Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer, 1970)

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I don't just love this movie. I want to fuck this movie. Seriously, stick my dick in the DVD player and...OK, let's dial this back a few notches.

The one small complaint I have about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is the way it begins, with a dark, murky in medias res montage of teasing glimpses of the climactic scene. It doesn't really grab the viewer, and doesn't seem to tell you much about what's coming, but at least it always gives people the chance to settle in before things get going. This scene climaxes with a man entering a bedroom, where a woman lies asleep. He is holding a pistol. He creeps up on her, and inserts the pistol in her mouth. In the sickest bit of humor in the film, she begins to felate the gun in her sleep, as if this were simply a natural reflex for women. Then she begins to wake up. Her eyes open, and she screams.
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This shot is immediately replaced by a closeup of a female singer screaming on stage in the middle of a rock song. In that moment, as the film passes from the murky darkness of the credit sequence into the day-glow, psychedelic candyland in which most of the movie takes place, is like sex, violence and rock-n-roll reduced to a singularity (you'll have to wait about 30 seconds before drugs show up), and that is what this movie is all about.
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The next scene, a little bit of expository dialogue between the band and their manager (and lead singer's boyfriend) over a joint in the van, introduces the idea of heading out to L.A. to get some money from lead singer Kelly MacNamara's rich aunt. The whole scene goes by in a blink, and we are catapulted by an outrageous montage into another musical number and a roadtrip across the country. The economy of storytelling here is remarkable, and the lightening cuts of scenic shots of Los Angeles and quick glimpses of the movie we are about to see, along with incongruous images like a boot stepping on an egg, a beer bottle overflowing with suds, a nearly-naked woman running through the desert in slo-mo, leave our eyes confused until we arrive at the next scene, Kelly's meeting with Aunt Susan. This is mostly exposition, but Meyer keeps our eyes too busy to notice that we're absorbing information, as half-naked women prance around the fashion designer's studio. And the next thing we know, we're at a wild Hollywood party at record mogul Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell's groovy pad. Again, we are given a lot of expository dialogue, but we're so thrilled with what we're seeing--beautiful people wearing groovy mod fashions, dancing to a live performance by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, throwing ridiculous one-liners about--that we hardly notice the medicine in the spoonful of sugar. Screenwriter Roger Ebert, on his commentary track and interviews, spends a good deal of time talking about how little resemblence any of this has to the "real" music industry, the "real" Hollywood scene, the "real" 60's, but that's beside the point. This is what we want to believe Hollywood is like. This is the Hollywood that Leonardo DiCapprio fantasizes about.
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I first read about this movie in high school. A local punk zine, Suburban Relapse, had an interview with Russ Meyer, and I became immediately intrigued with the idea of seeing his films, especially BVD, which the writer named as his favorite movie. I didn't get a chance to see it until a year or two after I left college. Usually, this is a bad situation. Expectations build up to the point where they are impossible to fulfill. Even Faster Pussycat, which I managed to see somewhere in my college years, disapointed me the first time I saw it (compared to the film I had been imagining in my head--for the record, I loved it on the second viewing). So it's really quite amazing that the first time I saw BVD, after years of thinking about it, fully expecting it to be the greatest movie I had ever seen, I was completely satisfied. More than that, I was blown away. BVD is exactly the movie I wanted it to be, the movie I had always wanted to see.
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There are so many things to praise about the movie. I suppose the most obvious thing is the impossibly beautiful cast of actresses. Front and center are the three girls that form The Carrie Nations, the all-girl rock-n-roll band at the center of the story. There's Cynthia Myers, who may be the most beautiful, voluptuous centerfold in the history of Playboy Magazine (Miss December, 1968). Look at those beautiful, soft, round features.
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Then there's Dolly Read (Miss May, 1966). Equally beautiful body, her big round eyes in an expression of constant startle. I maintain that this film inspired the cartoon Josie & the Pussycats, and that those eyes were the inspiration for how they were drawn.
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And Marcia McBroom, she of the velvety, chocolate skin, impossibly high cheekbones, and devilishly sly grin.
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Then there's Erica Gavin, star of Meyer's previous film, Vixen, wherein she embodied the Meyer ideal of women as dominant sexual predators. Her characterization here reveals some rather nasty notions about sexuality, but I can't help being turned on by the idea of a predatory lesbian seducing innocent starlets.
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Rebecca homage?
I can't say I find Edy Williams quite as attractive as the others--she pours it on a little thick, even compared to Gavin's Vixen performance--but she's definitely hot, and she gives a great, over-the-top performance. She seems to be wildly overacting, but on the cast commentary, her costars maintain that she was barely acting at all--that's just how she was!
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My favorite Russ Meyer girl, Haji, is creeping around too, and the credits say that the queen of 70's genre flicks, Pam Grier, is somewhere in there, although Ebert admits that he's never been any more successful than I have at finding her.
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I'll even admit to having a bit of a crush on John LaZar, who plays Z-Man. Again, Ebert talks about having based Z-Man on Phil Spector without really knowing anything about Phil Spector other than that he was a record producer. But the depiction did turn out to be earily prescient, even if it took 30 years to happen.
