Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Reprise: Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

by Dawn Pisturino

Illustration by Ken Lamug

I never wanted to attend Miss Lizzie’s tea party, but mama insisted I go.

“Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady,” she scolded. “I don’t want to hear anymore nonsense about those grisly axe murders! Rich young ladies like Miss Borden don’t go around chopping up people’s heads.”

“But Mama,” I protested. “Miss Lizzie and the maid were the only ones at home. Who else could have chopped off her father’s nose and split his eyeball in two?”

“That’s enough, Olivia,” Mama warned. “You’re going to the party, and that’s final.”

* * *

I had often seen Miss Lizzie sitting in an upstairs window, beckoning the neighborhood children inside for homemade cookies.

Every time she waved at me, my body quivered like gelatin fresh out of the mold. After all, this was the woman accused of hacking up her father and stepmother with a hatchet!

And even though the jury found Miss Lizzie innocent way back in 1893, folks ’round these parts never forget.

But I always reluctantly waved back, as Mama had taught me, and hurried home.

Then the invitation came. Miss Lizzie was hosting an afternoon tea party for all the children in the neighborhood.

Mama was so thrilled, she cleaned and pressed my prettiest, frilliest party dress and bought me a shiny new pair of shoes. “Papa’s law practice has been falling off lately,” she explained. “He needs a wealthy client like Miss Borden to get going again.”

Annie, the housemaid, curled my hair. “You can’t go, Miss Olivia, you just can’t. My mama told me never to go inside that house. I mean, never! And she should know. Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s housemaid, told her there was blood and brains splattered everywhere. They found Abby Borden’s hair braid lying on the rug, sliced clean from her head!”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “I have to go, Annie. Mama will whip me with Papa’s razor strap if I don’t.”

“Well, don’t eat anything. She never admitted it, but Miss Lizzie tried to buy poison from Smith’s Drug Store right before the murders.”

* * *

Miss Lizzie opened the front door with a wide, toothy grin.

Every muscle in my body screamed, Run! Now! While you can!

But mama’s voice kept ringing in my ears. Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady . . .

So I followed Miss Lizzie down the hall to an elegantly furnished drawing room — an empty drawing room. None of the other children had come. Cowards!

And then I saw it, gleaming by the fireplace, a shiny new axe!

Gold paint glittered along the sharp edge, marred by dark stains that looked like blood. I clenched my fists, trying hard to ease the queasiness in my stomach.

“You’re admiring my new axe,” Miss Lizzie said. She stepped closer, her pale blue eyes foggy with distant memories. “My father was quite skilled with an axe. One afternoon, I went into the barn and found my beloved pigeons lying on the ground with their heads chopped off. My father was standing over them, holding a bloody axe. I screamed and ran into the house.

“That night, Bridget served pie for dinner. Pigeon pie!” she said as her lips twisted into a smile.

The drawing room door opened then and a fat cook with a red face entered carrying a large pie in her hands. “Sit yourself down, my dear. The pie is ready to eat! I got lucky, Miss Lizzie. I found our special ingredient at Smith’s Drug Store.”

Smith’s Drug Store! I grabbed my reeling head, ready to faint at any moment. Pie! Poisoned pigeon pie!

Screaming, I lunged for the axe and swung it around, knocking the pie out of the cook’s hands, slicing off her forefinger. She howled in pain as blood spurted from the wound. I swung the axe around again, nicking Miss Lizzie’s ear. Fluffy brown curls fluttered to the floor, sliced neatly from her head.

Miss Lizzie tackled me to the ground and held me there while the cook bound her bloody hand with a towel and telephoned the police. My chest heaved with great, gulping sobs as Miss Lizzie’s face drew closer and closer until her lips brushed against my ear.

You see how easy it is,” she whispered.

THE END

Published in the February 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Ken Lamug. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MAKE IT SCARY!

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Pumpkins of Halloween Past

All Photos by Dawn Pisturino.

I have always loved Halloween.

