Thursday, November 2, 2023

Hard Purple Rain

There are many songs with the word “purple” in the title: Prince’s “Purple Rain,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience’ “Purple Haze,” Marvin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes,” Van Morrison’s “Purple Heather,” Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater,” and, of course, the oft-recorded standard, “Deep Purple,” originally written as an instrumental by pianist Peter DeRose in 1933. So, what then are we to make of the line in America’s “Ventura Highway,” “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by a purple rain”?

I have been asked this question many times, and my answer has as much to do with metrics as it does with the way lyrical content in rock music may be rooted in the way songwriters construct lyrics nonsensically and/or onomatopoeically. Consider Paul McCartney’s original words for “Yesterday”: “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby, how I love your legs...” In other words, nonsense words and phrases are substituted as syllabic “place holders” during the composition of the melody on the assumption that the actual set of lyrics will be finalized later. There is a wonderfully comic enactment of this process in David Byrne’s film True Stories (1987), in a scene in which John Goodman previews a song he is writing titled “People Like Us.” As he sings the unfinished song to a female friend of his, he is forced to substitute phrases and monosyllables for the unfinished lyrics while attempting to maintain the melody: “In 1950 when I was born, papa...I haven’t written this verse quite yet...Six feet tall in size 12, na, na, na, na, na, people like us.”

In the case of “purple rain,” a monosyllabic word (color) does not fit the metrical rhythm, for instance, “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by a blue rain.” Or, “Sorry boy, I’ve been hit by a green rain.” While “yellow rain” works metrically, the phrase may have certain unintended connotations. In The Grateful Dead's "Unbroken Chain," the phrases "blue light rain" and "lilac rain" appear, but given that "blue light rain" is "light," one cannot be "hit" by it, and "lilac rain" suggests a particular scent or aroma more than a kind of rain. Before America recorded “Ventura Highway,” of course, there was Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze,” “haze” in this context suggesting a confused state of mind, drugged, metaphorically “stoned.” More importantly, though, was Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” recorded in 1962. Without pushing the analogy too hard, “Ventura Highway” loosely employs the question-and-answer refrain pattern of Dylan’s song, as in “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by a purple rain/Aw, c’mon Joe, you can always change your name/Thanks a lot son, just the same.” The problem, though, is that “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by a hard rain,” does not work metrically, but also—and most importantly—because the songwriters are deliberately avoiding the explicit allusion to Dylan’s famous song. “Purple rain” thus avoids any direct allusion to "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," but like “hard rain," to be "hit" by "a purple rain" metaphorically suggests some kind of adversity, calamity, or hardship.

Thursday, October 26, 2023


After watching Alexandre O. Philippe's Lynch/Oz (2022), a multi-chaptered film essay that just started showing on The Criterion Channel exploring David Lynch's putative obsession with The Wizard of Oz (1939), I was reminded of Walter Benjamin's observation about the power of allegory: “Any person, any object, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else.” Allegory eradicates the detail: “it is . . . a world in which the detail is of no great importance.” Hence, for Benjamin, to allegorize is to perform an act of imposture: it replaces a particular detail by another with a similar structure. The appeal of The Wizard of Oz is due to its parabolic (allegorical) drift, meaning its conclusion contains a simple moral lesson: there’s no place like home. In Lynch/Oz, we are asked to believe that if you allegorize, say, a David Lynch film such as Blue Velvet (1986)—which, like The Wizard of Oz, has a character named Dorothy—it concludes with the same moral lesson as The Wizard of Oz: there’s no place like home. Such moments are presented as hard-earned insights, but hardly as enlightening as the filmmakers seem to believe. There are moments of keen insight, but they are few and far between, and there are discussions in which various sequences in Lynch's films are, oddly, compared to films other than The Wizard of Oz.

While it may be that The Wizard of Oz is one of David Lynch’s most “enduring obsessions,” so, too, is Sunset Boulevard (1950), a Hollywood movie (movie about Hollywood) that has been referenced many times in Lynch’s films. As any fan of the Twin Peaks series knows, Lynch’s character is named Gordon Cole, an allusion to the Paramount executive to whom Norma Desmond speaks on the telephone. And, in a strategic shot in Mulholland Drive, we see the street sign, “Sunset Boulevard.” Director Karyn Kusama, in perhaps the best essay in the film along with Amy Nicholson’s, recalls a screening of Mulholland Drive (2001) at New York’s IFC Center. In a Q&A afterward, Kusama reports Lynch said, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about The Wizard of Oz.” Certainly an over-exaggeration on Lynch’s part, but even if the film inhabits a permanent place in his psyche, his confession provides no passe-partout, or pass key, to understanding his work. Except, of course, by allegorization. In fact, I would argue that Sunset Boulevard is far more important to understanding Mulholland Drive than The Wizard of Oz.