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The five Carrie Nations songs are all pretty great, although obviously I like the three rockers better than the flower power anthem "Come With The Gentle People" or even the very good ballad "In The Long Run." I heard Redd Kross' cover of "Look On Up At The Bottom" years before seeing the movie. When my friend Dan got a chance to see BVD at college, the first thing he told me about it was "I don't understand why Redd Kross picked that song. 'Sweet Talkin' Candy Man' is so much better." Steve and Jeff McDonald, who both show up all-too-briefly on disc two (seriously, they get about four sentences out between them, and reveal themselves to be the most learned scholars on the film and it's music available, the only ones who seem able to do a compare-and-contrast of the versions of the songs in the movie versus the versions that appeared on the soundtrack album), concede that the song was pretty ambitious to take on. Turns out the gay punk band Pansy Division (I love that name) have covered "Candy Man." Both songs rock, and so does "Find It."
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What I find most interesting about this is that in 1970, the idea of an all-girl rock-n-roll band was pretty fuckin' radical. There were female vocal groups, but a group of girls not only singing but playing their own instruments was unheard of. I suppose there was The Shaggs, and maybe The Pleasure Seekers, but until The Runaways' first album some 6 years later, there were certainly no girl bands making the charts.
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So I wonder whether BVD is responsible for the existence of all-girl bands. I wonder if, in the same way that scientists get inspired by reading scifi, or police began adopting Sherlock Holmes' detective techniques after reading Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, the idea of female rock bands came into existence as the result of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
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The Runaways' manager, Kim Fowley, was a similar svengali to Malcolm McLaren, who claimed to have invented The Sex Pistols. I could see Fowley getting the idea to put together an all-girl rock band after seeing BVD--he seems like that kind of guy--but on their history page, the band claims to have been starting to form before they met Fowley, and I tend to side with the bands in these stories. Still, it's not hard to imagine a young Joan Jett, Sandy West and Kary Krome emerging from a theater after seeing BVD, all having experienced a mutual epiphany that they should start a band, much like The Byrds say happened after they saw A Hard Day's Night.
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All-girl and majority-girl rock bands wouldn't become common until the early 90's Riot Grrrl scene, but they did start popping up occasionally in the punk days of the late 70's (The Slits, for instance). It was the Go-Go's and The Bangles who first brought the girl band to the top of the charts. The Bangles used to play secret shows in L.A. as The Carrie Nations, and The Go-Go's titled their anthology CD Beyond the Valley of the Go-Go's, so the evidence is strong for my hypothesis. Artistic visions of a better world lead to real-life implementations of those visions.
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So finally, the film has arrived on DVD, and it's a nice'n. Ebert's commentary is essential, with stories about Meyer's field filming in WWII, and the aborted movie Ebert and Meyer were hired to create around the Sex Pistols (although he curiously never mentions Julian Temple's The Great Rock-n-Roll Swindle), and fun trivia facts like that the set for Z-Man's pad was an unused set built for Myra Breckenridge. He also spends a lot of time wondering just how the hell they got away with all they did. The cast commentary sounds like exactly what it is--a group of old buddies getting together to reminisce about old times. The worst part of it is that John LaZar seems to think he's much funnier than he is, and monopolizes far too much of the conversation.
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The second disc is packed with interviews from Ebert, the cast, critics and fans. Michael Blodgett actually has the best story, a tale about his run-in with a freaked-out fan. The footage is edited together in a rather campy way that got on my nerves at first (this certainly isn't how Criterion would have done it!), but as I settled in I realized that it was really done in a pretty good homage to Meyer's style. There's an extensive still gallery, and even the menus on the first disc are well done. And there's an envelope full of postcard-sized reproductions of lobby cards. There are big, hit movies out there that don't have this kind of royal DVD treatment.
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Of course, no DVD set can be complete enough to satisfy a hardcore fan, so I do have my nitpicks. Chief among them is that they waited until Meyer was too dead to participate in the interviews and commentary track. I would have loved it if they could have recovered the extra sex and nudity that Meyer had shot but left out in fruitless pursuit of an R-rating. And if Paramount can get John Waters to do a commentary track on Mommie Dearest, why can't Fox get some input from Waters? But I guess my biggest disapointment is that everyone who worked on the film is so positive. Didn't John LaZar accuse Meyer of ruining his career back in the 70's? And what about Erica Gavin's snearing assessment of Meyer (from an interview with Danny Peary, in Peary's book Cult Films): "Russ Meyer's not a director. He's a cameraman. He's great at shooting that slick look, having colors very good, the light very bright, with no muted tones and everything looking sharp. As a director, I don't think he really knows what he's doing when he does it."? I was looking forward to hearing her rag on Meyer, but she has nothing but fond memories as far as this disc is concerned. Well, time heals all wounds, I suppose, and the actors know which side of their bread is buttered. For everyone involved save Charles Napier, Roger Ebert and (despite Ebert's opinion) The Strawberry Alarm Clock, BVD is the biggest item on the resume. Best not to bite the hand that feeds.
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Monday, June 19, 2006

