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.)


In one famous Brando origin story, Adler asked her students to pretend to be chickens as an atomic bomb drops. While everyone else was flapping in a panic, Brando peaceably squatted down. “I’m laying an egg,” he told Adler. “What does a chicken know of bombs?”

reading Alexandra Schwartz on Isaac Butler’s book about method acting in The New Yorker. A shifting concept, perhaps we can agree?

“the Method” is describes a set of techniques, practices, and concepts for helping actors achieve emotional life and truth in their performances. The Method is based on the teachings of Stanislavski, developed at the Moscow Art Theater, interpreted in the United States by teachers like Lee Strasburg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner and by actors like Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

Defining things is hard, I’m already quibbling with myself!

Maybe Wikipedia’s is better, Wikipedia really is a miracle, isn’t it folks? Sainthood for Jimmy Wales.

Some of what the Method seems to get at, like chunks of reality, precision of memory, the blend of emotional and physical experience, reminded me of Hemingway on focusing as specifically as possible on the connection of sensation to specific detail. What did you feel, what exactly made you feel it in the moment?

MICE: How can a writer train himself?

Y.C.: Watch what happens today. If we get into a fish see exact it is that everyone does. If you get a kick out of it while he is jumping remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you that emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped. Remember what the noises were and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion, what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling you had. Thatʼs a five finger exercise.

Y.C.: Listen now. When people talk listen completely. Donʼt be thinking what youʼre going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice. When youʼre in town stand outside the theatre and see how people differ in the way they get out of taxis or motor cars. There are a thousand ways to practice. And always think of other people.

more on that.

Politics and drama in ancient Athens

All art has a political dimension, but tragedy actually began life in fifth-century Athens as a political institution, locked into the structures of the state. The authorities appointed an official to train and pay the Chorus, the city preserved play scripts in its archives, and there was a state fund which poor Athenians could draw on for the entry fee. Tragedy was a form of ethicopolitical education for the city state as a whole, not just a night off for the toffs.

Wild. What if the US government paid for movie tickets? They probably should! We were pretty close to a merger like this during World War II I suppose, when they’d show the GIs Mrs. Miniver and stuff.

That’s Terry Eagleton reviewing A Cultural History of Tragedy: Vols I-VI edited by Rebecca Bushnell in LRB back in February. Cleaning out my files!

Will Kempe, Will Shakespeare, and Falstaff

In Shakespeare’s time, there was a comic actor who was more famous than any playwright.  His name was Will Kempe.  His most popular bit was morris dancing from London to Norwich.

In February and March 1600, he undertook what he would later call his “Nine Days Wonder”, in which he morris danced from London to Norwich (a distance of over a hundred miles) in a journey which took him nine days spread over several weeks, often amid cheering crowds. Later that year he published a description of the event to prove to doubters that it was true.

Perhaps Kempe originated the part of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s plays.

Kempe’s whereabouts in the later 1580s are not known, but that his fame as a performer was growing during this period is indicated by Thomas Nashe’s An Almond for a Parrot (1590).

An Almond for a Parrot is a great title.

Perhaps he was the Will Ferrell of his day.

Although he had been a sharer in the plans to construct the Globe Theatre, he appeared in no productions in the new theatre, which was open by mid-1599, and evidence from Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which there is no promised continued role for Falstaff, and Hamlet, containing its famous complaint at improvisational clowning (Act 3, Scene 2), indicates some of the circumstances in which Kempe may have been dropped

The lines in question:


O, reform it altogether! And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.
Enjoyable to imagine Shakespeare so pissed at Will Kempe hamming it up all the time that he has Hamlet slam him.

“Just say the lines dude.”

Also enjoy that Shakespeare’s killing himself writing Hamlet while meanwhile this dude is crushing audiences by morris dancing.
from this Radio Times (UK) article by Ben Dowell:

In real life Will Kempe was the Shakespearean clown who was the superstar of his day.

Audiences would flock for miles around to watch the great man perform his Falstaff or famous jig at the Globe theatre after one of the plays by the great darling of the stage – and the age – Will Shakespeare.

And in Upstart Crow, Ben Elton’s BBC2 comedy reimagining of the life of the great poet and dramatist, Kempe is presented as… a cocky C16th Ricky Gervais.


I’m excited to see Tom Hanks as Falstaff.

Henry IV, Part One (and Richard II)

Time to read Henry IV: Part One.  Let’s just dive right in. 

Dammit!  Fine.

Didn’t get a ton out of Richard II, to be honest with you.  Professor McHugh tells me I’ll appreciate it if I read:

It’s all about how weird and hard it is for frail, weak Richard to be king.  He’s got his actual human body, which sucks, trying to rise up to be the Body Politic, the kingly body.  Or something.

I appear to have marked this for some reason.  


The play is mainly about a king waffling and reversing himself and causing problems.  Much of the play is people introducing themselves at a long tournament scene.

We do meet Henry Bolingbroke, who has a son whose thing is prostitutes and being a wastrel:


Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
‘Tis full three months since I did see him last;
If any plague hang over us, ’tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found:
Inquire at London, ‘mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent,
With unrestrained loose companions,
Even such, they say, as stand in narrow lanes,
And beat our watch, and rob our passengers;
Which he, young wanton and effeminate boy,
Takes on the point of honour to support
So dissolute a crew.


My lord, some two days since I saw the prince,
And told him of those triumphs held at Oxford.


And what said the gallant?


His answer was, he would unto the stews,
And from the common’st creature pluck a glove,
And wear it as a favour; and with that
He would unhorse the lustiest challenger.

That’s really gonna be the problem for the next couple plays: Henry Bolingbrook trying to get help from his son who would rather be unto the stews.

Without his unthrifty son, Bolingbroke still manages to depose Richard.

I got deposed

This makes him King Henry IV, but it’s kind of an unsteady position.

Henry IV feels bad when Richard ends up murdered, so he promises to go on a crusade to Jerusalem:

I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land

To wash this blood off from my guilty hand.

March sadly after; grace my mournings here,

In weeping after this untimely bier.

And with that we:


OK.  We’re ready for:

Now, listen.  Is reading Shakespeare even a worthwhile thing to do?

The plays were written to be heard, not read.


When Ben Jonson published his first folio, he was considered uppity for imagining that his plays were worthy of consideration. They were sketches for a whorehouse. You have to imagine Shakespeare’s plays being written between strippers carrying on.

so says Mark Rylance in this New Yorker profile.

Somewhere I can’t find now — the playbill for Jerusalem? — I read an interview with Rylance where he said something like.

In Shakespeare’s day you wouldn’t say have you seen Hamlet, you’d say have you heard Hamlet.  In that sense it was something more like a concert.

