Friday, December 10, 2021

Review: Punking Out (1978)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Screenshots from the film

Punking Out
Directed by Maggi Carson, Juliusz Kossakowski, and Ric Shore
Punking Out Producers
25 minutes, 1978
Full film HERE

While undergoing a “procedure” in a hospital a few short years ago, the doctor suggested I think about a “happy place,” such as a beach or a mountain. My mind instantly went to sitting at a table at CBGB, around the time this documentary was filmed in 1977, waiting for the Ramones to come on. This was something I did a lot back then. Made me happy at the time, and during the biopsy (it was negative, for those who care).

I remember seeing this black and white documentary when it first came out, and a few times since then, be it at a revival theater (e.g., the Thalia) or online. And like my mental image before the doctoral slice and dice, the film makes me smile. And, on occasion, sneer.

There are so many familiar faces in the crowds (such as Terry Ork) and those interviewed, some whose names I have since forgotten, and others I never knew, but I was a regular at the club and have seen all the bands represented here numerous times, and can say the live shots of – in order of appearance – Richard Hell and the Voidoids (the only band not interviewed for the film), the Dead Boys, and the Ramones, capture their early fire, as all the songs represented would come from their first albums, such as “Blank Generation,” “I Need Lunch” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” respectively, among others.

Helen Wheels

From the first time I saw it, one of the moments that stuck with me is singer Helen Wheels commenting (though not identified in the film) that she is never bored, as she fidgets around. I would interview her when she opened for Iggy Pop at the Brooklyn Zoo half a decade later, but even then, in the short moment she’s onscreen, she is riveting. Also memorable for sheer obnoxiousness, as is her style, is Lydia Lunch, happily squealing that she had slept with all of the Dead Boys. It comes across as forced and full of pretentiousness (reads as “I’m cool and insufferable. Aren’t I precious?!”). When I interviewed Lydia at Max’s Kansas City with her band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks around the same time this was filmed, she was an absolute asshat full of self-importance that would eventually achieve her C-level fame.

Joey Ramone (back), DeeDee Ramone (foreground)

The interviews of the bands are fun, as DeeDee of the Ramones stumbles over his words describing a song he wrote, and Jimmy Zero of the Dead Boys scarily and amusingly runs off with the interview, invoking his mom numerous times. Hilly Kristal, owner of CBGB, comes across with dry, fatherly advice about violence and how loud music helps quash it (I never saw a fight occur in the bar).

Lydia Lunch

Other fun interviews include a couple of non-regulars in cardigans who swear they will never come back (but I bet they’re bragging they went even to this day if they are still on this plain), an over-amped bearded guy who I believe was a member of the Helen Wheels Band, and a couple of thick New York accented women who have menial office jobs and go out to see bands to blow off steam (I can relate to it).

The directors wisely don’t stay on any one person too long, just enough to get the gist of personality, which they disperse with the live footage and band interviews. It is only 25 minutes long, but it flies by quite fast and I definitely wanted to see more.

Office drones enjoying the music

This came out a couple of years after Amos Poe and Ivan Kral’s Blank Generation (1976), which focused more on the music and the bands (i.e., playing their records over unmatched footage of the bands playing live). Punking Out is more of a deeper dive into not only the music, but those who were there to experience it. It was just before punk became more codified in dress codes and styles, and is a flash of a time capsule of a Camelot-like moment of joy.

IMDB listing HERE 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Documentary Review: You Can’t Kill Meme

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

You Can’t Kill Meme
Directed by Hayley Garrigus
79 minutes, 2021

Media is fascinating. I have been a student in the field of Media Studies for decades, so when this particular “anti-documentary” came up, I just jumped on it. I have been saying for as long as the Trump administration has dumbed down the culture, that the right is more interested in memes than facts.

According to the Oxford Languages Website, which gives two main definitions of a meme that are both accurate to this film, it is ”an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitations.” It is also described as “a(n)… image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.”

The film describes the meme process with a bit more flamboyance, as “memetic magick.” Any way, you want to designate it, it is created on a computer and then hoisted upon the Internet, via social media such as Facebook (yes, I am still calling it that), Instagram, etc., and it is spread around through like-minded individuals who often accept it as truth, in part because it is in print, but more because it falls into their own ideology. While used by both sides of the political aisle, it is especially accepted as gospel by the alt-right, who are willing to accept conspiracy theories without seeking out the sources, because receiving a piece of sometimes amusing art from someone who has like-minded leanings is easier to digest than the often-complex text of those who they have chosen to distrust (such as a quick meme about COVID, rather than the complex and changing science). It is apparently easier for them to believe a meme than known fact, because it is beyond their ken and not in their realm of belief systems.

Billy Brujo

As an interesting point of entry to the meme, the director chose to focus on R. Kirk Packwood’s 2004 book Memetic Magick: Manipulation of the Root Social Matrix and the Fabric of Reality. This was at the rise of the 4chan Website and, of all things, the Pepe the Frog meme, which became one of the first viral memes, especially one that was adopted by the politically right leaning, according to Chaos magician (yeah, I have no idea what that is), YouTube personality, and apparently goth by his make-up (observation, not criticism), Billy Brujo. He states, “We’re looking for magick until we find it” on social media. Sounds a bit like the equivalent religious search for the god-being. In Brujo’s case, to me that could be another way to describe an algorithm. I actually felt sad for him, as I do for religious fanatics.

