paramount theater marquee

My love affair with movies may have begun with, though not necessarily at, the Paramount Theater in my hometown in Virginia. It’s no accident that the Paramount shared its name with a Hollywood studio; in the early days of the movies, studios owned theaters throughout the country, a practice eventually stopped because of antitrust laws. The Paramount in my hometown was built in 1931, when theaters were palaces, or anyway designed to resemble palaces, so as to treat the little people, then in the grips of the Great Depression, to a fleeting sense of grandeur. The grandeur of the Paramount had dimmed by the time I first saw a movie there forty years later, though the marquee alone, with its hundreds of blinking bulbs, thrilled me as a child whenever I glimpsed it from the backseat of my parents’ car. It made me think of the nightclub marquees I’d seen in Elvis Presley movies on television, quick establishing shots that cut to Elvis performing onstage for girls who, driven wild by the music, spontaneously danced on tabletops and spent the night in jail after the compulsory brawl. There were no such clubs where I grew up, as far as I knew; the Paramount was as close as I could get. From the ticket booth, just below the marquee, a long, wide corridor with a slight incline led to the concession stand and, just beyond that, the theater, and to walk the length of the corridor, ascending step by step, was to have a growing sense of anticipation. The carpeting was dark red, almost burgundy. The only light came from tiered chandeliers with dangling glass beads, and, on either wall, there were gilded-framed murals of powdered-wigged, eighteenth-century aristocrats, shades of Gainsborough. In later years, before the Paramount went out of business (it’s since been restored and reopened), tickets were sold inside at the concession stand, where, when I was child, posters of movie stars were sold: Brigitte Bardot in black leather on a chopper, Raquel Welch in the fur bikini she wore as a cavewoman in One Million Years BC. Victoria Vetri, a Playboy Playmate of the Year, likewise appeared in a fur bikini as a cavewoman in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, the first movie I remember seeing at the Paramount; and Vetri, as well as Welch, stirred things in me that, as a Christian child, I wasn’t sure were right with God.

Then, when I was in middle school, I decided that God was a myth. I had cousins who were missionaries. My grandfather was a deacon at his church. My great-grandfather had been a preacher. A declaration of atheism in a family like mine was unthinkable, and that was only the beginning of a period in which I was routinely picked up by the police for stealing, vandalizing, truancy. My parents were perplexed. What had happened to the promising boy who’d once spoken on the radio about history, who’d won ribbons at art shows for his paintings, who’d written and performed a play that received notice in the local newspaper? He was lonely, for one thing. Around the time he hit puberty, his classmates decided he was “weird” and largely shunned him. Meanwhile, he was bored by school, bored by his town, and bored by pop culture, which allegedly catered to people his age. The bold, groundbreaking bands of the sixties had long since ceded to the flaccid Top Forty of the seventies, including numerous covers of fifties hits (Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” as performed by Linda Ronstadt is a particularly egregious example), and television was dominated by puerile sitcoms like Happy Days, which, despite being set in the fifties, featured feather-haired actors in bellbottoms.

In fact, there was widespread nostalgia for the fifties at the time, and it began, if memory serves, with American Graffiti, the brainchild of George Lucas, who would soon direct another exercise in pre-sixties nostalgia, Star Wars. Even punk rock, which broke out in 1977, the year Star Wars was released, longed, in a sense, for the fifties, but in a very different way than Happy Days or American Graffiti (which was technically set in 1962). Rather, punk palpated the danger of the fifties, as embodied by rock & roll, the scourge of respectable citizens in the days of Ike and Mamie. Punk blamed the decline of rock & roll on the youth of the sixties, the hippies in particular, and the philosophy of punk picked up where the hippies left off and added what the hippies left out. Only the most sentimental child could ever have imagined that “love” and “peace” could amount to the basis for a revolution, or, once such notions had proved ineffectual, take up arms against the state. Punk’s protest was of the aesthetic, not the literal, sort. No marching in the streets, thank you very much. Aggression, from the start, was frankly admitted but confined to cabaret.

Punk was a late, and badly needed, alternative to the bland pop culture of the seventies. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The media dismissed it as a nihilistic British fad soon to implode, and when the media, seemingly proved right, declared punk dead, it went underground, submerged where no small-town kid in Virginia had a prayer of finding it—not without guidance. I lacked that guidance. I likewise lacked guidance when it came to books. There were writers, such as Jack Kerouac, who undoubtedly would have appealed to me as a teenager, but I knew nothing about them. I read a lot as a child, but by the time I was in middle school I had the same complaints about books that many, if not most, kids have now: They’re so dull, so boring; I can’t concentrate. My attention span had been fried by television, which I watched constantly, even though I hated it.

But movies could hold my attention, and the seventies were a great time for American movies. I saw every new release I had time and money to see, just because it was something to do, though I initially favored horror movies, as is fairly common with middle-school kids. The changes in the adolescent body, changes that involve streaming blood and goopy ejaculations and hair growing where it never grew before, are mirrored by bloody, goopy, hairy movie monsters. They’re freaks, just as many teens experience themselves as freaks, including the seemingly well-adjusted, who strictly adhere to the draconian codes of adolescent society, since to do otherwise is to risk being viewed as freaks. But horror movies hold special significance for kids who are branded by others as freaks, as happened with me, and for boys there’s an element of establishing bravery by facing, without flinching, scenes of gore that would have caused nightmares a few years before. In a strange way, horror movies are a preparation for manhood, if manhood is still measured by fearlessness, as I believe remains the case. Boys innately recognize that they may one day be called upon to act in emergency situations in which timidity can cost time and lives, situations that require brute strength, and that can’t be willed away by the wishful thinking of the post-feminist enlightened. Gender parity has its limits.

This is not to say that women are timid or they lack brute strength or that men can’t be as complex emotionally as women. In fact, men onscreen in the seventies had never been more emotionally complex, following the precedent set by Marlon Brando in 1951, when he appeared as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Brando, as Stanley, was crude, yet canny. He exploded in rages, yet he openly wept. He was domineering, yet childishly dependent on his wife, whom he swept off to bed after bellowing Hey, Stella! in Streetcar’s most indelible scene, and when Stella was seen to wake in the morning, it was blatantly clear that she and Stanley had rocked the bedsprings hard. Brando was carnal in a way that no man in movies had ever quite been, a pagan in a world of Christians, an animal and proud of it. He paved the road for the sixties more than any other male celebrity of his time, save for Elvis Presley and Jack Kerouac, and by the seventies his slice-of-life style of acting, derived from his study of the Method, flourished on the American screen, as practiced by such stars as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, and Warren Beatty. These were the actors, among others, who made going to the movies worthwhile, I decided, and not simply a way to pass the time. I had outgrown horror movies. They served a purpose at twelve that they couldn’t serve at fourteen. An oft-quoted passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians strikes me as relevant: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.”

And so I gave up childish movies. I wasn’t a man, though manhood was imminent, and I wanted to see movies that reflected concerns that would soon be mine, and in some ways were already mine, with my sexual longings, precocious sense of alienation, and fears about the future as the grownup world pressed ever closer. I wanted role models. I didn’t lack them in life, but I didn’t admire the adults I knew in life the way I admired certain actors who showed me by example what it meant to be a complex man, as I figured I was fated to be. I started seeing older movies I couldn’t see on television, movies featuring my favorite actors, at the local repertory cinema (there was only one), sometimes seeing them over and over, night after night, the youngest person in the audience. Robert Altman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye was one of those movies; I was so taken with Elliott Gould’s offbeat performance as Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s recurring gumshoe, that I wore a suit and tie for a week in homage. The Last Picture Show was another movie I saw again and again at the repertory cinema; I strongly identified with Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms, backwater Texans both smitten with Cybill Shepherd, the beautiful blonde classmate who spurns them, just as I’d been spurned by a beautiful blonde classmate. Shepherd went on to spurn Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, a movie I saw when it was first released, asking an adult stranger to accompany me inside the theater, since Taxi Driver was rated R and my parents wouldn’t allow me to see R-rated movies. There was no carding at the repertory cinema, which was owned by progressive eccentrics; and so when, say, Shampoo played, I would, night after night, slip out of my bedroom window, run to the nearby theater, and walk home feeling brokenhearted for Warren Beatty, who had been dumped by Julie Christie in the movie’s final scene as Paul Simon cooed sadly on the soundtrack. It never occurred to me that Beatty’s womanizing character was “shallow,” as my high-school guidance counselor once characterized him, surprised that I’d seen Shampoo in the first place. “He got what he deserved,” she told me. But nobody deserved to get dumped by Julie Christie, and I now think my guidance counselor was moralistic and so may have missed the point of the movie: much like America at the end of the sixties, Christie’s character pines for stability after a walk on the wild side, and she opts for a wealthy Republican businessman over Beatty’s character, who personifies the swinging sixties and realizes too late that the party is over. As if the point could be overlooked, most of Shampoo takes place on November 5, 1968, the day that Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s erstwhile number-two man, was voted into the White House.

All of the movies I’ve cited as adolescent favorites were rooted in recent history. The Long Goodbye, an updating of film noir, sardonically commented on the changes in American culture since the heyday of tough-guy pulp. The Last Picture Show, set in the early fifties, dealt with the fraying of American communal ties, in part due to the arrival of television. Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle, was a disenfranchised Vietnam vet; and the Vietnam War was a marginal character in Shampoo, literally tuned out by its human characters until it became the catalyst for the movie’s conclusion. Clearly, I liked movies about history (though, as a kid, I didn’t believe recent history counted as history), just as I liked movies about sex (though the sexual content didn’t have to be overt to beguile me).

Hence I was baffled by the phenomenal success of Star Wars, in which sex in no way figured, save perhaps for the chaste kiss given by Princess Leia to Luke Skywalker, who, though older than me at the time I saw Star Wars, seemed unburdened by lust. Pure at heart, Luke sought The Force—that is, God—and when he found it, he at last became effective in a holy war in which he served as a fighter pilot, blowing up other pilots of futuristic flying machines. Yet Star Wars was set a long time ago, in a galaxy far,  far away, so that anything in it was only futuristic in the sense that, on Earth, it hadn’t yet been seen, except less impressively in comic books and Saturday-matinee serials from the thirties and forties. Apparently, the post-Hiroshima fifties were already too fraught for George Lucas, who guessed correctly that Americans longed for pre-sixties “innocence,” before the U.S. was jolted by assassinations, an unjust war, racial and generational conflict, and the erosion of traditional morality by the sexual revolution. Star Wars was presexual; where its comic-book and Saturday-matinee sources featured unwittingly kinky bondage scenarios and suggestively attired women, the body of Princess Leia was covered in loose-fitting white from neck to toe, while her breasts were bound and moved, symbolically, to the mounds of hair that framed her face—look here, not there! Meanwhile, among the thousands of young actresses who could’ve played Princess Leia—indeed, the majority of the Star Wars cast was, in 1977, unknown—Lucas settled on Carrie Fisher, a real-life Hollywood princess whose famous parents, celebrated for being squeaky clean, had undergone a very public divorce after her father took up with the slutty (in the minds of the Eisenhower-era bourgeoisie) Elizabeth Taylor, and Carrie Fisher’s biggest role, before Star Wars, was as the Beverly Hills teenager who nonchalantly propositioned Warren Beatty in Shampoo with “You wanna fuck?” Did George Lucas take none of that into account when he cast Carrie Fisher? Regardless, it provided part of the reactionary Star Wars subtext. Behold, in white befitting a nun, a girl whose father slept with a slut, a girl who became an onscreen slut when she seduced, in another movie, that well-known slut Warren Beatty. There are no sluts in this movie, including Han Solo, who, as a pirate, should be a slut, but he isn’t. He’s innocent, and so is everybody else, except for the faceless bad guys, especially the main bad guy who’s dressed in black and voiced by a Negro, and even he’s not a slut. He wants to take over the universe, but he isn’t motivated by sex; he’s just evil, and his universe isn’t your universe so don’t be too afraid; this all happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, and you can defeat evil if you believe in God and you’re innocent. You are innocent, even if you’re an adult. Weren’t you much happier when you were a child? Yes you were, and you can be a child again. It’s as easy as cheering for the good guys!

And adults cheered. Adults swarmed to see Star Wars, as I’m sure they didn’t swarm to see Saturday-matinee serials in the good old days. Nothing about Star Wars interested me—its mysticism, its sexlessness, its ahistoricism—and though I could understand why grade-school kids would enjoy it, I was baffled by the enthusiasm of anyone over the age of twenty, and that was being generous.

I didn’t see Star Wars at the Paramount, incidentally. It opened at the first multiplex in my hometown: a charmless, red-brick box built not long before the Paramount seemingly closed its doors for good. They were certainly closed when, at eighteen, I left Virginia to study acting, first in Washington, D.C.,  then in New York City. It was no longer enough for me to simply watch movies; I wanted to make movies, to follow in the footsteps of Brando and his artistic progeny, to go from fan to fellow.


One of my teachers in New York, Mira Rostova, had coached Montgomery Clift, who was almost as revered in the fifties as Brando. Another of my teachers, Frank Corsaro, became the artistic director of the Actors Studio, the Method mecca, where, every Friday morning, I observed sessions. I did Shakespeare Off-Off Broadway, appeared in numerous short films directed by students at NYU and Columbia University, and shot my first professional movie role in Nova Scotia as one of the leads in a low-budget thriller. I’m afraid I drove the directors of that movie (there were two of them) crazy with my Method affectations. But I was constantly, even when I wasn’t performing, trying to improve as an actor, to build up a bank of knowledge and experience in order to better play the challenging parts I was sure were forthcoming. I started to read for the first time since I was a child, having been told that all actors should be familiar with books and literature, and of course I continued my film education, discovering the work of European masters like Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, and Godard at Manhattan repertory cinemas. The VHS player, which became a household staple shortly after I arrived in New York, caused most repertory houses to close, however, so that later, when I moved to Los Angeles, I was a regular at Jerry’s Reruns, an independent video store with an impressive stock of old and rare titles. It wasn’t uncommon for me to rent five or six movies at Jerry’s and head home to watch them all, back to back, in a single sitting, though some I watched for research purposes, since I was now being paid to write screenplays. This began when I dashed off a screenplay for Roger Corman, the so-called King of the Bs, who was so pleased with the result that he asked me to write another script, and another, and another. Soon other producers were hiring me as a screenwriter, and every script I wrote included a role for me, though I was seldom permitted to play the role. My presence, as the screenwriter, was an irritant for many filmmakers, as if they were raising a child I’d fathered, which they wanted to believe they’d fathered, a fiction they could only maintain if I weren’t, literally, in the picture. Thanks, but no thanks, for the DNA. Here’s a little money. Now scram.

I expected a rough ride in the movie business, even before I left Virginia, so my growing disappointment with the business had nothing to do with personal hardship. Rather, the kind of movies I loved—smart, mature movies with complex characters—were, year by year, becoming rarer and rarer, so that finally they were all but extinct. The critical and financial success of sex, lies and videotape had kicked off an independent-film boom, but the new generation of “serious” filmmakers wasn’t up to the task of sustaining it. There were, naturally, exceptions—Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarrantino, Todd Solondz—but “independent film” quickly became a genre unto itself, with its uninspired and uninspiring mise-en-scène, self-consciously quirky characters, and an ironic stance on everything except, perhaps, politics, which were typically of the earnest progressive sort. This genre was a smash at Sundance, but it didn’t register, by and large, with mainstream audiences. I sympathized. I didn’t much like it, either.

But I equally disliked the new breed of blockbuster favored by mainstream audiences as well as by movie-industry professionals. I was always sure, as a teenager, that the industry was full of people like me, people who shared my taste in movies and much else, but what I met instead in L.A. were a great many people who loved fantasy and science fiction; who cared little or nothing about film history, or history, period; who read comic books, if they read anything at all; who preferred gadgets and all things technical to flesh-and-blood encounters. I met a great many nerds, in other words, people who hadn’t progressed emotionally far beyond middle school, as reflected in a sensibility that, to my expanding surprise, had been adopted by the population at large, regardless of age. Jocks and sorority queens, gangbangers and headbangers, worker bees and corporate warriors: maybe they weren’t nerds and never had been, but they adored their gadgets, comic-book heroes, and fantasy and science-fiction movies as much as any socially and sexually awkward twelve-year-old. Before Jerry’s video store closed, I would regularly, while driving to it, pass the Vista Theater at the junction of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, where I saw long lines of people in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and older waiting to buy tickets for moves like Spiderman, X-Men, Batman Begins, for movies based on the Harry Potter books or the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, for feature-length cartoons. The adults in those lines easily outnumbered the teens and tweens. Of course I knew that kids alone couldn’t account for the enormous success of movies made for kids, but it was one thing to read about box-office figures and another to see the grownups, unaccompanied by kids, who inflated them.