When I was a small child, we lived in rural Indiana, and the Halloween season was always somehow perfect. After the hot, humid summer, the weather cooled down, and Halloween often brought rain. The leaves on the maple trees burned bright red, and I remember raking leaves and jumping into the piles, laughing, with my younger brother. I can still smell the pungent odor of burning leaves.

Halloween meant going to the farmer’s stand to buy fresh apples and pumpkins. It meant fresh apple cider, apple pie, hot chocolate, and donuts. My best friend always had a Halloween party down in her basement, where we dunked for apples and played games.

Then there were the tricks-or-treats!

One of my fondest memories of my brother, who died of melanoma when he was turning forty, is going trick-or-treating with my parents. When he was only about five years old, we tramped around the neighborhood in old sheets, carrying pillow cases for our treat bags. My brother dragged his on the ground until it got a hole in it and all the candy fell out. He cried like a baby, and I grumbled because I had to share my candy with him. Every time I watch the Peanuts special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, I think about my brother. Every time Charlie Brown complains, “I got a rock,” it makes me laugh and cry at the same time because I can still see my brother dragging that pillow case on the ground.

My husband and I still carve pumpkins every year and build a bonfire, if the weather permits. One year, I waited too long to buy pumpkins, and all I could find were blue pumpkins. But, see how pretty!

A few years ago, I spent Halloween with my daughter and her boyfriend in L.A. We had great fun watching scary movies, carving pumpkins, and eating homemade goodies.

It took a lot of work to carve these!
My husband’s Halloween bonfire.

Here’s to good times and great memories!

Dawn Pisturino

October 7, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

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The Time Warp

In the early 1980s, before our daughter was born, my husband and I decided to attend the local revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At midnight sharp, we were sitting in the audience at the old, art deco Millbrae Theatre in Millbrae, California, anxious for the movie to start. It was fun to look around the theatre at the many strange costumes worn by Rocky Horror fans. But, watcher beware! Once the movie started, we were pelted with candy, rice, and popcorn, and squirted with water from squirt guns, as fans reacted to various scenes in the movie. That was the fun of the revival – interacting with each other and the movie.

That couldn’t even happen nowadays because the Fun Police would be out trying to shut it all down. Kids are missing out on a lot of clean, harmless fun!

At that time, there were old, art deco theatres in just about every town along the El Camino Real, the main business artery that courses down the San Francisco Peninsula. I remember the red plush seats and elegant, red velvet stage curtain in the old Millbrae. I was fascinated by the gold gilding on the intricate art deco interior designs. Sadly, most of these theatres have been demolished or closed down.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) has always had a large cult following of people who just want to have a good time. The story is quirky, the characters and costumes bizarre, the music lively and entertaining.

Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors) and Susan Sarandon (Janet Weiss) play a naive, “square,” straight-laced couple whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Forced to take refuge at Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s house, they are reluctantly exposed to the twisted, bizarre characters who live there.

Tim Curry plays the transvestite scientist, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who is experimenting with creating the perfect male sex symbol (Peter Hinwood). The theme of the movie is pursuing “absolute pleasure,” which reflects the overriding social theme of the 1970s.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is the musical number, The Time Warp. Here’s where the audience gets up out of their seats and starts dancing in the aisles!

Enjoy! And don’t let the Fun Police spoil your fun! They are already trying to shut down Christmas this year.

Dawn Pisturino

October 11, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Godzilla Rules

After the bombing of Hiroshima, filmmakers became obsessed with sci fi movies that exposed and speculated about the harmful effects of radiation poisoning on humans and the environment. Giant, monstrous creatures produced from radiation exposure became a popular theme, particularly in Japan, where the original Godzilla was born in 1954. A whole series of movies featuring Godzilla and sundry other monsters followed. Even today, remakes of the Japanese originals remain popular. And merchandise sales of T-shirts, toys, and other items remain strong. Godzilla even earned his own pop song:

Blue Oyster Cult – Godzilla
Godzilla original movie theme, 1954.