(Not an exact quote but close-ish).  More from Rylance, in The Telegraph:

He believes that Shakespeare “did not write literature”, claiming it is as bizarre to read his work on paper as it would be to study the Rolling Stones as poets.

“To take a song like Honky Tonk Woman and study it for its literature is fair enough, but if you’re going to then revere it as literature I think you’re doing a disservice to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who would like it to be revered as a great rock and roll song,” he says.

Cool take.

Is reading Shakespeare as foolish as like, reading Nas raps written down?

So stay civilized, time flies. Though incarcerated your mind dies, I hate it when your moms cries. It kinda makes me want to murder, for real a/I even got a mask and gloves to bust slugs but one love

Both are bursts of verbal exuberance from a chaotic, semi-criminal urban world of blended culture and language.

illustrating a Smithsonian article, “William Shakespeare, Gangster?

How much was Shakespeare’s Southwark like Crown Heights?

There are some powerful phrases in Henry IV, Part One.  I like when Sir Walter Blunt arrives, and the King says he is

Stained with the variation of each soil

Betwixt that Holmedon and this seat of ours.

The story of this play is that Henry (The King) is having a hard time with rebellious Henry Percy, aka Hotspur.   Not helping him is his son, Prince Hal, who just likes to party and drink with his pal Falstaff.

An 1829 watercolor by Johann Heinrich Ramberg of Act II, Scene iv: Falstaff enacts the part of the king.

Hotspur the rebel is a better, more viral example than his own son, and Henry knows it!  Driving him nuts.

Spoiler alert: by the end of the play Prince Hal gets his act together somewhat.

He and Hotspur face off at the battle of Shrewsbury.

Hal kills Hotspur.

Hotspur.  O Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth!

I better brook the loss of brittle life

Than those proud title thou hast won of me.

They wound my thoughts worse than thy sword my flesh.

But thought, the slaves of life, and life, time’s fool,

And time, that takes survey of all the world,

Must have a stop.  O, I could prophesy,

But that the earthy and cold hand of death

Lies on my tongue.  No, Percy, thou art dust,

And food for —


The big star of Henry IV, Part One, the guy who gets a lot of stage time for his clowning, is Falstaff.

Falstaff.  Why, there it is!  Come, sing me a bawdy song, make me merry.  I was as virtuously given as a gentleman need to be, virtuous enough: swore little, diced not above seven times a week, went to a bawdy house not above once in a quarter of an hour, paid money that I borrowed three or four times, lived well, and in good compass, and now I live out of all order, out of all compass.

Are you laughing your ass off yet?

Look, we’ll have more to say about Falstaff

Orson Welles as Falstaff

who will soon be played, right here in Los Angeles in a limited run next month, at the Japanese Garden of the West Los Angeles VA Healthcenter, by Tom Hanks.

(I believe tickets are free to veterans).

We intend to file a dispatch.

Just when one is about to give up on the whole project of reading the Henriad, you get to Henry IV, Part II.

which starts off with a friggin bang:

for which of you will stop

The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Will Kempe

Let’s pick up there next time!  Thanks for joining Henry IV study buddies!


Liked this quote from PTA’s AMA where he says the script is “just a temporary thing”

Is this interesting: The Usual Suspects

Kevin Spacey first came to my (and many people’s) attention playing a character in The Usual Suspects who pretends to be harmless if annoying, but who is actually an evil monster.

Now, Kevin Spacey the real man, is revealed to have been pretending to be harmless if annoying when he was in fact a bit of an evil monster.


Uma’s example

into Uma’s example of not speaking in anger and waiting to be ready to speak on stuff.

feel like Twitter Internet etc. has made everyone feel like they need to have a Take on everything instantly.  I enjoy a good Take a much as anybody.  But feel like I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say “I need to reflect on this before I comment.”

Remembering that Uma’s father is a scholar of Buddhism.

The Man From Onion Valley. source.

Was the last joke Abe Lincoln heard funny?

I can’t be the first amateur historian / comedy writer to get interested in this question.

It’s presumed that John Wilkes Booth, who knew the play, waited for what he knew would be a big laugh line, which was:

Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.

Let’s back up a bit.

Lincoln, as errbody knows, was watching Our American Cousin at the time of his death.

The plot of Our American Cousin is a coarse but honest American goes to the UK to claim an inheritance and gets involved in the various shenanigans of his snooty distant relatives who are trying to keep up appearances and marry off daughters and so on.  Seems like a pretty good premise.   A Frasier-esque farce satirizing pretension and manners.

good source for these images is BoothieBarn, though not sure how to feel about the name

Our American Cousin was written by Tom Taylor.

He had a career as a lawyer and bureaucrat and magazine editor.

Our American Cousin doesn’t seem to have been his biggest hit, that might’ve been:

which isn’t a comedy. They made that one into a movie a few times, most recently in 1937.

Our American Cousin premiered in New York in 1858 and was a hit.

Stealing the show was Edward Askew Sothern as Lord Dundreary:

Askew Sothern almost hadn’t taken the part:

At first, he was reluctant to accept the role; it was so small and unimportant that he felt it beneath him and feared it might damage his reputation.[7][8] He mentioned his qualms to his friend, Joseph Jefferson, who had been cast in the leading role of Asa Trenchard in the play. Jefferson supposedly responded with the famous line: “There are no small parts, only small actors.”[9]


After a couple of unhappy weeks in the small role, Sothern began portraying the role as a lisping, skipping, eccentric, weak-minded fop prone to nonsensical references to sayings of his “bwother” Sam. His ad-libs were a sensation, earning good notices for his physical comedy and spawning much imitation and merry mockery on both sides of the Atlantic. His exaggerated, droopy side-whiskers became known as “Dundrearys”. Sothern gradually expanded the role, adding gags and business until it became the central figure of the play. The most famous scene involved Dundreary reading a letter from his even sillier brother.

Sounds funny enough.  Kind of like this:

I can’t determine if Sothern was in the Ford’s Theater production, or if they got a different Dundreary.  Appears on this night Dundreary may have been played by one E. A. Emerson.

But top bill the Ford’s Theater night went to Laura Keene.

Born Mary Francis Moss, she married a former British Army officer who committed some crime or another and got transported to Australia on a prison ship.  To support herself and her kids she became Laura Keene, a popular actress.

She appeared with Edwin Booth many times, they even toured Australia together.

At this point, she lined up investors, along with an architect who specialized in theaters, and a new theater was constructed to her specifications. Named the Laura Keene’s Theatre, it opened on 18 November 1856. In 1858, Our American Cousin debuted in Laura Keene’s Theater.

A badass, as they say.  A strong female multi-hyphenate.

