Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tom Ronca’s Godzilla: The Naked God (Godzilla Without Mercy)

Dear Tom,

Thank you for sending me your script for "GODZILLA: THE NAKED GOD/ GODZILLA WITHOUT MERCY" -I hope I am not wrong in interpreting those to be the titles of your proposed script, as these are what is written all over the outside packaging, cover and elsewhere. There are other things written as well, but these strike me as good titles and the other expressions are harder to make out as you have very thoughtfully recycled pages from "Jugg Thugs" as material for wrapping, binding and printing your script.

I really enjoyed your script and feel that it is simultaneously a bold departure -a re-re-reboot -as well as a thoughtful tribute to the long tradition of Godzilla films. In fact, the fact that you so obviously know that tradition well and hold in the same high regard as many fans makes some of your more aggressive and outré choices somewhat baffling.

After Godzilla vanquishes Gigan he does things... these things are not traditional or canonical. Once a foe is dead, Godzilla typically just turns and walks into the ocean. He leaves. He does not take further action against an already dead enemy. Specifically, he does not rape or abuse their corpses.

It's true, as you say, that Godzilla is a monster. Yet, nowhere is it implied that he is this kind of monster. I really suggest that you change this scene. Maybe some music?

Likewise, it is true, as you say, that Godzilla is an organic being. An enormous organic being with proportionally large bladder and bowels. There is a reason previous films have not chosen to depict this in any great detail. There is no official treatment of how Godzilla disposes of his wastes, but it is certainly not “down each of King Ghidorah's severed necks, as promised."

Most of the scene in Paris is fine, as far as it goes. I do not think it is necessary to subtitle Godzilla and Mechagodzilla's roars in French. In any case, the French text you have provided appears to be Serge Gainsbourg lyrics anyway.

It is less clear why you think this whole exchange between the two is necessary. Why should being in France change either Godzilla or Mechagodzilla's well-established behaviors? They do not NEED to talk. Emphatically, Godzilla does not NEED to challenge Mechagodzilla to a "jerk-off contest on the Arc de Triomphe." Mechagodzilla is a ROBOT. What purpose does this rather sordid episode serve since Godzilla waits until Mechagodzilla "whips it out" and then "pounds his shiny faggot ass"? This scene seems both explicitly homoerotic and violently homophobic and more along the lines of Crusing than a traditional Godzilla film.

Another endemic problem I see with your treatment is equally serious, and, I fear, will prevent anyone from taking it seriously, indeed, even finishing it. I understand there is a conscious attempt here to recapture the naïveté and innocence of one's first encounter with Japanese film and perhaps even some effort is deliberately directed at reclaiming such stereotypes. Nonetheless, your treatment instead comes off as severely handicapped with respect to race. Specifically: it's totally racist.

Some of the peculiar constructions used in the early English dubs relate to the technical problem of matching Japanese lip motions with English words. This does not reflect the reality of how Japanese people talk. In reality, Japanese people are perfectly capable of speaking perfect, fluent English, or any other human language. There is no real reason for everyone to talk in a kind of crude, forced pidgin, particularly during the love scenes.

Furthermore, it seems as though the Japanese have no actual language of their own. For example, you have the newspapers headlines read: INVLADERS FLOM SPLACE! Furthermore, no Japanese News Agency refers to itself as “Slant-Eye Witness News,” and with good reason.

Were that the only problem with your treatment. Instead, in every scene Japanese people are described as either: 1) eating rice, 2) making cars or electronics or 3) "committing seppuku." Also, Tom, not all Japanese women are geishas, nor are geishas exactly what you seem to think they are. Your description is more like a Hooters with Kabuki make up. Geisha are not strippers. They are not ninjas. They are generally not robots. I know you have seen things, things that may have convinced you otherwise, but Wikipedia assures me this is so.

Likewise, Teppanyakki, though delicious, is only one mode of food preparation in Japan. The General’s suggestion that they “go to Benihana’s” makes no sense as Benihana’s is an American restaurant and is unlikely to have a branch in the cafeteria of a super-secret base. The wise-cracking Teppanyakki chef is indeed one of your most original (and least racist characters) in your script. From his monologue are we to suppose he is Mickey Curtis' character from Fires on the Plains? The one who ate people? Didn’t he die? In any case, I would like to suggest that relying on him narrate segues between scenes, though charming, is perhaps unnecessary

In a related vein, the ethnicity of the Xliens, as you describe them, seems problematic. I agree with that your characterization of them as "tiny, clever, cunning and deceptive" is consistent with their previous portrayal.

However, you go on to say that they are also "greedy, gold-loving, usurious, controlling CNN and the source of all wars." Tom, where are you going with this? You know what I am talking about. The Xliens always wear black, but you have them now wearing little tiny skullcaps. The alien salute is now "mazel tov." The fact that Mel Gibson is interested, I think, seals my point here.

I understand the well-established tradition of exploring ethnicity through science-fiction and fantasy you allude to. Yes, the Vulcans and Ferengi can be thought of as self-constructed projections of post-racist ethnic fantasy identity that reclaims bad stereotypes. The fact remains that the Xliens, as you describe them are the crudest and most objectionable of stereotypes, being basically a race of hamburglers from space that speak Hebrew.

I think it is highly appropriate that you include Mothra in the lineup. I assume you mean "Mothra" and not "Mothera" as it is typed in the treatment. Less appropriate seems to be your treatment of the twin fairy princesses. The fairy princesses are indeed, tiny and beautiful and go everywhere together. I have no doubt that they do indeed love each other. However, Tom, NOWHERE, NOWHERE, IN NO MOVIE are they portrayed as having an incestuous lesbian relationship. Yes, Tom, I have seen that yuri manga, but these fairy princesses are unrelated. The island they live on is called "Infant Island" not "Ultra-Lesbos." Mothra does not protect the island against "men with their weapons of war and their stupid penises." I cannot help but think that some confusion or synaptic misfire has clouded your writing with respect to these characters as I cannot make even sense of such passages as "Mothera has now entered the clitoral stage." The passages I can understand, such as the mechanism of the "activating twin fisting power" strike me as unfilmable now that Bob Guccione is dead and do not redeem your treatment of its problematic homophobia any more than Showgirls does Basic Instinct.