Godzilla Rules!

Dawn Pisturino

October 2, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, (866) 706-4826.

All photos by Dawn Pisturino.

The owners of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery had a vision to turn a sad, quiet place of rest into a thriving cultural and visitor center. Built in 1899, the cemetery is home to numerous Hollywood stars, directors, and other dignitaries. Visitors flock to the site to view the final resting places of famous people and walk among the beautiful gardens. At the south end of the cemetery can be seen the historic Paramount Studios on the other side of the wall.

During the summer, the cemetery features classic film screenings in association with Cinespia. People bring picnics and lawn chairs and hang out on the Fairbanks Lawn after sunset to enjoy the warm California weather. There’s usually a long line to purchase tickets and to get in.

The cemetery also hosts one of the largest Dia de Los Muertos festivals in America.

Every time I have been to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I have enjoyed myself immensely. And walking among the headstones and mingling with the crowds is a fun experience and not scary at all – even after dark.

Did you notice the lipstick on Rudolph Valentino’s crypt? He still has a big following of swooning female fans!

Dawn Pisturino

October 6, 2021

Copyright 2008-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Puttin’ on the Ritz

I’ve read that performer Michael Jackson was a big fan of Fred Astaire and studied his dance techniques. This became obvious in the style of some of his costumes, and in his own dance routines.

One of my favorite dance numbers by Fred Astaire is “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” The song was written by Irving Berlin in 1927 and published in 1929. In 1930, it became the central theme of the musical, Puttin’ on the Ritz. (See video below.)

The phrase “puttin’ on the Ritz” meant dressing fashionably in the slang of that day. The “Ritz” referred to the Ritz Hotel in London, England.

Fred Astaire performed his famous dance routine in the film, Blue Skies (1946). (See video below.)

Mel Brooks included a dance scene using Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in 1974, in the movie Young Frankenstein.

The song and the dance were revived by the Dutch singer, Taco, in 1982 and became an international hit – MTV even aired the music video.

The music is still catchy, and makes you want to get up and dance!

Fred Astaire version (1946), courtesy of Drive-In Movie History on You Tube (includes a short clip from Young Frankenstein):

Taco version, courtesy of Taco on YouTube:

Harry Richman version (1930), courtesy of Addehiovy on YouTube:

Ritz Hotel, London, England

Dawn Pisturino

September 29, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Our UFO Experiences

Illustration from History.com. Learn more here: Black Triangle UFOs

My husband is a dedicated Star Trek and Star Wars fan, so I didn’t think much about it when he told me he saw a UFO over our house one night. He described it as triangular with lights, like the above photo, and told me how disappointed he was that the craft didn’t try to beam him up, like Scotty in Star Trek. I told him he was probably too heavy a load. The whole incident turned into a private joke, and we didn’t talk about it much after that conversation.

I didn’t really believe in UFOs then, and I’m not even sure about it now. After all, we only live about a three or four hour drive south of Area 51, and I assumed that any strange things we saw in the sky originated from there. We’ve occasionally seen small objects in the sky that suddenly shot up straight into the air and disappeared. But this always seems to happen around sunset, so maybe it’s the angle of the sun as it goes down that gives us that impression. (I’m trying to be a realist here.)

We’ve watched numerous documentaries about aliens and UFOs, including the recent Skinwalker Ranch series on History Vault. Some sound rational and logical, while others just seem like a lot of hype. If I ever saw one of the mushroom creatures described in Whitley Strieber’s book, Communion, I think I would die on the spot of a heart attack.

The one credible story I’ve seen was the movie, Fire in the Sky. Made in 1993, the movie was based on Travis Walton’s book, The Walton Experience. In it, he tells the story of his abduction by an alien spacecraft on November 5, 1975 in Snowflake, Arizona while logging with his co-workers in the White Mountains. He disappeared for days, and when he returned, people didn’t know how to react to his story. He and his co-workers underwent lie detector tests and passed.