Marshall McLuhan’s theories turn up here and there, such as one anonymous government worker who states, “…this myth [is] that the Internet opens people up to new ideas. It doesn’t; it actually allows them to close down”. McLuhan famously said that most technologies do the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do (e.g., a car was supposed to make it possible to visit relations far away, but it makes it easier to go so far you may not come back).  

Pepe Trump

The main focus of the beginning narrative of the film starts in earnest with the Trump presidential campaign, and the use of Pepe to promote the Trump team and to mock Hillary Clinton.

While director and narrator Garrigus breaks down the meanings of the coded language of “magick” and “memetics,” she also does not talk down to the audience. Occasionally it sounds a bit “New Agey” for my tastes, but her point is valid and worth noting. That being said, Garrigus seems to come from a higher (or is that deeper) tech world than I do. She claims around 2014, the acronym “LOL” was replaced by “KEK,” who was the frog-headed Egyptian god (symbolizing the bringer of light after the darkness, or chaos). Really? I don’t remember that, and I still see the former to this day, but have never noticed the latter. But then again, I have never been on 4chan, nor hang out at alt-right sites.

The documentary, I find, is a bit disconcerting. We are facing civil unrest, “the big lie,” voter suppression, the scrapping of voter right and rights to abortion,” and the documentary is discussing mixing the internet with magick – literal metaphysicality – with speakers like Dave Mullen-Muhr, a right-wing pundit (to give you an example of his trustworthiness, he deals in Bitcoins) who believes in the Matrix, and calls Trump the “red pill.” And people listen to him, why? And why should we? Or there is Carole, a New Age Buddhist, who discusses the “science of spirituality.” There’s an oxymoron for you. She is part of a group of Lightworkers, who “are awakened beings who bear the highest interests of all living beings and Earth in their minds,” according to One of them that we meet is Nick Peterson, a “scientist magician.”

Sometimes it is hard to tell whose “side” Garrigus is on, stating Mullen-Muhr is a dear friend, while pointing out the evils of KEK (or as I now call it, pre-QAnon, which is quoted a bit here, as well). Rather than pointing out what right wingers are doing, she almost gleefully gives them a voice. Remember, sometimes things are actually opposite of what they are intended.

I must confess, I went through the New Age movement indirectly in the early 1980s when I dated someone neck-deep in it. I never believed, but I saw with her friends the reliance on crystals, psychics, and yes, magick. This deep-dive look at a very technical product (memes and social media) has the same woo-hoo as that. It was hard to take the topic seriously, and that’s on me, not the film itself. Harold Innis may have called it a bias of communication, both as sender and receiver (I could bring up Shannon-Weaver at this point…oh, I did; never mind).

Taking out all the New Age Shaman stuff, to put it simply in my opinion, a better way to describe memetic magick is a word that was once incredibly popular in big business during the 1990s: synergy. That is when something grows beyond one’s control and gains a life of its own. The expression “Jump the shark,” for example, has gone beyond “Happy Days” and is now a description for an act of desperation. That’s synergy. Memes do not use magick to become powerful, they are used enough to become cultural icons – for good or in this case bad – and go beyond the originator’s control until they become something broader with a wider base.

It is really hard to take a lot of this seriously. I mean, Carole discusses how Obama went to Mars in a secret space program with someone who started time traveling when they were 5 years old; another woman pulls four assault rifles out from under her bed as well as a huge army/Bowie knife while spouting she likes Trump because he’s a “disrupter.” There is a belief expressed that both the left and the right use wizards and witches to cast spells on the other side but the right uses dark magick. It also would be quite easy to just substitute the word “magick” with “Jesus.”


As the film gets to the last quarter, the narration starts sharply turning anti-Liberal (Garrigus claims they hate the Middle Class, like the Conservatives help them with tax cuts for the uber rich?). At some point, the memetic fades away, and it’s the magick that becomes forefront through the middle section. This documentary isn’t as much about social media as New Age philosophy with a right-wing twist.

Towards the third act of the doc, Garrigus brings it around again by interviewing Packwood, author of the book that foisted this film, Memetic Magick. He humorously declares that he and 12 others can change the course of the world, while describing himself as  “underrated,” and numerous times as “intelligent.” Okay, then. It’s around this point where the meme topic raises its head again, as the meme is claimed to have elected Trump in 2016, according to the film. No focus at all on Russian hackers or the interference of James Comey.

As far as the form of the film, Garrigus makes it personal as she narrates opinions, films a variety of people (sometimes a bit too long), adds some nice stock footage as well as her own, animation, and 4chan screenshots, and does her best to avoid the dreaded talking head syndrome. Kudos for that. I just wish the documentary was more about what it claimed, how the right uses memes, than a guide to magickal thinking. The narrative straddles the fence (a metaphor for right/left politics) between technology and mysticism, and perhaps it would have been less whiplashy if it had been two separate accounts.

You can find the documentary on Altavod, Apple TV and Video on Demand.


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Space and Time: The Context of Museums and Locations with Holocaust Thoughts

Space and Time: The Context of Museum and Locations with Holocaust Thoughts

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

The way one approaches a space can be affected by its history, and especially time. It can also be warped by our own perceptions of context.

We have all visited museums, a place where objects are taken out of its original space/framework, and placed in an unrelated location where it becomes a collection of objects, often transforming it into something else devoid of meaning. For example, at the British Museum,  there are a number of dead bodies on display, from the “Bog Man” (also known as Lindow Man) to Ancient Egyptian mummies. Museums can be, in fact, cemeteries, but because there is no tomb, no hole in the ground, the meaning of the persons’ life and especially death, becomes trivial for the observer. Their existence transforms into a museum art object rather than the corpse of someone who had a life that was either recognized or not at its time. But more about this later.