Finally, as a writer of little more than para-literary pastiche myself, I have no objection to mixing genres or "cross over" characters from another series, even a radically different one. And yet the deus ex machina of having Mork from Ork appear at the end seems totally forced and implausible. Never mind that you have him emerge from "an egg vomited out of the Fonz's interdimensional vagina." I know these characters have met before. I recall your previous script that explains the Fonz's "void orifice." I understand that it, and the repeated, rather shabby treatment of Mindy McConnell are a well-established part of M/M BDSM fan fiction. All these things speak against their inclusion in a Godzilla picture, much like your suggestion for an all King Crimson soundtrack. And, again, many of the characters in the sex abattoir of the fifth act are from Taxi, not Happy Days (please see attached chart).

These are, of course, simply my reactions to a fine and original script. However, I feel these are the logical and reasonable observations that any reader would make, any reader who is not already wearing a red and silver Orkian travel suit with a zip up egg mask. Perhaps this is where the genesis of and work shopping of some script elements has gone astray?

Your script for Transformers 3, however, is brilliant. I would not change a thing (well, maybe just one suggestion). I do not know if the people in charge of this profitable franchise can be interested in a script where the Transformers neither transform, nor speak, nor move, but I sincerely wish they could be. Perhaps if Jim Jarmusch were involved, rather than Michael Bay. As it is, your script represents a series of hour long monologues of the main characters complaining about their problems to semi-trucks, race cars and jet fighters that never respond. I was particularly moved by Shia Labeouf’s complaints about his mom, though, again, I sense the script way not be best served by the conventions of slash fiction here and threatens to trivialize the theme of incest.

Also, I really don’t understand what to make of this scene:

Mom, I just want what every other kid has got. Some cool friends, going to parties, a regular hangover. Just to wake up and not be worried about anything other than a term paper. I’ve been running so long, Mom, so long, ever since I met these machines. I feel like I’m old, really old. Older than Dad. As old as they are.

I know honey. You have an extraordinary fate. A lot of lives are shaped into something, different, something amazing, something that other people will read about by sheer force of circumstance. But not you. You always would have seen a bit more. You would always have to go a bit further. Maybe father than anyone has ever gone. Trust me on this, you’re not missing much –one drunken kegger is much like another. Now rub this oatmeal on me and put the chew toy back in my mouth.

This is an intense scene, Tom, and very much more along the lines of the New Trangressive French Cinema than anything really legal. But it's very confusing. 

To begin with, when you write "Shia Labeouf" you mean his character, right? Because this is a movie script. It is not real.

Likewise, by "Shia Labeouf's Mom" you mean his character's mom, right? Because she keeps calling him Shia and "Shia Labeouf" call her "mom" and sometimes "Tom" and frequently "Tom Ronca." In fact, I think she refers to herself as "me, Tom Ronca, your hot mom," more than once.

I know this scene is important to you Tom, because you have described it many, many times to me. And also the altered pictures you sent.

I honestly think it’s a good script, Tom. I really think that were Shia Labeouf to read it, he might indeed be as impressed as you say he will. I think the pictures really detract from what I take it you are trying to say here. So my heartfelt advice is for you to stop sending them. Stop sending them, Tom. Stop. Let your script with its highly original elements and eloquent moments speak for itself and not be drowned out by endless of series of highly vocal autoerotic performances left as voicemails that end “That was for you, Shia, baby. Love, Mom.” Because I think those might be misinterpreted, much as your legal counsel has stressed. 

Anyway, thanks for sending your scripts. And merry xmas.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Some Unusual Qualities of Particular Labyrinths

The mirrors in the so-called "Palace of Narcissus" actually served a distinct purpose, as do mirrors in palaces generally, to serve as simple surveillance systems controlling vulnerable points of access, such as stairs. It is for this reason true that, as the lyrics of the lay go, the number of mirrors proliferated as the number of actual personnel in the palace declined. However, the importation of more and more mirrors into the palace was rather the effect of fewer and fewer personnel (the mirrors being needed so fewer and fewer guards could control the same amount of space) rather than as folklore has it, the cause.

Further, it has been mathematically demonstrated, that, owing to the well-understood laws of optics, it is wholly possible that the palace’s main chamber could have contained numerous blind spots, because of, and not despite its mirrors.

It is, no doubt, by the cunning exploitation of this geometry and physical fact that the victims of the palace were dispatched, by assassins unknown, rather than strangled by their own reflections, as legend has it.

The Labyrinth of the Minotaur, it is said, possessed unusual acoustics. This we read in the excellent "Encouraging Voice of the Labyrinth."

It is said that the "fatherly voice" in the labyrinth is "heard everywhere and at all points equivocally." Further, that the Minotaur could hear everything that happened in the labyrinth equally well, from any distance or position, as though it were occurring in the folds of his ears. This is the unstated reasoning behind the author's claim that time and space did not exist in the labyrinth for the Minotaur, for whom it is completely transparent and intelligible monad. The author then goes on to identify the Minotaur as God, as Mithras, in whose catacombs there is terrible enlightenment, or as Moloch, to whom all children are ultimately sacrificed.

