WEIRDLAND: September 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

Breaking Bad, Ozark, Suicide of the West

Life and Death on Breaking Bad by Jonah Goldberg — When we meet Walter White, he is an overqualified high-school chemistry teacher who works part time at a car wash for extra money. (In what becomes a crucial plot device, Walter worked for a tech startup but took a stupid buyout for $5,000. The company went on to be worth billions.) In the first 20 minutes of the first episode, he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Impeccably decent and upright, Walter is confronted with the horror of leaving his wife, teenage son (who has cerebral palsy), and unborn daughter destitute. He gets the idea that he could use his skills as a scientist to cook methamphetamine (crystal meth). The once-promising professional (The Dr. Jekyll of Walter White) slowly turns into the Mr. Hyde of his street name “Heisenberg” (an homage to the author of the uncertainty principle). When we meet him, Walter White is not an antihero; he’s even a hero in the small ways good fathers, dedicated teachers, and faithful husbands are. And what he becomes is not an antihero but simply, straightforwardly, a villain. What begins as a kind of play on the Thomistic principle that it is moral for a man to steal bread to feed his starving child grows into a painfully realistic tale of how a good man becomes evil.

Over time, Walter’s definition of self-defense grows beyond any moral justification, and his reluctance to kill shrinks to almost nothing. Once you step outside the borders of morality and the law, self-interest becomes self-justifying. Indeed, this is how pragmatism unchained from moral principles simply becomes a Nietzschean will to power. But the choices Walter makes have tragic consequences. The lies he needs to tell to his wife, Skyler, ultimately destroy his marriage. She cannot abide the deception, and when she finds out about Walter’s new profession, she wants a divorce. This plotline is absolutely brutal to watch and is easily the best treatment of a family coming unglued in any television show. Skyler, too, finally becomes seduced into Walter’s world. Personal corruption is infectious. What the viewer has only dimly suspected, thanks to Cranston’s incredibly subtle portrait, is now coming to the fore: Walter enjoys being Heisenberg.

One of the reasons he enjoys it is that, unlike the underachieving high-school chemistry teacher of his former life, Heisenberg is the best there is at something. While he could once live with the fact that his former peers have gotten rich in the private sector (off his ideas, he tells himself), it is now a source of seething resentment. The sins of pride and envy — not greed — are the secret to Walter White’s character. The arrogance of Walter’s intellect, married to the bitterness of not fulfilling his potential, seduce him to the idea that he can set the rules, that he is smart enough to control all of the variables in life. Untethered from traditional morality, he’s set adrift, believing that he can chart his own course through raw intellect alone. Now that he’s cancer-free, the money is meaningless to him save as a measure of his ability and superiority. Gilligan and the other writers brilliantly draw out how envy of the success of others fuels a sense of superiority and entitlement. In one telling scene, White tells his students the (true) story of how the inventor of the synthetic diamond was rewarded by GE with a $10 savings bond. The subtext is that Walter never got the recognition he deserved as a scientist, and he yearns to correct that as a meth cooker.

“I just feel like I never had a choice in any of this,” he explains. “I want a say, for once.” As Jackson Cuidon writes, “When you first watch the scene, not knowing the kind of person Walt is going to choose to be, it’s a poignant moment. Walt wants to spend his last months with his wife on his own terms, rather than as a powerless and weak and hollowed-out shell of who he used to be.” When Walter says this in the first season, he means it. The problem is that, over time, he takes this desire for control over his own life and externalizes it to society. His response to cancer transforms him into a cancer in his family and in his community. Cuidon is entirely right that the essence of Breaking Bad is choice: Walter chooses to become evil. Breaking Bad is not a religious allegory (though it could be seen as one). The lies Walter hears are not coming from the Devil, they’re coming from Walter himself. (Gilligan has said that while he can believe there’s no Heaven, he can’t abide by the idea there’s no Hell.) An even more striking aspect of Breaking Bad is the omnipresent backdrop of the horrors of drug addiction. Meth is particularly evil, ravaging not just addicts but whole communities. Walter becomes evil as he rationalizes away that fact.

