Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I don't usually do movie reviews, but I just finished watching a film that I hope a great many of you will seek out in the coming weeks and months. It is Rob Zombie's Lords of Salem, and I really, REALLY enjoyed it. Let's kick things off with a trailer.

With his latest film, Zombie goes a long way towards rehabilitating his reputation after his Halloween reboot and its sequel. Displaying a masterful control over tone and style elements, Zombie has created that rarest of things in Lords of Salem: a sophisticated, avant garde horror film that is also a fun and engaging viewing experience. With this film, Zombie is now one of the small handful of directors working in the genre whose work every horror fan should henceforth pay close attention to. Zombie may very well produce an unqualified masterpiece one day soon.

I have read some inexplicably negative reviews that bark about Sheri Moon Zombie's performance, but I personally found her to be an engaging leading lady, very easy to like, to root for and - more importantly - to fear for. In any case, her performance  is surrounded and supported by a uniformly superlative ensemble cast  including a veritable coven of magnificent actresses playing Salem witches, both past and present. I hesitate to single out any one of the performances in this film, because they're all so good, but I will say that it was a real treat seeing (and hearing) Dawn of the Dead veteran Ken Foree back on the big screen again. Oh, and Dee Wallace, too, in a hilarious turn. And Judy Geeson is just flat-out awesome as the nice-but-somehow-off landlady. And Bruce Davison, who turns on the charm as a randy academic. And... well... you see what I mean. Zombie's abilities as a director of actors has obviously evolved leaps and bounds in recent years, and it pays high dividends in Lords of Salem.

On the more technical side of things, the movie just looks fantastic. Zombie serves up a feast for the eyes, meticulously constructing every shot and filling the frame with unforgettable images that stamp themselves into your grey matter and resonate for days afterwards. His camera glides fluidly from scenes anchored in warm and grungy but somehow comforting earth tones, to brilliantly lit set pieces awash in blazing primary colors, and it all makes a mad sort of sense. Visually, Zombie approaches and frequently equals the very best works of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Yes, Lords of Salem looks that good.

With Zombie setting such a high bar for himself visually, it should come as no surprise that Lords of Salem also features the most chillingly effective sound design in a horror film since Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Spooky, almost subliminal sounds skitter at the threshold of stony silence to keep you ever on edge. Many shock scenes feature sonic punctuation that is brutally efficient as a sledge-hammer to the forehead. And, every once in a while, the malevolence of what we suspect might be transpiring on the other side of a closed door is underscored with a nerve-shattering slash of otherworldly roaring that echoes up from only God - or the other guy - knows where. Again, I say, best sound design since The Shining.

Speaking of Kubrick, Zombie has borrowed liberally from many masters to make Lords of Salem into a monster. For instance, he engages in Kubrick's penchant for needle-dropping the very best classical music to grand cinematic effect... but more about the music, later. Roman Polanski is also an obvious influence here, as are Jodorowsky and Ken Russell. Zombie shares with these directors a feral intensity of vision and a willingness to follow wherever that vision takes him, no matter how absurd it might seem on paper.

Finally, a word about the music. I'm not much of a fan of Zombie's heavy metal output, but his decision to showcase the decadent droning of the classic Velvet Underground songs Venus in Furs and All Tomorrow's Parties was a wise one. And I suppose you could cycle through images of a star nosed mole eating a worm while playing Mozart's Lacrimosa and it would still send chills running up and down your spine.

But perhaps the film's most impressive musical element is the piece of music included on the vinyl record surreptitiously sent to the radio station where Sheri Moon's disc jockey character, Heidi, works. The song, by "The Lords", is brilliantly lo-fi; a decidedly Pagan sounding, repetitive drone that really gets under your skin. In fact, it very much reminded me of the most terrifying music I've ever heard.

I first encountered the music of Belgian ensemble Univers Zero during my quest to discover ever more obscure progressive rock music. I read reviews about them in the Prog Archives, and subsequently tracked down a CD version of their 1979 album Heresie. Just as the reviews at the Archives promised, their music scared the living shit out of me. And now that I've seen Lords of Salem, and heard the piece of music that is so central to that film, I can very much recommend Univers Zero's early works to anybody who would like to hear more music of this type.

I include, here, a sample that should give you a pretty good idea of what I'm going on about. Buckle in, perk up your ears and listen good. That may just be the Devil knocking at your back door there at the end...


PS - Don't forget the ongoing journey through history at our sister-site, the Useless Eater Blog! In the latest edition, we cover everything from Nick Berg's beheading to the freaking SKY falling down upon our heads! It all happened, ON THIS DAY in History! Enjoy!

