Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Devolution of a Style

March 14, 2017

The scene from “Badlands” is the one in which Martin Sheen’s character kills Sissy Spacek’s father. It involves the clever use of a mirror. “It took ages to set up that shot and make sure the mirror’s placement was exactly right,” Malick tells us. “There’s no way I would spend so much time on it if I were to shoot it now.”—2007


“I’ll be acting my socks off, and you turn around and Terry is filming a beetle,” said [Michael] Fassbender. — 2017


Pickett’s Charge

July 25, 2016

[First posted 10/17/14]

The phrase “Pickett’s Charge” has always been a byword for futility, but you can’t really appreciate why until you see how vast and exposed the flat, open field is that Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s men were asked to first walk, then charge, across, straight into the face of thousands of Union troops who were waiting for them, half-sheltered by a long ridge and a stone wall looking directly down on the rebels’ progress. I made the walk, both out there to where the Southerners first gathered in the trees three-quarters of a mile away, and then back to the ridge, and even on a perfect autumn day, strolling just as quickly or slowly as I pleased, and with no one raining hell-fire down upon me, it seemed to go on forever. Funny thing, though. Despite the scores of tourists that were also there that day, not one other soul took advantage of this chance of a lifetime; every time I paused to look back toward them I could see people on the ridge staring at me as if I were a madman swimming out to sea.

Earlier in the day I’d visited the spot in Gettysburg’s military cemetery where Lincoln is said to have delivered the Gettysburg Address. There was no one there either when I arrived, but at least in that case there was a reason for it: the placard identifying the spot  is so vaguely worded that it sounded like the speech was given at some point farther along the path. Once I figured it out, though, I sat down on one of the benches next to the monument, pulled up the text of the speech on my phone, read it for what must’ve been the hundredth time, and then put my phone away and simply stared at the monument and the space around it, not thinking directly about Lincoln or his words, but just feeling their presence and meaning come and go in waves. Eventually another straggler rolled up, a businessman about my age who began fiddling with his camera. Suddenly his phone rang, and he not only took the call, he set his phone down on the base of the monument and put it on speaker-phone so that the space around us was filled by the squawking voice of a woman asking him about some business matter as he paced back and forth yelling his answers into the open air. I gave him 30 seconds or so to wrap it up, but he didn’t—he continued on with the call while still fiddling with his camera. So I yelled over to him, asking him pointedly but still semi-politely to move away if he had to take the call. He didn’t even look at me. I barked something else, I don’t recall what, but this time it wasn’t polite, and he ignored me again. So I lost it. I yelled “Hey!” at him, and suddenly he turned and began walking towards me, calling out “What? What?” I told him (in these words) that this was no place for him to take a fucking phone call and that he should get the hell away from there, but he was still saying “What?” and bearing down on me. That sounds more threatening than the moment actually was—neither one of us was looking for a fight—and right now I think he was just thoughtless or maybe even a foreigner or hard of hearing, because he did begin apologizing and, after scooping up his things, he moved about 30 yards up the path, where I could see him glancing back at me.

And so it was on the field where Pickett’s men died. Standing 500 yards out on the battlefield is a totally different experience than standing on the ridge: you can’t hear any of the tourists’ chatter for one thing, and even the sound of the RVs and buses is blown away by the wind, so that all you can hear are crickets and birds and the sound of your feet brushing through the grass. Likewise, looking down on the field from the ridge is one thing, but looking up at it, especially when you’re moving toward it from a distance, and seeing what had been mere dots swelling into human beings above you, gives you a different  perspective on what happened that day. During much of this trip—and even today—I’ve been pleased to see my countrymen visiting the places where so many of our formative experiences went down, but almost always there’s still a final barrier, an impermeable layer of incuriosity, in their refusal to not simply conceive of the past, but to surrender to it. Okay, so they don’t want to make that long slog all the way across the field and back, and who can blame them? It tired me out, too. But to not even climb down from the ridge and wander 10 or 20 dinky little yards onto the grass so as to feel what it’s like to have that ground under their feet? Why do they go there at all?





“Ready Huerta?”: Some Tales from the Old West

August 26, 2014

Having to go [to Hickok’s cottage in Abilene] early one morning Bill was still in bed and when I went to the door and the woman came to let me in she saw through the window who I was—she was only just up and still in night dress. Bill said: “Let him in you don’t give a damn for Gross seeing you.” But she did and showed it in looks. She went into the next room and Bill got up leisurely and as he sat sideways on the bed I saw he had his six shooter in his right hand and on the bedspread lay a sawed-off shot gun (double barreled) with a strap on it so he could swing it over his shoulder and carry it under his coat out of sight and I don’t think the barrel was more than 1½ feet long.

— Charles Gross to J.B. Edwards, June 15, 1925



Many Confederate soldiers returning home from the war brought with them old Enfield muskets. These were smooth-bore and chambered one large ball and three buckshot. These old guns, loaded with small shot, were fine for use on birds and squirrels, but they had one serious objection—they would kick like a mule. As the boys used to say, they would “get meat at both ends.”

— Six Years With the Texas Rangers, James B. Gillett


The gold rush gambling graduate with the most spectacular later career was probably John Morrisey. In 1851, when Morrisey arrived in San Francisco, he was a nineteen-year-old New York tough with a barrel chest, brawny shoulders, hands the size of hams, and thirteen dollars in his pocket. Opening a brace faro game with a stranded artist as a partner, he prospered quickly. One of his victims, a man named John Hughes, upon finding that he had been fleeced, challenged Morrisey to a duel and gave the New Yorker his choice of weapons. Hughes blanched and fled the field of honor when Morrisey appeared at the appointed place carrying two meat cleavers.