Some years later they revived the play for a kind of benefit night, and that’s how Lincoln ended up there.

John Wilkes Booth waited for a big laugh line:

Halfway through Act III, Scene 2, the character of Asa Trenchard, played that night by Harry Hawk, utters this line, considered one of the play’s funniest, to Mrs. Mountchessington:

Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.

Harry Hawk in costume:

I found that image through the website for The Persistence of Dreams, this four minute recreation movie of that night at the theater (warning: violence):

Sockdologizing was a made up word, invented in this play.  It seems that around this time people found the word “doxology” to be funny.  It may have been a play on that.

The phrase sounds weird to our ears.  But I bet if you heard it, delivered with solid timing by a charming actor like Harry Hawk, playing into the role of the lovably blunt Asa Trenchard, it was probably amusing.

Anyway, I conclude that yes, the last joke Abe Lincoln heard was pretty funny, even if it may not be exactly hilarious to us these many years later.

Career. Woman.

Asked an Osaka resident what was going on in Japanese comedy these days, and he directed me to Buruzon Chiemi.


All I Gotta Do Is Act Naturally

When I first got to California a real curiosity was Bakersfield and the Bakersfield Sound.

from wiki’s article on the Kern River Oilfield. Photo by Antantrus

What the hell was going on up there in Bakersfield?  There were four Basque restaurants in town.

Buck Owens was the king of the Bakersfield sound, he had the Crystal Palace.  He died before I got to see him.  From Wiki:

The Los Angeles Times interviewed longtime Owens spokesman (and Buckaroos keyboard player) Jim Shaw, who said Owens “had come to the club early and had a chicken fried steak dinner and bragged that it’s his favorite meal.”


Afterward, Owens told band members that he wasn’t feeling well and was going to skip that night’s performance. Shaw said a group of fans introduced themselves while Owens was preparing to drive home; when they told him that they had traveled from Oregon to hear him perform, Owens changed his mind and took the stage anyway.

Shaw recalled Owens telling the audience, “If somebody’s come all that way, I’m gonna do the show and give it my best shot. I might groan and squeak, but I’ll see what I can do.” Shaw added, “So, he had his favorite meal, played a show and died in his sleep. We thought, that’s not too bad.”

The alpha song of the Bakersfield sound has to be Act Naturally.  The Beatles had Ringo sing it:

I’ve probably listened to the Buck Owens version between 50 and 100 times.  It continues to reveal itself.  How about the the paradox of acting naturally.

Only very very good actors are capable of truly acting naturally.

Otani Oniji II as Yakko Edobei in the Play “Koinyabo Somewake Tazuna”
Saraku, Toshusai (worked 1794-1795)
Polychrome woodblock print with mica ground
h. 15 in. w. 9-7/8 in.
 from the Met.

Did Otani Onjii act naturally?

Whole acting schools are devoted to teaching people how to act naturally.

Why do people have so much trouble acting naturally?

If you’re in Bakersfield get an ice cream sundae at Dewar’s.


History of theater

Trying to help Filip and Fredrik out on their commedia del’arte question, I pull down my Oxford Illustrated History of the Theater.

There I learn the reason there are no female kabuki actresses:

The earliest kabuki performers were women, but later all roles, including female, were played by men.  This was because the government banned women from the stage in 1629, their policy being that nobody should follow more than one profession: this prevented women from being both prostitutes and actresses.

source: ukiyo-e.org

McConaughey Story

Study of McConaughey is always rewarding.  The best part of the above video is the first few seconds :12-:36


It’s unfortunate that used copies of I Amaze Myself!, McConaughey’s mother’s autobiography, are unreasonably priced.  I’m interested in more stories like this.


Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

Remember this guy?  For some reason or another I bought this pamphlet of a speech he gave at King’s College, London, November 1993:


Stockdale was a 38 year old naval aviator when he got sent to Stanford for two years of study.  He was pretty bored until a professor handed him a copy of The Enchiridion, a collection of the teachings of Epictetus.


What does Epictetus teach?


He taught how to play the game of life with perspective:game-of-life

an A-4

an A-4

Five years later, this is what happened to Stockdale:


Stockdale was wrong about how long he’d be there.  He was there for 7 1/2 years, much of it in solitary confinement:


How did he spend his time?  Well, for one thing he constructed a sliderule in his mind from equations tapped to him in code through a concrete wall::

unnamed unnamed

A bigger collection of Stockdale’s speeches and essays:


where he distills what he learned through his prison experience down to “one all-purpose idea, plus a few corollaries”:


What he has to say about public virtue is distressing as I watch the future president:


A badass:


Recommend Courage Under Fire, which costs five bucks or $3.85 on Kindle.  Thoughts Of A Philosophical Fighter Pilot is for the serious Stockdale student.

I think you can appreciate the greatness of Stockdale and also find this funny:


Coverage of another philosophical fighter pilot, John Boyd, here.



How many interesting things are in sociologist Randall Collins’ latest post (which is maybe the text of a speech or something?)  Let me excerpt some for us.  I have highlighted some nuggets:


I will add a parallel that is perhaps surprising. Those who know Loic Wacquant would not expect to find silent harmony. Nevertheless, Wacquant’s study of a boxing gym finds a similar pattern: there is little that boxers do in the gym that they could not do at home alone, except sparring; but in the gym they perform exercises like skipping, hitting the bags, strengthening stomach muscles, all in 3-minute segments to the ring of the bell that governs rounds in the ring. When everyone in the gym is in the same rhythm, they are animated by a collective feeling; they become boxers dedicated to their craft, not so much through minds but as an embodied project.

A large proportion of violent confrontations of all kinds– street fights, riots, etc.– quickly abort; and most persons in those situations  act like Marshall’s soldiers– they let a small minority of the group do all the violence. Now that we have photos and videos of violent situations, we see that at the moment of action the expression on the faces of the most violent participants is fear.  Our folk belief is that anger is the emotion of violence, but anger appears mostly before any violence happens, and in controlled situations where individuals bluster at a distant enemy. I have called thisconfrontational tension/fear; it is the confrontation itself that generates the tension, more than fear of what will happen to oneself. Confrontational tension is debilitating; phenomenologically we know (mainly from police debriefings after shootings) that it produces perceptual distortions; physiologically it generates racing heart beat, an adrenaline rush which at high levels results in loss of bodily control.


