When Art Imitates Life

or When You Connect With a Song

Have you ever noticed the wide variety of euphemisms that are used in relationships? Has anyone ever “stepped out” on you or maybe “let you down easy?” If you can answer yes then there is a blues song somewhere out there for you (maybe a couple or few). There is one song from the “Blues at Your Door Mix Tape” post from a coupe weeks back that holds a ignominious place in my relationship history.

ZZ Top is one of those bands that you either get or you don’t. I don’t mean that in any sort of critical analysis and deeper meaning sense. I mean you either get where that little old band from Texas is coming from or you don’t. I’ve given up trying to explain it to people so I can only ask that if you haven’t listened to ZZ Top then give their first album, conveniently titled ZZ Top’s First Album, a listen (if you are familiar with it then you probably know where I’m going with this). The last song on the album is “Backdoor Love Affair.” The backdoor man motif, a man having an affair with a married woman, is common to many blues songs. ZZ Top takes this idea and adds their own twist to it (no spoilers), but I will say I’ve experienced what the narrator of the song experiences, and I’m none too proud of it.

ZZ Top's First Albom (cover)
ZZ Top’s First Album by ZZ Top

We tend to use euphemisms in an attempt to minimize the damage of failed relationships. These euphemisms are common in many blues songs, which may be one of the reasons why blues music is timeless. As long as people “step out” and “let you down easy” there will be material for blues musicians. ZZ Top’s song “Backdoor Love Affair” is one such song, a song that this writer has lived through. But knowing there is a song about it gives me comfort that others have lived through it too.

-K-

ZZ Top’s First Album (1971) ZZ Top

A Puzzle Box and Foreboding Places

Hellraiser and the Doors to Heaven and Hell

“What’s your pleasure?” That’s about as loaded as a question as you are going to get, and it’s the beginning of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. This is the movie that introduced me and many of my friends to the Cenobites, Pinhead, and the Lament Puzzle Bob. The box serves as a key/door to other dimensions offering both pleasure and pain. Barker’s movie, based on his novella, addresses the idea of being careful of going through doorways that promise something better or different than what you already have (an idea we began with Neil Gaiman’s Coraline).

Hellraiser Movie Cover v2
Hellraiser

I remember the first time I watched Hellraiser. I was with a group of friends, each of us brought a horror tape (oh, how I do get sentimental about VHS on occasion), and we had a Saturday night horror movie marathon. I noticed then, over thirty years ago, that Barker’s movie was different from many of the horror movies of the time. There are many great horror movies from the 1980s but most of them don’t have the depth of Hellraiser. The antagonists of many horror movies of the time are one dimensional, as are the protagonists. The world the characters inhabit are also relatively underdeveloped. The characters of Hellraiser are interesting. They have believable motivations and desires for their actions. They inhabit a world like our own but would be wary to inhabit. It is a world of with doorways that can be unlocked with a Lament Puzzle Box. These doorways appear to offer a better world, a world of pleasure, but there is something lurking beyond the doorway, Pinhead.

Most of the horror movies of the 1980s can be viewed as cautionary tales, modern twists on the old tales of foreboding and magical places with their possible dangers. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a more developed tale. Barker isn’t telling us to avoid those foreboding places, to not go through those doors. He is telling us to be aware of what is on the other side.

-K-

Hellraiser (1987) with Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, and Doug Bradley. Written and Directed by Clive Barker.

A Black Cat, ButtonEyes

and a Locked Door

A locked door is a mystery, and many readers love a good mystery. If you are one of those readers then Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is worth a read. Don’t let the fact that Coraline falls into the YAL genre dissuade you from giving it a read. It may not have the intensity of Clive Barker or detail of H. P. Lovecraft but Gaiman’s novel is a well written piece of supernatural fiction with a handful of awards (once you read the novel you’ll get why I used ‘handful’).

Gaiman’s novel follows the fairy tale tradition of foreboding and magical places, but we all know the foreboding is often mysterious and inviting. Coraline passes through a magical door into world that is just like her own, only a little bit better. The danger of blindly wanting and/or chasing after something that is better than what you already have simply because it is better can be viewed as one of the novel’s themes (if you want to get critical and such). While in the alternate world Coraline must confront a witch who has buttons for eyes. Her primary tools in this battle are bravery, wits and the assistance of a black cat (read my criticism of Gaiman’s “The Price” if you like cat stories). The novel’s well developed protagonist and engaging plot will keep you turning the pages, and Gaiman’s ability to turn a phrase will have you rereading them.