Sunday, May 5, 2013


What follows is a methodical deconstruction and rebuttal of a recent column by Washington Post scribe Richard Cohen.
I brought a notebook with me when I went to see Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and in the dark made notes before I gave up, defeated by the utter stupidity of the movie.
Ooh! The utter stupidity! Strong words. Let's see if Cohen can cash that check.
One of my notes says 'John Ellis', who is a cousin of George W. Bush and the fellow who called the election for Fox News that dark and infamous night when the presidency -- or so the myth goes -- was stolen from Al Gore, delivering the nation to Halliburton, the Carlyle Group and Saudi Arabia, and plunging it into war. A better synopsis of the movie you're not likely to read.
Someone should send Cohen a dictionary, because unless the mountains of evidence that point towards election fraud (and worse) in Florida (and elsewhere) during the 2000 elections have all been fabricated, he seems to have mistaken history for myth.

Furthermore, Cohen must be some kind of super-genius, because how any self-respecting human being could pooh-pooh the flagrant orgy of profiteering in Iraq -- by special interests with so-close-they-might-as-well-be-having-sex ties to the Bush administration -- is far beyond my capacity to comprehend.

That these bitter pills have yet to be fully digested - thanks in large part to the efforts of America's cowed journalistic establishment - is no excuse. Cohen has to know better.
Ellis appears early in the film, which is not only appropriate but inevitable. He is the personification of the Moore method, which combines guilt by association with the stunning revelation of a stunning fact that has already been revealed countless times before. If, for instance, you did a Lexis-Nexis database search for 'John Ellis' and 'election,' you would be told: 'This search has been interrupted because it will return more than 1,000 documents.' The Ellis story is no secret.
Cohen commits the cardinal sin of journalism, here. Like most in his profession, he gets paid to winnow through the info-sphere in search of typing fodder, yet he assumes everybody knows everything he knows. His contempt for the underinformed is radiant. "You didn't know Bush's cousin over at Fox News was the one who called the election for him?! Like, what rock have YOU been living under, maaaan?!"

According to recent studies, fewer than half of adult Americans read newspapers anymore, much less every story on every page of every newspaper, magazine and trade journal in the world. Most Americans rely exclusively on television and (dear Lord) talk radio for their news. Cohen should try to keep his hipster condescension in check.

I can't help but wonder if you'd asked a hundred random people, prior to the release of F9/11, how many would have known that the first person in America to call Florida for Bush was a) a Fox News executive who b) also happened to be the President's first cousin? After attending Moore's film, I noticed that Ellis's involvement was one of the main things people were talking about in the lobby.

Rightly or wrongly, many people were shocked by what was, for them, a revelation. So the mere fact that the story has been told is no proof that the issue has been resolved. That over 1,000 documents including the words 'John Ellis' and 'election' can be found in the vast Lexis-Nexis archive tells us less than nothing. Although perhaps if he'd added the words 'cousin' and 'helped to steal' to his search, Cohen might have learned a thing or two.
But more than that, what does it mean? Ellis is a Bush cousin, Moore tells us. A close cousin? We are not told. A cousin from the side of the family that did not get invited to Aunt Rivka's wedding? Could be. A cousin who has not forgiven his relative for a slight at a family gathering -- the cheap gift, the tardy entrance, the seat next to a deaf uncle? No info.
Suddenly, Cohen the impatient know-it-all is Cohen the clueless naif, begging for more information. Ellis is, in fact, the President's first cousin.
And even if Ellis loved Bush truly and passionately, as a cousin should, how did he manage to change the election results? To quote the King of Siam, is a puzzlement.
Forgive me if I'm boring you with things you already know. I'll try to be brief.

According to Ellis himself, as detailed in the New Yorker, he was in constant contact with his cousins George and Jeb throughout the night of the election. Around 6 PM, Voter News Service sent data to all major news outlets indicating Gore had won a slim but decisive victory in Florida. Sometime after 7:52 PM, when all major networks (including Fox) called Florida for Gore, Ellis received another call from cousin Jeb.

The exact nature of the information Ellis shared with Bush during that phone call is unclear. Before it was hastily and unceremoniously dispatched on the day of the 2002 mid-term elections - and I'm sure Cohen sees no valid reasons for suspicion in that case, either - VNS provided detailed, district-by-district voter information to their media clients. John Ellis was one such client.

Is it "stupid" to consider the possibility that Ellis might have shared information about the breakdown of the Florida vote with Jeb, the Republican governor of that state, who also happened to be the Republican candidate's brother, and whose Secretary of State was Katherine Harris, who a) was in charge of Florida's elections, b) was co-chairwoman of the Florida "Bush for President" committee, c) was a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention, and d) imperiously halted a legal recount that was slowly-but-surely eating away at Bush's bullshit, razor-thin lead?