Also, I am surprised that none of the commentators mentioned or discussed the sequence in The Straight Story (in which there is a character named Dorothy!) when Alvin invites the hitchhiking, runaway girl to shelter overnight at his camp. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, who has run away from home in order to protect Toto, happens upon Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan, in yet another iteration of the titular wizard), a charlatan fortune-teller. Like Alvin, Professor Marvel tells the runaway girl to go home because her family wants her and is worried about her. The Straight Story is a road movie, like The Wizard of Oz (if you want to make that argumentnot a stretch), and does conclude with a scene extolling the virtues of family. Beyond such broad comparisons, though, the two films are much different. 

In addition to Amy Nicholson and Karyn Kusama, whose contributions are the most interesting and insightful in the movie, the film’s essayists are John Waters, filmmakers Rodney Ascher (Room 237) Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (The Endless), and David Lowery (The Green Knight).

Showing now on The Criterion Channel.


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Sideshow Attractions

One of the great myths in the history of the cinema is that late nineteenth-century audiences, upon seeing the Lumière Brothers’ film L’arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station) (1896), ran in terror because they confused the moving image of a train with a real train coming directly at them. Although it never happened, the myth persists, in various forms, to this day. Apparently, the myth of the Lumière Brothers’ screening had circulated widely enough so that within a few years it was re-created in a film directed by Edwin S. Porter, Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902), in which a country yokel, or rube, Uncle Josh, dives for safety when he sees on the movie screen the image of a train speeding toward him.

When it comes to the cinema, it seems that at least some audience members are always running in terror from something. Writing about the preview of Freaks in early 1932, Melvin E. Matthews, Jr. cites Hollywood art director Merrill Pye, who recalled: “Halfway through the preview [of Freaks], a lot of people got up and ran out. They didn’t walk out. They ran out.” (Fear Itself: Horror on Screen and in Reality During the Depression and World War II. McFarland, 2009.) Thus, by the early 1930s, the myth popularized by “Uncle Josh at the moving picture show” had become less a matter of history than a form of “common knowledge,” defined by Robert B. Ray as an “evolving assemblage of myths, half-truths, lies, and approximations” (The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, p. 296).

Too often, “common knowledge” passes as film history. The notion that the appearance of sideshow attractions in a moving picture show “shocked” audiences so profoundly that they fled the theater appeals to the contemporary cognoscenti who believe they are far more sophisticated movie viewers than the rubes who emerged during the Uncle Josh era. But audiences at the time were not as naïve as the above anecdote about Freaks suggests. As Robert Bogdan has shown, freak shows had been a popular form of entertainment across the United States since 1840, in towns both big and small. Dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, “wild men,” fire eaters, microcephalics (“pinheads,” a word that peaked in usage from 1890 to 1940) and other sideshow attractions had been widely known for almost a hundred years before Tod Browning made Freaks. Moreover, the “geek,” or “sideshow freak,” was used as a central image in William Lindsay Gresham’s novel Nightmare Alley, published in 1946, just over a decade after the release of Freaks. The film adaptation of Gresham’s novel (1947) is now considered a classic.

In addition, many (though certainly not all) of the performers in Freaks were known in Hollywood and to popular audiences as well by way of carnival attractions such as Coney Island. For instance, the dwarf siblings who appear in Freaks, Harry and Daisy Earles (actual names Harry and Daisy Doll, members of the German-born Doll family) had been in California since the early 1920s. Harry Doll (“Hans”) had appeared in Tod Browning’s The Unholy Three in 1925, and all four of the Doll siblings would appear a few years later as Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Angelo Rossitto (“Angeleno”) had first appeared on screen in the John Barrymore silent, The Beloved Rogue (1927), and the conjoined twin sisters Daisy and Violet Hilton (“Siamese twins”), born in Britain in 1908, were exhibited as children in Europe and were widely known in the United States by the 1920s. The timid, affectionate, microcephalic Schlitze had been employed by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus since the early 1920s, and had made his film debut in Earle C. Kenton’s circus sideshow melodrama, The Sideshow(1928), starring Marie Provost, Ralph Graves, and “Little Billy” Rhodes. (“Little Billy” Rhodes would later appear in the Western spoof, The Terror of Tiny Town (1938), as well as The Wizard of Oz.) Prince Randian, the “living torso,” had lived in the United States since 1889, and was a popular Coney Island and circus attraction for decades.

The word “attraction,” used to refer to something “which draws a crowd, interesting or amusing exhibition,” dates from 1829. As Tom Gunning points out in his study of “the cinema of attractions,” the source of the word “attraction” is significant precisely because it is “a term of the fairground,” or carnival. While Gunning’s primary interest is in the roots of early cinema, he also observes, “The relation between films and the emergence of the great amusement parks, such as Coney Island, at the turn of the century provides rich ground for rethinking the roots of early cinema.” (“The Cinema of Attraction[s]: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde,” 383) I would suggest that the relation of films and the great amusement parks also provides a productive way of reimagining Freaks, and provides a way to get beyond the common knowledge perception of the film as a sort of simple épater le bourgeois. Born in 1880, director Tod Browning’s early life coincides with the invention of the cinema and its rise as a popular entertainment, even as his later life as a carnival barker coincides with the rise of the major amusement parks. A critical reappraisal would have to begin with the assumption that the cinema is a theatrical form of exhibition rather than merely a form of voyeurism.