As for the unfortunate children of Thebes, it was said that the sound of their own footsteps or voices were alienated from them, appearing to approach them from behind in a distorted form, perhaps owing to the same sonic dynamics that gave the Minotaur his omniscience. Perhaps further, the victims of the labyrinth were so chased by their own magnified footsteps and panicked voices into delivering themselves into the den of the Minotaur himself.

If so, this perhaps explains how the Minotaur had complete and instantaneous intelligence from every point in the labyrinth: the Minotaur may have occupied some central location to which all the passages of the labyrinth conducted and magnified all sounds.

If any of this is plausible, even possible, it provides a possible context for an explanation of the enigmatic "voice" of the labyrinth. It is the distorted and pitch shifted echoes of the doomed youths themselves as they grope their way to their doom. Both the voice and the encouragement are chimerical.

Its author could certainly not be the Minotaur himself, who is described universally in all accounts as mute.

"Our Life Now" is the title of an artwork noted at the Venice Biennale 2048 for its shockingly high casualty and fatality rate, even at a Biennale where lethal and near lethal artwork were very much in vogue. The labyrinth section of the installation begins with a highly realistic scale replica of a mall shopping arcade in Hong Kong in the late 20th century, whose glitzy twists and turns eventually become those of an Egyptian tomb, which alludes directly to the author's previous collaboration on the retail sarcophagus of Madonna and his still earlier work on the "hidden retail spaces of the dead.” *

This museum quality replica actually holds the mummified body of Norman Mailer, a fact that is only revealed in the following darkened chamber, where viewers are forced to endure a reading from Ancient Evenings read by a Mailer lookalike.

The viewer's only escape from this ordeal is to discover the concealed secret door that leads out of the reading, as the passage by which they entered is slowly filled in with sand during the reading.

The secret passage opens up onto a maze whose walls are virtual advertisements that patrons must negotiate using eyemice or I-GUIs. Revolutionary at the time, this maze of ads is now a staple at tradeshows, air and infospace musems and arcology condo displays. Indeed, the viewers are inclined to believe they have reached the end of the installation as the virtuspace commercials are for the very corporations that sponsored the exhibit.

Instead, the maze itself collapses and the viewers instead find themselves in the very real freezing mud of a trench in Le Mort Homme in 1916. Viewers have no sooner taken positions to view the bleakened craters of the field before them, when sharp whistles announce an incoming enemy assault, in this case, wave after wave of celebrity lookalikes with live historically accurate ammo.

A pitched battle generally ensues between the panicked art going public (which has the advantage of position) and the waves of hardened celebrity imitators, ultimately descending into extremely vicious hand to hand close quarter combat as the celebrities overrun the trench, using such improvised trench combat weapons as sharpened shovels, Grammys, Emmys, Cable ACE Awards and Academy Awards. This is where most casualties occur as the art going public usually has little more than the Biennale schedule and artist's statements to defend itself.

*Very different in its signification than the artist’s Universal Centotaph for Tom and Suri Cruise, Whose Circumference is Everywhere and Whose Center is Nowhere, which consisted of several strains of engineered bacteria carrying various slogans, such as “EXTREME WEALTH BRINGS ITS OWN WOE, WHICH HAS NEITHER SYMPATHY NOR DIGNITY” and “WHOM GODS WOULD DESTROY THEY FIRST GIVE AN INCOMPETENT PUBLICIST” as well as samples from Cruise’s most famous films that can only be played back on the now obsolete 120 BB (gram negative) gPod. ("Pain and Information Aesthetics" NAND, Vol X).

The very undecided and deeply problematic nature of the Labyrinthus Pareidolia on Mars makes its inclusion on this list controversial. Aresologists, exoarcheologists, Marsologists and geologists remain violently divided as to whether the structure is a natural formation, alien artifact, giant facbot printing error, hoax or advertising campaign from the future or symptom of material planetary mental illness. As such they have differing opinions and analyses as to whether the “friezes” “faces” and other depictions of the labyrinth depict Martian mythology or history, attempts at therapy, or “a trailer for the extinction of the human species.”

This leaves aside the perennial controversy over whether or not there is Afterlife on Mars.

Most Marsologists maintain that Mars as a natural phenomenon effectively ceased to exist with the successive printer errors of the Mars Condo Society and that as rogue facbots and frankenweiners have effectively remade the planet, Mars has effectively been not so much terraformed as “anthropomorphized,” and, as such, Aresologists have no actual object of study (Aresology actually being a branch of human and post-human cultural studies). On the whole, Marslogists wish to continue the venerable tradition of empirically based intersubjectively available science and reject the operational premises of Aresology as wholly lacking any intelligible criteria for its purported phenomena or testable hypotheses or statements, being not so much a science as a catalog of pseudo events and quasi experiences.

Aresologists, in turn, cite the catastrophic events, unexplainable data and failure of the missions previous to Mars Condo One as dispositive of the peculiar cybernetic and psychological phenomena of Mars having some indigenous origin and point to the continuing vexing presence of Martians as indicative of phenomena that cannot be accomodated in traditional natural science, no matter how our concepts of space, time, cause and identity are modified, but rather can only begin to be described in a new framework that accepts such paraphenomena as Martian Spiders as "para-phenomenologically pseudo-real abstractions as given reals."

Despite, or rather because of this, there is actually quite a lot of consensus as to the proposed demolition of the labyrinth and any other observable structures on Mars. However, rather than a preemptive strike on Mars in a presumed Earth-Mars War, as some critics have claimed, this is simply to, in the words of one Nobel Prize Laureate “place man back in his proper position as a thinking being and re-enable the regularities that are the conditions of possibility for natural science.”

Monday, November 29, 2010


Adorable cub foxes nom down on precious baby ducks. Then an elephant comes and stomps on them.

Two white wolves trot briskly through a vast landscape that swallows them in the slow tracking helicopter shot.