This explains another, as yet little recognized pattern: when violence actually happens, it is usually incompetent. Most of the times people fire a gun at a  human target, they miss; their shots go wide, they hit the wrong person, sometimes a bystander, sometimes friendly fire on their own side. This is a product of the situation, the confrontation.  We know this because the accuracy of soldiers and police on firing ranges is much higher than when firing at a human target. We can pin this down further; inhibition in live firing declines with greater distance; artillery troops are more reliable than infantry with small arms, so are fighter and bomber crews and navy crews; it is not the statistical chances of being killed or injured by the enemy that makes close-range fighters incompetent. At the other end of the spectrum, very close face-to-face confrontation makes firing even more inaccurate; shootings at a distance of less than 2 meters are extremely inaccurate. Is this paradoxical?  It is facing the other person at a normal distance for social interaction that is so difficult. Seeing the other person’s face, and being seen by him or her seeing your seeing,is what creates the most tension. Snipers with telescopic lenses can be extremely accurate, even when they see their target’s face; what they do not see is the target looking back; there is no mutual attention, no intersubjectivity. Mafia hit men strike unexpectedly and preferably from behind, relying on deception and normal appearances so that there is no face confrontation. This is also why executioners used to wear hoods; and why persons wearing face masks commit more violence than those with bare faces.
NOTE THE POLICY IMPLICATION:  The fashion in recent years among elite police units to wear balaclava-style face masks during their raids should be eliminated.

police balaclava

How does violence sometimes succeed in doing damage? The key is asymmetrical  confrontation tension. One side will win if they can get their victim in the zone of high arousal and high incompetence, while keeping their own arousal down to a zone of greater bodily control. Violence is not so much physical as emotional struggle; whoever achieves emotional domination, can then impose physical domination. That is why most real fights look very nasty; one sides beats up on an opponent at the time they are incapable of resisting. At the extreme, this happens in the big victories of military combat, where the troops on one side become paralyzed in the zone of 200 heartbeats per minute, massacred by victors in the 140 heartbeat range. This kind of asymmetry is especially dangerous, when the dominant side is also in the middle ranges of arousal; at 160 BPM or so, they are acting with only semi-conscious bodily control. Adrenaline is the flight-or-fight hormone; when the opponent signals weakness, shows fear, paralysis, or turns their back, this can turn into what I have called a forward panic, and the French officer Ardant du Picq called “flight to the front.” Here the attackers rush forward towards an unresisting enemy, firing uncontrollably. It has the pattern of hot rush, piling on, and overkill. Most outrageous incidents of police violence against unarmed or unresisting targets are forward panics, now publicized in our era of bullet counts and ubiquitous videos.


Another pathway is where the fight is surrounded by an audience; people who gather to watch, especially in festive crowds looking for entertainment; historical photos of crowds watching duels; and of course the commercial/ sporting version of staged fights. This configuration produces the longest and most competent fights; confrontational tension is lowered because the fighters are concerned for their performance in the eyes of the crowd, while focusing on their opponent has an element of tacit coordination since they are a situational elite jointly performing for the audience. Even the loser in a heroic staged fight gets social support. We could test this by comparing emotional micro-behavior in a boxing match or a baseball game without any spectators.

(among the photos that come up if you Google “crowd watching a duel”:

 Title: Crowd reflected in water while watching Sarazen and Ouimet duel at Weston Country Club

Title: Crowd reflected in water while watching Sarazen and Ouimet duel at Weston Country Club


Beardsley vs Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon

Beardsley vs Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon


Finally, there are a set of techniques for carrying out violence without face confrontation. Striking at a distance: the modern military pathway. Becoming immersed in technical details of one’s weapons rather than on the human confrontation. And a currently popular technique: the clandestine attack such as a suicide bombing, which eliminates confrontational tension because it avoids showing any confrontation until the very moment the bomb is exploded. Traditional assassinations, and the modern mafia version, also rely on the cool-headedness that comes from pretending there is no confrontation, hiding in Goffmanian normal appearances until the moment to strike.


All this sounds rather grisly, but nevertheless confrontational theory of violence has an optimistic side. First, there is good news: most threatening confrontations do not result in violence. (This is shown also in Robert Emerson’s new book on quarrels among roommates and neighbours.) We missed this because, until recently, most evidence about violence came from sampling on the dependent variable. There is a deep interactional reason why face-to-face violence is hard, not easy.  Most of the time both sides stay symmetrical. Both get angry and bluster in the same way. These confrontations abort, since they can’t get around the barrier of confrontational tension. Empirically, on our micro-evidence, this zero pathway is the most common. Either the quarrel ends in mutual gestures of contempt; or the fight quickly ends when opponents discover their mutual incompetence. Curtis Jackson-Jacobs’ video analysis shows fist-fighters moving away from each other after missing with a few out-of-rhythm punches. If no emotional domination happens, they soon sense it.


Anne Nassauer, assembling videos and other evidence from many angles on demonstrations, finds the turning points at which a demo goes violent or stays peaceful. And she shows that these are situational turning points, irrespective of ideologies, avowed intent of demonstrators or policing methods. Stefan Klusemann, using video evidence, shows that ethnic massacres are triggered off in situations of emotional domination and emotional passivity; that is, local conditions, apart from whatever orders are given by remote authorities. Another pioneering turning-point study is David Sorge’s analysis of the phone recording of a school shooter exchanging shots with the police, who nevertheless is calmed down by an office clerk; she starts out terrified but eventually shifts into an us-together mood that ends in a peaceful surrender. Meredith Rossner shows that restorative justice conferences succeed or fail according to the processes of interaction rituals; and that emotionally successful RJ conferences result in conversion experiences that last for several years, at least. Counter-intuitively, she finds that RJ conferences are especially likely be successful when they concerns not minor offenses but serious violence;  the intensity of the ritual depends on the intensity of emotions it evokes.


High authorities are hard to study with micro methods, since organizational high rank is shielded behind very strong Goffmanian frontstages. David Gibson, however, analyzing audio tapes of Kennedy’s crisis group in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, penetrated the micro-reality of power in a situation in which all the rationally expectable scenarios led toward nuclear war. Neither JFK nor anyone else emerges as a charismatic or even a decisive leader. The group eventually muddled their way through sending signals that postponed a decision to use force, by tacitly ignoring scenarios that were too troubling to deal with. This fits the pattern that conversation analysts call the preference for agreement over disagreement, at whatever cost to rationality and consistency.

How about how social interactions affect job interviews?:

We have a long way to go to generalize these leads into a picture of how high authority really operates. Does it operate the same way in business corporations? The management literature tells us how executives have implemented well thought-out programs; but our information comes chiefly from retrospective interviews that collapse time and omit the situational process itself. Lauren Rivera cracks the veneer of elite Wall Street firms and finds that hiring decisions are made by a sense of emotional resonance between interviewer and interviewee, the solidarity of successful interaction rituals. Our best evidence of the micro details of this process comes from another arena, where Dan McFarland and colleagues analyze recorded data on speed dating, and find that conversational micro-rhythms determine who felt they “clicked” with whom.