Still, criticism wasn’t permissible, as I learned firsthand one night at a party where people in their thirties and forties were discussing the just-released IronMan. Those who hadn’t seen Iron Man queried those who had. Oh, it was great, they were told; it was fantastic. Someone asked if I was going to see it, and I said simply, testing the waters, “I don’t see movies made for children.” A silence of shock and palpable irritation followed. One or two people nervously laughed. Except for that laughter, it was a bit like declaring myself an atheist to my family all those years ago. I never overtly criticized anyone for wanting to see Iron Man, but the effect was the same, and it’s the same, I’ve observed, when technology is criticized. No one wants to be considered a dinosaur, a party pooper, so that any misgivings are usually voiced after a preamble that, as I’ll burlesque it here, goes something like: “Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I think computers and cellphones and the iPod are all just wonderful! I couldn’t live without them! But don’t you think maybe, possibly, we’re all a little alienated? Probably not, I know! But maybe, possibly, if I can go on for a minute without giving you the impression that I’m against those things, which I’m definitely not…!” Adults weren’t so timid in the past, but, then, the children of the past didn’t hold the cultural power they do now. I’m reminded of  “It’s a Good Life,” a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, in which a despotic boy with godlike powers, including the ability to read minds, threatens to banish to “the cornfield” anyone who thinks of contradicting him. (Interestingly, the boy prefers the natural world to the world of machines—though he still watches television, which he telepathically programs to serve his whims—and the episode concludes with a man trying to assert his forbidden manhood and spark an insurrection, only to have the boy turn him into a jack-in-the-box.)

The Twilight Zone is, of course, fantasy. I’m not unilaterally opposed to fantasy, or comic books or science fiction, though I can’t help but wish for equally popular alternatives. Latter-day TV shows like Mad Men and The Sopranos are often said to fill the cultural vacuum left by adult-minded movies, and for many that’s no doubt true, but it isn’t true for me. I’ve never seen a TV show as visually stunning as Days of Heaven, another movie I stole out of the house to watch, night after night, as a teenager. I’ve never been as devastated by TV show as I was by Chinatown, The Deer Hunter, and Who’ll Stop the Rain, all of which I likewise saw again and again; and I’ve never identified with an actor on a TV show the way I identified with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, Al Pacino in Serpico, and Sam Bottoms in Apocalypse Now. (I loved that Bottoms’s character, on finally reaching the jungle enclave of the savage Colonel Kurtz, immediately adapted by going native.) I wanted to be those people, or at least the people they played, and I worked harder than I’d ever worked to make it happen, but I was too late; the Hollywood I sought was finished by the time I moved to New York, let alone L.A. That it ever existed at all was a freak occurrence, an effort to lure American youth away from TV and into movie theaters, and so Old Hollywood turned to young directors who, in theory, understood young audiences. Some of those directors produced blockbusters: Francis Ford Coppola with The Godfather, William Friedkin with The Exorcist, and Steven Spielberg with Jaws, which redefined the blockbuster, though it stopped short of redefining American—and, ultimately, world—culture as thoroughly as George Lucas did with Star Wars. Lucas understood not just young America but America itself, and he gave it the movie it had clearly craved since the death of Old Hollywood, a new kind of movie for the children of the seventies but an old one for the adults who’d seen it when they were children, before the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll sixties went “too far,” as many Americans of Lucas’s generation, of Richard Nixon’s so-called silent majority, believed. Once, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, most adults might have laughed off a movie like Star Wars as something their kids forced them to see, and you know, for what it was, it wasn’t bad. Star Wars removed the qualifiers. Not only did it make it acceptable for adults to enjoy juvenile entertainment, it made it practically mandatory, since to do otherwise was to be omitted from the unifying conversation of cultural life—“Wasn’t Heath Ledger great in The Dark Knight?” and so on—not just in the U.S. but around the globe. American pop culture has long had international legs, in part for its childlike—and therefore, across language barriers, easily apprehended—simplicity. Star Wars rescued and reinforced that simplicity at a moment when it was in danger of disappearing. It had certainly matured. Hollywood movies prior to the 1968 repeal of the Hays Code were prohibited from frankly addressing adult matters. George Lucas acted as his own Hays Code in directing Star Wars.

I admire the Lucas of American Graffiti, which finally allowed that the “innocence” of the fifties was hanging by a thread. Unlike Happy Days, its TV imitator, American Graffiti wasn’t disingenuous, and whatever else I may say about Star Wars, it wasn’t disingenuous either, insofar as it was the movie that Lucas himself wanted to see, as evidenced by the enormous effort he put into getting it made. Very few thought it would prove profitable. The joke was on them. The joke was on me, too; the triumph of Star Wars marked the beginning of the end of a personal childhood dream.

But countless others lost something as well, including those yet to be born when Star Wars premiered, and a telling example of what I mean can be found in a brief, almost throwaway, passage in The Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer’s account of the October 1967 march on the Pentagon. Like much of Mailer’s nonfiction, The Armies of the Night is written in the third person, so that “Norman Mailer” is the book’s protagonist: a forty-four-year-old Brooklyn-based author who, along with 100,000 people generally younger than Mailer by at least twenty years, advanced on the Pentagon in protest against the Vietnam War. Mailer was arrested by MPs and spent the night in jail, where he offered cash to his cellmates, “a dozen young men who were probably without money, who had hitched to Washington and slept on a floor” in order to make the march. One of Mailer’s unnamed cellmates, described as “small, lithe, with the body moves of a superb athlete and the small bright snubbed features of a cat,” had had “the most spectacular arrest”:

Breaking through the line of MPs near to where Mailer had been arrested, [the cellmate] had dodged back and forth among the Marshals for many minutes, outrunning them, crossing field on them, doubling back, stopping short, sprinting, loping, teasing them, then outrunning them again—they had been too fatigued to hurt him when finally, fox to their hounds, he was caught by the [Potomac] river. He spoke with a stammer, great intensity behind his words, much intelligence. He gave Mailer a critique of the staging of The Deer Park which was about as incisive as his own. A remarkable boy, Mailer had decided—just the sort to have in your army.

The Deer Park is a novel by Mailer—about Hollywood, incidentally—which Mailer had adapted for the New York stage. It wasn’t the sort of production that would’ve interested Broadway tourists, so Mailer’s cellmate was likely from the New York area and had indeed “hitched to Washington and slept on a floor.” That’s commendable, but people without means continue to find their way to Washington, and elsewhere, to protest this or that, just as they continue to be arrested after “spectacular” displays of resistance. The pluck of this “remarkable boy” doesn’t, by itself, make him as remarkable as Mailer has him.

But consider this: Mailer was perhaps the most important American writer of the late sixties. There were many at the time who saw him that way. He was a celebrity intellectual when there were celebrity intellectuals, and the leading magazines paid him top dollar, which they offered to no one else, for his insights into current events. His innovative style as a journalist was hugely influential, so that, without Mailer, there would be no Hunter S. Thompson, whose fame now eclipses Mailer’s by far. Mailer’s standing reputation, where he’s known at all, as an egotistical windbag was firmly in place by the sixties—he was, almost from the beginning of his career, controversial—but his ego is key to my point: here, in The Armies of the Night, he praises a critique that’s “about as incisive as his own” from a stranger of “much intelligence” and “great intensity” who’s probably in his late teens or early twenties.

That, to me, is remarkable, especially when I ask myself if someone that young could intellectually engage a writer on a par with Mailer now. But I don’t believe there are such writers, and I don’t believe there are such kids. I can imagine a kid engaging a fantasy writer (or, for that matter, George Lucas) with questions about, say, the necessity of introducing a magic sword at a particular narrative moment, and I can more easily imagine a kid requesting pointers on how to break into the business of writing fantasy, possibly for the screen. But a kid with a mind nuanced enough to critique an established man of letters so perceptively that it’s mentioned for posterity—no, I sadly can’t imagine such a kid now. Mailer’s “army,” long gone, has been replaced by a hive that occupies much of the world.


When I said that I don’t believe that there are any writers on a par with Mailer, I wasn’t trying to suggest that good writers are a thing of the past. I’m personally acquainted with good writers, but they lack the celebrity that Mailer once enjoyed, and even he didn’t draw comparisons to movie stars, as did his contemporary, Jack Kerouac, who remains a kind of literary Brando. For that reason, if no other, it was probably inevitable that I would one day read Kerouac, and On the Road, a book I don’t rate so highly now, ultimately changed my life, with its impetuous, casually rebellious characters, young guys who, in the midst of speeding around America in pursuit of “kicks,” eagerly discussed books and ideas. They were pagan intellectuals, a combination I’d never seen onscreen and certainly not in life, and I envied not just their devil-may-care coolness but their knowledge of literature and, more to the point, their excitement about it. From Kerouac I moved on to a long list of other novelists (including, of course, Mailer) as well as poets and philosophers, though it was always the novel as a form that most appealed to me, being the most closely related to my first love, movies. In the back of my mind, a Plan B began to form: if movies finally failed me, if I couldn’t play the kind of characters I’d set out to play because I wasn’t allowed to play them in the scripts I’d written and they didn’t exist in the scripts written by others, I could channel and, in a sense, play them as a novelist. Eventually, I acted on Plan B, but its roots go further back than Kerouac, to state the obvious; they begin with movies, which continue, in a way, to inspire me. I’ve spent most of my adult life working in the film business—a remark that would likely cause my teenage self, ignorant of its implications, to beam, were he able to hear my present self say it—so I naturally, as a novelist, tend to write about people with a similar background. If I were a soldier, I’m sure I would write fiction about soldiers or, anyway, have to fight the impulse. On the other hand, I never felt passionate about being a soldier, therefore I never became one. I can’t conceive of having a passion that I wouldn’t try to live out, and I don’t mean live it out in my head; I would have to somehow experience it firsthand, and that experience would somehow manifest in my fiction.

Most popular novels, I’ve found, and even many obscure ones, are screenplays in disguise: a little description to set the scene, followed by pages of dialogue. I loathe that kind of writing, in part because I think it’s lazy, but also, having worked professionally as a screenwriter, it represents a particular danger for me. My prose can be dense, with my fondness for longish paragraphs and sentences, so I’ll sometimes follow a dense sequence with a dialogue scene, which can amount to a rest for the reader. A “serious” reader may not require the rest, but I don’t want to limit the size of my potential audience, and I’m very conscious that I write at a moment when attention spans are, to say the least, short.

In fact, it’s an absurd moment to be a novelist, and particularly a novelist of the kind I am. I don’t write genre fiction, and the audience for “literary” fiction, always a small one, has been steadily dwindling since television took off in the early fifties, with a dramatic reduction in recent years. It’s hard for the book to hold its own in a culture as wired as ours, and, to that end, the book has gone digital, which to me is—predictably, I’m sure—slightly horrifying, like seeing Frank Sinatra in love beads while he covers the latest groovy hit by—what’s their name again? You know, those kids from England—the ones with the long hair?

Of course, as a writer, I should applaud the so-called e-book. “Just as long as people are still reading,” I’ve said, dutifully but sincerely, when asked about it. But I’ve only said that after a timid preamble about the beauty of books as objects and my prayer that they never vanish.

I don’t think they will vanish—not completely—just as the kind of movies I loved as a child, and love still, haven’t vanished completely. Every few years, to my great surprise, I’ll catch one—the last time it was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford—and for a moment I’m blissfully delivered from the pop culture of the twenty-first century, which I can never entirely escape for trying; it always shows up like a clown who insists on entertaining me with balloon animals and “knock, knock” jokes that endlessly amuse the people who surround me, people of every age, while I sit and wonder what the fuck they’re laughing about. Have they lost their minds? Is there a boy who’s threatened to send them to the cornfield if they don’t respond as he does?

But that boy is all of them, it seems to me, and nothing like the boy I was, even before he was asking adult strangers if they would buy him a ticket to an R-rated movie. I can picture him now, about to see a movie by himself for the first time. He walks up the long corridor, carpeted in red, of the Paramount Theater, pausing for a moment at the concession stand to gawk at thumbnail photos of the posters for sale, and a voice in his head says, Don’t look. God doesn’t want you to look. But the voice is relatively quiet in the darkness of the theater, where the boy watches a girl in a fur bikini cavort anachronistically with a dinosaur, and the boy thinks, Man, I would love to be that dinosaur, never dreaming that, when he’s a man, a dinosaur is just what he’ll be.


This piece is included in Writing Off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema, an e-anthology of essays that explore the relationship between movies and the work of contributing authors, among them Robin Antalek, Matthew Baldwin, Sean Beaudoin, Richard Cox, Elizabeth Eslami, Nathaniel Missildine, Greg Olear, and Neal Pollack. Edited by Cynthia B. Hawkins, Writing Off Script is set to be released on December 1, 2011, by Calavera Books.

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D. R. HANEY is the author of a novel, Banned for Life, and a nonfiction collection, Subversia, the inaugural publication of TNB Books. Known to friends as Duke, he lives in Los Angeles.

157 responses to “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth”

  1. I think there are more words in your tag section than most TNB essays.

    “On the Road, a book I don’t rate so highly now, ultimately changed my life.” I think a lot of people feel the same, myself included. I still love it and respect it, but it’s hard to feel the same about it as I did when I was younger. It sent me – as it did probably millions of young people – literally on the road… That’s a staggering accomplishment when you think about it. To have that much impact.

    Anyway, even though it took me forever and a day to read this mammoth essay, I did enjoy the hell out of it as always, Duke. Hope all’s well and good with you.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Honestly, David, I feel like I should hand out prizes to anyone who reads this fucker. Of course I know it’s long, but the funny thing is, I think it needs to be longer, if only to do justice to some of the ideas that I barely touched on. For instance, there was a whole bit about everything being reduced to “information,” which I ultimately abandoned but which I see as relevant to the notion of venue, of the circumstances in which movies are seen. Most of us place little or no importance on venue, but it used to matter. Anyway…

      I already mentioned to you my encounter with Kerouac’s cousin, who, when I told him about the impact that “On the Road” had on me, barked, “You think you’re the only one?!” Well, no, I never did. But I wonder if that book continues to change lives. If so, I would imagine it changes fewer year by year, partly because fewer kids are reading novels, and partly because I don’t know that they would find Kerouac’s sense of adventure very appealing. Why suffer on the road when you can hang out at home and look at photos online of small-town dives, cheap motels, barren landscapes, and so on? In Kerouac’s time that wasn’t possible, and America seemed much more mysterious than I would think it appears to kids now.

      • I can assure you that they are discovering it in droves. Maybe they read it on Kindle, but they’re still discovering Kerouac. As editor of Beatdom, I receive countless e-mails every week by fans of the Beat Generation. A healthy percentage of these are mere kids who’ve become obsessed after being told to read Kerouac by an older sibling or friend. Yeah, they probably take their enthusiasm and turn it into a witty Twitter profile or an angsty blog, but they’re still finding it and caring, which is definitely encouraging.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          It is encouraging. Kerouac’s cousin likewise said that kids are still enamored of “On the Road” — in fact, he said, the average reader is a fourteen-year-old boy, and “On the Road” ranks among the most frequently stolen books, which I suppose amounts to a strong form of praise.

          To turn to another book, “The Dog Farm”: you know, for some reason I had the idea that it wasn’t yet available on Amazon, but I recently saw that it was. I’ll have to order a copy and promptly lose it in another country. But how do you like being an author so far? Have there been any surprises? I don’t know, in my case, what I was expecting, but whatever it was, it didn’t match my experience.

          • Yes, you can judge a book pretty fairly by how many times it’s stolen. Or maybe you shouldn’t, but I find that it’s quite amusing to do so. It doesn’t surprise me that Kerouac’s books are stolen so often. It does seem to attract young men looking for excitement. Hopefully they take something from it that helps them grow and move.

            Being an author? It has been stressful, I suppose. I don’t know what I expected, but it’s been a little scarier than I thought. I really wasn’t expecting to be so defensive. I remember thinking that I’d treasure my negative reviews, and thankfully there haven’t been many of them, but I do find myself inclined to argue stupid little points. Like today a newspaper in Korea reviewed it fairly negatively. I knew they would and I know it’s great for publicity, but I expected to read and laugh it off. The fact that they actually made some valid criticisms… that hurt. Then when they made a stupid point that contradicted something they’d said before, and I felt like saying, “Hey, fuck you… You’re wrong about that!” It hurt even more!

            The best part was holding the proof copy in my hand, feeling like an author for the first time. But still, a part of me is looking forward to the day when people forget about it and I can stop Googling my own name and reading the newspapers for mentions, and start writing a new book and begin the whole process again.

      • Peter Winkler says:

        Just came across this on another blog. So apropos, I couldn’t resist.


        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, at last my black comedy of a life has a theme song; thanks. I always say that I understand the (anti)heroes of Peckinpah movies better all the time: men out of time, etc. I mean, you know, I’m hardly Warren Oates or William Holden (though maybe I could substitute for Ernest Borgnine), but you get my drift.

          I only just noted that you were trying to enlighten the savages remarking on that insipid JFK-assassination piece over at Salon. I posted a few comments on the same piece. For instance, some guy keeps insisting again and again that’s the U.S. government, care of the HSCA, takes a “probable conspiracy” stance on the assassination, and I reminded him that the HSCA confirmed the Warren Commission report in all respects but one: a fourth shot was probably fired from the grassy knoll or somesuch, but the HSCA based that finding on a recording that was later judged to have been misinterpreted. Anyway, my comments were all apparently ignored. Not that I gave a shit. Those people would insist that a lady was sawed in half in a magic act after seeing her emerge intact backstage.

          • Peter Winkler says:

            I’m glad you liked it.

            Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have bothered to try to engage with any of those conspiracy kooks at Salon, but I was convalescing from some minor distress in my lower gut, so I wrote a few replies. I threw a few barbs in with some of my replies, cause I’m hoping it irritates these deluded idiots. It think it drives ’em crazy when you come right out and call their number. I think some of them know that there’s nothing to what they’re saying and that they’re insecure and capable of being rattled.

            I’d like to think that one day, something I write to one of these fools makes them so mad with rage that they’ll fall off their chair and end up on the floor having a grand mal seizure, foaming at the mouth and convulsing. It’s one of my power fantasies.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              Oh, Peter, you can’t fool those people. Nobody can fool them, especially The Media/Government/Industrial-Military Complex/Illuminati. The sheeple can be easily be fooled, but not the brilliant minds who turn up on message boards to tell us that the KGB manufactured a second Lee Harvey Oswald while he was still in junior high school, and so on. It’s all about feeling a cut or several cuts above the sheeple.

  2. Greg Olear says:

    Holy fuck-all is this good. I know you spent a lot of time on it; it was time well spent. Well done, Duke, well done.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m so relieved that you like it! I still think it’s much too superficial, and I wince at phrasings here and there, but it was the best I could do, given the time constraints. Cynthia asked me to contribute when she was beginning to put the book together, but I waited until, very nearly, the last minute before saying yes. I struggled like mad for the first few days, so frustrated that I wrote Cynthia to say that I didn’t think I wasn’t capable of writing anything — ever again for anyone — but then I took a walk and something clicked in my head and I saw ways of joining the different parts of my argument and personal history, and I thought, You might be able to pull it off. But even after finishing, I wasn’t sure that I’d succeeded.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Damn, Greg, this arrives at a moment when I have to take my leave for the rest of the day. There’s a very good reason for this, but I learned the hard way not to elaborate on such reasons, in part because I jumped the gun a few months ago, as you may remember about a certain phone call (clue: a certain TV detective), only to soon have the sense that, well, I’d jumped the gun.

          I’ll say this much for now: the rise of the European art film — its popularity in America, I mean — had to do with its sexual frankness, which Hollywood movies at the time couldn’t match. When Hollywood movies became every bit as sexually frank, not only did the taste for the European art film diminish but Americans became so jaded that they weren’t necessarily interested in seeing frank sexuality in domestic movies.

          But there’s a difference between frank sexuality and subtle sensuality, and movies don’t, by and large, even feature that now, perhaps (unknowingly) following (as so many trends have followed) “Star Wars,” in which there was no sensuality of any kind. There used to be, in the eighties and nineties, a running joke on TV shows about women being unable to find their Victoria’s Secret catalog, only to see that it had, mysteriously, ended up in the bathroom. This joke, being so persistent, must have been rooted in some kind of real-life truth, but why would a man need a Victoria’s Secret catalog if he had access to something more graphic — a copy of Hustler, say — as he certainly would at the time?

          I think it’s because there was still an appreciation for what I’m calling — not having the time to come up with a better term — subtle sensuality. It was a cultural holdover, and I wonder if anyone who’s grown up in the Internet era would ever opt for photos of lovely women in lingerie over clips of shaved, waxed, semi-rubber neo-humans participating in anal three-ways. But the appreciation for subtle sensuality might still be there if it were present in movies, as it was in, for instance, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in which we had to surmise that Stanley and Stella had rocked the bedsprings hard. Had we actually seen the act, it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

          But I’m not sure that I’m making any sense, writing hurriedly as I am, and there are other points you raise in “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth II” that will have to be addressed later, just as I’ll likewise have to address this one later, seeing that I’ve made a muddle of it.

          • D.R. Haney says:

            Oh, and I thank you for closing the commentary on your rejoinder and inviting it here, as well as for your rejoinder in the first place.

          • Greg Olear says:

            I remember reading a paper in a feminism class I took in college where the writer argued that “panties” was the sexiest word in the language, because it leaves so much to the imagination. I agree with you about subtle sensualism — that’s what I was going for with the WCW quote — but I think it’s sophisticated, and hard to put a finger on, and gets lost in the sea of status updates and tweets.

            More later, indeed!

          • Zara Potts says:

            What? Panties the sexiest word? See, this is where men and women differ. The word panties (I can barely bring myself to type the word) seems to have some feminine mystique tied up in it for men, whereas women find the word particularly pervy.
            Or maybe that’s just me.
            I’m sorry to hijack this and turn it into a panties party but you know how strongly I react to the P Word.

            • Z, I’m with you on panties, darling. Even my five-year-old son loves the word–it’s like men come out of the womb predisposed in their DNA–whereas it just sounds stupid to most women. Oooh, panties! Yep, now I’m all hot.

              • Zara Potts says:

                Amen, Gina. I’m going to start an anti panty party.

                • Might I present an alternative word, a vestige of my childhood and relic of my Southern heritage? Yes, in lieu of panties, what about drawers? (And that would be pronounced drawuhs.)

                • Zara Potts says:

                  Drawers! Now, that certianly has no perve factor.
                  ‘What colour drawers are you wearing?’ – Ha!
                  I prefer the slightly childish but never embarassing: Knickers.

              • Greg Olear says:

                Again, I don’t agree with “panties” as password to all that is erotic. The writer of the article was a woman, however…I read it in 1993 or so, and the piece was older than that, so Lord knows who it was…

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Well, I see that my response to this, which can be found below, was not nested correctly. But that Greg cites a woman referring to “panties” as an erotic word in 1993 shows that it wasn’t always considered gross. Notions of the pervy evolve, I guess. A common motif in stag films from the fifties and before was of a woman refusing to perform fellatio, only to be forced to perform fellatio. Cut to the noughties, when schoolgirls considered blowjobs the same as kisses, or so it was widely reported.

                • Zara Potts says:

                  I could tell from Steph’s response you’re not a panties man, G.
                  Ha! x

          • Dear Duke,

            This was amazing. I’m going to read it again. Maybe when I’m on my L.A. bound plane two weeks from now!!
            And where I will finally get to meet you, I’m super excited. You know we’re kidnapping you right?

            And Dear Zara, can I chime in about panties for a moment? Gross, terrible word.
            Completely agree with you, Z. It’s like panting. Someone, like a dog, panting at your crotch,
            the word panties. Grody.

            But, I do agree that had we seen Stella and Stanley rock the springs, it would kill it.
            His lust, his carnal need for her is what gets me. Not any crotch shots. Which is why porn can be anti-erotic,
            in my opinion. Too many closeups on crotches.

            And your Star Wars investigation here makes me now understand why all the boys I went to middle school with went crazy for Princess Leia in the next movie where she’s “scantily clad’; she’s not that hot, nor scantily clad, but it’s a slutty deviation from the robe, bound breasts and boob hairdo.

            See you soon. xo

            • D.R. Haney says:

              Now, let’s see here: will this nest with the panty discussion that we must always have at TNB? It’s a tradition, like turkey on Thanksgiving and mistletoe at Christmas.

              I’d forgotten about “drawers.” I wish I’d remembered that word when I was writing “Banned for Life,” because I’ve felt bad about opting for “panties” ever since I arrived at TNB. “Drawers” would’ve worked in BFL, what with the narrator being a Southern boy, and if there’s ever, God willing, a second edition, I’ll have to bear that in mind.

              Knickers. Wow. You crazy Kiwis.

  3. James D. Irwin says:

    I don’t have time to read all of this right now— I shouldn’t really be online— but I wanted to stop by and say hello.

    Will be coming back because I loved the first few paragraphs, and it was nice to see The Long Goodbye mentioned, which is one of my favourite films. I love Elliot Gould.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hello, James!

      A few years ago, I got into trouble with the Screen Actors Guild for taking a part in a non-union movie, and by way of punishment, I had to attend an orientation meeting for new members, presumably so that I could re-familiarize myself with SAG rules. At some point, while I sat there, bored, I noticed a guy behind me who looked an awful lot like Elliott Gould. The lights were dim, so it was hard to see, but I finally determined that, yes, it was Elliott Gould, who was introduced to the new members at the conclusion of the meeting, I suppose so that they could feel proud of themselves for belonging to an organization that also includes celebrities. I wanted to say something to Gould about having worn a suit for a week, as a teenager, in tribute to his performance in “The Long Goodbye,” but I didn’t.

      I got a lot of shit at school for wearing that suit. It was “weird,” don’t you know.

  4. SAA says:

    Oh man, Sam Bottoms was smoking hot in Apocalypse Now.

  5. Irene Zion says:

    Duke, I love reading your writing.
    The last line is crafted so perfectly to turn back on itself. The whole paragraph, well, now that I think about it, the whole piece is faultless!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      God bless you, Irene.

      You know, originally I was going to title this piece “Childish Ways,” following the quote from Paul, but I had no idea where I was going with the piece or how to end it. Then I discussed it with a friend, telling him about seeing “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” as a child, and he said, “That should be your title,” and I suddenly thought, You know, the reactions I had to that movie really could help me to tie the whole thing together. But as I mentioned to Greg above, I still wasn’t sure that I’d succeeded. It’s nice to now feel that, possibly, I did, even though, to me, there’s a spotlight shining on all the flaws.

      • Irene Zion says:

        I’ve always thought you were too self-critical.
        Maybe that’s why you’re such an outstanding writer.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          If I didn’t push myself, you would cringe, as I cringe, at what I turn out. The only way for me to get half-decent results is to send myself to my room without supper, or at least to threaten to do so.

      • I just discovered and read this essay, and was also going to comment on how perfect your final sentence is.

  6. D.R. Haney says:


    I’m not being given a “reply” option at the bottom of your comment, so hopefully you’ll see this way down here.

    It’s funny, but the first time I held my first book, I didn’t feel the excitement I expected to feel. It was smaller than I expected, for one thing, and I kept wondering if the jacket would look okay to others.

    The publication of my second book didn’t cause me to lose interest in reaction to my first, although I google it less now than I used to do.

    It’s definitely painful when you recognize the validity of criticism, maybe especially, at least in my experience, because so often there’s nothing you can do about what’s being criticized. It’s not just a matter of craft; your very essence comes into play: what and how you think; how you experience, or anyway describe, the world. But it’s not so different, finally, from being in a romantic relationship in which your worldview is similarly criticized or, anyway, analyzed. Sometimes I think, “No, no, no, you’ve got me all wrong,” but at other times it’s obvious that I’ve been nailed — but, again, what can be done about it? A worldview can be modified to a point, but so can a nose, and I think our psyches are finally about as flexible, or inflexible, as our bodies.

    Now: where should I go in order to lose your book after it arrives? My budget doesn’t allow for much!

    • Fucking new WordPress. It’s a shitty step down from the old version. The comments, particularly, are harder to control and format.

      You could try to lose it in South America, if you like. I’ve never been there. So far we have sold copies in North America, Europe, Asia, Australiasia and Africa. But none have gone down to South America. I think we need a Spanish or Portuguese translation.

      Criticism is a weird thing, and decorum demands that the author keep back, even when it’s way off base. You aren’t supposed to offer any form of reply because your work should stand alone. But criticism is always subjective, and people bring their own ideas. Of course people are going to misinterpret our books. Of course they’re going to occasionally read it and find it just doesn’t suit their taste.

      What’s also weird in this case is that my book is fiction, yet 100% of readers instantly assume that the protagonist is me. And so the criticisms go like this: David is a dick. David is a bad teacher. David is writing about himself so he has a huge stupid ego.

      Ah well, so be it. So it goes.

      So you seem to be against the rise of the Kindle and ebooks? Do you really think that they will cause the novel to further decline? I know this is an old topic on TNB and everyone has probably thrown in their opinion several times, but it’s something I’ve recently come to change my own mind on, and I realise that I wasn’t paying attention in the past. I guess I just expected ebooks to disappear quickly.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Ah! Just saw this, David!

        Okay, South America it is. It’ll give me an excuse to head to Buenos Aires, a city I’ve long wanted to visit. Or maybe I’ll go to Chile, which is said to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

        I once got a really terrible review as an actor, and I sent the critic a message in which I said that I was going to track him down and break every bone in his body, and if I couldn’t do it personally, I was going to hire someone to do it for me. Of course he never responded, and of course, when I told people about the message, they were horrified. What can I say? I was upset. Meanwhile, it continues to amaze me that people think nothing of saying at a distance, in print, what they would never dare to say in person. Why are knocks rude in one context but acceptable in another? Not that I’m defending my message. Oh, no, I would never do that!

        Of course it’s inevitable that people would confuse you with your narrator. That’s happened with me constantly, and Joan Didion said an interview that I watched recently on YouTube (I’ve been googling Didion a lot lately, anticipating her new book), “I don’t think a lot of people know how to read novels anymore. They take it all literally.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the idea.

        I was going to discuss the future of books in the piece — at length, I mean — but I think we’re all a little burned out on that topic, as you pretty much say, which is why I kept my mention of it brief. I can’t pretend to understand anyone other than myself, and my own feeling is that not everything should have to go digital, but that’s what the powers that be have decided, or maybe it’s the people who’ve decided — I have no idea. But it seems to me that the digitization of music has robbed music of some of its power, just as film has been robbed of some of its power by being digitalized. It’s been cheapened. It’s taken for granted to a degree it wasn’t before. So, if I’m right in thinking as I do, I can’t see how the digitization of literature can lead to a different outcome. In fact, the evidence is already coming in: I note customer reviews on Amazon in which people say, “I”m so glad that I didn’t buy a hard copy of this book, which I hated, so I just deleted it on my Kindle.” Yeah, well, maybe if you’d gone to a fucking bookstore and actually handled the book, actually read through it for a half-hour or so, you would have had a better idea as to whether you might have liked it. Instead, in a sense, you destroyed the book, as many wouldn’t think to destroy a physical book, which they would rightly (as I see it) view as Nazi-ish. Next book, please! Oh, I don’t like this one, either. I’ll just delete it. Next!

        • I’ve never even seen a Kindle, so I’m trying to reserve judgement. I have always loved books and so it’s hard for me to imagine digitization winning me over… but the sales are keeping me happy at the moment. Kindle has been great for business, and so that’s making me a bit biased.

          I’m still laughing that you sent a threat to a reviewer. That’s awesome.

          I thought I’d have more to say but it’s morning and I’ve been sick for two weeks and my head’s not working right.

          • D.R. Haney says:

            Sick with…? I’ve had a slight earache for a while now, and it’s not going away, and something like that always activates my paranoia.

            Though it undoubtedly doesn’t read that way, I’m trying to reserve judgment on the e-book also. I would have no objections to the e-book at all if I didn’t know that new technologies have a way of obliterating old ones, and I’m unapologetically attached to books as objects.

            • Sick with tonsillitis. Try lecturing with tonsillitis. It’s a bitch. Having said that, I mostly just show movies now instead of teaching. I told my students, “Until I get better, I’m not speaking to you.” So they understand and are cool with it. I really can’t talk, and when you live in a filthy country (I love China, really, but it’s disgusting) it takes so long to get better… Fuck, I hate being sick.

              • D.R. Haney says:

                The one and only good thing about being sick is that it provides an excuse to disengage from the world — if, that is, you’re looking for such an excuse.

                I hope you’re showing good movies to your students. Meanwhile, my other ear is beginning to feel weird. This is really fucking with my mind.

  7. Matt says:

    Damn, Duke – every time I read something of yours I’m left feeling I should give up the game entirely. This is really fucking good.

    I know you’re a little disenfranchised with the book industry right now, but I really think you’ve got a very good book about Hollywood and Americana sitting in your head, just waiting to get out.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks, Matt, but I wouldn’t want to make you or anyone else feel like giving up. It’s myself that I’m always trying to psyche out!

      In fact, I’m trying hard to extract the kind of book you describe from my head, although the Hollywood angle is…let’s just say it’s not the traditional Hollywood. I hope I’m onto something, although last night I read an interview with Joan Didion in which she said — I’m paraphrasing — that she used to think that writing novels was the ultimate, but “nobody reads novels anymore,” and she now recognizes that she’s better off writing nonfiction. Yet she despaired over the current state of journalism also. “It’s not a good time to be a writer,” she said.

  8. […] authors (listed below) will write essays on how movies have influenced their work. Follow this link to read an essay from the collection. Cynthia Hawkins will edit the anthology and Simon Smithson of […]

  9. Zara Potts says:

    What a brilliant way to wake up – Check TNB and see a post from you. It’s been far, far too long my friend and I can’t tell you how excited and pleased I was to see you here and read this piece.
    As usual, you manage to weave memory and criticism and unique thinking into a tapestry of many colours. Your insights are always entertaining and always poignant. I read your words and they feel like narration – even your essays are in technicolour! You have a cinematic soul and it shines through in every word.
    I love that you started with the Paramount. When I was a kid, I was always very taken by the names of cinemas. I still remember them now… The Cinerama; The Regent; The Savoy; The Crystal Palace; The Odeon. Unfortunately, while their names live on in memory the actual movie theatres are long gone, replaced by soulless multiplexes. The shells of them still existed in my old hometown until the earthquake which finally made them rubble. It’s sad.
    I have to say I am a big fan of seventies movies too – the Godfather being my absolute favourite of all time.
    Anyway, I’m so glad to see you here. So glad to read your words.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, you know what we say ’round these parts, right? Nothing’s official till Z weighs in, and now she has.