In 1993, while my partner was at a conference in Washington, DC., I visited the newly opened Museum of Jewish Heritage – Holocaust Museum. Being the age I am, and that I grew up in a neighborhood with Middle-Class Jews like myself, the Holocaust was not unfamiliar to me: for example, the couple who ran the local grocery store of my childhood had numbers tattooed on their forearms. As I managed my way through the museum, I saw the edicts showcased on the walls, the photos and videos strewn here and there, and felt, honestly, nothing much. It was all so out of context, bright and shiny, soaked in neon lights, and familiar at the same time.

Making my way along the pathway, it took me through a boxcar, one that was used to transport the Jews to the death camps. As soon as my foot hit the bare wooden floor, suddenly everything changed. I was no longer in a museum, but in an actual place. Truthfully, I immediately felt different. The context had changed. No longer was it images posted on a wall, or videos on closed circuit televisions, I was in the place. Frankly, it took me by surprise, how uncomfortable and disoriented I felt about my surroundings. When I crossed to the other side, and stepped back onto the polished linoleum museum floor proper, the feeling instantly vanished. Deep down, I did not understand what happened, or what intergenerational trauma was at the time.

During the Summer of 1998, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, the buildings of which mostly were untouched by World War II. Charming houses, squares, and parks are for the locals and tourists on which to marvel.

From Krakow, we took bus tours to various destinations, such as a 22-minute ride southeast to the Salt Mines that were, indeed, turned into amazing works of art.

We also went to Auschwitz, the German death camp, which was an hour west of Krakow. I was surprised by how green it had been transformed. Rather than keeping it in the state of mud and dirt that pervaded it while 1.1 million Jews, gays, Gypsies, and political dissidents were systematically killed, the land was full of grass and flowers. I found that odd and almost uncomfortable that they would try to make it peaceful, like it was a living non-sequitur.

During the tour of the camp, some of the buildings were filled with luggage, others with hair, shoes, or eyeglasses, and the like. I noticed at least three bags that had the name “Weiss” on it. In grade school, I had a friend named Joel Weiss who lost much of his family to the camps, and I wondered if any of these belonged to them.

There was a lot of unease, as one might expect in a place like that, but it was more the way the space was projected and described. At one point, we passed a wall that had been used as a backdrop to a firing squad to execute people. Our tour guide, a middle-aged woman, pointed to it and said loud and plain, “Against this wall, they shot the great Polish martyr [his name].” And then in a lower, quick voice as if it were secondary, “And 10,000 Jews.” Going to another building, there was a cell, and she announced, “In this cell, the great Polish poet [his name] was tortured and brutally killed,” and again lower, “…and 30,000 Jews.” I found it quite startling.

Towards the end of the tour, we approached the gas chambers. I stepped inside, and for a few moments, I was the only one in there. It was quite profound for me, looking around this surprisingly large room with non-functioning shower heads and numerous finger scratchings along the walls. This felt incredibly visceral to me, and I had the thought, “If I was here in the 1940s, while I would have been conscious walking in, I would not be aware going through the back door,” which led to the crematorium.

I stepped through that back door and there was a younger couple already ahead of me. The woman was pointing to the oven like Vanna White when she just-turned a letter on “Wheel of Forturn,” with a big grin on her face, while her boyfriend was taking some vacation snapshots. I was appalled, and my partner and I had a long talk about it on the bus ride back to Krakow.

What I have come to realize is that there is a difference between the space in a museum and the actual location where an event happened. A museum tends to be safe, its dangerous material like weaponry or other material of a violent past is removed from context, and it becomes benign, turned into artifacts. That certainly is its goal, I would wonder.

Despite it being before the big Internet boom, that young couple who were taking the vacation photos in the crematoria was separated from that real/museum dichotomy, and did not really comprehend the difference. They had grown up with museums, and for them, this was merely one of them, a site they had probably heard about in class from teachers that were as far removed from reality as the tour guide. That’s part of culture, that the Other is distanced from the every day. There was no connection for them as it was for me, who had also lost family to this death machine. It went beyond mere history books to  a personal, instinctive level for me, but not for them.

Since moving to Saskatchewan, I have wondered if the local First Nations and especially Metis people have that intergenerational trauma experience when they visit Batoche, the site of the Louis Riel Rebellion of 1885, or the stone circles near Eastend left by First Nations peoples who were starved by the North-West Mounted Police. Do the Settler generations react the same as that couple, that it is a story from a book, even though they are in the actual spot where a rebellion occurred? Do the tour guides discuss the brave Canadian soldiers, and blithely mention the genocide that let up to the rebellion?

It is all in the context of the place and how it is approached as either a museum or a location of angst. It is also in the perspective of the person viewing it, and their relationship to the events, if any. In her 2012 book, A Geography of Blood, I believe that author Candace Savage, though of Settler stock, was tuned in enough to the land to realize of what the rock circles were indicative. If I went to Batoche, I am not certain I would feel that, but I would hopefully be more aware of my consciousness and take a check on my own placement in its violent history.

It should be noted that I did take a single picture of myself on the grounds of Auschwitz: on the way out, I stood under the gate sign that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will set you free). I did this in defiance, to say in my own way, “You didn’t get me, you Nazi bastards!“


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Albums and Singles/Video Reviews: November 2021

Albums and Singles/Video Reviews: November 2021

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

Note that these reviews are alphabetical by first letter, and not listed in a “ratings” order.