OK what about sex?

I will end this scattered survey with some  research that falls into the rubric of Weberian status groups, i.e. social rankings by lifestyle.  David Grazian has produced a sequence of books,Blue Chicago and On the Make, that deal with night life. This could be considered a follow-up to Goffman’s analysis of what constitutes “fun in games” as well as “where the action is.” For Grazian, night-life is a performance of one’s “nocturnal self,” characterized by role-distance from one’s mundane day-time identity. By a combination of his own interviewing behind the scenes and collective ethnographies of students describing their evening on the town, from pre-party preparation to post-party story-telling, Grazian shows how the boys and the girls, acting as separate teams, play at sexual flirtation which for the most part is vastly over-hyped in its real results. It is the buzz of collective effervescence that some of these teams generate that is the real attraction of night life. And this may be an appropriate place to wind up. Freud, perhaps the original micro-sociologist, theorized that sexual drive is the underlying mover behind the scenes. Grazian, looking at how those scenes are enacted, finds libido as socially constructed performance. As is almost everything else.

blue chicago

In conclusion.  Will interaction ritual, or for that matter micro-sociology as we know it, become outdated in the high-tech future?  This isn’t futuristic any more, since we have been living in the era of widely dispersed information technology for at least 30 years, and we are used to its pace and direction of change. A key point for interaction ritual is that bodily co-presence is one of its  ingredients. Is face contact needed? Rich Ling analyzed the everyday use of mobile phones and found that the same persons who spoke by phone a lot also met personally a lot. Cell phones do not substitute for bodily co-presence, but facilitate it. Among the most frequent back-and-forth, reciprocated connections are people coordinating where they are.  Ling concluded that solidarity rituals were possible over the phone, but that they were weaker than face-to-face rituals; one was a teaser for the other.

Conceivably future electronic devices might wire up each other’s genitals, but what happens would likely depend on the micro-sociological theory of sex (chapter 6 in Interaction Ritual Chains): the strongest sexual attraction is not pleasure in one’s genitals per se, but getting the other person’s body to respond in mutually entraining erotic rhythms: getting turned on by getting the other person turned on. If you don’t believe me, try theorizing the attractions of performing oral sex. This is an historically increasing practice, and one of the things that drives the solidarity of homosexual movements. Gay movements are built around effervescent scenes, not around social media.

I will try theorizing the attractions of performing oral sex, Professor!

I recommend Collins’ book written with Maren McConnell, Napoleon Never Slept: How Great Leaders Leverage Social Energy, which I bought and read though I do wish there was a print edition.

Previous coverage about Collins’ work.  Shoutout to Brent Forrester, who I think put me on to him.

Great Debates Live — NYC — Behind the Scenes




Thanks to The Slipper Room for helping us out.  You can listen to the episode here or catch it on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcasts.

Ted Cruz


Kind of reminds me of Otani Oniji III in the Role of the Servant Edobei by Sharaku.

Yakko Edobei is a villainous rogue who plots to steal money from the servant Ippei. Otani Oniji’s leering face, shown in three quarter view, bristling hair, and groping outstretched hands capture the ruthless nature of this wicked henchman. The eye-catching costume pattern of yellow stripes on brown adds a stylish touch expressive of the times., Inscription: Japanese inscription on the side, and Repository/Location: National Museum of Fine Arts (Valletta, Malta)

Photo: Jim Cole, STF

Photo: Jim Cole, STF


TC Jerri Blank



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Amazing letter from The Academy.  Imagine sending out an email in which you described your own organization’s action of slightly adjusting membership rules as “courageous.”

Movie Roundup!

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Before we begin: We need to redefine “spoiler.”

Any news about what happens in a TV show or movie shouldn’t count as a “spoiler.”  Saying Walter White meets a guy named Tuco is not a “spoiler.”  It is perhaps unwelcome information, but you know what, you’ll survive.  A true “spoiler” is something that would truly spoil the experience of watching the thing.  That is a very high standard.  Even then, you’ll friggin’ survive.  I watched both the movie The Crying Game and a recent famous episode of Game Of Thronesknowing the “spoilers,” and found both to still be very compelling.  Maybe my enjoyment was diminished 15%, but I mean come on.

Also I believe you don’t really remember stuff you hear about shows you aren’t watching, so most “spoilers” pass by like harmless gusts of wind.

A passionate Mindy Kaling take I am on board with: it is unmanly to whine about spoilers.  Take your spoilers like a man.  As a society we’ve become much too weak on this.

These write ups contain no true spoilers, but they assume you’ve seen the movie, so skip as you will.

A word about criticism, too: anyone criticizing anything should begin by saying “it’s really hard and brave to make any work of art.  I have never made a movie.  Making a movie is a crazy accomplishment.  The credit belongs to the man in the arena.  It’s a lot easier to sit here and criticize.”  BUT: it’s also a good way to get yourself thinking about what you care about in movies and why, so it’s worth doing.  Plus it’s fun!

Now I don’t know anything about shots and cinematography and all that film stuff.  I do know a little about acting, mainly that it is way harder than it looks and that to make it look effortless is amazing.  I do know a little about telling stories.

What I think about with movies is usually the stories so that is where I will focus my attention.  

Let’s have some fun with movies!



stealing this movie photo from Newsweek

What the fuck went wrong with this movie?  I saw the trailer for it and was moved to near-tears, like “YES!  Goddamn it, let’s go rescue The Martian!  He will never stop fighting to survive!”

But then in the movie, it’s like who cares.  Does the Martian have anyone on Earth who cares about him?  Does he have a family?  A wife?  A mom?  A cute kid?  Go for it!  Tug on my heartstrings! Is a class of schoolchildren watching him?

It felt like The Martian was like deliberately choosing not to do that, out of some kind of integrity or something.  As I understand it, the book The Martian was written by an engineer and has none of that bullshit, it’s just hard-ass science.  Which, I guess is cool but c’mon.  You got Matt Damon there!  Give me a reason to care whether he lives or dies!

Also, the Martian has that awesome speech in the trailer about fighting to survive when the shit goes down.  In the movie, that speech is plopped down as literally a classroom lecture after the Martian is safe and sound and the movie is essentially over.  Who gives a shit anymore?

Ridley Scott is amazing.  He made Alien which is as perfect a movie as has ever been made.

He also made Kingdom Of Heaven.  I remember vouching for that movie to friends, being like “hey Ridley Scott made a movie about the Crusades.  It’s gotta be at least worth seeing!”  I believe I was still making this argument to myself, having failed to convince my friends, when I saw that movie alone.  It taught me the lesson that a truly great director with near-infinite resources is still left with a piece of shit if the story doesn’t make sense.  Kingdom Of Heaven twisted itself into story knots trying to make Orlando Bloom friends with the Muslim guy.  Hey man, if you’re gonna make a movie about the Crusades, either do it or don’t.  And maybe don’t, because the Crusades were fucked up and I don’t want Orlando Bloom getting involved.