Coraline Book Cover v2
Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline has all the aspects of a well developed supernatural story with a touch of mystery. The novel addresses the possible dangers of desiring something simply because it is just a little bit better than what you have. Gaiman also show us that even though you may pass through a doorway that does not mean you cannot come back.

-K-

Coraline (2002) by Neil Gaiman.

A McQueen-Newman Daily Double

The Cincinnati Kid/The Hustler Double Feature

If you are in the same situation as me, which is the same situation as most people these days, you are staying home more often than usual. Staying home does give us the opportunity to watch more movies. Since the focus of this month is gambling I would like to suggest a pair of outstanding gambling movies from the 1960s, The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler.

The Cincinnati Kid Cover v2
The Cincinnati Kid

The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler are as much about gambling as Field of Dreams is just about baseball. If your interests are cards and pool then these movies are worth a watch, but they are so much more that their titles and subject matter would suggest. These movies are about card sharks, pool hustlers, high stakes games, and the lives of two upstart gamblers. These are also detailed characters studies of hubris and the frailty of human relationships.

Steve McQueen’s Eric “The Kid” Stoner and Paul Newman’s “Fast” Eddie Felson are young men at the top of their respective games of poker and pool. Both men display a singular drive and determination in their quests to defeat the reigning champions, Edward G. Robinson’s “The Man” and Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats, in order to be recognized as the best players of stud poker and straight pool.  The hubris each man displays while seeking this recognition impacts not only himself but also each man’s friends and lovers.  These movies are more than stories of poker and pool.  These are stories in the tradition of Greek tragedy.

The Hustler Movie Cover
The Hustler

If you find that you have more free time than usual to watch some movies then The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler will make for a great double feature. These are much more than two great gambling movies. They serve as two insightful character studies of the impact of hubris.

-K-

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) with Steve McQueen, Ann Margaret, Tuesday Weld, and Edward G. Robinson. Directed by Norman Jewison

The Hustler (1961) with Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott. Directed by Robert Rossen.

An Author’s Gambler

Alexi Ivanovich and the Mind of a Gambler

A good number of stories that are centered on gambling tend to either glamorize or demonize. The protagonist is often portrayed as an individual we should either envy or pity. One exception to these extremes is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. Dostoevsky’s protagonist is a gambler we neither aspire to be or view as a cautionary tale we should avoid.

The Gambller Book Cover
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Alexi Ivanovich, the narrator and protagonist, is at times admirable and other times pitiful. You may find yourself sympathizing with Alexi at the end of one chapter and then infuriated with him by the middle of the next chapter. In short, Alexi is a flawed man. If one wanted to get all literary one could make a case that Alexi Ivanovich is an antihero of sorts (I’m not one of those literary types, at least not before another bourbon or two). Dostoevsky develops a relatable character who shows us the inner thoughts, motivations, and fears of a gambler without pandering or preaching to the reader.

There are many stories that present gambling as alluring and profitable. There are also many stories that present gambling as bewitching and detrimental. Few gambling stories present the reader with the inner working of the gambler’s mind. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler provides insight into the mind of a gambler and how gambling impacts all aspects of his life. 

-K-

The Gambler (1964/1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

How We Spend Our Time

May Be How Others Spent Their Time

How often do we wish we could have a little time to ourselves? Time is something that we can keep to ourselves. Time is also something we can borrow (and steal), but it is also something we can share with others. I find how others spend, or spent, their time fascinating. I’ve felt this way ever since reading The Diary of Anne Frank way back in 8th grade. Learning how somebody else spent their time can be informative, entertaining, and even humbling. Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s is one such example.

Sartor’s diary can be read on a couple of levels. If you want to take an academic approach to the diary it can be read as a first person account of life in the American South in the 1970s. Reading the diary as a historical document can provide you with as much insight as some textbooks covering the same time period and geography. You can also approach the diary as a record of an adolescent girl’s struggles, defeats, and triumphs.

Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor

I took the second approach when I read Sartor’s book and was amazed with how much I had in common with her. Upon closer study I realized that it isn’t so much that Ms. Sartor and I are some sort of kindred spirits as much as we were, at one time, both adolescents. I’m not implying that all adolescents have the same experiences, but that time period of our lives does present similar struggles. This is what I find most appealing about Miss American Pie. We all may be individuals moving through life on our own paths that on occasion run parallel and sometimes intersect, but we often share similar struggles during the same time periods of our lives.

Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie is at turns informative, entertaining, and subtlety humbling at times. Seeing how somebody else spent their time (even if it is a decade or century a part from your own) can help us put our own lives and times in perspective.

-K-

Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s (2006) by Margaret Sartor.

An Hour, A Day, A Lifetime

The Use of Time to Create Tension

Tension is wound into time. I could come up with some sort of watch metaphor here but most people don’t even wear watches (especially the kind you wind) anymore so let’s just jump right into it. Tension drives conflict in fiction, and conflict is necessary for a good story. Utilizing time to build tension is a good storytelling technique. Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway incorporate time into “The Story of an Hour” and “A Day’s Wait” to build tension that drives their respective plots forward.

Complete Novels and Stories by Kate Chopin

The titles of these short stories (and I mean short-added together they aren’t seven pages) establish specific time frames in which the stories take place. These time frames, an hour and a day, create a limited amount of time for the action of the story to unfold which adds to the tension. These timeframes also show us how an hour or a day can feel like a lifetime depending on the conflict the character faces. Both stories build subtle tension toward their dramatic reveals. Both Chopin and Hemingway use time to build that tension which in turn makes the stories’ climaxes all the more powerful.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Using time to build tension is an effective storytelling technique. Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway use this technique in “The Story of An Hour” and “A Day’s Wait” to drive the plots forward and develop powerful climaxes. I don’t want to spoil the stories for you, I’ll just say that both are worth a read (or should I say worth your time, yep I just had to add that).

-K-

“The Story of An Hour” from Complete Novels and Stories by Kate Chopin

“A Day’s Wait” from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

Kevin Smith’s Relationship Advice

Chasing Amy as Romance for Realists

This post isn’t about Clerks. Someday there will be a post about Kevin Smith’s Clerks but today is not that day, but if I didn’t watch Clerks then I probably wouldn’t have sought out Chasing Amy. February is drawing to a close this week so now is the time to have a brief discussion about Chasing Amy, the first ‘relationship’ movie I saw that I could really identify with (although there is some interesting relationship advice in Clerks worth discussing at a later date). Some elements of Smith’s 1997 movie may be a bit dated but the core message of the movie holds true today and is worth a viewing.

Chasing Amy 2
Chasing Amy

Much like Clerks which has the ability to speak to those of us who have worked in retail Chasing Amy speaks to those of us who have been in complicated relationships (complicated is a cliché word but using a word like problematic is putting a dime word in a penny sentence). You don’t need to be in the same romantic relationship as Ben Affleck’s Holden McNeil to empathize with his situation. If you have ever allowed friends, or those who call themselves friends, to guide your relationship decisions then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you have ever allowed preconceived notions and feelings of inadequacy whisper in your ear then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you never allowed these things to sway your relationship decisions then this movie can give you an idea of how the rest of us muddle through life love.

Chasing Amy is a realistic portrayal of two people trying to work through their issues and develop a meaningful relationship. It is a movie that speaks to any of us who have struggled with similar issues. The movie may have some 90s vibes in it but Smith’s story is still relevant and worth a view.

-K-

Chasing Amy (1997) with Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

Desire, Jealousy, Love

and The End of Things

What is your relationship success rate? If you’ve experienced the end of a relationship (one that wasn’t ended by you), then Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair may cover some familiar ground. If you’ve never been in a relationship that ended poorly, then these books can give you insight into the lives of the rest of us. The narrators of these books offer views of the end of their relationships (don’t consider that a spoiler if you haven’t paid attention to the titles of the books).

The End of the Affair
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

These books, written 40 years apart, address desire, jealousy, love, and how all three overlap in a relationship. From the first to the last sentences (the first and last sentences of both books are quite memorable) we are privy to the relationship woes of Jesse from Suicide Blonde and Bendrix from The End of the Affair. Darcy Steinke and Graham Greene draw us in with believable characters we may not like at times but can definitely empathize with.

Suicide Blonde
Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

Not every relationship has a happy ending. Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair are stories of two not so happy endings. Steinke and Greene show us some relationships are tragic, but tragedy is part of life, as are relationships.

-K-

The End of the Affair (1951) by Graham Greene

Suicide Blonde (1992) by Darcey Steinke

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