James Lee Stanley & Dan Navarro
All Wood and Led
This release is just part of a series of covers of classic rock songs, where the “wood” represents acoustic guitars, which have included albums of material by the Rolling Stones and the Doors (both previously reviewed on this blog). As Navarro says, “With absolute respect and admiration, we chose not to simply duplicate the originals, but instead imagined, ‘What if Led Zeppelin had lived in Laurel Canyon in 1967 instead of England?’” The folkie soul in me is quite satisfied with the rocker part of this collection. While not a popular opinion, I was never a Zep fan, and honestly, a lot of this material is new to me for that reason, giving it some virgin ears. They nail such classics like the obvious “Stairway to Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused,” but they also do a stack of non-radio saturated numbers like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Hey Hey What Can I Do?” True to their word, they reinvent the songs to their own spirits and it works out incredibly well. The Doors was a pretty easy translation, and the Stones’ blues riffs fit quite well into the model, but Zep is more of a transition, but the hand-to-glove still works in surprisingly good ways, mainly due (in my opinion) to Zep’s use of Olde English melodies in rock form, such as “The Battle of Evermore.” If you are either a folk fan or a curiosity seeker, this may meet your needs on multiple levels.
Full sample song HERE 


Nine Pound Hammer
When the Sh*t Goes Down
As the sticker on my CD clearly states, “Original members Blaine Cartwright and Scott Luallen team up with Ramones Super-Producer Daniel Rey.” Who in my shoes could not have their curiosity piqued? Especially since I am not very familiar with the Kentucky cowpunk (their description) band. I must say, after most of my life being force-fed Southern Rock like Skynyrd with the occasional good stuff like Rank & File and Nashville Pussy (which shares Blaine as guitarist), this is so refreshing. From the opening, using a clip of Mel Blanc’s Foghorn Leghorn, you know they don’t take themselves too seriously (meant in attitude, not aptitude). Starting strong with “What Kind of God,” and especially the second, title cut, you can definitely hear the Rey influence as the sound is laid bare and stripped, though Cartwright’s guitar flairs brilliantly here and there. It’s almost like the Ramones zeitgeist if they listened to country rather than surf and girl groups. At gut-wrenching speed, most songs are quite short at about 2:30, with a couple being longer. Their mindset can be seen in titles like “Street Chicken,” “Mama Lied,” “Billy Lost His Feet,” “Get the Hell Off the Farm,” “Daviess Co Tractor Massacre,” and “Lizard Brain.” I know I haven’t gotten the full effect of the lyrics yet, but this one is so much fun and kicks so much butt, it will certainly be replayed, so I’ll get there and enjoy the ride. Just wish there was a lyric sheet included.
Full title cut can be heard HERE 


Yod Crewsy
The Longings of Paul Roalsvig
Before he was in bands like the Splatcats, the Sky Cabin Boys, the Dark Marbles and the Bernie Kugel Experience, Yod was known by his birth name, Paul Roalsvig. This two-disc collection is split into a “Love” group and “Peace” selection. There are 31 cuts in total, being a mix of covers both infamous and obscure, and originals. Some of Buffalo’s musical royalty appear on here, such as Dave Meinzer, Russell Steinberg, and Cathy Carfagna. He starts off strong with Icehouse’s “Crazy,” which follows one of Yod’s personal favorites, the poppy theme to the film “That Thing That You Do!” Third cut in is when we get our first original, “I’ll Keep Sending You Flowers,” proving that Crewsy knows his way around creating both a melody and a strong lyric. Of course, I won’t be discussing all the cuts, but will pick and choose. His cover of the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” is almost projected through a folk lens which actually works quite well. More somewhat obscurities with Dylan’s bluesy “I Threw It All Away” and the Monkees’ “Sometime in the Morning,” and then a deep version of Orbison’s classic “In Dreams.” The more folk-oriented Peace disc starts off with one of my fave tunes, “Eve of Destruction”; here it is handled more folk pop leaning towards the Turtles cover rather than Barry McGuire, but the stanzas are intact. Included are masterful covers such as Dylan’s snarky “With God on Our Side” (banjo led), Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” and a raucous Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs,” But the gem here is the back half of this second disc that is solid originals, including “Edie” (about Edie Sedgwick) and the timely ballad “When They Stormed the Capital.”
Full sample song HERE 


Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘Em Ups
Turn to Crime
1332 Records /
Despite moving relatively recently to the hinterlands of Pennsylvania, CMatSEUs have lost none of their drive or appeal. The main focus is still vocalist Jacqueline Blownaparte and her partner in – er – crime, guitarist superb Anthony Begnal, with a new bassist and drummer. Their aggressive hardcore both brings reminiscence of the 1980s style of in-your-face madness with a touch of harmonies that do not fall into the wishy-washy ‘90s Green Day kind of fluff. What I especially like about the chorus is that it can be both chantable, and can be used in the fist pumping way to build up adrenaline for the mosh pit (or in lieu of it; I’m old enough to be a lieu of person, but I digress…). Possibly the best comparison would be the flavor/attitude of the Cramps mixed with the influence of the likes of GBH. This is just one side of their new single (7”-er, remember them?). This is some of the better post-hardcore sound I have heard in a while, and a high mark even for them, and they set the bar high.
Can be heard HERE 