Narrator: These endangered wolves have a difficult task. They can hunt for days without any sight of prey.
The wolves are tiny, like little escitalopram tablets lost in rumpled bed covers.
Up ahead, there are tons of caribou, scattered like rice, clogging up the hills.
We cut back to the wolves, nails clicking across an infinite ice cube tray.
More shots of caribou. There is a shitload of caribou.
The wolves are lost in a vast incomprehensible nothing, like specks on a whiteboard that might not even be there, like there’s something wrong with your eyes.
Meanwhile, elsewhere: too much caribou.
Another helicopter shot of the wolves, circling, circling. This time, we can even see the shadow of the helicopter on the ground. How close are we going to get? Even the wolves see us, now.
The next shot is of the wolves riding in the helicopter, their heads out the window, tongues lolling, fur waving, golden eyes looking all around. They howl with delight.

Then in the next shot, a wolf runs down a caribou. Wolves are everywhere now, shaving off the slow trailing parts of the herd, like someone rounding off, slicing off the outlyers on a graph.

The narrator explains this intervention: it is more of a lie to pretend that we are not here, not part of, but somehow separate from nature; that we are somehow behind a fourth wall, as though we ourselves were not inhabitants of the Earth with a helicopter.

Besides, says the narrator, I am God.

The vast city of an anthill explodes in slow motion, millions of ant citizens tumbling end over end.
Another shot of a vast apocalyptic plume annihilating the hill. We see ants trying to hold onto precious eggs, flying through oblivion.
A close-up of the explosion: it looks like Mount St. Helens. Only as the shockwave clears, we can see its cause: a Timberland clad boot.

The narrator looks down upon us and smiles. We notice that he is holding a gun. What kind of documentary is this?

It is night now. The elephant’s eyes, the narrator tells us, are not better than our own. However, the camera’s eyes are like the cats. The cats see the elephants clearly.

A large adult elephant charges at the pride: I can’t see you, but I am fucking huge.

The cats would like a tasty baby elephant. They scoot in, casually, like they were looking for a day care center for their cubs. The elephants encircle their young, kicking dust. They create an impenetrable grey wall. An iron fucking wall, says the narrator.
The elephant’s eyes are like our own, but we see what the lions see, like Jason in the Friday the 13th movies.
The cats have found a smaller, isolated elephant they can take down.
The pride is thirty strong. Soon the young elephant is running.
One cat keeps getting on the back of the elephant and holding on, clearly wondering why the rest of the pride isn’t helping. It’s like a Far Side cartoon.
But there are too many of them. The force of narrative will bring the young elephant down.
We cut to the rest of the elephants, standing around, looking at the young elephant’s yearbook, silent. Lightning.

The narrator describes the cruel, erotic beauty of the pitcher plant. Cruel, erotic? Those are his words, said with a cultured accent that indicates no disapproval. He describes the oral licking ministrations of the insects to the pitcher plant in somewhat overly precise, salacious language. In turn, each insect loses its grip on the “smooth, sweaty, veiny lips of the pitcher, sliding to the pungent abyss within.”
We watch an ant drown. Then a grasshopper. A few more insects, rather more than would seem necessary for educational purposes. The narrator keeps calling these, the “unfortunate lovers of the pitcher plant.” He continues, describing how their putrefaction in the pitcher plant’s “womb” feeds it. We see extensive underwater shots of the pitcher plant’s “dungeon womb.” Her “victims” hang upside down, suspended, rotting.
We then cut to a parallel shot of luminous bodies in an amber liquid. The tinkling we hear cues us that it is ice in a glass. We see the narrator sitting in an expensive leather chair. We see him surrounded by pitcher plants. He is in a high-end clothing boutique. A skinny girl half his age is trying on new clothes, to his obvious pleasure. Issues of National Geographic and Yacht Slave lay scattered about with leftover streaks of cocaine on them.

We are in a jungle canopy. A tribe of monkeys has isolated and corned a young member of a rival tribe. They run him down.

The monkeys dismember and feast on the body. Most of the body is hidden by blood stained leaves, but sometimes the victuals picked out are all-too discernable –fingers are sucked on, the ripped skin of the face and a scalp is contemplated like a Halloween mask. The filmmaker plays the atrocity theme from Cannibal Holocaust. The monkeys then blow each other. The receiving monkey snowballs the other.

We cut to the monkeys in the back of a speeding sports car. We are in Vegas with the narrator. He takes the monkeys to the casinos, to the buffet and shows. This is not a problem, as this is Vegas. The narrator has a really nice suite, the kind that looks like Mike Tyson’s private jet, only bigger and with more nudes that shoot Kahlua from disgraceful parts of their bodies.
The monkeys are in the master bedroom, jumping and defecating on the bed. They seem to be encouraged off camera. It’s like Girls Gone Wild. A figure enters the shot. It is the narrator. He blows a white powder up the monkeys’ noses. This seems to drive them insane. The narrator puts some hardcore pornography on the HD wall screen, which spills across the bed.

We are in a basement somewhere. The monkeys look bad. They are strapped to tiny kid’s chairs. The narrator is reading something in a cracked slurred voice. It’s La Philsophie dans le Boudoir. We see he has something in his other hand. It is a buzz saw.

We cut to a shot of the narrator in sunglasses, on the deck of a speedboat, his head flying above the spray. We hear his voice over.

I am not cruel. I am not kind. I am not generous. I am lavish. I am not excessive, but I am everywhere excess. I am erotic. I am the only god there has ever been, the god of necessity.

From this momentary lapse into something, we return to the great white orthodoxy of nature documentaries, the shark.
We think of the shark as a killing machine. Yet sharks exhibit many social traits. They are curious. They have complex groups. They are like us.
However, the shots we see of the sharks are of them rolling in a sea of red and white, churned by fins, gliding past severed chunks of monkey.

