BTC: Beat Poetess Phillipa Fallon

Haven’t seen High School Confidential yet? It’s high time you did. (Double-decker pun intended, natch!) Directed by Jack Arnold, it’s a campy, unexpectedly sharp teensploitation romp that peaks with this adrenalizing scene:

The finger-snapping nihilist’s name was Phillipa Fallon, and that was her all-too-brief moment to shine.

Via the ever-entertaining CONELRAD webzine:

Approximately mid-way through the Albert Zugsmith exploitation film masterpiece High School Confidential (1958), an attractive, quasi-bohemian woman strides on stage at a coffee house and belts out a beat poem that provides a delightfully nihilistic snapshot of the Cold War—including references to the space race and atomic evacuation. The fact that she happens to be accompanied by Jackie Coogan (who plays a heroin kingpin in the film) on piano is, like, pure existential gravy. Predictably, the teens in the audience appear to be digging Coogan’s incongruous ragtime key work and disregarding the depressing content of the lyrics.

B-movie actor and writer Mel Welles (1924-2005) was the person most responsible for the hep jargon —including “High School Drag”— in Confidential. He was recruited by producer Zugsmith for help in this regard because, as Welles recalled for interviewer Tom Weaver in 1988, “I was an expert on grass in my day…”

Up until very recently, precious little was known about the sneering sex bomb “who so memorably portrays the hipsteress delivering Welles’ boptastic words.” But just last month, after years of sleuthing and compiling, CONELRAD began to parse out Fallon’s story on a separate site devoted to her life and times. Installments are still going up.

BTC: Tommy and the Atom

Who else from the US is long-toothed enough to remember those bunged up old Sterling Educational Film reels that lazy or under-prepped public school teachers often showed in place of real lessons? They were short, vaguely informative features on anything from personal hygiene, to parameciums, to overviews of friggin’ dairy production in Wisconsin. And of course, there was plenty of morbidly fascinating “duck and cover” fare:

I’d all but forgotten watching Tommy and the Atom one morning in my 1st grade homeroom class (this would have been early in Reagan’s first term) until now. But the minute that electrified fox showed up, it all came flooding back: the Rasputinian magician with his beard of lightning, the impassive narrator’s description of good versus bad atoms, the malignant black atom thrashing inside of a bomb, intimation of worldwide destruction at the hands of evildoers… This is one beautifully creepy, potent little slice of cold war propaganda.

Farewell to Howard Zinn, the People’s Historian

“If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive movements of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.”

—Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

The news came yesterday that Howard Zinn — historian, veteran, playwright and activist — had died of a heart attack at the age of 87.

Zinn was best known for his magnum opus, A People’s History of the United States, and for relentless activism against war and oppression in every form he saw. He kept up the fight until the end; giving his last interview just days before his death.

Born to poor immigrants in Brooklyn, Zinn’s family constantly moved during his childhood, staying “one step ahead of the landlord.” He later recalled the experience of “living in poor neighborhoods, seeing people evicted from their homes, their furniture put out onto the street—it seemed to have nothing to do with race or ethnicity, just poverty and helplessness.”

His childhood left him experienced in desperation, and he soon found out about war as well. Enthusiastically joining the Army Air Force in World War II, Zinn flew bombing runs over Berlin, Czechoslovakia and Hungary before participating in the first military use of napalm in 1945. The horrors he witnessed drove him to become a life-long opponent of militarism, convinced that “war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.”

Upon his return, Zinn took up the career of an educator, but found his own experiences missing from the official histories of his country. He strove to change that, and, instead of standing back, leapt into the civil rights and anti-war movements, inspiring his pupils (including a young Alice Walker), securing the release of POWs from Hanoi and testifying about America’s role in Vietnam at the Pentagon Papers trial.

Through it all, he laid the groundwork for his masterpiece, a book that revealed an alternate universe of dissident uprisings and almost forgotten struggles, simmering just under the surface of the American Dream.