When I worked in Flagstaff, Arizona, I met people who know Travis Walton. They told me he is a down-to-earth, straight up guy who wouldn’t lie about something like that. Snowflake is a small, tightly-knit Mormon town where everybody knows each other, so I believe what they told me. Since then, I have watched several interviews with Mr. Walton, and he comes across as an honest guy.

But, it wasn’t until I had my own strange experience that I began to believe.

A few years ago, my husband was working odd hours and left for work at 02:30 in the morning. I was standing on the front porch saying good-bye to him, and all of a sudden, I saw two red lights hovering above the barbed wire fence across the road. We live in a rural area, and there’s nothing across the road except miles and miles of BLM land. There is no road on the other side of the fence. I took a closer look. The two red lights were fairly close together and looked like the tail lights on an old classic car. As I watched, one went out, and then the other. This all happened very quickly, but as I thought about it, I realized there was no sound and no body attached to the lights. The lights were hovering above the horizon, several feet above the fence, so they could not belong to any kind of vehicle sitting on the other side of the fence. It seemed to me that whatever had been hovering there was invisible except for the lights. And when they went out, all I saw in the distance were stars and the lights of houses, all miles away on the main highway.

My first impulse was to blame it on a drone. I couldn’t explain it otherwise. However, I have never seen anything written about invisible drones. And the pictures I’ve seen do not match what I saw.

So, I’m stumped. What could it have been? And since then, when I asked my husband to describe in detail what he saw, he told me that the triangle-shaped craft was hovering over our house. My daughter and I were asleep, and he had just gotten home from work. It was the middle of the night, and the craft took off as soon as he got home.

Were my daughter and I going to be abducted and my husband’s sudden appearance changed their minds? That idea continues to haunt me to this day.

Or, were they after the cat?

Please share your thoughts!

Dawn Pisturino

September 30, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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For James Dean

Rest in Peace
September 30, 2021 marks the 66th anniversary of his death


For James Dean 
Welcome me, if you will,
as the ambassador of a hatred
who knows its cause
and does not envy you your whim
of ending him.
 
For a young actor I am begging
peace, gods. Alone
in the empty streets of New York
I am its dirty feet and head
and he is dead.
 
He has banged into your wail
of air, your hubris, racing
towards your heights and you
have cut him from your table
which is built, how unfairly
for us l not on trees, but on clouds.
 
I speak as one whose filth
is like his own, of pride
and speed and your terrible
example nearer than the siren’s speech,
a spirit eager for the punishment
which is your only recognition.
 
Peace! to be true to a city
of rats and to loved the envy
of the dreary, smudged mouthers
of an arcane dejection
smoldering quietly in the perception
of hopelessness and scandal
at unnatural vigor. Their dreams
are their own, as are the toilets
of a great railway terminal
and the sequins of a very small,
very fat eyelid.
                       I take this
for myself, and you take up
the thread of my life between your teeth
tin thread and tarnished with abuse.
you still shall hear
as long as the beast in me maintains
its taciturn power to close my lids
in tears, and my loins move yet
in the ennobling pursuit of all the worlds
you have left me alone in, and would be
the dolorous distraction from,
while you summon your army of anguishes
which is a million hooting blood vessels
on the eyes and in the ears
at the instant before death.
                                         And
the menus who surrounded him critically,
languorously waiting for a
final impertinence to rebel
and enslave him, starlets and other
glittering things in the hog-wallow,
lunging mireward in their inane
moth-like adoration of niggardly
cares and stagnant respects
paid themselves, you spared,
as a hospital preserves its orderlies.
Are these your latter-day saints
these unctuous starers, muscular
somnambulists, these stages for which
no word’s been written hollow
enough, these exhibitionists in
well veiled booths, these navel-suckers?
 
Is it true that you high ones, celebrated
among amorous flies, hated the
prodigy and invention of his nerves?
To withhold your light
from painstaking paths!
your love
should be difficult; as his was hard.
 