Less than three hundred years ago, less than a blink in the history of the earth, men used other men much as they use stock animals today.
At this point, it seems as though the documentary has become unhinged in time as well, as we see the rigging of an old sailing ship. We circle around it in a helicopter, as we did the wolves. The treatment of the rigger is curious: we scrutinize it as though examining an intricate web or anthill.
Nature is intolerant of any excess.
Black bodies, still in chains, fall overboard. This happens at some distance with some detachment, so at first it is hard to tell what is happening.
But in nature, nothing is wasted.
Sharks swim among the struggling slaves, devouring them. It is not clear if these are supposed to be the same sharks.

We cut back to the narrator on the boat. We see the crew of the documentary. The narrator is not miked. He is gesticulating and smiling. The crew seems to be arguing with him. The narrator starts taking off his clothes. We can make out his words before he jumps off: “I’m going to rape a fucking shark.”

After the credits, we realize we probably should have sent the children to bed sooner.

At the bottom of the screen, numbers come up. Then we are back in the studio of our local PBS affiliate. Our local PBS personality is there. We’ve seen them since we were children. We’ve lived here all our lives. The narrator from the documentary is there, too. He seems different on the studio cameras, but is still somewhat larger than life. He looks older, like he just got off a plane. He says very little, other than the importance of quality programming.

We understand. We have seen all he has shown us. We know our role in the cosmos. We know that even our knowledge is something we do in it. We grasp our responsibility. We pick up the phone. We hug our children and nuzzle their brows as we saw the mother foxes do. We try, try and be better human beings.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kitties like flies, like lies

I can't do anything without my kitties. Seriously. Unless I tuck them away in their bedroom, they are with me, they are near me, they are on me, they are watching me. It's sweet for awhile, but they do make it difficult to accomplish any sort of task.

The other day, I was doing dishes and all of them were crying at my feet and climbing my legs. I tried to redirect their focus by pulling a chair into the kitchen and piling them on the seat.

This kept them busy for awhile, but eventually they figured out they could jump from the arm of the chair to the counter.

There are so many. There are invisible cat hairs everywhere. I can't brush them all off my clothes, no matter how I try. I'll get up to go somewhere and I will suddenly feel cat hairs tickling my face like I've walked into a cobweb. Or I'll pour myself a glass of water, because I'm parched -a glass of fresh water from the tap, in a clean glass and halfway through I'll start choking on tickly cat hairs that have somehow gotten in. Sometimes I nod off without knowing it and wake up covered in a sheet of hair.

I can't do anything without them. If I go to the bathroom, they meow and scratch, scratch, scratch, their little paws under the door. I try and watch television and they flood my lap, they block the screen. I can't answer the phone for all the meowing. I can't go out, because they are always underfoot. Besides, I can't get the cat hairs off my clothes, my hair, my eyes.

I wonder: where do they keep coming from? How they know I'm here? I never asked for them. I never name them. I used to be alone, alone. They come quick, they come so easily. They come so many, like lies.

There are so many of them, lying, prowling, napping, fighting, playing everywhere. On the stairs, on the shelves, the lamps, the cupboards. Covering my books, my clothes, the chairs, sofa, counter, the sinks, the sills, the radiator, the toaster, the oven, the stove, the refrigerator, the bed, the floor beside the bed, the spots by the window where the sun shines through, in my shoes, the umbrella stand, the radio. The living room is a vast meadow of solid, quiescent, recumbent cats, all breathing as one. Then suddenly they are up all moving as one, a giant undulating feline wave, lapping at me, the shore.

Did I mention that I'm slightly allergic?

Do they think I am a kind person? They are indifferent to my kindness, they are oblivious to my cruelty. I am smarter than they are, but to them I am dumb.

The truth is, we inhabit each other, like a sweater.

I fall asleep sometimes and they stroke my hair. They are here, I think, to usher me towards something. I don't know what, or why or why it takes so many. But where do they keep coming from, and where are we going?

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Encomium on Bob Guccione's Caligula (1979)


I had never intended to publish these remarks, but now do so on the occasion of Bob Guccione’s death. It is interesting that the occasion of his passing has elicited so much public remark: the general availability of pornography today now finally renders such a thing as Penthouse seem as quaint and old fashioned as trying to spy on your female  relatives naked. Playboy seems staid and devoid of erotic interest: it can now be put out on the coffee table with Reader's Digest.*

*[Sadly, hypocrisy, too, has kept up with these developments]

In discussing the film Caligula, there are at least two obstacles, common to discussing bad films generally.

The first is authorship. This 1979 film is very much a bastard. Both the scriptwriter, Gore Vidal, and the director, Tinto Brass, disowned it. If you consider the other films that they both have kept their names on, this is really saying something.

Like Apocalypse Now, the flaws of the production parallel its subject. Who is to blame for Caligula, the emperor? The film itself blames, if anyone, the gods and the Roman people. Likewise, it is the Italians who are blamed for much of the final product of Caligula: Bob Guccione, Franco Rossellini and Giancarlo Lui.

The second is that any description of a bad movie makes the bad movie seem fascinating. There are many different ways in which bad movies can be quite enjoyable, most of which involve a Buñuelian sensibility, alcohol and snarky pals. Caligula might be in some sense enjoyable given some of those things, but at over three hours long, it may require a lot of them to be worthwhile. Like the anti-war movie, the worse the description, the more people want to experience it.* 

*[This is certainly true for me, as I invariably make note of anything that is described as “unwatchable,” “unlistenable,” or “unreadable.” This is the sort of perversity that results in the creation of vast “no-go” regions in your iTunes library].