Sunday, October 15, 2023


In the 1930s, “icky” referred to any popular music (jazz, big band, swing) that was considered overly “sweet.” For someone to dismiss a band’s music as “sweet” was a gesture of utmost contempt, meaning the music was “commercial,” that is, commercially compromised and “schmaltzy.” Decades later, the term “saccharine” had replaced “icky” to describe music that was overly sweet, although the term “saccharine” dates back to the late nineteenth century. The popular meaning of “schmaltz” is used to described something that is excessively sentimental, or “maudlin.” Maudlin, an alteration of Magdalene (as in Mary Magdalene) is used to describe someone who expresses sadness or sentimentality in an exaggerated way, as in a “maudlin drunk,” someone whose heavy alcohol consumption has caused them to be tearful, histrionic, and perhaps morbid. An analogous term for excessive sentimentality is “corn” or “corny.”

To be clear, an expression of sentimentality is not “saccharine.” It is “saccharine” when it is inauthentic, when it is manufactured authenticity. Both movie and music critics tend to disparage sentimentality, for reasons Charles Affron describes in Cinema and Sentiment (1982): “Art works that create an overtly emotional response in a wide readership are rated inferior to those that engage and inspire the refined critical, intellectual activities of a selective readership” (1). But as Affron correctly points out, it is the affective (emotional) power of cinematic narrative that has been responsible for the cinema’s massive popular appeal. “Their [the movies’] promptness to elicit feeling offends those who consider being moved equivalent to being manipulated, victimized, deprived of critical distance” (1).

Affron’s insight applies to popular music as well, which also has based its popular appeal on its affective or emotional power. The sentimentality expressed in songs such as The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” (for example) stands in stark contrast to songs that seek “to manufacture authenticity—to signify belief in the face of unbelief—through intense virtuosity . . . [these songs] create rampant ‘affective inflation’ that subverts its own efforts . . . and become audible expressions of what Lawrence Grossberg calls ‘sentimental inauthenticity.’” (Michael Jarrett, Sound Tracks, 82-83)


While I am fully aware that lists are made in order to provoke, I offer the following list only to illustrate the idea of commercially compromised music, of sentimental inauthenticity. Most all of them were commercially successful, but the reasons for that will have to be explored in a future post:


The Beatles – Love Me Do

Debbie Boone – You Light Up My Life

The Carpenters – (They Long to Be) Close to You

Vikki Carr – With Pen in Hand

Bobby Goldsboro – Honey

Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You

Cyndi Lauper – True Colors

John Lennon – Imagine 

Wayne Newton – Dreams of the Everyday Housewife

Minnie Ripperton – Lovin’ You

Tommy Roe – Sweet Pea


For Further Reading: H. Brook Web, "The Slang of Jazz." American Speech 12: 3 (October 1937), pp. 179-184.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

What the Dead Men Say

In Philip K. Dick’s short story, “What the Dead Men Say” (1964), businessman Louis Sarapis dies unexpectedly. According to the terms of his will, his corpse is to be deposited in a mortuary where his consciousness can be immediately (but only temporarily) restored, a post-mortem state similar to suspended animation. Dick termed this post-mortem state “half-life.” He later used the idea of “half-life” in one of his greatest novels, Ubik (1969).

Eventually, the consciousness of those in half-life begins to deteriorate, becoming garbled and incoherent—rather like the dying words of gangster Dutch Schultz, whose delirious non-sequiturs and novel collocations such as "French-Canadian bean soup" inspired William Burroughs to write a screenplay about Schultz's dying moments.

Consider the following songs as occurring during the singer’s half-life, or alternatively, concluding at the moment of death; "D.O.A." is the classic example. There is, of course, a certain degree of self-consciousness in these songs, unlike the last words of Dutch Schultz.

What the Dead Men Say:

Lefty Frizzell – Long Black Veil (1959)

Marty Robbins – El Paso (1959)

Porter Wagoner – Green, Green Grass of Home (1965)

Fleetwood Mac – Blood on The Floor (1970)

R. Dean Taylor – Indiana Wants Me (1970)

Bloodrock – D.O.A. (1971)

Al Kooper – Nightmare #5 (1971)

Saturday, October 7, 2023


Oscar Wilde reportedly said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Typical Wildean wit, perhaps addressed to the smart London world of snobs and social climbers, in which worth and station were not given, but asserted. They were asserted through notions about clothes (“fashion”), but also attitudes toward illness. As Susan Sontag observes in Illness as Metaphor (1978), “Both clothes (the outer garment of the body) and illness (a kind of interior decor of the body) became tropes for new attitudes toward the self.”

