August 6, 2017

A Few Random Snippets


In early July I wrote and later discarded a column about the current presidentís masterful use of distraction. Not that heís a master at itóheís pretty ham-fisted and obviousóbut the American media always fell for it. Every morning he got up, tossed the rubber ball across the room by insulting some irrelevant TV host or staff member, and the news media chased it. Meanwhile shit far uglier than we could imagine was going down at DOE, DOJ, the FDA, the FCC and the EPA, but no one paid any attention. That rubber ball was just too darned entertaining.

††††††††††† As Morgan pointed out, there was a time when you could get up in the morning and check the news, and the top stories would be about something that was actually happening in the world. Now you get up and check the news, and the top stories are inevitably about whatever bullshit he tweeted that morning.

††††††††††† Things changed for a while there in the middle of the month, journalists seemed to remember what their job was and refocused, ignoring the presidentís comically deranged morning obfuscations, so I scrapped the story. By monthís end, however, everyone was chasing the rubber ball again.

††††††††††† Instead of resuscitating that whole damn story, Iíll leave it at this:

††††††††††† Somebodyís undoubtedly beaten me to the punch here, but I havenít seen it yet and donít give a fuck. I thought of it first.

††††††††††† When I initially heard the new White House communications director was named Anthony Scaramucci, and when I furthermore heard about his delightful antics during his first week on the job, I couldnít help but offer a mighty chuckle to the heavens. The family name, after all, was a minor variation on ďScaramouche,Ē sometimes spelled ďScaramuch.Ē And I think itís goddamn perfect that Scaramouche, which translates as ďlittle tusslerĒ or ďlittle scrapper,Ē was a dark obnoxious clown in Italian commedia dellíarte, the lowest in the clown hierarchy. He was usually dressed in black Spanish garb, and was inevitably beaten to death by harlequins at the end of each performance for being such a bumbling, incompetent and abrasive asshole. Which pretty much sums it all up, donít you think? And what was that I was saying about the Post-Satirical Age MONTHS BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE ON THE FUCKING PLANET WAS TALKING ABOUT IT?

P.S. Given that he was fired the day before I turned this in, you can pretty much ignore most of the above. Apart from the parts about obfuscation, and the last sentence.

*†††††††††† *†††††††††† *

I donít know why this suddenly came back to me this morning, but it did. The dirty jokes whispered around the schoolyard circa third and fourth grade always fascinated me, even back then. We thought we were being so dangerous and subversive, even though I suspect most of us had no real idea what those jokes meant. All we knew was that they were dirty, even if we didnít fully understand how or why. It took me years to finally get the punchline ďrubber balls and liquor.Ē

††††††††††† But there was an even more fascinating subgenre of the schoolyard dirty joke, which you might call the gross-out dirty joke. It took the form of your standard naive schoolyard dirty joke, but with a twist punchline designed to shock and nauseate the listener.

††††††††††† I donít remember the full set-up of the jokes themselves, though I do remember hearing both originally from a kid named Brad Kokal. In any case, here are my two favorite punchlines from that particular subgenre:

††††††††††† ďThose werenít tomatoesóthose were yesterdayís abortions!Ē

††††††††††† And, ďThat wasnít riceóthose were maggots! Sheís been dead six weeks!Ē

††††††††††† And you know what? They still make me laugh.

*†††††††††† *†††††††††† *

Time was, even as the eyes were fading fast I could still discern, if not exactly minute details, at least enough movement on the TV screen to maintain my daily movie fix, convinced I was experiencing Orson Welles, Ishiro Honda and W. Lee Wilder films the same as everyone else. Nowadays not only can I not discern detail or movement on the screen, I canít even see the fucking TV. Worse, I can no longer simply scan through the titles and pluck a desired movie off the shelf without help from Morgan. My life-long obsession with movies, which has resulted in a home library of some three thousand titles, has become a frustrating daily kick in the throat. The anticipation and excitement over a new acquisition or old favorite is dissolving. Iíve already lost the books, and now if I lose the movies what the hell do I have left? Morgan has been a doll, describing what was happening in those things we watched together, but I felt bad asking her to do that, it was an added burden. Not that she ever complained, but I cant very well ask her to sit through, say, Cannibal Holocaust again because Iím researching another stupid article.

††††††††††† A few years ago I started hearing about something called Descriptive Video Service (DVS), which was sometimes called Audio Description (AD). Itís a separate audio track in which a narrator describes everything thatís happening on the screen for the benefit of blindosóobjects, gestures, expressions, settings, colors, everything to help the listener create a mental picture. Some movie theaters started offering blind audience members headsets so they could listen to the DVS track without bothering the people around them, and some DVDs started coming out with DVS tracks the same way they offered subtitles for the hearing impaired. I ignored the development, as it only seemed to apply to Disney features and new Hollywood blockbusters, nothing I was in the least interested in seeing.