      As a “literary” writer, I used to fear being told that I was “cinematic,” which caused me to worry that my prose came off as the kind of screenwriting-in-disguise writing I mentioned in the essay. But we are who we are, and — what can I say? — I come from the world of movies. It’s as much a part of me as having grown up in Virginia.

      I remember the names of all of my hometown theaters except, interestingly, the name of our first multiplex, where I saw “Star Wars.” I remember the name of our second multiplex — the Terrace — but not the first. Strange. Anyway, the Paramount was the only movie palace. There was another old theater just down the street — Main Street — from the Paramount, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive. It was called the Jefferson when I was a kid — a great many things in my hometown are named for Thomas Jefferson — and it showed X-rated movies, though not hardcore. My eyes used to bulge whenever I passed the posters outside that place.

      It is sad that the old theaters in Christchurch were demolished by the quake, as sad as the loss of old films. I read somewhere that only about eighty or ninety percent of silent movies have been preserved. Apparently nobody thought they were worth preserving. It wasn’t until much later that people began to realize their value as historical documents, however silly or run-of-the-mill they may have been as entertainment.

      Of course I remember that “The Godfather” is your favorite movie, and I further remember how I learned it: during an exchange on the boards for my child-porn piece. “The Godfather” shows how it’s very possible for a movie to be both a blockbuster and a work of art, which is something else I’m afraid we’ve lost, that combination. It’s funny, to me at least, that we advance technologically, yet we retreat intellectually. I’m reading a book at the moment that addresses that subject: “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley pioneer who’s very concerned about what he and his brethren have wrought. I recommend it.

      Thanks, as always, Z.


      • Zara Potts says:

        Oh, I didnt mean cinematic as a bad thing! I meant it as in sweeping, panoramic, surround sound! Not popcorn cinematic! Its a blockbuster! And I want a sequel dammit!

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I know you didn’t, Z! I should have made that clear, although I did say “I used to worry…”

          Honestly, I think there’s a book — a nonfiction book — that could be mined from the argument I was trying to make here, but I’ll never have the time to write it. Of course if some nice rich publisher were to come along and say, “Duke, I read what you wrote on TNB and here’s a check and a contract and…”

          The alarm clock just went off. And I was having such a nice dream!

          Meanwhile, did you read Greg’s sequel to this piece?

          • Zara Potts says:

            Absolutely I did! Two awesome pieces in a day! It was like Christmas!

            • D.R. Haney says:

              Yeah, I was really impressed with how refined it was, especially given that it was done so quickly.

              Also, you might want to look at the piece by Kevin Groh, the newest contributor. I didn’t have time to finish reading it — I’m going to do that later — but, from what I did read, this guy really knows how to write.

  10. Victoria Patterson says:

    Thanks for the amazing essay. I really enjoyed it. Zara expressed so well in comment above–but I just wanted to share my appreciation.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Victoria, your comment means more than you probably realize. I listened to your podcast interview with Brad, which I greatly enjoyed, although it made me a little nervous to realize that you and other smart people (Other Smart People — an alternative name for the podcast?) actually read TNB without commenting. I often have the sense here that I’m only being read by those who announce it on the boards, and that’s not many. But I don’t say that by way of complaint; it’s just funny to realize that, yes, this is all taking place in public, which is easy for me to forget. Meanwhile, I appreciate your appreciation, and if I now say thanks, does does that amount to a redundancy?

      Ah, to hell with it: thanks.

  11. wade says:

    thanks for writing this. in many ways your essays sufficiently replace the knock-you-on-your-ass records us music lovers (but not necessarily readers) are so desperately craving but not receiving as this shit storm cloud passes overhead. i wish i knew more about everything you referenced in this (i don’t know shit, i did see spaceballs once though), but hey, that’s what this carefully designed digital library of congress sitting on my lap is for. i’m severely under-educated in art/literature history, but I know a little bit about what is outside my window. i don’t sweat steve jobs, he may have been an amazing engineer (or whatever) but i don’t thank him for giving us these little screens to put our lives on. at least life sucked before edison lit it up (my guess is it sucked a lot less when you could see at night without burning your hand). anyway, your pieces ALWAYS light up something for me that I know very little about, but offer up the intrigue to find out. i’m sorry i haven’t been able to convince more of my starwars loving ex-friends to read your book. it’s frustrating but sadly understandable. wade

  12. D.R. Haney says:

    “my guess is it sucked a lot less when you could see at night without burning your hand” — hilarious.

    Yeah, the death of kickass music — it’s funny how almost nobody realizes that’s happened. People think it’s out there somewhere — new stuff, I mean — but it just hasn’t been brought to their attention — if, that is, they’re looking for it in the first place. But apparently they’re not looking, and it’s not out there, not like it used to be. The new music I hear is the natural result of the iPod: countless influences all kind of tossed into a blender, with one flavor, so to speak, canceled by another, so that I have no fucking clue as to how this slop is supposed to taste. And, yes, “slop” is an apt word. The current attitude toward music is piggish. How many fucking songs do you need to “own,” and must you constantly listen to them? Sometimes, passing some hipster who’s paused on the street while scrolling through his iPod with his ears plugged, I want to yank out his earbuds and say, “I hope to Christ you don’t think you’re a ‘music lover’ just because you’ve got 10,000 songs on your iPod. I’m more of a music lover than you could ever dream of being, and I don’t even own a fucking iPod.”

    Where am I? Oh, right. Let me just pick myself up off the floor after that seizure.

    I agree with you about Steve Jobs. I can’t help but admire him as an entrepreneur, but I think he did a lot of damage in ways that he probably never realized. We absolutely live now in a world of screens, which suits those who were never gifted socially, and that’s more and more people all the time, people who might otherwise have developed just fine socially.

    I’m glad that the piece did well by you, but how did you come upon it? You’re not on Facebook or Twitter or any of that. Oh, and which “Star Wars”-loving ex-friends did you have in mind? But that’s probably a question best left unanswered — or unasked, for that matter.

    • wade says:

      it’s unlike me to give the “new” music a chance, but i guess lately i’ve been so desperate i’ve tried to give some of the “buzz” bands a listen. honestly, more often than not i’m unable to make it through the 30 second preview itunes offers me, or the cellphone produced video utube is highlighting. i get so confused, i seriously can’t figure out what is what, atari fire, cold war kids, lcd soundscreen, mumford twins, the killers, the kills, some guy named bon iver, wilco…i couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of these bands, all i know is i’ve tried to listen, or watch, or whatever, and eventually gather that the 30 seconds i gave them are seconds i would have rather used to just lay in bed quietly. am i leaving anyone out? jack white? (snore), thome yorke? (loaded 9mm). laura marling was a nice surprise, but lets be honest, how far can a girl with an acoustic guitar get anyone?

      my favorite movie of all time is silver streak (wilder/pryor). made in the seventies i believe…loved it so much i find myself trying to watch any movie i can find made in the 70s. in fact, i’ll pretty much take anything 70s (including ceiling to ceiling carpet). i was only around for the last 2 years of the 70’s, but it seems to me the 70’s was the time when the big dicks and the big tits were in full swing.

      i’ve made an effort in past couple years to have as little internet presence as i can muster. i really got heavy on this when i was trying to rent a house and i had straight-laced realtors googling me and finding old dumb bands and shit. i decided i’d like to have the shortest record i can have so i can just be left alone. that’s not to say that i don’t have my ways to find what i deem important, like this essay. i really mean it from the heart, i look so forward to these, and block out time in my day when i can sit and read them without any other bullshit. it’s really a pleasure. one other thing, if you see that brit judge guy from american idol walk up to him and shoot him in the face and tell him you’re john wayne, and you’re the american idol!

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I loved “Silver Streak” when I saw it a lifetime ago. But I’m really creeped out by your having been googled by realtors. My God. I never heard of that before, although of course I’ve heard of people getting fired because of their Facebook photos.

        I’ll load my gun and lie in wait for the judge of which you speak. But, Jesus, after reading your comment, I should probably never make an online joke like that ever again.

        By new music, I had something more like this in mind:


        Which is pretty fucking good, if you ask me. But it’s already a couple of years old. And then there’s:


        Fucking whoa! Chicks setting dudes on fire and shit! And here’s another personal favorite, softer, but, like the other links, it’s already a bit dated:


        Does any of that do anything for you? The last song has felt, recently at times, like a harness while I stand on a ledge.

        • wade says:

          i just meant the really popular bands i could think of. i’m down with all three of these videos, the first song had a little too much going on that it made me feel confused, my head and rhythm are too slow, the second one was nice, not really my thing but smart enough for me to at least have an appreciation for it. the last one is my fav, i like that guy, rock-O, sadly watching this video i kept seeing dave grohl flashing in front of my eyes, which kind of ruined it. i hate dave grohl. anyway, i’m sure it’s out there somewhere. emily once said to me that all the good artists these days are probably so sick of what’s going on out there in the world that they’ve given up trying to penetrate it and just stay home. maybe so. i’ll leave u alone on here, you got your work cut out for you with all these comments. Does everyone here appreciate that iron takes special care to thoughtfully respond to everything written on here?? that’s unique. that’s special. “a man with something to say”, how bout that? i’ll talk to you soon…

          • D.R. Haney says:

            Thanks, man. Yeah, I like Rocky Votolato quite a bit. I played him for Pete once, but he wasn’t down with it. But do you mean Rocky reminds you of Dave Grohl physically?

            Never mind. We’ll have to catch up soon in a different context. It’s not responding to comments that’s a problem so much as a screenplay that should’ve been finished days ago. Oh, well. I’ll finish it tonight.

  13. D.R. Haney says:

    As happened with David’s comment earlier, I’m not being given a “reply” option after Steph’s comment, so I’ll have to address the panty talk down here.

    I suspect this may have been a setup on Greg’s part, since he knows that the word “panties” is bound to produce outrage from Z. But I still don’t understand why, after it was apparently a perfectly acceptable term for so long, women suddenly decided it gross. I guess I do get the association with the verb “pant,” and I’ve been told that there’s something infantilizing about “panties,” at least when the word is applied to adults, but I’m still perplexed. For me, it’s a little like hearing that no one should ever refer to an athletic supporter as a jockstrap, because “jock” conjures images of jockeys, which conjures images of horses, and animals are disgusting, and no human should ever be likened to an animal (despite the fact that humans are animals), and so on.

    Speaking of animals: I commented on Facebook earlier today that, when I was working on this piece, I ran my “hair boob” idea past a few people to see what they thought, and one person said, “I think Princess Leia was just supposed to look cute, kind of like a puppy or something.” In other words, the hair boobs were intended as dog (or hamster or what have you) ears. Meanwhile, I wondered if Princess Leia’s having been sexed up in the “Star Wars” sequels refuted my notion of Lucas’s Puritanism, yet, as someone pointed out, Lucas didn’t direct those sequels, though years later, of course, he returned to direct the prequels. But, you know, Steph, middle-school boys will go crazy over almost any hint of female flesh. They’re sluts! — in their hearts, I mean.

    So from sluts we naturally proceed to porn. I’ve heard women describe porn as “like watching open-heart surgery,” and I can definitely see that, but the main problem with porn as far as I’m concerned is that I’ve only rarely had the sense that the people in it are truly, deeply aroused. For me, it’s almost like seeing a dance routine — which, really, it is, except that even many dance routines are far more emotional. That’s what’s missing: emotion, including genuine lust.

    Of course, it will be nice to finally meet you, but how much say will I have in where I’m taken after being kidnapped?

    Huh. Kidnapped. You do realize how infantilizing that word is, don’t you?

    I kid!

    And so the infantilization continues.

  14. D.R. Haney says:

    And now for my answer to Greg’s sequel, as it were, to this piece.

    Actually, Greg, when I first read what you’d written, I somehow had the idea that you were arguing with me, but now I see that my only discomfort with anything you had to say — or I thought you were saying — was that Internet porn has supplanted the need for sex in mainstream movies. I’ve already addressed that point, though imperfectly, and to what I already wrote I’ll add: even though sex is everywhere, there doesn’t seem much insight into it. What’s passed for insight for a while now, I think, are ideological debates about hot-button issues, with the battle lines so cleanly, clearly drawn that everyone knows what he or she must say in order to be regarded as a friend and not an enemy: “No always means no,” “It’s not a choice,” “It’s a woman’s right to choose,” etc. Law can’t afford to be ambiguous, but art thrives on ambiguity, or anyway complexity, and that kind of complexity can’t be found in porn, just as it can’t be found in most discussions about sexual politics, which tend to reduce people to types — male or female, gay or straight, oppressed or oppressor, etc. — instead of treating them as individuals. Sexual politics have had an impact on movies, to be sure, so that every Hollywood producer or director is aware that he or she had better toe the line or face bad publicity and risk commercial failure. It doesn’t make for an atmosphere in which interesting — that is, unusual, exploratory, ideology-free — depictions of sexual matters can be realized. Yet I, for one, would like to see such depictions, just I would like to read them. I wish there were a latter-day Henry Miller — or maybe there is, and he goes by the name Nicholson Baker. I think we meet there, don’t we? I think we meet pretty much all the way around, as far as your sequel is concerned — and I must say, it’s beautifully written, and I’m impressed that it was done so quickly.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Oh, I’m not arguing. I just had too much to say, after the porn/spectacle notion occurred to me, and wanted to try and write a response really, really quickly. I almost mentioned “House of Holes” in my response, but to be honest, I’m not loving the book. Baker is one of my favorite writers — the nonfiction, especially: “Human Smoke” and “U&I” (have you read the latter? you must!) — but he and I don’t have overlapping sex fantasies, apparently, because I didn’t really love “Vox,” either. Although I love that he wrote those books. And his interview in the last issue of Paris Review is to die for.

      For the record, I don’t agree that “panties” is the sexiest word in the language. I’d vote for “fetish,” which has its origins in the Portuguese, of all places.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Now that I think about it, fetish sounds like a Portuguese word. Portuguese is, to me, a very sexy language, with some of the rhythm of Spanish and Italian, but softer in sound, more in that way like French. You just can’t beat the Romance family!

        I didn’t like “Vox,” either, but we must have discussed that already. No, Nicholson Baker’s sexual fantasies, based on what that book indicates, certainly aren’t mine. I stand advised, as I have for some time, on “U&I” — but, man, there’s just so much to read! As a matter of fact, I am very happily revisiting Miller — his study of Rimbaud, who’s one of my special interests. Now, if I may recommend a book to you: Graham Robb’s biography of Rimbaud is stellar. I mean, that thing had me transfixed — by far one of the best biographies I’ve ever read, and I say that as one who used to read a lot of biographies.

        • Greg Olear says:

          “Rimbaud? Is that French?” — Mel Brooks as Louis XVI in History of the World

          • D.R. Haney says:

            Is “History of the World” worth seeing? It always seemed to me that Mel Brooks stopped being funny after “Young Frankenstein.”

            The remainder of this comment won’t make sense once this piece is laid to rest in the cemetery, but I love the divided photo of Victoria Vetri on INSIDE TNB. Too bad she’ll never see it, and not because she’s unlikely to stumble onto the site before INSIDE TNB changes; she’s in jail, as I understand it, for shooting and nearly killing — at age 66! — her husband. Interestingly, according to what’s bound to be a very reliable source online — please note the sarcasm — the gun used in the shooting was given to her by Roman Polanski, who feared for her safety, immediately after the Manson murders. Vetri had a small part in “Rosemary’s Baby” — and thus concludes today’s trivia lesson.

            • Greg Olear says:

              “History” is the first Mel Brooks movie I saw, and although I’ve since realized that a lot of it is derivative of “The Great Dictator,” it’s still pretty damned funny, although uneven.

              The Inquisition as a musical is genius: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqgZnvfJ9Jg

              • D.R. Haney says:

                I especially liked the Busby Berkeley homage. But since I was expecting to see a variation on Chaplin’s dance with the globe, I’m taking it that the “The Great Dictator” influence is elsewhere in “History of the World.”

  15. Jmblaine says:

    Good to see you here, sir.
    I have thought much about
    movies lately & their influence
    the same Paramount we had in
    my hometown, seeing Zapped with
    Scott Baio there and Raising Arizona.
    It hung on a long time.
    There was too much drama early in life
    so I always favored lighter fare.
    You know try as I might I never could
    Like Paul. He comes across so uptight.
    & just a few chapters back we are told
    that only those who come as
    little children can inherit the Kingdom.
    I still struggle with the difference between
    Childish & child-like.
    Hey. Long comment. For some reason,
    with you, i always feel like I am
    writing a letter to an old friend.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, we are old friends, in a way. I mean, we’ve “known” each other for two and a half years now. But I feel sometimes like I’m a horrible friend, the way I disappear and come back again. But maybe everyone at TNB has done that.

      I agree that the line between childish and childlike is a thin one, and it’s possibly spurious, although people usually insist there’s a difference. About Paul: I’ve heard similar reactions to yours — he sure isn’t beloved by feminists! — but I don’t know what to think. Certainly, the passage from which I quoted, which of course continues, is so beautiful that it’s hard to believe it’s not the product of a beautiful soul. But, as a child, I was very confused by the idea that Paul was an apostle without being one of the twelve, that he wasn’t at Christ’s side during His lifetime, and maybe that confusion made it hard for me to ever arrive at a clear picture of Paul.