And here is where I think Gilligan himself has it wrong. “Walt has behaved at times in what could be regarded as an evil fashion, but I don’t think he’s an evil man,” he told the website Vulture. “He is an extremely self-deluded man. We always say in the writers’ room, if Walter White has a true superpower, it’s not his knowledge of chemistry or his intellect, it’s his ability to lie to himself.” But what is evil if not the ability to delude yourself into believing you are the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong based on your self-interest? Freedom itself is not evil, but freedom devoid of conscience is very close to the definition of evil. Hitler, Stalin — the historical figures we use as stand-ins for metaphysical evil — believed they were acting on their own personal definitions of the good. They didn’t feel constrained by the “slave morality” (Nietzsche’s term) of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Of the many conservative themes in Breaking Bad, the one I appreciate most is the fragility of civilization: Preserving it requires a constant struggle. When I say “civilization,” I don’t mean just the particular swath of time and culture we call “Western Civ”; I mean families, communities, and individuals. These can be healthy only when individuals are willing to take on faith that some moral laws are there for a good reason. As Chesterton tells us, pure reason doesn’t get humanity very far. The merely rational man will not make commitments to causes greater than his own self-interest.

We need binding dogmas to constrain us even when our intellects or appetites try to seduce us to a different path. Long before one gets into the partisan or ideological precepts and dogmas, there is at the irreducible core of conservatism the idea that human nature is what it is. Nation-states, technologies, cultures, even religions come and go, but what remains is humanity. Breaking Bad is one of the great novels of our age because it grapples with the crooked timber of humanity as it is, and painfully demonstrates that, once you choose to break out of the cage of civilization, you are not so much free as lost. Source: www.nationalreview.com

Our moral expectations in the world of art differ from our expectations in the real world around us. The people we are at work, at the grocery store, play by one set of largely artificial rules: the rules of civilization. But beneath—or perhaps beside—the person of manners, custom, and law resides a different being. The moral universe of cinema sometimes mirrors the real world, but just as often the actors on the screen play roles more consistent with the moral universe of our inner savage. It’s like a scene in some science fiction movie where the protagonist develops a roll of film and finds that the people he photographed are different from those he saw with his naked eye. Art captures a reality that we tend to deny in the “real world” around us. In novels, movies, TV, video games, and almost every other realm of our shared culture, the moral language of the narrative is in an almost entirely different dialect from the moral language of the larger society. When we suspend disbelief, we also suspend adherence to the conventions and legalisms of the outside world. Instead, we use the more primitive parts of our brains, which understand right and wrong as questions of “us” and “them.” Our myths are still with us on the silver screen, and they appeal to our sense of tribal justice. We enter the movie theater a citizen of this world, but when we sit down, we become denizens of the spiritual jungle, where our morality becomes tribal the moment the lights go out. When we lose our civilizational confidence—and pride—in what it has accomplished, we are committing a suicidal act on a civilizational scale.  —"Suicide of the West" (2018) by Jonah Goldberg

Martin 'Marty' Byrde (Jason Bateman in Ozark):  If I want to put all $7,945,400 into a hot tub, get buck naked and play Scrooge McDuck, that is 100% my business. You see, the hard reality is how much money we accumulate in life is not a function of who's president or the economy or bubbles bursting or bad breaks or bosses. It's about the American work ethic. The one that made us the greatest country on Earth. It's about bucking the media's opinion as to what constitutes a good parent. Deciding to miss the ball game, the play, the concert, because you've resolved to work and invest in your family's future. And taking responsibility for the consequences of those actions. Patience. Frugality. Sacrifice. When you boil it down, what do those three things have in common? Those are choices. Money is not peace of mind. Money's not happiness. Money is, at its essence, that measure of a man's choices. Half of all American adults have more credit card debt than savings. 25% have no savings at all. And only 15% of the population is on track to fund even one year of retirement. Suggesting what? The middle class is evaporating? Or the American Dream is dead? You wouldn't be sitting there listening to me if the latter were true. You see, I think most people just have a fundamentally flawed view of money. Is it simply an agreed-upon unit of exchange for goods and services? $3.70 for a gallon of milk? Thirty bucks to cut your grass? Or, is it an intangible? Security or happiness - peace of mind. 