All things considered, is it "stupid" to speculate whether there exists a possibility that Jeb might have been able to somehow use the information he got from Ellis - in combination with his substantial power as Florida's chief executive - to alter the outcome of the election?

Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps I'm paranoid.

Perhaps there was nothing strange about Team Bush taking the historically unprecedented step of holding a living room press conference in the midst of the election - not too long after that phone call to Ellis, come to think of it - to assure Americans that, despite the now-defunct Voter News Service's previously impeccable track record in these matters, Florida was still in play.

Perhaps the subsequent, near-immediate and highly atypical surge in Bush's favor - forcing VNS and the news media to retract their call for Gore and label Florida "too close to call" - was coincidence.

Perhaps there was nothing untoward about Ellis's 2 AM conversation with Jeb and George Bush, of which he later boasted: "It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth - me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other the president-elect. Now that was cool."

Perhaps there is nothing suspicious in the fact that Ellis shortly thereafter got Fox to call Florida for Bush, at a time when his lead over Gore was rapidly evaporating. Perhaps the other networks followed Fox's lead because it was late, they were tired, and they'd had enough already. Perhaps General Electric CEO Jack Welch had nothing to do with it.

Perhaps everybody should follow Cohen's lead and not care a fig about any of this, lest we be labeled "stupid", "silly" or "loony", like Michael Moore. But enough of my wild-eyed, incoherent ranting. Let's get back to the task at hand.
I go on about Moore and Ellis because the stunning box-office success of Fahrenheit 9/11 is not, as proclaimed, a sure sign that Bush is on his way out but is instead a warning to the Democrats to keep the loony left at a safe distance.
Bush's plummeting approval ratings in the days since the film's release must surely stand as affirmation of Cohen's thesis.
Speaking just for myself, not only was I dismayed by how prosaic and boring the movie was -- nothing new and utterly predictable -- but I recoiled from Moore's methodology, if it can be called that. For a time, I hated his approach more than I opposed the cartoonishly portrayed Bush. The case against Bush is too hard and too serious to turn into some sort of joke, as Moore has done.
That Cohen could be "dismayed" to the point of "recoiling" with "hate" over a film that he immediately thereafter characterizes as "a joke" seems odd to me. Then again, I have a strong suspicion that Bush stole the election, so what do I know?
The danger of that is twofold: It can send fence-sitters moving, either out of revulsion or sympathy, the other way, and it leads to an easy and facile dismissal of arguments critical of Bush. During the Vietnam War, it seemed to me that some people supported Richard Nixon not because they thought he was right but because they loathed the war protesters. Beware history repeating itself.
The hand-wringing, self-loathing blather of marshmallow liberals like Cohen - who helps counter the lies and propaganda of the conservative movement's 24/7 noise machine by penning absurdly over-the-top denunciations of an independently-produced film that has yet to be refuted on a single point of fact - is far more helpful to Bush than any film Michael Moore could ever produce. That he could accuse Moore of indulging in "easy and facile dismissal of arguments" after filing his own easy and facile dismissal of Moore's arguments tells me that Cohen, as we used to say back home, is deaf to the sounds of his own flatulence.
Moore's depiction of why Bush went to war is so silly and so incomprehensible that it is easily dismissed. As far as I can tell, it is a farrago of conspiracy theories. But nothing is said about multiple U.N. resolutions violated by Iraq or the depredations of Saddam Hussein.
I must be certifiably insane for even suggesting this, but perhaps Moore felt that bringing up Iraq's past non-compliance with various United Nation resolutions was unnecessary. And perhaps he felt it was unnecessary because a) Saddam was granting U.N. weapons inspectors access to every square inch of Iraq, b) the Bush administration's "evidence" that Saddam was in breech of anti-WMD resolutions turned out to be a tissue of lies, and c) the United Nations tried desperately to prevent Bush from launching his illegal, disastrous and pathetically bungled businessman's war of first resort. 

Would it be "prosaic" of me to suggest that the Bush administration became increasingly belligerent and insistent as the organization whose resolutions he had taken it upon himself to enforce (against its will) was systematically dismantling their case for war?
In fact, prewar Iraq is depicted as some sort of Arab folk festival -- lots of happy, smiling, indigenous people. Was there no footage of a Kurdish village that had been gassed? This is obscenity by omission.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is not about Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It's about Bush's America. Cohen seems to fault Moore for failing to create an impartial, academic, encyclopedically authoritative dissertation on the preceding two decades of American foreign policy. He might as well fault Moore for failing to point out that "Clinton thought Saddam was a bad guy, too."