      I would love to have visited the Paramount in your hometown, if only to compare it to the one in mine. I wonder if they were identical. I bet they were, or anyway very close. Did yours have those murals on the walls? The juxtaposition of those murals and “Zapped!” or, for that matter, cavewomen in fur bikinis — wow.

      • J.M. Blaine says:

        It did!

        I read my comment back & realized
        it sounded like I saw Zapped
        WITH Scott Baio
        which if so, I would have written a whole
        book just about that experience.

        Ah Paul. I take comfort in this verse.
        “In letters I come across as harsh, but in person you
        know I am soft and humble of heart.”
        When I meet Paul, it will be like
        Oh, yeah.

        Maybe one day we shall meet as well
        & it will be like.
        Oh. Yeah.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Now, here is where my knowledge of the Bible is revealed as poor: did Paul write “In letters I come across as harsh, but in person you know I am soft and humble of heart”? Because, if so, it would confirm what I wrote earlier about a “beautiful soul,” and so on. Also, I seem to remember that there was a tentative plan for you to journey to L.A. when Simon and Zara were doing their American tour. If my memory is right, I’m sorry that we missed the chance to meet then. And if you had seen “Zapped!” in the company of Scott Baio, I would hope that would’ve asked him a question or fifty about his unaccountably busy romantic life. It’s one of the great mysteries of our time — right up there with Bigfoot, UFOs, and the Loch Ness monster — that Scott Baio has dated so many Playboy centerfolds. Hanging out in the grotto at the Manson must unleash a silver-tongued devil that’s never been captured on television.

  16. Jeffro says:

    Excellent piece, Duke. I love The Paramount! Speaking of which, the Virginia Film Festival begins in a few days (Nov. 3 – 6). Oliver Stone is coming, as is George Clooney and Larry Flynt of all people. I believe they’re screening “The People vs. Larry Flynt” at one point. And I’m with you on Norman Mailer. He should be on the Mt. Rushmore of writers. He reached across numerous genres and mediums, screen and print, that few are capable of doing in quite that way.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Jeffro, I sometimes forget that you live in C’ville, and that we have, I think, another contributor from C’ville here at TNB.

      It had been so long since I was in downtown C’ville that I had to google for information about the Paramount, doubtful that I’d find anything, only to discover that it was still there, restored and reopened. I couldn’t believe it, really. The Paramount looked it was lined up for the wrecking ball for sure when I left town. I’ll have to make a point of stopping by the next time I’m in Virginia, which, God willing, will be this Xmas. In the meantime, wow, Oliver Stone, George Clooney, and Larry Flynt will all be be in C’ville. Maybe they’ll get in a brawl. I’d love to see that: Flynt trying to mow down Stone with his wheelchair, while Clooney tries to stave off any lasting damage to his kisser.

      Thank you for saying what you about Mailer. It’s rare to have anyone agree with me about him, but, whatever his flaws, I love the guy. I know that people are always thrusting recommendations on you (I mean the collective “you”), but if you’ve never seen the PBS documentary “Mailer on Mailer,” it’s a must. I watched it a little reluctantly last week, thinking it was going to be this stiff talking-head thing, but it’s really absorbing, especially as it gets into the 1960s. Mailer’s perceptions about people and things — man, he was just so extraordinary. I assembled all of the links to “Mailer and Mailer” and made them into a playlist on my YouTube page:


      Hope all is well with you and yours, including l’enfant.

  17. One aspect of your work I really enjoy is that it’s not reduced to sound-bitey ideas. Your thoughts on the page get some flesh and blood. Great essay, Duke. I’m left with lots to ponder.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      It’s okay, Ronlyn; you can call me long-winded.

      I’m joking. I would place an emoticon — maybe the winking one — beside my joke, except that I only use emoticons with Z, and rarely with her.

      You’re one of the warmest people I’ve never met — and I hope the meeting part can be corrected one day — so that I always feel better for having had any sort of interaction with you. I certainly do at the moment, which makes this a great way to end an all-night writing session and to try to get some sleep after drinking too much coffee.

      I hope you’ve got something in the pipeline for TNB. Do you? It’s been much too long since I read anything new by you.

      • Being long-winded and being thorough are two different matters. You ain’t the former in my opinion.

        I’m going to make a prediction that we’ll meet in person within the next couple of years. Close this virtual gap. Although I don’t have a book deal yet, I have a feeling my next novel will send me far and wide.

        Yeah, I’m sorry about my TNB absence both as a reader and a contributor. I’ve been consumed with finishing my two interconnected novels. I think I told you the shorter one is done, but the longer one continues to drag me through hell by the hair. Anyway, once that’s completed (weeks? months?) I’ll get back into the groove. I have ideas for pieces but nothing has come together. (And this also explains my terse reply to your essay, which deserved a more in-depth comment.)

        I hope you had a productive session and a good, well-deserved rest.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          As I wrote, Ronlyn, even a brief exchange with you leaves me feeling better. Also, I’m well aware that you’ve been consumed with your novel(s), so I was honored that you would take the time to read this massive piece at all. I struggled for two years to begin a new novel, only to abandon it after realizing it would never come together. In a strange way, my experience with it may mirror your own recent experience, because what I slowly realized was that there was another novel in the one I was trying to write, and that’s the one I’m now trying to extract. There may be elements of my original idea that can make for something in the future, but first I have to build a book out of the more pressing elements. I fully anticipate being dragged by the hair through hell, as you so aptly put it, but, then, that’s already happened with this book, and that was only to get me as far as I’ve gotten, which is nowhere.

          I didn’t get much of a rest, unfortunately, what with all the coffee. Oh, well. I hope the demons are going easy on you today, and never fear: a book deal is sure to be yours.

          • Zara Potts says:

            I agree with D. It’s been waaaaaaay too long since we have heard from the lovely Miss Ronlyn.

            And here’s a special emoticon just for you, D 🙂
            Two in one piece!!!

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I used to work at a restaurant where mafiosi would come in and order shots of Sambuca, which is usually garnished with roasted coffee beans, and I once made the mistake of placing two coffee beans in a shot that I gave to a guy who looked almost exactly like Tony Soprano, and he barked, “Don’t you know that two beans is bad luck? It’s got to be three or some other odd number!”

              So, on the theory that the same rule of luck applies to emoticons, Z: 🙂

              And I’m never doing that at TNB again!

  18. Wow. Now I have to go read Greg’s! All this meat and dialogue back and forth is reminding me of the old days on TNB and giving me major blasts of nostalgia! Duke, I agree that you’ve got a book in you about all this, no question. We don’t need any more books on “traditional” Hollywood anyway, so the terrain of your mind would be much more interesting!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, it wouldn’t be a Hollywood of my imagination, but, without boring you with any explanations, I appreciate the vote of confidence.

      Yes, it is kind of like the old TNB, huh? But, bloody hell, even this pales in comparison to our garrulous past! Our message boards were like freaking cocktail parties that had started at eight and were still going, with everyone on the tenth martini, long past midnight!

      • Greg Olear says:

        We’re all teetotalers now. And you’re pushing 8o comments, which, adjusted for comment deflation, is about 400 in the old system.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          And this comment will make it eighty on the dot. I wasn’t expecting the piece to receive much reaction, since it’s so long, but this taste of the old days — which, really, weren’t that long ago — has definitely been sweet. Unfortunately, I missed work yesterday and today, telling myself I was going to answer one more comment before rushing out the door, only to look up and see that I would be able to never make it in time. Oh, well. The bosses are generally lax about missed days, so long as the hours are made up.

  19. Dana says:

    Yayy! A massive essay for lunch today! Great stuff here Duke, and some truly elegant writing. I must get back to work, but want to throw in a few words first.

    I love sci-fi and fantasy, but I wasn’t the least bit interested in Star Wars. I may be the only non-Amish person in the US not to have seen any of those films. And yet I find plenty to love about all kinds of movies and I would never not see something that appealed to me just because it was targeted for a different audience. I wonder if it’s because I was such a serious (read: old) kid that I’ve turned into such a childish adult?

    While going through my Dad’s books I saw plenty of Mailer but I don’t think I’ve read anything of his because, yes indeed, I only know him by reputation. Shame on me.

    I’m always surprised when men mention Joan Didion. As if she’d only appeal to women? Shame on me again.

    I was recently stuck in the Cincinnati airport for 7 unexpected and extremely long hours. On this trip I hadn’t taken my Kindle, but had instead grabbed two off my “to read” TNB shelf. “Emily Alone” and “Half a Life” fit the bill of being light weight enough and not too bulky. I finished the first at the airport and dug into the second before too long. When I looked up after reading for quite some time, I was struck by all the people around me who were either on their phone, reading something on their phone, texting, or playing a game on their handheld device. I was the only person in the entire lounge that didn’t have a screen glowing at me. Even the people that were coupled up seemed to be in their own worlds. It was really disconcerting.

    Like Gina I was happy to see all the comments and interaction going on down here. I read so many things here but I rarely comment anymore, which says more about my lack of goof off time than anything else.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Dana, your anecdote about the airport is very disconcerting indeed, and it reminds me of something I was thinking when I watched “Shampoo” again in preparation for this piece. There’s a beautiful scene in “Shampoo” — my favorite in the movie — where Warren Beatty and Julie Christie are all alone in a guest house while a party is taking place in the main house on a vast estate, and in the distance we can hear music playing — otherwise it’s very quiet — and Beatty more or less explains that he’s always been in love with Christie, and I thought, “Why could this never happen now?” And then I thought, “Well, for one thing, it’s a very adult conversation for two people in their thirties, who would be acting more like teenagers now, at least in L.A., but also neither one is texting or otherwise glancing at a screen. They’re completely focused on each other.”

      There are ways in which I would characterize myself as childish, to be sure, but my childishness doesn’t manifest itself in the movies I watch or the books I read. I just acquired my present taste when I was in my early teens, and I’ve stuck with it. It’s much the same with music, although it’s rare for me to listen to the bands I liked as a teenager, aside from the classic bands like the Beatles, the Stones, etc., and I don’t even listen to them very often. Music doesn’t evoke a lot of nostalgia in me, the way it does with many others. It has to evoke something about now.

      Mailer did a lot of harm to himself with what he recognized rightly, later in life, as foolish remarks on his part, and stabbing his wife didn’t exactly help. But he’s not the person that he was made out to be by those who hated him. A buffoon at times, sure, but I like even that about him, that he took so many risks. As for Didion, I don’t see how anyone, male or female, can read her early essays and not recognize how tremendous they are. In fact, she’s very detached, which is often regarded as a male trait. Either way, she’s not especially hailed by feminists — maybe because she wrote a withering essay about feminism around 1970. She was never a joiner, and I like her as much as I do in part because she’s that rare thing in contemporary America: an independent thinker.

      Of course I’m pleased and flattered if you no longer have time to comment at TNB, which I can well understand, you made an exception for me, particularly during your lunch break.

  20. Okay, now I’m officially wishing I wrote something better for the collection. I didn’t realize you were going to get medieval on this goddamn essay and now I’m left feeling slightly queasy/jealous.

    Ah, well.

    Tell you what, though, it’s astonishing how similar our movie watching influences/worldviews are. Or, maybe it’s more common than I thought to have had a lifetime fascination with Billy Mumy. Around the age of 11 I was given The Twilight Zone Companion for my birthday by a truly perceptive uncle, and would keep it by the television to mark off all the episodes I hadn’t seen (very few) and make notations and comments in the synopses. But that “banishing to the field” routine really stuck with me, as much or more than any other episode. Further, I could easily write a 10k response right now to your comments on Elliot Gould and how much The Long Goodbye twisted my brainstem, presumably for the better. Even getting into Who’ll Stop The Rain, from the book to the movie to the song, would require hours of commentary. Suffice it to say that I understand. At least I think I do.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Billy Mumy. I saw him interviewed on TV long after the peak of his fame, and he was kind of creepy, I thought. But I believe I thought that because he reminded me of a longhaired stoner neighbor whose brother had been killed in Vietnam.

      I asked myself when I was writing this essay if “It’s a Good Life” is the best episode of “The Twilight Zone,” but, you know, there are so many great episodes, it’s hard to say. But it’s certainly one of the best, and I’m sure it’s stuck with many others, not just us. It really nailed how autocratic children can be, or, arguably, are.

      I know you’re a huge fan of “Dog Soldiers,” a book I have yet to read, although I always thought the movie adaptation should have stuck with the original title. I’m sure the movie wasn’t as good as the book, but it was very striking to me at the time I saw it. “Who’ll Stop the Rain” was, in a sense, my introduction to Nietzsche, who’s referenced in it by the Nolte character, who, as I’m sure you know, was based somewhat on Neal Cassady, which was why, in the movie at least, Nolte dies on a railroad track. Also, I always had a thing for Tuesday Weld; and I knew you and I must be completely in tune, movie-wise, when you called me — not just wrote me but called me — to tell me about “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” one of my favorite movies of the last decade. Tom Hansen likes that one also.

      Oh, and any jealous or queasiness I may have inspired was all according to my evil — which, as you must know from having seen “Star Wars,” is bad — plan. Be afraid, fellow scribes! I shall rule the universe one day! Although I don’t know how I could ever manage to do that, since I don’t even rule my own mind.

  21. Tom Hansen says:

    Duke, you rock man. The seventies were indeed a great time for movies. Check out a documentary called “A Decade Under The Influence.” I loved “The Long Goodbye.” My friends didn’t get it. I also loved Paddy Chayevsky’s movies, “The Hospital” and “Network.” Scary prophetic. Someone asked me about “Iron Man” and I said “I’m not seeing another Robert Downey Jr. movie until he gets back on dope.” BTW, I killed Han Solo on facebook. It got a bunch of “likes” so maybe we’re making progress.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      But how does one kill Han Solo? Can it be done again? Though I would have to shoot for Luke first. I knew I was in trouble with “Star Wars” when Luke was introduced in that scene where he was having lunch or something with his parents, and he was kind of like, “Can I go away to camp for the summer?” and they were like, “We’re sorry, Luke, but you have to stay here and help us grow space vegetables.” Wasn’t that kind of the sense of it? Regardless, I thought, “Yeah, right. They’re in some other fucking galaxy and he’s pouting because he can’t borrow the old man’s wheels.”

      I’ve seen “A Decade Under the Influence.” How could I not see a documentary with a title inspired by my favorite Cassavetes movie? (Unless that’s “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.”) “Network” is brilliant, of course, and I’m not surprised that your friends didn’t get “The Long Goodbye.” Frankly, I’m surprised that I got it at the age I did — it’s definitely quirky — but there was something about Altman generally at the time that spoke to me. I loved “Nashville” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” which I think have now supplanted “The Long Goodbye” as my favorite movies by Altman, the last in particular.

  22. Debbie says:

    Hey Duke! I haven’t gotten a chance to read this whole essay through (been missing in action a lot lately) , but I did manage to get through the first part..and might I say….Holy Hell! You can FUCKING WRITE man!!! I knew you could before, but the first half of this piece has blown me away! I can’t wait to sit down later and finish reading it. 🙂 Glad to see you’re still at it.


    • D.R. Haney says:

      Debb, we must be telepathic. I was just thinking this morning, “Where is Debb? Is she done with TNB for good? Will I have to go and [metaphorically] drag her back here?” But because we’re telepathic, such measures were unnecessary.

      I’m kind of blown away that you’re blown away by the first half. I hope you aren’t disappointed by the second.

  23. D.R. Haney says:

    Z, look way down here!
    Our thread’s been discontinued!
    I’m stuck in mud! Help!

  24. Zara Potts says:

    It’s been too too long.
    How I have suffered from the
    Haiku hiatus!!

  25. Joe Daly says:

    Had to break this up into two reading sessions, but happy that I did. I’ve always felt that I missed out on the great treasures of our classic movies. I’ve never seen Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, or A Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe it’s because growing up, my family and friends were generally uninterested in movies, save for pop culture riots like Star Wars, which I think people in my city attended simply to feel like we were connected to the rest of the world. When your city inspires no culture of its own, your culture becomes whatever the rest of the world is doing.

    I never picked up on the bell bottom/feathered hair anachronism in Happy Days. Chuckled when you pointed that out.

    I didn’t really care either way about Star Wars except for relentlessly practicing drawing Stormtrooper faces on my book covers and notebooks. That’s one of those movies that for me seems to actually get worse with each viewing.

    I finally shook off a decade of cinematic ambivalence when my dad let me see The Godfather with him and that’s when the possibilities of movies really opened wide before me. Likewise, your piece reminds me that beyond the shit on PPV and in the theaters, there are some great “old” films out there that I can enjoy for the first time. That’s a pretty cool realization and this is a very cool piece. Well done, Duke.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m sorry that two sessions were required, Joe, but of course pleased that you returned for the second. Thanks.

      In an ideal world, to find a good movie you would only have to open your local alt-weekly and scan the ads for new releases. In the real world, you’re unlikely to find a good movie that way; you’re going to have to watch an old one at home care of Netflix or what have you. But the “you” I have in mind is any grownup; there are a lot of good movies out there for fourteen-year-olds, and Hollywood makes them because it knows fourteen-year-olds are a very reliable audience. Show them something that’s “cool,” and they’re in, man. Grownups are more discriminating, though, as I wrote in the piece, I’m not so sure about that anymore.