"Duh" Moment

Riding a bike is much easier with air in the tires.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Attention Emmy Voters!

The Gilmore Girls has been on long enough that the people who originally avoided the show, thinking it looked too girly, have had some chance to discover its charms, chief of which is the snappy, rapid-fire dialogue that sometimes resembles that of the screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's. Lauren Graham is often acknowledged as the master of this fast-talking style, and indeed her skills are great, but I believe that Liza Weil, who plays Rory's neurotic roommate Paris Gellar on the show, mines this dialogue for more comic gold than anyone. For evidence, watch the scene from a mid-year episode when Paris introduced Rory to their new slum apartment, packing a novel worth of dialogue into perhaps 2 minutes of screentime, and coining the phrase "ghetto ear" in the process.

Emmy voters--give Liza her due! Nominate her for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series! Whoever you're thinking of nominating, she's funnier! Also, please nominate The Boondocks for Best Animated Series.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Now that blogger's working again...Chris-n-Bobbie at Bahooka:

Duke-n-Gonzo at Bahooka:

Friday, June 09, 2006

Good Eats!, Vol. 2

I've been eating out a lot lately, and I've been too busy to do much posting. Last week--well, I guess it's two weeks ago now--my office took me out to lunch on thursday for my birthday. I had suggested that we all go to my favorite Thai place, Saladang in Pasadena (there's probably better Thai places in town, but I haven't eaten at them, and besides, the waitresses at Saladang are just smokin'), but since work is so busy, nobody really wanted to make that investment of time in lunch, so I chose a nearby place that I've been wanting to try.

Las Cazuelas is a pupuseria in Highland Park. White people tend to refer to all latino/hispanic people in L.A. as Mexican, without realizing that many of them come from places like Nicuragua, Guatamala and El Salvador. Pupusas are the traditional fast food of El Salvador, and that's the main item at Las Cazuelas. It's sort of a cornmeal pancake with a filling. I had one with roast pork and refried beans, another with chorizo. At first I thought they had brought me the wrong one, because I couldn't detect any chorizo in it, but it was in there, among the melted cheese, in small pieces that were just about perfect to add a complimentary flavor to the cheese they swam in. Pupusas have the same earthy, greasy taste as most Mexican food--in fact, from the food, you might think El Salvador was a region of Mexico, except that it is served with some sort of sour, pickled cole slaw. They cost about $1.50 each, and I managed to get the two pupusas plus a carne asada taco and a coke for about $5.

