Saturday, May 21, 2011


The age of 14 was difficult (though probably not any more difficult for me as for anyone else). I'd been taken out of the private school I'd become used to and enrolled in a public high school near my family's home, and though I accepted the reasons for the change, I was resentful. It's likely, being age 14, I could have found anything else to be resentful about, but this huge change was enough.

I knew full well how I came across: my big glasses, already quiet and studious nature, and general awkwardness. My anger at this huge change in my life, coupled with apprehension about the public school experience in general, prompted a fairly aggressive response on my part. I was determined to soldier through, to take no shit from anyone, to keep myself to myself. This largely went according to plan - though routinely harassed, I gave as good as I got, and my mouth got me out of any number of scrapes (though it made me some enemies).

And yet.

As the months wore on, cracks started to appear in my misanthropy. I was surrounded by too many good people to be totally isolated, and though a couple of people noted that I was a nerd who took no shit, quite a few of my fellow students broke through with little effort. Some of them were attractive females who were able to get my attention with no effort - many others were genuinely friendly individuals, some of whom I'm honored to still call friends.

My 15th birthday, May 5, 1986, saw me emerging from my self-imposed funk. I sometimes think that the very act of turning 15 took me out of that problematic year, but the fact is that the kind of exile I imposed on myself simply couldn't last. I was at a crossroads, not quite sure where I was going next.

A suggestion came via MTV...

Quite an eye-opener from the man behind "Shock the Monkey", a great video and an insanely catchy song. I was jazzed enough that I seized up the album, and wound up listening to it pretty obsessively the rest of May.

The album couldn't have come at a better time. Though my familiarity with Gabriel's work at that point was pretty surface, the album's pointedly upbeat tone wasn't lost on me. Nor was its overriding message of openness, of warmth, of love. It pointed in a number of directions (including musical ones, nudging me toward music by PG's collaborators on the disc, including Stewart Copeland, Bill Laswell, and Laurie Anderson), but the most crucial one was well out of my self-imposed darkness.

To this day the album's opener, Red Rain, gives me chills. Telling the story of emotions left too deeply buried, manifesting themselves as outward, otherworldly trauma, a rain of blood on the houses of the repressed. Every single sound in the track - from the opening tics of Stewart Copeland's hi-hat through Jerry Marotta's just slightly ahead of the beat drumming to Gabriel's stretched-to-the-limit vocals - expresses some tiny image from this emotional, epic story. Today the song serves as a reminder. In 1986, it tore open doors within me for good.

The album turns 25 this week. And perhaps, because of how profoundly it changed who I am, I turn 25 this week as well.

Monday, May 16, 2011


The Disney adaptation of the Jules Verne classic remains lively and exciting. One wishes that they hadn't had to make it kid friendly - the jigs and songs (and the adorable seal) distract somewhat from some surprisingly deep moral questions addressed throughout (the darkness is unsurprising, considering director Richard Fleischer's previous work on various films noir). That said, James Mason's a fine and driven Nemo, Kirk Douglas' energy is infectious, and the underwater scenes still play beautifully on the big screen. I'm kinda surprised that none of San Francisco's sizable steampunk contingent came to the screening - one'd think they'd be all over it.

to a hero on his birthday.

"May we trust the inexpressible benevolence of the creative impulse.

"Don't be helpful: be available.

"When a musician believes that music is a commodity, music dies in them.

"We pay our own tab.

"In the creative leap, history waits outside.

"Define the aim simply, clearly, briefly, positively

"Anything within a performance is significant, whether intentional or not.

"May the quality with which we live our life honour the lives of our parents and mentors.

"If we can define our aim, we are halfway to achieving it.

"We may not have an equality of talent.
We may not have an equality of experience.
But we may be equal in aspiration.
We can be equal in commitment."

Happy Birthday, Mr. Fripp.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Jesus feckin' Christ, that last post took it out of me. That's what happens when you sit on pieces of writing - I note that this blog started up about two weeks after I saw SORORITY ROW theatrically, and I dug up a comment I posted around that time to Stacie Ponder in Final Girl about Mrs. Crenshaw. That comment may well be the seed from which this humble house bloomed.

So the thing's been worked on over the last two weeks (though all of the twenty-odd images from the film were grabbed last night), and since I wanted it to be post 100, I haven't had a chance to write about any of the awesome things I saw at the San Francisco International Film Fest. Or talk about turning 40 (which I did last week), though that particular milestone has informed my recent writing on a number of older characters, including the aforementioned Mrs. Crenshaw or former Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel or ongoing Missing Persons vocalist Dale Bozzio.

So I'm gonna end this rant here-ish, as the woman I love is about to grab me for the Eno-doc tonight at the Roxie, in keeping with this season of aging Taureans. More very, very soon.

Thanks for reading.

Post 100: The One I Might Have Saved.