      You know what’s cool to me? Your dad. I already knew he was cool from reading your piece about him, but, man, I begged my parents to let me see “The Godfather,” and they wouldn’t budge. I think I even shed a few tears — that’s how badly I wanted to see it. Eventually, I did, when it played at the local revival house. But it took a while, and my parents had nothing to do with it.

      As for “Happy Days,” it started off as a better show than the show it quickly became. Originally, it was filmed, not taped before a live audience that went wild every time the Fonz said, “Heeeeeeeeeyyy,” and it looked like an accurate recreation of the period. But when the show became as successful as it did, I think the attitude was, “Who cares if the hairstyles or clothes are a little contemporary? People like that, and it’s not like it’s going to cause them stop watching.” And indeed they did keep watching, even after the show jumped the shark — in fact, that term, as I’m sure you know, originated with “Happy Days,” when the Fonz, on his motorcycle, jumped a shark.

  26. Damn it! What happened to my post about how much I hate the word ‘knickers’? Because Christ, I hate that word.

    There’s a scene in The Office where Michael Scott incurs the wrath of his drama class because in every single free-play exercise they have, he pulls out an imaginary gun, and they have to play along. His rationale for doing so is that ‘Having a gun, is the single most exciting thing that can happen at any time.’

    Cut to Inception, a thriller promoted on the grounds of being intricate, mature, and a plummeting abseil into the depths of the human mind and the possibilities of imagination therein, and the most common antagonists?

    Dudes with guns.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Roger Corman had a theory that chicks with guns make for good box office, and he was apparently vindicated. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely prefer chicks with guns as antagonists.

  27. Zara Potts says:

    How about chicks with guns in their knickers?

  28. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I saw this piece days ago and finally found time to give it its due. It’s amazing to me the capacity for your writing to be read like an old book, not that I believe the print form is a certifiably superior place for the well-written word, just that yours is the kind of writing that you want to take and carry along, available on your person somehow. So then this piece ends up, as I see it, as its own triumph over some of the 21st century problems it details.

    Doesn’t hurt that I share so much of your take on the movies and affection for a time or place where “theaters were palaces.” It’s great to be reminded of films like The Last Picture Show, that seem to have been too quickly forgotten. Maybe there’s a movie waiting to be made that can revisit those characters again and do what the poor sequel Texasville didn’t and instead illustrate what has happened to real small-town movie magic.

    But as you and many comments here have said, they make kids movies for adults now, and vice versa. Adults are expected to seriously consider or attempt to critique Captain America while kids are perched in front of Rango (an incidently creative, even something close to high-brow animated film).

    I was reading about Pauline Kael’s life, as reviewed in two new books about her in The New Yorker recently. They talked about her approach to film criticism as intuition. She felt the films in her gut first and wrote from there. Few seem to do this anymore, one reason Cynthia’s anthology sounded so exciting to me. Now reading your contribution, I can’t wait to get this thing in my hands.

    And you brought up Malick too. I just yesterday happened upon a cable movie channel guide with Tree of Life sandwiched between The Green Lantern and something about a wacky zookeeper. It was an impressive, true surprise to find the man behind Days of Heaven still at this. The visions aren’t yet all gone.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I was really hoping you would weigh in, Nat, because you’ve said such kind things about other essays I’ve written that deal about similar subjects, and I was curious as to how you might react to this one. As I worked on it, I actually thought a couple of times, “I wonder what Nat will think of this. ”

      A number of the movies I discussed are now regarded as classics, but even so I wasn’t sure how many people who might read this essay might have seen those movies. Interestingly, I was hearing a fair amount about “Five Easy Pieces” a few years back; one friend of mine, younger than me, became obsessed with it, watching it over and over again, and there were other indications that a new generation had discovered it. But “The Last Picture Show” — I haven’t heard anyone mention that in a while now. You’re right that “Texasville” was a disappointment; not only was the direction flat but the updates of the characters struck me as wrong in almost every case. I just couldn’t see the Jeff Bridges character evolving into a successful oilman, and I thought it was dopey for the Cybill Shepherd character to have become a Hollywood actress, as well as to have developed something of a conscience, and there was Cloris Leachman acting all chipper, when she was so sad at the end of “The Last Picture Show,” dragging herself around in a bathrobe while watching TV in the middle of the day. “Texasville” had more in common with a soap opera than it did with “The Last Picture Show.” Some have argued that Peter Bogdanovich was only good when he was working with his wife Polly Platt, whom he dumped for Shepherd while making “The Last Picture Show,” although Platt — incredibly, despite being, as I understand it, understandably devastated by the divorce — agreed to work with him later on “Paper Moon,” another excellent movie.

      I hadn’t considered that kid movies are now being made for adults, but you’re right, which I say without knowing much about those movies. Once, on an airplane, I watched “Finding Nemo,” I think it was, and I’ve seen bits and pieces of others. But, you know, it’s an old Hollywood tradition to insert adult jokes into cartoons, as per the great Warner Brothers shorts with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, et al. I love them.

      I read a couple of pieces on Salon the other day about Pauline Kael. These books are causing people to talk about her again, and although she was notoriously down on many of the great art films of her time, films I like and in some cases love, she was a terrific writer. Unfortunately, with online customer reviews eradicating the need, in the minds of many, for serious film criticism, it seems doubtful that we’ll ever see the likes of Kael again, though of course she spawned many imitators.

      I’m glad I saw “The Tree of Life” on the big screen, where it demands to be seen, although I had mixed feelings about it. I was riveted by the first half, which kept veering off into odd directions, so that you weren’t sure what to expect, but then the movie settled into a decided direction, only to veer off again for a conclusion that, for me at least, was hard to take. I think Malick’s best film may have been “Badlands” (which Kael hated), if only because it has the strongest spine. I don’t know anything about Malick’s working methods, but the evidence suggests that he wanders away from the script when he gets on location and shoots a lot of stuff that catches his eye, and later, in the editing room, he tries to make sense, or a kind of sense, of what he’s shot. But nobody else makes movies like his, that’s for sure, and for that reason, if no other, I admire him.

      Thanks for what you say about my writing, Nat. I’ve been up all night trying to finish a screenplay – a (low) paying assignment – in which there’s a character named Matt, so every time I write your name, I have to pause to remind myself that it’s Nat, not Matt – force of habit, you understand.

      • Nathaniel Missildine says:

        Like you, no matter the veering and meandering of Malick, I always admire him because you can count of something beautiful with him. Your speculation about his methods from what I’ve heard is spot on, I knew someone who worked on The Thin Red Line who talked about receiving dailies of nothing but hours and hours of swaying reed shots. But his visual sense is so strong, you’d almost like to get a look at everything. I mean, the image you have from Days of Heaven alone was enough to stop me dead in my tracks while reading.

        I like the idea of Badlands having the strongest spine.

        And that’s a high compliment, that I was thought of at all while you wrote this.

        But you really ought to just change that character’s name to Nat. Easier all around.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          It’s always nice to have one’s theories corroborated, Nat. And of course it’s true that Malick has a magnificent eye. I tried to find an image that would substantiate what I meant by “visually stunning,” thinking I would be able to find many, but, weirdly, so many of the online images of “Days of Heaven” make it look like just another movie.

          A lot of thoughts cross my mind while writing — don’t you find it the same? I’m never more focused, yet the subconscious mind is more accessible than it is ordinarily, which, in a paradoxical way, helps with focus — I have to concentrate harder to myself heard about the din. Some people write with music playing for a similar reason, just as others prefer to write in cafes or the like.

          The names in this particular screenplay were supplied before I began work on it. But it occurs to me that I’ve never written a character named Nat — Nathaniel, yes, but not Nat — so maybe next time, if there is a next time. Like so many people in my line of work, I always think every job is going to be my last.

  29. Ryan Day says:

    Jesus. I should have read this earlier. You hit about 50 nails on their heads. A regular carpenter. In any case you’re no dinosaur. It’s the world you’re looking at that’s gone all prehistoric. I blame the preoccupation with exposed bricks.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      If it’s true that I hit a few nails on the head, your saying so makes my hands hurt a little less after I missed with the hammer repeatedly. Meanwhile, as you know, exposed bricks can be dangerous, particularly when they’re loose and looming overhead. Or something like that. I’m getting reckless with the hammer again.

      You’re the milk! Happy Halloween to you and the senorita.

  30. Wow, I’ve been meaning to read this for like a week. And I can’t even read all the comments without going, um, cross-eyed (see there’s a place for print…). And in fact, I printed out your piece just so I could really read it. I love it. So smart, and I have a soft spot for Seventies movies and their moral complexity too. And (I will just keep adding conjunctions to convey all the love I have for this here) appreciate your analysis of Seventies movies and giving them a larger cultural context. I’ve always felt they were also in part a response to the moral failures and complexities of the late Sixties and early Seventies when just about every revolution failed from ’68 on through the morass of Vietnam. By the late Seventies people just had to escape. I mean, disco is all about this kind of narcissistic abandon.

    One element of that era that I’ve often been fascinated by — even threatened to do a Ph.D. on was the shift in how the body was looked at and represented from the early 70s on. TV news had graphic images from Vietnam at the same time performance art was starting to focus on putting the body in extreme positions like Gina Pane carving makeup in her face and Chris Burden waiting to be run over by a car and Vito Acconci masturbating under the floor of galleries, while at the same time porn movies were getting extremely tight focused on cum shots and the like and they all seemed linked. This kind of fragmenting of the body…

    Anyway, now I go on, but I want to hear more. Thank you…

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I just clicked on your blog, Jennifer, and noted your post about cider. My maternal grandparents, who lived on a dairy farm where I spent much of my childhood, used to make cider every fall from the apples that grew on a tree next to the chicken yard. That’s a warm memory, so thanks for prompting it, and thanks also, of course, for the kind words about this piece and for going to the trouble of printing it out. It’s lengthy, to be sure, and for that reason, if no other, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of response; the response I received came as a pleasant surprise.

      I think you’re right about the need for escape, but, interestingly, the need for escape has not only persisted but expanded since the culture took that turn in the seventies. I think it started somewhere in the early seventies, going by the music at the time, which became increasingly less challenging, less “dangerous,” than so much of the music that’s still remembered from the sixties. (Yet the sixties were also the decade of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, a staggeringly successful act, as well as the Fifth Dimension, which was likewise a staggeringly successful act that allowed respectable types to groove to “The Age of Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In,” songs from “Hair,” which scandalized many respectable types with its onstage nudity. I mention this because even I have a tendency, as much as try to resist it, to sentimentalize the sixties as the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll era, when that was bound to have been true for a only a small, though a heavily publicized, minority.) Of course metal took off in the early seventies, but metal, to me, was always too theatrical, too circuslike, to pose any real threat. Meanwhile, the early seventies were famous for singer-songwriters in the tradition of Dylan, but there was less and less interest in their hippie-ish navel-gazing as the decade wore on. Disco was the perfect vehicle for what you accurately call narcissistic abandon. People didn’t want to think anymore. They were exhausted, just as their parents and grandparents had been exhausted by the Great Depression and WWII — hence the bland fifties, as well as the nostalgia for the fifties that began in the early seventies, as I mentioned in the piece.

      But I think there’s another reason that American movies suddenly became interesting in the seventies, and that’s that movies, being so expensive to make, couldn’t respond to the various revolutions of the sixties with the speed of music or print. The writer Eve Babitz, who hung out with the likes of Jim Morrison, once said that movies “always got it wrong,” which was not only her attitude at the time but, I gather, the attitude of many of her generation. Movies only started to get it right, as it were, in the waning days of the sixties, and of course they peaked in the seventies, when it was music that was getting it wrong.

      My fine-arts education is, unfortunately, seriously lacking. I used to know a lot more about it than I know now — one of my roommates in NYC was (and is) a visual artist, and I absorbed, and unfortunately have since forgotten, a great deal from his talk about the art world — but maybe the fragmentation of the body in art anticipated the kind of intellectual fragmentation brought about by the Internet. But I suppose it existed long before: one of the early criticisms of television was that everything from the grave to the silly was being seen in short bursts, and rendered equally weightless, as restless viewers constantly changed channels. But I also think the art world was looking to break new ground, which became increasingly difficult to do as censorship laws were relaxed or retired in the sixties, and what could be more shocking than a man shooting himself in a gallery? Yes, Chris Burden was a hard act to follow. Yet I’m consistently struck by how easily people can be shocked even now, when I would think we’re all thoroughly jaded.

      I hope this is somewhat coherent. I’m writing in a hurry, and still reeling a little from a shock of my own: a computer ailment that I had good reason to think might be terminal.

      • Wow, for one typing on the hoof so to speak, lovely to see where your thoughts turn. From proustian cider to disco and nihilistic escapism. I’m perpetually fascinated by the 50s and 70s. One aspect of which in each is sexuality. In the 50s sex as we know it seemed to take birth and there were such contrarian attitudes between Playboy and Housewife –which aren’t really a contradiction being all about the girl next door. But, also a total reaction to the freedom women had in the 40s. Everything from fashion to porn was regressive – and we got the “teenager” too.

        The 70s was also regressive (but I went on about that before). It was also that decade where along with disco, swinging went mainstream. But disco too had a more subversive edge originally. Car Wash — for all its slight hokeyness was one of the first expressions of disco but also voiced complex race/class issues. (Smuggled in as it were and then appropriated as disco got emptied of meaning…).

        There’s also that you mention of how technology shifts how we think, TV et al– and what Greg said in his response too about porn and the internet and being a skimmer vs a reader. Technology does change us, but when people first rode trains, they’d get “train sick,” a bit like we experience jet-lag… Which is all to say I think that the idea that technology changes us is true and also not. Then again, I bribe my husband to read novels (and not Treehugger, Apple Insider, Facebook and Pop urls) with chocolate. 5 bars per book, which is my attempt to do a technology override.

        Meanwhile you are going through your own tech breakdown. Which I hope isn’t terminal — or too troublesome. All of which is to say I’m thinking of you and your computer by the light of the blinking cursor.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I think the disaster has been staved off, thanks. I knocked my mouse off the desk, and to my amazement, this screwed up the motherboard, but only the part of it that governs the ports for both the mouse and the keyboard — not a very interesting story, I’m afraid.

          As a matter of fact, I’ve been trying to map out a novel that would deal (in part) with sex from the fifties through the seventies, though a lot of it would take place in the sixties. The idea of writing about the sixties, in fiction, is daunting because it’s been done so often and the potential for cliché runs high — I just finished reading a novel that deals with the sixties, which was kind of like a primer in what not to do. But I think there was much more sexual freedom before the fifties than is commonly recognized. I’m specifically thinking of the forties, when the war was on and unattached women were tacitly encouraged to sleep with, and so hearten, soldiers — V-girls, I believe the women who fulfilled their patriotic duty were called — while it was understood and, undoubtedly with some grumbling here and there, accepted that men were getting laid overseas (though of course it wasn’t understood or accepted that their wives and girlfriends might be having affairs on the home front). When the war was over and the soldiers returned, a new — or, really, an old — moral standard became the norm; women, just as you say, had to give up the freedom they enjoyed during the war, though, at the same time, men were expected to be faithful breadwinners. It’s one of the clichés of the fifties that a great many people were leading lives of quiet despair, and that must have been particularly true for those with memories of sexual adventure in the forties, so the moment was ripe for a mainstream publication dedicated to sex, as Hugh Hefner recognized. I have my problems with Playboy, which never really allowed that sex has, or can have, a dark side; on the other hand, the idea that even “nice girls” enjoy sex was, in its own small way, revolutionary. Marilyn Monroe’s career wasn’t destroyed when her nude calendar photos were widely circulated in the early fifties, as might have happened with a Hollywood actress not so long before; on the contrary, the publication of those shots helped to further establish her, as she suspected they would, though her keepers thought otherwise. Like Hefner, she saw that the times were a-changin’. I credited Brando, as well as Elvis and Kerouac, for paving the road for the sixties, but so did Monroe, as well as Elizabeth Taylor, who, without apology, took up with any man she damned well pleased. Though the public branded her a homewrecking slut, it was clearly fascinated by her moxie and, over time, came to admire it and love her for it.

          I hadn’t considered what you said about “Car Wash,” but you must admit that most disco records — I’m not sure how many of them truly qualify as “songs,” being so repetitive and open-ended — weren’t much on “messages,” that crucial value of the Dylan-influenced sixties. (John Lennon once said that, when he played new songs for friends, he’d tell them, “Don’t listen to the words, listen to the music” — before Dylan, that is. Dylan, meanwhile, according to Lennon — if I’m remembering his quote right — would say, “Don’t listen to the music, listen to the words.” Dylan recognized the brilliance of the Beatles immediately, and eventually, of course, Dylan went electric, while the Beatles, along with every other important rock & roll band of the sixties, placed much more importance on lyrics — a key moment in recent, or relatively recent, cross-pollination.)

          I know what you mean about people being changed, and not, by technology, though, if today’s technocrats have their way, we’re going to see some radical changes in how we define being human in the years ahead. I’m speaking of the Singularity, of the so-called posthuman world that makes technocrats positively giddy with anticipation. If they succeed, however, there will never again be another St. Steve Jobs, and that might bother technocrats, who wouldn’t in the least be bothered by the absence of a future Picasso or Shakespeare. They generally lack the art chip. Meanwhile, I never understood the desire for Oneness. I’m much too fond of friction, which can’t be had without opposites.