Portrait by Robert Shetterly

Sculpting The Infinite With Kris Kuksi

Please welcome Ales Kot, a writer hailing from the igloos [or was it bear caverns?] of the Czech Republic and now residing in Angel City, USA. In early fall, agent Kot conducted an interview with apocalyptic sculptor Kris Kuksi. This interview was initially meant for Issue 04, but we’ve decided to publish it here instead, in order to give more print real estate to Kris’ incredible work.

Dharma Bovine

COILHOUSE: Your website biography opens with a Lord Byron’s quote: ”When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls – the world”. What’s your opinion on the current mass fascination with various visions of the apocalypse?
KRIS KUKSI: Mainly because we’re at a tipping point in humanity and I really wonder if we’re going to figure out how to save ourselves from such things as climate change, religious fanaticism, peak oil, and overpopulation. There is much to be learned from history – there are always cycles of growth, prosperity, decline and fall. Right now we have advanced more than ever before and yet we may be beginning to see indication of decline. There certainly is resistance to confronting it with how humanity has set up governments and education. There is a maze of laws and legislations to navigate in order to change things in the world. I believe there is always a dodging of responsibility when it comes down to saving this planet. Rome fell for many reasons and one of those reasons was its involvement in the Middle East, its attempt to conquer and colonize it, with subsequent economic deterioration as a result. Thereafter, barbaric invaders and the rise of religious changes further contributed towards the fall. Do we see parallels in history today? I think it’s obvious.

In the past, you’ve stated that humanity is a “silly, ongoing, short-term memory machine that fails to learn from the past”. What are your thoughts on ways to change this? Can the machine be repaired, and if so, how can it be done?
It certainly can and the word of the day is “choice”. We have all the power in our hands, minds, and might to educate and and learn and remember what history tells us. There is a decline in education in the industrial world because man has to answer to the machine before inquiry. We have based our lives on serving these machines of industry and forget to observe the results, which are those things that harm life on the planet in many ways.

Caravan Assault Apparatus

Friday Afternoon Movie: Conspiracy

Do you know why the anvil — the metal plate near the front of your stapler — turns? It’s so you can temporarily join pieces of paper, or “pin” them together. With the legs of the staples pointed outwards instead of inwards it makes them easy to remove without causing too much damage to the paper. Isn’t that amazing? Did I just blow your mind?

Ye gods, it’s so slow today.

Thankfully, the FAM is here to rescue you from the doldrums leading up to Fuck-It-O’Clock. Today, the 23rd day of October in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine we present the 2001 HBO movie, Conspiracy, starring Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Branagh, and Colin Firth giving his best National Socialist Fitzwilliam Darcy performance. It details the proceedings of what would come to be known as the Wannsee Conference. Held on the 20th of January, 1942 at an Italian styled villa at 56–58 Am Grossen Wannsee — Wannsee being a suburb of Berlin — it was attended by 15 senior Nazi officials, presided over by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and organized by SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann. The purpose of this meeting was to come to discuss “the final solution to the Jewish question”.

Back in the Summer of ’69

Jimi Hendrix performs “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York, 1969. You can hear the bombs, screams and ear-splitting jetfire of Vietnam in that guitar.

At first, I just figured I’d take a minute to mark the occasion of this country’s birth with the above clip of Hendrix’s string/mind/soul-bending rendition of the U.S. National Anthem.  It’s been almost exactly 40 years since the footage was shot at Woodstock, during late summer, in the astoundingly eventful year of 1969.

Then I got to thinking a bit more about 1969. Egads, what a dense historical American nerve cluster! Over the course of those twelve months, one seriously heavy, snaking cultural current swept humanity in some exhilarating and alarming directions. Countless aspects of life as we now know it were irrevocably changed, and it all happened overnight.

In a piece written recently for USA Today, cultural anthropologist Jeremy Wallach called 1969 “the apotheosis and decline of the counterculture” and Rob Kirkpatrick, author of 1969: The Year Everything Changed said: “I don’t think it’s even debatable. There’s an America before ’69, and an America after ’69.”