“The question of whether America is in decline cannot be answered yes or no. Both answers are wrong, because the assumption that somehow there exists some predetermined inevitable trajectory, the result of uncontrollable external forces, is wrong. Nothing is inevitable. Nothing is written. For America today, decline is not a condition. Decline is a choice.” —Charles Krauthamer (1950-2018)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ozark's Marty Byrde vs Breaking Bad's Walter White: American dream down a dark tunnel

As a weary, desperate husband and father in Netflix’s “Ozark,” Jason Bateman is terrific. He plays a mild Chicago money manager named Marty Byrde who launders cash for a Mexican drug cartel and wants to get out of it. Bateman is nicely restrained on the drama, giving us a man who controls his panic, a pot always just about to boil. In his precarious position, other men might be screaming and shooting and running away; instead, Marty contemplates and plots. You can feel the chill of his existential struggle, as he seems to constantly wonder if he’d be better off dead than taking on a cartel. On the one hand, he’s a sympathetic guy who has made bad choices, ultimately putting himself in the sights of the nasty cartel strongman, Del (Esai Morales). On the other hand, he’s charmless, very unlike Bateman’s best-known role as the endearing straight man in a pack of freaks on “Arrested Development.” Marty is a drab fellow whose best quality is his ability to lie his way out of disaster.

The last time a comic actor was so transformed by the right dramatic role, we were watching Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad.” And to some extent, “Ozark” works like “Breaking Bad” in reverse, as Marty tries to get out of the world of crime without meeting the fate of his business partner, who is liquefying in a big barrel of acid. Both White and Byrde are ordinary family men who face evil men with guns, devastating deceptions, and plans that never seem to go right. The two shows strike a similar tone, giving us remarkably specific characters and locations while nodding to larger themes about money, America’s failing systems, and masculinity. Source: www.bostonglobe.com

There are shocking moments that establish a constant tension throughout Ozark — this is horror, plain and simple — it’s Marty’s unbearable emotional arc that keeps us in his reality. From watching his wife’s sex tape, again and again, torturing himself in silence, to begging for his life at gunpoint after watching his friend and business partner die, to choosing whether or not his philandering wife — who just betrayed him, again, by trying to steal his money — will live or die, Marty’s ability to compartmentalize is astounding. What keeps it from being unbelievable, aside from Bateman, is his breakdown. This is a family story. This is a romance. This is unparalleled perseverance; brought on as a result of a bad decision, yes, but motivated by the purest of intentions. Marty loves his family. He lost them. And he’s not going to lose them again. Source: www.indiewire.com

When the camera panned away from Walter White’s cancer-struck, bullet-ridden body spread eagle on the floor of a Nazi meth lab, you could say it was a dark spirit of American ambition leaving its vessel. Consumed with his drive to financially provide for his family, Breaking Bad’s protagonist had descended into an amoral pit. He made a few attempts to pull himself out, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth his efforts. He saw his American dream with tunnel vision, and irreversibly destroyed lives in his peripherals. Only his dream was compromised, having sacrificed too much – his family and humanity – to ever fully attain it. He had become a supremacist kingpin with no real home.

Ozark’s Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is chasing the American dream down a dark tunnel. In essence, Marty Byrde is an outsider. When his partner Bruce starts skimming off the top, Marty is forced to concoct a plan to pay the drug lords back. He invents a desperate scheme to move his entire operation to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri to cash in on tourism and property as well as the potential for distribution. Then we start to see the self-destructive urges churning beneath Byrde’s mannered exterior. The Byrde family: wife Wendy (Laura Linney), fifteen-year-old daughter Charlotte and thirteen-year-old son Jonah are immediately hit with culture shock. Lives uprooted to the Bible Belt, a wild country of hills, lakes, and dark woods, populated by townies, tourists, hillbillies, rednecks, and every type of lowlife. 

Off the bat Marty and Wendy become entangled in the fabric of the Ozarks. A momma’s boy real estate agent who hires Wendy; Rachael, the mysterious and attractive owner of the Blue Cat Lodge; the preacher who gives his sermons on the lake; Buddy, the dying old man who lives in the basement of the house they buy; and the Langmores, the white trash low-level criminals are just a few of the characters into which the Byrdes crash their lives. How many deals with how many devils can Marty make? The local people who have lived in the Ozarks since before the Power Company flooded the area to build the lake do not forget. It’s something that Marty continues to overlook. 