          Oh, and your bribes of chocolate — does that work?

  31. So what was the what-not-to-do 60s novel? I have to say that era is daunting simply because how do you top Updike? I have a particular love for Couples. He’s not everyone’s cuppa, but there is a kind of crystalline hardness to his prose and the way he makes earrings “coruscate” and thighs seem real and animal…

    I was going to start a 50s – late 58-1961 – novel and might write it still at some point. It’s an era that fascinates me– the start of the jet age and a shrinking world and so much optimism. Yet it was illegal to be gay, and it was also the birth of the Barbie in those days which is kind of the sex-less woman. Playboy too was oddly sexless, you know? I think you do.

    The 40s are also fascinating. Have you read Elizabeth Bowen, her writing about London in the War is frank and amazing in its ability to capture the sexual moment at that time. I did a show for the Museum of Sex in NY that tracked women’s position and power (or disempowerment) in culture through pinups. Just the way they were posed says a great deal for how women were viewed at that moment. The Fifties started to have ladies with plush toys and beach balls, basically infantilizing them. It was the same time that women had to step out of the workplace and back into the home. All of which makes me The Misfits all the more because it runs counter to all that, and to the whole Marilyn industry. And, Marilyn wears jeans in it.

    I’d love to hear more about your 50s-70s novel. Just talking about that era and sexuality makes me want to go back to my 50s-60s one (with a dash of 40s in it as the backstory). At the moment as you might have gathered from my blog, I’m super obsessed with writing about the sticks, so the one I’m working on is set here.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Steve, I’m wondering what you’re loling about. Did somebody tape a sign to my back that says KICK ME or something? I’m sure I somehow earned it.

      • The longest essay I’ve ever seen on TNB (and a very interesting one), followed by some of the longest (and most interesting) comments I’ve ever seen on TNB – one of which is an essay itself – well, what was my natural reaction? Leave the shortest, most stupid comment possible. Firing up Scrivener to write a proper response now.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I considered serializing this piece or posting only an excerpt from it, but I noticed a couple of other essays at TNB that were approximately the same length as this one, so I thought, well, if they can do it, so can I. And I daresay there are a few comments on this board that were practically essays in themselves — mea culpa — so I’m glad to know that someone took the time to read them and, in retrospect, “lol” supplied some needed and welcome balance. Of course you might also have contributed a one-liner to the panty talk, but there will undoubtedly be many opportunities for that on other boards in the future. In fact — hint, hint — if anyone ever wanted to break the record for the most comments on a post ever at TNB, I would suggest they write a piece about panties, and be sure to include a passage about “knickers” so as to guarantee input from Simon Smithson.

  32. D.R. Haney says:

    Jennifer, at the expense of appearing, or even being, gutless, I’m reluctant to name the novel I criticized, because it came highly recommended by another TNB contributor. Also, in a sense, the author of the novel is himself a contributor, having been interviewed here and even participating once on the message boards, which doesn’t happen often with our “guests.” But the novel shares the name of a Bruce Willis movie, which was telling since the book proved to be, as I saw it, pulp dressed up in fancy-pants language and heavy-handed symbolism taken from Greek mythology. (Two of the characters are referred to by the initials “D” and “O,” and though anyone could have guessed without additional clues that the initials stood for Dionysus and Orpheus, the author drives home the point with a sledgehammer, at one point, for instance, having the Orpheus character being told not to look back as he lures away with song his lady love — who’s called Eerie, not Eurydice.) I have nothing against pulp per se — there’s good pulp, just as there’s good disco — but this book pretends to be something more. It’s trying to be literary, and I suppose it succeeds, but its embellishments in that way are at odds with its salacious subject matter, which can almost be reduced to a high-concept pitch, as such things are called, or anyway used to be called, in Hollywood: What if two of the Manson killers had eluded capture and were reunited after 9/11? Like, dude, that’s blowing my mind!

    I haven’t read much of Updike, I’m embarrassed to say, only a story here and a book review there. I enjoyed his criticism, the little of it I read, but I suppose I was put off by his fiction because it was Fiction, if you see what I mean. A theme is emerging in this comment. Yes, I’m finding Fiction more and more problematic, with its narrative conventions and its stylistic flourishes that assure serious readers that they’re, in fact, reading Good Fiction™. I like a nice turn of phrase as much as anyone, but so often, for me at least, such phrases feel like vanities and — now I’m repeating myself – they clash with content. Mailer’s “The Executioner Song” was a novelization of a high-profile, true-crime case and not fiction per se, but even so I loved that Mailer — who can get pretty carried away, prose-wise — wrote that book as simply as possible. He was rewarded for doing so, but I wonder how many others would similarly be rewarded – a question I ask myself as I ponder my new novel, if it ever becomes one. The subject of this novel is definitely pulpy (though it’s not “high concept”), but it’s not so pulpy that it should be written as straight-ahead pulp, and even it were, does that mean I’m not allowed to be, at times, “literary”? The line between good fiction and Good Fiction isn’t as distinct as I may seem to be arguing. But it definitely represents a problem when I try to determine why I like what I do – and that’s always evolving, as it does for most of us – and what, as a writer, I want to do next. And because I don’t know if the novel I’m pondering will survive the first trimester, it’s probably best that I avoid discussing it, though I definitely share your fascination with the early sixties, which was kind of an overlooked era before “Mad Men” reintroduced it. But my interest in it predated “Mad Men,” partly because the culture was so obviously on the verge of massive change in the early sixties, yet the changes that came couldn’t have been what so many were idealistically expecting. We did go to the moon, of course, as JFK promised we would do in his inauguration address, but from the moment JFK was assassinated, the sixties went haywire — and it may be that we would never have reached the moon as fast as we did had JFK not been assassinated, which possibly made for added incentive.

    I feel as though, in our exchange here, I’m constantly saying this sort of thing, but, no, I haven’t read Elizabeth Bowen. But didn’t she know, and write approvingly of, Flannery O’Connor? That alone would recommend her. Meanwhile, it’s of course true that Playboy was, and still is, oddly sexless. Before Playboy, as I know you know, pinups were largely shot in studios with paper — or, in the case of the Monroe calendar nudes, cloth — backdrops, and Hefner believed that he was liberating the pinup by having women photographed in “natural” settings. Playboy was always emphasizing the “natural,” yet the women in Playboy were often the opposite of natural. They were airbrushed in the old days — a charge Hefner denied — but now surgery has removed the need for airbrushing. Playboy had many imitators, of course, but no real competitors until Penthouse came along, and while many thought that Penthouse was stealing Playboy readers because it was more graphic, in fact I think it’s because the photography in Penthouse was more sensuous, more tactile, less contrived and artificial. Apparently, Hefner privately acknowledged all this, and he nagged his editors to produce similar results, without much success. Bob Guccione may have been a bad painter, but I’ve read that the film he shot of his models used to mysteriously disappear in the labs where it was sent to be developed. But the point of Playboy wasn’t just to arouse or titillate; it was to make accessible to a wide audience an aristocratic notion of manhood, one that suavely took pleasure in the arts, from literature to wine to fashion and so on, which, in theory, would attract multiple mistresses — the privilege of aristocracy — who were handily supplied to the reader on paper. Were the paper mistresses infantilized? Well, they weren’t called Playmates for nothing. Meanwhile, the idea of manhood that Hefner helped to democratize is now outdated, of course, but it was everywhere in the late fifties and early sixties, including the James Bond movies.

    It’s way cool, by the way, that you did a show at the Museum of Sex. But it would have come as a surprise to me as a teenager to hear any locale outside of the South characterized as “the sticks.” I thought that term was coined for the South.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Obviously I respectfully disagree about Bruce Willis Movie. The writing is breathtakingly good, the mythological elements well utilized (no one does that anymore!), and the link between Manson and 9/11 not obvious, at least not to me. Also, the D. and O., while fairly obvious to you and me, is met with extreme bafflement by most of humanity, as I know firsthand from teaching the book to a class of bewildered undergraduates earlier this semester. One of the rare examples of you and I differing in opinion.

      I’ve enjoyed this exchange, guys. Although Jen, I too want to know about this bribery system, and what prevents Mr. Jen from going to the candy store himself. Surely there’s a place to buy Hershey bars in M’Ville?

      • D.R. Haney says:

        And I was so sure you wouldn’t see this! I did note that Jennifer — I only just “met” her, so it doesn’t seem right for me to refer to her as Jen — had left a comment on your recent post, but I didn’t take that to mean that you knew each other outside of TNB.

        I’m not sure what you mean when you say that the writing of the book in question is breathtakingly good. Is it grammatically sound, well paced, rich in metaphor, and so on? Sure, okay, I’ll give it that — but I wouldn’t expect anything less from an author who’s been writing as long as this one has. Good Writing is a skill, the natural result of practice, the same as Good Acting, and I’ve never accepted Good Acting as, necessarily, good acting. There’s been talk about Marilyn Monroe in this thread, and she wasn’t a Good Actress, but she interests me a lot more than, say, Meryl Streep, who’s indisputably skilled but almost always fails to move me. But to return to writing: it drives me crazy, as I know it does you, when I read sloppy work by someone with enough practice to know better, but once it’s been established that the work isn’t sloppy, that it’s well crafted, something else is needed, and that something means the difference between craft and — here comes the dreaded word! — art. It would have helped considerably, in the instance of the book in question, if the language had been a better match for the subject. Poetic license and all that, sure, but if this book were music it could only be sung by the likes of Beverly Sills — and yet it’s set at the acme of what Casey Kasem used to call the Rock Era!

        About the mythological aspect of the book, I was reminded of Oliver Stone stating, in an interview around the time his Doors movie was released, that he associated Jim Morrison with Dionysus or some such. I mean, that comparison has only been made several million times — and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration! — just as the sixties in general have been characterized as “Dionysian” several million times, but this book seems to think that’s an original thought! Which reminded me of something else: a review of Franzen’s “The Corrections” — and I believe you may have linked to that review once at TNB — in which the critic spoke of Franzen’s plot device of The Old Chair That Mom Wants To Throw Out But Dad Won’t Let Her, a device that, as the critic accurately remarked, has been used in countless sitcoms, only Franzen is such a snob, one who’s apparently never watched a sitcom (or, if he did, he instantly banished it from his superior mind), he doesn’t realize what a cliche it is. Also, having someone tell O. in this book not to look back, or connecting D. with wine, was like Franzen announcing in “The Corrections” that St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. Maybe, without such an announcement, most of humanity would be baffled, but is Franzen writing for most of humanity? That’s not what his style indicates. Nor is that indicated with the writer of the book we’re discussing. The style is ornate — perhaps dictated by the “daemons” who write his stories for him, as he tells us they do in the preface. Apparently his daemons are into stories of the ripped-from-the-headlines sort, which is fine — and I mean that sincerely — but it’s a little ridiculous, to me at least, to cite supernatural inspiration when the sources are common knowledge — and “common” is an understatement. Any kid on YouTube could put together a Manson-9/11 mashup. Of course, to the best of my knowledge, no kid has, but it’s far from impossible, and were it to happen, I doubt that any claim would be made for responsible “daemons.”

        But I say all this knowing none of it will change your mind; I’m only speaking my own. I thought the molestation part of the book was good — the most felt — and there were details here and there I liked — the way the protagonist referred to her mother, for instance — but the rest was unconvincing, and I mean that in the poetic sense in addition to the book’s inadequacy as the potboiler it really is but can’t admit to being. But that’s just me, of course.

        • Greg Olear says:

          My attention span is so short, my time so limited, my reading life so daunting, the stacks on my desk and nightstand and bookshelves so tall, that my resistance to reading anything, even something I “like” and “enjoy” for reasons artistic, literary, and fun, is impossibly high. It’s hard for me to finish anything. I get bored easily. I’m like a heroin addict who needs more concentrated goodness to replicate the last high. Every once in awhile I read a book that blows me away, to the point that a) I finish it, b) I ignore my family to do so, c) I think about it for weeks and longer afterward, and d) I want to read it again immediately. My response might be part emotional, part appreciative, I don’t know, but Bruce Willis passed the test (as did BFL, of course). The novel by the guy with the same first name as my hometown is not for all tastes — most people, I expect, will not like it, or may even hate it, as you seem to; from what I know of sales, that seems to be the case. But wow did it connect with me. Is it because I was in New York on 9/11? That my knowledge of the Manson stuff isn’t in depth, so the inaccuracies don’t stick in my teeth? I can’t say. But I read it, loved it, read it again recently for class and had the same response.

          • D.R. Haney says:

            I’ve asked myself if I hated the book, but that would be too strong a word, though I’m sure I gave that impression. There were definitely times when I hated it as I was reading, but when I came to the end, I had to concede that there was merit in the writing, despite the many misgivings I’ve mentioned, and I’m sure it’s a book I’ll continue to think about, and possibly — who knows? — something may turn in my head one day, so that I’ll see it in a different light. That happened with “Women in Love,” a book I didn’t like at all and I’ve since had the impulse to reread. And then there are books I used to love, like “On the Road,” which I reread precisely because I loved it, only to realize I no longer did. Don’t we all reappraise? And certainly almost everything you wrote of yourself — resistance to reading, easily bored, desk stacked with books, and so on — is true of me, though I’m sure I have more free time than you do, and lately most of my reading takes place on buses, where crazy people seem intent on destroying my already depleted powers of concentration. Anyway, you said it best before I followed up on your comment: you “respectfully disagree.” I should have left it at that, since I now have the sense that I didn’t express myself respectfully.

  33. Duke. After reading your piece and all the comments ( and great to see Jen here who I met a few weeks ago in Woodstock reading with Greg), I’m stumped as what to add. Except, that growing up in the sixties/seventies and a child of parents who adored the movies, these were the types of discussions that were likely to be had over our dinner table — discussions where my brother and I were expected to contribute. Pre-rating system, we saw everything my parents did from a very young age when they would rather pay for a movie ticket than a babysitter. Even older, we still tagged along. My parents loved nothing better than a good argument over directors. And I’m certain some of those discussions on plot and story had a lot to do with the way I write now. My brother and I were actually encouraged to wile away many a Saturday afternoon watching Creature Feature, Abbot and Costello, and the original Sherlock Holmes movies. And one of my favorite stories that my mother told me about her teen years was how she used to take the train into Manhattan, alone, from her sleepy little suburb fifteen minutes away, just to see a foreign movie. Often watching two or three in a day. I’m not sure what any of my comment adds to the fantastic piece you’ve written or the wild rodeo of comments ~ it’s just what popped into my head. So happy to see you back here, Duke.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      So happy to see you here, Robin! Yes, I guess it has been something of a rodeo, huh? But I didn’t expect it, and you’ve now cleared up the mystery of how Greg knows Jennifer. I’d forgotten that you and Greg did a reading together, and now he’s headed to the left coast.

      I was never encouraged to watch horror movies on TV when I was a kid. I had to beg and agree to perform all sorts of chores before I was finally allowed to watch our (sort-of) local horror host, Sir Graves Ghastly, whose show was broadcast out of Washington, D.C., on Saturday nights. (It wasn’t until recently that I learned that he was actually based in Detroit, though for a while he taped a second show for channel nine in D.C.) Just for the hell of it, here’s a link to a promo for his show:


      My dad was never much on movies, but I remember a day when I was in the park with my mom, and I think she and my dad may have argued earlier and she didn’t want to go home, so she took me to see a Paul Newman Western. I said, “Will there be Indians in it?” That was all I cared about, and there was, briefly, an Indian in the movie, which I remember we watched twice, but that was okay because it meant I got to see the Indian again. Not much of a memory, really, except that it’s telling about my family life in retrospect.

      It’s a little weird to me that I developed the interest in movies I did, since no one else in my family was especially enamored of them. I would’ve loved to have discussions like you did with your family, and now, usually, my relatives are the ones who raise the subject, but only to ask how I’m doing in the business of making movies.

      • Watching whatever we wanted wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be. I can remember the weekend where I sat through The Godfather (with my grandparents who I suspect only went to defend their Italian heritage!), and at a small revival house the next day: The Night of The Living Dead (with my brother who claimed the flesh-eaters sounded like they were eating chicken) ….. it was a little too much.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, I’ve written previously at TNB that the horror movies I watched as a kid probably contributed to the panic attacks I later developed. I don’t think it was the movies per se so much ( in fact, I was very rarely scared by them, though, as a toddler, even a still image of a werewolf would freak me out, and I had a recurring nightmare that I was being chased by the Frankenstein monster); I think I already had a morbid turn of mind that the movies amplified, and also, they raised questions about the nature of evil that I didn’t have the resources to address, questions that grew in my mind until they returned later, when I still didn’t have the resources to address them. On the other hand, I was deeply upset by the Biblical story of the Slaughter of the Innocents before I ever watched a horror movie; I remember seeing a depiction of the Christmas story on TV when I was maybe six and crying when, on the soundtrack, babies were heard shrieking and their parents lamenting. The Bible is full of horrifying stories, including, of course, the Crucifixion.