The Dictators
“Let’s Get the Band Back Together”
2:25 minutes
Dictators Multi/Media
I have liked the Dictators (DFFD) since I heard their introductory album, and even more when I saw them live (CBGB in 1975) for the first of multiple times (including at The Bottom Line, The Left Bank, and Irving Plaza). Over the years, HDM got most of the attention, but I always thought that the songs Andy/Adny Shernoff voxed were amazing, as well. They had a style that was metal and could be juvenile at the same time, which was part of their charm. Songs were singalongs and often brilliantly silly (such as “Master Race Rock”), but they could also be profound (“Steppin’ Out”). Over the years through various incarnations of the band, they are back, with Andy on vocals and bass, ace metal guitarist and right winger Ross “The Boss” Friedman, Albert Bouchard (ex-Blue Oyster Cult) on drums, and for this recording, the recently late, great rhythm guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner. This song feels, in tone, like it could fit somewhere between the first and second album. The “C’mon” in the chorus, sung by Manic Panic/Sic F*cks’ own Tish and Snooky Bellomo, is certainly chantable, layered with Andy’s New Yawk accent, sounds like fun. The phrasing of the song is a bit melodic rock, even with Ross’s solo burst, but with its occasional hint of early rock’n’roll on some parts, it is definitely an enjoyable listen. While I look forward to the full album, as an aside, after you have heard this Dictators’ song, it is also worth hearing an earlier, more pop solo Shernoff version of it from almost a decade ago HERE
Full song can be heard HERE 


Gary Louris
“Almost Home”
3:31 minutes
This travel song has a nice “hoo-hoo-hoo” chorus to sing along with, with it’s poppy and upbeat singer-songwriter tone. Of course, as should be, the rhythm is steady like the wheels of the car (truck?) humming along a highway, not too far from the final exit. Louris’ vocals fit the sound so well, and the video that accompanies it is arty without being obtuse. It’s as simple as the driving beat. Humorously, I wonder about the line “When I close my eyes, I see your face…” Err, aren’t you driving? Still, the chorus is extremely catchy possible earworm and a hoot. A good listen, but that should come as no surprise as he was in the seminal band The Jayhawks, and a founding member of “supergroup” Golden Smog.
Can be heard HERE 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Miki Zone of THE FAST Sings Gene Pitney [1985]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1985 / 2021
Images from the Internet unless indicated

Miki Zone Sings Gene Pitney

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #13, dated 1985. It was written by Julia Masi.

The Fast essentially went through four phases, starting in the early 1970s and ending well into the 1980s. At the core of The Fast were three Brooklyn brothers: Armand “Mandy” Zone (keyboards, vocals), Miki Zone (guitar and vocals), and Paul Zone (vocals). The first phase was before Paul joined the band; I saw them play the bandshell in Prospect Park around 1973 or ’74. Next was the Fast’s golden era (in my opinion), when they were on the Live at Max’s Kansas City album, doing songs like “Kids Just Wanna Dance,” “Boys Will Be Boys,” and “It’s Like Love.” The third was after Mandy left to form his own band, Ozone, when the Fast became more metal and leather based. They did the same songs, but a lot stronger without Mandy’s pop synth. The last was when Miki and Paul became a Eurobeat twosome with a strong gay focus called Man 2 Man (though originally called Man’s Favorite Sport for a brief moment).

Through all this, Miki’s guitar was a fireball, as he mastered the craft and he became one of the most underrated guitarists on the New York scene. Not surprisingly, he became bored playing the same notes and the same songs, so he would improvise, such as using the eraser ends of pencils to play rather than a pick.

Miki also had some side gigs going on, with a solo project of singing the songs of the great Gene Pitney (d. 2006). Miki died in 1986, and Mandy in 1993. – RBF, 2021


Miki Zone in The Fast (photo by Robert Barry Francos)

In any medium, the most difficult part of performing is interpreting someone else’s material, so that it remains fresh and intact, while still allowing individuality and talent to surface. In an era when cover songs are the junk food of our musical menu and “incredible simulations” infest the stage and screen, it’s rare and refreshing to find a performer like Miki Zone, who honors his idols without imitating them.

Last Spring, Miki Zone’s Gene Pitney Review slipped into the New York club circuit without enough fanfare. It’s a short (approximately one hour) cabaret act that’s campy, classy and reveals another side of Miki: his voice!

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Miki can sing. Nothing he does should surprise his fans after all the musical styles he adapted and discarded over the years, with his brother Paul, in The Fast. But throughout his career, he’s always been known as an instrumentalist and songwriter with a distinctive style. A style that, unfortunately, has yet to be rewarded in the mainstream markets.

Gene Pitney in his heyday, was very heavily absorbed into the mainstream. He is most often remembered for “Town Without Pity,” but he also wrote several dozen Top-40 tunes for himself and people like Roy Orbison, Rick Nelson, the Crystals, and Steve Lawrence. He had a country hit with George Jones, as well as numerous hits in foreign countries that he sang and recorded in almost every language.

Mandy Zone, Paul Zone, Miki Zone

According to the fact sheet that Miki graciously compiles for interviews, Pitney “played all his own instruments on his first single, “I Wanna Love My Life Away,” and would over-dub seven of his voices on the record.” The most interesting item on the list, however, claims that he was “an amateur taxidermist,” a hobby that probably fostered many weepy love songs. He dropped out of the public eye about a decade ago and, since then, there have been only vague rumors concerning his whereabouts or career. [Ed. Note: Pitney died after a performance in Wales, and is buried where he lived in Connecticut. – 2021]

“I don’t want to be a messenger to the masses,” explains Miki, “but it feels good to have people react to the things that they like.” Part of the reason why this act is entertaining is that you don’t have to be a die-hard Pitney fan to appreciate it. In fact, you don’t even have to know who he is to enjoy it. The set is filled with familiar, catchy pop ditties that have been nestled in the cobwebs of our brain for ages. And Miki is not a Gene Pitney clone. He may be able to croon in the same key as the eclipsed star, and dress in the elegant smoking jackets of that era, but only the blind could confuse their faces. Miki’s eyes are riveting. They’re like tiny, brown computer screens beaming with information until he hears a dumb question, then they abruptly shut down to an icy darkness. Luckily, a sincere inquiry – like why would a talented songwriter want to sing someone else’s lyrics – flicks their light switch back on.