Early on when Marty and Ruth meet (Ruth robs Marty’s motel room while working as a maid) there is an instant connection between them. Without much explanation Ruth sees right through Marty when she says to him, “I do have this feeling, we both know, you’re better off dead.” Ruth sees Marty as her ticket out of the mud. Marty sees Ruth as his way into the Ozark community and as someone who is smart enough to keep up with him. Like in the Bible, Ruth will have to choose where she belongs. Jason Bateman takes his dry comedy style and turns it into a darker, more bitter interpretation. Jacob Snell pushes Marty down a path where it seems unlikely he can return. Walter White introduced us to a protagonist who slowly changed for the worst to provide for his family, but he struggled with his actions along the way. Marty Byrde, however, is riding quietly in an elevator going down, and we have no idea which button he is going to push next. Source: fishbowlsreview.com

Monday, September 17, 2018

Marilyn Monroe, Same-Sex Attraction

Many men prefer women who are occasionally attracted to other women, according to research that examined preferences for same-sex attraction across different cultures. “I am an evolutionary psychologist and same-sex attraction constitutes a major puzzle that remains to be solved by evolutionary-minded scholars,” said study author Menelaos Apostolou of the University of Nicosia. Specifically, about one in four heterosexual Chinese men and two in three heterosexual UK men preferred mates who were not exclusively attracted to the opposite-sex. Most of these men preferred women who were mostly attracted to men but occasionally to women, rather than women who were attracted both sexes equally or women who were more attracted to women than men. “Across different cultures there are many heterosexual men who find same-sex attractions in women desirable,” Apostolou said. However, men preferred same-sex attraction in a partner much more than women. The male participants were 6.49 times more likely than women to prefer a partner who was attracted to both sexes. “Men find same-sex attraction in women much more desirable than women find same-sex attraction in men,” Apostolou told PsyPost. “I believe that same-sex attraction in heterosexual women constitutes a normal variation in sexual attraction, and it is not something abnormal that women should feel shame for or worry about,” Apostolou added. Source: www.psypost.org

Marilyn Monroe had a secret lesbian affair with her domineering German acting teacher, newly unearthed documents reveal. They show that the actress lived as ‘man and wife’ with Columbia Pictures drama coach Natasha Lytess for two of the seven years they worked together from 1948 to 1955. When they first met in 1946 when Monroe was 20. Speaking in the 1962 interview, Lytess said: 'She couldn’t speak, she didn’t know how to open her mouth, and she feared everything.' She also claimed the actress was 'always naked' in the home they shared. But, she added, the actress was also crippled with insecurities. 'She was afraid of giving up all that had made her as Marilyn the sexiest girl: dresses, make-up, moves. Because she thought she had nothing to give except sex appeal. In fact it’s interesting because she really hated sex!' Natasha, who died from cancer in 1964, said she was with Marilyn for ten years and they were so close the actress would often insist that they held hands, even when they were filming a scene. 'On the set I was always very close to her,' she said in the interview. 'I had to be so close to her that she was always asking: "Can she be a little bit closer to me?" The director answered, "Yes but we see her in the camera."

'Very often, during close-ups I had to hold her hand. I had to support her every time. 'Thanks to the specificities of the close-up - which films only the head or the shoulders - I could hold her hand without being filmed by the camera. I had to do it to give her some courage.' The acting coach also claimed to have saved the famous actress from death after discovering her in bed with a bottle of sleeping pills. 'I saw Marilyn in her bed, her hair was uncombed, she was not really covered up and her face was awfully pale. Her cheeks were swelled and she had a vacant look. I said, “What have you done Marilyn?" In her recent book, Marilyn: The Passion And The Paradox, author Lois Banner wrote: 'Natasha and Marilyn lived together as husband and wife, although Marilyn often simply wanted to be held. 'She was like a child in her need for physical affection.' 'Miss Lytess made me free,' Monroe would say later. 'She gave me balance and made me understand life. I owe everything to her.' Source: www.iol.co.za

Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe (2019) by Amanda Konkle offers the first extended scholarly analysis of Marilyn Monroe's film performances, examining how they united the contradictory discourses about women's roles in 1950s America. Amanda Konkle suggests that Monroe's star persona resonated with audiences precisely because it engaged with the era's critical debates regarding femininity, sexuality, marriage, and political activism. Furthermore, she explores how Monroe drew from the techniques of Method acting and finely calibrated her performances to better mirror her audience's anxieties and desires. Drawing both from Monroe's filmography and from 1950s fan magazines, newspaper reports, and archived film studio reports, Some Kind of Mirror considers how her star persona was coauthored by the actress, the Hollywood publicity machine, and the fans who adored her. It is about why 1950s America made Monroe a star, but it is also about how Marilyn defined an era. Source: www.amazon.co.uk

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn’s Death

Marilyn Monroe was afflicted with a “divided and confused mind bordering on an hysteria.” As a result of that division and confusion, her behavior was often conflicted and contradictory. The mythology has flourished in the unusually fertile firmament of distrust and paranoia; and it has been continuously fertilized by a voyeuristic media and opportunistic individuals adept at manipulating the confusion caused by misinterpretation and misunderstanding, invariably grinding confusion into a dollar, literary or otherwise. Dr. Greenson ended up spending most of that Saturday with her. While the actress and her therapist talked in private, Pat Newcomb lounged by her host’s swimming pool under the Southern California sun. Their session ended between 6:45 and 7:00 PM. Ralph Roberts telephoned a second time to discuss the menu for their planned Sunday evening BBQ. Perhaps the reluctance to accept a probable suicide edict has something to do with who Marilyn Monroe was and what she represented to the millions of fans who adored her, adored her movies and her talent, adored her charm and her humor, adored her beauty. To them, she was a person, a woman, a goddess who had it all. They loved her and they sensed that she loved them. Those feelings about Marilyn persist today. Slatzer essentially cobbled together a book that was then sold to Pinnacle, who was eager to publish a story about Marilyn merely to capitalize on the success and the publicity generated by Norman Mailer's factoidal biography. The problem is this: Slatzer was unknown to all of Marilyn’s friends. It is quite possible that all of Marilyn’s friends did not know all of Marilyn’s friends; however, for everyone who was actually close to Marilyn, especially Joe DiMaggio, who stated that he never met Slatzer, to have missed Slatzer’s presence stretches a fellow’s credulity.

In his 2014 update of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated, Carl Rollyson admitted the he “shied away from references to dubious sources such as Robert Slatzer, Ted Jordan, and Lena Pepitone. Reputable biographers like Lois Banner and Donald Spoto have exposed the unreliability of such books.” Slatzer claimed that he and Marilyn were together all day on the 3rd of October and they talked about marriage well into the small hours of the 4th. The problem with that assertion is this: on the 3rd of October in 1952, Marilyn attended a party in Hollywood thrown by Photoplay magazine during which she received an award, an event and an accolade not mentioned by Slatzer; and Slatzer’s alleged friend, former boxer, Noble Chissell, who testified that he witnessed the wedding in Tijuana, later recanted and admitted to both Donald Spoto and the photographer Joseph Jasgur that Slatzer paid him to lie. Additionally, Slatzer’s wife from 1954 until 1956, Kay Eicher, according to Donald Spoto, guffawed at the mention of a marriage between Marilyn Monroe and her former husband. Eicher confirmed for Spoto that Slatzer’s only encounter with the blonde movie star occurred at Niagara Falls while filming her Technicolor noir, when his photographs with her were taken, photographs that Slatzer used to deceive many people. But the final and definitive proof is what follows. Slatzer claimed that he and Marilyn arrived in Tijuana at approximately 11:30 AM on the 4th. Driving time from Los Angeles to Tijuana is approximately three hours, so to arrive at 11:30 AM, Slatzer and his soon to be bride had to leave Los Angeles by 8:30 AM, a time when probably most of the shops and clothing stores in Los Angeles had yet to open. 