I thought The Counselor was very cool.  I think a flaw with the Counselor, which is not really Cameron Diaz’s fault, is that Cameron Diaz is supposed to play a character who is like the pure distillation of female evil.  And, that can’t happen because I like Cameron Diaz even when she’s telling me “the slaughter to come will be beyond our imagining.”  Maybe that was the idea?

Anyway back to The Martian:

Science-wise: was the solution Donald Glover proposes in The Martian anything?  I mean, I don’t know a ton about space travel but I thought the most basic idea is that you’re slingshotting with gravity, how had they not thought of that at NASA?

Worth reading Ridley Scott’s quotes page on IMDb.  Two good ones:

I’m a yarnteller. My job is to engage you as much as I can and as often as I can. I love the process and still continue to adore the process, actually. I don’t get attached to anything. I’m like a good antique dealer. I’m prepared to sell my most valuable table.

Never let yourself be seen in public unless they pay for it.

It might be crazy but I did leave The Martian hungry for potatoes.

The writer Caleb Crain has a neat blog, and at this time of year he puts up a bunch of stray matter under the heading NOTES.  I printed it out to read at Tatsu, and his take on The Martian was so interesting I ripped it out to save:

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(I will also use the word “suthering” now!)

A+ acting I thought by Matt Damon.

Great Debates Topic: Matt Damon is as good at what he does as Tom Brady is at what he does.



photo from Variety. If they can use it can I? I’m not even charging money

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This movie was excellent, very well-made.  It dig bug me a bit though why Saoirse got married — like, why include that at that point in the plot?  If she’s already married, she doesn’t really have much of a choice in Ireland, does she?  At least it’s a lot messier.  If she’s married, she’s kind of jerking poor Domhnall Gleeson around, no?


Anyway good film.  Why didn’t we get the screener on this one?  A rare miss in a bonanza year of screeners.

Kudos to this movie for not shying away from the physical ugliness of the Irish people.

A+ acting by Saoirse and Domhnall.



Into it!  Any movie that can get your emotions up around a scene of a woman vouching for her self-invented mop is terrific.  Great job.

A+ acting by Jennifer Lawrence.  Does it seem like I’m grading on a curve?  Well, maybe we’re just blessed with good actors.  B+ to Bradley Cooper.  A+ to Isabella Rosselini.

Sympathized with this take from the great Tom Scharpling:

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Ugh, am I really gonna have to see this?  I guess so.  Man, I love Charlie Kaufman but it just seems like a bit much to ask me to drag myself to the Arclight to watch some puppets mourn over how the cost of consciousness is despair or whatever.

Ugh, it’s probably great, haven’t seen it, is a thought I had a lot in 2015.

Everyone should read this BAFTA speech by Charlie Kaufman.



LOVED!  A triumph!  Any movie that tries to really depict the earthy details of some fucked-up primitive period in American history I am INTO!  Previous title holder in this category was The New World.

Drudge was not being crazy to hype the bear rape element of this movie.  That scene was definitely shot to at least suggest/hint at rape, don’t be cute Alejandro Iñárritu, you knew damn well what you were doing.

Thanks to Cherry for demanding I see this, really might’ve missed it, it seemed like too much snow for me.

Michael Punke, who wrote the book on which The Revenant is “based in part on” (why say that?  felt a bit petty) sounds like my kinda guy:

When he was a teenager, he also spent at least three summers working at the Fort Laramie National Historic Site as a “living history interpreter.”

fort laramie


(Should we have seen Fort Laramie’s Three-Mile Hog Ranch in the movie?:

The ranch was described by U.S. Army Lieutenant John Gregory Bourke:[3]

… tenanted by as hardened and depraved set of witches as could be found on the face of the globe. It [was] a rum mill of the worst kind [with] half a dozen Cyprians, virgins whose lamps were always burning brightly in expectancy of the coming of the bridegroom, and who lured to destruction the soldiers of the garrison. In all my experience I have never seen a lower, more beastly set of people of both sexes.

Um, try the parking lot at Whole Foods Bourke!

(Bourke is fascinating, he could read Irish, Greek Latin and speak Apache.  His field notes, Evan Connell tell us, fill eight feet of shelf space. More on him in the next Helytimes Premium.))

And now Michael Punke is the US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva?  What a dope dude!

Punke allegedly came up with the idea to write the novel while on an airplane, after reading a couple of lines in a history book about real-life frontier fur trapper Hugh Glass. Punke was also working at the law firm of Mayer Brown at the time when he started the book (1997), so he would go to the office as early as 5:00 AM in the morning before anyone else got there to write pages for roughly three hours, and then do his job for eight to ten hours. The book took a total of four years to complete and according to his brother Tim, Punke actually caught pneumonia at least four times during the writing process.

You KNOW I clicked the wiki for Hugh Glass spoilers!!:

Glass was thereafter referred to as “the revenant,” from the 19th century French verb revenant, meaning someone who returns from a long absence, or a person or thing reborn.[citation needed]

After recovering, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger, motivated either by murderous revenge or the desire to get his weapons back. He eventually traveled to Fort Henry on the Yellowstone River, but found it deserted; a note indicated that Andrew Henry and company had relocated to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Arriving there, Glass found Bridger but apparently forgave him because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with Ashley’s company.

Man Tom Hardy is fucking crushing it this year.

Tom Hardy

from reelfilmchatter.net uncredited

A+ to him.  A+ to Leo as well, although who had the harder job?

Hypothetical: If Leonardo DiCaprio’s sole goal in doing The Revenant was to try to win an Oscar (and I don’t think it was but play along) was pairing himself was Tom Hardy:

a) brave: compete/push yourself with the best to raise your game

b) sensible: not brave, just be with the best and make a good movie and maybe you’ll get lucky

c) an accident: he didn’t consider that element

d) a huge miscalculation: Tom Hardy blew him away?

e) neither, DiCaprio knows the Oscars are a fucked up contest where your work at enacting yourself as a movie star over years matters far more than what you did in the one movie

It wasn’t c.

Hardy made his big screen debut in Black Hawk Down, a great one by Ridley.  Now, that movie had a simple, clear story: heroes vs. savages.  What’s that?  Problematic take?  Oh well we moved on.

Says Hardy to The Guardian a few years ago:

So what drives Tom Hardy? “I want everyone to love me.”

And has he got what he wanted? “You get to the point where you can’t please everyone. I don’t want constructive criticism, I want adulation,” he beams. “That’s immature but it’s totally there. King Baby.”