“I’ve got a big romantic part of me which I’ve never brought out in the music, which I’m starting to do now. I’ve written a lot of things like that which I’ve never performed. I’ve never used them in any of my past groups.

“I always had an affection for… would you call it torch singing? Or crooning? Not crooning like Alfalfa, but like, crooning like the way Gene Pitney did it. He could sing a rock song like “I’m Gonna Love My Life Away,” or “Hello, Mary Lou,” and he would also sing a ballad like “Town Without Pity” or “Half Heaven, Half Heartache” and still make you wanna cry. Those emotions used to amaze me in any singer, even female singers like Dusty Springfield. People like that amaze me with the way they can milk all your emotions. I always felt that I could do that. Wanted to do that. And that’s what I’m doing. I used to try to emulate his voice. I used to be able to sing like that for years, but I never had a chance to sing in any of my rock bands. I never would sing. It was always up to my brothers (Paul and Armand) to sing.

“The reason I am doing Gene Pitney is it’s a tackling thing to do. He’s got an amazing voice. I’m not saying I can sing like him, but I hang in there with the notes, and I’m proud of that!

“There’s a lot of things in me that I don’t want to have to be Miki Zone to keep on changing them. I’ve changed many, many times over the years. I’ve put The Fast through heavy metal, through glitter rock, through pop, through punk, through many different things. What I did wrong, I’d say, is that it should have been a different group each time. That would have saved a lot of problem and a lot of egos, and a lot of people’s confusion. I should have called it something different every time I went in a different direction. I have a lot of those ambitions to do different kinds of music and I don’t want to be stuck under one name doing it. I’m not in the position of David Bowie, where I can do what I want and still be the chameleon. I have too many other things in my head that I want to do and be. I think I can do them under different titles, ‘cause none of them will step on each other.

Gene Pitney

“The Gene Pitney thing is just the beginning of the acts I’m gonna do. I think I’m gonna be doing a couple of other acts of different people’s materials; other singers, because I like to sing as much as I like to play an instrument. And I just want to get it out of me. It’s just satisfaction for me. Maybe it’s ego, too, to see people enjoying me doing things. I’ve got the best reactions, I think, ever in my career, since I’ve been doing the Gene Pitney thing, just through the response of people.

“I’d rather have different outlets for different things. And if one of them works out better than the others, I’ll follow that one up. But me and my brother will always work together.” Paul and Miki now have a band called Man’s Favorite Sport. Paul is very supportive of his brother’s solo endeavors, and usually helps out with the lights.

Although he’s trying to keep the identities of his other solo personas a secret, Miki has mentioned that one of them will be Bruno Beats, an original character who sings all of Miki’s “romantic, lush pop things. It’s going to be very pop, maybe ‘60s. All the things I wouldn’t use in the group.”



Wednesday, September 15, 2021

“What Walks There Walks Alone”: A Comparison of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and Robert Wise’s “The Haunting”

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

“What Walks There Walks Alone”: A Comparison of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Robert Wise’s The Haunting

While going for my advanced degree in Media Ecology at New York University, I took a class with Professor Joy Boyum, “Fiction into Film,” and wrote this as a report. It matches one of my favorite books with one of my best-loved films. The paper is dated May 5, 1993. Please note for those who have neither read the book or viewed the film, there are spoilers.


“O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear, your true-love’s coming.
That can sing both high and low
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting.
Every wise man’s song doth know.”
– Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 1

Robert Wise’s direction of The Haunting (1963), an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1) (1959), remains one of the more memorable psychological supernatural thrillers brought to the screen. The film’s success has much to do with the cinematic elements brought to the story as the tale itself.

Wise’s choice to not show the apparition(s), with one brief exception a heartbeat long, is an effective tool for presenting a stronger psychological narrative edge to the story that perhaps might have been lost if he had chosen the easier “fright” route of wraith effects. The doorknob jiggling and mysterious hand-holding is all the more convincing because of the riddle of who or what is roaming the halls of Hill House.

Wise also emphasizes an element of claustrophobia that is sometimes lacking in the novel. Jackson places much of the action during the day on the grounds and hills surrounding the house; invisible footfalls in the grass appear less horrific. Wise, however, used the darkness of mahogany interiors, earth tones and shadows to give the viewer a sense of entrapment and depraved evil. Once the lead protagonist, Eleanor, arrives at Hill House, the only outdoor scenes are two on the terrace (first in daylight, then at night) and two on the grounds, by the front door, when Mrs. Markway arrives (day) and Eleanor’s final departure from the house (night).

One of the perplexities of Hill House is the way the house is designed. Eighty years earlier than the story is set, the house’s architect, the overbearing Hugh Crain, build a structure that was as distorted and enigmatic as its contriver. Wise sets a somber tone through the use of quick, jerky editing and especially irregular camera angles to reveal the skewed house design and a conundrum of doors that shut themselves (by design, not spirit).