While researching for his tome, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, Donald Spoto uncovered proof of a shopping excursion by Marilyn and Natasha Lytess which occurred on the 4th of October in 1952. Marilyn wrote a check to JAX of Beverly Hills in the amount of $313. The check was dated October the 4th. Beneath her signature, she included her address at the time, 2393 Castilian Drive, the house in Hollywood Heights which she sub-leased along with Joe DiMaggio. Obviously Slatzer’s 'weekend wife' was not with him during that weekend. Slatzer parlayed a few photographs taken of him posing with her at the waterfalls into an amazing, fortuitously lucrative and virtually lifelong career. He was frequently accorded the status of expert and former spouse when he appeared as a guest on several television talk shows hosted by uninformed microphonists like Larry King, Geraldo Rivera and Phil Donahue. He invariably complained that Marilyn’s death was never properly investigated; he knew she did not commit suicide. Slatzer also contributed Marilyn’s Little Red Diary, her Red Book of Secrets, in which, according to him, she kept an accounting of the tiptop secrets revealed to her by John and Robert Kennedy. Slatzer’s memoir is demonstrably false, based on what is undeniably known about Marilyn’s real life. Those realities reduce Slatzer’s memoir generally, and his marriage claim specifically, to the level of a completely deceitful mendacity. During her tenure at UCLA, Marilyn's biographer Lois Banner worked with John Miner; and according to Banner, he admitted that he never interviewed Ralph Greenson, certainly a significant revelation. According to Banner, an unnamed source told Miner about the mysterious tapes. Were Miner's recollections a mere fabrication? Possibly. Also, Marilyn's sporadic journal entries (collected in the 2010 book, Fragments) contain no references to either Kennedy brother.  

Marilyn had become so famous and so powerful that omnipotent studio heads, Darryl Zanuck for instance, actually had feared her. But her worst adversary was always her mental illness. Marilyn had come to believe that Thorazine had been helpful in stabilizing her. It had begun to represent hope to her that she might be able to regain control of her often chaotic thought processes. However, Marilyn thought her magic was leaving her, but really it was just transitioning. Perhaps the only real question about her death is whether or not it was intentional. It’s been argued that Marilyn’s upcoming prospects were so promising, she couldn’t possibly have taken her own life. She supposedly had too much to live for. However, what was probably going on inside her mind might have had little correlation to those factors. When we consider her last moments on earth we need to focus on an unwell brain, not simply the enticing rewards of a movie star’s existence. Norma Jeane created and became a woman more fascinating than she believed possible. And in the face of her own failing mind, she battled to keep that creation alive—not for her, but for us. Indeed, Marilyn Monroe did exist. Even though the woman inside her was at times doubtful of that fact, we knew it better than she did. She spent so much of her energy, her own will, projecting an image of impossible beauty and ultimate joy. Yet, as the end neared, her experience of who she truly was drifted farther and farther from that ideal—until she found it impossible to pretend to be Marilyn anymore. —"A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death" (2018) by Donald R. McGovern

Friday, September 07, 2018

Marilyn's Last Sessions and Decline

An historic Italian atelier that helped make the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the iconic subway vent scene in The Seven Year Itch has appealed to the government for help to stave off closure. The family owned tailoring business, Sorelle Antonini or the Antonini Sisters, made the pleats for the ivory dress that blows up over Monroe’s thighs in the New York scene in the 1955 Billy Wilder romantic comedy. The dress – perhaps the best-known frock in cinematic history but once dismissed by its designer, William Travilla, as “that silly little dress” – was sold at auction in 2011 for $4.6 million. The difficulties facing Sorelle Antonini are part of a broader trend in Rome in which historic bookshops, frame-makers, furniture builders and other traditional businesses are being squeezed out by high rents and fewer customers. They are often replaced by ugly, garishly lit convenience stores and tourist trinket shops that are more profitable but much less picturesque. Convenience stores have dramatically increased in number in Rome’s cobbled centre in recent years. “In the last 10 years, the number of artisanal businesses in Rome’s historic centre has declined from 5,000 to less than 2,000,” said Giulio Anticoli, the president of the Association of Historic Shops. 