The next day, some other office people offered to take me out for Thai, but knowing that I'd be spending a lot of money over the weekend, I opted to skip Saladang and instead go to the local Classic Thai, which is nice anyway because they have a deck you can eat on, and the weather was warm and sunny. Wasn't as good as it had been in the past--I got red curry, which wasn't all that spicy, and we all shared the papaya salad, which is usually amazing, but since one of the girls asked for it to be not too spicy, it lost some of its appeal. Garlic shrimp were pretty good, though.

Saturday: the main event! Met up with friends at 6:00 for drinks at the Tiki Ti. I started out by ordering the house drink, the Ray's Mistake, which is basically a Mai Tai with a float of dark rum on top. Well, there's probably more to it than that, but that's the basic ballpark of the taste. And ordered Bobbie a Milky Way, which is some sort of Kahlua/Baileys/Amaretto mixture. For the second drink, I had a Mai Tai, which I actually prefered to the Ray's Mistake. I've tasted Mai Tais before, but this one had a really vibrant, citrusy taste, really came alive in the mouth, like drinking gold.

The place opens at 6:00. We arrived around 6:05. The place was overflowing by 6:30. Really crowded. Tiny place, with every inch of the walls covered with decorations of some sort. There were bowls of what Bobbie described as "the chit'lins of snack mix" on all the tables--a really nasty mix of cheap snacks nobody would want under any other circumstances. From there, we traveled a mile or so down Sunset to my favorite Mexican place, La Parilla. If you like grilled meat, this is the place. And they bring a cart by to make guacamole by the tableside. No liquor license, though, so it's beer or "wine margaritas" (ecch!)

The next weekend was Bobbie's birthday, and we went to Bahooka in Rosemead. This is another trapped-in-amber place with every inch of the walls and ceilings covered with nautical flotsam. The only light is from the hundreds of fish tanks that fill the place. Their Mai Tais aren't quite as good as Tiki Ti's, but they definitely get the job done. I had some photos I was gonna post, but blogger's being a bitch, so fuck it. They'll come later.

Finally, while downtown going through bureaucratic hell, I realized I had a chance to finally try out Langer's Deli. Even New Yorkers have admitted that the pastrami here is better than at any place in NYC. To get New Yorkers to admit that Los Angeles does ANYTHING better than New York is an accomplishment, but if it's something as closely associated with NYC as pastrami? I had to experience that myself.

Now, I don't know from pastrami. The only other place I've ever had the stuff is at The Hat in Pasadena, so I can't make too much of a comparison, but I can say that this is an entirely different beast from what they call pastrami at The Hat. The Hat stuff has a strong, overpowering taste. This was powerful, but it was also tender and soothing. I ordered the #19, which was supposedly the most popular item--pastrami with coleslaw, russian dressing and swiss cheese on rye--and a root beer. Not cheap. After I payed a decent tip, the whole thing came out to about $17 for a sandwich (didn't even come with fries). But I can kinda see why. This was definitely high quality meat.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Heard on Talk Radio

So yesterday I was driving around, getting some things done on my lunch hour, and I decided to listen to the AM "progressive talk" station that I keep seeing billboards for (AM 1150). I ended up flipping back and forth between that and some conservative talk station that was broadcasting Michael Medved's show. Medved was talking about the anti-gay marriage amendment, and he kept insisting that it wasn't a ban on gay marriage. "I would like anyone to call me up and explain to me how this bill is a ban on gay marriage, when gay marriage isn't mentioned anywhere in the bill. All this bill does is define marriage as consisting of one man and one woman." Now, of course it's no surprise that Michael Medved is a complete asshole--duh. But the level of either dishonesty or stupidity in that statement is astounding. Whether it says the words "gay marriage" or not, the effect and intention of the amendment would be to ban gay marriage. I mean, look, if there was an amendment that said, for the purpose of constitutional law, a "person" is defined as a property-owning, white male, would you try to claim that it was not an attempt to deny rights to black people or women?