††††††††††† A few months back my friend and fellow blindo Velcro, who always stays on top of the latest developments in assistive technology, told me about a website which boasted DVS tracks for hundreds of films and old TV shows. It was a volunteer effort, with well-meaning types recording their own descriptions and posting them on the site. It sounded intriguing, but for the life of me, search as I might I could never find the site he was talking about, so I soon forgot about it. Probably an annoying pain in the ass anyway.

††††††††††† Then last week Morgan came across a list put out by Bostonís public TV station WGBH of close to nine hundred commercially available films that come complete with DVS tracks. Okay then, maybe this was worth a shot, just to see what it was all about. I scanned through the list, and while ninety-eight percent of the titles were worthless to me (I did not need Titanic or some stupid new comic book movie described to me), there were a few standouts. No, maybe they didnít have Man Without a Body or Godzilla vs. Megalon, but in and amongst all the Disney and Spielberg and James Cameron crap, Turner Classic Movies had gotten in on the game, releasing a slew of classic film sets complete with the extra descriptive tracks. I knew the likes of The Big Sleep and Citizen Kane shot-by-shot as it was, but still, right?

††††††††††† We decided to start experimenting with the Pixar film WALL-E. There were a few reasons for this. Iíd always had respect for the Pixar people (most of the time anyway), Disney, as despicable as they are, had been the first major studio to push the adaptive technology, and Morgan had promised that despite all the family-friendly sweetness and light, the film had a dark and cynical dystopian edge to it. Plus it featured precious little dialogue, so what better test to see if all the hoopla was really worth it? We ordered a copy, and the day it showed up we popped it in the machine.

††††††††††† Okay, so the fucking thing didnít have a DVS track as promised. We both let out heavy annoyed but resigned sighs. It was typical. But undaunted, and in fact a little obsessive, Morgan got online and did some searching. It took awhile, following leads to assorted sites, until she found one with a downloadable DVS track for WALL-E. Well Iíll be damned, and it didnít even cost anything. We thought we would have to watch the film on her phoneósomething to which I am deeply and morally opposedóbut nope. We played the disc on the TV as per usual, and the damned download on her phone synced up with what it was hearing from the TV speakers. My god sometimes I am reminded we really are living in the future. We each plugged in an earphone, and, I almost hate to say it, it was amazing. The commentary was clear, precise, detailed, unobtrusive, and perfect. The woman doing the reading even described the opening Disney logo and read all the credits at the end. Sitting there on the couch with a beer as per usual, even though I couldnít see the TV I could still see the movie. About ten minutes in, realizing what was happening, I even got a little misty, though it had nothing to do with the film itself. Listening to that track, I knew I now had a way to reclaim and reopen my own stupid world of movie geekdom.

††††††††††† The next night we watched a recent horror film with the DVS track conveniently right there on the disc. Even if the film itself was a less-than-shocking bit of over-clichťd hack work, and even if I didnít get all misty this time, the descriptive track did itís job well, and was narrated by Adrienne Barbeau to boot. I was convinced.

††††††††††† Afterward, and referring once again to that WGBH list, we realized we had dozens of titles here that might already be equipped with DVS tracks without our knowing it. We grabbed one off the shelves and, sure enough, there was that little fucker. Oh, what an idiot Iíd been. Only kicker, and I guess this was to be expected, as helpful as it is, they sure donít make it easy to find the button to turn the damn thing on, so in the end Iíll still need Morganís help to get it up and running. But dammit, itís something. The next day I put in an order for a dozen fundamental noir titles off that list. A couple of Bogarts, a couple of Edward G. Robinsons, a couple of John Garfields. Enough to get me started.

††††††††††† In typical fashion, when the batch arrived we quickly found that nary a one of the films came with a DVS track. Morgan once again got online with high hopes, but search as she might, she could find no evidence of any of the individual tracks anywhere. Whatís more, after checking out a few of the other discs in the library that had appeared on that list, it seemed none of them save for that first one contained a descriptive track. Well, fuck me.

††††††††††† After a night of grousing, I shot off a letter to WGBH, trying really hard to refrain from using the terms ďfucking liarsĒ or ďlying fuckers.Ē An hour later I heard back from a very nice fellow who explained the list I was looking at was simply a list of all the films for which theyíd produced descriptive tracks over the past few decades, most of which, despite their urgings, were never included on the DVD releases. He did, however, send me a link to a list of all the existing DVS-equipped films available today.

††††††††††† Well, there arenít many, and apart from fucking Disney titles and every last goddamn Star Wars film and offshoot, there was pretty much nothing that had been produced prior to 2009, meaning there wasnít anything I gave a ratís ass about. I mean Iím glad the tracks seem to be becoming industry standard, but given the state of the industry, who cares? I was pretty much back to where I started. Guess Iíll need to start hiring people to record descriptive tracks for The Green Slime, everything in that big Zatoichi box set I have, and all those hundreds of pre-code bootlegs.


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