To give me and mah feller ‘Merkins something to chew on today besides corn on the cob, here’s a list of just a few of the country’s more momentous occurrences, circa 1969:

The whole world watched, breathless, as the lunar module Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon.  Dr. Denton Cooley successfully implanted the first temporary artificial heart in Texas. Four months after Woodstock, the infamously violent, miserable Altamont Free Concert was held at the Altamont Speedway in northern California, ostensibly bringing an end to the idealistic sixties. In NYC, the Stonewall riots kicked off the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.  Members of the Manson Family cult committed the Tate/LaBianca murders, horrifying Los Angeles and goading a prurient media circus. The first message was sent over ARPANET between UCLA and Stanford.  L. Ron Hubbard had his organization’s name officially changed to The Church of Scientology, and they started litigating. Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography and the Thoth Tarot Deck were both republished, and Kenneth Anger shot his lesser known –but deeply resonant– film Invocation of My Demon Brother. Barred from reentering the states to hold their planned New York City “Bed-In”, John Lennon and Yoko Ono relocated the event to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Quebec, where they recorded “Give Peace a Chance”.  Everybody got nekkid in the Broadway muscial production, Hair…

Blood in Tiananmen

We’ve all seen the photo. Some of us have put it up on our wall. There are few more primal symbols of the power of individual rebellion than Jeff Widener’s single shot of one unidentified Chinese man standing in front of a line of tanks.

There had seemed so much right with their movement, their ideals, the spontaneous coming together across political creeds and backgrounds to demand freedom, to build a towering “Goddess of Democracy,” which they then brought forth to challenge Mao’s old, looming portrait.

For a shining moment, it seemed like she was winning.

It is 20 years since June 5, 1989. Twenty years since a peaceful uprising of students, intellectuals, rebels and working people that seem poised to set free the world’s most populous nation finally ended in blood and tragedy in Tiananmen square.

Below the fold are some photos that you may not have seen. Some are, to give fair warning, quite gruesome, but they reflect reality: over a thousand people that lost their lives trying to push their part of the world in a better direction.

In a time when most interest in China involves how much money can be squeezed from it, Tiananmen has faded into memory for far too many. It is more important than ever to remember the atrocities its government committed — and still commits — to keep its stranglehold on power. News of the Chinese government ramping up censorship before the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacres serve as a stark reminder of the things that have not changed.

The truth cannot die. Nothing will erase the reality of what was done. It is a reminder too, that there is nothing inscrutable about the East, that hundreds of thousands were willing to risk and sacrifice for the same goals sought around the world.

Some things should never be forgiven — or forgotten.

All Tomorrows: Parable of the Sower

All creeds spring from catastrophe.

The late Octavia Butler, as keen an explorer of the human soul as ever trod a future-scape, understood that far better than most. In plain, well-turned prose she charted the bonds that hold (or fail to hold) us together through time, space and tragedy.

Perhaps the pinnacle of this search is her 1993 novel Parable of the Sower (also: read Kindred, trust me). The tale is framed as the journals of Lauren Olamino, a woman who might one day be revered as a prophet or messiah. For now though, she’s just a terrified teen in the middle of an apocalypse, praying for survival.

Dystopian fiction, along with its post-apocalyptic sister, is a popular genre these days, and with the fractious times we live in it’s not hard to see why. Since I’ve begun writing this column, I’ve had more than one reader comment how energizing rebelling against a dystopia would be or how freeing it would be to “see it all burn down.” The recently departed J.G. Ballard was right when he noted that “The suburbs dream of violence… they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.”

In Parable Butler strips any bit of glamour away right out of the gate: dystopian times are mostly death, fear and desperation (ask anyone who’s ever lived through a warzone). But while she topples down one dream, she gives the reader a wondrous and utterly rare thing in novels of a dark tomorrow: hope.

Hussar Ballad: Soviet Crossdressing Wartime Musical

Left: Durova as a noble lady. Right: Durova as a soldier in uniform.

When she was an infant, her father placed her under the care of a soldier after her abusive mother threw her out of a moving carriage. Growing up, she memorized all the standard marching commands, and her favorite toy was an unloaded gun. A noblewoman by birth, Nadezhda Durova wanted nothing more than to don a uniform and defend Russia against Napoleon. At age 24, she did just that. “With firmness so alien to my young age,” she wrote in her memoirs, “I was wrecking my brain about how to break free from the vicious circle of natural and customary duties assigned to us, women.” In 1807, disguised as a boy, she left home on the back of her favorite mount, Alchides, and enlisted in a Polish uhlan regiment. “At last I am free and independent. I had taken my freedom, this precious, heavenly gift, inherently belonging to every human being!”