Sontag goes on to write:

Shelley wrote on July 27, 1820 to Keats, commiserating as one TB [tuberculosis] sufferer to another, that he has learned “that you continue to wear a consumptive appearance.” This was no mere turn of phrase. Consumption was understood as a manner of appearing, and that appearance became a staple of nineteenth-century manners. “Chopin was tubercular at a time when good health was not chic,” Camille Saint-Saëns wrote in 1913. “It was fashionable to be pale and drained; Princess Belgiojoso strolled along the boulevards…pale as death in person.” Saint-Saëns was right to connect an artist, Chopin, with the most celebrated femme fatale of the period, who did a great deal to popularize the tubercular look. The TB-influenced idea of the body was a new model for aristocratic looks—at a moment when aristocracy stops being a matter of power, and starts being mainly a matter of image. (“You can never be too rich. You can never be too thin,” the Duchess of Windsor once said.)

Indeed, the romanticizing of TB is the first widespread example of that distinctively modern activity, promoting the self as an image. The look of TB had, inevitably, to be considered attractive once it came to be considered a mark of distinction, of breeding. “I cough continually!” Marie Bashkirtseff wrote in the once widely read Journal which was published, after her death at twenty-four, in 1887. “But for a wonder, far from making me look ugly, this gives me an air of languor that is very becoming.” What was once the fashion for aristocratic femmes fatales and aspiring young artists became, inevitably, the province of fashion as such. Indeed, twentieth-century women’s fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of TB in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

For Additional Reading: Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978.


A Few Songs About Fashion And Self As Image:

David Bowie – Fashion

Lady Gaga – Fashion!

Green Day – Fashion Victim

The Kinks – Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Suede – She’s In Fashion

Kanye West – Dark Fantasy

ZZ Top – Sharp Dressed Man

Sunday, October 1, 2023

On the Road to Shambala

As is well-known, James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933) is the origin of Shangri-La, the fictional utopia nestled high in the remote mountains of Tibet. Apparently, President Franklin D. Roosevelt admired the novel—and perhaps the 1937 Hollywood film adaptation as well. In 1942, given increased German submarine activity along the Atlantic coast, the Secret Service, concerned about the President’s safety, requested FDR discontinue his frequent cruises aboard his yacht, the USS Potomac, along the eastern waterways. Seeking a retreat that would not interfere with the President’s medical conditions of asthma and polio, FDR's physician recommended a summer camp for federal employees as well as Boy Scout groups called Camp Hi-Catoctin, located in Maryland’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Upon seeing his mountain retreat in 1942, President Roosevelt named it Shangri-La. In 1953, several years after President Roosevelt’s death, the retreat was renamed Camp David by President Dwight Eisenhower, after his father and grandson, the name it retains to this day.

That the utopian promise represented by Shangri-La (Shambala) captured President Roosevelt’s imagination is certain. Pure speculation, but I wonder whether the film adaptation of Lost Horizon (1937), directed by Frank Capra, was perhaps more influential on Roosevelt in its conception of Shangri-La than the novel. Capra’s adaptation makes several (important) changes to the novel, one of them being to intensify Conway’s internal conflict about whether to stay in Shangri-La. In Hilton's novel, Mallinson is his protégé, vice-consul to Robert Conway’s role as consul in the British diplomatic service, but in the film adaptation he is replaced by George, Conway’s brother. In the film adaptation, there are two women who live in Shangri-La, Maria and Sondra. Maria’s role is similar to that of Lo-Tsen’s in the novel, but Sondra is introduced in order to develop a love interest for Conway. Robert Conway’s love for Sondra makes his decision to leave even more difficult: he is torn between his protective and filial affection for his younger brother and his romantic yearning for Sondra, along with his conviction that he has found his utopia and place in the world. Hence, the stakes for Conway are far higher in the adaptation than in the novel.

Perhaps the most important change in Capra’s film adaptation, though, is the addition of the character of Gloria, who replaces the kind but largely ineffectual missionary, Miss Brinklow. As the terminally ill, cynical consumptive, Gloria recovers her health, an indication of the restorative quality of the (magical) “air” in Shangri-La (mountain cures were a common belief). The magical quality of Shangri-La is represented by the High Lama, who dies at the age of 249. He was originally a Christian missionary monk who became converted to the east, although Shangri-La, with its motto of “moderation,” is ecumenical rather than dogmatic in its approach to spiritual tenets. I believe it was these features of Shangri-La, its restorative, healing powers, and its ecumenicalism, that appealed to the polio-stricken Roosevelt. I am sure this is not a startling new insight. Rather, what it does suggest is the power of Frank Capra’s film adaptation in influencing our (mis)conceptions about James Hilton’s Shangri-La. Certainly we can see it in popular music, such as “Shambala” (1973), in which the healing powers of Shangri-La are invoked: "Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain / With the rain in Shambala / Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame / With the rain in Shambala."

