HMM WEEKLY for December 17, 2019
Today has always been Tuesday
Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly
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FLOATING MEMORIES DEP’T.
I DON’T KNOW why I saw the cigarette in the puddle, out of all the things I could have looked at without seeing. The day was foggy and had been raining off and on, and my boys and I were making the turn up the subway stairs into what passed for daylight. The puddle was clear, as subway puddles go, barely more than a wet film, and the cigarette was leaching out a little yellow-brown halo of tobacco-water, and it stopped me. It was the way the color was hanging there, close to the cigarette, without spreading too far out. Sometimes, when I was little, I'd go to use the toilet and my dad would have tossed a cigarette butt in the bowl. He didn't do it habitually, just once in a while. And the house was clean, it wasn't a matter of slovenliness. He'd smoked unfiltered Camels in those days, so they left nothing but the waterlogged paper falling away from a bird's nest of rehydrating tobacco curls, with that little aura of color floating just around it in the otherwise clear water. The cigarettes are why he's dead now but that wasn't the point, not at that moment on the stairway. (I will make that point to you, furiously, anytime, fear not.) The stain in the water was a specific thing I hadn't been conscious of seeing in, who knows, 35 years? My father exists as memories and this was one of them that hadn't come up yet. I didn't think it through at the time, but as the image comes back—the clear white, the clinging golden brown—I realize that what it had used to tell me, then, was that my dad was around.
Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Yvette Mimieux, and Robert Forster in The Black Hole
MOUSE MINUS DEP’T.
Void of Wonder
A journey through the Disney+ channel, Part 1: The Black Hole
THERE IS A heap of content in this new “Disney+” channel, which I am watching “free” for a year because I use Verizon for my phone service, and I aim to get the most out of my year besides watching The Mandalorian.
You get years of movies, short subjects, and television programs, most of them created by the Walt Disney entertainment factory. For select items, there are mild warnings such as “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.” I guess they didn’t just want to say “Hey, we tried to cut all the racist things, but there’s some other stuff here that’s kinda racist, so we’re keeping it and don’t say we didn’t tell you, and don’t tell us there’s no such thing as KINDA RACIST, we contend it’s just culturally outdated, OK, non-boomer?”
Disney did leave out some programming, notably the movie Song of the South, and they edited out parts of some other stuff, such as in the case of the original cartoon movie Dumbo. I don’t care, I want to focus on the positive, such as getting a chance to see if the movie Sammy the Way-Out Seal holds up, and I’ve got a whole year stretched out in front of me for a whole bunch of goofy Disney flicks!
So that’s my Mission, I want to watch a whole bunch of “nice” Disney movies, with animals such as a squirrel and wacky premises such as a cat from outer space. If you click on that tweet, there’s a thread of the films I will attempt to watch in their entirety.
For an appetizer though, the first thing I watched on Disney plus-sign was a movie I have never seen, even though I used to have the poster hanging in my teenage bedroom: The Black Hole! Seriously, look at this cool-ass poster!
It’s got crazy computo-type, and the glowing green wire-looking grid thing that spelled THE FUTURE in 1979. Animation done with COMPUTERS! I don’t know why I never saw this movie. I guess it was a flop, so it didn’t really hang around the theaters. I looked on IMDb:
Gross USA: $35,841,901
Cumulative Worldwide Gross: $35,841,901
I don’t know about 1979 dollars, but I think if you spend 20 million bucks and you don’t at least double your dough, it’s a failure. All I know is there wasn’t The Black Hole 2, right, or Return from the Black Hole? Disney made three Witch Mountain joints, so they know how to sequel when the sequelin’s good, right? How many goddamn Pirate movies did they make? Only one Black Hole though!
This movie is poorly cast, odd and boring and bad, but it also has some beautiful set shots and effects (along with some cheesy stuff), and mostly this movie is creepy, which is its redeeming value. I was completely puzzled by how this got made by Disney.
A really old-school thing with this film is there’s an overture, a few minutes of music before the picture starts, that’s how ye olde this film is even for 1979, they were thinking it’d be a classy move to run music with the curtain scrim still closed in the theater, which, I think back then, even, all those kinds of theaters were almost gone, the ones where they had a curtain in front of the screen that would open up and reveal a scrim, and then the scrim would pull back to start the show. Anyway, the problem is nobody has a curtain or a scrim or even a theater, you’re home in 2019 wondering what the fuck is the matter with the picture, it’s black screen! I thought my Disney+ was broken and I hadn’t even watched one Disney.