The key theme of the film, as well as the novel, is loneliness. Both are introduced by a prologue (narrated on film), “Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within… and whatever walked there, walked alone.” Entering into this dark isolation are four characters, each lonely in his or her individual way. Eleanor Lance (Vance, in the novel), played by Julie Harris, arrives after years of isolation spent taking care of her domineering and sickly mother. Eleanor views her stay at Hill House as a chance to flower, to belong. In the novel, she repeatedly utters a line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Journey’s end in lovers meeting.” Though this is only quoted once in the film, the theme remains the same: there is a sense of love’s absence, of a desire to find a place in the universe where she is her own person, accepted by others for who she is. Eleanor has no real home (she lives with her sister’s family), no one to love, and no one to love her.

There is an almost claustrophobic feel of dread and naivete about the world within her, as she created a dream life of an apartment of her own with matching stone lions on the mantlepiece. Eleanor is desperate to fit in and gain back what she believes she had lost through many years of solitude.

The future owner of Hill House, Luke Sanderson (Sannerson in the film, played by Russ Tamblyn), is also rejected by his family. His lonely past has produced a “liar…also a thief.” The novel presents Luke as an in-depth character who is a scalawag, but also has a heart, and is merely acting out of his sadness and need to be accepted. He is presented as the first possibly lover at “journey’s end” for Eleanor. In the film, however, he remains undefined, reduced to comic relief.

Whereas in the novel, Dr. John Montague (Markway in the film, Richard Johnson), who leads the supernatural “expedition” into the house, is known by Eleanor to be married from his first introduction; this fact is hidden from her in the film, setting up a possible liaison between them. Is John the lover at “journey’s end”? Many of the romantic actions taken by Luke in the book are given to John in the film, such as offering a steadying hand to Eleanor as she looks up at the tower (nearly toppling over a balcony), or rescuing her from the shaky ladder in the library. The novel presents John as lonely, due to the shrewish nature of his wife, unnamed except as Mrs. Montague. She is presented as a person who has no regard for her husband’s methods, dismissive of Montague as a person, self-promoting, and a supernatural “expert.” The film merely hints that John is lonely, and might end up in the company of Eleanor.

A subplot of possible lesbian romance is then presented by the last of the four main characters, introduced by Theodora (Claire Bloom). This theme is interjected in the novel as Theo arrives at Hill House after a painful fight with her “roommate,” feeling dejected and somewhat bitter. In the film, Theo’s orientation is broached through dialogue, presented more as the reason for her loneliness: “By the time I’m through with you Nell, you’ll be a different person”; elsewhere asked what she is afraid of, Theo responds, “Of knowing what I really want.” Her sarcastic manner is treated as rooted in the sexual orientation, as well. Though Eleanor is repulsed by Theodora’s sexuality in the film (“The world is full of inconsistencies. Unnatural things. Nature’s mistakes, they’re called. You, for instance.”), in both the film and the novel, Eleanor eventually wants to go off and live with Theodora. The author posits this as another possibility of “journey’s end where lovers meet”.

A third theme of the story is that of parental/daughter relationships. Although Hugh Crain designed the house, he barely resided there, and eventually died in Europe. It is his warped vision that dominates the house, however, with a malevolent (male-violent) influence. His evil is that of control. Even in designing the house, he materialized his own vision rather than relying on others, with skewered angles and unmatched lines, going against architectural conformity to express his will. It was with this will that he ran his house while occupying it with his daughter(s). His religious fanaticism, which evolved from his bitterness over his wife’s/wives’ demise led him to warn his daughter, “Honor thy father and thy mother, daughter, authors of your being, upon whom a heavy charge has been laid, that they lead their child in innocence and righteousness, along the fearful narrow path of everlasting bliss…” Though his physical presence in the house was minimal, his influence remains, and it is this warped domination which seems to affect the weakest of those who enter the house, subduing them to the power of his control.

Hugh Crain’s malevolence is directed at women. All who die at Hill House are women: first the wife of Crain, who is killed in an accident on the grounds before even viewing the house; second, their eldest daughter (only daughter in the film), Abigail (Sophia in the novel), who dies of pneumonia at an elderly age in her bedroom, the nursery (“the heart of Hill House”), while her young servant/companion “dallied in the garden with some village lout”; third is the companion, who inherits Hill House, who hangs herself in the library. The last woman to die is Eleanor herself, a possible suicide who seeks to remain at Hill House, under the influence of the evil will of Hugh (2) Crain.

There are overlapping images in the context of the story. An example is that both Eleanor’s mother and Hugh Crain’s daughter die while banging on the walls for help. This “mother/daughter” parallel is further mirrored by Eleanor’s guilt over presumed negligence in having slept through her mother’s knocking, as did the companion, who “dallied” while her mistress died in distress. Both Eleanor and the companion become obsessed with the house and the staircase in the library. Both eventually commit suicide. Similarly, Hugh Crain’s wife died without ever having entered the house, whereas Eleanor dies driving into a tree at the same spot on the grounds so she does not have to leave.

In Wise’s vision even more than Jackson’s, Eleanor is treated by all as a woman-child, though she is in her early 30s, because of her innocent and cloistered life. In a scene where she is seeking permission to use what is essentially her half-owned car from her sister’s family, the relatives reject her request because they view her as childlike and consequently irresponsible. This scene is dramatized while a child’s melody is played in the background. Also, throughout the film, again more than the novel, Theo often calls her by the nickname “Baby,” sometimes in a patronizing tone. This, of course, reflects back to the nursery, the heart of Hill House, which has been collecting victims for years. The inflection is present in the novel, but in a more subtle, sardonic way.