While it has gone down in history as one of cinema’s most iconic scenes, it was far from easy capturing the moment that the updraft lifted Monroe’s dress. Filming took place after midnight on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street, but after 14 takes and three hours, the producers were still not happy. The scene had to be shot again on a film lot in California. To preserve her modesty, Monroe wore two pairs of white knickers. Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

Gainesville, Florida, Collins Court Old Age Home (5 August 1962):  Gladys Baker didn’t remember the time she worked in the film business, Marilyn, the daughter she had – she had no memories of anything. When a psychiatrist at Rockhaven Sanitarium, where she was hospitalised, told her that her daughter had died, she didn’t react. She doesn’t remember the girl called Norma Jeane; she doesn’t know who Marilyn Monroe is. It only registers a year later. On a dark night she escapes by making a rope out of her sheets. She arrives in the Los Angeles suburbs clutching a Christian Science textbook under her arm. A Baptist minister finds her in his church and talks to her before Rockhaven Sanitarium staff come to pick her up. ‘Marilyn is gone,’ she says. Not Norma Jeane, the minister is very clear about that. ‘They told me when it happened. People need to know that I never wanted her to become an actress. All her career did was hurt her.’ Marilyn had mirrored her mother’s search for sexual perfection, her knack of catching men, then jettisoning them when they’d served their purpose. 

Dr. Greenson had seen the parallels between her role of the disturbed Nell in Something’s Got to Give and the brutal echoes of Gladys Baker’s unhappy, unforgettable life. The return of the lost mother, one of the few scenes Marilyn had filmed after her analyst had gone to Europe, was a replay of the moment in her childhood when she had seen her mother, whom she thought was dead, emerge from the mental institution. Perhaps, Milton Wexler thought, becoming a mother had tipped Gladys Baker over into madness, and perhaps having to play a mother in the film had done the same to Marilyn Monroe. A mother whom her children did not recognise and who would not reveal herself to them. Dr. Greenson never stopped thinking of himself as a father to Marilyn. On 20 August 1962, he wrote to Marianne Kris: ‘I was her therapist, the good father who would not disappoint her and who would bring her insights, and if not insights, just kindness. I had become the most important person in her life. There was something very lovable about this girl and we all cared about her and she could be delightful.’ He probably never acknowledged that his approach took him into areas far removed from Freudian theory, where, instead of father, life and love, the signature themes were mother, homosexuality, and death. With the freedom allowed by psychoanalytic transference, Marilyn said dark, unthinkable things on her tapes in the voice of someone who can’t pretend to be a nice little girl in love with Daddy any more. —"Marilyn's Last Sessions" (2013) by Michel Schneider

Michel Schneider was inspired by a 2005 article in the Los Angeles Times, containing a transcript (from memory) by John Miner, a detective involved in the original investigation into Monroe’s death, of tapes that he claimed were made for her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, shortly before she died in 1962. The tapes have never been found, but the publication of Miner’s transcripts proved controversial, which reflected the continuing public interest in Marilyn. Some experts on Monroe’s life pointed to factual anomalies in the text, outlined by Melinda Mason in her response, ‘Songs Marilyn Never Sang’. Schneider re-imagines in Last Sessions the relationship between Monroe and Greenson over the last two years of her life, and draws the intriguing conclusion that it was not her absent father that Monroe sought, but her lost, sick mother. While Schneider does offer some valuable insight into Monroe’s fatal liaison with Greenson, he – perhaps unwittingly – falls into the trap that so many authors do, of patronising Marilyn. Though Greenson acknowledges that ‘all their sessions had been like acts in a play,’ he seemed unsure of its meaning. ‘The curtain had fallen, and the enigma of Marilyn's self was intact.’ He realises that she ‘revealed herself only to mask herself again.’ Greenson is haunted by the memory of Marilyn and devastated by his failure to rescue her. Schneider also explores the popularity of psychoanalysis within the narcissistic atmosphere of Hollywood. ‘It’s not analysis that gets everywhere,’ Greenson believes, ‘it’s the movies.’ It was ‘a marriage of intellect and artifice’ that ‘came to an end when Hollywood itself did.’ Monroe’s decline coincided with the demise of the studio system which she had grown to distrust. Source: tarahanks.com

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Hell in Queens, The Last Hours of Lou Reed

Would you follow Lou Reed if he hadn't been in VU? As a lyricist Lou reached a new level post-1988. I think he's a better songwriter in this post-1988 period than he was in the sixties. Musically his 70's stuff somehow falters because he stopped playing lead guitar, and he suffered creatively by drinking too much. But once he gave up the booze and took up the guitar again everything was back on track for one of the greatest songwriters on the century. I say give 'How Do You Think It Feels?' a go in the Animal Serenade album and you'll know exactly what the VU would've sounded like had they stayed together through to the 2000's. —Post by Wick Pick » 28 Jan 2018