Furthermore, I suspect that if Moore had chosen to show images of Saddam's infamous and oft-referenced 1988 gas attack on Halabja - explaining the context of the Iraqi Kurds' treasonous alliance with Iran, against whom Iraq was waging a savage and protracted war of attrition with America's blessing and weapons - Cohen would have accused him of obscenity by inclusion.
The case against Bush need not and should not rest on guilt by association or half-baked conspiracy theories, which collapse at the first double take but reinforce the fervor of those already convinced.
It was at this point in his screed that I began to suspect Cohen had actually not seen Fahrenheit 9/11 at all, having perhaps wandered into a matinee showing of Disney's Around the World in 80 Days by mistake. I honestly have no idea which "half-baked conspiracy theories" he could possibly mean.

Surely he can't be dismissing the well-established and unprecedentedly cozy economic ties between the Bush dynasty, Big Oil, the Saudi royals and the Bin Laden clan? These "conspiracies" have been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Surely Cohen can't be arguing that it be forbidden to investigate, with hindsight, whether these relationships might have resulted in an administration-wide blind-spot with devastating results?

Surely Cohen has heard of John O'Neill? Surely he's read Kevin Phillips's damning and authoritative Bush family chronicle, American Dynasty?
The success of Moore's movie, though, suggests this is happening -- a dialogue in which anti-Bush forces talk to themselves and do so in a way that puts off others.
Yes, because stealing moves from the conservative playbook would surely result in an electoral disaster of epic proportions. Just look how low the Republicans have sunk by talking to themselves in a way that puts off others! Conservatives must be stupid to spend so much time and effort rallying their base with dynamic appeals to the heart, soul and guts. All their divisive rhetoric has managed to give them is control of the Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court and the White House. We wouldn't want the people Cohen ominously labels "the anti-Bush forces" to emulate this kind of unmitigated failure.
I found that happening to me in the run-up to the war, when I spent more time and energy arguing with those who said the war was about oil (no!) or Israel (no!) or something just as silly than I did questioning the stated reasons for invading Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction and Hussein's links to Osama bin Laden. This was stupid of me, but human nature nonetheless.
At long last, Cohen boils his own argument down to its fetid essence, the literary equivalent of a frustrated two-year-old's foot-stomping tantrum.

Apparently, only crazed fanatics could be upset by the obscene crush of war pigs lining up to jam their snouts into the no-bid contract trough, brimming with greenback salad smothered in a sweet crude balsamic.

Only Hitler-worshiping lunatics would dare to suggest that the neoconservatives who provided the intellectually and morally bankrupt rationalizations for Bush's war have anything but a perfectly fair and even-handed grasp of the Middle East situation.

And the less said about the sinister and psychopathic Armageddonism in which Preznit Dubya and many of his partisans indulge, the better.
Some of that old feeling returned while watching Moore's assault on the documentary form. It is so juvenile in its approach, so awful in its journalism, such an inside joke for people who already hate Bush, that I found myself feeling a bit sorry for a president who is depicted mostly as a befuddled dope. I fear how it will play to the undecided.
Cohen's fear is plain to see. It verges on the kind of wild-eyed, hysterical paranoia he falsely accuses Moore of inciting with his film. It's as though Cohen is afraid that if liberals and moderates were to become as forceful in defense of their beliefs as conservatives are, it would result in a Civil War and thus, perhaps, a decline in his standard of living.
For them, I recommend Spider-Man 2.
For the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, I recommend a swift, hard kick in the ass.

Friday, May 3, 2013


The Overview Effect is a 20 minute short film that examines the aesthetic and philosophical implications that arise when one gets the chance to peer at one's home planet - in this case, Earth - from an outer space vantage point. Filled with beautiful images and beautiful thoughts spoken by beautiful human beings, The Overview Effect is the very definition of "soul food". Get your daily recommended dose of awe today by making time to give this film your undivided attention.

The next video I want to share with y'all is awesome, but for much different reasons. It's called Sleeve, and it's a retelling via puppets of one of the central stories of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos cycle of stories, all presented while a rather excellent progressive rock tune by British band Thumpermonkey. As far as I can tell, the song has nothing to do with the visuals being presented, but it rocks out with syncopated, odd time signature-soaked cacaphonic glee, which means it certainly doesn't hurt!


By the way, don't forget our PARACULTURAL CALENDAR entries over at our sister-site, UselessEaterBlog! The May 1 edition is an absolute doozy, covering everything from Preznit Dubya's "Mission Accomplished" battleship romp to the birth of the dreaded ILLUMINATI! Oh, and there's an in-depth exploration of the history of May Day, to boot! The May 2 edition covers everything from thye initiation of the Saxe-Coburg Gotha bloodline to the totally-above-board-and-not-fishy-at-all takedown of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six! Click these links to get your friggen LEARN on, people!