The characterization that is most changed from novel to film is that of Mrs. Montague (named Grace for the film, played by Lois Maxwell). Whereas she is a totally disagreeable character in the book owing to her obnoxious ego and dismissal of concern for nearly all others, the cinematic version lives up to her first name, presenting her as a strong and decent person who is unintentionally triangled between John and Eleanor. In the movie, Eleanor suggests Grace sleep in the “evil” nursery in a pique of jealous spite, while in the novel, John makes this suggestion because he is acquiescing to his wife.

Two other characterizations that are altered from the original source are those of Dr. Montague/Markway and Luke Sannerson/Sanderson. In the book, Montague, while the leader of the psychic exploration to Hill House, is seen as a three-dimensional character who is sometimes flawed and always human. In the film, perhaps because he is presented as a potential love-interest for Eleanor, Markway becomes a near-swaggering Petruchio-type hero; one can almost her him slap his knee in self-righteousness. Luke, on the other hand, is treated the opposite: whereas Montague to Markway comes from human to hero, Luke Sanderson to Sannerson goes from possible love-interest to practical joking comic chorus.

An obvious problem in adapting the novel to the film would be similar that of any phycological drama, the inner narrative voice. Thought processes are the crux of psychological drama, as the protagonist struggles with distressing events, and the consequences that are faced become more severe. Wise takes the most direct approach, and has Eleanor’s thoughts presented via voice-overs. Though this may be a potentially overbearing and distracting technique, Wise uses it to optimum effect, holding back and letting the actor’s expressions tell us of her own inner turmoil in particular scenes, while voice-overs detail the trauma in others.

In the novel form, the horror story, be it temporal, spiritual or psychological, has its work before it. Unless the subject matter touches on the personal fear of the reader, such as something/someone hiding in a closet or a phobia, like fear of heights (e.g., Vertigo, 1958), the printed word needs to be worked harder to be shocking, especially to those who grew up watching film. Historical horror novels such as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844), were written when there were no moving images that could shock with a sudden “Boo!”, so the imagination of the reader of the stories is needed to be able to horrify. Present-day writers such as Clive Barker and sometimes even Stephen King manage to frighten, but their shocks come from the gross and the gory. The Haunting of Hill House was published during a period when the horror novel was based more on the psychological than “visual” manifestations, therefore crating a timeless horror that does not need to go “boo” or bleed.

Film has a great potential for frightening the viewer. Whereas the novel can horrify by leaving the terror “unnameable” (as H.P. Lovecraft was fond of doing) and inviting the reader to realize his or her worst fear. A film can frighten by presenting a haunting image or a sudden shock. For example, while the echoing, pounding on walls and jiggling of the doorknob as “whatever walked there” searches for Eleanor and Theodora in the Haunting of Hill House creates fear, in The Haunting, the dimension of fear is heightened by watching the door bend under the weight of the spirits, the wall- and door-pounding becomes deafening (especially as the cadence gets perceptually louder, faster and more menacing), and the dissonant disembodied voices of the mysterious forces (such as what sounds like hard fire and brimstone preaching by Hugh Crain to his daughter) fill the senses by filling the screen. Add to this the cinematic touches of shadow and light, juxtaposing camera angles, eerie music (3) by Humphrey Searle, and dissonant editing (4).

Through cinematic devices, Wise hold back on visual information about the antagonistic spirits, to heighten the sense of mystery and fear through the unknown. He uses the occasional lack of music to make the terror feel more imminent and tangible, and skewed closeups to place a fearful image immediately before the viewer in arresting perspective. While Jackson has Eleanor see spirits in one form or another (spying invisible foots falls in the grass or viewing ghostly picnics), Wise chooses not to rely as much on the visual to frighten, but by way of a literary perspective, employing the imagination, all the while using the cinematic process to make the viewer’s imagination hold one in terror. The fear of the unknown usually tends to be less challenging to accept on film because of the temptation to show precisely what is there for which to be afraid. By choosing not to display some blatantly showy special effects (other than an occasional breathing door, for example), and relying on cinematic techniques, wise raises the stakes from cheap thrills to high horror, without gore and without hackneyed effects (5).

By viewing the film before reading the novel, I was able to grasp some concepts that may not have been so obvious from using the book as the primary source. Details in print are usually more thorough in pointing out specifics, consequently more information is passed to the reader. Due to the time in literary history the book was published, however, less emphasis was placed on the homosexual aspects of the characters of Theodora and, more subtly, Eleanor (6). The subtlety of this aspect may have been lost on the reader, but to the viewer, these themes were clearer and more straightforward.

Another interesting aspect of the film that Wise added is having the final prologue spoken by Eleanor, after her death. The closing line was changed from “Whatever walked there, walked alone, to “We who walk there, walk alone.” By adding this change, Wise solidifies the realization that the main character and antagonist in both the film and the novel is Hill House itself. It is the neediest and most demanding. It is the most appalling, and yet seductive. It is Hill House that is the lover Eleanor meets at “journey’s end.”

1. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding.
2. “Hugh” is Old German for “Will”.
3. Music
by Humphrey Searle.
4. Editing by Ernest Walter.
5. For the opposite school of thought, see the Roger Corman films of the same period.
6. Though novels such as Radclyffe Hall’s
The Well of Loneliness (1928) and Lillian Hellman’s play, The Children’s Hour (1934) had already been published with the themes, mainstream fiction still apparently considered the subject a taboo.