On one interpretation, Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket attempts to defeat this problem of making its subject (war) unattractive by breaking up the narrative so that identification with its subject is impossible. As we shall see below, Caligula may employ a similar, unintentional strategy that makes it, above all, pornography. In a similar vein, these notes resist a strong unified, coherent thesis, under pain of making Caligula seem more interesting and fun than it actually is to watch. I emphasize that it's really not. As evidence, I relate that I would write a proper essay and include more screencaps, but that would probably require actually seeing parts of the movie again.

Of course, such caveats never dissuaded me: this why I ended up studying philosophy at the U of C. Here then, should you so choose, is the film itself. It will not destroy you as a human being, but I promise it will make you in no ways a better person, much like Penthouse.

Finally, despite all this, these notes do focus attention on Guccione's most infamous son. Anyone reading in the present knows this is all that is possible for us by way of praise: snarky reviews of Gimmie a Break or President Obama are the only form of public discourse that we know how to fashion. As such, these notes are an encomium, much like that of Gorgias, excusing the inexcusable.

I. "Strike So That He May Feel Himself Die"

Pornography is a parody of human life.

Behold, the glory that was Ancient Guccione!

Gilgeud sees what’s coming and opens his wrists in a bath. For the viewer’s pleasure, this bath is, of course, transparent.

Director: “You know what would make this shot? Pubes.”

Compares favorably to all the Star Wars prequels (Episodes I-III).
Compares unfavorably to the issue of Penthouse you first read about it in.

Compares favorably to Myra Breckenridge or simply being sat and farted on by Gore Vidal for 210 minutes.
Compares unfavorably to Mel Brooks’ The History of the World, Part One, or the simple purity of a hand job.

Not so much a film as a coke binge in 16:9.

Wow, this film has lesbian orgies like Smokey and the Bandit had car chases or shots with cars in it.

This film achieves the remarkable feat of making Ancient Rome actually seem kind of sleazy.

Caligula is portrayed as cowardly, cruel, perverse, superstitious, stupid, traitorous, completely selfish, mendacious, greedy, excessive, shortsighted, murderous, incestuous, cruel, vain, psychopathic and insane. His only redeeming quality is that he has a sense of whimsy.

This is one possible key to the whole picture: in effect, it is a reworking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where chocolate is replaced by nads, tits and ass.

[Caligula’s sister dies]

“You know what would add some pathos to this shot? Pubes.”

Rome: it's kind of like Disneyworld by George Bataille. Had Rome been like this, Christianity would have been an improvement.*

*[Then again, if human beings were as Christianity describes them, Christianity would be an improvement.]

Artistic excess: Salo.
Excess excess: Caligula, wall to wall ass-to-mouth anthologies.

Salo is a film in the same sense that, despite everything, G.G. Ailin was a musician.
Caligula is not a film in the same sense that G.G. Ailin was not a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for a lifetime of work in nonviolent conflict resolution.

This whole film is a fitting reminder of why we don't touch ourselves during Fellini films.

II. Pornography and Parody

It is not incidental or accidental that pornographic films are sometime parodies of mainstream films, whether in title or substance. Pornographic narratives often present a world that is a parody of this one, a world where things are ostensibly the same, but every situation results in sex. Sex is not a little ludicrous in that does away with a lot of our pretensions. It is comedic because it is profane and predictable. This is why the Romans were not wrong to think that putting a huge dong on your statue would be silly (see huge dongs, below).

Parody may be the key to Caligula.

III. When does Caligula Climax?

One of the most curious things about Caligula is that for a pornographic narrative, it really has no direction, no momentum. Even the crudest narrative porno film or story often has one: things get hotter, more perverse, more complex. Comedies, horror stories, martial arts films, action movies, dance and special effects sequences usually have a similar pattern or trajectory. Caligula can barely even be said to have a vector: at the beginning of the film Caligula is callow, weak, murderous and perverse. This is true to exactly the same degree in every frame of the film. The action throughout the film is consistently at the same intensity of cruelty and obscenity. You could watch it backwards or in any order with no real discernable change, as Caligula the emperor and the movie are uniformly awful. Caligula is perfectly time symmetric.

Consider: even sex acts have something like an Aristotelian structure (ideally). What is the climax of Caligula? What event or choice forms any kind of hinge that relates to the ending? Which terrible, bad thing that Caligula does damns him? How can you even tell the difference between his acts of cruelty? This is what makes the opening epigram of the film absurd (“For what shall it profit a man, that he should gain the whole world, and lose his soul” Mark 8:36). Caligula never has a soul to lose.*

*[Indeed, one could argue that the whole film has a Christian sensibility: that is, it is wholly misguided with respect to sexuality and ethics. Just before the opening quotation, it frames the whole story with the identifying inter title: PAGAN ROME in blood red letters, as though this were to explain everything that happens in the film, as though innocent incestuous love for one's sister is the closest thing possible to pagan virtue, the Romans having no norms, laws or moral sense without Christianity anymore than the Israelites did while Moses was away.]

To point to his comparatively pure incestuous love for his sister is just to emphasize that some aspects of this monstrous portrayal bear a resemblance to the human qualities they are perversions of. Nonetheless, narratively, it is hard to say how Drusilla plays a role: Caligula’s behavior and personality is not intelligibly different before or after her death. Her death really just makes for what is probably the most grotesque and lurid mourning sequence ever captured on film, where Caligula rips the clothes her corpse and stumbles around screaming with her nude corpse, a scene which has inspired deep and fervent prayers for Malcolm McDowell’s soul that the DVD has no additional extra features and deleted scenes.

There is, of course, a flat-footed, patent answer. The climax of the film is actually the on screen ejaculation in the boat brothel. It signifies that the narrative is turning, much like the flashes in the corner indicate a change of film reel. It is a mechanical and not a narrative fact. This is after the lady goes down on the masked dwarf.

