to Aunty. His demand to turn the methane back on is that she answer the question: Who run Bartertown? Reluctantly, she answers: Master Blaster. He makes her say it publicly, over the PA system. Who run Bartertown? Master Blaster. Once she’s said this he smiles and turns the methane back on.

That’s all pretty early in the movie, we haven’t even gotten inside the Thunderdome yet. And since the movie is called Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, we know we’re barely getting started.


I Am Alive and You Are Dead

You don’t need to have read a single book by Philip K. Dick – there are 44+ – to feel his influence. Ridley Scott told Dick he never read his source material (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) before making the adaptation Blade Runner. Total Recall, Minority Report, Man In The High Castle, The Adjustment Bureau, these are a few of the filmed versions. In Slacker Richard Linklater films himself telling stories of Dick’s life and beliefs; later he made a version of A Scanner Darkly. PKD was picking up a signal and asking qs that pretty soon everybody would have to think about:

what if there were a robot so good that you didn’t know it was a robot?

what if there was a robot so good it didn’t know it was a robot?

what if we’re living in a simulation? what if our art and dreams and visions are what’s real and the rest is… what? A trick?

what does it mean if we can invent worlds the feel realer than world world?

what if we were all on so many powerful drugs we lost the thread of reality?

what if we were all on so many powerful drugs we found the thread of reality?

what if surveillance became so elaborate that we ended up surveilling ourselves?

It’s one leap to come up with ideas like this, but another to make them as vivid and lived in as PKD did. (Take even the term “blade runner” – what??)

Despite (because?) of this profound, influential imaginative work, PKD led a marginal existence, almost all in second-tier California towns, ending when he was found unconscious in his apartment in Santa Ana in 1982 and was “disconnected from life support” (an idea he would’ve invented if it hadn’t already existed) days later.

Wrapping your head around this guy isn’t easy, especially since he spent about eight years writing a million plus word “exegesis” that got launched when the fish symbol around the neck of a pharmacy delivery girl convinced him VALIS (vast active living intelligence system) was communicating with him while we were all living in an unending Roman empire.

Imagine what it was like for PKD:

The drugs he had taken during the 1960s, he was convinced formed a chemical soup in which his brain now stewed.

Mostly prescription stuff; he took LSD once and had a real bad time. His place got broken into, and at first he thought the FBI might’ve done it, but then he wondered if he’d done it himself. He was somewhat plausibly worried government agents were monitoring everything he did, but then he wondered why, or if it was even possible he was monitoring himself. Imagine how he felt, then, when the President of the United States (also an Orange County bro) was investigated (on TV) in regard to a mysterious break-in, caught by his own hidden surveillance system that he’d apparently installed to try and remember what he himself had been saying, and thus all his paranoid obsessions became the national, still-unraveled narrative?

Tough challenge for the biographer.

The book you hold in your hands is a very peculiar book. In it I have tried to depict the life of Philip K. Dick from the inside, in other words, with the same freedom and empathy – indeed with the same truth – with which he depicted his own characters. It’s a trip into the brain of a man who regarded even his craziest books not as works of imagination but as factual reports.

Mission accomplished. This is one of the best bios of a writer I’ve ever read. It passes one of the key tests, telling us what Philip K. Dick ate (frozen meals, stuff he got at the local convenience store). It functions as useful psychic history of California from 1950-1980, from the Communist scene in Berkeley to the turn from druggy hippie near utopia to speedfreak nightmare to a semi-religious recovery. Towards the end, PKD was half-convinced he might be living in the Book of Acts (which he hadn’t read), but also thought it possible he was just losing it.

Terry Car, the Ace paperback editor, used to joke that if the Bible had been published as science fiction, it would have had to be cut down to two volumes of twenty thousand words each; the Old Testament would have been retitled “Master of Chaos,” and the New Testament “The Thing with Three Souls.”

How about this?:

[PKD] told the doctor what John Collier, the British writer of fantastic fiction, had said – that the universe was a pint of beer and the galaxies nothing but the rising bubbles. A few people living in one of the bubbles happen to see the guy pouring the beer, and for them nothing will ever be the same again. That, said Phil, is what had happened to him.

In a way PKD was sort of an anti-Joan Didion, who took a deadeyed look at the results of the nightmare, while he himself wondered if the nightmare might be the fruit of his own imagination. Where did one end and the other begin? A wild ride.