Here are some other songs inspired by Shangri-La/Shambala (not to mention the 60s pop group, The Shangri-Las):

Shangri-La – Matty Malneck and Robert Maxwell (1946) (covered by numerous artists)

Shangri-La – The Kinks (1969) (from the album Arthur)

Shambala – Daniel Moore (covered by B. W. Stevenson and The Three Dog Night, 1973)

Shangri-La – Electric Light Orchestra (from the album, A New World Record, 1976)

Our Shangri-La – Mark Knopfler (from the album, Shangri-La, 2004)


I must not neglect Johnny Mathis’ album, The Wonderful World of Make Believe (pictured, 1964), a collection of songs largely about imaginary, utopian places (Shangri-La, Camelot), the longing for a place in the world (I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, When You Wish Upon a Star), and the hope for everlasting love (Beyond the Sea, Beyond the Blue Horizon) – all fulfilled by a utopian Shangri-La.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Hollywood Before the Code

Depending upon which pop cultural dilettante you choose to read, “Pre-Code Cinema” is confined to the first few years of the sound era, the period from the industry adoption of sound in 1929 to the enactment of the Motion Picture Production Code that began on July 1, 1934. Some may expand the period to include Hollywood’s early silent era, arguing the pre-code era should include films made from 1921 through 1934. In any case, the term has become synonymous with a time period (narrowly) characterized by cinematic expressions of the forbidden, daring subject matter, and certain deliberate provocations. In this view, the Hollywood movies of the so-called “pre-code era” blended a daring social consciousness with a certain frankness in its portrayals of the American social scene, not unlike the “problem pictures” of the post-World War II era (e.g., The Best Years of Our Lives, The Pride of the Marines, Crossfire, Pinky, The Snake Pit). Warner Brothers in particular made such pictures in the pre-code era, with “hard-hitting,” “socially conscious” films such as I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Wild Boys of the Road.

However, unlike many of the “problem pictures,” the most daring pre-code films never made the yearly Top 25 box office hits list. For example, the “problem picture,” The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Thus, the designation, “Pre-Code Cinema,” seems perilously close to a marketing ploy, the assumption being that the daring, socially conscious films of the pre-1934 period are valuable precisely because they were, if not exactly avoided, neglected by moviegoers, who preferred more traditional, old-fashioned entertainment. The Criterion Collection’s forthcoming box set, Freaks / The Unknown / The Mystic: Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers, trades on the pre-code era as having a certain cultural cachet, the films’ significance a consequence of their daring, outré subject matter (a tautology), but—most importantly—due to the fact that they were neglected at the time of initial release (always an essential feature for any project of rehabilitation). I have seen two of the three films in the “Sideshow Shockers” box, Freaks (many times), and The Unknown (I have taught the film on a couple of occasions in order for students to study the performance of Lon Chaney, above), but I have never seen The Mystic (1925) and look forward to seeing it.

The reduction of “Pre-Code Cinema” to “forbidden” topics or to “hard-hitting” provocations impoverishes the films, ignoring how film genres evolved due, in part, to experimentation—the aforementioned films of Tod Browning were made possible because there was not yet a tendency toward genre consolidation or homogenization. If one wants to make the argument that “pre-code” Hollywood films differ from the films made after July 1, 1934, then it is possible to argue that genre homogenization (stereotypical narrative units, predictable conclusions, etc.) may have been an unintended consequence of the production code. It is naïve to believe that sex and violence vanished from Hollywood films after 1934; after all, sex and violence was (and is) Hollywood’s bread and butter, and the studio heads knew it. It is important to remember that the Motion Picture Production Code came about because the Hollywood studio heads endorsed it: the Hollywood film industry chose self-regulation as a way to protect itself from government regulation and censorship. “Pre-Code Cinema” simply names an earlier way of doing the same old business.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Matrix at 25

Filmed in the first half of 1998, released in 1999, The Matrix is now 25 years old. The movie that was once considered the exemplar of avant-garde pop cinema has become déclassé. In his Variety review of The Matrix Resurrections (21 December 2021), Peter Debruge observed, “a property that was once so appealing for being cutting-edge is now being mined for its nostalgia value.” Clearly, in the pop cinema world, a quarter of a century is a long time: heavy-handed symbols such as red pills, blue pills, and disposable batteries have aged as poorly as non-fungible tokens. Few of those born after 1999 understand what a phone booth was for, the purpose or function of a (telephone) “operator,” or why this “operator” has to search for an available telephone in order to enable a character’s “exit” from the matrix (or “insertion” for that matter). The dial-up internet access that informed The Matrix is now as antiquated as a 1960s telephone switchboard. The green numerals of the opening credits, inspired by archaic CRT computer monitors, now appear self-consciously arty, and the greenish hue that influenced the color scheme of the film now seems quaint and affected. The virtual reality plot can now be seen for what it is, a variation of the time-travel plot, or asynchronous parallelism—co-existing parallel worlds on different time tracks—one time track being “subjective” reality, the other “objective.” The cumbersome dial-up access to the matrix occasionally gave rise to narrative implausibility, for instance, the betrayal scene, in which Cypher secretly meets with Agent Smith: how is Cypher able to insert himself into the matrix without the aid of an operator, and subsequently extract himself from the matrix without an operator’s assistance? However, given that its plot shifts are as abrupt as someone cutting the hard line, and given that its visual stylizations (e.g., "bullet time") take precedence over narrative coherence, one lasting achievement of The Matrix has made asking such questions seem improper.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy (Conclusion)