Two minutes and 25 seconds in: totally black, but no black hole yet
Here come total spoilers for The Black Hole and Ad Astra! And Forbidden Planet! And Apocalypse Now! This is a “trope” or whatever in this film, the journey to a remote place to encounter a kook, like in Forbidden Planet and Apocalypse Now and Ad Astra. What they do in The Black Hole is they don’t even bother to set it up, we meet the crew of the good spaceship, I forget the name, and the moviemakers decided to go with a zero-gravity environment, so there’s all this lame fake floating around in exact straight lines inside the ship, and one of the crew is Joseph Bottoms, and I’m ripped out of this 1979 movie because he looks like a cleaner version of Matt Damon in the Oceans Eleven movie where they rob Al Pacino in Vegas.
Matt Damon in Oceans Thirteen (2007) and Joseph Bottoms in The Black Hole (1979)
Also, Ernest Borgnine is in it, oof, he was in McHale’s Navy on TV, a comedy set on a Pacific island during World War II, and it was inane, and this guy won an Academy Award early in his career for the film Marty and ended up in a million movies as a character actor, and he has zero believability in a science fiction! Ernest Borgnine, another thing to rip me out of the film. Anthony Perkins from Psycho is also in the crew and he’s kind of morally ambiguous because he’s all about Science, which is fun, but he doesn’t get far to go with it. I feel like somebody at Disney kept making sure to keep it family-friendly and limit any dimensions of intrigue. Somebody could remake this as The Black Hole and make it really deep and thought-provoking, seriously.
So this film starts up and this corny-ass crew is immediately in deepest space, and they trip over a giant weird-ass giant craft that looks like an exhibition hall from the 1909 World’s Exposition all lit up. Ten minutes into the film they’re looking at the the bad guy’s fort and the titular hole, and it’s a really unfortunate visual effect, the hole, it’s some swirly stuff and it’s blue, not even black. This is supposed to be the movie! The Black Hole!
Everything goes to hell from there; they meet a buncha mean robots and the whole crew is dead, turned into zombie-robots by the mad scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt, played by Maximilian Schell. That’s where it reminded me of Ad Astra, because grumpy Tommy Lee Jones wasted his whole crew in deep space because they didn’t want to do whatever crazy shit he wanted to do, just like Maximillian Schell wants to go into the black hole, and it happens, and it’s really going to Hell, it’s red and flames and he and his worst bad robot fall into it and somehow are merged into one being and it’s fucked up!
Bad robot and mysterious crew
They also meet a good robot, the same model as their good robot on the good spaceship, except this good robot was made in Texas and speaks with a Texas accent, and it is in really rough shape. They really dropped the ball on the good robots, they look like they’re made outta wood and have stuff painted on ’em. This is 1979, it’s what, three, four years after Star Wars? We know what good helper robots are supposed to look like!
The problem with this movie is most of the movie. It’s not that long, a little over an hour and a half, but it seems really longer. You have to sit though all these other actors, no offense, who I contend are poorly directed and do horrible, stiff line reads and they just look oddly polished and Disney-ish, well-scrubbed and nice, and they want to be in a movie made in 1965, not a movie that was trying to be a serious Disney sciencer in 1979 but was pulled apart by its own tremendous gravitational forces of conservative family-oriented Disney moviemaking. I recommend this terrible film.
HERE IS A PHOTOGRAPH OF THE SKY
Spam Filter Letters to the Awl
WHILE WE MULL over what to serialize next, here's yet another installment of Spam Filter Letters to the Awl, from the 80,000-word collection of dummy-text cover letters I wrote to make sure that when I emailed that site a photograph of the sky, the filters would allow it to go through.
To: Awl notes
"This version of Safari is no longer supported," the bar across the Gmail window says, perhaps to explain why I had to quit and relaunch to get the attachment button to work. It works now, anyway, until it doesn't. Like everything else .So here, now, attached, with the provisionally functioning paper-clip button, is a photo of the sky, to go with the review in the system.
