Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gorillas in the Mist and the Negro Migration North

As I listened to the most recent edition of NPR's SaturdayEdition,
I was regaled with misty water-colored memories of Bushman,
the legendary and allegedly beloved lowland gorilla who lived and
died at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I have long been fascinated by white
people's fascination with massive gorillas in cages and how neatly
this attraction dovetails with the growing migration of poor blacks
from the rural south to the industrialized north.

It is said 120,000 people flocked to the Lincoln Park Zoo on
a single June day in 1950 to see Bushman, who was presumed
to be dying. The Chicago Tribune notes "
No other animal in a
Chicago-area zoo has ever drawn the crowds as Bushman did
in his stark steel cage."

"In his stark steel cage."

From a June 1950 TIME magazine article titled "The Jovial Gorilla",9171,857782,00.html
I quote the following passage "Bushman, even as a grey-thatched
elder gorilla, is one of the most fearsome-looking monsters ever put
behind bars. On seeing him for the first time, zoo visitors read a
promise of unspeakable ferocity in his black little eyes, his brutal,
purplish-black countenance, and his gleaming white incisors. Unlike
some older gorillas, he never developed a paunch; and his hairy
547 lbs. are all muscle."

"one of the most fearsome-looking monsters ever put
behind bars."

The Tribune article goes on to describe Bushman thusly:

"like a nightmare that escaped from darkness into daylight
and has exchanged its insubstantial form for 550 pounds of
solid flesh. His face is one that might be expected to gloat
through the troubled dreams that follow overindulgence. His
hand is the kind of thing a sleeper sees reaching for him
just before he wakes up screaming."

Yet, the various articles I Googled on Bushmen have titles like
"The Jovial Gorilla (
Time)" and "Beloved Gorilla Still Charms
NPR)," NPR's Daniel Pinkwater in his build up to a review of the
children's book Little Beauty tells us how he considered the 550
pound Gorilla his friend and suggests he and gorilla shared a tender
moment at the juncture of the stark steel cage where Bushman

Yet, in the
Tribune article Bushman is described thusly:
Photographed often, the solitary animal was a temperamental
subject, often hurling food and his dung at photographers. Those
who had been pelted claimed the gorilla's aim was more accurate
than that of any Cubs or White Sox pitcher.

Things that make you go "hmmmm."

The great state of Wisconsin, where I reside, also had a superstar
gorilla, Sampson, who reigned at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Sampson was a 650 pound behemoth whose cult of personality
grew in direct proportion to the ascendency of Milwaukee's growing
black community. It is a little known fact that at one time, due to the
proliferation of factories clustered in and around Milwaukee,
that Wisconsin blacks once had the distinction of earning the
highest per capital income of any blacks in America.

Yet, that story, like Sampson's, was not warm and cuddly.
Sampson did not take to his captivity kindly. Full of menace, he
would run and hurl his 650 pounds at the glass of his enclosure,
causing spectators to shriek in horror.

I think of that and the fact that blacks in Wisconsin, while
making up a scant 4 percent of the population, constitute
a full 50 percent of the state's prison population, making
them, for those of you counting at home,
sixteen hundred
percent more unlawful than their white counterparts (and,
as I like to say, I went
to school with white people, I work
with white people, I
live next white people and I KNOW that
ain't true!).

I recall when the new 100 million dollar Milwaukee
County Jail was built (approved by ballot even as a
proposal for a 100 million dollar technical high school
was rejected), and the throngs of white people who came
and oohed and aahed as they toured the shiny new facility
before thousands of modern bushmen were incarcerated

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Today in Sound-Off Theater (Sunday)

For those of you scoring at home, I am once again engaging in my Sunday ritual of listening to NPR while reading two sunday newpapers, surfing the web and watching a movie with the sound off. Today's movie is 2007's Invasion. I am a big fan of Phillip Kaufman's 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so I had a hard time warming up to this remake of a remake. BUT, like The Golden Compass, it looks great in HD. The golden hues make many scenes look like renaissance paintings. And, also as in The Golden Compass, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, two of the palest white folks working, look fabulous in high def. German Director Oliver Hirschbiegel helms the film and is responsible to the many evocative close-ups but everything gorgeous I adore about this particular Sound-Off viewing was probably provided by German cinematographer Rainer Klausmann. Another thing I like about Invasion is that there are black people in this universe, including Jeffrey Wright a score of extras. Invasion is a lovely moving picture.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Today in Sound-Off Theater (Saturday)

Because I was on vacation Friday, I am engaging in my Sunday ritual 
of listening to NPR while surfing the web, reading two newspapers
and watching a movie with the sound off, today.

I have found another excellent candidate for soundless movie viewing: Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico.  This fantasmagoric extravaganza is almost unintelligible but my is it a feast for the eyes!  All those angles! All those close-ups!  All that blood!

What great faces:

Antonio Banderas
Salma Hayek
Johnny Depp
Mickey Rourke
Eva Mendez
Danny Trejo
Cheech Marin
Ruben Blades
Willem Dafoe

It is all so technicolorful!

Other great sound-off movies:
The Golden Compass
Titan A. E.


The Cult of the Trick-less Magician

Word is Djimon Hounsou and Hayden Christensen are going to take the lead in the film adaptation of Lee Falk’s Mandrake comic strip. I am a fan of Falk's The Phantom (which is why the Phantom Limb character from The Venture Bros is such a hoot) but I always had problems with Mandrake the Magician primarily because of the Lothar character. Lothar is Mandrake's best friend and crime-fighting companion. Mandrake first met Lothar during his travels in Africa.