IV. Caius Caesar Caligula (AD 12-41) vs Caligula (AD 1978)

This absence of direction in the narrative is all the more perplexing if you consider that one of the few things that the accounts of the Emperor Caligula agree on is that, as a historical individual, he has an intelligible life story. Caius Caligula followed his father the great Roman general Germanicus on his campaigns in Germania, wearing a little miniature soldier’s uniform, from which he got his nickname. After Germanicus died/was poisoned, his mother Agrippina and brother were sent into exile, where they lived the life of prisoners and were brutalized to death. Caligula and his sisters are effectively the prisoners of his uncle, the Emperor Tiberius. At nineteen, he goes to live with Tiberius on Capri, which, if Suetonious is to be believed, Tiberius had remade into an island sized porno stash of tableaux vivants, by posing real naked people.

To everyone’s surprise, young Caligula isn’t killed. Instead he actually manages to endear himself to his uncle enough to be named joint heir to the throne.

When Caligula becomes Caesar, he is initially quite popular and beloved. By contrast, in the film, once Macro (one of the view likable characters in the film) is arrested the next thing you know Caligula has built a giant three story, stadium wide lawn mower with dancers and musicians that cuts off people’s heads.

The greatest event in Caligula’s life, next to his coronation, is probably the ceremony by which he returned his mother and brother’s remains to Rome. In the film, Caligula is too busy raping newlyweds on their honeymoon to bother [to be fair, Suetonious alludes to something like this].

V. The Poisonous Antidote of Caesar: Caligula as Parody

In his script, Gore Vidal seems to have followed Suetonious’ opinion that Tiberius had no illusions about Caligula’s already terrible character and deliberately reared Caligula as a viper for the people of Rome. Something of this dramatic thread survives: Caligula is himself a parody of a Caesar, a tyrannical reductio ad absurdum. Yet no one in the Roman Senate is brave enough to do anything about it. They and the Roman people prove themselves worthy of his depredations by their obsequy and Caligula himself gets tired of being a pervert, just as the audience thinks “I never thought I could get tired of lesbian orgies, but I am going to fast forward through this one and hope I make it to the other side alive.”

In this sense, we can think of Caligula as a successful transgressive artwork: the Romans should be disgusted with Caligula, the emperor; the viewer should feel disgusted with Caligula, the movie, a parody of a parody.

VI. Consider the Dong Man

To get a further sense for what is wrong with Caligula, consider the Dong Man:

You might immediately object: don’t you mean dildo man? No, look carefully at the picture. Hopefully, none of you have had anything that long go inside of you, anywhere, because the most benign case I can imagine is a javelin accident. There’s no way to even store safely a thing like that in your house.

So what is Dong Man doing? What is the purpose of his oversized wares, assuming that he wasn’t selling rotisserie chickens and is now sold out? Given the size, the pinkness and their overall proportions, I assume that these items are some kind of novelty, not unlike the similar dong he has on his head. These are then, trinkets not unlike giant foam fingers (which, it should be added, are also not intended to go inside anyone). Only instead of announcing, “We’re No#1” these items are designed to declaim: “Perversion! Decadence! Hoo-ray!”

The world that the mise en scène of Caligula imagines is like a theme park of depravity. Did I say mise en scène? Because I don’t know if it’s properly so called, since Dong Man actually has a significant role. He keeps showing up. Blink and you won’t miss him; rather he’ll put your eye out. Before he leaves he actually walks dead in front of the camera.

Dong Man: an unsubtle point made unsubtly.

VII. Caligula as an Address to the Forum

In Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973) one of the robot theme parks is Roman World, where guests can live out whatever decadent fantasy they please with robots in togas. This simulacrum is itself simulated in Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. This, above all, is what makes Caligula, a porno film: ancient Rome is just the setting. You could have just filmed the whole thing poolside at Bob Guccione’s house with some towels.

Compare in this light Fellini’s Satyricon (1969). Satyricon has a plot, which is all the more remarkable considering its source material. Satyricon is itself avowedly “a film from the planet Rome” and is historical in the same sense that 2001: A Space Odyssey is historical.

Nonetheless, Satyricon, Roman World and Caesar’s palace all share this in common: they are experiences that one might conceivably want to have. You can actually watch Satyricon more than once. You can even admit to owning a copy.

Caligula is isomorphic with its subject matter. In its repetitive cruelty and tiresome orgies, it is the sort of film we can imagine Suetonious’ Caligula enjoying. Caligula is not unlike Guccione’s other great literary creation, letters to Penthouse Forum. Are we supposed to believe in these letters, that there is a name and address to be withheld? No, they are parodies. They are intentionally implausible because that is how they are disarming. For the intention they have, the wish they express, is quite real. And, like our dreams, the expression of our wishes is masked with the ludicrous, the nonsensical, that breaks open the ruled logical space of reality to the space of fantasy, where our dreams realize our wishes. Caligula is such a letter to Penthouse ForumDear Penthouse Forum, you won’t believe this, but one day I became Emperor of all Rome. My sister, who I had been fucking since we were children was delighted. The first thing we did… Perhaps it is too Kantian to suggest that our dreams and nocturnal emissions aren’t art, but both Caligula and letters to Penthouse Forum have the same instrumental, manipulative sensibility, and depict a world where little else can be imagined or expressed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010


(§245) The speech of evil and infernal spirits is likewise natural to them because it is from affections; but it is from evil affections and consequent filthy ideas, to which angels are utterly averse. Thus the modes of speaking in hell are opposite to those of heaven; and in consequence evil spirits cannot endure angelic speech, and angels cannot endure infernal speech. To the angels infernal speech is like a bad odor striking the nostrils. The speech of hypocrites, who are such as are able to feign themselves angels of light, resembles in respect to words the speech of angels, but in respect to affections and consequent ideas of thought it is the direct opposite. Consequently, when the inner nature of their speech is perceived as wise angels perceive it, it is heard as the gnashing of teeth, and strikes with horror.