Since everyone else is linking to it, here's Jon Stewart absolutely slaying Bill Bennett on the issue the other night. What people like Bennett and Medved undoubtedly want is for gay people to just suck it up, go back into the closet, either get into a heterosexual marriage or stay celibate, and just keep the whole "gay thing" to themselves, and since that's just never going to happen again, the best thing to do to preserve the family is to open that institution up to gayfolk. Sorry, reality.

Another talk radio thing, probably more interesting than that, was this discussion on Talk of the Nation about the rise of YouTube and viral video on the web, which ended up having a lot of discussion of creative commons and the need for copyright laws that have anything to do with the real world of the electronic age. One caller phoned in with this comment:

I'm an internet content producer, and we actually sell our content for cash money. The one problem I have, or the one thing I don't understand is that there's kind of an ideology of criminality that's formed around the internet, that people think internet content is free. I have customers calling me, and being angry at me because I'm not giving away free stuff. My question is, what is being done by YouTube to educate people? When you say you stream the videos and not download them, it doesn't matter. What is being done, besides harsh penalties, to inform people that these are people's livelihoods, that people make money off of them?

Now, I'm not exactly sure what his concern is. Maybe it's that he doesn't want his content ending up on YouTube, which is perfectly understandable. But it seems more like he's angry because internet video has been devalued, and it's hard to get people to pay for it, which really means he's mad at the market. I don't know what the guy is selling, but I have to say that, yeah, it would have to be something pretty fucking spectacular for me to pay for video content on the web! You can find creative ways to make money off of that content, but is anyone surprised that people don't want to pay for his videos?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Aloha from Monster Island!

I've got a longer post I've been working on on my recent culinary adventures, and I also want to do some kind of roundup of the just-ended TV season, but I'm so fucking busy that I don't really have time to get all that done right now. So in the meantime, a randomness post.

What's been keeping me so busy? Well, it looks like I have a job lined up with LAUSD. Not a permanent job, just filling in for a week. Seems that someone arbitrarily made the decision to add an extra week onto the end of the school year (at least for the adult ed nightschool programs), but of course all the teachers already have their vacations planned and have no intention of canceling them, so the schools are scrambling to get substitutes in. The catch is that the amount of red tape I'm having to go through is unbelievable. And part of it involves getting a physical, so we're talking about overlapping bureaucracies (LAUSD and Kaiser Permanente) combining to drive me insane.

First I had to go downtown last friday and spend several hours wading through red tape at the LAUSD administration building. Go to 14th floor, get forms, fill them out and take them to the 18th floor, get them signed off on, return to 14th floor, get stamped, go to 15th floor to get fingerprinted...it's like Brazil! Then, they give me some forms that I need to take to my doctor, get a physical and tb test, doctor fills out the forms and puts them in a sealed envelope, I take them back downtown.

So I call Kaiser, ask for the earliest possible appointment to get a physical. My doctor doesn't have an opening until mid-July. They could schedule me with another doctor, but they would have to change my primary physician! Finally, after 15 minutes on the phone, I convince them to let me make an appointment without losing my doctor. Yesterday, I go in for a physical, get the tb test, but tomorrow I'll need to go back to get the test read. And then return the forms downtown. And of course, all this needs to be done during business hours, when I'm supposed to be at work, because the fiscal year end is approaching. And in my spare time, I'm going to have to edit and burn 20 DVD's for anxious comedians (having just finished the last batch a few days ago).

So I'm a little stressed.