LOU REED: You know, when you say, “us and them mentality,” it was no joke, and it was every last centimeter with those people. DAVID FRICKE: You generally felt like you were outcasts. LOU REED: No that we were such outcasts. I'm just a songwriter but they were very stupid. I’ve always hated businesspeople. DAVID FRICKE: White Light/White Heat was considerated aggressive sound. LOU REED: It’s aggressive, yes. But it’s not aggressive-bad. —Interview to Lou Reed by David Fricke (December 8, 2009), New York Public Library

Rock icon Lou Reed was treated extensively with the drug Interferon before his death, a top American pathologist has revealed. However, contrary to music industry gossip, the rock star was not HIV-positive, according to Dr Michael Hunter. Instead, he was taking the drug to try to combat the liver disease Hepatitis C, which he contracted from dirty needles while injecting heroin early in his career. Dr Hunter is set to present his findings in a new episode of television documentary series Autopsy: The Last Hours of Lou Reed, which broadcasts in America, before being shown in the UK later this year, the Sunday Express reported. According to Dr Hunter, Reed had also hid a dark secret from his teenage years, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he underwent controversial electroshock therapy. Reed was given electroshock therapy aged just 17 because of mental illness - at New York psychiatric hospital described as 'Hell in Queens'. Lou’s sister explained that their “blazing liberal” parents were simply acting on poor advice from a doctor, who’d told them extreme measures might improve his “depressed, weird, anxious, and avoidant” nature. There is also a picture from Reed’s high school yearbook, which ran with the caption “Tall, dark-haired Lou likes basketball, music, and naturally, girls.”

As well as injecting heroin, Reed drank alcohol, chain smoked and was hooked on amphetamines, a potent nerve stimulant. To bring himself down, he took the prescription drug Thorazine. Dr Hunter said: 'The combined effect of this cocktail of uppers and downers would have caused a build-up of toxicity in Lou's liver.' But most significant of all was Reed's Hepatitis C and Dr Hunter said: 'Lou's medical records show that as far back as the early 1960s he was treated for hepatitis. What we know now is that over time, hepatitis C destroys liver tissue, causing scarring and creating the right conditions for cancer.' Source: www.dailymail.co.uk


“All the books about me are bullshit,” Lou Reed once said, when asked about Victor Bockris' biography. In a breezy tone, Reed’s first wife Bettye Kronstad writes of the five-year period, 1968-1973, between the end of the Velvet Underground and Reed’s third solo album Berlin. Kronstad makes an effort in Perfect Day to contextualize what’s happening with their personal life with the goings-on of Reed’s career. But at its most interesting and tragic, this book serves to inject the well-worn myths of Lou Reed the legend with humanity, and offers an insider’s perspective to Reed’s losses of personal control, his fears and anxieties, particularly during the Transformer era. The Velvet Underground have influenced artists of every stripe including filmmakers and one in particular, Todd Haynes, who signed up to direct a documentary about the pivotal group. Much like David Bowie and Iggy Pop themselves, “Velvet Goldmine” is heavily indebted to The Velvet Underground and everything they spawned. Elements of Lou Reed’s upbringing are used in the Iggy Pop character played by Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Bowie/Marc Bolan composite has a lot of Eno in him and Meyers’ band in the movie is called Venus in Furs, named after a momentous Velvet Underground song. In short, everything that influenced “Velvet Goldmine,” was essentially influenced by everything the VU wrought beforehand.

The announcement of Haynes' documentary was made official and perhaps more importantly, the doc is being made with the participation of Polygram Entertainment and Verve Label Group, the record labels that control The Velvet Underground’s music. So, there should be no shortage of music, behind the scenes footage and perhaps rare gems that have barely been seen or discovered. Look, everything I really love in music is kind of a six degrees of VU separation; almost all roads always lead back to Reed and co’s group. According to Deadline, the doc will “trace multiple threads leading to the band’s formation and their impact on music and global culture” and so it’ll be interesting, at least for VU dead heads, to see how much Haynes’ doc starts before the formation of the group and the period that pre-dates Andy Warhol and their first record. Additionally, and very critically, the doc has received the support of the very-selective John Cale and Laurie Anderson, the artist and partner of the Velvet’s late Lou Reed. Source: theplaylist.net