Durova’s service in the military earned her distinguished honors, and throughout her career she was, by all accounts, revered by everyone in her chain of command. A few officers knew her secret, but most did not. Tsar Alexander I, aware of her true identity, awarded her a cross for saving a soldier’s life and gave her permission to join the regiment of her choice. He gave her a new male surname, Alexandrov (after his own name). Durova continued crossdressing after retirment from the military. She died at age 83 and was buried dressed as a man, with full military honors.

In 1962, the Soviet Studio MosFilm released a musical called Gusarskaya Balada (“Hussar Ballad”) based on Durova’s life. In what’s certainly a complete misrepresentation of Durova’s complicated existence, the musical paints Durova as a young patriotic woman in love with a male soldier, eager to win him over on her terms, as a fellow fighter. The film is without subtitles, but has enough colorful characters, costumes and music that I think a non-Russian-speaking audience would appreciate the clip above, which showcases Durova’s character first dressed as a woman, then dressed as a man. I love actress Larisa Golubkin’s confident, homoerotic swagger in the second half of the clip.

It’s difficult not to revel in the fabulousness of Gusarskaya Balada, but I wish that someone would make a textured, compassionate film that dug deeper into Durova’s life. There are many different ways for this play out, for many facets of Durova’s identity are still debated to this day. On the topic of her gender identity, Wikipedia states that “some readers interpret her as a cisgendered woman who adopted celibacy and male clothing to achieve professional freedom,” while others believe that Durova was transgender. Similarly, Durova’s sexual orientation remains a mystery. She eloped with a man when she was young, against her father’s wishes. However, she omitted her marriage (and any description of attraction to men or women) from her memoirs. When it comes to her relationship with women, one biography notes, “Durova felt uncomfortable around other women. On at least two occasions women recognized her true identity and addressed her as ‘Miss.’ Her fellow officers often joked that Aleksandrov was too shy and afraid of women.”

The deeper I dig, the more fascinating scenes I find. Beyond the obvious allure of wartime crossdressing, there are many odd tidbits, like Durova’s powerful connection with animals. As a child, she “frightened her family by secretly taming a stallion that they considered unbreakable.” Later in life she provided shelter to stray cats and dogs that she rescued, and she passed on her animal-taming abilities to her descendants, circus legends and founders of the Durov Animal Theatre in Russia. Then, there’s her horrible mother, who only wanted a boy, and seemed to punish Durova for being born a girl by making her spend countless hours doing monotonous “women’s work” like sewing and crocheting. That’s a whole other story itself, right there.

Hopefully, one day soon, someone will make a serious film about Durova. Until then, enjoy the song and dance.

Apocalypse Meow a.k.a. Cat Shit One

Apocalypse Meow is the Americanized title of Cat Shit One, a dark and befuddling manga series by Motofumi Kobayashi. Published in the late 90s, the book features a team of fuzzy wuzzy widdle bunny wabbits in an American special ops team battling the forces of cutesy wootsy wily Viet Cong kitty cats on a wide variety of historically accurate, often graphically violent recon missions. Characters are depicted as different species according to nationality; Yankees as rabbits, the Vietnamese as cats, Frenchmen as pigs, Koreans as dogs, Australians as koala bears, etc.

Yyyyeah. Cute Overload it ain’t. Or Watership Down, for that matter. And now, it would seem that Anima Studio has produced an equally gory animated trailer/short based off the manga. Only this time, special ops team Cat Shit One is in the Middle East, fighting… Taliban camels? Taliban camels wearing… turbans?

Oh god. Oh my god. Ohmygodwhatthefuckbarbeque, even.

Replete with M4A1 annihilation and bargain basement Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan-soundalike ululations. Keepin’ it classy.

Clip via Sean Dicken. Thanks for the nightmares, Sean.