Andrew Lorenzi’s “Multo” : We Live Inside A Dream —

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Apparently in the works for several years before its debut at CAB late last year (at least if the catalogue number attached to it by its publisher, Retrofit/Big Planet, is to be believed — and why wouldn’t it be?), it’s perhaps easier to define Andrew Lorenzi’s visionary graphic story cycle, Multo, by what it isn’t rather than what it actually is — taken as a whole the work has a distinct rhythm, but not a progression; it’s not strictly a work of comics poetry, but its overall effect is poetic; and while it’s technically a memoir, most of the incidents it depicts have an ethereal, dreamlike quality to them.

Showcasing Lorenzi’s multi-faceted talents along a stylistic continuum nearly as broad as that of cartoonists such as Tommi Musturi or Karl Stevens, this generously (and necessarily) oversized volume relates its autobiographical contents by means of painting, embroidery…

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Mardi Gras Film Review: Dixiana (dir by Luther Reed)

Mardi Gras in New Orleans has always been a legendary party.

If you doubt me on this, just watch the 1930 film, Dixiana.  Dixiana is all about Mardi Gras.  I mean, there is a plot of sorts but it’s pretty easy to guess that, for audiences in 1930, the promise of a spectacular Madi Gras finale (filmed in technicolor, I might add) was the main appeal of this film.  Dixiana itself takes place in the 1840s so there you have it.  90 years ago, RKO Pictures made a lavish movie about a Mardi Gras celebration that had happened nearly 100 years earlier.  That’s quite a legendary party, no?

As with many pre-Code films about the Antebellum South, it can be a bit awkward to watch Dixiana today.  This is a film that opens on a plantation, with Cornelius Van Horn (Joseph Cawthorn) and his son, Carl (Everett Marshall), discussing how much they enjoy listening to the slaves sing about the Mississippi River.  They’re amazed that the slaves can sing so beautifully about water.  (It doesn’t occur to them that the song was actually about going up the river and finding freedom.)  Cornelius and Carl, we discover, are actually from Pennsylvania.  Cornelius has recently remarried, to the snobbish Birdie (Jobnya Howland) and both he and his son have only recently moved down to her native Louisiana.  Carl and Cornelius are still getting used to life in and the customs of the South.  Cornelius, for instance, explains that he regularly frees some of his slaves and he imagines that’s why they’re always so happy.  But if he really wants them all to be happy why doesn’t he just free them all and maybe stop buying slaves all together?  Let’s just say that Dixiana is not the film to watch if you’re looking for an honest look at American life before the Civil War.

Anyway, if you’re still interested in seeing the film after reading all of that, the majority of Dixiana takes place in New Orleans.  Carl goes into town, does some gambling, and sees a show.  He is immediately smitten with a performer named Dixiana (Bebe Daniels) and he asks her to marry him.  Even though her two best friends, Peewee and Ginger (played by the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey), are weary, Dixiana accepts his proposal.  Carl takes Dixiana back to the plantation with him.  Unfortunately, he also takes Peewee and Ginger and they soon let slip that they’re all circus performers.  Birdie is scandalized.  There’s no way her stepson is going to bring shame on the family by marrying a circus performer!

So, Dixiana and her friends head back to New Orleans.  The circus no longer wants her so Dixiana is forced to work in a gambling hall that’s owned by smarmy Royal Montague (Ralf Harolde).  Montague has his own personal interest in Dixiana but she’s still in love with Carl.  So, Royal plots to not only have Dixiana crowned as the Queen of Mardi Gras but also to trick Carl into accept a duel with him.  Montague, of course, plans to pull an Aaron Burr and cheat.  Meanwhile, Peewee and Ginger steal money, kick each other in the backside, and fight a duel of their own….

And really, none of that matters.  In the end, the film’s storyline is mostly just busywork.  The main reason that anyone would want to see this film is for the final 20 minutes, which is when the grainy black-and-white cinematography is replaced by gloriously vibrant technicolor and the Mardi Gras celebrations begin.  There’s singing.  There’s dancing.  There’s even Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, making his film debut and dancing up a storm.  Seriously, 1840s Mardi Gras looked like it would have been fun to attend, even if it does sometimes seem more like a lively cotillion as opposed to the orgy of alcohol poisoning that everyone knows and loves today.

Dixiana is one of those films that’s fallen into the public domain and, as such, it tends to turn up in a lot of cheap DVD boxsets.  There’s quite a few prints out that are completely in black-and-white and which don’t feature the sudden change to color.  That’s a shame because, whatever flaws this film may have, it does make good use of that technicolor during the final 20 minutes.  It’s big and lavish and gorgeous to look at and it’s easy to imagine the valuable escape that it provided for audiences at the start of the Depression.