The first story PKD sold, “Roog,” kinda hints at it all, here is the summary:

“Roog” is a story told from the point of view of a dog named Boris, who observes his masters carefully storing food in containers outside of their house day after day. Unbeknownst to the dog, these are the human’s trash cans for garbage. The dog is later horrified to witness some food being ‘stolen’ by garbagemen who the dog believes are predatory carnivores from another planet. The dog comes to know these beings as ‘Roogs’, and tries to warn his master of each ‘theft’ with cries of ‘Roog!’ ‘Roog!’. The humans, unable to comprehend the hound’s message, think the dog is just being rowdy. Thus they attribute the sound the dog makes to be the sound that all dogs make when they are excited: ‘Roog!’ ‘Roog!’ The tale concludes with the animal being somewhat distraught, barking “ROOG!” very loudly at the garbagemen before they make off once more with trash in their garbage truck.

Poor PKD was kinda like Boris. You can’t help but like him.

Roog is apparently also “the Supreme God and creator of the Serer religion of the Senegambia region.” That’s the kind of thing that would’ve sent PKD spinning for weeks in his apartment in Santa Ana.


The Open

(Gordon Hatton for Wikipedia)

What with The Open going on I was reading up on The Old Course. Bobby Jones:

After he received the key, he said “I could take out of my life everything but my experiences here in St Andrews and I would still have had a rich and full life.”

I believe that monument you can see in the background commemorates some Protestants who were burnt at the stake.


Genius of the system

The sheer number of movies Hollywood cranked out during the peak of the studio system is wild. In 1936, for example, Paramount released 69 movies, RKO had 39, Fox had 50 movies, MGM put out 48 movies, Warner 56, Universal 34.

This was the factory-like story production processes Faulkner was working under.

Thomas Schatz’s book The Genius of the System is of daunting thickness, but it’s very readable, and I like the thesis: despite the factory nature and control by the money guys rather than the directors, real style and art was achieved.

Auterism itself would not be worth bothering with if it hadn’t been so influential, effectively stalling film history and criticism in a prolonged stage of adolescent romanticism. But the closer we look at Hollywood’s relations of power and hierarchy of authority during the studio era, at its division of labor and assembly-line production process, the less sense it makes to assess filmmaking or film style in terms of the individual director – or any individual, for that matter.

Should we look at the old studio system trying to find cases where a rare director snuck art past the suits? Or should we look at it and see a miraculous time, when thousands of artists and craftspeople came together for a brief period to create the collective dreams of a nation?

Schatz gives a good short summary of his work and the rise and fall of the studio system in this 1989 Fresh Air interview.

In The Offer, Paramount +’s show about the making of Paramount Pictures’ The Godfather, you can see dramatized some of the problems from the end of the true studio system days. The show was shot on the Paramount lot, doubling as the Paramount lot from 1971. There’s a studio, but when they start a movie, they start from scratch. Casting, finding the right people for technical roles, chain of command, getting a workflow going, dealing with the unions, the mob: all these are begun anew for each production. Poor Al Ruddy has to solve each problem fresh. Robert Evans is there, but he’s no Thalberg, with central command over all the gears in the machine. When the movie’s, it’s over. Everything resets. In the year The Godfather came out, Paramount put out sixteen pictures.

Sometimes companies manage to recreate the cohesion of the studio system. Take Pixar, for example, or the Marvel movies. How about Hallmark movies? Individual directors and producers can have runs like this too: Selznick was doing it by 1935. But at nowhere like the studio scale.

Studios had specialties, flavors: MGM had musicals, Universal had monster movies, Warner Brothers had gangster pictures. In 2022, do the streamers have anything like this? I know what BritBox is.

Even on our startup model, plenty of dreams get produced. Movies might be uncountable, how many are there? 403? How many scripted TV shows are there? 532?

Gracenote, a Nielsen company, listed more than 817,000 unique program titles across U.S. traditional TV and streaming services, with many of those titles featuring hundreds of individual episodes and chapters. Back in December 2019, there were just over 646,000 unique program titles.

So says Nielsen’s State of Play report. I found this Hollywood Reporter piece citing an FX report from 2016 that lists all 1,400 primetime shows, starting with Big Bang Theory and ending with:

The Paramount decree in 1948 stopped the studios from owning the theaters. One of many blows, along with TV, shifting lifestyles, etc that forced change on the system. But we’ve re-evolved back around on vertical integration. Disney, for example, is a studio yet owns its own distribution: Disney +. Is that a violation of the Paramount decree? Let’s look into it:

As part of a 2019 review of its ongoing decrees, the Department of Justice issued a two-year sunsetting notice for the Paramount Decree in August 2020, believing the antitrust restriction was no longer necessary as the old model could never be recreated in contemporary settings.

Oh!


slop

from The Nation’s review of Dana Brown’s DILETTANTE: TRUE TALES OF EXCESS, TRIUMPH, AND DISASTER, a memoir of life as Graydon Carter’s assistant at Vanity Fair and the decline of magazine high life in NYC.