          Your brother may have been right: those flesh eaters, or anyway their Foley stand-ins, may have been eating chicken. “Night of the Living Dead” was yet another movie I stole out of the house to see at a midnight screening where the audience, mostly comprised of university students (many of whom, in retrospect, were probably stoned), giggled and hooted throughout. I, meanwhile, was disappointed by the movie, which I’d read somewhere was the scariest ever made. And it seems to me that “The Godfather” wasn’t received warmly by some Italian-Americans at the time it was released, because I remember it showing on TV years later, with significant cuts and a disclaimer by the network that said something like, “This movie is not meant to reflect poorly on certain communities as a whole.” Meanwhile, it opened with Francis Ford Coppola trying to place the movie in context, as if he were really saying, “Look, I’m Italian, and I directed ‘The Godfather’ and I’m not offended, obviously, so you shouldn’t be either.”

  34. pixy says:

    dear senor haney:

    for all the big, beautiful, true words herein, i have only one in response:



    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m trying to think of one word in response — which for me is a novel approach! — other than, simply, “thanks,” but no word with quite the impact of WORD occurs to me, and not wanting to repeat you, except for expressing it in caps, I hope that THANKS will do.


  35. Richard Cox says:

    Yeah, I should have written something deeper for the anthology. That’s what I’m taking from this. Haha.

    I mentioned Star Wars in my piece as well, and I’m divided on that film. On the one hand, the joy I felt at seeing it in the theater when it came out, when I was 6, is something I will always carry with me. And even now I sometimes pop in the DVDs and watch those films, which, even though there are plot holes big enough to steer the Millennium Falcon through, are grandfathered in my mind as worth watching.

    But there’s no question Star Wars had a profoundly negative effect on films as art. It would have happened anyway, this conversion of Hollywood from a producer of art to a profit center, but Star Wars hastened the transition. Then again, like sports programs at universities help fund education, the idiotic big budget films do sometimes help pay for the smaller, more interesting projects that might not otherwise get made.

    You know, after my first novel was published, I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to write formula fiction for money or write what I wanted to write. At one point I was under discussion to become a writer for Batman movie tie-in novels. Maybe it was a mistake, but I just couldn’t see taking one of the most important facets of my life and the thing that helps make me unique and turn it into assembly line work. I still write high concept stories, but I write them how I want, instead of copying every other airport thriller out there.

    Interesting essay, Duke. Thanks for sharing.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I recently had an exchange with Cynthia in which she said something like, “I wonder what Richard would have to say about your essay. He’s a big ‘Star Wars’ fan, you know.” I said, “I didn’t know. I know Slade is, but I don’t remember that about Richard.” So I’m glad to now learn you’re of a mixed mind about “Star Wars,” if only so that it doesn’t appear I’m forever knocking everything you like.

      What I’ve found is that a lot of people feel a certain nostalgia about “Star Wars” — Cynthia, I believe, counts herself among them — because of the strong impression it made on them when they saw it as children. I understand that — I find myself hunting down clips on YouTube of TV spots, for instance, that I remember from childhood, such as this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LWSOKOqh2c — but I would hope that we wouldn’t limit ourselves to the sort of things we enjoyed as children, as obviously didn’t happen with you (or, for that matter, Cynthia). I once had an argument with a learned friend who was slamming Spielberg as puerile, and, believe it or not, I took up for Spielberg. I said, “Movies like ‘E.T.’ are, potentially, gateways. Kids who like ‘E.T.’ may become so fascinated with movies that they’ll grow up to like Fellini or whatever.” Unfortunately, by and large, that doesn’t seem to have happened.

      I think there was a period where blockbusters paid for many more smaller movies than they do now. A friend is working on a movie produced by some big names, and while in the cutting room, he overheard a discussion between studio execs who said they’re doing nothing from remakes from now on — and by “remakes” I have a strong feeling they meant blockbusters that Gen-Xers remember from childhood.

      You were wise to go in the direction you did, if I may say so. One of the first things I thought, when I was offered my first real screenwriting job (not including the script I wrote for Corman), was, “It’s one thing to sell physical labor, but another to sell your mind.” But I’m afraid that’s what many do, meaning people with demanding desk jobs that in no way reflect their interests. It’s a rare and fortunate confluence when passion and employment meet.

  36. This thing called “Hackgate” was big news in Britain recently; reports of massive amounts of phone hacking by News International journalists and allegations that editors and even owners (Rupert Murdoch!) were complicit. Of course, UK Twitter twittered feverishly and its excitement went off the scale when Rupert and James Murdoch, and NI bigwig Rebekah Brooks were questioned by MPs.

    Before long the inevitable Star Wars analogies began to appear. “This is like when Luke’s X-Wing fired a torpedo…”, comparing Rupert Murdoch’s appearance to that of the Emperor, and so on. After a while, some people, myself included, started saying “No more Star Wars comparisons, please.”

    (Actually, as it was Twitter and we were British, it was more like “Have you noticed how it’s kind of like that bit in Star Wars where that thing happened?” and “I’m glad there are lots of Star Wars references because I’m only 39 and I can’t understand real events without them.”)

    I was six when Star Wars came out. I saw it at the cinema four times. When I was31, working at an art college, one of the MA students (aged 21) was a huge fan of the original three films. I asked why; he told me it was because Star Wars was one of the first films to become available on VHS. (“That and Jaws. And Alien, but I was a bit too young for them.”)

    So due to fortunate timing its child-friendly cleanliness, moral and narrative simplicity, and visual panache captured two successive generations. It was a fairy tale with eye-popping things to look at and it clamped onto our brains. I’m…not ashamed, but disappointed to say I still know all the characters’ names, more from reading the accompanying books and various spin-offs.

    Unfortunately some people just didn’t grow out of its black-and-white morality. When politicians speak of “pure evil” something is clearly wrong. “Pure evil” is not a concept an adult should entertain. Even Darth bleeding Vader isn’t “pure evil”.

    (The full quote was something like “I don’t know what’s going on in there [a Muslim community centre!] but I can tell you it’s PURE EVIL™”

    Hang on, didn’t you just say you don’t know what’s going on in there? So how can you ”IT’S PURE EVIL!” oh, OK.)

    I should mention that Daria Halprin in Zabriskie Point may be the most beautiful woman ever to appear in a film. Not so good at the acting thing, though. Also Antonioni shows Christopher Nolan a thing or two about blowing up food displays.

    I recently attended a reading by Welsh poet/author Joe Dunthorne, whose first novel “Submarine” was released as a film last year. I asked him: “A common criticism in reviews is This book has obviously been written with one eye on a possible movie adaptation or some variation on that. Do you have those thoughts? Do you try to suppress them?”

    Yes, he said, when he first tried to write a novel, it was heavily influenced by films he loved like Pulp Fiction “…and it was crap.” But he added that film and TV – visual forms – were his strongest influence. I nearly said “Me too, it’s the same for anyone of our generation,” but he was still talking, so it would have been rude to interrupt, and that gave me time to realise Dunthorne’s ten years younger than me. But really, isn’t it true of anybody born after the middle of the 20th century?

    When he started Submarine with a clean sheet he was actually trying to write an unfilmable novel, using a first person perspective with plenty of internal monologue, lists and letters. And it got picked up.

    One of my favourite quotes is from Francis Ford Coppola, regarding Apocalypse Now: “We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little…we went insane.”

    I don’t recall anything like that being reported from the set of Transformers 3.

    OK gonna post this now.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Amazing comment, Steve! Boy, when you fire up Scrivener, you don’t mess around.

      Unfortunately, I’m about to run out the door, so I’ll have to return to address the comment at length, but for the time being I’ll just say: I’m impressed that you recognized Daria Halprin, who I’ll agree was something. The last time I watched “Zabriskie Point” — a movie despised by many, though I love it — I was struck by how naturally she seemed to be making love to her co-star in the famous orgy-in-the-desert scene, and I thought, “Something must have been going on with them.” Sure enough, I learned that they became involved while shooting “Zabriskie Point,” and she joined the Lyman Family, a cult in Boston to which her co-star, Mark Frechette, already belonged. Later, he robbed a bank and died under suspicious circumstances in prison — a truly bizarre outcome for a guy who was discovered on the street during a highly publicized talent hunt for two unknowns to feature in Antonioni’s American debut. Antonioni never made another movie in America, of course, after “Zabriskie Point” flopped, and Daria Halprin went on to marry (and quickly divorce) Dennis Hopper and become a dance therapist, whatever that means. However, personally, if I were to name the most beautiful woman ever in a movie, I might have to go with Isabelle Adjani in “La Reine Margot”:


      More later, but, again, great comment.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        And now for the long-awaited (but of course not really) sequel to my hasty response to your comment.

        I think the acting in “Zabriskie Point” is one of the reasons people have been so hostile to the movie, but, strangely, it never bothered me. I almost like that Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette are so stiff in the movie; they were amateurs, after all, and if you want great acting, you can find plenty of it elsewhere. With “Zabriskie Point,” it’s just fascinating, for me at least, to see how Antonioni viewed America and the sixties. So what if he got it “wrong,” as so many said he did? To me, that’s like panning Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein because it’s not an exact likeness. Meanwhile, it must be admitted that, if nothing else, “Zabriskie Point” made for a fun trailer:


        I followed Hackgate a little in the news, but I hadn’t heard anything about the (inevitable) comparisons of Murdoch to Darth Vader (unless I’m confusing Darth Vader with the Emperor, who may be someone else), and so on. Many in the sixties believed that traditional religion was in decline — there was a famous cover of Time magazine that asked “Is God Dead?” (http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19660408,00.html) — so it was a good moment for the appearance of a new kind of pop-culture cosmology, even if it took a while for “Star Wars” to fill the (seeming) void, and Christianity proved far more resilient than many in the sixties predicted. I almost felt impelled to write an essay about “Cocoon” when I saw it long after it was released in 1985. Now, that’s a movie that really lays out our hidden (or not so hidden) beliefs about outer space and extraterrestials and the spirituality of technology and so on; it concludes with a memorial service, conducted by a Christian minister, for seniors thought to have been lost at sea, when in fact they’ve been spirited away by genderless, ageless, technologically (and therefore intellectually) advanced aliens, so that the seniors can “study” and become far more enlightened than the 0ld-fashioned folk attending their memorial, though, in the final seconds of the movie, a boy turns away from the pastor to look up at the heavens, which hold, as he knows, a very different sort of “angel” than the Christian sort. Yet this new kind of angel isn’t a pagan one, either, as it might have been in the sixties. The sixties came about in part because of technological developments, such as television, yet so much of the “radical” thinking of the sixties was in line with the Romantics, who were suspicious of “progress” and looked backward, not forward.

        I agree that almost everyone born in the latter half of the twentieth century is bound to be influenced by movies, whether they recognize it or they don’t. It took a long time for movies to become “respectable,” as literature was already respectable, and even now I occasionally hear remarks from writers about pop culture that seem almost apologetic, as if favoring this band or that TV show is a barrier against being taken seriously. (On the other hand, I’m consistently struck by how very unapologetic so many writers are about their love of, for instance, “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” et al; I hear far more about those shows than I tend to hear about books or, for that matter, movies.) I don’t see any contradiction, personally. Good is good, though my idea of “good” may be unfashionable. We’re ruled by a fashion to a degree that I think many of us hate to concede, including me. I mean, my love of rock & roll didn’t come out of fucking nowhere.

        Meanwhile, when Coppola spoke as he did about “Apocalypse Now,” I’m afraid he was speaking largely of himself. I don’t know that anyone went crazy in the jungle to the degree Coppola did, and there’s an interpretation of “Apocalypse Now” that’s always amused me: the Martin Sheen character is like a studio exec sent to fire an auteur for ignoring pleas from shareholders about the budget, schedule, and so on. Coppola was never the same after “Apocalypse Now,” just as, it’s been argued, Kubrick was never the same after “2001,” and that could certainly be said of Michael Cimino with “Heaven’s Gate.” A Rubicon of the mind was crossed, and, once that happened, there was no turning back. But things are much more tightly controlled now, not just with moviemaking but generally, I think.

        • I found the video, entitled “Hate Comes to Orange County”, and…well. The whole thing seems to have become a bit of a cause célèbre – not just the event itself, but various videos presenting different viewpoints. I looked – briefly – at the overall picture, even – briefly – taking leave of my senses and reading YouTube comments. The first was interesting, the second was ALL CAPS, the third used six?????? seven??????? punctuation marks at a time!!!!!!! and I soon regained focus. Where were we? Star Wars.

          Whatever the circumstances – and I am NOT getting into a political debate – Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly (whom I misquoted earlier – she didn’t actually contradict herself) said this: “Lemme tell you what is going on over there right now. Make no bones about it, that is pure, unadulterated evil.”


          My original point, that “pure evil” is not a concept an adult (let alone an elected official) should recognise, still stands. In the world of Star Wars, pure evil exists; it’s embodied by The Emperor, who’s Darth Vader’s boss, a wrinkly old boy in a cloak, played by Ian McDiarmid. He’s the character who provided the easy Rupert Murdoch reference, although Grandpa Simpson would have done just as well.

          Councilwoman Pauly was obviously grandstanding; she was on the mic with a vocally supportive audience. And because of the way the video’s edited, it’s not clear whether “over there” refers to the civic venue or the Middle East, but it’s pure evil, whatever it is. The original core point of your essay was that Star Wars contributed to the stupiding up of America. Did it influence – stunt – the moral development of Councilwoman Pauly and her fans?

          Also, ET was the story of Jesus, wasn’t it? In fact it was pretty much a remake of Whistle Down the Wind.

          As usual, not sure where I’m going now, so I’ll just post. Post!

  37. D.R. Haney says:

    Well, I have now had a look at the clip you mention — is this the one? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NutFkykjmbM — and I like how Councilwoman Pauly follows up “pure unadulterated evil” with: “I don’t even care if you think I’m crazy anymore.” It becomes truly disturbing a second later, however: “an early meeting in paradise,” etc.

    I rejected the idea of evil, or good for that matter, when I renounced Christianity in my early teens. What we call evil, or good, can be explained psychologically, philosophically, anthropologically and so on, I thought at the time. I don’t know what I think now, though, yes, I believe “Star Wars” contributed to the retardation of the American mind. But collusion was necessary, meaning that if “Star Wars” hadn’t come along, there would, sooner or later, have been another pop phenomenon with a similar effect. There was a desire, and maybe even need, for it.

    Oh, and of course “E.T.” is the story of Jesus, or at least it has elements of the Jesus story, including the Sacred Heart. What I was said earlier about “Cocoon” is equally true of “E.T.” — i.e., “hidden (or not so hidden) beliefs about outer space and extraterrestials and the spirituality of technology,” etc.

    Now: aren’t we proud of ourselves for commenting without the use of all caps and multiple !!!! and ????

    YOU ARE, RIGHT???? I KNOW I AM!!!!!!

  38. JT Gurzi says:

    What a wonderfully crafted essay selectively discussing the evolution of cinema, literature and the numerous cultural transgressions of society. Having read your first novel, ‘Banned For Life’, the inaugural publication of TNB’s ‘Subversia’ and a handful of your screenplays I’m a continued supporter and tremendous fan of your clarity and conviction conveyed in each word and structural layout you choose.

    Keep on keeping on DR Haney and please provide yourself with a pat on the back via this commenter.

    Dynamite essay!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Why, thank you, Citizen Gurzi.

      You can appreciate, I hope, that I was a little anxious about the reactions of certain people we know in common, but none of them read the essay, so I’m off the hook.

      Oh, and screenplays, did you say? I’m going to have quite a bit to say on that subject, if 11:15 ever gets fucking gets here.

  39. sheree says:

    Great post.
    Ever notice that Ann Margret does all her acting with her mouth. I laugh every single time I see her in an old movie and she starts screwing her mouth all around. Been meaning to mention that to you for ages.
    Hope you have a brilliant new year with lots of work to do.
    Cheers and good luck.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I know you weren’t saying anything to the contrary, Sheree, but Ann-Margaret is awesome, as I confirmed on Thanksgiving, when I watched “Viva Las Vegas” on a huge screen after dinner. “Viva Las Vegas” may be dumb, but I highly recommend watching it on a huge screen, so that you’re able to pick out such details as the presence of Teri Garr, who’s a dancing extra.

      Also, I must say, it’s looking pretty good for the new year — words I never thought I’d hear myself say. I hope the new year is kind to you and yours also.

  40. sheree says:

    Watch her mouth act in the movie: Murderers Row with Dean Martin. She doesn’t act with her mouth in CC & Company and you get to see Joe Namath is stripped bell bottom pants, and Wayne Cochrans crazy ass hair.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I was a huge Joe Namath fan as a kid, so I’ll take your comment as the incentive I need to watch “C.C. and Company.” This description at Netflix is still more incentive: “Football legend Joe Namath goes ‘hog wild’ as mechanic-turned-outlaw-biker C.C. Ryder, who woos sexy journalist Ann (Ann-Margret) after rescuing her from a rape at the hands of his fellow bikers. William Smith co-stars as brutish gang leader Moon, who frowns upon Ryder’s new romance. Fistfights, high-speed races and the open road join forces in this gritty bikesploitation hit filmed in 1970, the year after Namath’s legendary Super Bowl victory.” Yee-haw!

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