I just voted, although I didn't cast a vote in half the races on the ballot. Just didn't have time to research them, and I was particularly peeved at myself for not figuring out whom to vote for for superintendent. I had no idea who any of the candidates were. But I did vote for Westley over Angelides, even though I'm annoyed by both of them. I just liked what Westley chose to emphasize in his earliest campaign ads, and besides, as the L.A. Weekly says:

Angelides is banking on a tax hike for those who earn more than $500,000 — a move we support wholeheartedly, by the way. But such an increase would likely require a two-thirds vote, and we hear no explanation from Angelides on how he will persuade Republican voters — or even moderate Democrats — to secure passage of such an initiative, or what his backup plan will be if the GOP blocks him. After all, Angelides has repeatedly promised not to raise any taxes on the middle class, a vow that forecloses any honest debate about investment, about how we rebuild California’s public schools.

Westly also hopes to pour more money into K–12 classrooms and higher education. He has offered a somewhat more pragmatic strategy for achieving his goals, by getting $3.25 billion — half the amount going unpaid to California — from tax scofflaws and giving 42 percent of the total to education.

I'm a sucker for pragmatism. I voted for Jerry Brown, and a random candidate running against Diane Feinstein (a symbolic gesture, but I talk so much about wanting to get rid of the current crop of useless Democrats, I figured I should put my money where my mouth is), for prop 81, against prop 82 (sorry, just not convinced on that one).

June DVD's: A Month of Temptation

God, so many good DVD's coming out this month. I wish I could afford them all. Today, we finally get a good DVD of my favorite summertime movie, Dazed and Confused. It's getting the Criterion treatment, with commentaries, documentaries, screentests, and so on. Obviously, that's the big release of the week for me, but there's also Mommie Dearest: The Hollywood Royalty Edition, which includes a commentary by John Waters. I don't think I'll be buying that one, but I'll definitely rent it just to listen to Waters, one of the most enjoyable speakers in the world. Plus Jesus is Magic, Entourage Season 2, and a new Dumbo DVD.

Next week, FINALLY, the GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE comes to DVD: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, in a loaded-as-fuck edition. Most of the features are a mystery other than the Roger Ebert commentary, but it looks like Fox put more effort into this disc than a lot of mainstream hits get. Although, this is the movie that could really use a John Waters commentary. God, if they could have John Waters and the McDonald Bros. do a commentary track, that would be awesome (I'm wondering if Redd Kross appear in the featurette entitled "Look On Up At The Bottom," after the Carrie Nations song that Redd Kross covered on Born Innocent). And of course, the original Valley of the Dolls is also coming out, which I don't love nearly as much, but great cover art!

On the same day, we finally get the weirdest zombie movie ever, Cemetary Man (Dellamorte Dellamore), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which everyone who's seen has gone into a frothing-at-the-mouth rant about the greatness of, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, which I'm dying to see, and Season 3 of Arrested Development!!! Oh, and Jimi Plays Monterey/Otis at Monterey--fuck yes!--and a single-disc edition of Monterey Pop. That's like, a year's worth of shit I want in two weeks!

June 20 sees one of my favorite obscurities, The Loved One, a great dark comedy adapted by Terry Southern from Evelyn Waugh's novel, as well as Peter Sellers' hippie comedy I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. And June 27 has a couple Masters of Horror episodes and a Chuck Berry documentary.


Happy Satan Day! This looks like a much more enjoyable event than the Omen remake.

Definitely bookmarking this thread!

These CD's sound pretty good.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


(CBS) LOS ANGELES The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday approved an ordinance that restricts parking for catering trucks in order to protect businesses and keep traffic flowing on city streets.
Food truck drivers will be limited to parking in commercial areas for up to an hour. Vendors must then move their trucks more than a half-mile away for at least an hour before they can return.
In residential neighborhoods, the trucks can remain parked in the same spot for 30 minutes before having to move to another location more than a half-mile away.
Fines for a first-time offense are $45, while second and third offenses within a year will cost violators $90.

I can't think of a more efficient way to RUIN this city than to start fucking with the taco trucks. Utterly insane.

More content coming soon, I promise. Just been a hectic week. In the meantime, read my plea for a DVD release of The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse at The Fake Life.

And you should also read Alice Bag's rememberance of Darby Crash. And her interview Tracy Lea, who played guitar on Redd Kross' Born Innocent LP, and was later immortalized in one of Redd Kross' best tunes, Elephan Flairs.