Today, Dixiana is probably most interesting as a historical document.  It’s not quite as racy as one might expect from a pre-code film but it’s a good example of the type of lavish musicals that were popular among audiences who, in the 30s, used the film as a way to escape from the grimness of reality.  And, if nothing else, it’s proof that Mardi Gras in New Orleans has always been a big deal.

The Truth Behind “The Truth Behind Blood And Drugs”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

It’s not every day that a long-form comics project (or, if you like, a “graphic novel”) gets its own separately-published postscript, much less one that takes the form of an eight-page mini comic presented in full color whereas the book it refers back to is in black and white — but we live in unusual times, as evidenced by the fact that I’m even reviewing an eight-page mini in the first place.

That being said, fellow Twin Cities resident Lance Ward has lived through much stranger times than these during his periods of addiction and subsequent recovery, and some of those are chronicled in The Truth Behind Blood And Drugs, the rather quickly-issued “epilogue” of sorts to last year’s celebrated Blood And Drugs that comes our way courtesy of the same publisher, J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books. And while I’m not prepared to go so far as to call…

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Jeremiah Johnson (1972, directed by Sydney Pollack)

In the 1840s, Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) is a veteran of the Mexican War who wants to get away from civilization.  He sets up an isolated life for himself in the Rocky Mountains and looks to support himself by working as a trapper.  At first, he struggles but eventually he gets some much-needed help from a veteran trapped named Chris Lapp (Will Geer).  Along the way, Johnson discovers that life in the mountains can be harsh and violent.  He adopts a mute boy named Caleb, whose family has been killed by Blackfoot warriors.  Later, the chief of the local Flathead tribe “gives” Jeremiah his daughter.  Despite the language barrier between him and his new wife, Jeremiah is soon the head of a happy family.

One day, when the U.S. Calvary shows up and requests that Jeremiah guide them through the mountains so that they can rescue some starving missionaries, Jeremiah reluctantly leaves behind his family and helps them.  However, Lt. Mulvey (Jack Colvin) insists that Jeremiah lead them through a sacred Crow burial ground.  The Crow retaliate by killing Jeremiah’s family.  Driven mad by grief, Jeremiah sets out to kill every Crow that he can find.

Jeremiah Johnson is really two movies in one.  The story starts out with Jeremiah as a proto-hippie who wants to get away from the hypocrisy and violence of modern society.  Jeremiah takes care of the land, makes friends with other outcasts, and makes a good life for himself.  After Jeremiah’s family is killed, the movie turns into a Death Wish-style revenge thriller, with Jeremiah losing himself in his rage and killing almost everyone that he sees.  Redford is surprisingly convincing as the insane, murderous Jeremiah and the sudden outbursts of violence provide a strong contrast to the relatively peaceful first half of the film.

Jeremiah is a like a lot of the early American settlers.  He wants to get away from the world and start an entirely new life for himself.  He’s seen what the civilization has to offer and he would rather just build a cabin in the mountains and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist.  If Jeremiah had been born earlier, he probably could have pulled it off.  But, by the time Jeremiah tries to go off the grid, it’s already too late.  Society is growing too fast for him to escape from it.  Jeremiah discovers that it’s impossible to truly cut yourself off from humanity. In the end, he’s much like the Crow Indians that he’s declared war upon.  His way of life is ending, whether he’s ready for it or not.  When he and the Crow chief greet each other with a raised open hand (meaning that they come in peace), they are both acknowledging that they are bonded as men whose time is coming to an end.

Jeremiah Johnson was the second of Robert Redford’s many collaborations with director Sydney Pollack and it’s one of their best.  This may be an epic film but it never loses its humanity and, for once, Redford plays someone who isn’t a cut-and-dried hero.  Jeremiah Johnson has recently been rediscovered because of a popular meme of a bearded Redford looking at the camera and nodding but people should know that it’s also a damn fine film on its own.


Love on the Shattered Lens: Coffy (dir by Jack Hill)

It may seem odd to describe Coffy as being a love story.

After all, this is a film that is perhaps best known for a scene in which Pam Grier (as Nurse Coffin, a.k.a. Coffy) shoots her lying boyfriend in the balls.  Coffy is often described as being the epitome of 70s grindhouse, a film in which Pam Grier takes on drug dealers, the Mafia, and a corrupt political establishment with a combination of shotguns and shanks.  Coffy is perhaps Grier’s best-known films and it features one of her best performances.  There’s nothing more empowering than watching Pam Grier take down some of the most corrupt, arrogant, and disgusting men to ever appear in a movie.  It’s a violent and gritty film, one that opens with a drug dealer’s head literally exploding and never letting up afterwards.  There are many different ways to describe Coffy but it’s rarely called a love story.