After roughly a decade, Angelique Pettyjohn resumed her career as a supporting actress in the movies. In 1979, for instance, she appeared as an extra in the comedy, Going in Style, but by then she was better known as a Las Vegas showgirl. In the mid-1970s, she had been a featured showgirl in the Vive Paris Vive show at the Aladdin Hotel, and by 1978 had teamed with comedian Bob Mitchell in an “Olde Tyme Burlesque” show at the Maxim Hotel & Casino which, at the time, was the only fully nude strip club in Las Vegas. (The advertisement is taken from the Vegas Visitor paper, October 5-11, 1979.) She was photographed by Robert Scott Hooper for the February 1979 Playboy pictorial, “The Girls of Las Vegas,” and beginning in the early 1980s, she began to make appearances at Star Trek conventions, appearing in her Shahna costume from “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” selling signed pictures for fans. She also appeared in several movies in the 1980s, and also married for the fifth time (not fourth), a marriage that also ended in divorce (1984-1989). Dr. Flynn met her on the Star Trek convention circuit in the early 1980s and became a friend of hers, remaining so until her death on February 14, 1992, at age 48. It was his friendship with her that prompted him to write the book, The Sci-Fi Siren Who Dared Love Elvis and Other Stars, although by the time of the book's publication, in 2020, the subject of his book had been dead 28 years.

Despite the argument put forth in Dr. Flynn’s book, there is no factual evidence that Elvis Presley was in Las Vegas in March 1961. There is not one shred of factual evidence in Dr. Flynn's book proving without doubt that Dorothy Perrins was in Las Vegas in March 1961, eitherIn 1967, she did indeed appear in Clambake with Elvis Presley, that is factually true. And she may indeed be the mother of the man who now calls himself Elvis Aaron Presley, Jr. About that matter, I can say nothing. For additional information about Elvis's activities in 1961, there is a several hundred-page, exhaustively detailed book by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen, titled Elvis Day By Day (Ballantine, 1999), that provides additional evidence to support my claims. Ironically, Elvis's one child, Lisa Marie Presley (1968-2023) is now deceased, but the "zombie lie" of Elvis's supposed love children lives on.

Monday, September 18, 2023

A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy, Pt. 3

Unmentioned in any account of her life that I have come across, Angelique Pettyjohn had been married and divorced before she married Otho A. Pettyjohn, Jr. in May 1966. Her first marriage was to William Krebs (NOT his actual name; I am withholding his name out of respect for his privacy), which took place on April 6, 1963, in Elko, Nevada. Both of them were 20 years old. Did the couple impulsively choose to elope? The marriage lasted only two months. She and William Krebs separated shortly after the marriage, on June 10, 1963, with William Krebs, the plaintiff, filing for divorce on October 8, 1963, on grounds of “Extreme Cruelty.” The Certificate of Divorce indicates her address as Salt Lake City, where she may have been living with her parents. I am not precisely sure how “Extreme Cruelty” was defined by the courts sixty years ago, but after two months married to her, he had apparently endured all he could take, and the plaintiff’s divorce petition was granted under “Absolute” conditions.

Interestingly, the divorce certificate lists their “Kind of occupation or business” as “university,” which I take to mean they were university students, not necessarily university employees. They possibly may have met as undergraduate students. Dr. Flynn avers that Dorothy Perrins spent two years attending Salt Lake Community College in the early 1960s, where she took drama classes and showed a keen interest in acting (p. 79). However, taking classes there would have been impossible since Salt Lake Community College did not exist in the early 1960s. What is now Salt Lake Community College was, until 1967, Salt Lake Trade Technical Institute. In 1967, by which time Dorothy Perrins' acting career had begun, it changed its name to Utah Technical College at Salt Lake. It did not become the Salt Lake Community College until 1987. She could not have enrolled in the Salt Lake Trade Technical Institute in order to study drama, since the institute’s aim and mission was strictly limited to those entering trade and technical vocations.