If anyone's keeping track, yes, this is the hundredth post here on The House of Sparrows. That the House is open at all can be blamed, if you wish, on the inspiration of two leading lights in the horror blogosphere: Stacie Ponder (proprietor of Final Girl) and Arbogast (of Arbogast on Film).

Indeed, the latter has an ongoing blogathon called The One You Might Have Saved, inviting any and all to describe a horror film victim whose plight stirred unusual empathy. I've been meaning to post my own entry in this (this blog was started in large part out of a desire to do so), and believe that this is an ideal occasion for it.

Though the movie that contains this person does not, at the outset, seem auspicious... was smarter than I'd hoped, offering an engaging whodunnit mystery alongside its old school slasher thrills. There's an interesting subtext throughout the film as we're made to wonder what our future will be like as these uniformly horrible young women, our best and brightest, take the reins of government and business in the ensuing years. The film's cynicism in depicting the sisters' ongoing betrayal of the social values the sorority was ostensibly established to uphold is deliberate, and often bracing. (I also noted that Claire, an Asian-American character played by Jamie Chung, had a number of character details that fleshed her out more believably than non-white characters in many, many other genre films.)

In any event, it begins with a rather lovely, though one doubts seamless, single take crawling through Theta House, taking in all manner of debauchery during a party. The camera ducks into a quiet, dark kitchen, the music is muted, and we see her for the first time.

This is Mrs. Crenshaw, the house mother of Theta Pi, played by Carrie Fisher. She's beautifully captured here, holding it down in the (moral?) center of Theta Pi, quietly mixing a drink even as her charges are indulging far lustier vices throughout the house. It's a good hook for older viewers of this teen-oriented (if R-rated) slasher, and those of us who came of age when this actress was in her prime share, perhaps, her isolation from (but presence within) the youth-heavy antics surrounding her.

Which include the murder that drives the film, and the secret forged by the film's numerous heroines (all Theta Pi sisters, all seniors). We catch up with Mrs. Crenshaw at the end of senior year, sternly but lovingly giving her end-of-year address to the sisters...

..along with some bracelets to the graduates, bearing one link for each of the 22 graduates. Clearly unaware that it's the spirit of generosity, and not the gift that counts, the girls junk the bracelets as soon as Mrs. C splits:

But Mrs. Crenshaw's feeling more wistful, and generous, and is captured (alone, again) taking a final look at the house as she's known it.

And she's off. A huge and insane party, with DJs, bubble machines, and lots of sex begins at Theta House.

And before night falls, the killer strikes. And again. And again.

Back at the house the sisters realize that their past is coming back for them. And the aforementioned Claire suffers the film's most visually weird death.

Amid all the carnage two of the girls have time for a catfight over a boyfriend, but the return of Mrs. Crenshaw is clearly a signal to Cut The Shit:

"Wow, who knew Mrs. Crenshaw was such a bad-ass?" Some belated and unheard respect from the girls, as Mrs. C goes downstairs to save the fucking day.

She enters the kitchen, finds the killer, and starts blazing away:

For the first time in the film, the killer retreats.

And Fisher gives us the best lines in the film:

No, she is not. Why?

Damn right.

The killer throws his pimped-up tire iron at her and misses, wedging it in the wall behind her. She's about to kill him and give the movie an awesome fucking ending. Until her gun jams:

She's trying to fix the damn thing, and her desperate grunts in the next few seconds tear a gasp from me. Faster than 7capture can grab it, the killer runs over, shoves the table against Mrs. Crenshaw, thus impaling her with the weapon wedged in the wall behind her.

There's a weird, sad silence here:

Is the killer gloating? Quietly paying respect to the awesome, otherwise unrespected woman who simply deserved better than she's getting here? Taking a moment to acknowledge the genuine sacrifice of the sole decent person on his/her long slate of victims, past and future?

God love her, she rallies for one last, desperate shot against the departing killer, but we feel how empty her threats are now, and mourn how widely her last shot misses its mark.

And finally Mrs. Crenshaw dies as we found her: in the kitchen. Alone.

I'm not completely sure why she resonates with me. Though it's a three-scene role, Fisher plays it more than solidly. Mrs. Crenshaw's the most clearly (if not the only) sympathetic character in the whole film (an intentional ploy of the film's design), and, as suggested earlier, perhaps she was the only character in this film that I, in my ever-increasing dotage, could really latch onto. Maybe it's her resemblance to my mom.

All I know is that as I grabbed images for this piece I could easily speed through the film, but found myself gripped anew by her scenes. Too involved to really break down Fisher's performance, or Stewart Hendler's direction of her scenes. Instead I was simply struck by her gentle but tough humanity. And, particularly, saddened by her death.

So here's to you, Mrs. Crenshaw.

You, dear, are The One I Might Have Saved.