Nostrils of pain dawn avenues
of luminous spit-globes breathe in
the fragrance of his innocent flesh
like smoke, the temporary lift,
the post-cancer excitement
of vile manners and veal-thin lips,
obscure in the carelessness of your scissors,
 
Men cry from the grave while they still live
and now I am this dead man’s voice,
stammering, a little in the earth.
I take up
the nourishment of his pale green eyes,
out of which I shall prevent
flowers from growing, your flowers.
~ Frank O’Hara ~


BIO: James Dean died in a car crash on September 30, 1955. A coroner’s jury determined that he had been speeding at the time of the crash. His death shocked the nation because he had become a familiar face on the Big Screen. His most famous movie, Rebel Without a Cause, made him a Hollywood legend. He is still remembered as the troubled Bad Boy who just couldn’t get a break. Dean started his career in television, then got his big break in the movies. He also enjoyed playing on stage in Broadway and Off Broadway productions. He openly admitted to being bisexual and often used his sexuality to get special favors. He was only 24 years old when he died. 

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The Hollywood Blockbuster vs. Independent Niche Films

This poster and other Star Wars posters can be purchased at film/art gallery.

After abandoning the auteur film directors of the 1970s, Hollywood turned to independent filmmakers who were willing to follow “the blockbuster formula” (Lewis 387).  Auteur producers began relying on market research and special effects to produce high-grossing films that awed audiences and kept them clamoring for more.

In the 1980s, Hollywood reversed course and returned to its established roots: genre films.  The studios reaped big box-office profits from “the blockbuster, the so-called event film which provides audiences with a sensational experience independent . . . [of] plot and performance” (Lewis 359).  This trend was prompted by the huge success of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Both of these films followed classic formulaic plots, reinvented by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for a modern market (Lewis 359).

One of the most successful genres in the 1980s-1990s was the action-adventure film.  Born out of the success of the James Bond movies that hit the theaters in the 1960s, action-adventure films are driven by a heroic protagonist, a murderous antagonist, heart-stopping action and speed, and a sensational climax.  Successful movies in this genre include auteur producer Joel Silver’s Lethal Weapon and Die Hard (Lewis 359-365).  They both reflect Silver’s particular style.

The heroes in action-adventure films are muscular, strong, independent, and rugged.  They are men who defy convention.  They are men willing to go to any length to overcome the bad guy(s) and win.  The hero hangs in there against all odds, finally discovering “what he is made of, what he is capable of” (Lewis 361).  These movies are often called the “male rampage film” (Lewis 360) because of the brutal, explicit, and law-bending use of deadly force.

At the same time, the hero forges a strong bond with his male cohort.  The two men are bonded by the danger and near-death experiences which they have experienced together.  It’s the kind of bond that excludes other people because nobody else can understand it unless they have been there themselves (Lewis 360-361).

The 1980s also saw the rise of independent auteur filmmakers not backed by the studios.  Unlike the big blockbusters, these films generally have grossed less than “$2 million, suggesting a small but loyal target audience” (Lewis 390).  They are regarded as “niche films, films produced by and for a specific and relatively narrow demographic” (Lewis 390).  LGBT films fall into this category.  In addition, niche films are disproportionately made by women and minorities.  By the end of the 1990s, most independents had been absorbed by the Hollywood studios (Lewis 390).

While violence can be explicit and widespread, as in many Coen brother movies, it never rises to the level of the action-adventure films.  Independent movies tend to move slower and focus on the wants, needs, and desires of real people (Lewis 390-391).  Controversial themes are often explored in independent movies, such as John Sayles’ movie about worker rights, Matewan (Lewis 393).  Only rarely does an independent film become a Hollywood hit.  An exception is Steven Soderbergh’s film, sex, lies, and videotape, released in 1989, which grossed over $25 million (Lewis 393).

If Hollywood is about making money, anybody who can consistently crank out high-grossing movies can become a prominent auteur director or producer.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 23, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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