I found the name and picture of “William Krebs” in the 1962 Utah State University year book (called the Buzzer), but I did not, however, find any mention of Dorothy Perrins in the Buzzer or other year books of the time period. Pure speculation, but perhaps she and her first husband met at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, which is located about 67 miles from Salt Lake City. Although established as an agricultural college, she could have taken courses in drama and dance at Utah State if she were enrolled there as a student. Alternatively, it is possible she studied drama at the University of Utah, much closer to home. In any case, I do believe that she met her first husband while enrolled in courses on one of those two campuses.

In addition, an article published in the May 2, 1967, Salt Lake City Tribune, titled “Former Salt Lake Girl Makes Good in Films,” unmentioned in Dr. Flynn’s book, reveals that she returned home to see her family in Salt Lake after her film career had begun just a year earlier. She had only just finished filming Clambake with Elvis Presley about a week before the article was published. (She appears in a Clambake lobby card above next to actor Bill Bixby on her right.) The article tells us that she had driven her new sports car from California to Salt Lake “for a visit with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Claude Herbert, and two sisters, at 549 Colorado St. (1340 West).” The 549 Colorado St. address is the same address as listed in the 1950 census, and it is the street address listed in her mother’s 1973 obituary notice as well.

As for the expected “reunion” with her lover Elvis during the making of Clambake, we are told by Dr. Flynn that “Elvis didn’t remember the eighteen-year-old showgirl that he met so many years earlier when they were re-introduced” (p. 74). “Met” is a profoundly misleading choice of euphemism after the reader had been informed in the preceding chapters that she and Elvis not only had a sexual encounter in Las Vegas, but subsequently spent several days together in Hawaii while Elvis was filming Blue Hawaii. While he was making Clambake a mere six years later, we are asked to believe that Elvis has no memory of her whatsoever. If it is not clear by now, the alleged brief "love affair" she had with Elvis Presley is a hoax.

The newspaper article also indicates that, among other roles, she had appeared as the “bad girl” in Tale of the Cock, a film directed by John Derek and David Nelson starring Don Murray and John Derek’s then wife, Linda Evans, released in 1967. Tale of the Cock was re-released in 1969 under the title Childish Things, and so far as I know, the film is available only on VHS under the title Confessions of Tom Harris. I believe Tale of the Cock, filmed in 1966 and released the next year, is the first movie in which Dorothy Perrins appeared billed as “Angelique Pettyjohn.” Interestingly, her character’s name in the film is “Angelique.”

By 1967, Angelique Pettyjohn seems to have begun a career in Las Vegas as well. The newspaper article states that she was to appear “in a musical at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas for a 12-week engagement beginning May 9.” The “musical” referred to here is, I suspect, Minsky’s Burlesque, a “family burlesque” show which was a popular entertainment at the Silver Slipper for many years. (Incidentally, it was Harold Minsky who introduced the topless showgirl to Las Vegas, at the Dunes Hotel in 1957.) If the “musical” in which she was appearing opened on May 9, a 12-week run would conclude on August 1. At the time of the newspaper article’s publication, she had not yet filmed “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” filmed later that year during the week October 17-24, 1967, airing on television January 5, 1968.

Later that year, in December 1968, filming began on the AIP biker picture Hell’s Belles, in which Angelique Pettyjohn appeared as the female co-star. The movie opened in Los Angeles on April 16, 1969. Although reviews of the movie were mixed, the April 8, 1969, Daily Variety and the April 16, 1969, Los Angeles Times both considered the film to be a superior motorcycle drama, with both reviews praising co-star Angelique Pettyjohn’s performance, one of the rare instances of her performance being singled out for praise. Hell's Belles opened just over a year later in New York, on April 29, 1970, by which time her film career, for the next several years, had essentially come to an end.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy, Pt. 2

According to Dr. Flynn, Dorothy Perrins graduated high school early, at age 17, immediately moved to Las Vegas, and immediately became a showgirl. Serendipitously, shortly after she arrived, and a few days after her eighteenth birthday on March 11, 1961, Elvis showed up in Las Vegas looking for some action, and immediately singled her out from the many pretty girls swirling around him. Upon learning she was a virgin, he was immediately attracted to her, and subsequently had sex with her. She became pregnant and subsequently gave birth to a son, who now calls himself Elvis Aaron Presley, Jr.

There is no evidence given to support this series of events other than her own testimony, as my previous post makes clear. Moreover, there is additional evidence that exists, in print, that contradicts it. The Magnum Opus Con 4 Convention Program from 1989 contains a short, one-page biography of Angelique Pettyjohn stating that she first moved to Las Vegas at age 19: “Her love affair with audiences . . . began at age 19 when she left Utah to find summer work in Las Vegas.” Which is to say, summer 1962, contradicting the information in Dr. Flynn’s book, that she moved there at age 17 early in 1961. The program biography suggests that her initial move to Las Vegas was not a permanent one, essentially temporary summer employment. I believe this to be true, and will indicate why I think so.