De Caelo et Ejus Mirabilibus et de inferno, ex Auditis et Visis
Emmanuel Swedenborg, 1758

In 19--, an associate professor at the University of C-----o did an analysis of a sampled nonsense language from a children’s television show as an exercise in comparative linguistics. To his astonishment, however, the nonsense language could be ascribed an apparent high degree of complexity and regularity in terms of apparent syntax and internal organization, atypical of glossolalia and more like a natural language. Further, the structure and pattern of the apparent language seemed unlike Indo-European inflected languages and more like an Austronesian isolating language.

Upon further inquiries, it appeared that the show was produced in the United States, but edited from unlicensed source material with minimal English language narration and scenes added to provide context, continuity and educational content to the puppet performer sequences where the nonsense language was used.

Further questions arose as to how the show was filmed, particularly the elaborate puppet segments and their alien setting. The degree of detail and peculiar range of movement displayed by the puppets called into question the actual scale of the puppets and what was inside of them. Most adult viewers had assumed a forced perspective and extensive use of miniatures created the fantastic locales that the puppets inhabited and that the "smoky god" that illuminated their world was just a lamp. 
Asemics, July 1982

With the disastrous success of the Montauk and the Mohole and Kola Superdeep Borehole Projects, it became obvious that the Satanic language provided by the OTO was as obsolete as the Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Sumerian phonemes that had been cut-up into glossolalia by its original practitioners…

The failure of Lingferno and other mathematically derived language approaches is usually attributed to the incommensurability of infernal numbers, particularly its dependence on division by infernal zero, absolute negative values and the value of infernal negative zero to the zero power being whatever the interlocutor thinks it is not (readers may refer to Hunt on "The Thousand Cuts Problem and Other Satanic Math Problems").

Serious researchers therefore turned to Desperanto, an artificial pastiche coddled out of the roots of obscenities and blasphemies from every human language….

As pragmatics gained more acceptance above ground, this too was reflected in infernal linguistics' reappraisal of traditional diabolics in terms of the original context of most ritual communication. It is now widely accepted that just as heavenly language is a mixture of context, angelic facial expression, affections, gesture and pure thought, infernal language is equally context bound, being articulated through violence, crime, diabolical expressions and satanic gestures, undying hatred and willful spite. The complex and verbose rituals of the first generation of satanic interlocutors received some justification and now it is typical for a team to have at least one orthodox Satanist on hand for such purposes.
“Milestones in PROJECT CEREBUS” SITI Chronicle, August 2008

One morning, after breakfast, my master announced we were traveling. He had heard/dreamed of our unfortunate brethren amid the stones and bright darkness of Heaven and had resolved to set out to see them himself to see if he could help. It was a matter of doctrine that those in paradise cannot receive aid, but in this, as in so many other things, my master was of his own mind and determined to see for himself and form his own judgment.

We stopped for lunch a mountainside café that was most refreshing and quaint… The mine had been abandoned, like the town, since the disaster. The tailings formed a slippery road to our destination.

Though I was only adept to the Third Darkness, I knew the Blind Way well, and followed my master’s descent agile as a drop of water spilling into a rocky chasm. He seemed to make haste in our descent. For us this near vertical descent was no more difficult than a set of steep stairs.

As we descended, the earth began to swaddle us in her mother’s warmth, the air burned and the rock grew soft beneath our grip. I was used to such extremes from our practice of meditating in ovens and burned not.

We came to an area called “the falls.” It was here that many angels and other such beings were said to gather on their way to and fro the cities of Heaven.

We sat on this ledge to meditate.

We had only sat for a few hours when the citizens of that deep place indeed began to appear. I was aware of their presence for a long time by the scratching sounds they made as they dragged their angelic bodies about. They were as described and I dared not actually behold them. Indeed, the whole of heaven is filled with such creatures, all in highest exultation and singing a continual chorus of joy. It is this sound with which the earth sings.

Upon realizing I observed them, they began to gather and disport themselves in an angelic way, making such threats and obscenities as divine creatures habitually make as greeting. They began to make good upon their offers of hospitality, but finding my master unmoved, they began to disport themselves by holy displays of fornication, profanity and violation upon each other. Host upon host of creature began to combine in an incredible hallowed gathering that writhed and reeked. I had never contemplated such things, such a degree of holiness before and my heart leapt and I began to sicken.

However, in my meditation, I felt the calming hand of my master. Did he point? Or rather he pointed by not pointing.

I realized that in all these grotesque, cruel and blessed sports, our hosts were like children. My attention animated them, my own desires fed them. Humbled, I returned to the most basic mantra and they vanished from whence they came. We finished and stretched, much refreshed.

As we had to return before nightfall, we began our ascent.

On our ascent, we encountered an angel, or spirit, apparently lost, like a bird in an attic, between two worlds. The creature begged water. My master poured some. In the creature’s hands it boiled away into a scalding cloud. The creature bleated in surprise and dismay, apparently unused to its unfortunate form.

My master smiled and poured again.

Nearer the surface, we encountered a food vendor coming down, apparently going to market. The wagon wheeled toward us, the scorched and roasted victuals swung before me, dribbling fat from the ends of its fingers, from which the nails still clung. In the wrists,  ragged holes.

My master said, “Do not criticize his wares; they are all he has and honestly got.”

On our way back home on the surface, my master's only comment was: “Ha, what a terrible place. I would not like to go there again."

Dim-Sook, Dim-Waz: Being an Account of My Induction, My Training In That Secret Order, Travels With My Master and Final Banishment From That Order with Some Simple Explanation of the Practice (Though Forbidden) and Helpful Diagrams and Tips,
Author, Date Unknown