But here’s the thing.  A film about love doesn’t necessarily have to center around romantic love.  Coffy is about love but it’s not about any love that Coffy may have for her boyfriend, the duplicitous politician Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw).  Instead, the love at the center of this film is the love that Coffy has for her sister, who died from a heroin overdose.  It’s her sister’s death that leads to Coffy first seeking revenge but that’s not the only love that motivates Coffy.  There’s also the love that Coffy feels for her community.  Throughout the film, we hear about how the black community is being destroyed by the drugs that are being pushed into their neighborhoods by white mafia dons like Arturo Vitronia (Allan Arbus, who was once married to the iconic photographer, Diane Arbus).  It’s not a random thing that, for all of Coffy’s anger, she saves her most savage revenge for the members of her community who are working with the white mobsters, men like the pimp, King George (Robert DoQui), and her own boyfriend, Howard.

Throughout the film, Coffy says that she feels like she’s “in a dream” and Pam Grier gives an intelligent performance that suggests that, even after her mission is complete, Coffy will never be the same.  She’s not a natural killer.  She’s a nurse and it’s her job to save lives.  But when she sets out to get revenge on those who killed her sister and who are destroying her community, Coffy shows no mercy.  When she violently interrogates another victim of the drug trade, Coffy shows the junkie no sympathy because sympathy isn’t going to solve the problem.  Coffy is determined and the reason why she succeeds is because none of her victims realize just how serious she is.  Coffy uses her beauty to distract them and then, when they aren’t looking, she strikes.  By the end of the film, she’s walking alone on the beach and the viewer is left to wonder what’s going on inside of her head.  After all the people that Coffy has killed, can she ever go back to simply working the night shift at the ER?  After you’ve seen life and death at its most extreme, can things ever go back to the way that they once were?

And listen, I’m generally a pacifist and I’m not a huge fan of real-life vigilante justice and I’ve signed many petitions against the death penalty but it’s impossible not to cheer for Coffy.  Pam Grier gives such a committed performance that it’s impossible not to get sucked into her mission.  (It helps, of course, that most of the people who she targets are legitimately terrible human beings.)  The brilliance of Grier’s performance comes in the quiet moments.  Yes, she’s convincing when she has to shoot a gun and she delivers vengeful one-liners with the best of them.  But the film’s best moments are the ones were Grier thinks about how her life has become a dream of violent retribution and where she allows us to see the love for her sister and her community, the same love that is motivating all of the bloodshed.

Coffy is a rightfully celebrated film.  For once, a cult film actually deserves its cult.  It’s one of the best of the old grindhouse films and, in fact, to call it merely an exploitation film actually does a disservice to how effective a film Coffy actually is.  It’s just a great film period.

Music Video Of The Day: Southwark by Yumi Zouma (2020, dir by ????)

I watched this entire video waiting for a zombie attack or something similar but it didn’t happen.  That came as a shock to me because I guess the movies have just preconditioned me to expect any happy day at the beach to end with either zombies or, if it’s a Jean Rollin film, vampires.

Anyway, even though this video doesn’t end with the carnage that I was expecting, the shots of the beach are still nicely atmospheric.  The beach shots reminded me a bit of the incredibly depressing scene in Under the Skin where a couple is drowning in the ocean and the only person who around who is capable of saving them is killed by Scarlett Johansson.  (Seriously, that scene gave me nightmares.)  Don’t ask me where this video was filmed because I don’t know.  I’m not an expert on beaches.  The closest that I regularly get to the beach is when I go up to my cousin’s house at Lake Texoma.  To be honest, most beaches kind of look the same to me.  It’s like water, sand, and a bunch of rocks.  Sometimes, you might see a jelly fish wash up on the beach.  Just the thought of that freaks me out.

One thing I like about this video is that you can read the lyrics while listening to them.  As someone who is notorious for mishearing lyrics, I appreciate that.  Seriously, I used to try to sing along to songs and people would give me such a hard time because I always ended up getting the lyrics wrong.  It was really upsetting and it made me associate many great songs with tears and injured feelings.  What’s especially annoying is that my misheard lyrics were often a hundred times better than the actual lyrics.

Of course, to be honest, I’ve never been one of those, “You must listen to the lyrics and ponder what they’re saying about life!” type of music fans.  When it comes to music, my main concern is whether or not you can dance to it.  I used to have a friend who would force people to listen to songs from certain artists and, while you were listening, you weren’t allowed to speak or dream or anything else.  Instead, you were expected to listen to the lyrics so you could discuss what they meant.  After a while, it got to be pretty annoying.  There’s only so many times that you can say, “This song is about the futility of war and institutionalized misogyny,” before you get bored with it.  The last straw, for both me and many of the members of our social circle, came when she got involved with the Occupy Wall Street people and she expected everyone to start listening to folk music.  I was like, “Unless there’s a big beat remix of If I Had A Hammer, count me out.”  There’s only so many times that you can listen to that Turn, Turn, Turn song before you just want to go off and become the most committed capitalist ever.

Anyway, enjoy!