But to return to Dr. Flynn’s account, the romance between Dorothy and Elvis doesn't end with an early morning kiss goodbye on the streets of Las Vegas after a brief session of lovemaking. We are told by Dr. Flynn that Elvis, while lounging around backstage waiting to go on for the U.S.S. Arizona charity event in Honolulu on March 25, phoned Dorothy Perrins in Las Vegas and asked her to fly to Hawaii to spend some time with him during the filming of Blue Hawaii. She, of course, said yes, and immediately boarded a plane for Oahu. As I mentioned before, we are not told when she gave Elvis a slip of paper with her name and phone number on it, but this is a minor omission in a confabulation that is so utterly preposterous that it does not merit any further discussion. She did not fly to Hawaii to spend a few days with Elvis while he was filming Blue Hawaii.

But we may have already suspected what happens next, and it comes as no surprise. Having become pregnant with Elvis's child, now enters the villain of the story, although his sudden entrance from stage right should come as no surprise either: Colonel Tom Parker. As Elvis's handler, he has Elvis’s career to think about, and no eighteen-year-old tramp from Las Vegas is going to destroy it. We are told that Dorothy “managed to contact the Colonel and set up a meeting through a series of backdoor maneuvers worthy of a top spy. Her number one concern was she didn't want Elvis to know of her pregnancy, until Parker agreed” (pp. 64-65). Secretly, behind Elvis’s back, she and the Colonel worked out a deal in which she would move into a small apartment on the far south side of Chicago, “modestly furnished and stocked with everything the expectant mother would need” (p. 66). So accommodating and sentimental was the Colonel that near Christmas 1961“he brought her a small fake tree” (p. 67). Of course, everything depended upon her keeping her mouth shut, and being the good girl she was, she did. Although eighteen, unmarried, and alone, she was apparently transported by the Colonel to the far south side of Chicago and put up in an apartment all by herself. We are never told the month she was transported to Chicago and installed in an apartment in the south side of Chicago, whether her parents knew of her pregnancy or whether her parents were informed of the arrangement. In fact, although she was barely eighteen, they are completely absent from narrative, vanishing from the narrative as soon Dorothy graduates high school “early" and hightails it to Las Vegas. Fast forward to the day her baby boy is born: Christmas Eve, 1961. Given up for adoption, the boy is adopted by circus people and given the name Phillip Stanic. Years later, he would legally change his name to Elvis Aaron Presley, Jr.

Why the south side of Chicago, of all places? Why an anonymous hospital in Gary, Indiana? The latter location is explained by Dr. Flynn: the Colonel “secretly bribed several officials at a nearby hospital” located in Gary. (p. 66). Bribed these corrupt officials to do what, to keep the whole thing quiet? Destroy the birth certificate, pretend the whole thing never happened? As should be increasingly apparent, Dorothy Perrins’ claim about her brief affair with Elvis is a fantastic confabulation designed to cover up the father’s true identity, whoever that person may be.

Assuming she ever gave birth to a child in the first place.

Marty Lacker:

There's some guy making the rounds of the tabloid TV shows saying he's the love child of Elvis and Dolores Hart, who played his girlfriend in Loving You and King Creole. She left show business in 1963 and became a nun, and this guy claims she dropped out because she was pregnant and that she kept quiet about it for the love of Elvis and his career. All of us were around all the time then, and if something like that had happened, Elvis would have talked about it He would have been scared as hell. (Nash, Elvis and the Memphis Mafia, pp. 76-77)

One thing we do know, with absolutely certainty, is that Dorothy Perrins never became a nun.

Let us flash forward to May 11, 1966, Dorothy Perrins’ twenty-third birthday, her alleged fling with Elvis now five years in the past. On this day, she wed Otho Albert Pettyjohn, Jr., and in less than a year will henceforth become known as Angelique Pettyjohn. They met in Las Vegas, Dr. Flynn tells us, Dorothy Perrins having resumed her career as a showgirl, and he, unsurprisingly, a gambler, but a nice gambling man though, from Glendale, California. My research indicates that Otho A. Pettyjohn Jr. was born on December 11, 1921, and by 1966 had been married and divorced twice. He was 44 years old when he married Dorothy Perrins; he was a World War II veteran who would die at age 59 in 1980. Her marriage to Mr. Pettyjohn would last slightly over two years, by which time her film and TV career was established and her most famous role, Shahna, in “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” was behind her. She was 24 years old when she played Shahna, and as Fate would have it, her life was half over. The marriage was dissolved two years later, finalized on May 31, 1968. By this date her movie and TV roles had become fewer, the production budgets more parsimonious. Her film credits vanish for about a decade after 1970, although she did resume her career in 1979, as an extra in the Las Vegas sequence in the George Burns comedy, Going in Style. Dr. Flynn states that she made a film released in 1974 titled Bordello, but I have been unable to find out much information on this film. I am not especially inclined to do so.

To be continued...