Tom Hardy is truly King Baby.


furious 7

What a great movie to wrap Christmas presents to or to enjoy even if you don’t really speak English.  These guys are doing what they’re doing and they’re great at it.  I’m not sure what Vin Diesel does is “acting,” but he’s terrific at it.  I don’t like how Tyrese was made to be a bit of a coward and a fool.

In one of the earlier movies, do they show Michelle Rodriguez/Vin Diesel wedding?  Let me know, I would like to go back and watch that!  Seriously if that happens in one of the movies and you know about that please email helphely@gmail.com

It’s good to see Ronda Rousey in movies because it demonstrates how hard acting is.  Ronda Rousey, who is brave/confident/calm/controlled/disciplined/tight/skillful enough to fight another person in a cage, is noticeably bad at it.


jurassic world

from business insider, credit Chuck Zlotnick, Universal Pictures, hope this ok Chuck/Universal!

Had a good time, seemed fun enough to me!  Admittedly I was watching while helping build the White House out of LEGOs.


Could Chris Pratt’s character in the movie be the same guy he was in Zero Dark Thirty, further down the road?  He was in the Navy in both movies.

I can see an argument that the migration from Laura Dern’s character in the old JP to Bryce Dallas Howard’s in this one illustrates a troubling backslide for feminism.


Sure whatever.

A+ job by Daisy Ridley.  From her far too brief wikipedia:

Her great-uncle was actor and playwright Arnold Ridley, who played Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army.

Huh!  Is that… good?

A Brief Digression

While watching Star Wars I was reminded of a delightful episode from my young adulthood.

As a young apprentice writer in Los Angeles, I heard about a book published in the UK called The Seven Basic Plots.  The book was said to be over seven hundred pages long and was the life’s work of one Christopher Booker.  “My God,” I thought.  “This man Booker’s cracked the code!  If I can get my hands on this book writing will never be hard again!”  So I sent away for it.  It arrived, no small book either:


Maybe it should’ve told me all I needed to know that one of the seven plots is “comedy” but it didn’t.  With pencil and highlighter in hand, I set to my studies to learn Booker’s wisdom.  It started out well enough, but then I got to page 42.

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“Oh dear,” I thought.  Just to be safe I double-checked the very first words of the very first shot of the film Star Wars:

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Uh-oh.  Maybe this guy Booker wasn’t paying all that much attention to all these stories?

I wrote to Booker’s publisher, hoping they could fix this error, and they were actually kinda snooty about it!

Anyway.  Anybody can get something wrong but it is funny to get something that wrong.


Mad Max

Don’t forget that Mad Max: Fury Road came out this year.  What a movie.  The main guy starts out the movie hanging upside down being used as a blood bag.  Now that is putting your hero in trouble.


Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2015 WV FILMS IV LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC – U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2015 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED – ALL OTHER TERRITORIES  – Stealing this photo from Coral Gables Art Cinema’s website.



lifted from the UK Telegraph, credit “Festival de Cannes”

I thought at some point, a desire to watch this movie would arise in me.  But it never did!  I bet it’s great, I hope someday I watch it.

Cate Blanchett is one of the actresses whose face can be made to look most like a bunraku puppet:


from an article about a bunraku show at Princeton. Those guys know how to party.

Haynes knows puppets and human simulacra:

In 1987, while an MFA student at Bard College, Haynes made a short, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which chronicles the life of American pop singer Karen Carpenter, using Barbie dolls as actors.



Damn.  This guy is making stuff on such a crazy level it’s lucky just to be alive at the same time as he is.

If you’re a movie critic, how are you even supposed to write about this movie?  Just for starters, Quentin Tarantino definitely knows more about movies than you and if you say anything at all, you better be damn sure he wasn’t doing exactly what you’re accusing him of doing exactly on purpose.

I have listened to lots of interviews with this dude.  The one on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast is very in depth.  Think what you will of BEE, he has a strong take. (thanks to BJN for the rec).

Listening to interviews with him, hearing about the insane typos in his screenplays, his play-it-backwards-just-for-fun level of total genius not just comprehension but ability to execute in his movies makes me wonder if QT isn’t something like the version of Mozart in Amadeus:

Is there anything this guy thinks of that he can’t make appear on the screen more or less as it popped out of his insane swirling noggin?

Think of the twists and turns and levels for the actors to play in this movie!  The stuff for Jennifer Jason Leigh alone!

Imagine QT walking Jennifer Jason Leigh through this character.  (Ugh, spoilers warning): “Ok, so, you’re going to be a murderous racist, you’re going to scream the n-word in Samuel L. Jackson’s face, you’re gonna get hit in the face five or six times, your face will be coated in blood and vomit for much of the film, you will play a heartbreakingly beautiful song, but that will be while taunting a man you know is about to die, you will cross and double cross and be a schemer beyond measure and a siren and a charmer and sister and and in the end you will hung and will die twitching, sound good?”

Incredible job by her.  All the actors were awesome.  A+ to everybody.

How about that Walton Goggins?  Are you kidding me?  There’s a guy named Walton Goggins?  (Imagine the casting department for Justified:

“Uh, who should we get to play Boyd Crawther?”

“Um, Walton Goggins?”

“Wow sounds perfect, but can he do the accent?  Where is he from?”

“Alabama, then Lithia Springs, Georgia?”)

Check out Walton Goggins’ blog where he posts photos from his travels and musings:

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if Walton Goggins is half as good at blogging as he is at acting ain’t nobody gonna need Helytimes.

Did anybody else think Michael Madsen looks like kind of a roughed-up future version of Andy Jones?

Andy Jones

I saw The Hateful Eight twice.  First at a WGA screening a couple weeks ago with Medina.  We loved it.

Then I ended up seeing it again, at 8:30 in the morning the other day at the Arclight.  (I woke up too early because my bod was on East Coast time so I thought hell I guess I’ll go see Hateful Eight again.)

There was much that was illuminated on a second viewing.  Here’s a spoiler for you: the 8:30am 70mm showing of Hateful Eight is full of weirdos.  Nor what I would call a “ton” of ladies.  One guy had brought a girl, but if it was a date it was not a success.

At the intermission a very old man in a Warner Bros. jacket walked to the bathroom muttering to himself “enough dialogue for ten movies!”

You said it pal.

The men’s room at the intermission for this movie, which comes right after Mr. Jackson’s speech about his dingus, is quite an interesting scene.

Got to thinking during this movie about Martin McDonagh’s plays, like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which ends with the stage covered in blood:


from the website of Keira Keeley, production photographer: http://www.keirakeeley.com/photo15.html, she credits The Repertory Theater of St. Louis, I hope they don’t mind.