— Knights of the Green Cloth: The Saga of the Frontier Gamblers, Robert K. DeArment


[Toribio] Huerta was due for a hanging and I was the man to do it. No, I didn’t mind. He was a murderer and had to pay the penalty. I was the sheriff and had to do my duty….

“Sheriff, don’t spring me too quick!” Huerta begged. So we let him make a speech to the audience and he advised the young men who’d come to watch him die, not to set their feet on the path of crime. Then we tied the black cap over his head, but still he wasn’t ready. We let him pray there in the darkness. Finally I said, “Ready Huerta?” and he nodded—and for weeks it was a byword around town, “Ready Huerta?”

— on the last public hanging in Las Cruces, 1900, as told by Jose Lucero to Margaret Page Hood, The New Mexico Sentinel, 1/26/38, and quoted in An Illustrated History of New Mexico by Thomas E. Chavez


The tenderfeet and the townspeople thought of the country people out on the cattle ranges and in the mountains as semi-savages. I once heard a Las Cruces merchant say of a country wife, “She was just an old ranch woman. She’d spit through a screen door.”

 — Tularosa: Last of the Frontier West, C.L. Sonnichsen


The Green Front [a San Antonio gambling house] featured “Girls! Girls! Girls!” with dances available at “two bits a spasm.” Tableaux vivant with scantily clad females were presented nightly. One of these “living pictures,” featuring Georgia Drake as Miss Liberty bringing together a Union and Confederate solider, dissolved rather suddenly when an unreconstructed Civil War veteran shot Miss Liberty dead just as she lifted freedom’s torch.

— Knights of the Green Cloth: The Saga of the Frontier Gamblers, Robert K. DeArment


I went to the hotel [in Columbus, Ohio]. As it was rather late, we all retired to our room. The bellboy showed us to our room, which was a large double-bedded room, and turned on the light. When we were ready for bed, the question arose as to how we should extinguish the light, as we were all afraid of getting an electric shock if we tried it. None of us had ever noticed how it was put out. One of the party wanted to call the bellboy back and have him extinguish it, but I told him if we did so we should be the laughing stock of the city, so I told them to get into bed and I would try it. Knowing that paper was a non-conductor, I placed a newspaper on the floor under the light, and, standing at arm’s length, I reached up and turned it out expecting to get a shock. I know the rest of the gang were disappointed when they saw that I did not get what all of us expected.


At about ten o’clock that morning the [Vigilance] Committee [in Phoenix] went to the jail and took the two murderers out and hanged them to cottonwood trees in front of the town hall….The first man to be hanged either fainted or the noose was too tight. He sank down on the rope, and, as there was very little slack, his neck was not broken; he just strangled.

The other man, just as the team started to drive from under him, jumped as high as he could and his neck was broken. Everything was very quiet when someone in the crowd spoke up, “Why, the son of a gun must have been hanged before. He knows just how to do it.”

Helldorado, William M. Breakenridge


According to one resident, [Deputy James H. McDonald, who’d just fled the scene of his sheriff’s brutal murder] bolstered his courage in a saloon, where, “leaning against the bar, with a drink of whiskey in his hand, he blubbered out his yarn. There being nobody to dispute him, his story had to go. But I can still recall the looks that passed between men who had been raised from birth to eat six-shooters. It was so rank that no one could say a word.”

  Charles F. Gross to J.B. Edwards, August 23, 1922


And then there was Henry Brown, the popular but poorly paid marshal of Caldwell, Kansas, who decided to improve his situation by robbing the bank one town over from his own. It was a bad move: a couple of citizens were killed in the robbery, then Brown and his friends managed to trap themselves in a box canyon that was filling up with rainwater. They surrendered and spent the day in the Medicine Lodge lockup, waiting for the mob outside to reach its boiling point; while not posing for photographs at gunpoint, Brown used the time to pen a farewell to his wife which ended: “It was all for you. I did not think this would happen.” When the mob finally came for them that night, Brown made a break for it and was shot down in the street it was reported that the flash from one of the pistols set his vest on firewhile the rest of his friends were lynched.

That’s Henry, second from the left there, in shackles.





Chariot of the Godless

August 23, 2014


flotsam & jetsam

February 3, 2014

bill and billie



noir poster


(h/t Elliot Lavine)

the millstone

September 10, 2013

I was watching the end of I Vitelloni, with Franco Interlenghi looking out of the train window at his dead-end hometown as it rolls away from him for the last time, and I suddenly flashed on Quentin Compson, when Shreve asks him why he hates the South: “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!



February 8, 2012

From condescending laughter to singalong in 2:00 flat.

December 19, 2011

“Gettin’ Better, Aren’t I?”: A bit of loveliness from “Poor Cow”

August 22, 2011


June 14, 2011

Courtesy of the redoubtable DVD Beaver, two famous pairs of eyes from The Cincinnati Kid:

June 10, 2011

good stuff

April 25, 2011

A conversation between Cormac McCarthy, Werner Herzog and Lawrence Krauss that lives up to its billing.

Don’t Wait for the Punchline

February 2, 2011

these days

January 31, 2011

“This goes into an iPod”

January 25, 2011

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