Lothar was then "Prince of the Seven Nations", a mighty federation of jungle tribes. He passed on the chance to become king and instead followed Mandrake on his world travels, fighting crime and villains from all over the world (and the rest of the universe as well). Lothar is often referred to as the strongest man in the world.

In the beginning, Lothar was little more than Mandrake's servant. He spoke poor English, wore a fez, short pants and a leopard skin. His muscles far exceeded his mental abilities. When artist Fred Fredericks took over in 1965 (after original artist Phil Davis had died), Lothar was modernized; he began to speak correct English, and his clothing changed, although he still often wears shirts with leopard-skin patterns. (Abridged from Wikipedia).

There are several things that leap out at me from the Wikipedia article (and my nagging discomfort with these characters)- the parallels between Lothar and both Punjab (from Little Orphan Annie) and Marvel's Black Panther. What is this eagerness of obviously superior, well-born people of color to willingly subjugate themselves to a person of obviously inferior character, intellect and ability? In Lothar's case, why would he give up a chance to become King of the Seven Nations in order to become the man-servant of a "trickless" magician. I mean, this would be tantamount to Barack Obama giving up the Presidency to become David Blaine's valet.
I believe these stories offered balm to white readers who, in every facet of their lives - their maids, their chauffeurs, their elevator men - saw people who appeared to be endowed with so much more than they, serving them. It was but it did not compute - unless you accept the odd, curious and convenient notion that black people like serving white people. In fact, when given the choice between ruling or serving they will invariably choose to serve. Why? It must be in their DNA.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yes We Can!!!

Here in the Year of Our Obama, Ida Ljungqvist, was named
the 2009 Playmate of the Year Saturday night, May
2, 2009,
at the Palms in Las Vegas.
As a long-time but not current
subscriber to the magazine that shall not be named, I anticipated
this selection as soon as Barack Obama was elected President.
Like Obama, Ida (pronounced ee-da ) has African ancestry
(she was born in Tanzania) and one Caucasian parent (Swedish
father). Unlike President Obama, Ida is not the first to achieve
her accomplishment. She is the second (Renee Tenison was the
first black POY in 1990).

Best Red Death EVER!

I waited until my 20 year-old son returned home from
college to see the new Star Trek movie with him this weekend.
Apparently, the movie is still going strong, at least at the upscale
IPIC theater where we saw it in adjacent reclining Barcaloungers.
We were unable to get adjacent seats at either of the first two
showings we attempted to buy tickets for and had to opt for a
viewing three hours later. We had a ball watching it, then had
big fun picking it apart afterwards. We both chuckled when
upon meeting Spock Dr. McCoy commented, "I like him!" And
we both exclaimed "red suit!" when Kirk and Sulu entered
the exit pod enroute to launching down to disable the Romulan
drill. And I laughed out loud at the best red shirt death EVER!
WE looked at each other and shared smiles at several of the
affectionate homages Abrams made to the Star Trek canon.
Sops to the faithful? Perhaps, but I thought they showed the
proper amount of respect to the franchise. In fact, much of
what made the movie enjoyable was the wealth of Star Trek
knowledge we brought with us. I was very impressed that
Abrams was able to take something so shopworn and make it
into something so shiny and new.

As someone who despises dogma, I am highly amused by
the Trek faithful who are outraged by Abram's "sacrilege."
I direct all of you to Kevin Smith's movie "Dogma." If Smith
could do this this Catholicism, Abrams can do this to Star Trek.

To me, the Kirk Conundrum - how does this brash whipper-
snapper get to helm the flagship of the Federation is no more
perplexing or illogical to me than the 13 year-old Kirk drag
racing a vintage cherry red Corvette or female crew members
being dressed like stewardesses from the 1960's ("Fly Me!").
What the Star Trek movies and subsequent series did was clean
up the Crayola-colored, hormone-fueled juvenilia of the Original
Series. And Abrams, bless his heart, has put it all back!

Regarding the surprising, unexpected and totally logical
hook-up between Spock and Uhura: As Spock's father divulges,
he married Spock's mother because "he loved her," and if it is
possible for a full-blooded Vulcan to love an Earthling, wouldn't
it follow that Spock would be likewise influenced? First
enraptured by his intended's intellect, then her conviction
and firm spine and only then by how fetching she looks in a
mini-skirt. I loved the way the dots were connected in this
movie - where future developments were presaged by prior
events already revealed.

Maxim's Hot 100 2009 ruins ScarJo Hotness Meter

By moving Scarlett Johansson from number 2 in 2008 to number
34 in 2009, Maxim has totally screwed up the calibration on my
ScarJo Hotness Meter. I mean, of course we are all disappointed
Scarlett married Ryan Reynolds but did that warrant dropping her
32 spots? The only thing that remains constant is that Halle Berry
and Rosario Dawson remain so hot they are OFF the Scarjo Hotness

An aside, if you took every woman in the top ten of Maxim's 2009
Hot 100 and rubbed them together, you still could not start a fire.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dr. Veidt and Mr. Spargo

I am watching an excellent movie called The Lookout starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I am mesmerized by the performance of the actor playing Gary Spargo, the svengali-like uber-alpha male roustabout/bank robber with the big glass bottle eyes and greasy mustache. I am shocked (shocked, I tell you) when I look the actor up on IMDB and discover he is Matthew Goode - the same Matthew Goode who played Ozymandias in the Watchmen movie. These are two remarkably diametric characters: Gary Spargo with his feral, lean and hungry look and the urbane, cool and sophisticated Adrian Veidt. The only thing the characters have in common is their detached calculation. As Mr. Spock would say, "Fascinating."