No doubt McDonagh learned a lot from Tarantino, and had the idea to push the stage to its limit of blood.  Now you can watch Tarantino himself try the same trick.  Spoiler he is good at it and there is a lot of blood on the stage.

There is much to be said for this point raised by comedian Todd Levin:


In my own theater no one was comfortable enjoying the use of that word, the laughter was half distress-call.

I feel like QT gave away the skeleton key to his whole deal on Fresh Air last year:

GROSS: So here’s something I was wondering, I know there’s so much like, you know, African-American popular culture that you really love. And I was wondering when you were growing up if you grew up in an integrated neighborhood, if you went to an integrated school, if you had African-American friends or if your contact with black people was largely through popular culture.

TARANTINO: No, no. I went to a mostly black school. You know, it wasn’t all-black because I was there, but it was mostly black.


TARANTINO: And the different points of my life I was raised by black people, raised in black homes – between my mom’s best friend that I lived a lot of times with her and her family and just the kind of United Nations aspect that my mom’s house was in the early ’70s, right at the explosion of black culture. So black culture is my culture growing up.

GROSS: Your mother had a United Nations kind of home?

TARANTINO: Yeah. Well, it was almost like a sitcom, actually the way we lived in the ’70s because she was in her 20s, she was hot, all right, she was a hot white girl. Her best friend was named Jackie. She was a hot black girl. And her other best friend was Lillian and she was a hot Mexican girl. And they lived in this like swinging singles apartment with me.


GROSS: What impact did that have on you?

TARANTINO: Yeah, well, it was just yeah, it was just, you know, it was the ’70s so it was, you know, I lived with these three hip ladies all going out on dates all the time and dating football players and basketball players and, you know, my mother…

GROSS: Professionals ones or…

TARANTINO: Yeah. Yeah. My mom dated Wilt Chamberlain. She’s one of the thousand.



GROSS: Did that – this is getting too personal, but did that affect your sense of sexuality when you were growing up?

TARANTINO: In what way?

GROSS: Well, because most people can’t imagine their – so many people can’t imagine their parents having sex. And when you’re growing up with like your mother and two other women who are obviously engaging, you know, it makes you think of your own…

TARANTINO: Oh yeah. No, it was…

GROSS: Yeah.

TARANTINO: You know, she was a woman. She was a, you know, she was living the life. She was having a good time and everything, you know? She was taking care of me, too, so everything was fine. It was hip. It was just cool. You know the boyfriends would come over and they’d take me out. They’d take me blacksploitation movies trying to, you know, get me to like them.

And buy me footballs and stuff. And we’d go to, like, cool, you know, my mama and her friends would take me to cool bars and stuff where they’d be playing cool live rhythm and blues music. And I’d be drinking whatchamacallit, Shirley Temples, I think. I called them James Bond because, yeah, I didn’t like the name Shirley Temple.


TARANTINO: I drank Shirley Temples and, you know, eat Mexican food or whatever. While, like some, you know, Jimmy Soul and a cool band would be playing in some lava lounge-y kind of a ’70s cocktail lounge. It was really cool. It made me grow up in a real big way. When I would hang around with kids I’d think they were really childish. I always used to hang around with, like, really groovy adults.

GROSS: Well, I feel like I know you just a little bit better now.


TARANTINO: Yeah. No, no. You know, Saturday – every time Saturday would roll around, it would become 1 o’clock, everyone in the house (technical difficulties)

(When they come back Terry asks about the New Beverly)

Man, if in my childhood cool black dudes would have sex with my mom and then take me to bars?  I would remain quite fascinated with cool black dudes and their sexuality and language and behavior and values.

Two discussion questions about Hateful Eight:

Stories have values.  To tell a story you and the audience must share some basic ideas about what’s a good and bad way to act, and a good and bad outcome.  For instance, you couldn’t follow The Revenant if you didn’t understand that it’s not great to leave a guy for dead.

So, all stories have morality.  The story can be pretty easy-to-agree with principles: surviving is better than dying, say or it is right to seek justice for others or love is good.  (Greg Daniels was really good at talking about this, I learned a lot from thinking about things he said.)

What are we gonna do with the morality of a movie like Hateful Eight, where all the characters are, as stated clearly, hateful?  What does it mean to get me to root for… their twisted revenge or whatever?Where the only thing in the movie there is to root for, really, is the gleeful shock of seeing chaos and calamity?  Where nothing positive emerges at the end except our boyish delight in the total chaos of it all and our shrieking delight in the wicked talents of the filmmaker who made us enjoy at horrible words and deeds?

After ingesting hours of interviews with him, I feel like 1) I like QT and think he is not a bad guy and 2) whenever QT is challenged on something, he demonstrates that while he may not agree, he has certainly thought about the issue as deeply and usually much more deeply than the interviewer.

Like: you can’t charge him with a crime he hasn’t already put himself on trial and acquitted himself for.  I’m sure that’s the case here, too.

But is it disappointing to see the talent this guy has and then watch him use it to tell a story that’s just about hateful people destroying each other?  Can’t we ask of this guy, “give us a bit more joy than watching a mean bastard get hung?” Is it wrong to ask for some kind of positive energy to come from the movie experience?

I guess that energy comes from the staggering craft of the movie, the “fun” of its outrageousness, but… you gotta know in a movie where they’re screaming nigger at each other like they really mean it plus beating the shit out of a woman and being as cruel as possible, the energy of enjoyment is not gonna be all enriching clean fun.

Is telling an audience a completely unredeemed story like this a tiny bit wrong, wicked? dark magic?  Or, is what’s troubling about it part of the point?!

Maybe you could ask the same thing about Moby-Dick and The Counselor and Blood Meridian — at least this movie has cool songs.


from the printed program you get when you see Hateful Eight in 70mm

Second question: is the way the music swells and the camera rises at the end when we hear the “Lincoln letter” joke meant to be a cruel joke about our civic pieties?  the idea that somehow Lincoln is an inspiring figure, whose words suggests progress and enlightenment can be the shared future for the races that share this country, is kinda turned on its head and suggested as a con and a trick?  Is the final idea of this movie like “a Lincoln letter — HA!  what a buncha saps we all are, when all there is is death and hate and blood and ruin?”

Even knowing it’s fake we’re semi-moved by it, is that the joke?  How much we (even Walton Goggins’ Hateful Sheriff) crave it?

I dunno!

OK this has been Movie Roundup!  Thanks to all of you for reading.  And thanks to these great movies for entertaining me!  I really like movies.

See you at the Oscars!

Oh Terry

Terry G

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 1.36.35 PM

(source, thanks to reader Molly in NYC for the tip)