Subject: here is the sky photo
To: Awl notes
That is all I'm trying to say: here is the sky photo, and the review is in the system. Everything else is dumb words to satisfy a computer that may not even be trying to interfere with our communications anymore, which would make the additional effort doubly wasted. But the effort of figuring it out would be an even bigger waste. So here we go.
Subject: words in one field
To: Awl notes
Are followed by words in another field, to produce a satisfactory arrangement of words in the correct fields. Subject goes up there, message text goes down here. What text? It almost does not matter at all. Lot of headaches in that "almost" though. Here is a photograph of the sky to go with the weather review that is in the system.
Subject: wow it is dark out
To: Awl notes
Can't believe we've cycled through to the shitty part of the year already, but crapola, there it is, or there it isn't, meaning the daylight. Which is already basically gone, despite the fact that it isn't even 5 yet. What are we doing? We are doing the same thing as ever: sending or receiving an email to say that the review is in the system and a photo is attached.
Subject: A picture
To: Awl notes
Would you like a photograph of the sky? I have one for you. It is yesterday's sky. I took the photo and cropped it and sized it to 640 by 361 pixels, as usual, and then I attached it to this email, as usual, and now I am writing useless words about that fact so that I can successfully send you the email, to deliver the photo and say that the review is in the system.
Subject: the trick
To: Awl notes
Is to be mindless without being so mechanistic about the mindlessness as to trigger the watchful filters. Asking in the subject line how it's going seems like behavior that could be mistaken for junkbot behavior, for instance. It takes a mindful sort of mindlessness, vacuous without being totally vacant. But still generating the necessary volume of words. Which this probably now contains. The review is in and the sky photo is attached.
Subject: here is an email
To: Awl notes
Can you guess what it is about? You probably can. It is about the mechanical rituals that trap and suffocate us as they constitute the forms and boundaries of "daily life," scare quotes nested as far as one might care to nest them--the limits within which we perform minimal and ineffectual gestures of volition and expression, unable to transcend the uncaring logic of our material circumstances. J/K, it's to tell you that the review is in and the picture is attached.
VISUAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEP’T.
Soul-killing holiday sweaters
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FRONTIERS OF LANGUAGE DEP’T.
I WAS CHECKING this week’s sandwich recipes (presented directly below) for any typos that may have occurred in their passage from 1909 book type to online text, and I had a small moment of confusion that turned into a larger one. The last recipe, the one about the sugar sandwich, said to put “ample sugar” on the bread, but (I thought) it didn’t specify the kind of sugar stipulated in the name of the sandwich, which was “maple sugar.”
I had to stare at it and think about it before I realized that it was, in fact, supposed to say the kind of sugar, and that AMPLE and MAPLE are only separated from each other by a simple transposition error. Look at them!
I’m usually pretty good at moving letters and words around but this was like running into a wall. I could work it out explicitly, but I couldn’t make my eye-brain connection read it intuitively. They read like completely unrelated words; at a glance they don’t even look like they have the same number of letters. Something about the -MPL- glues itself together into a unit too dense and compact to separate. This is where the artistry resides in the long-running syndicated JUMBLE feature in the newspapers: scrambling the words so that the resulting word-like items seem fixed in their new word-nature and there’s no immediately visible path back. MAPLE! AMPLE!
WE PRESENT A selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, now in the public domain for the delectation of all.
SALAMI (ITALIAN SAUSAGE) SANDWICH
Between slices of lightly buttered rye bread, place thin slices of salami. Garnish with an olive.
GERMAN BOLOGNA SANDWICH
Remove the skin from a bologna sausage and rub to a paste. Spread thin slice of lightly buttered rye bread with a little French Mustard, then a layer of bologna, cover with another slice, and garnish with a pickle.
FRANKFURT SAUSAGE SANDWICH
Cut cold boiled Frankfurt sausage into the thinnest slices and place on slice of buttered white or rye bread; run a cucumber pickle through a meat chopper and sprinkle on top of the sausage. Place another buttered slice over this.
MAPLE SUGAR SANDWICH
On thin slices of lightly buttered white bread spread maple sugar, put slices together and cut with a maple leaf cutter. Serve with hot coffee.
If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org
BRAIN ITCH DEP’T.
Baby Bro Yoda, or Baby Bro-da, or maybe Baby Brodacado toast
HMM WEEKLY IS written by Tom Scocca, editor, and Joe MacYoda, creative director.
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